Almost-great Bible study has fatal flaws

Review of Jen Wilkin’s God of Creation (Lifeway, 2018).

by 

Published: 14 February 2019 (GMT+10)
God-of-Creation

There is a certain market for ‘generically evangelical’ Bible studies—explanations that take the Bible seriously as history, but don’t get too far into controversial topics where Christians have different opinions. Popular Bible teacher Jen Wilkin’s new Bible study for women God of Creation falls solidly into that category.

Wilkin’s study is designed for personal or group use, and it consists of a book and recorded teaching that can either be purchased as video or audio downloads. Both the book and either the audio or video are required for the study, which lasts ten weeks. It is designed in such a way that the student spends the week in the text of Scripture, answering questions from the workbook, before hearing the teaching about that section.

Positive aspects

On first glance, there are a lot of things that seem to recommend Wilkin’s study. She affirms that Genesis is written as historical narrative, that Genesis depicts things that actually happen, and that Genesis sets up the context for the rest of God’s redemptive plan. She connects what happens in the first 11 chapters of Genesis to Christ. She affirms Mosaic authorship, and does not present JEDP as even an option.

Her Bible study also features a lot of work with the text itself, encouraging women to make a conscious effort to notice the details and interpret the text according to what the author intended. This would be especially useful for someone who has never engaged in this type of study before.

Fatal flaws

Unfortunately, there are fatal flaws that negate these good qualities, and it probably comes from an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. Wilkin teaches that young earth creation, old earth creation, and theistic evolution are all valid options for understanding origins. She also says that one might understand the Flood to be regional, not global, as long as one affirms that all humans except the eight on the Ark were killed by it. These instances are exceptions to her normally plain interpretation of the historical nature of Genesis 1–11.

These fatal flaws mean that there is not really an ideal audience for this study. If Wilkin were consistent in taking Genesis as history, this would be a good study for people without much experience studying the Bible or Genesis in particular. But with these flaws, that audience that could have benefited the most might be deceived regarding these important issues. Those with the experience to avoid these pitfalls probably don’t need such a basic study.

Why do publishers produce these studies?

It is important to note that resources like this do not come together out of thin air; they are developed in response to perceived demand. This isn’t evil—even CMI develops resources based on what we think people will find useful and want to have in their own libraries. Lifeway clearly knows that people want to know more about creation—but they wrongly think that being agnostic about some of the most important issues in Genesis 1–11 will make a more popular product. But this makes it substantially less helpful than it might have been.

How should we respond?

It would be easy to call creationists to righteous indignation that yet another Bible teacher has gotten it wrong, and pat ourselves on the back that we’ve gotten it right. If we really wanted to fire people up, we could call for a boycott of the publisher. But I don’t think that Wilkin is a false teacher in the same way that BioLogos is—she may be simply uninformed about these particular issues. That doesn’t mean that she’s not responsible for the errors in her study—anyone who stands up to teach about a topic brings greater scrutiny because they’re claiming to be an authority. But someone who follows Wilkin’s general method consistently will be a biblical creationist, even if she is inconsistent on this point and does not teach it. And that makes me hesitant to condemn Wilkin herself, even if I cannot recommend her study for those who want to know more about creation.

Helpful Resources

The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
From
US $24.00
Evolution's Achilles' Heels
by Nine Ph.D. scientists
From
US $14.00
From Creation to Salvation
by Lita Cosner
From
US $12.00

Readers’ comments

Donald V.
The problem is that Romans 1:20 says “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”. If the unbeliever is “without excuse”, then a bible study like this one is dangerous and should be rejected. Thank you for bring this “study” to our attention.
Bridget M.
That seems to be consistent with many of the Lifeway products I've seen. I was in a Lifeway bookstore in Ohio not long ago. I had never heard of the brand, but was on a business trip with time to kill and stopped in. They had all sorts of devotionals, Bible studies, and Bibles, but that was the one thing that struck me as I browsed these products: not a single one affirmed a young earth creation. One Bible was touted as a hermeneutics Bible, but as I scanned the opening information on Genesis, it didn't affirm anything - just talked about the various interpretations of the authorship of the book (never backing any particular viewpoint and not supporting the Mosaic authorship, either), and pretty much ignored creation all together. I found that theme to be true of all the Bible study and devotionals they had. Each one in which I looked, either stated that it doesn't really matter which interpretation you believe about creation, or they just glossed the topic over quickly and moved on. My perception of the books on offer were that they were all feel good type books that really didn't delve deeply into anything fundamental to the faith. I left the store knowing I'd never enter another one. I've learned, when it comes to Bible study materials or devotionals, to check to see what they have to say about Genesis and creation; if the book doesn't affirm the clear, plain reading of the test and the historical narrative, then I doubt I can trust it to be honest in its interpretations of scripture in other areas, and I move on.
Dennis `.
All true but . . .

A half truth can be one of the most dangerous lies.

DW
David S.
It seems there is barely an echo of the kind of ‘take no prisoners, take it or leave it’ preaching and teaching that used to mark the church as a counter-culture force to be reckoned with. Far too many have an incessant need to appeal to the masses and market to the broadest group possible. Forgive me, but it just makes me nauseated. I would rather reach one person with the uncomprimised truth than a thousand with a watered down, milk toast, scaredy-cat message that fears offending people more than it fears the Lord. Please understand, I’m not judging this author (I haven’t read the book and know very little about her) but the state of a church that produces poor preaching and teaching.
Kristin R.
I just did this study this past fall, and noticed all of the issues which Ms. Cosner has pointed out and a few others. However, I feel I must point out that Mrs. Wilkin’s purpose in writing this study is not to talk about the creation of God, or really even how He did it, though these are covered at least partially, in the study. Her purpose is to guide women to discover the God who created, hence the title. I had to remind myself of this quite regularly, and Mrs. Wilkin reminds students this throughout - repeatedly asking the question, “What does this passage say about God?” During all of the frustrations I felt and inconsistancies I heard, I kept going back to that question. And here is the clincher for me - can anyone learn from a study in which there is error? The answer is, YES. Even if the only thing one learns is that there is error in the study, one has learned and heightened their ability to discern truth from error. A mature believer should be able to read, study, and learn from many authors, even when they make mistakes. The important thing is to check what ANY author or speaker says against Scripture.

I have read some pretty awful books, Christian and non-Christian alike (The DaVinci Code anyone?), and I am confident that my faith is not weakened by reading them. Rather, it is strengthened. If your church is planning to present God of Creation, perhaps instead of discouraging it, you should consider encouraging women to be thorough in their study, going OUTSIDE the study itself for more information, perhaps pointing out this site, as I did in my study small group. And pray for wisdom and discernment for all participants. This study, and others like it, are not going away. It’s best to know what is in them so we can better counter their errors.
Lita Cosner
Thanks for this perspective. However, how do we encounter the God of Creation if not through His Word? And the Bible study seemed to be pitched at a sort of 'beginner' level that would be comfortable for people who have never studied seriously before, which makes any errors more significant, because there is a bigger chance at least some of the people studying her material do not have the discernment to know when they need to seek outside views. And the people who have enough experience to know, likely don't need such a basic study of Genesis. So the errors in her study make it fatally flawed for precisely the people who otherwise could have gained the most from it.
Jeff W.
By writing agnostically about "the creation of God, or really even how He did it", Wilkin teaches that the 'how?' of God's creating is not itself a vital doctrine about God, and thereby teaches that contradictory and incompatible understandings about 'the creation, and how He did it' tell us complementary and compatible things about God.
The doctrine of Creation is asserted throughout Scripture to reveal an enormous amount about God, each part of it critical to us understanding Him as He has revealed Himself in special and general revelation. Crucial truths are explicitly based on it: among others, biological sex, marriage, sexuality, reproduction, the Sabbath/Lord's Day, garden-to-garden redemption, sovereignty, and faith (aka Greek pistis, trust, reliance upon God and His specific words used to mean specific things which are utterly trustworthy foundations for our lives before and after death.) The paradigms of theistic evolution and old earth creation tell us different things about God than does Biblical young earth creation: eg. that God used death from the beginning, that God didn't create one man and one woman at the beginning, though He said He did, that He didn't model the week of work and rest as He says he did, and so on. By teaching that 'it doesn't matter', Wilkin sets up beginners-- little ones-- to believe this destructive falsehood about God and His Word: that it doesn't mean what it says, that didactic or historical passages are not what they say, that Christ was bound by His time, etc. We may not be able to find many books without any errors-- though there are big and little errors. But like grocery store lettuce, we should wash all our teaching resources by explicitly explaining and emphasizing the disconnect between Biblical truth and their error.
Norm L.
It is important to note that resources like this do not come together out of thin air; they are developed in response to perceived demand. This isn’t evil—even CMI develops resources based on what we think people will find useful and want to have in their own libraries.


Dear Lita,

I must disagree with your sentiments here. You point out that resources like this are developed in response to perceived demand, implying that truth is not the motivating factor. This also implies that financial profit is the motivating factor. Is not using God's Word for anything but truth and salvation evil? Didn't Satan [mis]use God's Word to tempt Jesus? You say that "even CMI develops resources based on what CMI thinks people will find useful" equating CMI's motive with that of the author and publisher of "God of Creation." This is not the same thing that Lifeway has done in this instance. CMI gives me sound biblical understanding based on the Word of God (Truth) and REAL science, not what I believe I want to hear.

Respectfully,

Norm
Jude I.
I am very disappointed in CREATION for this article. I have done the study and am sitting here with the book in front of me. Jenn Wilkin does not say, as you state, "Wilkin teaches that young earth creation, old earth creation, and theistic evolution are all valid options for understanding origins". She does not say they are valid options!! She teaches a literal six day creation.

What she ACTUALLY says in the book,on page 22, is "Christians have developed and hotly debated a number of explanations for the how of creation, among them: theistic evolution, young earth creationism, old earth creationism.(all true) Much has been written on the different views of creation. We will not be spending time exploring them, but I strongly encourage you to do so on your own, especially if only one of the views is famliar to you." AND THEN PROCEEDS TO TEACH AND STRESS "and then there was evening and there was morning, the ___ day" and drives home the point that Moses was repeating this for a REASON. She then teaches about Moses' use of chiastic structure in his account of the flood to bring us back to the LITERAL 6 day account. pg 136

There are so few solid female bible teachers out there for women, and you grouped her in a "generically evangelical" bible study group because of her publisher, not to mention misrepresented was is ACTUALLY in the book. Her goal was to talk about the "God of Creation" (as it is titled)not get into the details of disproving the error indotrinated into a whole generation by public schools. Just what the word says, evening, moring, the next day.

There should be a retraction for this because you put this out there for people to read and it is incredibly inaccurate and dangerously close to slaner. This is a sister's livelyhood and reputation.
Lita Cosner
Jen Wilkin does not teach biblical creation in this study. Her endorsement of the three main views suggests that her teaching on 'evening and morning' and the six days may be interpreted in light of theistic evolution, old earth creation, or biblical creation. I see nothing in my comments that needs to be retracted.
Sandra P.
Re: Ms Cosner's answer to Kristin R
What makes these "errors" you speak of "fatally flawed"? (Which, btw, I've done the study, checked the book before replying here, and do not agree with your assessment whatsoever) Are you suggesting that the view one holds regarding creation is a salvific one? Because that would be adding to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It would be a poor teacher, indeed, who would not acknowledge differing academic views and suggest the student research prior to presenting their own teachings, as Mrs. Wilkin did. I did the study and I just read through the workbook -- your article contains out and out untruths that can be proved by reading page 22-24, 34, and 38 (where she has students underline the text in the book every time it says "and there was evening and there was morning). This article should be publicly retracted.
Lita Cosner
The error is saying that theistic evolution and old-earth creation are ways of understanding the text that are as valid as biblical creation. It should not surprise anyone that we would take this view, particularly in reference to a study meant apparently for beginners. I see nothing in my comments that needs retraction.
Douglas J.
The Bible does not set times for creation. I don't believe in theistic evolution, however, most Christian who are scientifically bent believe in an old earth and those more theologically bent are young earth. Explaining why group believes the way they do is proper education not presenting one side in a dogmatic fashion.
Lita Cosner
Try telling that to the many Ph.D. scientists who are certainly 'scientifically bent' and who believe biblical creation.
Derek H.
The sad fact is that the vast majority of church leaders and members (including evangelicals) accept evolution. This is why this book is published. It appeals to the majority.
Sandra P.
Lita, I'd gently suggest that your passion for this important subject is clouding your review. You might have said that in this Bible study -- that is specifically about the God of creation, NOT the Genesis 1,2 creation account, Wilkin teaches a six-day creation without implicitly stating a specific creational view. Though I am an adherent to a literal six-day, young earth view, I would not want my students to be ignorant of the varying views, either. You maintain that she claims all views are valid. SHE. DOES. NOT. Therefore, your words are incorrect and to continue to insist this after being informed of this numerous times in the comment section is dangerously close to slandering a sister in Christ.
I'd also suggest that taking a humble posture when gently corrected or addressing those with more gracious comments would be a better option for a critic than curtly and doggedly maintaining what has been revealed to be error.
My question to you that you did not answer is that you said this error (as you see it) makes this study "fatally flawed" and I asked if you are maintaining this is a salvific issue. I am very interested in your answer.
Lita Cosner
I have said numerous times on this website that creation is not a salvation issue. However, I would say that many errors that are not salvation issues are disqualifying when they appear in a teaching resource.
Taryn B.
I read this review over a week ago, and it's still not sitting well with me. I took part in this study with my women's Bible study group, January 2019. I did have a few 'wait a second' moments over the course of the study, likely due to the influence of CMI/Creation magazine in my life over the years. However, I think the most bothersome part of this review is the fact that the author has dismissed this study without providing another option for women's Bible study groups. I personally would have expected much more from CMI/Creation on this. To dismiss and offer an alternative would seem more in line with speaking the truth in love.
Lita Cosner
I don't see how the failure to offer an alternative is less loving in the context of a product review. However, From Creation to Salvation has discussion questions at the end of every chapter and is suitable for a book study.

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