David Fergusson is a theologian in the divinity school at the University of Edinburgh. You can hear his Scottish brogue (and see what I think is his dashing hairline!) in this YouTube video where he is interviewed about his Gifford Lectures. I’m interested here in his recent book from Eerdman’s “Guides to Theology” series, simply titled Creation. I’m going to devote several blog posts to this book as I read through it and reflect on its importance for our mission at BioLogos.
Fergusson begins with the claim that for too many people, the doctrine of creation is really just a prelude to the “important” salvific bits of the Christian story. He says,
“[The doctrine of creation] is neither a preamble nor an introduction to the other more important articles of Christian faith, although you might derive this impression from the creeds of the church” (p. vi). And “the doctrine of creation has suffered from inadequate exposure in the history of the church because it has too long been merely the stage for the enactment of the theology of sin and redemption” (p. 1).
At BioLogos we see a thin doctrine of creation manifested in a couple of ways. Sometimes it is just a litmus test to see if you’ll uphold the rest of Scripture: if you don’t understand creation as an instantaneous (or at least a very, very quick) act 6,000 years ago, then you have no good reason to accept anything the Bible says. I’ll not spend any time on that one here.
The other way a thin doctrine of creation can be just a prelude to the salvation story is more serious: Christ’s work on the cross is seen as the direct result of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. Then people worry that if evolution starts messing with the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, there is no reason for Christ to come and defeat sin. But here we’ve got a problem with logic--specifically a confusion between necessary conditions and sufficient conditions (your logic professor told you that distinction is important!).
To say “Christ’s work on the cross is the direct result of Adam and Eve’s sin” is to assert that Adam and Eve’s sin is a “sufficient condition” for Christ’s work on the cross. In less technical language it means, “If Adam and Eve sin, then Christ must die on the cross.” OK, let’s take that as given (even though some would object to the theory of the atonement it implies). What we can’t do logically is move from that statement to saying “Therefore, if Adam and Eve didn’t sin in the garden, then Christ didn’t have to die on the cross.” That is what your logic professor called the fallacy of denying the antecedent, and it is treating the sufficient condition as though it is a necessary condition.
If X is a sufficient condition for Y, then the occurrence of X will bring about the occurrence of Y. But if the sufficient condition X does not occur, that doesn’t mean that Y can’t occur; there could be other ways for Y to come about. Think of it in parallel with this claim, “If my sister has a baby, then I’ll be an uncle.” I can’t logically claim from that statement, “If my sister doesn’t have a baby, then I won’t be an uncle.” There are other ways for me to be an uncle: maybe my brother and his wife have a baby!
So too, Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden might not be the only way the Christian story comes to Christ and the cross. Adam and Eve are “sufficient” for bringing about Christ’s work, but not “necessary”.
At BioLogos, we’ve said before that we don’t have a position on whether Adam and Eve were historical figures--some around here hold to that, some don’t. We think it is important for the church to slow down and continue to talking about this, teasing out the implications of positions and weighing the evidences (both scientific and theological). What we’re absolutely committed to is the claim that all human beings sin and need salvation; that fact is sufficient to guarantee Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. That is the gospel, and it does not hinge on particular interpretations of Adam and Eve.
There is a good, logical way to argue against what I’ve said here. I’ll suggest it in the comments and see if anyone wants to hash it out (all with gracious tone of course!). In my next reflection on Fergusson’s book, we’ll see how the doctrine of creation is not confined to a position on the age of the earth or the historicity of Adam and Eve. Instead, there are profound theological implications of creation that are not connected to those two flash points of the origins debate.