Southern Baptist Voices:  Expressing Our Concerns, Part 1

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February 28, 2012 Tags: Biblical Interpretation

Today's entry was written by Kenneth Keathley. 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.

Southern Baptist Voices:  Expressing Our Concerns, Part 1

This essay is the first in the series Southern Baptist Voices, a dialogue between Southern Baptist seminarians and representatives of the BioLogos perspective on science and Christian faith. In this post, Part 1 of Dr. Keathley’s two-part paper, he outlines the first three of six areas of concern he has with BioLogos positions. The remainder of his paper and a two-part BioLogos response will be posted beginning tomorrow. For a more complete description of the project’s history and aims, please see our introduction here.

I thank Darrel Falk for the opportunity to write this brief essay for the BioLogos website. When Dr. Falk extended the invitation to me and other SBC seminary professors like me to write a series of essays, he knew full well that we would mostly express our concerns and disagreements with a number of BioLogos positions. I commend Dr. Falk for his graciousness and bravery. I intend at this time merely to introduce the topics about which my colleagues will write more extensively.

Professors at the six Southern Baptist seminaries subscribe to the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M), the statement of faith adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention. The BF&M provides a summary of Christian beliefs from a Baptist perspective, but it is conspicuously silent on three subjects: Calvinism, the nature of the millennial kingdom, and the age of the earth. Because Southern Baptists hold to a spectrum of views on each of these hot-button items, no specific position is taken. It is the third matter—creation, the age of the earth, and all the attendant matters, that concern us now. The BF&M declares God to be the Creator of the Universe and describes humans as the special creation of God, but the confession has no section that deals specifically with the doctrine of Creation.

I think it would be safe to say that most (but not all) Southern Baptists hold to young-earth creationism (YEC). Among the faculty of our six seminaries one would find a mix of YEC proponents and OEC (old-earth creationism) adherents. I sometimes describe myself as a “disappointed young-earther.” By that I mean I started out holding to the young-earth position but the shortcomings of most YEC arguments and the shenanigans of certain YEC advocates forced me to move to the OEC position. I am not aware of any SBC seminary faculty who advocates theistic evolution or evolutionary creationism (EC). Many (including me) are involved with or express sympathy to the intelligent design movement (ID).

So what are some of the concerns we have with evolutionary creationism as typically presented by the BioLogos Foundation? Briefly, they are:

1. Concerns about theological method: Christians cannot do theology in a vacuum. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that theology is never done in a vacuum, and we should not pretend that it is. And the BioLogos Foundation is correct in arguing that evangelicals cannot ignore the latest advances in biology, geology, and other related fields. Our goal should be more than merely finding a way to reconcile Genesis with the latest discoveries in genetics. Rather, our task as pastors and theologians is to present a theology of Creation that provides a solid worldview for Christians to work in the natural sciences with integrity for the glory of God.

One gets the impression at times that evolutionary creationism is a theory in search of theological justification. It’s easy to see why believing scientists who hold to evolution would want to find ways that evolution could be compatible with orthodox Christian doctrine. However, theologically speaking, the danger of the tail wagging the dog is very real. Can one start with the Scriptures and arrive at anything resembling theistic evolution? Are we to start with a scientific conclusion and then look for biblical sanction? I don’t think most scientists would want to do science the way evolutionary creationists seem to be asking theologians to do theology.

2. Genesis has only so much hermeneutical elasticity: Genre and hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) have always been difficult topics. In the early days of the church, from Basil of Caesarea to Augustine, scholars struggled with the proper way to understand the creation account in Genesis. Lately, however, the concordist and non-concordist approaches to the first 11 chapters of Genesis seem to be of unending and ever-increasing variety and complexity. Theistic evolutionists have contributed to the conversation. Certain evolutionary creationists ask us to accept more and more fanciful interpretations of Genesis.

Take for example, the account of God creating Eve from Adam’s rib:

“So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.”—Gen 2:21-22 (ESV)

Should we understand, as some theistic evolutionists suggest, that the real message of these verses is that God gave a female hominid the same awareness of the divine that He gave to a male hominid? Is this the intended meaning of the account? I just don’t see how we can arrive at such an understanding with integrity. The textual skin of Genesis 1-3 does not readily fit over an evolutionary drum.

Some evolutionary creationists treat the creation accounts in ways that are not far from the allegorical interpretations of Origen. Hans Frei observed that such methods often hide an embarrassment about the biblical narrative. They allow one to play fast and loose with the text while appearing to take the Bible seriously. The BioLogos community has yet to convince Southern Baptist scholars that they are correctly handling the Genesis accounts.

3. The connection between natural history and salvation history: This seems to be a (maybe, the) major area of disagreement between evolutionary creationists and intelligent design proponents.

On the one hand, there is the modern evolutionary understanding of natural history (often called neo-Darwinism or something similar). Here is my understanding of that narrative: Certain elements of nature contained self-organizing and self-replicating properties. These properties are able, from a natural perspective, to account for the information and complexity that were necessary for life to arise. Once life began, random variation and natural selection are sufficient (again naturally speaking) to explain the diversity of life we see today. Evolutionary creationists understand God to have guided and sustained the entire process by means of ordinary providence. No direct divine activity is discernible or necessary.

On the other hand, the grand narrative of the Bible presents us with an account of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and eventual Consummation. Salvation history presents God as the sovereign Lord, active in revealing and saving power. He manifests himself throughout the Old and New Testaments in signs, wonders, and miracles, and culminates his saving work in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ordinary providence is spiked with the mighty acts of God.

How does BioLogos connect the two narratives? Are the two worldviews even compatible? Southern Baptists affirm that ordinary providence is the way that God generally deals with His creation. But salvation history is discontinuous. It contains many moments in which the events that occur can be understood only as special, unique actions of God. This is why creationists, whether they are YEC advocates, or OEC advocates, or even ID proponents, expect to find evidence of discontinuity in the natural record also. To laymen (in scientific matters) like me, the relationship between BioLogos and ID proponents appears to be hostile. And the debate seems to be over whether or not we should expect to find evidences of divine activity in the natural order. The BioLogos proponents have not demonstrated how they understand the two narratives to come together.

Tomorrow, Dr. Keathley’s paper concludes by outlining the remaining three areas of concern many Southern Baptists have with the BioLogos approach to science and Christian faith.


Kenneth Keathley is Professor of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

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