How helpful is creation evangelism?
Published: 16 February 2013 (GMT+10)
How well does creation evangelism work with people who are unwilling to even consider biblical creation? Can we evangelize such people without mentioning biblical creation? CMI’s Robert Zins shows how creation evangelism, while not the only tool we should have in our ‘apologetics arsenal’, is an integral part of that arsenal.
Chavoux L. from Namibia writes in response to article: Backpackers, Dinosaurs and the Great Commission:
Thanks for the great testimony. My question is rather how well creation evidences works when you witness to people that have actually been trained (brainwashed?) in the biological sciences, especially when they are already antagonistic towards the gospel message? My experience have also been that people who think of themselves as “intellectuals” are much less willing to consider the evidence for (“young earth”) creation. I think that in these cases it might still be worthwhile to start with the basic gospel message (e.g. that all people are sinful is still true, whether Adam first sinned 6000 years ago or 10 million years ago). I have just not seen any of my professors or most of my fellow students being open to the possibility of a “young” earth, even though they might be willing to consider the existence of God (I studied zoology & ecology). I only even considered the possibility of God creating the world in 6 24-hour days, after I became a believer. The problem with a testimony like this one, even though I appreciate it, is that “educated” scientists will often dismiss it as being persuasive only because these backpackers were not trained scientists.
CMI’s Robert Zins responds:
Your interesting question was put to the CMI staff for comment. Several responded and below are comments by Gary Bates (GB), Shaun Doyle (SD), as well as my own, all of which I hope you find to be of some help.
You raise a number of significant issues about bringing the Gospel to people who have been trained in evolutionary science (and by implication, evolutionary philosophy). Given your experience that such people do not respond well to creation evidences, you ask, would simply sharing the Gospel (thus appealing directly to the conscience) be a more suitable approach?
Psalm 19:1–3 and Romans 1:18–20 attest that God has provided a testimony of Himself by way of His creation. This testimony is so powerful that man is without excuse (Romans 1:20) yet the rebellious man persists in attempting to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). It is certainly valid to appeal to a person’s conscience, to challenge the suppression of the truth. Jesus challenged the conscience of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), as did the apostle Peter when he addressed the crowds at Pentecost (Acts 2). In both cases the audience had some grounding in the Old Testament Scripture, some knowledge of the true God, His righteousness, and the promise of the Messiah.
However when the apostle Paul spoke to Greeks in Athens (Acts 17) he engaged people with little or no knowledge of the Old Testament. When he preached to them about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they responded “What does this babbler want to say” (Acts 17:18). Then, considering his audience, Paul revised his approach and took them back to Genesis (Acts 17:22–26) provided them with the necessary foundation, then preached the Gospel (Acts 17:27–31), and some responded.
GB commented: “I don’t think there is a formula that is for every person. If someone does not believe in God because his science has ruled the first book out, then telling him he is a sinner is likely to have less effect. I don’t think it is an either or. I think the evidence for Creation should be part of the Gospel message. Preach the Gospel and deal with the likely objections that will come up, which no doubt at some time will be creation based, particularly if the person is a scientist. A believer should be equipped in a number of areas to defend his faith, not only Creation.”
Personally, I grew up attending church as a youth, was exposed to some Christian message, but lost interest even before leaving high school. It was several years later that I began seeking for answers to life’s big questions. Then I heard a message on “What defiles a man?” (Mark 7:20–23) I fell under personal conviction of sin. And subsequently when I heard the gospel, by God’s grace I believed. In my case, I had never believed in evolution, so it was not an issue.
SD commented sharing from his personal testimony: “I thought the Bible was false because of the ‘absurdity’ of Genesis 1–11. The rest of the story was thus irrelevant to me. A guilt trip makes little sense to those who think the Bible can’t get basic history right. It was only when I was convinced the first 11 chapters could actually be true that I thought the rest had anything useful to say. I might be somewhat unusual in that I became a biblical creationist before I became a Christian, but that was the big issue for me—evolution proved the Bible was false. Once I understood the truth of the Bible and Christ, and what that meant for me personally, it didn’t take me very long to bow the knee. It was the only logical thing to do. If it was not for an emphasis on biblical creation on the part of some people around me, I simply would not be a Christian today.”
Trying to reach someone with the gospel, who has been schooled in evolutionary science (and by implication evolutionary philosophy), might be comparable to Paul seeking to reach Greeks in Athens.
When a non-Christian rejects clear evidence which corroborates the Genesis account, he will attempt to reinterpret that evidence using a different set of ‘worldview glasses’. It is not that the non-Christian merely has an intellectual problem with good creation evidence, but there is also a spiritual issue. As was said earlier, from Romans 1:18 we know that the non-Christian has knowledge of God through General Revelation, yet persists to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” and is “without excuse”. Therefore a biblical apologetical method must be applied which takes into consideration that the Creation-Evolution debate is a component of a wider conflict between religious worldviews.
In such cases the Christian apologist needs to challenge the inadequate foundation of the non-Christian’s worldview exposing its inconsistencies and arbitrariness. This approach requires the sort of humility mentioned in 1 Peter 3:15. The Christian apologist must first engage the non-Christian and do an internal critique of the non-Christian’s worldview. Then the Christian apologist must demonstrate that the stated assumptions of the non-Christian’s worldview, when consistently applied, cannot support a rational or coherent understanding of reality. But how can this be so? It is so, because the non-Christian, whether he realizes it or not, borrows concepts which are only consistent with a biblical worldview. Hence the Christian apologist must press the non-Christian to be consistent within the terms of his own stated assumptions, for example, Materialism. A consistent Materialist might have some knowledge about the laws of science, mathematics, logic, and even ethics, however the Materialist cannot justify the existence of these things. Furthermore, the Christian apologist should be asserting that those basic elements required for a rational and coherent understanding of reality are only found with the presuppositions of a consistent biblical worldview.
This is consistent with Paul’s instruction to “cast down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). After the Christian apologist challenges the non-believer, he might persist with his stated claims and deny the unsoundness of his own position—but now he has something to think about. It is the Lord by His Spirit Who persuades and changes the heart of the non-believer.
Chavoux, in closing, I would like to offer a caution in response to your suggestion, “ … to start with the basic gospel message (e.g. that all people are sinful is still true, whether Adam first sinned 6000 years ago or 10 million years ago).” [Italics added.]
Certainly, the Christian apologist might find it appropriate to start with the basic gospel message, and in doing so, might not immediately address the topic of Earth chronology. But the Christian apologist ought not to take the position that Earth chronology doesn’t matter, and certainly not suggest so in one’s interaction with some with whom you are sharing the Gospel. For in doing so, you would undermine the very Gospel which you proclaim. Please permit me to explain.
Philosophical naturalism was, historically, at the base of (and is the basis for) promoting old Earth chronology. Its assumptions are: 1) that nature is all that there is, and 2) the processes observed occurring naturally in the present, are the only processes which will be permitted to explain what happened in the past. These are the assumptions upon which both uniformitarian geology and evolutionary biology are based.
So, if during an apologetic discourse, you concede to old Earth chronology, then by implication you concede to the assumption upon which old Earth chronology is based (philosophical naturalism, and its implied rejection of the Genesis Flood cf. 2 Peter 3:3–5). If you permit naturalism to overrule the Genesis account of creation, then what will be your response to your sceptical scientist friend when he proceeds to consistently apply naturalism to overrule the Gospels’ account of Jesus’ resurrection? Plainly stated, it is not natural for a man who dies by crucifixion to rise from the grave. Of course Jesus’ resurrection was a supernatural event. Yet if the sceptic’s naturalism is given ‘a pass’ when it comes to the Genesis account of Creation and the Flood, then why should he accept the supernatural resurrection presented in the Gospel? And none of this has yet mentioned the huge inconsistency of placing death, the ‘last enemy’, and bloodshed before the Fall, which not only logically undermines the very Gospel you are seeking to present, it strikes at the very nature of God Himself.
Many is the person who has been attracted by a Gospel presentation, but then, when they start to see the inconsistencies in a naturalistic framework of history, and are told by Christians that it ‘doesn’t matter’, they turn away again. Ultimately, truth matters, and while care and sensitivity are important, to demonstrate to the hearer that one is making excuses for what the Bible plainly teaches is on average not likely to be helpful, perhaps far from it.
Sincerely, Robert Zins
CEO, CMI-South Africa
I enjoyed the good article and found the comments stimulating. I am surprised that no one has commented that it is not an either or answer. A logical idea may be used by God to bring someone to Himself but the idea may seem foolish to the person being drawn to Him. A person may be so impressed by God with the "logic" of a presentation that he is drawn to God. Ultimately God often uses the foolishness of preaching to draw one to Himself, though I have heard testimonies of people I believe are His that came to believe primarily from reading His Word. Paul was even glad of presentations brought about by incorrect motivations. Let's only not use methods clearly against God's Word.
Being an engineer by profession I had a belief about the creation that integrated Genesis 1 and evolution. Then I met a man who "knew" God, who was much wiser than I was. We discussed this subject several times and he would always close the discussion by telling me to keep studying, but the important thing was that he said he would pray for my understanding. Within a few weeks my mind was changed completely. I have no explanation for this but that God had answered my mentor's prayer. I think there are many out there like I was, they need God to give them an Ezekiel 36:20 experience.
Response to Carl and Geoff:I apologize for my astronomy/cosmology mix-up. God is spirit and He created a physical universe that entail a set of physical laws to govern the universe, this was never done before, (so to speak) and is always a source of wonder for me. Just imagine the total paradigm shift required to think of a physical universe compared to what was before! From this it follows that from any event that is taking place the physical will manifest itself with physical evidence, like the tip of an iceberg showing that there is more underneath the surface. God is the supporting base of all that exist, He is the one maintaining the Laws since He is the origin of these “ natural laws” as with everything. Scientist are looking at the tip and are not able to comment on the hidden aspects of reality, that is why we have these “contradictions”. It is unneccessary to argue about it because it arises from a lack of insight. We are not allowed as Christians to ignore these “transpositioning” occurences (Lewis) but the scientist may, because his God given job/talent is to “reverse engineer” the creation for the benefit for everyday life. To understand the natural and spiritual world is a gift in Jesus. No natural person CAN understand it. I will stand with my “nothing is simple” assertion about the nature of the Universe, for the simple reason that is was created by God! Who was there when He created the seas and stars and the bacteria and subatomic particles? That is why one can never stop learning because with God there is always more, and to have His peace is to accept it. Jesus is Lord if evolution is true or not, it makes no difference to me, but the atheist will definitely not agree! He needs it to support his worldview.
Mauritz, how can Jesus be Lord if evolution is true? It would make him and God's Word into liars. See, e.g. Jesus and the Age of the earth.
Also, it would mean that the Bible was not only wrong in Genesis, but in all the references and allusions to Genesis as history throughout the NT (see The use of Genesis in the New Testament.) Since therefore one could not logically trust anything in the Bible, on what basis would one be able to say that Jesus was Lord, anyway? Christianity stands or falls on the trustworthiness of the Bible.
I very much agree with the point raised in the response section of the article, that Paul adopted a different style according to the knowledge of the people he was speaking to.
I would have to say that Creation Evangelism is by far the most effective style for the people of today, but that depends, I feel, on how it is presented; simply stating creationist views is largely ineffective.
What I find most effective is asking others to defend their world-views, and opportunities to do that can be created simply by commenting on the many pro-evolution articles that regularly appear in the media. I find most people willing to take the side of atheism/Darwinism for it is on that that they have based their world view. However, rather than counter their view with my own, I enquire as to what it might be that has led them to the conclusion they have reached. Many hold dogmatically to Darwinistic beliefs, but most, I have discovered, also hold them credulously. It is therefore simple to begin a converstion politely challenging the foundation for their beliefs, and hopefully leading to a point where they are looking for answers. Whether those answers are based on the gospel message or CMI articles is dependent on where the conversation leads.
Creation evangelism is then a powerful weapon, a highly effective method of initiating a conversation.
CMI has given me the ability to obey the instruction in 1 Peter 3:
...always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence...
However, I believe there is a covert message in the parable of the sower; good soil does not occur naturally. If we are to 'cast seeds' we must first prepare the ground, and CMI has absolutely given me that ability.
In reading the autobiographic articles of several CMI contributing scientists, I noticed that knowing Jesus came first. After that, the scales fell from their eyes and they gradually started accepting the Bible literally.
I had the same experience but so much of the stuff I have seen since I became Christian is so compelling that I have been tempted to think:
"If I had only known I would have believed sooner"
Since so many atheists cite evolutionary dogma as the thing that made them lose their belief in God, well done Creation Evangelism almost certainly prevents many Christians from turning away from God. That would certainly make it all worthwhile.
I find it interesting that materialists use the argument that "the processes observed occurring naturally in the present, are the only processes which will be permitted to explain what happened in the past." These processes prove that life could NOT have originated without God, the universe could NOT have come into existence without God, and the information in living things could NOT have arisen without God. Their appeal to these processes is therefore self-refuting.
Mauritz, you said: "We know that NOTHING in this world is simple and straightforward".
I can assure you that I don't know that. 1+1=2 Simple and straightforward. Of course, you can complicate that if you want to: "Is that exactly 1, or is it a number rounded to 1? If each 1 was actually 1.4, the answer, rounded, would be 3". Also, "Are we sure that a '+' sign means addition?", and so on.
Silly example, I know, but that, as it is written, along with many other things in life, is simple and straightforward.
And note that with the above sum, if the person who produced that sum wanted us to know that each '1' was only a rounded number, s/he should have said so, unless s/he wanted to trick us.
I believe it's the same with the Bible - God's Word. There are many things in it that can be taken simply, and in a straightforward manner. God's only reason for wanting us to do otherwise would be if He had set out to trick us. Is that what you believe? If so, how do we know when He's tricking and when he's being straightforward? Chill out, let God speak to you through His Word, and remember that He, in Jesus, upheld childlike faith as a necessary key to entry into the Kingdom of heaven.
Perhaps you might like to also have a look at:
May our omnipotent God open all our eyes to more and more of His truth, each day.
I really enjoyed this article. I appreciate learning how you approach your work (what you'll discuss) with atheists and those that are searching. It has been very helpful for me. Thank you.
Wonderful! Wonderful article Robert. This article lays out beautifully how important it is to understand someone's worldview to effectively communicate the truth of God's plan for his creation.
My heart goes out to people who reject God because they are burdened with a false worldview which denies them the joy of knowing God. Many of us were "in that boat" at one time and are very thankful that God has opened our eyes to see.
Blessings to all the staff at CMI. Reading your daily articles is one of the first things I try to do every morning. Thanks!
Dear Robert and Chavoux, I think there is a FIRST STEP or INITIAL ARGUMENT when dealing with people who assume that Darwinian Evolution is PROVEN SCIENCE or a FACT, and who are often militant Atheists.
I think this 1st step/argument, as demonstrated by Paul in Athens, is to reveal the inadequacies of the "old religion/philosophy" (Paganism, Darwinian Evolution, etc). It is only after this is accomplished, that Atheists/Darwinists will OPEN their minds to a "new religion/philosophy" (Christianity/Creationism).
Well, articles from this website on biology and other scientific disciplines were the reason that I remained a Christian after training in theology and philosophical apologetics at an Orthodox Biblical college so... I would say creation is pretty effective.
A very relevant article: Many Christians don't realise that they are dropping their guard in trying to allow long ages of sin and death before Adam, and yet claim to believe the Bible.
There are other compromise variations where some Christians accept 6-day creation about 6,000 years ago and so clearly and correctly reject reject long-age radiometric and geological dating of fossils etc.
But then they are totally inconsistent scientifically and Biblically in that they claim that Day-1 started with Genesis 1:3 and that planet earth and the rest of the universe were created billions of years before Day-1. In this claim they accept what is basically the same radiometric dating that they reject in their acceptance of the Bible's 6,000 year time-scale since life began.
Somewhat bizarrely, some of these Christians believe in ETs.
Part 1 I’ve been receiving newsletters and reading the articles since CMI visited our church last year. I really tried to accept creationism but I cannot, the scientific alternatives to evolution and astronomy (white hole cosmology!) on the website is just unbelievable. I also believe God created everything, but why try and explain everything in order to make the world fit to your understanding of the Bible? We know that NOTHING in this world is simple and straightforward, in the least the Work of an Infinite God (revealed in only one clear way, Jesus). The Bible tells us in plain language what is VERY difficult to understand and instead of listening to the Holy Spirit’s teachings we want to explain those texts ourselves? Science only tries to explain what is seen, most scientists, mostly people more clever and more hardworking than us do NOT have an hidden agenda (as I realised from personal experience), they only work to make sense of this physical world we live in. Most of them usually are believers (almost 50% from a 2007 survey),resulting from being exposed to God’s greatness on a regular basis. Focusing on people like Dawkins who adds (wrongly) to his observations should be avoided, I can take the facts and form my own opinion. We cannot assume, the very least a scientist, that we know all there is to know, since that is the very job of any scientist and is excluded from science by definition. They are not looking for ultimate truth! They can only improve the best working knowledge there is available, and it equates to a continuous search. The mistake they make is to start thinking that the physical and visible is all there is, which is not the case and no matter what, no constructed argument should ever take the place of a real experience with the Living God.
Mauritz, first I'm not sure why bring up the hidden agenda bit, because that's not where we are coming from. It can be for some of course, but for most it is a worldview/paradigm issue, it's how they've been brought up to see the world. But the real issue is surely what does the Bible say? If Jesus taught and believed these things, then surely it is almost irrelevant to talk as if our 'experience' of faith trumps these things. How are we to distinguish the authenticity of our experience from that of say, a Buddhist or a New Ager? May I gently suggest reading the classic 'Refuting Compromise'. I don't see how you can do that and still hold to your current position of trying to 'ride between the two' and retain intellectual honesty. But I can't finish without commenting on how you inappropriately seek to contrast astronomy (which is a real, observational science) with white hole cosmology, which is no more or less speculative than big bang cosmology(not surprising, since working out what happened in the past is not amenable to normal experimental science as such). Evolutionary cosmology also invokes really exotic things to get around difficulties, like expansion of space faster than light, changing physical laws in the early part of the universe, and the very notion that something can create itself, which is philosophically unstable (something has to exist before it can do anything). Please don't stop seeking, and please seek to honour God (which He Himself in the Bible in more than one place equates with honouring His Word. We are not talking here about minor nitpicks, but about big picture things like whether there was or was not death and cancer in the world prior to the Fall/Curse (which there has to have been in the long-age scenario).
A picture paints a thousand words. A basic tenet of evolution is that dinosaurs died out 65,000,000 years ago. There is a heap of historical artifacts, paintings, leather work, stone carvings, tapestries, wooden sculptures all accurately depicting these creatures in different cultures, geographical locations and historical times. Show the skeptic one or more of these pictures and ask them 'How did the artist make this artwork if the creature was extinct millions of years before he was alive?'. Ball in their court!! See 'Untold Secrets of Planet Earth - Dire Dragons' by Vance Nelson. Good Ammunition from CMI.