The Biologos Foundation and “Darwin’s Pious Idea”, Part 5
Today's entry was written by John Wesley Wright. 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.
Perhaps readers, secular or Christian, who turn to chapter seven of Darwin’s Pious Idea will experience a bewildering disorientation. Secular readers might find the chapter confusing for its strong emphasis on Jesus Christ as witnessed to in the Christian Scripture as the key to sustaining evolutionary science. Contemporary Christian readers might experience the same confusion, but for different reasons. After all, Genesis 1-3 does not directly refer to Jesus Christ but creation and fall – the reason why Jesus had to come.
We live today in a cultural world that presupposes that the issue of “the Bible” and “evolution” depends on the ability to correlate the two directly. This predetermines the logic of possible positions. The issue of the “seven days” of creation in Genesis 1 supposedly depends upon “day” as serving either as a twenty-four hour period (young earth creationists) or an undetermined amount of time (evolutionary theists); one builds one’s scientific position directly on faith in the Scripture as the Scripture refers to creation. Of course, secularists see the Scripture as utterly irrelevant. Why even care about ancient document’s “mythological” view about creation? Science has nothing to do with the Scripture.
One can always move to the mediating position of mainline Protestant liberalism -- one can read the text “non-literally” through de-mythologizing the ancient Israelite “view of creation” to retrieve some inner experiential essence that the text expresses. Of course lines get fuzzy, particularly as “educated evangelicals” bleed over from “evolutionary theism” into “mythological” readings of Genesis 1-3.
We can understand the heat generated culturally within evangelical Protestant circles over “young earth” versus “old earth” creationists positions. Such heat reinforces the secularist’s cultural prejudices against evangelical Christians; young evangelicals move to mediating Protestant liberal positions of mainline Protestantism before exiting the faith altogether later in life or in the next generation. Meanwhile Biologos Foundation steps into the heat to dissipate it, to undercut the secularist’s scholarship of the sneer amid an evangelical commitment to the authority of the Scripture, without experiencing the drift into the mainline cultural Protestant liberal commitments that end in American civil religion. Samuel Huntington has recently nicely summarized the current form of American cultural Protestantism: “Protestantism without God” (i.e., emphasis on “faith” as a human experience that gets expressed in various, equally legitimate, pluralistic ways in various “faith-communities”); “Christianity without Christ” (i.e., Christianity is essentially about a benevolent ethical program of inclusion within the world to encourage “love of God” manifested as “love of neighbor”).
In chapter 7 Cunningham reconfigures the debate by returning to the basic logic of historic Christianity. Cunningham argues that both evolutionary science and the Scriptures refer to Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, who raises and perfects their literal senses as their Alpha and Omega, their Creator and Sanctifier unto Perfection. Against the secularist, Cunningham argues that evolutionary thought either finds its origin and end in Jesus Christ, the Word (Reason) made flesh or collapses back into its own nihilistic logic; against the creation scientist, Cunningham argues that the literal sense of Genesis 1-3 finds its origin and end in Jesus Christ or the Bible becomes the oracle of a pagan demi-urge; against the Protestant liberals, the mediation of “theology and scientific results” either requires its origin and end in Jesus Christ, or it falls into the same logic of the secularist position by positing a "more" found deep within human experience that expresses itself in various ways as each human being moves onward into nothingness. While Cunningham’s argument has a certain family resemblance to “theistic evolution,” such language is much too imprecise to describe the eternal Triune God who has revealed God’s Self fully by taking creation fully into God’s Self in Jesus Christ. As Cunningham writes, “creation is about Christ, and nothing else. Jesus, as the Word of God, is the metaphysical or ontological beginning and end (telos) of all that exists” (p. 378).
Cunningham attempts no novelty in his theological interpretation of Scripture and creation. He returns to the sources of Scripture and the theological reflections in early Christianity. He insists that the Christian interpretation of the Scripture regarding creation requires a profoundly Christological focus. Quite simply, “We should not isolate creation from incarnation, for it is true to say (as do both Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor) that incarnation and redemption are no less part of God’s purpose than creation. . . . Therefore, the incarnation is not the consequence of, or a reaction to, the Fall, but was always God’s intention” (p. 384).
We do not interpret Scripture “as a self-enclosed, discrete text that can simply be opened, read, and understood” (p. 393). Rather, Cunningham quotes the remarkable words of John Behr: Scripture provides a “’treasury of imagery for entering into the mystery of Christ, the starting point for which is the historical event of the Passion’” (p. 393). We don’t interpret Scripture to see what it says about creation; God has given us the Scripture to interpret Christ. Therefore, we have to speak about creation from the Scripture because the Word through Whom God the Father created all things was made flesh and dwelt among us.
If we can grasp this profoundly Christian conviction, we can understand why Cunningham emphasizes the “sabbath” to interpret Genesis 1-3. The seventh day shows the utter gratuity of creation – creation comes to us strictly as gift and is not in any way necessary for God: “The Sabbath is, therefore, the meaning of creation, for creation is meant to have rest; it is to repose within divine purpose, a purpose that is free of necessity and that is instead a matter of utter generosity” (p. 386). The development of the first six days in Genesis 1 and the focus on humanity in Genesis 2-3 occurs only within the context of the divine purpose found in creation’s beginning and end in Christ: “Life and history, then, are a matter of pilgrimage and development, and the language of return correlates not to history but to divine, eternal intention: God made man to become divine, knowing that this could only be achieved through the reality of history into which would come his only begotten Son. Salvation is therefore true hominization, and thus real humanism: man becomes man only in Christ (pp. 391-2). Sabbath provides the purpose and meaning of creation, even as the Sabbath rest comes in Christ.
The first human, the “historical Adam,” so-to-speak, is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ mediates creation, incarnation, and the end of all things: “As Christ is eternally the Word of God, there was therefore always a Savior, so in this sense there needed to be someone to save. Creation involves one long process of habituation between humans and God, and God and humans, where each developed in their mutual participation. The second season, which in terms of logic is the first, is the incarnation. . . . Christ assumes and recapitulates all that has come before him, thus demonstrating that they come from him as the pre-existing Son, rather than he from them. . . . This helps us realize that there was, in a logical sense, no first Adam. The third and final season is Christ’s return in glory, for the Word who is the beginning will also be the end. . . . ‘First and alone’: thus there is only one Adam” (p. 394). As with the Apostle Paul, so for Cunningham: “Yes, through one man death was defeated, because Christ offers naturally mortal man eternity, which is man’s natural desire but not his natural competence. For Paul it is more a matter of what Adam is, not who he is. Adam is a type of Christ” (p. 397).
Genesis 1-3 provides an indispensable treasury so that we might recognize, through faith, Jesus Christ. Having recognized Jesus Christ according to the Scripture, we then can recognize ourselves and all of creation as icons of Christ. Through the Scriptural witness to Christ, we discover “to put it crudely, matter matters. Christ loves the body to the ultimate degree, for he creates it, assumes it and thus redeems it, and lastly, resurrects it: there is nothing more carnal than resurrection. This is the Christian revolution” (p. 405).
Scripture, like we saw with the theory of evolution itself, belongs amid a creation that signs beyond itself in Jesus Christ or collapses back inward to nothingness – and thus forces us to deny our experience at its very core: “If we presume the Scriptures can exist or be read except through Christ – then we fall on folly, for there is no history without Christ. Put differently, in purely secular or naturalistic terms we cannot locate people, or events, the meanings of words, for the arbitrary nature of any other first principle than Christ would cause all form to hemorrhage” (p. 397).
As Cunningham states in the chapter Scripture is not a cheap replacement for a time machine to “know what happened back then” because we would like to shake hands with Adam and Eve and chat with the serpent in Eden. Scripture is God’s gift that the Holy Spirit has sanctified in order to show us our origin, sustaining, and end in Christ – lest we fall into nothingness alone. Therefore Cunningham types our lives through the treasury of Scripture in the terms of the nakedness of the first humans in Genesis 2 to make an evangelical decision of faith: “There are two complementary ways of looking at being . . . It is our reactions to them that determine whether it is a question of sin or faith (whether we fall or rise, as it were). Because we are created, because all we have is received, it is perpetually the case that, in a sense, our being is always naked. . . . . If we are not to read our nakedness negatively . . . our nakedness is one of intimacy – of the very relationship of immanence and transcendence, which cannot, on pain of invoking a third term, se set over and against each other. This intimacy, this noninvasive, divine concurrence, informs the world” (p. 411).
We need to take serious Cunningham’s use of the word “in-form.” The Scriptural narrative of creation signs the enchantment of the world in Christ, just like Cunningham argued for the theory of evolution. Scripture and the world reveal God’s glory – but God’s glory is mediated to us through the incarnate Christ, the very glory of God. No such thing as pure nature exists, for it was/is/and will be “formed” through the eternal Word, the very Reason of God, the image of God that shows that humans receive their vocation as created in the image of God, i.e., from and toward Jesus Christ. The hyper-Darwinians and the interpretative practice of creation scientists both presuppose an unmediated reality purely accessible through “science” or “the Bible.” Instead, Cunningham gives us a sacramental world, in its very ordinary materiality, that signs beyond itself. As in creation, so in redemption, both united in the eternal Word, all we can therefore say as human beings is “eucharist” – or more simply, “thank you,” thank you to God for the gift of life in creation and the gift of the fullness of life eternally, both mediated to us from God the Father by the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, one God, forever and ever.
John Wesley Wright, Ph.D. is Professor of Theology and Christian Scriptures at Point Loma Nazarene University. Dr. Wright has published numerous articles and edited a number of books, including Priests, Prophets, and Scribes: Essays on the Formation and Heritage of Second Temple Judaism in Honor of Joseph Blenkinsopp, which he co-edited with Eugene Ulrich, Robert Carroll, and Philip R. Davies. (JSOT Press, 1992) and Conflicting Allegiances: The Church-based University In A Liberal Democratic Society, co-edited with Michael Budde (Brazos Press, 2004).