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Maker of Heaven and Earth

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October 17, 2011 Tags: Creation & Origins

Today's sermon features David Swaim. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Introduction

Today BioLogos begins a series that we think ought to have significant impact on evangelical churches far beyond the local congregation in Arlington, Massachusetts where it was first delivered. A recent editorial in Christianity Today stated that many Christians likely face another "Galileo moment." In that earlier era, finding that the earth moved around the sun--and not the other way around--caused the Church to reorient its understanding of certain scriptural passages. Today, interconnecting strands of evidence all of which lie at the heart of biology, geology, physics and astronomy require segments of the Church to carefully evaluate its magnificent creation narrative--it needs to be certain it is hearing God's message in the way that God intends for it to be understood. It is healthy for the conservative wing of Christianity to be carefully examining the genre of the creation narrative. It has had to do this once before and, it is appropriate to prayerfully seek clarity once again. Christians are truth-seekers and God's Spirit will guide the process as we sincerely seek that wisdom which is from above.

Oratory, at its best, has long been an important key in opening the door to new and dramatically important insights. Pastor David Swaim of Highrock Church in the Boston suburb of Arlington illustrates this poignantly. In fact his sermon is so significant, we've asked permission to post it in serial form so that each of us can deeply reflect on his words in a protracted fashion. We encourage you to let others who are conflicted over this issue know about the series so that they can follow it. Indeed, we believe It will be a great series for small group discussions--we need to lovingly support each other as we seek God's guidance in coming to understand God's truths.

In this sermon, Swaim discusses our belief in God as creator, or “Maker of heaven and earth”, as the Apostle’s Creed so poetically states. To begin, he reminds us that some passages in the Bible, like the parable of the prodigal son, convey deep truths even though they are not historical accounts. Asking “the wrong questions”—questions that focus on arbitrary details—about such stories can cause us to miss out on their intended message. In a similar way, he says, it is possible that we might be asking the “wrong questions” about the opening chapters of Genesis. In recent years, conflict has erupted because a literal reading of Genesis seems to contradict the findings of science. Swaim suggests, however, that accepting scientific evidence about things like evolution and the age of the earth need not rule out faith in Scripture.

If you wish to jump ahead and hear the sermon in its entirety, you may do so here.

Introduction written by the BioLogos editorial team.

"Maker of Heaven and Earth" (transcript)

One of my favorite parables is that of the lost son. There’s a lot to it. Basically, it’s a story that Jesus told about a young man who insulted his father by demanding his share of the inheritance early, then ran off to spend that money on wild living, and found himself destitute when the money was gone. In desperation, he returned to his father, asking to work as a servant. But instead of being angry, his father joyfully embraced his lost son and threw a huge feast to celebrate his return. It is a great story that Jesus tells to help us understand God’s amazing grace.

How many of you know this story? Raise your hand, if you would. Okay. Now I want to make sure I’m clear…that’s a lot of you…I don’t mean just like, you know it because I just told it to you. I mean you know it because you’ve heard a sermon on this before, or maybe you’ve read it on your own. Raise your hand high if that’s true of you. Wow, still a lot of you. That’s perfect because I actually have a couple of questions maybe you can help me with. You see, it says that the father saw the son while he was still a long way off. Can anybody tell me how far off was the son at that point? Anybody know that? Because, you know, they didn’t have glasses back then, and the father was really old, so how far could he really see? It just doesn’t really add up for me. Can anybody tell me about that? Nobody? Okay. Well I have another question. Maybe this one’s easier. What town did that family live in? Does anybody know that? No? Nobody? What town they lived in? People, this is one of the greatest stories of all time! This is a story that has changed thousands of lives, including many of yours! How can you say that you know this story, that you understand this story, if you don’t even understand these basic facts? Okay, well maybe this is easier. Speaking of family, the Bible’s into family values, so I want to know—where’s the mother? Can anybody tell me? Is this family not intact? What’s wrong? Did they get a divorce maybe? And how come the father ended up with the custody of the sons? And why did they only have two? Families back then had much bigger families. Maybe they just got divorced too early? But I mean he seems so nice—why do you think she left? Anybody know these things? I mean I just don’t get it. You all tell me you know this story, and yet you don’t understand just these simple things about it.

Obviously, my questions miss the whole point of the story. There was no mother, or for that matter, no father or son either. This never actually happened. It’s just a parable. It’s one of the many marvelous stories that Jesus told in order to help us understand something that was hard to see. Now does that make it so that this story isn’t true? No, it is true. This story communicates some of the most important truths in the universe—about God’s nature, and the way that we relate to him. There are many passages in scripture that promise God’s love, or praise God’s love, or even try to explain God’s love. But this passage helps us grasp that truth in a way that’s much more effectively communicated than just through direct reporting. This way helps us feel it. This event never happened, but it’s one of the truest stories in the world. And what a shame for someone to dismiss it as irrelevant because it’s not literal history, or miss the point by asking the wrong kinds of questions.

Now I bring this up because just like my questions miss the point of the lost son parable, so, I fear, many of us ask the wrong questions about the beginning of the book of Genesis, which we read from just a few minutes ago. Not only does this generate needless confusion and division, it also makes us miss the point, miss the life-changing truths that we could see if we asked the right questions. Right now we’re in a sermon series studying the Apostle’s Creed, an ancient declaration of faith in the God of the Bible. And today, we’re considering the word “creator.” So, Genesis seemed like the right place to go.

Like the story of the lost son, most of you know the basic outline: God created the universe in six days and then napped on the seventh (so those of you who nap through my sermons every Sunday, you’re in good company!). But by adding up all the names of the people mentioned in Genesis, and throughout the rest of the Bible, seventeenth century Bishop Ussher determined that the creation of Adam and Eve, and everything else, happened in 4,004 BC—about 6,000 years ago. And that’s great. But you’re probably also aware that this creates some tension with contemporary scientists who suggest a different timeline. Considering the evidence offered by the size and expansion rate of the universe, plate tectonics, fossil evidence, and genetics, their best guess is that the universe was created by a big bang about 13 billion years ago, the earth appeared about 4.5 billion years ago, and the earliest humans existed about 200,000 years ago. In the past 300 years, this has become a very heated debate. Apparently, we need to choose whether we believe in science or in scripture. At least that’s the claim made by the most strident voices on each side, so the general population seems to have accepted that if you believe in God you can’t believe in evolution, and if you believe in evolution then you can’t believe in God.

This topic arouses passions and anxieties in many people, including some in this room. No matter what your perspective is, I’m probably going to say something today that you’ll disagree with, and might even make you angry. There’ll be plenty of time for you to set me straight in the coming weeks. But for the next half hour, in order to allow the possibility that we might hear something new, or even learn from the Holy Spirit, let’s lay aside our defensiveness so that we can at least consider why we are so attached to whatever ideas we have, and evaluate whether our devotion to one truth may be blinding us to others. As scientists have discovered more and more evidence supporting the basic evolutionary theory outlined in Darwin’s Origin of Species, Christians have responded in a variety of ways.

Science has been right about so many things, so some Christians have embraced evolution and felt forced to abandon their trust, not only in the truth of Scripture, but also in the God it describes. Other Christians, including many renowned scientists, have fought back by pointing out the many flaws in evolutionary theory and proposing alternative theories of their own. These include Young Earth Creation, which asserts that the earth was created in six days six thousand years ago, and offers thoughtful explanations to reconcile the findings of science with the words of Genesis 1. Old Earth Creationists do the same thing, but contend that each of the days in Genesis could represent an epoch, or a million years, or whatever amount of time, instead of just a 24-hour day. This is linguistically legitimate—it’s a fine interpretation of the Hebrew word “day” in Genesis—and it recognizes that it’s hard to measure a day before the invention of the sun in day four, anyway. So, Old Earth Creationism opens up many possibilities to reconcile scientific claims about the age of the earth with a literal interpretation of Genesis. Theistic Evolution takes further steps to accommodate evolution while still honoring God as the one who created heaven and earth and everything in them through the evolutionary process. This is attractive because it eliminates the conflict between science and scripture, but it requires a very different way of reading Genesis. They suggest that, like I did with the parable of the prodigal son earlier, perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions about Genesis so that we’re inventing an unnecessary argument, and even worse, we’re also missing what the first chapters of Genesis really are all about.

In the next installment, to be posted tomorrow, Pastor Swaim goes on to discuss the Genesis passage in detail.
 


David Swaim is Senior Pastor of Highrock Covenant Church in Arlington, Massachusetts. After attending graduate school, he served in numerous churches until he settled at Highrock.

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beaglelady - #65558

October 17th 2011

I enjoyed the sermon!  But in the introductory remarks from the CT article, saying that “the Church is likely at a second Galileo moment” is conflating the Evangelical Church with the entire Church. 


Darrel Falk - #65560

October 17th 2011

Beaglelady,

Point well taken.  We’ve altered the introduction slightly to more accurately reflect the wording in the C.T. editorial.


Jon Garvey - #65565

October 17th 2011

The Galileo moment of science, I guess, was during my own lifetime when the almost universal assumption that the Universe was unbounded and eternal was controverted by evidence of the Big Bang. Funnily enough in that event a stubbornly literalistic Christian would have been found closer to the truth than the one who’d accommodated his theology to the prevailing science, which had long since rejected a creation event.

The “Galileo moment” itself, of course, in reality extended over several centuries. The metaphysical and theological possibility of non-geocentric cosmology had been raised by theologians and philosophers in the universities well before Copernicus. His own mathematical model, involving circular orbits, has been observed to require more epicycles than Ptolemaic astronomy.

Galileo himself lacked empirical evidence (which fell to Kepler) and so was opposed by many of his scientific colleagues, though the Jesuits used heliocentric astronomy in navigation even though the Curia officially opposed it (supporting, it seems, the then current scientific consensus!). Gets complicated, doesn’t it?

The question is, if you’d placed your bets in the time of Copernicus - or even of Galileo - what are the odds that you wouldn’t have jumped the wrong way?


HornSpiel - #65572

October 17th 2011

It is one thing to espouse TE in the least churched part of the country. I would love to hearthis sermon given in a SBC church here in Texas. 


But what he is saying is absolutely right. If you take Genesis literally you miss the point. Not only do you end up on a fruitless defense of the indefensible, you really miss the point of what it meant to the original hearers, I believe. 

The big question though is what it entails for our understanding of the origins of Scripture. Because as soon as we allow people to think critically of one aspect of Scripture, Genesis, what is to stop them from thinking critically about more recent parts, say the story of Jonah. All of a sudden we, the church, don’t have all the answers to all of life’s mysteries. who is going to trust us? 

Well personally, that does not bother me as I am content to know only that Christ died for me and that he rose again so I can experience fellowship with the Son and the Father through the Holy Spirit. But I know that not knowing more bothers a lot of people and I am praying that a way forward for them too will dawn on them. 

Alan - #65583

October 18th 2011

@Hornspiel:

I was surprised to find out through a Washington Post article that Rick Perry’s pastor Mac Richard shows remarkable balance and wisdom in his sermon on evolution/creation issues.  The guy is clearly open.  I don’t know if the church is in the SBC, but they are in Texas.  Here’s a link to the sermon

http://vimeo.com/22447421


HornSpiel - #65591

October 18th 2011

Thanks for this. Austin is the Berkeley of Texas and I am not surprised that there is a more thoughtful approach in that town. Perry, however, seems not to share his Pastor’s approach.


Alan - #65584

October 18th 2011

@Hornspiel:

I was surprised to find out through a Washington Post article that Rick Perry’s pastor Mac Richard shows remarkable balance and wisdom in his sermon on evolution/creation issues.  The guy is clearly open.  I don’t know if the church is in the SBC, but they are in Texas.  Here’s a link to the sermon

http://vimeo.com/22447421


KevinR - #65597

October 19th 2011

“These include Young Earth Creation, which asserts that the earth was
created in six days six thousand years ago, and offers thoughtful
explanations to reconcile the findings of science with the words of
Genesis 1.”

Perhaps the pastor would like to elaborate on the meaning of Exodus 20:8-11. Just what are those six days mentioned there? I’d would be very enlightening to know how one interprets it in the light of evolution. Same goes for exodus 31:17. Please let the Pastor explain.


jude - #65609

October 19th 2011

These verses are meant to instruct us about the need for the Sabbath.

God performed a mighty act of creation; who knows how long this took.  It resulted in the Big Bang, and the unfolding of the splendor of what He had wrought… galaxies, stars, planets, beautiful oceans and land forms upon the earth, the myriad of plant of animal species… and humanity.  After His creation, it all unfolded according to the laws of physics that God had set forth, and according to His providence which sustains them.  But after all this, God rested.  It’s true, the Bible says so.

For this reason, we are also to rest after we work.  God saw this as a good plan for His people.  We don’t experience time the way God does.  How brash it would be for us to think that we do!  There are verses in the Bible that explicitly state that we experience time differently than God does.

The Hebrew word for “day” is yom, and it is used in both Genesis chapters 1 and 2 as well as the Exodus verses that you mention above.  This word yom is translated in many different ways elsewhere in the Bible… day, age, time, year, season.  For our life, it’s suitable to interpret this as a 24-hour day, and I think we’re all fairly certain that this is what God intended for us in the Sabbath.  But to say that this is what it means for God, I don’t think that explanation makes any sense (from what we can observe about the universe) and neither is it exegetically correct (since God is timeless).

If many, many branches of science (geology, astronomy, biology, nuclear physics) point to an age of the universe, an age of the earth, and an age of humanity that is different from what we think the Bible says, it’s most likely that we’ve misinterpreted the Bible.  It’s happened before (hello, Copernicus, Newton, and Galileo) and it’ll likely happen again.


KevinR - #65598

October 19th 2011

“he findings of science”
Just what are those findings of Science? Perhaps the right reverend Swaim would be so kind as to  elaborate a bit. Does he make any distinction between things which we can observe, measure, verify, test and falsify in the here and now as opposed to things which happened in the past where  we cannot go and observe, calculate, test, verify and falsify at all and about which we can only make basic assumptions and speculate?

Please show us how the findings of science has refuted six-day creation to the extend that we no longer can believe the bible and that in fact the science of man has become the authority on origins. If the science has indeed shown that Genesis 1 is incorrect why does anyone still want to adhere to the rest of the bible? Does the Pastor still believe that people[Jesus in particular] can rise from the dead? The findings of Science is that people do not rise from the dead. Perhaps the pastor should abandon his belief in Jesus as the Saviour, after all, he couldn’t rise from the dead according to scientific findings.
If one is going to accept the findings of science perhaps one should be consistent and accept ALL of it, not pick that which one wants to apply and kick the rest into the gutter.


Ashe - #65603

October 19th 2011

jude - #65608

October 19th 2011

KevinR, science does not explain the miraculous.  I think most of us here (meaning, Christians who accept biological evolution) fully believe in the miracles mentioned in the Bible… all the miracles in the Old Testament as well as the New.  The plagues of Moses, a talking donkey, the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus, all of the Gospel miracles performed by Jesus and the apostles were real.

By its very definition, the natural sciences (biology geology, astronomy, and so on) are the study of the natural world.  They do not explain the super-natural.  The resurrection of Jesus was supernatural.

The point that is being made on this site is that everything we have learned from the natural sciences shows us that it is fully possible to explain the evolution of life through non-supernatural forces.  We are not saying:

The universe was not created by God
The very first life was not created by God (although some do believe that, this is the theory of abiogenesis)

All we are saying is that once the universe, and the solar system, and the earth matured enough to support life, and that the very first life forms appeared, everything between that point in time and the appearance of the first humans can be fully explained by biological evolution.  Furthermore, we are saying that this is consistent with the message of Genesis.  In fact, this is more consistent with the message of Genesis than an explanation that God created life forms independently.  Genesis states that God caused the earth to create life. 

The verses in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 cannot be taken literally.  If they were, we must also believe that there is a dome above the earth which holds up an immense ocean in the skies.  Since that is obviously not true, and since we now also have abundant evidence for biological evolution, it’s time to accept that the creation account is not a literal account.

Does it mean that Adam and Even didn’t exist?  Some would say so, but I personally believe that they did exist.  Even though I fully accept biological evolution, I think they were historical figures, but they certainly weren’t the first humans (per our biological definition of humans).  You can visit my Web site (click on my name) if you are interested in my reasoning.


jude - #65607

October 19th 2011

I agree wholeheartedly with the points that Pastor Swaim is trying to make—that there is no conflict between what science has revealed about our origins and the true meaning of the Genesis creation account.

However, I think he may be going a bit too far.  Who are we to say that the creation account is a parable?  There is no indication of this.  Why not just explain that Adam and Eve were historical figures, but that they were simply the first members of the human species (which may have numbered millions of individuals at the time) to have been brought into the Garden and given a soul? (see http://truecreation.info for more about this). Why go so far as to say that the creation story is a fiction or a parable?

For that matter, there’s no indication that Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son wasn’t an actual event about actual people.  If we read Luke 15, we see that this section is preceded by two other parables which start with “suppose”, and it’s pretty clear that those events didn’t happen.  However, with this particular parable, Jesus starts with, “There was a man who had two sons.”  So I’m not sure this is the best example of a story representing a non-historical event.  Would he also say that the parable of the good Samaritan is a fictitious event made up by Jesus solely for instructional purposes?

I also would ask him to clarify some of his wording:  “whether our devotion to one truth may be blinding us to others”... what exactly does this mean?  Is the creation account true, or isn’t it?  What are the other truths?  I think that we all, as eveangelicals, need to be more explicit when we speak openly to others that we don’t believe in a pluralism of “truths” on any particular subject which can be exchanged for one another.  I know, of course, that this is not what Pastor Swaim means to say, but I’ll respectfully offer that perhaps it could have been phrased better.  For example:  “There is only one truth about creation, which is the truth of the Bible.  However, the interpretation of this truth by evangelicals has largely been incorrect.”

I applaud Pastor Swaim for trying to reach evangelicals with theistic evolution, and perhaps I am misinterpreting some of his statements, but I am not100% comfortable with the explanation given in this particular sermon, from what I’ve read above.


Darrel Falk - #65611

October 19th 2011

Hi Jude,


I think it is important to indicate that you’ve misunderstood Pastor Swaim’s point.  He did not use the parable of the Prodigal Son  to suggest that the Genesis story may also be a parable.  He used it only as an illustration of how it is inappropriate to demand that a biblical text (or any other text) answer questions that it never set out to answer.  Just as it is inappropriate to enter into a dialog about what happened to the mother in the Prodigal Son story so, he was saying, it is inappropriate to try to make the creation account answer questions that it was not addressing.  There is nothing in his sermon to say that he thinks that Genesis one through three is the equivalent of a parable.  

Best,
Darrel

jude - #65622

October 20th 2011

Thank you, Darrell; this I can agree with—“how it is inappropriate to demand that a biblical text (or any other text) answer questions that it never set out to answer”.

And it’s not important that I agree or disagree; I simply want to ensure that for those who do have a 6-day understanding of creation, your point is made clear.  Pastor Swaim makes the statement “it never happened”, and with this argument, someone might walk away from this sermon thinking that he is using the same argument for Genesis 1.  But we know that is not the case.  Even with regards to the parable itself, someone may get sidetracked into the argument of whether or not it happened, which detracts from the point of the sermon.

Blessings,
Jude


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