01 April 2010

Destiny of the Evangelical Species

Bruce Waltke has been taken to task for his recent comments (the video has since been taken down) about how the (evangelical) church will be destined for "cult" status if, in the course of time, all the data points decisively to something akin to the neo-Darwinian synthesis and the church still denies that reality. In short, its destiny is spiritual death, he argues, if it chooses to simply stick its head in the sand.

First, this is like pub-talk for me; I don't think this discussion is the article upon which the church stands and falls. Yet, arguably, some tough (if not creative) theological work needs to be done in the face of the increasingly substantive evolutionary explanation of the data. Second, while my scientific opinions are tentative (not being a scientist, I have no inclination to defend evolution or any other old-earth schema), my concern is that creation "science" is detrimental to the church's health (for the heavens declare the glory of God — "but do they declare the dishonesty of God?").

In J.V. Fesko's
Last Things First (download the introduction here), he writes, "Many within the Reformed community accept the conclusions of creation science without investigating its presuppositions [founded by a 7th-day Adventist and perpetuated by dispensationalists]" (p. 18). Fesko goes on to discuss "the hallmark hermeneutical principle of dispensationalism" — "strict literalism" (p. 19). What is perplexing to Fesko is "that many within the Reformed community will reject dispensational eschatology but embrace its interpretation of creation. …If one applies a consistently Reformed hermeneutic to the interpretation of Scripture, he must reject [dispensationalist and creation scientist] conclusions. Reformed theology neither embraces the Bible as a textbook of science nor employs an overly literalistic hermeneutic" (pp. 19, 21).

To my mind, this is the fundamental starting point when discussing these issues. In other words, before one asks me, "But what about
Gen 1:11, 24 — doesn't the text indicate that each kind of plant or animal will produce its own kind?" I think it's wise to first deal with the foundational hermeneutical principles that Fesko writes about in his introduction. To put it differently, Scripture doesn't speak about material creation because it cannot, but because it does not.

What's more, in my opinion, there's deep misunderstanding about what Gen 1 actually says and the relationship between science and faith.

Dealing with the last point first, science, by its very nature (as is currently understood), must bracket the metaphysical (with apologies to all my presuppositional friends). It cannot explore divine causation, for it concerns itself only with empirical data. Thus it deals with the demonstrable and falsifiable, and not with divine activity (science, therefore, cannot prove or disprove the existence of God).

This is not to suggest that Christians do not stand firmly upon the revelation of divine activity and purpose woven into the very fabric of creation, because every truth unveiled (by scientists, in this instance) is another step in understanding how God has worked or continues to work through the material world and its naturalistic processes.

Regarding what Gen 1 purports to teach, I think a lot of the heat would give way to light, at least in the Reformed world, if folks would be willing to give a shot to what Walton suggests in
The Lost World with a bit of Sailhamer thrown in.


Bobby Grow said...


Not all dispensationalists give in to Morris like (ICR) readings of Gen 1--11. See Al Baylis in his book "From Creation to the Cross." So I think Fesko overspeaks, makes a hasty generalization about dispensationalists. There are too many kinds of dispensationalists; just like there are many kinds of amillennialists (it's all a continuum). Fesko only focuses on one "kind" of dispy, and I don't think this is very careful.

I also have a post that dovetails with what you're saying here; I'll have to repost that sometime.

Myk Habets said...

I agree Bobby there are different sorts of Dispeansationalists but, it has to be said, they are more alike than not and so Fesko is, in my opinion, exactly right. BTW - this little book of his is just fantastic. I dislike some of his Pelagainism (well I dislike all the Pelagianism, of course, but you get it), that is endemic to his brand of Federal Calvinism but not essential to Reformed theology, but notwithstanding that, this is an exceptional little book in that what use to be common theology is now revolutionary! Nice post Chris.

Chris Donato said...

Thanks, gents, for stopping by. I'd only add, along with Myk, that there's a controlling hermeneutic in play here, Bobby, that makes one a dispensationalist. Without it, they'd not be dispensationalist. They might not interpret Gen 1 in the same manner as Morris, but then they'd be cherry picking dispensationalist.

Of course, we're all cherry pickers to one degree or another.

Also, and I think this is often overlooked by YEC interlocutors, despite the fact that the Reformers generally read Gen 1–2 just like everybody else around them at the time (i.e., YEC, but without the creation science), it is guys like Fesko (Waltke, etc.) who are actually following the trajectory laid out by their forebears—doing socio-grammatical and canonical exegesis, wherever it leads.

Bobby Grow said...

That's fine, but my point is to highlight what dispies are saying about themselves. Ryrie in his book "Dispensationalism" claims the sine qua non of literalism as the dispy principle of interpretation; Progressive Dispies like Blaising/Bock and Saucy repudiate that principle in its "literalist" form.

I think it is too reductionist to not provide the nuance to dispyism that is actually there.

I'll have to read Fesko at some point; but I don't think Waltke, in his acceptance of evolution, is a result of following socio-grammatical/canonical exegesis. How do you figure, Chris? If that's what you're saying.

Chris Donato said...

Bobby, I agree with your point there. But, then how "dispensationalist" are those progressives anyway?

Regarding Waltke, et al., all I mean is that the way he interprets Gen 1–2 is a result of socio-grammatical exegesis. His acceptance of evolution, or any other scientific theory, is beside the point, and not related to his exegesis, as it doesn't attempt to make what's written therein "fit" with moder science (in either the Morris YEC direction, or the Morton OEC direction). (Coveniently? I don't know.)

Bobby Grow said...

I see your point on Waltke, Chris.

Progressives are kind of in limbo-land. Dispies don't really think they're dispy, and then amillers don't think, of course, they've gone far enough (basically on the 1000 yr question).

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