I believe what Jesus believed
13 June 2005
In 2005 Philip Bell, a British biologist and staff member of Answers in Genesis, one of the world’s largest creation apologetics ministries, visited Hungary. Mr. Bell gave a series of lectures on creation / evolution, which is a heavily debated topic among many. On Saturday afternoon Philip gave an interview to the readers of Bible and Congregation, a Christian magazine published by the Hungarian Bible Union in Hungary. The magazine was represented by Istvan Weber, a sociologist.
Istvan Weber [IW]: You give convincing lectures on the importance of Creation. Why is it important to you?
Philip Bell [PB]: It really goes back to my days in university. I was brought up in a Christian home to believe the Bible from the very first verse and I defended that literal creation view all the way through high school until I was sixteen or seventeen. I had, really, the faith of my parents—I was loyal to them. But when I studied more advanced biology at the age of seventeen I was influenced by a Biology teacher who was a Christian and a lovely person, a great teacher of Biology. She gave me a love for the subject and taught me the evolution view. The evidence she provided at that time seemed quite plausible to me. And so, without really thinking through the implications for my Christian faith, I decided that yes, God must have used evolution. I swallowed the idea that the Bible tells us why God created and science fills in the details of how He did it. But then I got to University as a committed believer in evolution and I fully expected to find more evidence for the theory. But, I was not a sceptic but rather a true believer in God.
Two things happened at university. First of all my faith became a living faith as I really understood the doctrine of grace; I was sure of my salvation for probably the first time in my life. That was tremendous as my faith was now coming alive. At the same time I was looking at what I was learning in Zoology and Botany and I realised they were asking me to believe certain things without supporting evidence. For instance, I remember well, I was taught that insects without wings evolved into insects with wings. Fine, I thought: Let’s see the evidence. I was not shown a single fossil of a creature with partly-formed wings that was on the way to becoming an insect with wings. And I realised, Wow, this is really ‘believed by faith’! And then I was told that land mammals evolved into creatures like whales and dolphins which went back into the ocean. Again I expected to be shown some information, some fossil material to support this idea. I was not shown a single example. And with such a lack of evidence I seriously began to question the biological data and the whole theory that was built around it. At the same time, because of what was happening in my Christian life, I decided I had to sit down and very carefully go through Genesis, really reading what the Bible was communicating about Creation. And though I had read it many times before, I realised then that it is written as history—that came to me very forcibly. And I also began to see that my approach to Genesis affected the way I approached the rest of Scripture. What was written as real history, I had re-interpreted because of outside opinions from science. Why didn’t I do that with the Virgin Birth, with the Resurrection, with Jesus’ miracles, walking on the water, turning water into wine and so on? Science would say you cannot have these things happening but Christians believe them by faith. In the same way I reasoned that I ought to—if I was consistent—accept the miracles of Creation and the Flood by faith. At the same time I had the scientific data to wrestle with. I had a choice to make.
So the second thing that happened to me is that I decided to reject evolution, partly because of the lack of scientific evidence but also because I saw that it was in direct conflict with the Bible’s teaching about Creation. And I found a tremendous release in my Christian faith from that point on. I have changed my mind on some of the details since then, but I rejected evolution as an explanation for origins and a little bit later I rejected the millions of years that went with it. And it made a great difference to my Christian faith.
IW: After your personal testimony let’s continue with a more general question. God has two revelations, the Bible and nature. We believe that both come from the same Creator God, though sometimes it seems that the two revelations are in contradiction. A lot of Christians have compromised and believe that the authority of the Bible is in contradiction with the results of scientific research. How do you approach this question?
PB: Well, one of the ways of understanding this question is to look at Psalm 19. The first half of Psalm 19 deals with what we might call God’s revelation of himself through nature, through what He has made, and the second half deals with his revelation through His Word. And the difference between those two revelations is simply this: Whereas God made a perfect world originally which would have revealed his character in perfection, Genesis 3 reveals that that revelation has been marred and so it is now an imperfect revelation. There is still much beauty there but by definition, it is an imperfect revelation compared to the perfect revelation of Scriptures. Therefore I believe it is very dangerous when Christians try to put God’s general revelation, the Creation, on the same level as his Special Revelation in Scripture. Some people have even referred to the revelation of God in nature as the 67th book of the Bible, which it definitely is not. The danger is that we really begin to read our opinions and ideas into the Bible. Sound hermeneutics would require that we use Scripture to throw light onto other Scripture. It is all the counsel of God. We should use Scripture to interpret Scripture. But when we start reading ideas from other sources into the Bible, from general revelation if you like, to interpret Special Revelation, we are using the imperfect revelation of nature to interpret God’s Perfect Word. We are going to have problems. That’s really eisegesis; it is reading my opinions into the Bible. The problem with that is that I have a fallen mind (I am the product of a fallen Creation) and so I am falling into a trap where I am beginning to tell God what He perhaps should have said! The Bible says of itself that it is God’s communication to humankind, His revelation to fallen man. We need to let God tell us what He meant to say. The one thing in common that all compromise positions have on the Creation-Evolution issue is that they add millions of years before Genesis 3. Some people spread that out in the days of Creation, some people put it before Genesis 1:2, the ‘gap-theory’, etc. These and many other ‘Christian’ compromises have in common that ‘millions of years’ are associated with animal death before Adam’s sin. They place death, bloodshed, disease and suffering before Adam’s sin which undermines completely the clear teaching of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. This is because a different history of death becomes foundational to the Gospel and therefore destroys the whole basis of the Christian Gospel.
IW: Why is Creation important for today’s Christianity?
PB: Believers should be characterised by the fact that we believe. This seems very simple but sadly it is very important to say because today, in evangelical circles, so many believers don’t really believe the Bible as written in Genesis.
Therefore, because Genesis is foundational to every major Christian doctrine of theology, either directly or indirectly, it is so important how we understand it. For example, it is foundational to the doctrine of marriage. Jesus Himself, when He defended the doctrine of marriage in Matthew 19:4–5 (also Mark 10:6), quoted from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. So Jesus believed and taught Genesis in a literal way. He did not see Genesis chapters 1 and 2 as two contradictory Creation accounts. So He defended the doctrine of marriage based on a real, literal understanding of Genesis as history. And the Apostles Paul and Peter also believed Genesis literally and taught it literally. So all the major New Testament writers had this approach. And so, if I call myself a follower of Christ, surely I need to believe what Jesus Christ believed and taught. And that applies to every doctrine that we believe in because all of these things have their roots going deep into the book of Genesis and they can only be logically defended if Genesis is real history.
IW: How can we use the Creation account to address the post-modern man?
PB: Let’s first establish how I personally understand what post-modern man is. Someone with a post-Christian mindset knows that the way they are living is really in rejection of a standard that they understand, but have chosen not to live by. They have perhaps rejected the view of their parents or a prevalent view in society. They understand some things that the Bible teaches about morality.
But a post-modern person has no concept of that because they have grown up without any understanding or knowledge at all, concerning the Bible. The word ‘Jesus’ is no more than a blasphemy to many. They have never attended Sunday-school for example, so they don’t know anything about these things. And so, if a Christian who believes the Bible wants to go out and have an impact in the world, to share their Christian faith in a relevant way, and wants to reach post-modern people, how are they going to do that?
First of all, I think we have an interesting parallel in the New Testament. In Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, we have the Apostle Peter standing up, preaching to people who are not post-modern. They had an understanding of the Bible. They were either Jewish people or they were proselytes, people who were converted to Judaism. They believed the Scriptures were the Word of God and they understood what sin was: that sin had its origin in Adam’s rebellion; that sin brought death—and therefore, when Peter preached the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this was a stumbling block to some of them (1 Corinthians 1:23) who trusted in their Law-keeping to save them. Because of the preaching of the cross, they did understand but stumbled over it nonetheless! But many others responded favourably to what was being said. Peter had that Gospel approach and we read of great results: 3,000 people were added to the Church. But the Apostle Paul, in Athens—at Mars Hill (the Areopagus), in Acts 17—takes a very different approach. His audience was composed of pagan philosophers. These were the people who loved to discuss the latest ideas. They were Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. These people were basically evolutionists. The Stoics were Pantheists whereas the Epicureans believed that the chief end of men was to enjoy sensual pleasure. Both groups had an evolutionary philosophy, that life had descended from common beginnings over millions of years—not a lot different from post-modern people then, in many societies today!
How does Paul reach them? He looks at some connection-points with their culture. He doesn’t start with teaching the Gospel and the death and resurrection of Christ. Rather he says ‘Ah, you have this altar to an unknown god’ and we read the account and he actually tells them that ‘This unknown god you ignorantly worship—I will tell you about him.’ And then, Paul basically says: ‘He is a God who made all things. He doesn’t inhabit statues or temples that you and I make with our hands. He created all things. He created people in the beginning. We are all one blood; we all descend from just one source,’ referring to Adam and Eve (Acts 17:23–26). Having established Creation, then he brings in the teaching of the Cross and the resurrection of Christ. And a few people, we read, are interested. ‘We will hear you again on this.’ A few people believe, but only a small number, only a handful. So, he had good [although limited] results, I believe, because he was dealing with a post-modern society. He had to do a lot of pre-evangelism, a lot of groundwork. And in the same way, we are seeking to reach people with a post-modern mindset today. They have the same science, the same facts and the same evidence in the world that everybody has. Our arguments are not over the facts, but over the way we see the world. They understand the world very differently.
And so a connection point, a way that we can reach society is not, first of all, to discuss lots of interesting evidence from science, from Biology, or astrophysics or whatever else, but actually to get people to think about why we believe what we believe; to go back to worldviews, to establish that we all have biases. We are biased by our beliefs, beliefs about past history that none of us can prove, but which we assume to be true—things we believe because we accepted by faith. Things that we were either taught by somebody else or that we have read—what someone else has written. And I would say that I am 100% biased as a Christian because I accept that the Bible is God’s revealed Word. That means I have a certain way of seeing the world. The person who believes that the universe made itself—through cosmic evolution (a big bang etc.), then geological evolution (the earth cooling down billions of years ago), chemical evolution forming the first cells and then biological evolution to form all of life’s complex organisms today including humans—that person has a totally different worldview. Both of us have beliefs about the past. We cannot prove creation or evolution ultimately because they are beliefs about past events. The difference, I believe, is that the Christian has an Eyewitness testimony, the Word of God, and that is how I would describe things to such people. They may not agree, but they should understand why I think the way I think. Then we establish that we all think in different ways—we look at the same data and draw different interpretations. Once we have established that, then we can look at the evidence and we can ask, ‘Does the evidence of science in the present (because it all exists in the present!) fit the “creation model” (if we can call it that) or does it fit the evolution model best?’ And that is the objective way of looking at this question.