Question: "How do beliefs about creation impact the rest of theology?"
Answer: The creation/evolution debate has been raging for years. To many, it seems like two opponents yelling at each other with no one really listening. The vitriol has increased to the point where each side reflexively dismisses the other—evolutionists dismiss creationists as completely ignoring science, and creationists accuse evolutionists of engaging in all sorts of Machiavellian conspiracies to silence their side. This is not to dismiss the arguments of either side as being hyperbolic but simply to point out that there is precious little honest dialogue going on in this verbal war.
Because of the difficulty of sorting out the truth, many Christians relegate the creation/evolution debate to the status of a secondary issue that does not relate to how one becomes right with God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. For the most part, this line of thinking is correct. We can get so caught up in this debate that we lose our focus from the main issue: the spread of the gospel. However, as with many other “secondary” issues, what one believes regarding creation plays a role in how one views theology in general and the gospel in particular. More to the point, how one views creation has a major impact on the rest of their theological views.
Regarding the doctrine of creation, there are several views within Christianity:
1. Literal 24x6 creation – God created all there is in six 24-hour days.
2. Day-Age view – The creation events occurred as depicted in Genesis 1, but instead of six 24-hour days, the “days” of creation represent indeterminate, finite periods of time.
3. The Framework view – The days of Genesis 1 represent a theological framework within which to narrate the creation of all things.
Throughout most of church history, up until the last 150 years, the 24x6 view of creation was the most commonly held view within the church. Not all Christians held to this view, and not all who did were committed to it. However, there is no question that this has been the dominant interpretation of Genesis for most of Christian history. We don’t want to believe something simply because it’s traditional and historical, including the 24x6 view of creation; rather, we want to believe a doctrine because it’s supported by the text of Scripture.
In this particular case, many conservative theologians believe that the 24x6 view also has the strongest exegetical support from the text. First and foremost, it’s the natural view one gets from simply reading the text. Additionally, there are other points, such as the way the seven-day pattern set forth during creation week is the pattern for our calendar week (Exodus 20:8–11).
Since the advent of modern science, the 24x6 view of creation has been increasingly abandoned by Christians. The primary reason for this rejection is the fact that the 24x6 view of creation necessitates a “young earth” age of the universe (anywhere from 6,000 to 30,000 years), and the prevailing scientific view is that the universe is billions of years old. The Day-Age view (sometimes called progressive creationism) is an attempt to reconcile the Genesis creation account with an “old earth” view of the age of the universe.
Please note that the Day-Age view still posits that God created all things and it still rejects atheistic (naturalistic) evolution. Nor should the Day-Age view be confused with “theistic evolution,” the view that macroevolution is true but, instead of being guided by blind chance, was guided by the hand of God. Day-Age proponents see themselves as reconciling the biblical account with science. Its opponents see this view as a slippery slope to rejecting the veracity of God’s Word.
Because many Christians view the creation/evolution debate as of secondary importance, there is usually little or no concern over the theological implications of how one interprets the Bible’s view of creation. In truth, however, what one believes regarding creation is crucial because it goes to the issue of the inerrancy, trustworthiness, and authority of Scripture. Of primary importance is why a person chooses a particular view, in light of the Word of God. Believing that the Bible is inspired and inerrant but not literal in the first two chapters of Genesis is one thing. Believing that the Bible is simply wrong or cannot be trusted is another. In other words, the key issue when it comes to one’s view of creation is how that view relates to the authority and reliability of the Bible.
If the Bible can’t be trusted in the first two chapters, what makes it trustworthy throughout the rest of the book? Typically, critics of the Bible focus their attacks on the first eleven chapters of Genesis, in particular the creation account. The question is, why do they target this part of Scripture? The first eleven chapters of Genesis set the stage for the rest of the biblical story. You can’t understand the unfolding narrative of Scripture without Genesis 1–11. There is so much foundational material in these chapters for the rest of the Bible—e.g., creation, the fall, sin, the certainty of judgment, the necessity of a Savior, and the introduction of the gospel. To ignore these foundational doctrines would render the rest of the Bible as unintelligible and irrelevant.
Yet critics of the Bible want to treat these opening chapters of Genesis as ancient Hebrew myth rather than primeval history. The truth of the matter is that, compared to the creation stories of other cultures, the Genesis account—even in its most literal interpretation—reads more like history than myth. In most ancient literature, creation is seen as a struggle between the gods. Most creation myths portray the culture in question as the center of the religious universe. The Genesis account, while sharing many similarities with other creation stories, differs in that it portrays God as the sole Sovereign over creation (not one among many gods) and mankind as the pinnacle of His creation, serving as His stewards over creation.
To be sure, there are unanswered questions with the Genesis account, such as the exact date of creation. Nor are there many details about the specific means or methods God might have used. This, of course, is why there are debates about the different biblically compatible creation accounts. The purpose of the Genesis account isn’t to give a complete historical account that would pass muster with modern-day historians. The Genesis account was a pre-history of the Jewish people as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land; they needed to know who they were and from where they came.
Another thing to note is that much of Christian theology is based on the historical accuracy of the Genesis account. The concept of marriage comes right out of the creation account (Genesis 2:24) and is referenced by Jesus in all three Synoptic Gospels. Our Lord Himself acknowledges that man was created male and female “from the beginning of creation” (Matthew 19:4). These statements, to be comprehendible, rely on the historical accuracy of the Genesis creation account. Most importantly, the doctrine of salvation depends on the existence of a literal person named Adam. Twice in the Pauline Epistles (Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15), Paul links our salvation in Christ with our identification in Adam. In 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, we read, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” The entire human race is in a fallen state by virtue of being “in Adam” through natural birth. In similar manner, those whom God has chosen for salvation are saved by virtue of being “in Christ” through spiritual birth. The in Adam/in Christ distinction is crucial to a proper understanding of Christian soteriology, and this distinction makes no sense if there were no literal Adam from whom all humanity descended.
Paul argues in a similar vein in Romans 5:12–21. But what makes this passage unique is that it explicitly says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). This verse is the linchpin in the argument for total depravity (the “first plank” in the Calvinist platform), and, like the 1 Corinthians passage, it depends on a literal Adam for it to make any kind of sense. Without a literal Adam, there is no literal sin and no need for a literal Savior.
Despite what position one takes on the doctrine of creation, at least one point is clear and not open to debate within Christianity: God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). While we at Got Questions believe the 24x6 view possesses the strongest biblical argument, there are other views offering valid interpretations within the sphere of Christian orthodoxy.
We need to stress that the Bible does not (either explicitly or implicitly) teach an atheistic or “Darwinian” view of our origins. Therefore, to state that the creation/evolution debate is not important is to have a low view of Scripture. It does matter, particularly because how we approach the Bible with respect to origins speaks to how we will approach it everywhere else. If we cannot trust the Bible when it speaks on the matter of creation, why should we trust it to speak on salvation? Logically, what we believe regarding creation is important to the rest of our theology.