Evolution & Genesis 1-2: Kurt Willems

12 05 2011

“I served as a youth pastor and in adult ministries for a total of seven years. Currently, I am discerning a possible call to plant a church in the Northwest (2012) and have gone back to school full time to finish a Masters of Divinity at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. For the past couple of years I have been active in the ministry of blogging, which began as a hobby for getting my thoughts ‘out there.’ Now, I am in frequent contact with my readers. They send me questions, ideas, prayer requests, and continue to challenge me to dream about the Kingdom of God. There are lots of good Christian folks who are hungry for a faith that stretches beyond the status quo and it seems that for the moment, God has given me a platform to minister to such Christ-followers (and even some skeptics). If I would have to label myself (which I am hesitant to do), I would probably say that I am an Anabaptist, lower-case evangelical, fairly charismatic, sometimes contemplative, follower of Jesus. I am passionate about theology, spirituality, social justice, creation care, ethics, ministry, and leaving behind the right answers. Currently, I am working on a two books and seeking a publisher. You can catch up with me on Facebook or Twitter.” – Kurt Willems

About his blog, ‘Pangea Blog’:

The name Pangea is not found in the Bible, but what it conveys is a powerful metaphor for the kingdom of God. In Ancient Greek, Pangea means – “entire” “earth.” It was the “super-continent” that was formed prior to the tectonic plates eventually shifting to break apart the world into the seven continents we currently know. Where this becomes a theological concept is the idea that God’s kingdom is one that unites the world under his perfect reign. We are united as a global church that takes our citizenship from a kingdom devised of every tribe, nation, and tongue. To this kingdom and to the King of Kings we give our full and primary allegiance, even as we sojourn in a land that is called America. Our identity as Christ-followers transcends the borders of any nation or anything else our culture creates to divide people. Pangea is the kingdom that God will eventually set up when he returns to renew the cosmos and to flood it with his heavenly justice, and Pangea is the kingdom to which we are called to be ambassadors for Christ in the present.

The most convincing interpretation of the passage at hand is found in John Walton’s, The Lost World of Genesis One. After reading this book, my view of the chapter has evolved. I am going to attempt to summarize Walton’s perspective, but would strongly urge you to read his prolific book in its entirety. His basic thesis is: “Throughout the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture.”

Walton persuasively argues that we have a problem when we approach Genesis one as moderns. We hold to material ontology (“the belief that something exists by virtue of its physical properties and its ability to be experienced by the senses”) but the ancients held to what is called functional ontology (“the ancient world believed that something existed… by virtue of its having function in an ordered system”). Material ontology could be understood as something that you can touch like your computer, whereas functional could refer to the creation of a business. Is a business something you can touch or is it more of an organized system that exists as it finds itself functioning systematically to offer its unique services? In other words, if we imagine a grocery store being built with the tangible materials needed to build the actual building, this is completely different from that material building actually becoming a store. It becomes a functional store when the employees are in place to make the building function so that it is stocked with food and ready for customers. Walton further explains:

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Kurt’s 3 Part Blog Series: “If Evolution is Right… Then What About Adam?”

“Option 1: Adam as Historical”

Many Christians feel that Adam and Eve must be held as historical for the authority of Scripture to remain intact. Some wonder – if the first couple is not “real” then could it not be said that other parts of the Bible are mythological as well? For those with this concern, I propose that it is completely feasible to still believe that they are historical while also being open to evolution. Categories are not mutually exclusive.

According to John Stott: “…my acceptance of Adam and Eve as historical is not incompatible with my belief that several forms of pre-Adamic ‘hominid’ may have existed for thousands of years previously.” He goes on to explain that it is perfectly logical to assume that many human-like creatures not only existed prior to Adam, but developed cultures, made “cave drawings,” and “buried their dead.” Calling these creatures homo sapiens is also not a threat to a historical reading of Genesis 2-3 as long as we recognize that “Adam was the first homo divinus;” the first image-bearer of God. In other words, God took an ancient tool making human and set him apart by placing him in the Garden of Eden and endowing him with the image of the divine. This man was probably alive about 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic age based on the descriptions in Genesis about Adam and his son’s work.

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“Option 2: Adam as ‘Parable'”

Think of Jesus and how he communicated truths about the kingdom of God. He did not give people a list of historical facts, but stories containing a deep truth although not actually historically based. Few Christians would imagine that there is an actual Prodigal Son or Good Samaritan, for they are characters in a parable that point us toward theological realities. Could either of these two parabolic characters be based on actual people? Certainly. But, they may simply be props in a story rather than the point.

From this standpoint, the same could be true of Adam and Eve. John Goldingay believes that we could read the first three chapters as historical based parables. If someone had a camcorder when the two creation accounts along with the “fall” took place, they would not have been recorded exactly as we read them in Genesis. Rather, the reality that God created and humanity rebelled is what the parables of these chapters illustrate. This is why it is possible to have two different creation stories as presented complementary in chapters 1 and 2. As he states: “If you take them as would-be literal historical accounts, you have your work cut out to reconcile them, but this is unnecessary if they are historical parables.”

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“Option 3: ‘Agnostic’ about Adam”

Of the two options that we explored in this series, it is honestly difficult for me to choose a perspective. Could Adam be historical? Yes! Could Adam and Eve be more parabolic? Yes! I think that both of these options are indeed consistent with historical Christian orthodoxy.

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