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Are we grasping the nettle with our apologetics?

Lessons from theistic evolution activism1

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Published: 20 February 2018 (GMT+10)
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In keeping with biblical commands to defend and contend for the faith, CMI is a Christian apologetics organisation (see 2 Timothy 4:2, Jude 1:3, 1 Peter 3:15). In recent years, we have produced a number of important articles aimed at exposing the compromises and dangers of theistic evolution (TE)—the erroneous belief that molecules-to-man evolution is fully compatible with the Bible (e.g. here and here).2,3,4 As we have shown, the Bible’s historical claims are only the first casualty of such attempts to weave secular reasoning about origins into Genesis. Much more serious are the moral and ethical consequences that directly follow, as well as the impact on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In June 2015, a new pro-TE apologetics organisation was launched in the UK. Called Grasping the Nettle (GTN), they commenced their activities (mostly public events and lectures) on the back of the television and DVD series, Exploring the God Question: Science, God and the Search for Truth. This influential three-part documentary series, accompanied by study guides and a leader’s manual, involves a virtual Who’s Who of world-famous scientists and theologians; some atheists and some theists. It also includes contributions from NASA and The Vatican. One should not underestimate the powerful influence that such resources can have on many people. In response, a series of six detailed review articles by CMI’s Russell Grigg was published on creation.com in 2014 and 2015:

What are the vision and aims in apologetics?

GTN’s stated aim is to help “the church to be clear in its own thinking on ‘the science/God issue’.”5 Although this would seem a laudable objective, the reality falls very short of what informed, biblically-minded Christians would hope for; the devil is in the detail. On GTN’s website, there is plenty of information about those involved in the movement, their rationale and their strategy for accomplishing their aim. There is also talk of promoting “respectful dialogue” about the “God Question” and “religious belief” but almost no mention of the Gospel. The exception appears in one question and the responses to it (discussed later).6 Since the members of GTN’s ‘Steering Board’ include nine clergy, plus people representing various church-based organisations, this would seem to be a stark omission. Surely the Gospel of Christ, which is central to any truly Christian endeavour, ought to have a more prominent place.

This website, creation.com, has long carried this mission statement: “To support the effective proclamation of the Gospel by providing credible answers that affirm the reliability of the Bible, in particular its Genesis history.” Anyone familiar with CMI’s publications will be well aware of our commitment to scientific accuracy and literacy. It is the reason why over thirty of our speakers and writers have scientific, medical or engineering credentials, many of them up to PhD level. Our emphasis on rigorous science was exemplified in the book and acclaimed companion DVD documentary, Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels.7 As Christians, however, the Bible must occupy the supreme place in our thinking. Since it is the infallible Word of God Himself, we should be primarily concerned to proclaim Scripture as the ultimate authority and truth. This ‘Book of books’ reveals the One who was Himself the embodiment of Truth (John 14:6). Therefore, CMI’s stated vision (in keeping with the whole tenor of the New Testament) is: “To see the Lord Jesus Christ honoured as Creator and Saviour of the world”.8

TE activism tends to ignore Scripture

Despite all the talk about promoting clear thinking about science and God issues, there can be no doubt that GTN’s real mission is to promulgate TE. Their website homepage is explicit about their cooperation with the organisation Biologos, a bastion of TE in the USA, founded in 2007. As an important CMI article about Biologos reveals, its writers distort and twist Scripture in alarming ways as they try to bring it into submission to their preferred authority—evolution. The result is simply not true Christianity. It is little wonder, then, that the people at the Biologos-friendly GTN say so little about the Gospel.

The one exception mentioned earlier was occasioned by an anonymously submitted question:

“How should we react to the claim that the literal interpretation of Genesis 1–11 is absolutely fundamental to the truth of the rest of the Bible and the Gospel itself?”9

This is indeed a critical question. Anglican Bishop John Keenan10 responded on GTN’s behalf but his answer evades the force of the question entirely. He claims that those early chapters of Genesis are both non-literal and pre-scientific, arguing:

“Instead, the Genesis Creation account is intended to reveal theological and anthropological truths, such as that there is a good and wise God who created the Universe at a beginning out of nothing in order to display His glory and, in love, to share it with mankind.”

Unfortunately, no Scripture quotation is provided to back up Keenan’s claim. Instead he concludes his platitude with a rather banal quotation from an atheist, Professor Brian Cox:

“Meaning … is where art and music and philosophy and theology live …”11

Tragically, Bishop Keenan’s assertions are a denial of the historicity of Genesis 1–11 affirmed by Jesus and the New Testament writers. Of course, other proponents of TE have made attempts to defend their evangelical credentials, but this can only be done by redefining what ‘evangelical’ originally meant, and by a host of other theological gymnastics.2,3,4

Pressing toward the goal

The apostle Paul always sought to fulfil his calling as a Christian more perfectly, while acknowledging that he still fell short. He wrote that, “…straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14). Like him, we should be striving for excellence in our Christian walk, struggling against that which opposes the Gospel, and where necessary doing hard things. English is rich in figures of speech that express this need to accept responsibility for the tasks allotted to us; for example, ‘bite the bullet’, ‘tackle head on’, ‘take the bull by the horns’, and of course ‘grasp the nettle’. If we believe strongly that something is of vital relevance, we will want to give time to praying and labouring to that end. We have a goal in view and we press ever closer to it.

So, if we believe that the promotion of biblical creation is germane to the health and vitality of the Christian church, are we actively promoting it? Are we pressing toward the goal? There is no doubt that prominent theistic evolutionists are being seriously pro-active. They see clearly that creation apologetics organisations and resources are a threat to their position and prestige. Those holding to TE know they must lobby hard for their views to be heard and accepted.

Denis Alexander is one such person. In a postscript at the end of his strongly pro-TE book, Creation or Evolution: Do we Have to Choose? (see review) he writes:

“Christians who make it their mission to attack evolution … are embarrassing and bring the gospel into disrepute. … The public promotion of creationism and ID continues to create intellectual barriers for scientists, significantly diminishing the likelihood of their taking the gospel seriously. … Launching attacks on evolution is divisive and splits the Christian community… Instead of putting millions of pounds and dollars into publishing glossy magazines attacking evolution, why not put that money into helping the poor, or tackling HIV, or funding orphanages?”12

That’s certainly fighting talk. Interestingly, it does seem from this that Alexander is aware of the existence of magazines such as Creation, although the claimed millions spent on such is laughable; we could only wish! We will just note in passing that these words are a little rich coming from someone who for years (as with two editions of this very book) has made it his mission to promote evolution and attack biblical Creation teachings—things which Christ Himself believed and taught. However, we just emphasise here that theistic evolutionists are themselves on a mission. If that were not the case, why all the effort put into the pro-TE books, why the pro-TE documentary series, why the relatively recent establishment of highly pro-active pro-TE organisations like Biologos (which is funded to the tune of millions of dollars) and GTN?

Christ brings division?

Through their activism, GTN and Biologos and similar organisations betray their realisation that they must fight for their views to be heard. Unpleasant though it can be, those working within CMI and similar biblical creation organisations find themselves contending for the opposing viewpoint. Alexander may say that he worries about “intellectual barriers for scientists” and things which are “divisive” among Christians. However, for Christians who wish to remain faithful to their Lord, those things are sometimes unavoidable.

It was Jesus himself who said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:33–36). The context of these verses deals with whether a person publically acknowledges (confesses) or else denies Christ; unfortunately, Christians can occasionally find themselves ostracised by their own family members. Tragically, it is also true that Christians who stand publically against error may find themselves belittled and rejected, and even accused of inciting division (however, please note who really causes division). Nevertheless we must press on, grasping the nettle.

Called to persevere

Unpalatable though it may be, biblical creationists have a sincere concern to maintain the standard of God’s Word—in all its undiluted truth, from the very first verse. If the truth is divisive, so be it. If the truth is an intellectual barrier for some people, so be it. The Bible is clear that many who refuse to “love the truth” and “believe the truth” are condemned rather than saved (2 Thessalonians 2:10–11). The clear-cut teaching of Scripture on creation matters is unpopular in many of today’s churches. But we are not to water down the truth to make it more palatable to unbelievers (see also Post-truth: even in the Church?). There can be no worthwhile Christian unity at the expense of God’s truth. Only as falsehood and heresy are exposed and eradicated can the Body of Christ shine effectively as a beacon into the darkness of an increasingly crooked and twisted society (Philippians 2:15). Indeed, in CMI’s decades of experience, theistic evolution only confirms scientists who are unbelievers in their unbelief. This is because it provides a conflicted worldview that undermines the logical foundations of the Gospel—this was the experience of several who ended up working in creation ministry!

Theistic evolutionist groups such as GTN are increasingly grasping the nettle through their various stated strategies (public events, study groups, public dialogue, training and equipping). Can biblical creationists afford to be sleepy (Proverbs 6:4)? What more could you be doing to help people grasp the truth? For lots of good ideas, see Using your talent (the section headed: ‘Pressing forward, gaining ground’).

References and notes

  1. A modified version of an article in Update, CMI-UK/Europe, August 2017. Return to text.
  2. This and the next two references are just three of many examples: Bell, P., Perils of Theistic Evolution, Creation 37(3):44–47, 2015. Return to text.
  3. Fangrad, R., BioLogos, theistic evolution and the Pelagian heresy, 22 March 2014, creation.com/b-te-p. Return to text.
  4. Cosner, L. & Bates, G., Did God create over billions of years? 6 October 2011, creation.com/billions. Return to text.
  5. See graspingthenettle.org/home/about; accessed 16 June 2017. Return to text.
  6. At time of writing I could only find one reference to the word ‘gospel’ on the website: At odds with the biblical narrative; see graspingthenettle.org/question, accessed 16 June 2017. Return to text.
  7. The book and DVD involved nine and fifteen PhD scientists respectively. Return to text.
  8. This is defined as ‘Our Vision’ at creation.com/about-us. Return to text.
  9. See ref. 6, sub-question D. Return to text.
  10. The Right Reverend John Keenan is Bishop of the Diocese of Paisley, Scotland. Return to text.
  11. See graspingthenettle.org/question/at_odds_with_biblical_narrative; accessed 16 June 2017. Return to text.
  12. Alexander, D., Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose? 2nd edition, Monarch Books, Oxford, UK, pp. 461–463, 2014. Return to text.