Reflections on Reactions to the Summer Issue of Concordia Journal

The Summer 2017 issue of the Concordia Journal in partnership with Concordia University, Nebraska, on faith and science has elicited a range of responses and reactions from pastors and lay people. I am thankful for such responses, in part because it means people took the time to read the journal!

On the positive side, we received a number of responses that were very encouraging about this issue as a whole as well as the individual articles within it. They appreciated that the journal was dealing with these “real world” topics and sought to address matters of science and faith from a uniquely Lutheran theological stance rather than from a stance shaped by American fundamentalism. Many of these came from pastors who spoke of family members who were in science and had struggled with these issues, as well as those who were teachers or scientists themselves. They were grateful for some tools to help them navigate the waters of faith and science.

On the negative side, we also received a number of responses that took exception to one article in particular, namely, the article by Dr. John Jurchen, professor at Concordia University, Nebraska, entitled, “The Age of the Earth and Confessional Lutheranism.” These responses concerned several issues in the article (such as the meaning of “day”). Some even concluded that the article was opening the door to theistic evolution, even though the article made clear that “old earth creationists” reject theistic evolution. Such concerns arise out of a legitimate fear of a slippery slope or the next domino falling as we have seen happen in the case of other church bodies.

Our intention with the Summer issue of the Concordia Journal was and is to serve the church by providing ways by which we can navigate difficult issues within the boundaries of our church’s confession. Our intention was not to provoke concern, especially in a time when our confession of Scripture’s teaching regarding creation is often ridiculed in our culture. I apologize that we were not clearer with regard to the purpose of this issue of the Concordia Journal or the direction of the Concordia Journal when it comes to what we teach, promote, and defend on the doctrine of creation.

Trust is in short supply these days within our culture and at times even within the church. Some of this remains the legacy of the broken trust by the pre-walkout Seminary faculty, which came to be known as Seminex, that ruptured our life together as a synod in the 1970s—and its reverberations continue to be felt to this day. Knowing this history, it is all the more important to us that we do not lose your trust for the sake of our life together as a church.

Ironically, it was with the pre-walkout faculty’s lack of transparency (and deception) in mind that we wanted to publish an issue devoted to faith and science—especially about how we used the Science for Seminaries grant from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). We wanted to share with the church how we used the money as well as what we taught on the subject of creation. We live in an age when people have a right to worry that what they hold as precious might be slipping away. We share that concern and will try harder to be sensitive to it as well as to how articles or statements might be perceived and even mis-perceived.

Our Commitment to Our Readers

Our commitment to you has always been and continues to be that we will not promote or advocate or defend any teaching that runs counter to the doctrinal position of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. This includes the Brief Statement in both its thetical and antithetical statements:

We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative word, and in six days. We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of  evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself.  Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to God’s own record, found in God’s own book, the Bible. We accept God’s own record with full confidence and confess with Luther’s Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures.”

This statement not only provides a clear confession of God as the creator of heaven and earth but draws out its pastoral significance for us. Namely, it means, “I am God’s creature!” (LC II 13).

As a church, we have also maintained that within our confessional and doctrinal boundaries there is room for discussion, debate, and even disagreement on matters that do not transgress or redraw the boundaries. This includes purely exegetical matters that do not impinge upon the doctrinal content of an article of faith. We hope that the Concordia Journal can be a place to discuss where those boundaries lie and whether or not something lies within them or outside of them.

I believe that it was this type of question that Dr. Jurchen sought to address. In other words, must one subscribe to a specific age of the earth—as for example, that it was created in 4004 BC or is 6,000 years old—in order to be considered an orthodox Christian (and presumably to be a Lutheran)? His paper thus surveyed various synodical statements to determine if we as a synod had adopted a position on that question.

In the course of his paper, Dr. Jurchen used the example of the day-age theory that Old Earth Creationists[1] employ in order to accommodate the claims that the geological record supports a very old earth. I suspect that his language that it was a “credible exegetical argument” (to put the best construction on it) relied on the arguments that have been put forward (and found persuasive) by the Old Earth Creationists for decades.

Lest anyone wonder as to where we stand on that issue, I can unequivocally say that not a single person on our faculty (as well as Dr. Jurchen for that matter) advocates for a “day-age” interpretation of Genesis 1. We all believe that the most natural and plain reading of “day” (especially in light of Exodus 20:8) is to regard it as an ordinary day. To that end, Dr. David Adams and I have prepared a paper that we hope will be of use regarding the Genesis account of creation and some of the specific exegetical issues mentioned in Dr. Jurchen’s article. It is forthcoming on concordiatheology.org.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we live in a context where we need each other more than ever and thus we need to live together in mutual support and encouragement as we live under the Lordship of the crucified now risen Jesus.

To that end, I hope and pray that the Concordia Journal and its online counterpart, concordiatheology.org, will continue to serve a helpful place within the church, where we meet as theologically trained servants in the church to discuss and ultimately confess only that to which the Scriptures commit us.

Charles P. Arand
Dean of Theological Research and Publications

ENDNOTE

[1] This designation actually refers to a large number of Evangelicals and fundamentalists who have long accepted the geological ages of the earth going back to the pre-Darwinian decades of the early 19th century. Historians have observed that throughout the 1920s many fundamentalists held to an old age for the earth (while vehemently rejecting evolution) and accounted for it with various theories regarding Genesis 1. See my forthcoming blog post: “A Travel Guide to the Evangelical Creation Debates.”

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