Evolution and the Christian faith1


Published: 17 January 2019 (GMT+10)

Almost 160 years have passed since Charles Darwin’s famous On the Origin of Species book took the world by storm. Ever since that time, there have been professing Christians who have both embraced evolution as ‘historical fact’ and sought to modify their understanding of Scripture accordingly. Theistic evolution is a commonly-held view in today’s Church. Many are quick to profess their evangelical orthodoxy, while simultaneously reimagining plain biblical teachings—for example, a historical Adam and Eve or a literal Fall into sin. This, they insist, is both sensible and right if Christians are to do justice to ‘science’, not to mention retain respectability and influence in modern society. Recent years have witnessed a steady stream of books from theologians and professing Christian scientists (examples here and here) which purport to bring Genesis up to date for the modern reader. However, since most Christians lack theological or scientific credentials, how can they know with confidence what to think or believe about origins?

The Bible gives us very practical help in answering this sort of dilemma. We are to assess the claims of such people against Scripture—to “test everything; [and] hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Doing this does not denigrate people or attack their scholarship. Rather, it recognises that the best of men are only men at best. Scientific research and theological theorising are useful, but only insofar as they are subordinate to the Truth of God’s Word. All thinking must be assessed in the light of that perfect standard (see Psalm 19:7) and, where necessary, bow the knee to it. Fail to do so and it is possible for true Christians to damage the very Gospel they value and profess—hence the sobering warning about God’s stricter judgment for those who teach within the Church (James 3:1). In the last analysis, it is not what ‘scholars’ say that really matters, rather what God has to say.

The Daniel Test

The famous oil painting Belshazzar’s Feast, by the Dutch artist Rembrandt (1606–1669), hangs in London’s National Gallery.2 It pictures the scene in Daniel 5 where King Belshazzar held a vast banquet. This involved the profane, idolatrous use of drinking vessels from the temple in Jerusalem. Rembrandt’s painting captures the scene just after a hand mysteriously has appeared and written an inscription on the plastered wall of the palace room. The king’s face is itself a picture. What he saw terrified him:

Rembrandt’s famous 1635 painting of Belshazzar’s Feast
Then the king’s colour changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together (Daniel 5:6).

The king called upon the prophet Daniel to decipher the writing on the wall. Daniel reminded him of “the Most High God” (v. 21) who had dealt with the pride of his predecessor, King Nebuchadnezzar. But Belshazzar had not learnt from that lesson. He had utterly failed to honour the true God.

The handwriting, explained Daniel, was a message to the king from God himself, declaring his displeasure. Daniel then read the inscription and interpreted it:

Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians (verses 25–27; my emphasis).

Before the day was over, the kingdom was invaded by Darius, king of the Medes (an ancient empire based in today’s Iran). Belshazzar forfeited his life, for God had judged him. It is at once both an interesting and a sobering account. Here was a godless king being held accountable for having corrupted the worship of God. God was not mocked. And if that was true of a pagan, how much more should professing Christians be careful to avoid corrupting the things of God?

Belshazzar made a huge error of judgment in thinking he could take the golden vessels of God’s temple (precious things) and use them for his own ends. Such a perversion of their intended use brought swift condemnation. The king failed what I shall call ‘the Daniel Test’: his handling of sanctified things was weighed in the balance by God and found wanting.

Rightly handling God’s Word

As special as the temple vessels were, much more precious are the words of Almighty God:

The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times (Psalm 12:6).
The rules [judgments] of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold (Psalm 19:9–10).

The Daniel Test, then, is an assessment of our handling of the precious Word of God. How Christians deal with Scripture really matters. Whatever our intentions may be, it is clear that the distortion or twisting of the Scriptures is something which God takes very seriously indeed (see 2 Peter 3:16).

Weighed and found wanting

It mattered greatly to the Apostle Paul that his teaching was free from anything which might corrupt the minds of his disciples and readers (2 Corinthians 7:2), that his handling of Holy Scripture was above reproach. Likewise, the Daniel Test might be applied to areas where the Bible is under attack in our own day. Jesus commands Christians to, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). True love for God will certainly show itself in a Christian's reverential and careful handling of the Word of God.

My new book, Evolution and the Christian Faith, reflects the burden of my heart. I look out on today’s Church and observe many ways in which professing Christians attempt to justify their disbelief in Genesis as history, in order to accommodate evolution. It is my earnest conviction that, when theistic evolution is weighed in the balances, it is found wanting both biblically and theologically.

To find out how I arrived at these stark conclusions, I urge you to read the book. Here is what my colleague, Dr Don Batten (Managing Director of CMI-Australia) had to say upon reading it. As an ex-theistic evolutionist myself, I resonate completely with what he shares:

I once tried to believe in evolution and the Bible; I was a theistic evolutionist. However, deep down, theistic evolution (TE) unsettled me. I tried not to think about it because I think I knew it would be problematic. Philip Bell’s Evolution & the Christian Faith delves into all the reasons that TE should trouble any Christian who genuinely follows Christ as Lord and Saviour (as I did, even while accepting TE). Philip covers even more reasons for why I ended up rejecting TE and returning to the authority of God's Word. I went from being ‘over’ the Word to being ‘under’ it. That is, with TE I was working at making God’s Holy Word fit my evolutionary thinking, whereas we are called to obey, not overturn its clear teaching. When I was ‘over’ the Word, I readily trotted out evangelical affirmations of the authority and even infallibility of the Bible, but in reality I did not actually believe it. When I jettisoned TE, it was like being born again, again, such was the transformation in my walk with Christ. Philip’s book explains why TE is so devastating to our Christian faith; it undermines everything; if you think about it! Evolution & the Christian Faith will help you think about it. I don’t think that anyone who accepts TE could read this book with an open heart before God and not be convicted by the biblical arguments. I would plead with anyone in this position to please read it, prayerfully and carefully, and be ready to repent of this destructive view.

My sincere prayer is that God might use the book to overturn the compromised thinking of fellow believers and liberate them to enjoy a firmer stand upon His holy and infallible Word—and thus to more fully love Him with the whole heart and mind.

References and notes

  1. This first appeared in CMI-UK/Europe’s Prayer News, October 2018. Return to text.
  2. Full name, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, from Leiden in The Netherlands. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Albie D.
There is not a single law of physics nor any other scientific discipline that supports the proposed mechanism for evolution. In no reality does molecules constantly rearrange therm selves into higher levels of complexity and sophistication. On the contrary, in all reality longer time equals more decay! Thus very long time equals very much decay (in the case of evolution, observed and experimented as per the Scientific method) or a direct attack on the Absolute Goodness and Character of Yeshua by insinuating He likes to continually destroy the Works of His own Hands and accuse our Creator of being an outright liar (as per "theistic evolution").
Only the Creation account in Genesis as the only proven indestructible record on this Earth is supported by the scientific method.
Evolution is a figment of imagination, based on absurdity, disproved by the scientific method, feeding on ignorance and supported by illogical reasoning in a pathetic attempt to try avoiding accountability to Christ our Creator. True open mindedness leads to the logic of Logos, Life in abundance and Friendship of the Creator Himself.
Millions of people are in bondage. May we all put on our armor and fight for the Freedom of our brothers and sisters.
For Yeshua!
John N.
I guess, I'm confused at the first paragraph. I thought Christian Scientists are neither Christian nor scientists. It's a separate religion. Right? But scientists that are Christians are usually referred to as creation scientists to avoid the confusion. If a person already understands the context then there is no problem. But the first paragraph sort of defines the context as an implied rule. As for the rest of the article it fits if one assumes that a Christian scientist is a scientist that is a Christian. There is already lots of confusion in this world. No need to add to it.
Philip Bell
The article mentioned "professing Christian scientists". The qualifying adjective "professing" highlights the sad truth that not all who call themselves Christians are Christians; many who identify as as followers of Christ are indeed faithful to Him but not all are. Notice too that "scientists" was lower case; had the article mentioned "Christian Scientists" (capital 'S') it would then have referred to the "Christian Science" cult which, as you rightly say, is another religion. In any case, the context of the words "Christian scientists" was already given in the second and third sentences of the article: those who have embraced evolution (theistic evolutionists). For the record, the "Christian Science" cult (which goes back to the writings of Mary Baker Eddy in the mid-nineteenth century) is neither Christian nor scientific; see Cults and Creation.
Gian Carlo B.
I suspect that what keeps some theistic evolutionists in believing in evolution is not just intellectual respectability and credibility, but this idea that maybe we aren't so special, and that God chose us is special enough and it didn't have to be. He could've chosen a dolphin or even a cockroach and those would then be called image bearers, and that sense of potential diversity in image bearing somehow, in their eyes, is what truly humbles us and maybe all those death and sufferings was a way for God to show us that sometimes we need to go through evil and pain to know what really matters. Kinda like a quasi-theological framework on why evolution is compatible with Christianity. But ... a theistic evolutionist is really an intelligent design theorist dressed in evolutionary guise. Once you allow an intelligence behind a certain process, that's practically intelligent design, and they'd still be ridiculed by materialists who think 'no design whatsoever' brought life and consciousness. Of course, this isn't to justify TE, I think evolution fails scientifically and thus shouldn't be of any interest to Christians nor should it be incorporated into their theology.
Dan M.
Theistic evolutionists are nothing but historical revisionists and thereby enable people to continue in their sin by casting doubt.
Theistic evolution makes a mockery and a fable of the fall of man in the garden of Eden which is the root cause of evil in this violent world. Think about it. If an alcoholic or a drug addict doesn't admit he or she has a problem, how then ... can they then seek treatment and live a productive life?
This is the main problem with people today, (and historically), they are either biblically illiterate or don't believe the bible narrative so they don't admit they have a problem, (which is addiction to sin) and don't seek treatment.
Unfortunately, I think many I speak to just don't care and are content to continue in their sin and condone those who practice the same, Romans 1:32.
I thank our Father in heaven, that He loves us and is patient with us so that by preaching the gospel we can be saved.
Thanks for the article and I'll have to add your book to my library.
Jack S.
I was surprised not to see, in this article, some reference to Bolton Davidheiser's publication "Evolution and Christian Faith." The difference in titles being only the definite article. Reading this classic, written in 1967, was the change point in my 'creation life'. From a somewhat indifferent theistic evolutionist to a committed literal Biblical position from which I have not strayed. Thanks again for your continuing ministry.
Philip Bell
There is another book with that title (also without the definite article) by an evolutionary biologist called Joan Roughgarden. I have not read Davidheiser's book (now half-century old and long out of print) but I understand that it deals with the history of evolutionary theory and how it had altered over the century since Darwin's publication of The Origin of Species. While it was a blessing to an earlier generation of biblical creationists, much has changed in the evangelical church scene over the last 50 years. My book, rather than tracing the history of the idea of evolution, assesses its theological impact on eight core doctrines of Christian faith, as well as its consequences for the Church's mission and society as a whole.
King T.
I have watched Hugh Ross on two TV shows now and have always come away with the following thought:

Hugh Ross says everything was all created over billions of years. The bible clearly reads as 6 days for all creation in Genesis 1, Exodus 20:11 and Exodus 31:17. Someone must be wrong. If it is the bible then how can we trust the gospels' record of Jesus when He claims to be the Way, the Truth and the LIfe?
It seems there are two different gods at work - one that is slow and gradual and makes many mistakes that end in pain, suffering and death and one that is supernaturally swift and accurate and creates things that are very good.

Immediately after giving the ten commandments, God admonishes Moses to warn the Israelites:
Exodus 20:22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven:
23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. [or by extension, your thoughts]

In Isaiah 42:8 God says:
"I am the LORD; that is My name! I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols."

The other god that creates over billions of years is clearly man made and therefore an idol.

It behoves those who bring the big bang into lordship over the word of the one and only true God to repent of their failings.
Robert H.
Great article!
Alistair W.
This is an excellent book by Philip. Great to see an Englishman on fire for his beliefs, - in the footsteps of Wesley!
A logical and informative read, a benchmark for this time, many thanks Philip.

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