Liberalism in evangelical garb
My purpose in writing is to warn readers of books which appear to be evangelical but are not. Such is the latest work by David Wilkinson entitled The Message of Creation (Intervarsity Press, or IVP, 2002).
There are good parts to the book—it asserts the sovereignty of God and the greatness of Christ in creation. There are also helpful chapters on the ‘songs of creation’ in passages other than Genesis, and a notable chapter on Colossians 1:15–20.
But what is both disturbing and dangerous is the treatment of the historicity of Genesis. A fundamental tenet of evangelical belief is the infallibility of Scripture. To suggest that parts of Genesis may not be history is serious—for both Christ and the Apostles say it is!
Looking both ways
In his attempt to ‘look both ways’ on the historicity of Genesis 1–11, Wilkinson appeals to many authors, particularly Wenham, who was also equivocal on the historicity of the biblical creation account.
Thus he avoids taking a clear position on the 6 days of creation: ‘whether the Universe was made in seven days a few thousand years ago, or whether it was created over billions of years, is an important question. Yet it is not central to the message of Genesis 1.’ (p. 18).
Similarly the author is ambivalent on Genesis 2:4–24:
‘The second difficult question for biblical Christians is the question of whether Genesis 2:4–24 is history, as we would understand the use of the term in our modern culture.
‘Some scholars have talked about it in terms of myth. This is an unfortunate term because in popular usage a myth is untrue. However its technical meaning is symbolic story that describes the present situation in terms of a primeval event.’
Then Wilkinson goes on to say, ‘In this sense, Genesis 2:4–25 can be described as a myth, for the writer is not simply wanting to record history for its own sake. Wenham helpfully calls it “proto-historical”, suggesting that it is a story with divine inspiration working through the author’s creative imagination’ (p. 48).
The term ‘protohistory’ opens the door for those who insist that Adam somehow emerged from a line of prehuman hominids. Such ideas subvert the Scripture’s teaching on the creation of man, namely that Adam was made in God’s image, not that of beasts.
But it also denies perfection before the Fall. Yet the Bible gives no hint of preexisting hominids who died out before Adam appeared. [See Pre-Adamic man: were there human beings on Earth before Adam?]
Within this important foundational discussion, Wilkinson recommends a variety of theistic evolutionary articles and books, such as R.G. Klein, The Archaeology of Modern Human Origins, Evolutionary Anthropology 1(1):5–14, 1992.
He then attempts to deal with the main evangelical objections to his open position on the historicity of Genesis, by stating (pp. 48–49):
‘Some would ask whether Adam has to be a historical character in order for Paul's contrast of Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12 to work.
‘The question has some merit but we need to remember that even in a story about Adam and Eve, [they] could be historical people even if the nature of the account is highly stylised. Many New Testament scholars do not feel that a historical Adam is necessary for Paul's understanding.’
Where do we stop?
‘A second question is also posed. If we say that the early chapters of Genesis are not history in the way that we term history, then where do we stop? Where in Genesis do we draw the line between proto-history and history?
‘Are we simply opening the door to saying that the whole of the Old Testament and indeed the Bible is a purely human creation with no history at all?’
Good questions? Not according to Wilkinson. He says this is not a good argument because Scripture mixes different literary genres—such as parables within the historical narrative of the gospels.
Applying this idea to Genesis he states: ‘We must look at each passage on its own merits. If we do this we shall find that far from subverting the Bible we find it ever more powerful. God has given us a book full of variety for a purpose. We do him a disservice if we try to mould the book into our own expectations.’
That last statement, however, is inconsistent with his stance. It is the liberal scholar, not the Evangelical, who moulds Scripture to his own expectation! [See Eisegesis: a Genesis virus.]
A straight reading of Genesis, coupled with clear statements by Christ and the New Testament writers, makes it abundantly plain that Genesis is intended to be taken at face value—as history! Who then is doing the disservice?
The evangelical position
It is clear that neither Wilkinson nor, sadly, IVP (who published both this book and that of [theistic evolutionist Ernest] Lucas the previous year) are following the centuries-old evangelical position on Genesis 1–11.
The style of this portion of Scripture is not poetry. It may have structure and pattern, but that does not undermine its self-evident historical nature.
Wilkinson never really answers his own question concerning where one stops if one relegates Genesis 1–11 to the category of ‘protohistory’. Scripture is its own interpreter and all New Testament writers refer to this passage as history. [See Should Genesis be taken literally?]
Christ speaks factually of Adam and Eve being made in the beginning (Matthew 19:4–6). Paul, in turn, tells us in Romans 5:12 that human death (an historical reality if ever there was one!) is the consequence of Adam’s sin, not a preexisting natural phenomenon.
Of course, some may argue that this passage refers to spiritual, not physical, death. Others suggest that Adam was an evolved ape who received eternal life from God—only to lose it again by his rebellion. [See Death before sin as to why Adam’s death was physical as well as spiritual, as a consequence of his sin.]
But none of these arguments avoid the necessity for Adam to have been an historical individual who committed an actual sin.
Furthermore, the whole argument of 1 Timothy 2:12–14 concerning the headship of man, relies on a literal understanding of Genesis 2–3: the creation of the first woman from Adam’s side and her temptation by the serpent.
The true evangelical position is that the Bible’s message of redemption remains relevant because it relates to real history. Remove this link, and you reduce Genesis to just another creation myth—alongside Babylon’s Enuma Elish and many others. [See The Gilgamesh Epic and the Bible.]
This, of course, is just what modern man wants to hear—Adam never existed, his fall into sin never happened and the Flood (if it took place at all) was a local event with no implications of judgment from God.
As with many such books, the author’s liberalism is revealed in his treatment of the Flood. In chapter 13 he tries to ‘sit on the fence’ on the all-important question—was the Flood global, or not?
‘If convinced by scientific grounds that a universal flood is not possible, then it is possible to see a local flood within the Genesis words' (p. 172).
Yet this is inadmissible. The New Testament makes it crystal clear that just as judgment will be global at Christ’s Second Coming, so the whole world perished in the Genesis Flood (Matthew 24:35–39; 2 Peter 3:5–10).
What was the point of building the Ark when, with years of advance warning, Noah could have simply escaped to dry land?
How much more straightforward to believe the biblical account as it stands—with no ifs, buts and maybes—which specifically states that the Flood rose 15 cubits above the highest land (Genesis 7:20; note that in some Flood models, the ‘mountain building’ that gave rise to the massive peaks we know today was a post-Flood phenomenon).
The development of ‘catastrophic geology’ based on the Flood as a starting point has rightly revolutionised the worldview of many people. Take the Scriptures as your starting point, and all other disciplines and their findings fall into place. [See Q&A: Flood for many articles.]
Believing the whole Bible
Where are the references in Wilkinson’s book to the Creationist rebuttals of such liberal views? He claims that liberal opinions on these matters fall within the orbit of evangelical Christianity, but makes very little reference to recent books that refute these false notions. [See the CMI book catalogue, for example.]
I end with a quote from Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones’ notable 1971 address entitled What is an evangelical? (Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1992).
‘We must believe the whole Bible. We must believe the history of the Bible as well as its didactic teaching. Failure here is always an indication of a departure from the true evangelical position.
‘Today there are men who say, “Oh yes, we believe in the Bible and its authority in all matters of religion, but of course, we don't go to the Bible for science” … They are saying there are, as it were, two great authorities and two means of revelation: one of them is Scripture and the other is nature.
‘These, they say, are complementary … so you go to the Scriptures for matters concerning the soul, but you do not go to them to seek God's other revelation of himself in nature. For that you go to science.
‘We have got to contest it and contest it very strongly. … We must assert that we believe in the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis and all other biblical history.’
This article first appeared in Evangelical Times (U.K.) in February 2004. The links have been added by an editor.