“Southern Baptist Voices”: Keathley’s Points of Concern
A friend of mine pointed out a dialogue that the theistic evolution website BioLogos had begun with some Southern Baptist scholars called “Southern Baptist Voices.” Since I am a former Southern Baptist and have recently accepted a more evolutionary point of view, I thought I’d comment a little on the main points. Although, the great Biologos response can be found here and here.
The first SBC scholar to write on the Biologos series was Kenneth Keathley (part 1 and part 2). It’s no surprise that most Southern Baptists do not accept the theory of evolution, and Keathley give s six main reasons why they have chosen not to reconcile evolutionary thinking with their reading of Scripture. See my comments after each of his main points.
“1. Concerns about theological method: Christians cannot do theology in a vacuum. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that theology is never done in a vacuum, and we should not pretend that it is. And the BioLogos Foundation is correct in arguing that evangelicals cannot ignore the latest advances in biology, geology, and other related fields. Our goal should be more than merely finding a way to reconcile Genesis with the latest discoveries in genetics. Rather, our task as pastors and theologians is to present a theology of Creation that provides a solid worldview for Christians to work in the natural sciences with integrity for the glory of God.”
At first glance, there is no charge against BioLogos at all; but when you reread it, you find a passive accusation that BioLogos cares more about science than theological truth. I think it is proper that this is Keathley’s first comment because it is the feeling that I get from others when I have conversations about reconciling the Bible with evolutionary thought. I appreciate Keathley’s honesty, but isn’t there a little ad hominem here? It sounds a little like he doesn’t trust theistic evolutionists because they put science over God’s Word. That’s just not the case.
“2. Genesis has only so much hermeneutical elasticity: Genre and hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) have always been difficult topics. In the early days of the church, from Basil of Caesarea to Augustine, scholars struggled with the proper way to understand the creation account in Genesis. Lately, however, the concordist and non-concordist approaches to the first 11 chapters of Genesis seem to be of unending and ever-increasing variety and complexity. Theistic evolutionists have contributed to the conversation. Certain evolutionary creationists ask us to accept more and more fanciful interpretations of Genesis.”
So Genesis has been elastic enough to handle the many theological approaches throughout history…but not those dealing with evolution? I don’t think that flies, especially since his earlier point acknowledged that Christians ought to keep up with the latest in scientific advances. If those advances inform us about the creation and development of the world, are we supposed to turn a blind eye to it because Genesis can’t take it? (The conflict between church and science during the Copernican Revolution comes to mind here, too) Evolutionary thought actually opens up Genesis 1-3 to new interpretations that might actually get us closer to the original writer’s intent (not to imply that the author had any knowledge whatsoever about modern science). But it appears that Keathley is not even willing to consider it because it would require interpretations that are, in his mind, too far-fetched.
“3. The connection between natural history and salvation history: This seems to be a (maybe, the) major area of disagreement between evolutionary creationists and intelligent design proponents.”
Yes, this can be a challenge. Natural history from an evolutionist’s point of view is that random occurrences led to patterns and eventually life (forgive me, this is a very broad description). But providence, as I understand it, means that God directs all of the seemingly chaotic matters in the world so that they work the way he wants them to. To be fair, Keathley expects this answer: “Evolutionary creationists understand God to have guided and sustained the entire process by means of ordinary providence. No direct divine activity is discernible or necessary.” I’m finding that there is some truth to that. But he goes a step further, “. . . salvation history is discontinuous. It contains many moments in which the events that occur can be understood only as special, unique actions of God.” There’s another unspoken accusation: We believe that God does miracles , but how can the theistic evolutionist if he is a naturalist? Well, I do believe in miracles, and I know others that do too. The most important one would be the resurrection of Christ. Acceptance of evolution does not necessarily make one a straight-up naturalist who denies God does any miracles.
“4. The status of Adam and Eve: Evolutionary creationists appear to disagree among themselves about whether or not Adam was a historical figure. Some, such as Denis Lamoureux, declare Adam to be a mythical character. Others (Denis Alexander comes to mind) view Adam as representative of the first Neolithic farmers with whom God entered into a relationship.”
Interpretation of Genesis 1-3 has always been problematic. Case in point: a talking snake, and Eve doesn’t flip out when he speaks, though no other animal appears to. These matters among many others have led people to question if the Garden of Eden event was a historical event–if Adam and Eve existed at all. And Keathley is right about it being debate among evolutionary creationists, but it doesn’t have to jeopardize orthodox thinking. Most of these folks are honestly trying to int