The ‘big picture’ in which the Gospel makes sense
Published: 24 March 2013 (GMT+10)
Why bother with creation evangelism? Why start all the way back in Genesis when the gospel is all about Jesus dying for our sins and rising for our justification (Romans 4:25)? CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland explores these questions in today’s feedback.
James G. from Singapore writes in response to How helpful is creation evangelism?
Creation evangelism is fine for some, but not for the millions of people (esp. unreached peoples groups) for whom even basic literacy/education would be unavailable. Faith in Jesus as Saviour and God, I believe, can come in diverse ways, and we should avoid a triumphalistic approach that our interpretation (or our favourite translation of the Bible) must be correct. I can find many verses or words in the KJV incorrectly translated, for instance. Some notable evangelical theologians and scientists who are Bible-believers also accept the “Old Earth” theory (as opposed to the theory that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old).
CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland responds:
You raise some very important points, so I have taken the liberty of a detailed reply, with the responses interspersed with yours.
Creation evangelism is fine for some, but not for the millions of people (esp. unreached peoples groups) for whom even basic literacy/education would be unavailable.
The OT gives the Gospel its logical context.
I used to think a bit like that a few years ago, even while heavily into creation ministry in my own country, that creation/evolution was only relevant in Western nations, but no longer. Not only is chronological teaching of the Bible’s ‘big picture’ crucially important (see shortly) but we are finding that evolutionary/naturalistic ways of thinking are rapidly getting into even very poor developing nations, even if only as aid budgets come with educational strings which include the dominant naturalistic paradigm. And even when reaching unreached people groups; New Tribes Mission found years ago that if they started with the Gospels, the results were very poor. A man hanging on a cross had no relevance, and was often just tacked on to existing belief systems, if taken seriously at all. But teaching chronologically, starting in Genesis, made all the difference, as one sees in their classic video Ee-taow, see www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxcyiXFc5mc. You will notice how the whole tribe, by the time it gets to the account of Jesus in the NT, is, like the large crowds that were converted when Peter preached to Jews in Acts, not so much ripe but eager for the Gospel. This is easy to understand when you realize that it is the same issue in both cases; the OT gives the Gospel its logical context. The Jews and proselytes already knew and believed it.
Teaching chronologically follows the unfolding revelation of the Bible, and not just about how things came about: God made us, all are from one man/woman, we had a relationship with Him, then the Fall into sin, how it led to the Curse = the groaning struggling suffering creation we see all around us (Romans 8), the resultant global Flood as a judgment of God showing the depths of His hatred of sin, and then the dispersion of Babel with the origin of all people groups including their own. Followed by the giving of the law, the promised Messiah; no wonder that New Tribes Mission found that people, rather than having confused or syncretistic responses to preaching, ended up often, even mostly, ‘hanging out’ for the rest of the story, hungry to find out God’s solution to the problems of sin and death. I.e. ‘What must I do to be saved?’.
Peter did not have to give all that background when preaching to Jews and proselytes in Acts, as stated; he only had to plug in the still-missing bit that the Messiah was the crucified Jesus, and thousands believed. But if we try to preach about the missing bit without the foundation, we have the same situation as when Paul tried that ‘Peter’ approach to the Greeks in Acts; they saw it as foolish babbling. What sense does a structure make without a logical foundation? So he used, of necessity, a different approach at Mars Hill. We only get a condensed summary, but notice how in addition to finding a ‘connection’ to their culture, he also makes sure to build a creation foundation, and to tell them that this same God who made the world made their ancestor as well as that of the Jews, i.e. the one man from whom all nations were made.
Faith in Jesus as Saviour and God, I believe, can come in diverse ways,
That is so without a doubt. God occasionally has even used dreams to bring e.g. Muslims to Himself. But that does not negate the command to preach the Gospel and make disciples (note, not just converts) teaching them everything about Him—nor does it negate the fact that mostly faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (the Bible). Muslims converted in that way might not have readily been able to access the Bible. And God can use even false teaching to bring people to Him on occasion. But I’m sure you would agree that that does not mean that it is therefore OK to reject or knowingly twist any plain teaching of God’s Word. For example, say that you knew of a person who had come to true saving faith in Christ having first been drawn to Him under the teaching of a ministry that denied His bodily resurrection, or His divinity—is it therefore OK to do either of those things? Is it not rather the case that the person was saved through God’s mercy in spite of such blatant inconsistencies with truth? And that on the whole, a ministry or ministry approach that seeks to honour and be consistent with His teaching has more likelihood of being blessed by seeing souls saved? Paul rejoices in the NT when people are saved despite wrong motives, etc. but in other sections gives very strong condemnations of false teachings; even not-so-bad-sounding ones like subtly adding works to an otherwise sound Gospel are condemned in the strongest possible terms.
and we should avoid a triumphalistic approach that our interpretation (or our favourite translation of the Bible) must be correct.
I can sympathize strongly with the desire to avoid a triumphalistic approach, for sure, and I would hope that is not what is coming across to most readers of this site. (I think not, given the sorts of feedback overall). But—while humility is in order, in this sort of case that same humility can actually be a kind of ‘cover’; an excuse for not wanting to believe a teaching that is rather clear and plain in the Word of God, e.g. because of ‘academic peer pressure’ (scientific and theological). I’m not suggesting that you’re necessarily into that, but it is very common. I’ve seen it used often against those who take an unbending stand on a Gospel-critical issue; they are accused of ‘arrogance’, like ‘How dare you claim to know the truth? A really humble Christian like me would not presume that’ when all along the motive is to shift the glare of the spotlight away from their own compromise with anti-biblical ideas. And I deliberately used “Gospel-critical” here, because we are not talking here about some minor nit-picky point of interpretation. It is about the context I referred to earlier, or the ‘Gospel Big Picture’ (GBP) as I often call it (without which the whole message becomes garbled): The creation of an originally good world, ruined by sin, to be restored through Christ to a sinless, deathless condition once more. Pretty well all the rest, such as the relative recency of creation, flows out of that, really. (The millions of years that today dominate post-Lyellian geology mean that there would have had to be death, disease and suffering before sin, so they are in direct opposition to this GBP). And I put it to you, gently but definitely, that this GBP is so blindingly clear in God’s Word, stated in all sorts of ways and from all sorts of angles and directions, that the issue at stake really has nothing to do with some alternative between legitimate interpretations that arise from the text. Note that I’m always talking here about the original Hebrew. I’m referring to that GBP which
- Is woven throughout the very warp and woof of the New Testament (see The use of Genesis in the New Testament)
- Is clearly understood to be so by the average 10-year-old who is coming to the text without presuppositions and pressures.
- Is held to be the self-evident intended meaning of the Genesis text by even top professors of Hebrew at the bulk of world-class universities (who don’t believe it, which means they are not motivated to twist it to fit their ‘science’)—see creation.com/barr).
- Was held, taught and believed (taken for granted, really) by the overwhelming majority of both Christian leaders and followers for nearly all the 2,000 years of church history; until the advent of the revival of pagan long-ageism in the ‘Endarkenment’. All the ‘private interpretations’ of Scripture on the matter floating around are really just attempts, verging on the desperate, to try to make the Bible fit with these extra-biblical ideas. The GBP was also held by some of the world’s greatest minds ever; e.g. the man who is rightly regarded as perhaps the world’s greatest scientist, Sir Isaac Newton.
When I was an atheist who was baffled by how Christians were twisting their own holy book, I could see that Jesus clearly believed in a real Adam and Eve.
Ironically, such positions try to claim that they are based on the ‘genre’ of Genesis, when in fact a disinterested scholarly party would be forced to admit that the shoe is on the opposite foot, that it is in large part precisely because of the ‘historical narrative’ genre of Genesis that these professors of Hebrew confirm the view of the people of God throughout the church age that Genesis is intended to be history, i.e. a record of things that really happened. And history is what the NT authors take it as. Paul talks of the temptation of Eve in straightforward terms, as a thing that really happened. When I was an atheist who was baffled by how Christians were twisting their own holy book, I could see that Jesus clearly believed in a real Adam and Eve. He also obviously believed in a young world (to see what I mean, and to see how a prominent theistic evolutionist both agreed that Jesus believed this, but then astonishingly tried to get out of its implications, check out Jesus and the Age of the Earth).
I can find many verses or words in the KJV incorrectly translated, for instance.
As noted, our ministry, in line with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, refers/defers to the original autographs. We are not committed to nor defensive about any translation. So this seems completely beside the point. In any case, the differences between translations are not such as to affect any substantial doctrine, and in particular, we are talking about a GBP which does not differ between the translations in the slightest.
Some notable evangelical theologians and scientists who are Bible-believers also accept the “Old Earth” theory
Yes, even though the phrase ‘who are Bible-believers’ should probably be ‘who are in many other respects Bible-believers’, that is so, tragically. And it causes substantial problems for Christians in this area because it subjects them to enormous peer pressure, when seeming ‘authorities’ have for extra-biblical reasons sought to find a way around the straightforward (dare I say honest) exegesis of the Bible in these matters. I note you write from Asia: I am actually at present writing this response from another Asian country, visiting a culture where, like in your own, the influences of tradition mean that the opinions of ‘authorities’ are given far more weight than even in the West. Thus the problem is particularly acute here, because at once-solid Christian institutions such ‘authority opinions’ are causing, frankly, havoc among the sheep. Christians see with their own eyes what the Bible says, yet they feel ‘forced’ to not be like the noble Bereans. And to say to themselves things like, ‘What do I know? Look at all his (or her) degrees. They must understand things about the text that I don’t.’ While this can be and often is true, and Christians have at times stumbled and ignored scholarship, the phenomenon overall is most unhealthy because it has now reached the point where it departs from—let me say it again, plainly—simple honesty. Forgive me if it sounds surprising, but I have more respect in some ways for an honest assessment by an atheist like Dawkins than for scholars and teachers who seek to defend the indefensible and drag believers down the same plughole with them. The Lord Jesus Himself said that sometimes the children of this world are wiser than the children of light. With his Christian background, Dawkins knows full well what the Bible authors are meaning to say. Referring to those “sophisticated theologians” as he called them, “who are quite happy to live with evolution”, he rightly (IMHO) stated that he thinks they are “deluded” and that “there really is a deep incompatibility between evolution and Christianity.”
(as opposed to the theory that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old).
But we are not talking about competing theories here, respectfully. In reality, these are philosophical starting positions that each lead to theories. For example, the young earth is a deduction from Scripture, given certain assumptions. These are, e.g.: that it is God’s Word, without error and authoritative; that it is meant to be understood without hidden messages, etc.; that the things Jesus is recorded as teaching and believing are definitive for a believer; that the ages in the genealogies are not fantasies but real years; that the ancestors of Jesus recorded in the NT were all real people, not myths—all the way back to Adam; that death, disease and suffering are part of the Curse, and death is an enemy, not part of something God calls ‘all very good’. And so on.
Once one starts with either position, one can then legitimately talk about different ‘theories’ of ‘how’. For example, starting with an old earth, e.g. because of one’s understanding of science, one might try to ‘explain away’ the contradictions one encounters from the Bible. E.g. if one starts, outside the Bible, by assuming that the rocks are to be read as a record of billions of years of slow processes, what theories can one adopt to explain away the Bible’s record of a global Flood? Or, starting with the biblical creation position, i.e. the GBP as truth (a pivotal part of which is taking the global Flood as truth, too) one can discuss varying theories and models of the mechanism for the global Flood, and how it can explain the patterns of deposition we see in the rocks.
I hope that has been helpful, and that you will take the time to seriously and prayerfully explore this important issue. There is much more at stake than a ‘difference of theories’, the very authority and credibility of the Bible and Gospel is ultimately at stake. As we have stated many times before, people can be saved despite such aberrant non-biblical views, thanks to ‘blessed inconsistency’ preventing them following their heterodox views on origins to their logical conclusion in other parts of the Bible’s and in relation to the Gospel. However, for most of those around them, those that could otherwise readily accept the Gospel, these consistency issues generally mean that people are kept from belief.
To which James graciously replied:
Dear Brother Carl,
Thank you so much for your lengthy responses to my points.
It will be my pleasure to ponder over what you wrote, even if I may take some time to evaluate your statements.
Through these 18 years as a believer in the Gospel (after being converted from agnosticism at age 46, I have mulled over so-called scientific findings to prove the “Old Earth” theory.
Your ministry has given people like myself good grounds to think through the issues, and to be able to witness more effectively, especially in our busy, modern and often, unbelieving market places.