Making disciples for Jesus Christ in South Africa
Robert Zins interviews theologian and author Victor Kuligin
Victor Kuligin lectures at the Bible Institute of South Africa (BISA), Kalk Bay, Cape Town, where he was previously also the academic dean. Before that he performed similar duties at the Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary (NETS), Windhoek, Namibia. He earned an M.A. in biblical studies from Wheaton Graduate School, and an M.Th. in church history and a D.Th. in systematic theology from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. He also has degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering, and prior to his theological pursuits, he worked for a metallurgy company for eight years. Dr Kuligin is the author of five books, including The Language of Salvation, Ten Things I Wish Jesus Never Said, andSnubbing God: The High Cost of Rejecting God’s Created Order. He is married to Rachel, and they have five children.
RZ: How did you come to faith in Jesus Christ and then into ministry?
VK: I grew up in a Christian home and came to embrace Jesus when I was eight. Only after college and once I was in the workplace did I feel drawn to full-time ministry, although I didn’t know to what exactly. However, I was given the opportunity to teach our church’s career-age Sunday school class of about 100 people, where I realized teaching is one of my spiritual gifts. While I was studying for my Master’s degree at a local Christian college, it became clearer that I should go to the mission field as a teacher, where there seemed to be a great need.
Were you ever concerned that your pursuits in science and theology might be in conflict with one another?
No, this never occurred to me. I know now that there is a perception that they should be in conflict, but that is a false understanding.
How did you become particularly interested in the topic of creation?
I’ve been interested in the creation/evolution debate since I was a teenager. I considered the arguments for evolution to be unconvincing, especially from my science background. I’ve continued to read on the topic over the past 30+ years to better understand evolutionary explanations and thus be able to show fellow believers why these are false.
One sometimes hears in Christian circles that if we don’t embrace evolution, our message might repel thoughtful and intelligent people, thus thwarting the spread of the Gospel. Your thoughts?
In 1 Corinthians, Paul contrasts God’s wisdom with worldly wisdom. He speaks about the “foolishness” of the Cross. Trying to make the Gospel intellectually acceptable goes against the Gospel’s nature. God purposefully chose a message that contradicts worldly wisdom—which of course does not mean it is either irrational or illogical. Besides, evolution has at its base a philosophical materialism that is completely at odds with Scripture. Paul says such philosophies amount to nothing. Preach Christ crucified. It is only through this “foolishness” that the Spirit draws people to God. And embracing evolution actually turns people away, since they think they can’t trust the Bible, and that God used a cruel and wasteful approach to create.
But, some would say, why concern ourselves with what people believe about origins, so long as they believe in Jesus Christ?
Trying to make the Gospel ‘intellectually acceptable’ is problematic in the first instance because it contradicts many of the foundational reasons for the Gospel. For example, it rejects the fact that Adam’s sin plunged a previously “very good” world into a reign of death and suffering. This is diametrically opposed to long-age teachings, which must ‘date’ human and animal fossils long before any ‘Adam’, meaning that death and suffering have occurred over millions of years.
It also involves faulty ethics. Instead of believing that humans are specially made in God’s image, with all the ethical responsibilities that entails, we would have to believe we are the byproduct of a random, mutative process that over a billion years changed worms into humans. How can that possibly be intellectually satisfying, let alone ethically responsible?
Some theologians advocate interpreting the Bible through the lens of contemporary scientific consensus. Is that a valid approach?
It is exactly backward. God’s Word is eternal, science by its very nature is tentative and subject to correction and change. Both enterprises done rightly should come to agreement, as both are ordained and established by the same God. However, the pursuit of science should be guided by Scripture, not used to somehow contradict it. Today’s science may very well become tomorrow’s laughing stock as scientific theories come and go. It is foolish to try to force our biblical reading into the temporary conclusions of science.
Do you have in mind a particular topic about which the scientific consensus has changed radically over recent years?
Yes. For example, before the big bang theory, the reigning scientific paradigm was that the universe was eternal. Christians criticized that theory and were in turn called intellectually ignorant, but believers knew from Scripture that the universe had a beginning. It’s only about 70 years ago that the ‘big bang’ theory came into popularity, and now Christians are told that we must hold to that scientific theory or be ignorant. However, holding consistently to the biblical teaching about creation is far superior to adhering to the whims of scientific conjectures about origins.
Some contemporary Christian scholars who try to syncretize the biblical origins account with evolutionary ideas have begun to question whether Adam was even a literal, historical person. How does that affect biblical theology?
Pretending that the biblical Adam is not a literal, historical person is not only nonsensical, it is theologically deadly. The Bible treats Adam as a real, historical person. For example, he is listed in Jesus’ genealogy in Luke 3:23–38. There is not a hint in that genealogy that we should consider people like David and Abraham to be genuine, historical people, while men like Noah and Adam are fictitious. Denying Adam’s historicity would also have severe theological consequences, since Jesus, as the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), came within real history to undo the consequences of what “the first man, Adam” also did in real history. That is, Adam brought sin and physical death, in contrast to Jesus who brought righteousness and resurrection from the dead (cf. Romans 5:12–19).
In your recently published book Snubbing God: The High Cost of Rejecting God’s Created Order, you approach contemporary social ills differently from most commentators, including Christian ones; you highlight the connection between God’s creatorhood and His having a created order. How did you come to that understanding?
It was born out of the conviction that God’s Word is always relevant to us, and from Scripture’s portrayal of God’s nature. He is a God of order, not disorder—purposeful, systematic, and organized. His creation, therefore, has a purpose and design that, should we decide to revolt against it, will only end in our own destruction. Western society’s headlong race into sin can only end in disaster if left unchecked. Any time you use something contrary to its basic design you flirt with failure, yet in areas like marriage, sexuality, and gender, we are quickly devolving into madness today. How can such things not be important? We are revolting against the Designer of life.