Genesis 1 vs. Origins of Species. Moses vs. Charles Darwin. The State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes.
Of course that last one is the seminal court trial that catapulted America into one of the more divisive intellectual debates: creation vs. evolution. It’s a debate that has affected the church as much as the broader culture by asking life’s ultimate questions: “Where did we come from? Why are we here?”
Liberals and fundamentalists tend to answer this question in one of two ways. The former tries to fit the Scripture Story with the Science Story, while the latter has forced the Science Story to support the Scripture Story.
What if this aspect of the vintage Christian faith followed neither the contours of liberalism nor fundamentalism?
What if instead we understood Genesis 1 to be something like this:
Imagine that you are an Israelite who is lounging around somewhere in the Sinai wilderness post-Exodus. It is dusk and you are sitting around a campfire with the elders of one of the tribes of Judah.
As you are sitting there a boy wanders over and tugs the robe tails of one of the elders. He asks, “Mister, where did all of this come from?”
“What do mean, young Jada?” the elder replies.
“I mean, can you tell me how the birdies and bugs and my mommy and daddy came to be? How the world was made?”
The elder picks up the boy, plops him on his lap, and replies with care, “Ahh, Jada that is a very good question . . . a very good question, indeed. Let me tell you!
“Bereisheet bara Elohim . . . ”
In the beginning God was Michelangelo in front of the unformed slab of marble before David emerged. He was Mozart before the keys of black and white on the verge of a magnificent never-before-heard-of concerto.
Like Michelangelo and Mozart, God created. Out of the chaos and blankness of our unformed reality, God brought into existence all that we see and hear and taste and smell and touch.
This is how our elder Israelite and little boy Jada would have understood Genesis 1 — as a story telling us that the world was created and who created it.
That’s not the way many well-meaning Christians have viewed the opening chapters to the Holy Scriptures, however. I’d know. I grew up on a healthy dose of books and curriculum insisting Genesis 1 tells us how God created the universe — even insisting the integrity of Christ’s cross and gospel depended on it.
Yet from Clement of Alexandria (third century AD) and Augustine of Hippo (fifth century AD), Genesis 1 has been interpreted as literary, not literal — as carefully crafted, theologically pregnant literature meant to teach the deeper theological (rather than scientific) truth that the world was created and who created it: the only one true God.
Which means vintage Christians aren’t so much interested in how the world and everything in it came to be — we can defer to the common grace of God in science for many of those answers. Instead, what matters is the deeper theological truth that the Holy Scriptures get at and the ancient creeds affirm:
God, the Father Almighty, is the Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
Of course competing with the vintage Christian faith and the Scripture Story is what could be called the Science Story.
What I mean is that science is as much a worldview as is the Christian faith. Both present a view of the world. Both offer answers to life’s perennial questions: Where did we came from? Why are we messed up? How can we fix our problem?
Science begins with the assumption there is no God. It begins with naturalism, the belief that creation is the product of time, energy, and chance. It assumes that this — what we can feel, taste, see, hear, touch — is all there is. The Science Story begins not with God, but with BANG — all of this just started and evolved over time under the right circumstances, through a series of mistakes and successes.
The vintage Christian faith understands creation very differently. This Story tells us that when God created the world, it was good. It was just as he wanted it to be. Creation was whole. The world was created with care. It was created on purpose and with purpose. It was created by a loving God who was intimately involved in the process.
This Story sees creation as art; the other one sees it as accident.
For my money, I don’t see why God would have to have needed six days — let alone six billion years — to create the universe. But that doesn’t seem to be the point of the narrative, anyway. When it comes to the origins of species, vintage Christianity transcends liberalism and fundamentalism because it emphasizes that we were created and who created us, rather than how — because that’s what Genesis 1 itself emphasizes.
This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the “vintage” Christian faith. I invite you to rediscover in the coming months what it means to be a vintage Christian.
Image courtesy of aradaphotography / Shutterstock.com.