“Engaging With Keller” Review // Ch. 6 “Not Quite Theistic Evolution” (William M. Schweitzer)

After a week off from reviewing Engaging With Keller (I had a good excuse), Mission Confessio will review the final two chapters of the book.

Chapter 6, written by William Schweitzer, might be the book’s most important chapter.  The chapter’s importance has less to do with Keller’s practical theology (creation-evolution doesn’t occupy a large real estate in Keller’s theology) and more to do with the cultural and apologetical dynamics.  Simply put, more people (Christians and non-Christians) struggle with the question of creation and evolution than any of the other topics in the book (except perhaps the doctrine of hell).

Now, my viewpoint on the matter is intriguing.  Like Scweitzer, I am a six day young earth creationist, and I think Keller’s own position is incorrect.  However, I am sympathetic to people like Keller because I think he does a better job engaging this issue than many six day creationists.  This review will show my disappointment with Schweitzer as well as how I would improve upon Schweitzer’s presentation.

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Schweitzer’s goal is not to exegetically disprove Keller’s own position of old earth progressive creationism. (I’m glad Schweitzer got Keller’s position right.  I’ve had to correct scholars in the Reformed evangelical world who label Keller a ‘theistic evolutionist’, which is a different position.) According to footnote 7 on p. 208, the issue is what Keller defends as an “acceptable position for Christians to hold.”  In other words, what are the boundary markers for Christian orthodoxy according to Keller, and does Keller widen the boundaries too much?

It seems that Keller’s own position on this matter is similar to John C. Collins ‘mere Adam and Eveism’ as proposed in Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?.  Also, Keller is close to B.B. Warfield, James Montgomery Boice, and John Stott on the issue (and of course, C.S. Lewis).

So, what does Schweitzer think the acceptable, orthodox position should be for anyone claiming to be a Christian?  This is the confusing part of the chapter as Schweitzer doesn’t interact much with the broader Christian tradition or how other theological streams have answered the question.  If Schweitzer wants to aid readers to not err where Keller errs, he should have done more of his homework.

The only tradition cited in the discussion is Schweitzer’s own, the Reformed tradition as summarized in the Westminster Standards.  Now, I am a Westminster guy and I have subscribed to these standards in my own denomination, but I dare not think that my denomination’s stated doctrine of creation is the only viable position on the matter in terms of basic orthodoxy.  In addition, Schweitzer doesn’t adequately demonstrate how even theistic evolution contradicts the seven aspects of the Westminster doctrine of creation in footnote 22 (p. 209), except maybe numbers 4 and 6.

There are times when Schweitzer is ungenerous with Keller.  For example, Keller does not “call into question a literal reading of Scripture” (p. 202) and, in addition, the doctrine of plenary inspiration (footnote 18).  If Keller is guilty of this, then I guess Boice and Warfield are as well.  Yet, I don’t think any Reformed confessionalist would wish to accuse Warfield (or even Machen!) of undermining plenary inspiration.

Along with his dealing of Keller, Schweitzer doesn’t provide a helpful model of engaging with the Darwinian paradigm and navigating this topic.  My first quibble is that Schweitzer isn’t precise or even accurate in his language concerning his own position.  For example, Schweitzer mistakenly claims (like more six day creationists) that Adam was the product of ‘immediate’ creation. (p. 205) However, no particular view of Adam’s creation or the days of creation is bound to believe in an immediate creation of Adam.  Indeed, the language of Gen 2:7 indicates a period of formation creation (yatsar), not creation ex nihlo (bara).  The creation of Adam is not immediate since there is the intervention of another object, dust.  Nor is it instantaneous since God formed Adam (as well as Eve).

Related to this quibble is Schweitzer’s assumption that Gen 2:7 must be read as God forming Adam from literal dust.  While this is my own belief, I know that exegetical the opinion among orthodox and evangelical scholars is divided.  Some see the language as poetic and being similar to “potter and clay” imagery, or even the language of God ‘knitting’ the baby in the mother’s womb (thus fusing both creational providence and creational miracle) in Psalm 139.  In any case, I don’t see any argument from Schweitzer why an orthodox view of creation necessitates one particular view of Gen 2:7. (Again, do we expel Warfield and Boice?)

Finally, Schweitzer assumes that evolution could not have anything to do with the special creation of Adam.  I am confused as to whether this claim is based on his exegesis of Gen 2:7 or if he sees biological evolutionary processes as being incoherent with the special creation of Adam.  The latter seems to be a part of Schweitzer’s thinking since on p. 195 he claims that any evolutionary aspect of Adam’s special creation would undermine “Pauline religion”.

However, Schweitzer never demonstrates how the mechanism of biological evolutionary process undermines the notion of a historical Adam who was made upright (not perfect) and without the guilt or pollution of sin.  Indeed, there seems to be no clear reason why God could not have created Adam using such means in another possible world.  Even if God chose to use literal dust in this actual world, I don’t see how any of God’s attributes would forbid him to create Adam using at least some means of biological processes.

Now, I am not a theistic evolutionist or a progressive creationist, but my six day creation brothers need to be intellectually honest and credible when debating this issue.  Adam was creation upright (not perfect).  Adam had not reached his full humanity yet in his state of probation.  In addition, while Adam was the product of special creation, it was neither immediate or instantaneous since God “formed” (which implies process) him from “dust” (material).

I am pretty comfortable with John C. Collins’ ‘mere Adam and Eveism’ proposal (though his proposal can and should be improved upon).  The cash value of this issue comes to light in the missional frontier where one encounters professing Christians who sincerely believe in the Apostles Creed and other basic of the faith, but they have some affinity for evolution.  Perhaps a Ph.D candidate in evolutionary biology attends my church and asks me how he might maintain the integrity of his faith and his vocation.  I could give him some Stephen Meyer or other I.D. argumentation, but I would get demolished by this student.

Even though I am a young earth creationist, I don’t see why I need to convince this person of a particulat interpretation of Gen 2:7 or that God did not use evolution in this actual world to create Adam.  Using my philosophy background I would use the ‘coherence’ exercise to demonstrate how a historical Adam and fall into sin is coherent with the notion that human life evolved from a previous hominid.  I could even demonstrate that ‘special creation’ of Adam is coherent with an evolved Adam.

I am not preaching a particular position to hold, but I am allowing this individual to explore an arena of options within orthodoxy, yet not feel compelled to figure out all the details of Genesis 1-3 before they can recite the Apostles Creed and be justified by grace through faith.  Indeed, such an approach is better suited to bring up later issues such as presuppositionalism, sociology of knowledge, Kuhn’s ‘paradigm shift’ thesis, etc.

So, not only am I disappointed with Schweitzer’s treatment of Keller, I think Schweitzer doesn’t give much aid to pastors to competently engage these issues with experts in sciences.

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4 thoughts on ““Engaging With Keller” Review // Ch. 6 “Not Quite Theistic Evolution” (William M. Schweitzer)

  1. This might be a mere quibble but “bara” on a word level does not carry with it the idea of “ex nihilo” Look at Psalm 89:47, Isaiah 41:20, and Isaiah 43:7. Therefore, on the word level, these 2 words for “create” do not carry any idea of a direct object with it. That’s not to say this undoes the point you are trying to make, because dust is used.

    However, that is the main point is it not? Theistic evolution postulates pre-existing hominids with the idea of some soul impartation/implantation rather than a direct formation out of dust, not to mention problems with pre-Fall death, the phrase “according to its kind,” etc. Granted, engaging with a probing unbeliever or new believer might not be the best time to bring all of this up but can be part of the discipling process, but surely it must be brought up eventually.

    Also, why do you assume you would be demolished by the hypothetical PhD student? Is it because his or her arguments are more “credible” because of specialization or a lack of confidence in what is being set forth by ID proponents?

    1. Hey Mark, thanks for the comment.

      Yes, I grant you your point about the Hebrew lexicon. I wasn’t very precise in my point, which was hat yatsar implies a process as opposed to how God seemingly does ‘fiat creation’ in Genesis 1. Thank for clarifying that for readers.

      Regarding theistic evolution, you are right at the typical argument is that God uses evolutionary biological processes to ‘create’ Adam from pre-existing hominids. As to which aspects of such a process are due to supernatural intervention versus ordinary providence, TE advocates seemed devided (though this is the main divide between TEs and progressive creationists, I wonder if it is one of quality or quantity since both are espousing the special, miraculous intervention of the Creator). This is why Keller himself is a PC and not a TE. Pre-fall death is not the main issue here, as both TEs and PCs acknowledge some form of pre-fall death (as would any old earth creationist).

      But my review of Schweitzer dealt with his claim that TE is necessarily unorthodox. That is a different question from whether a particular candidate the same view as say, Francis Collins, should be ordained in a NAPARC church.

      My point about the hypothetic Ph.D student is not that it is impossible for a young earth creationist to persuade them or have better arguments, but rather that we aren’t persuasive most of the time and the arguments fall flat. I think communication is key and that those of a young earth persuasion should use a different tactic in pushing the conversation forward.

      Thanks again, Mark.

  2. I would guess that he uses the WCF because that is the doctrinal standard of the PCA, as explained at the beginning of the book. Trying to keep the field narrow.
    Like you, I’m sick of people calling him a theistic evolutionist.
    Back to the use of “immediate”. I’m not sure I followed you either. “Immediate” does not require ex nihilo. It just means there is no other agent of creation. Dust is the substance, not the agent. So I quibble with your quibble. Merely a quibble.
    I hope to get this some day, and I suspect I’ll also have a hard time with Hart’s chapter, since what little I have read of his has annoyed me. Kinda like R. Scott Clark.

    1. Hey Steve. Thanks for the comment.

      I probably fumbled over my words in my post, but my basic point is that many six day creationists use terms like ‘instantaneous’ and/or ‘immediate’ to describe the creation of Adam. Obviously, an instantaneous, immediate creation would be creation ex nihlo. I’m sure the philosopher in me could argue that either term implies creation ex nihlo, but I digress.

      The creation of Adam according to Gen 2:7 is progressive (not instantaneous) and mediate (not immediate). Obviously, Adam was a ‘special’ creation, but even a Francis Collins will admit such (indeed, Collins’ position on the creation of Adam is somewhat close to Intelligent Design).

      So, what we have is a theistic evolutionist like Collins and a six day creationist (such as myself), and we both hold to progressive, mediate, special creation of Adam. Now, we would have a difference of opinion on the duration of time God took to create Adam, as well as the material substance used to create Adam, but aside from those details the two positions are more similiar than we think.

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