Jürgen Moltmann on Evolution as God’s Continuous Creation

I was first introduced to theologian Jürgen Moltmann while I was a pastor at a megachurch in Seattle, when I read his famous books, the Theology of HopeThe Crucified God, and his autobiography, A Broad Place. Moltmann came to faith while in a prison camp in Scotland, after surrendering from the Nazi army during World War 2. In Jesus, he found “someone who understands you completely, who is with you in your cry to God and has felt the same forsakenness you are living in now.”1 Moltmann was outside of my preferred theological circles at the time I first encountered him, but he helped me provide pastoral answers to the frequently asked question, “where is God in suffering?”

As I continued reading, he began helping me with many other questions, such as how the doctrine of creation and evolutionary science could fit together. Moltmann has developed a doctrine of creation that emphasizes God’s continuous creation activity throughout history.

Moltmann’s theology doesn’t always conform to conventional Evangelical theology, which may explain why many Evangelicals are unfamiliar with Moltmann, or are critical of him at times. However, Moltmann’s life and work exude a deep and abiding faith in Christ, often born of suffering and struggle. He should not be easily or quickly dismissed. I believe Evangelicals may benefit from Moltmann’s unique answers to questions such as the relationship between evolution and Creation, even if they do not follow all his theological footsteps.

In particular, Moltmann’s work can help us work through a common Christian objection to evolution: If evolution is a continuous process, past and present, how can we reconcile it with the biblical message that God seemingly ceased creating at the end of Genesis 1?

Original Creation, Continuous Creation, New Creation

Jürgen Moltmann describes Creation as a tripartite process consisting of Original Creation, Continuous Creation and New Creation. God’s historical creative activity began with the Original Creation, and then this creative activity continues throughout time to preserve and innovate the world through Continuous Creation, until God consummates a “complete and perfect” world at the end of time in the New Creation.

Moltmann argues that God’s creative activity did not cease on the seventh day of creation, but is an “unremitting creative activity of God as an activity that both preserves and innovates” the world throughout time in anticipation of the New Creation at the end of time, when all things will be made new:

God’s historical activity is then eschatologically oriented: it preserves the initial creation by anticipating the consummation and by preparing the way for that consummation. The historical activity of God has cosmic dimensions: it brings the whole cosmos into a new condition.2

Moltmann provides the biblical basis for his tripartite conception of creation in his Ethics of Hope:

  1. [Original Creation] The creating at the beginning: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1).
  2. [Continuous Creation] The continuing creation of the new: ‘Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18–19).
  3. [New Creation] The completion of God’s creating activity: ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation 21.5).3

Original Creation Overemphasized

In God in CreationMoltmann says that, “Theological tradition has laid a one-sided stress on the preservation of the world.”4 By “world,” Moltmann means the Original Creation. This tradition has neglected God’s creative activity throughout history—Continuous Creation—and hasn’t recognized the newness of the New Creation. Overemphasizing the Original Creation has perpetuated a retrograde theology of creation that teaches that God’s historical creative activity ceased on the seventh day, and we must preserve what remains of that golden age of the Original Creation. Instead, Moltmann proposes that the “historical activity of God stands between initial creation and new creation,” because “at heart every preserving activity is innovatory, and every innovating activity is preserving.” Therefore, God’s preservation of the world is Continuous Creation. And this Continuous Creation allows us to anticipate in hope the New Creation because “God’s preserving activity manifests hope, and his innovating activity, his faithfulness.”5

Moltmann believes this overemphasis on the Original Creation has resulted in suspicion of science, and in the worst cases, it has wrongly equivocated the natural sciences (especially evolutionary sciences) with atheism. Reemphasizing Continuous Creation allows us to see the evolutionary sciences as a way of understanding God’s ongoing creativity in the world.

Continuous Creation Reemphasized

In The Way of Jesus Christ, Moltmann explains that a tripartite concept of creation allows us to know that,

Creation is not a work once performed and then finished and done with. It is a process, extending over time and open to the future. God continually creates something new, and develops what he has already created. From the inexhaustibly-creating creative ground of all things, continually new forms of life emerge.6

In The Ethics of Hope, Moltmann describes the “earth as a creative space”7 out of which new life is continuously created. He says that Genesis 1:24-25 “uses the phrase ‘earth, sea and air’ to describe the living spaces for the living things which are going to exist in them. . . living spaces are created first of all, before there is any mention of living beings. . . are not empty and passive; they are fertile, energy-laden and productive.”8 And so “the earth (erez) is granted the ‘vital power to bring forth’ together with which God ‘makes’ the animals.” Therefore, Moltmann argues against fixed “created kinds” because,

the earth possesses the energy for the evolution of life. Darwin was right. It is true that according to Genesis 1:25 God also ‘made’ the species, ‘according to their kinds’. But that is not a biblical objection to Darwin’s evolution theory, for ‘kinds’ means the evolutionary leaps to new forms of life, not unalterable orders of creation.9

According to Moltmann, the Biblical basis for evolutionary theory is also found in the Noahic Covenant, because the promise to be “fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiple in it” (Gen 9:7) was given to all life—not humanity alone. So we may study the phylogenetic tree of life, and understand it theologically as a part of the continuous creative activity of God. This means that,

we no longer see Darwin’s evolutionary theory as an attack on Christian anthropology, but begin to understand that the human being belongs to the same family as other living things on this fruitful earth. That is ultimately also the substance of the covenant with Noah, with which creation begins afresh after the Flood. It is a covenant ‘with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature’ (Genesis 9:9–10). So all living creatures are God’s covenant partners and our covenant partners too.10

Moltmann’s position on evolutionary science makes careful distinction between the science itself and the metaphysical interpretation of the science. He writes,

I will not enter into models critical of evolution, such as creationism or theories about intelligent design, because I believe that both approaches are irrelevant . . . Darwin’s researches are realistic and have been a hundred times confirmed by other research. What is in dispute is his interpretation of the results, that is to say his hermeneutics of nature.11

In other words, Christians can accept evolution without automatically accepting every worldview associated with evolution in our culture. Christians should use the biblical witness to help interpret the discoveries of evolutionary science through a distinctively Christian view of nature, and proclaim God as the Creator.

Before You Read ...

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About the Author

Wyatt Houtz

Wyatt Houtz graduated from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) with a degree in Computer Engineering and has worked in the IT industry for over twenty years. He is a Presbyterian and former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. He resides in Woodinville, WA with his wife Tracy and three children.