A Travel Guide to the Evangelical Creation Debates: What is Evolutionary Creationism?


Introductory Note: This series of posts explores the world of “creationism” and the “creationists” among those in the American Evangelical community. Within this world, significant debates are taking place regarding the world’s origins and how we address them as Christians.

It is important to keep in mind that the terms “creationism” and “creationists” here do not refer primarily to the doctrine of creation and theologians who focus their study on the doctrine of creation. Nor do they refer primarily to scientists who study the world as scientists. Instead, they refer to positions and proposals that seek to reconcile or harmonize faith and science on the matter of origins.

The reasons for pursuing such a synthesis or harmony are often evangelistic and pastoral. In some ways, they follow theologians like Thomas Aquinas who sought to synthesize the Christian faith and philosophy as an apologetic to Islam. So here these creationists provide a “theological-scientific synthesis” as an apologetic for the reasonableness of believing in the God of the Scriptures.

In the introduction, I gave an overview of the Evangelical landscape on these issues. In part 2 of this series, we briefly surveyed the history of Old Earth Creationism along with various positions of contemporary Old Earth Creationists. In part 3 we surveyed the history and positions of Young Earth Creationists. We now turn to those within the larger Evangelical world who refer to themselves as Evolutionary Creationists (EC).

Again, the following is a report of my encounters with them and my observations and not a scholarly article that has been exhaustively and comprehensively researched.[1] My goal is to provide a map to the lay of the land. I hope it represents a fair description. I also hope it will be readily seen that the exegetical questions and theological issues here arise within a larger context of the need to reconcile faith and reason (whether it be rational philosophy or empirical science)—an assumption that Lutherans do not necessarily share.


A High Altitude Snapshot

  • Evangelicals who hold to evolution refer to themselves as “Evolutionary Creationists” (EC) rather than theistic evolutionists as the latter term does not imply a Christian commitment.
  • EC is a fairly recent movement among the Evangelicals that was sparked in large degree not by geological science but by the science of genetics.
  • ECs accept the evolutionary science of common descent but differ on the degree and the manner of God’s direct involvement in evolution.
  • ECs seek to show how the Bible, when interpreted in its historical and cultural context, is compatible with evolutionary biology.
  • ECs are engaged in lively debates over the biblical meaning of a “historical” Adam along with the entry and transmission of original sin.


A number of people within the LCMS have probably run across or will run across the movement of Evolutionary Creationism through periodicals like Christianity Today and the flood of books on the topic from Evangelical publishers like Eerdmans, InterVarsity Press, Zondervan, and Baker Books.

Briefly, ECs believe that God created life through the process of evolution. They are historically conservative Christians who hold to a high view of the Bible. They place evolution within the framework of the biblical narrative and the ancient creeds. For them, evolution does not raise questions about the Bible’s inspiration or authority but about the Bible’s interpretation.

History of Evolutionary Creationism

Many conservative Christians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries may have been willing to acknowledge an ancient age for the earth as Scripture seemed silent on the matter. But they rejected human evolution as being in direct conflict with the biblical narratives that describe how God directly and specially created Adam from the dust of the ground. Nevertheless, conservative voices could be heard from some of the country’s most prestigious universities. (Conservative thought reigned at both Chicago and Princeton prior to the Scopes Trial).

For example, the conservative theologians at Princeton (e.g., J. Gresham Machen, Charles Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield) provided conservative Christians with the theological scholarship needed to undergird the inerrancy of the Bible. Mark Noll summarizes Warfield’s contributions:

During the late nineteenth century when critical views of Scripture came to prevail in American universities, Warfield was as responsible as any other American for refurbishing the conviction that the Bible communicates revelation from God entirely without error. Warfield’s formulation of biblical inerrancy, in fact, has even been a theological mainstay for recent “creationist” convictions about the origin of the earth.

Noll continues, “Yet while he defended biblical inerrancy, Warfield was also a cautious, discriminating, but entirely candid proponent of the possibility that evolution might offer the best way to understand the natural history of the earth and of humankind.” Noll then summarizes the mindset of Warfield on the topic,

In the course of his career, both Warfield’s positions and his vocabulary did shift on the question of evolution. But they shifted only within a fairly narrow range. What remained constant was his adherence to a broad Calvinistic conception of the natural world—of a world that, even in its most physical aspects, reflected the wisdom and glory of God—and his commitment to the goal of harmonizing a sophisticated conservative theology and the most securely verified conclusions of modern science (from Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind[2]).

Similarly, some later Old Earth Creationists (OEC), such as Bernard Ramm, who rejected naturalistic evolution sought to account for the fossil record with the idea of “progressive creation” in which God directly intervened periodically into earth’s history and created new species by his word.

But the popularity and influence of Evolutionary Creationism in Evangelical circles today is fairly recent. It does not arise out of the theological liberalism associated with the historical-critical reading of the Bible of the 1970s. A key figure in the rise of this movement (comparable to the importance of Price or Morris for YEC), is Francis Collins, MD, PhD.

Collins is one the most influential scientists (not to mention Christian scientist) in the world today. His work in genetics has led to election to the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, as well as the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. In 2007, President Bush awarded him the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Two years later, President Obama appointed him (and President Trump has retained him) as director of the most important scientific organization in the country, namely, the National Institutes of Health.[3] This was not without some controversy, as some scientists did not like that Collins was an Evangelical Christian.

Collins earned his PhD in physical chemistry from Yale (1974) and his MD from the University of North Carolina (1977) after concluding that he wanted to do work with a direct benefit on human health. He states that as an atheist,

“I was in a very reductionist frame of mind. That’s often what science imposes upon your thought process, and it’s a good thing when you apply it to the natural world. But I sought to apply it to everything else. Obviously the spiritual world is another entity.”

In medical school he began wondering about Christianity:

“So it was really as a medical student, and later as a resident, encountering the realities of what disease and the specter of death does to human beings, that I began to wonder about this. Some of my patients were clearly relying very heavily on their faith as a source of strength in circumstances that were pretty awful. They had terrible diseases from which they were probably not going to escape, and yet instead of railing at God, they seemed to lean on their faith as a source of great comfort and reassurance. They weren’t, somehow, perceiving it as the really awful thing that it seemed to me to be. And that was interesting and puzzling and unsettling.”

Through subsequent conversations with a pastor (whom he later described as wonderfully patient with this young obnoxious atheist) he came into contact with the work of C. S. Lewis whom he found attractive in large part because Lewis had been a top-flight scholar who taught at Oxford. Collins found Lewis’s argument for the existence of moral law rationally compelling.

“Lewis argues that if you are looking for evidence of a God who cares about us as individuals, where could you more likely look than within your own heart at this very simple concept of what’s right and what’s wrong. And there it is. Not only does it tell you something about the fact that there is a spiritual nature that is somehow written within our hearts, but it also tells you something about the nature of God himself, which is that he is a good and holy God. What we have there is a glimpse of what he stands for.”

A year later he became a Christian at age 27, an event that he describes as the “the most significant moment in my life.”

Collins became a professor at the University of Michigan. He soon became renowned as a “gene hunter,” especially “for his landmark discoveries of disease genes” (accessed Feb. 18, 2018). His laboratory discovered the genes “responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease, a familial endocrine cancer syndrome…type 2 diabetes, and the gene that causes Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare condition that causes premature aging” (accessed Feb 18, 2018).

As director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (1993-2008) Collins led a “15-year multibillion-dollar effort to locate and “map and sequence the 3 billion letters in the human DNA instruction book.”[4] Mapping the human DNA has “opened the door to a vast array of genetic fields and research taking place today” aimed at “identifying and understanding genetic variations that influence the risk of various diseases.”

After successfully decoding human DNA, Francis Collins wrote a best-selling book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006), in which he reflects on his work in genetics in light of his Christian faith. In it picks up Lewis’s argument about the uniqueness of moral law as an argument for the existence of God. He writes, “After twenty-eight years as a believer, the Moral Law stands out for me as the strongest signpost of God.”[5]

Collins went on to help establish BioLogos (2007) an organization to foster dialogue on faith and science and argue for evolutionary creationism as a faithful Christian position within the  boundaries of creedal Christianity.

“If God chose to create you and me as natural and spiritual beings, and decided to use the mechanism of evolution to accomplish that goal, I think that’s incredibly elegant. And because God is outside of space and time, He knew what the outcome was going to be right at the beginning. It’s not as if there was a chance it wouldn’t work. So where, then, is the discordancy that causes so many people to see these views of science and of spirit as being incompatible? In me, they both exist. They both exist at the same moment in the day. They’re not compartmentalized. They are entirely compatible. And they’re part of who I am.”

My sense is that BioLogos is the leading and most influential voice for Evolutionary Creationism. One will recognize many names among Evangelical scholars now writing for BioLogos or engaging in discussions around evolutionary creationism. These include, N. T. Wright, Truemper Longman, Scott McKnight, John Walton, Tim Keller, James K. A. Smith.[6]

Who Are the Evolutionary Creationists?

  • The Faraday Institute. Based in the UK it includes voices like Denis Alexander and Ard Louis. Also from the UK is The Hump of the Camel.
  • The American Scientific Affiliation. This organization does not actually hold a position on origins and includes Christians across the spectrum. Nevertheless, their journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith has become a key place where evolutionary creation scholarship is published.
  • Provides a wide range of theological positions within Evolutionary Creationism. Its mission is “to invite the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.”[7]
  • Evolutionary Creationism is a diverse movement. Many less well-known voices hold very different theological positions than those at BioLogos. I will focus on those connected with BioLogos since it is the organization with which people are most likely to come into contact.

What Are Their Views on Scripture?

BioLogos affirms the following about Scripture:

“We believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. By the Holy Spirit it is the “living and active” means through which God speaks to the church today, bearing witness to God’s Son, Jesus, as the divine Logos, or Word of God.”

There is no specific mention of the inerrancy of Scripture as we saw with the other camps. However, when an influential biblical scholar who writes for BioLogos, John Walton, was asked about Article 12 of the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy (1978),[8] he replied that inerrancy “is linked to what the text affirms. The affirmations of the text come from the author. Scientific hypotheses cannot overthrow the Scripture, but neither are we free to read between the lines of the text scientific statements that it did not affirm.”[9] He goes on:

“In the cases of creation and the flood, interpreters are obliged only to those affirmations being made by the author as expressed in his language and as understood against the backdrop of his culture. The hermeneutical principle that is too often neglected is that we must therefore read the text as an ancient text not a modern one.”[10]

The issue for Evolutionary Creationists is not an issue of the Bible’s authority or inerrancy, but of the Bible’s interpretation. Thus Walton argues that the text must be interpreted in its historical and cultural context. As will be seen below, James K. A. Smith also cautions that one cannot ignore the ecclesial (and thus canonical) context in which the meaning of Genesis is not determined only by the cultural context of Genesis.

The Creedal Tradition

Many of people involved in BioLogos come out of the Reformed tradition and thus not only hold to the ancient creeds but also hold to the Westminster Confession. BioLogos states:

  • We believe that all people have sinned against God and are in need of salvation.
  • We believe in the historical incarnation of Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man. We believe in the historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which we are saved and reconciled to God.
  • We believe that God is directly involved in the lives of people today through acts of redemption, personal transformation, and answers to prayer.

Deborah Haarsma, the president of BioLogos has elaborated on the meaning of these statements:

We believe in the Trinity—God the Father, Son, and Spirit. We believe that God created all things, visible and invisible. God transcends his creation and brought it out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo); God is immanent in creation, actively participating in a creative and continuing sense (creatio continua); and God will transform the current order of things into his new creation (creatio ex vetere). All people are created in the image of God, yet all have sinned against God and are in need of God’s saving grace. God’s Son became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth as fully God and fully man. His physical death and historical bodily resurrection provide the only path to salvation and eternal life. The Holy Spirit convicts, equips, guides and empowers people today. The Bible, including all the books of the Old and New Testaments, is inspired by God, trustworthy, and authoritative for our lives and faith.”[11]

Reading God’s Book of the Bible with God’s Book of Creation

As with the previous groups that we have considered, BioLogos seeks to demonstrate the agreement between Scripture and nature. We might consider their position with regard to what they affirm and what they reject.


  • BioLogos affirms that God reveals himself in both the Scriptures and in nature, what we refer to as general revelation and special revelation. Thus, “properly interpreted, Scripture and nature are complementary and faithful witnesses to their common Author.”
  • Because God is the single author of both books, God’s two books cannot contradict one another. “In this, we stand with a long tradition of Christians for whom Christian faith and science are mutually hospitable.”
  • Even then, there are disagreements about how to hold God’s two books together. Some associated scholars take a more Christ-centered view that places primacy on scripture theology. In particular, George Murphy, a Lutheran, provides an important counterpoint.


  • We “reject ideologies such as Materialism and Scientism that claim science is the sole source of knowledge and truth, that science has debunked God and religion, or that the physical world constitutes the whole of reality.”
  • We “reject ideologies such as Deism that claim the universe is self-sustaining, that God is no longer active in the natural world, or that God is not active in human history.”
  • We “reject ideologies that claim that evolution is a purposeless process or that evolution replaces God.” (This seems to reject the materialistic naturalism that characterizes neo-Darwinism.)

Like the other groups, they argue that the central issue is one of interpretation. While the science has prompted such re-examinations of our hermeneutics, Walton maintains that it does not determine those hermeneutics and advocates reading the Old Testament in light of its Ancient Near Eastern cultural context regardless of what the science says.

Walton emphasizes that God conveyed his scriptures through human instruments. This raises two questions: “(1) How did God accommodate his message to the human authors and original audience? [He notes that all communication entails some accommodation to the hearer’s world and background]. (2) Is what God desired to communicate limited to what the author understood?” For example, Walton argues that we know today that a mustard seed is not the smallest seed in the world. That doesn’t mean Jesus made a false statement considering the “scientific” knowledge of the first century.[12]

What Do They Say about Creation and Evolution?

Evolutionary Creationists put the emphasis on “God’s creation as the noun, with evolution as the modifier.”[13]

Creatio Ex Nihilo

BioLogos affirms without qualification that God is the creator of all things. They reject the claims of atheistic scientists who say that this is all that there is and that’s just the way it is. For example, Jim Stump of BioLogos cites an article by the atheistic cosmologist Sean Carroll in the Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity called “Does the Universe Need God?” Carroll writes

The ultimate answer to “We need to understand why the universe exists / continues to exist / exhibits regularities / came to be” is essentially “No, we don’t”. . . It is always nice to be able to provide reasons why something is the case. Most scientists, however, suspect that the search for ultimate explanations eventually terminates in some final theory of the world, along with the phrase “and that’s just how it is.” (p. 193)

Stump then argues, “We Christians say there must be something eternal and uncreated to explain why the universe exists; Carroll and others say, “The universe just is.” Of course that’s getting dangerously close to investing the natural world with qualities traditionally reserved for the divine (the Great “I Am”).” But the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo “is not just saying that there was no matter for God to work from, it is articulating how radically different (philosophers say “ontologically different”) God is from the kinds of things we find in the universe today.” In other words, the statement that God created everything ex nihilo

asserts a radical distinction between created things, which depend on God for their very existence, and God himself, who does not depend on anything else. If God had created the world out of pre-existing stuff, that dependence relationship would be murkier. In addition to starting this off, ex nihilo is clear that all created things ultimately depend on God for their continued existence.

God’s Activity Through Evolution

BioLogos’ account of evolution might be located in what Christian theologians have referred to as God’s ongoing work of creating (creatio continua) or what some might call God’s providence. In “What We Believe,” they state:

6. We believe that God typically sustains the world using faithful, consistent processes that humans describe as “natural laws.” Yet we also affirm that God works outside of natural law in supernatural events, including the miracles described in Scripture. In both natural and supernatural ways, God continues to be directly involved in creation and in human history.

7. We believe that the methods of science are an important and reliable means to investigate and describe the world God has made. In this, we stand with a long tradition of Christians for whom Christian faith and science are mutually hospitable.

Therefore, we reject ideologies such as Materialism and Scientism that claim science is the sole source of knowledge and truth, that science has debunked God and religion, or that the physical world constitutes the whole of reality.

8. We believe that God created the universe, the earth, and all life over billions of years. God continues to sustain the existence and functioning of the natural world, and the cosmos continues to declare the glory of God.

Therefore, we reject ideologies such as Deism that claim the universe is self-sustaining, that God is no longer active in the natural world, or that God is not active in human history.

9. We believe that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent. Thus, evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes.

Therefore, we reject ideologies that claim that evolution is a purposeless process or that evolution replaces God.

BioLogos contends that evolution does not require an atheistic worldview. Darrel Falk writes, “Like most scientists, we use the word evolution to refer to a scientific process or theory, in the same way scientists refer to the theory of gravity or the process of photosynthesis.”[14] Might this be an idiosyncratic definition of evolution? Falk refers to an introductory course on evolution offered by University of California, Museum of Paleontology and National Center for Science Education, entitled, “An Introduction to Evolution,” where the following definition is provided:

The definition
Biological evolution, simply put, is descent with modification. This definition encompasses small-scale evolution (changes in gene frequency in a population from one generation to the next) and large-scale evolution (the descent of different species from a common ancestor over many generations). Evolution helps us to understand the history of life.

The explanation
Biological evolution is not simply a matter of change over time. Lots of things change over time: trees lose their leaves, mountain ranges rise and erode, but they aren’t examples of biological evolution because they don’t involve descent through genetic inheritance.

The central idea of biological evolution is that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor, just as you and your cousins share a common grandmother.

Through the process of descent with modification, the common ancestor of life on Earth gave rise to the fantastic diversity that we see documented in the fossil record and around us today. Evolution means that we’re all distant cousins: humans and oak trees, hummingbirds and whales.

With this definition of evolution, Falk states that BioLogos avoids two errors. First it rejects scientism as an overreach of science to address matters of purpose. Biology says “nothing about the possibility of the existence of a who through whom all things exist, or the why of their existence.” Second, they reject the claim that evolution (given the above definition) is completely antithetical to Christian truth.[15]

What Do Evolutionary Creationists Say about Adam and Eve?

Over the last couple of years, the subject of Adam and Eve has become a major discussion within the Evangelical Theological Society. Currently, most scientists argue that one can trace DNA back with any certainty to a population of two thousand to ten thousand hominids. In other words, it cannot be traced back to only two individuals. BioLogos has often provided the forum for these issues to be publicly debated.

Loren Haarsma acknowledges that “recent discoveries in archaeology, paleontology, and genetics” have raised significant questions regarding the interpretation of Genesis 1–3. In addressing them, BioLogos works within the boundaries of the key systematic doctrines:

  • “Humans are created ‘in the image of God,’ with a special relationship to God and a role to play in God’s creation (Genesis 1:27).”
  • “All humans who have ever lived have sinned by rebelling against God’s revealed will.”
  • “God has dealt with sin through Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return.”

A recent book by Dennis R. Venema and Scot McKnight, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science (Brazos Press, 2017), has ignited debate among Evangelical scholars with a wide spectrum of views (including many who hold to an evolutionary account of God’s creating).

Biblical scholars have taken issue with McKnight’s interpretation of a “historical” Adam and Eve through Paul’s statements about “one man” in Acts 17:26 and Romans 5:12. For example, is Paul referring to a historical man or Adam as an archetype of Israel as in Second Temple Judaism? Some like Tim Keller have found the proposals too simplistic. Keller and others believe that one must affirm a de novo creation of Adam and Eve, a view with which BioLogos disagrees.

S. Joshua Swamidass (Washington University) and other scientists have also weighed in on the side of the genetic science, not by disputing how far back genetics takes us, but by disputing that such conclusions require a reconsideration of Genesis 2 and 3. Swamidass has argued that Christian scientists like Venema conflate and confuse the science of genetic ancestry with the science of genealogical ancestry.[16] He maintains that genetic ancestry does not deny or reject the special creation of an Adam and Eve. It simply doesn’t deal with it. In other words, there is nothing in genetic science to deny that Adam could have been specially created de novo and been ancestor of all of us.[17]

Jeff Hardin of BioLogos addressed the debate in a Reformation post. The debate has not escaped the attention of others, including non-Christian evolutionists.

What Do They Say of the Fall and Sin?

The historicity of Adam and Eve within the biblical narrative is central to Christian teachings of the fall, the transmission of original sin, and the account of salvation in the New Testament. As Ted Davis points out:

“Of all the theological and biblical challenges posed by Evolutionary Creation, none are bigger than those related to the Garden of Eden and the disobedience of Adam and Eve. The resulting “fall” from primitive perfection resulted in a permanent moral impediment for all descendants of Adam and Eve—every human being who has ever lived. How can evolution be held alongside the crucial Christian doctrine of original sin?”

Extensive and vigorous discussions have taken place the past few years exploring how one can remain faithful to the Christian explanation of original sin while taking into account the science of genetics regarding an original human population (BioLogos has many articles on their website).

James K. A. Smith is best known in our circles for his popular book, Desiring the Kingdom. Smith is particularly helpful; for while he holds to evolution[18] (see “Why I Changed My Mind on Evolution), he offers incisive theological, philosophical, and historical critiques of the problems reconciling the biblical account of the fall into sin with evolutionary biology. Smith’s proposal helps us to understand the debate within EC.

First, Loren Haarsma in “Why the Church Needs Multiple Theories of Original Sin,” proposes that just as we have several theories or models of the atonement (e.g., substitutionary sacrifice, Christus Victor) within the Scriptures we might also consider multiple models or theories of original sin from various images for sin within the Bible.

Smith argues that the analogy to theories of the atonement don’t work. “The multiple theories or models of the atonement are not different views on whether the cross accomplishes the forgiveness of sins but how. The multiplicity is generated by the richness and depth of the mystery.” He does note that Haarsma is right about the variety of images for sin in the Bible but asks,

is this really the issue that impinges on contemporary discussions about human origins? As we struggle with how to reconcile biblical and general revelation about human origins, is anyone really calling into question the ubiquity of human sinfulness or the universal need for redemption? No, at least no one in the orbit of evangelicalism and historic Christian orthodoxy.

He continues, “while the doctrine includes anthropological claims about the rebellious state of humanity, the doctrine also includes an account of the origin of sin—an account of how we got to be this way.”

Smith contends that at stake in the debate is neither the nature of sin nor the need to explain the ubiquity of sin nor our need to explain why we need salvation. What is ultimately at stake is “how to account for original sin while preserving the goodness of God” so as not to make God the cause of sin. Thus Smith allows that there “may be room for multiple scenarios about how sin originates in time, but given that the goodness of God is at stake, there is not room for multiple theories about whether sin originates in time.”

Second, Smith responds to a book by Peter Enns entitled, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins (Brazos Press, 2012). Smith notes that Enns writes for Evangelicals who feel what Charles Taylor calls the “Cross-Pressure” of life as a believer in the modern world. He believes that this especially applies to conservative Evangelical Christians who sincerely hold to the Bible’s truth and authority yet are also committed to the intellectual life to which God calls them.

According to Smith, Enns believes that reconciliation or harmonization of Genesis with modern science is not possible. To that end, he argues for a position in which the Genesis simply does not address issues raised by modern science. Smith acknowledges the very real “cross-pressures” that Christians experience but counsels that we should not adopt too quickly a particular resolution to the problem. Instead, much work needs to be done on deeper hermeneutical and theological issues. He highlights these concerns with Enns’s book.

Hermeneutically, Smith believes both Enns and Walton focus too exclusively on interpreting Genesis in the context of Ancient Near Eastern culture. As a result, they focus only on the authorial intent of the original writer and not the authorial intent of the divine author that must also be gleaned from the other texts in the canon. In a sense, this “sequesters Genesis” and “flattens its meaning” “in contrast, say, to the “ecclesiocentric” hermeneutic of Richard Hays, where meaning over?ows human authorial intent” (Smith).

Smith instead argues that the Bible must be read ecclesially, that is, in light of the canon whereby meaning may be brought to Genesis that the authors originally did not have in view.

We receive a canon of Scripture that recontextualizes each book—situating every book in relation to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which is why the “location” from which we read the Bible needs to be the practices of Christian worship. Worship is the primary “home” of the Bible and it is in worship that we cultivate those habits and virtues we need to read Scripture holistically. (8)

Now this doesn’t mean that conservative scholars thereby always get it right. Smith argues that the early church would be puzzled by our tendency to impose anachronistically “a “journalistic” sense of “history” on ancient texts.” It is helpful to appreciate the original intent and setting of these texts in order to counter our very modern habits of reading the Bible as if it were the same genre as Robert Caro’s history of LBJ’s presidency.” Smith concludes:

Our options are not either ahistorical “theological” claims or literalist “historical” claims. We shouldn’t confuse or reduce “historical” to journalistic paradigms or blow-by-blow chronology. We need to develop more nuanced accounts of history in order to do justice to the theological. There is much work to be done on this front.

Theologically, Smith also takes up issues connected with the fall of Adam and Eve. He notes that Enns and others share the concern that the church must affirm the “universal human sinfulness and the death and resurrection of the sinless Christ” in order to preserve the Gospel. But they seek to affirm the universal sinfulness of human beings apart from an account of how that sinfulness entered the world in as much as “it is just this sort of causal claim that he thinks is untenable in light of evolutionary evidence for human origins.”

But Smith points out, “if we don’t have an account of the origin of sin we will end up making God the author of evil,” a position that the church has always rejected. Thus what is at stake in an account of evil’s entrance into the world is the goodness of God. Smith contends, “If God uses evolutionary processes to create the world and sin is inherent in those processes, then creation is synonymous with fall and God is made the author of sin—which compromises the very goodness of God.”

What Do They Say about Suffering and Death?

A topic garnering increasing attention from Christians theologians is one that expands theodical questions from human suffering and death to the destruction, suffering, and death found in the non-human world. This centers on several issues.

The first deals with what we have traditionally called “natural disasters” such as hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis, wildfires, earthquakes and the like. At times, they have been attributed to human sin, but both RTB and BioLogos argue that “there is ample evidence that the laws of nature did not change with the arrival of human sin and that natural disasters occurred long before there were human beings, causing pain, suffering, and death to creatures.”[20] For example, asteroids would have caused widespread damage and death to life on earth.

The second deals with so-called evolutionary evils of suffering and death found within the animal world. Richard Dawkins has described this in rather vivid terms:

“During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so. If there is ever time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.”[21]

How do Christians account for this? Jim Stump acknowledges that our capacity for answering such questions is limited and that God does not need defending. But “we must do our best—though we now see only dimly—to articulate systems of belief that are coherent and responsible to the light we’ve been given.”[22]

To that end, various theodicies have been developed such as the argument that suffering and death is the “only way to bring about greater goods that God desired for his creation” including human moral development, including the attribute of altruism.[23] Stump notes thatJohn Wesley also considered the issue of animal suffering, but believed that “The objection vanishes away if we consider that something better remains after death for these creatures also; that these likewise shall one day be delivered from this bondage of corruption, and shall then receive an ample amends for all their present sufferings.”[24]

Note: This post is meant to acquaint the reader with Evolutionary Creationism as a theological-scientific synthesis found among many American Evangelicals to reconcile their reading of the Bible with their reading of modern science. It is not an endorsement of it by myself or by the Concordia Seminary faculty.

Resources for Further Reading

Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, 2007).

Deborah B. and Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2011).

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution, ed. Kathryn Applegate and J.B. Stump (IVP Academic, 2016)

Darrel Falk, Coming to Peace With Science: Bridging the Worlds between Faith and Biology, with Forward by Francis Collins (IVP Academic, 2004).

Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and Biologos ed. Kenneth Keathley (IVP Academic, 2017).

Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (Monarch Books, 2014).

Denis Alexander, Is There Purpose in Biology?: The Cost of Existence and the God of Love (Monarch Books, 2018).

Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, ed. J. Daryl Charles (Hendrickson Publishers, 2013).

Dennis R. Venema and Scot McKnight, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science (Brazos Press, 2017).

S. Joshua Swamidass, A Genealogical Adam in Evolution.

Three Views on Creation and Evolution, John Reynolds, Howard J. Van Tilll, Paul Nelson, Robert C. Newman, ed. James Moreland (Zondervan, 2010).

Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, ed. J. B. Stump (Zondervan, 2017)

Four Views on the Historical Adam, Denis Lamoureux, John Walton, C. John Collins, William D. Barrick, and Gregory A. Boyd (Zondervan, 2013).

John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (IVP Academic, 2009). and The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (IVP Academic, 2015).

Truemper Longman III and John Walton, The Lost World of the Flood, Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate (IVP Academic, 2018).

Jim B. Stump, “Christianity and the Philosophy of Science: Responding to Perceived Theological Implications of Evolutionary Creation” In the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies.


[1] In drafting these posts, I have consulted with people from across these three camps, and I express my many thanks and appreciation for their reading of the posts and suggestions for improvement.

[2] For several views on Warfield, see https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/53889/what-is-the-basis-for-saying-that-b-b-warfield-believed-in-theistic-evolution).

[3] “The NIH supports a wide range of scientists, including 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities across the globe.” http://www.achievement.org/achiever/francis-s-collins/

[4] For a readable and understandable treatment of “instruction book” see https://www.genome.gov/pages/education/modules/blueprinttoyou/blueprint3to4.pdf (accessed Feb. 18, 2018).

[5] Collins, Language of God, p. 218.

[6] See the collection of essays in, How I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science, ed. Kathryn Applegate & J. B. Stump (IVP Academic, 2016).

[7] Deb Haarsma, in Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos ed. Kenneth Keathley (IVP Academic, 2017), 9.

[8] This was an international conference in which Robert Preus and John Warwick Montgomery played a significant role. See http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html.

[9] Walton, Discussing Origins, 32.

[10] Walton, Discussing Origins, 32.

[11] Deborah Haarsma, Discussing Origins, 10-11

[12] Walton, Discussing Origins, 29.

[13] Deb Haarsma, Discussing Origins, p 10

[14] Falk, Discussion of Origins, p. 11

[15] Falk, Dicussions of Origins, 125

[16] See Joshua Swamidass, “The Overlooked Science of Genealogical Ancestry,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith: Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 70 (March 2018): 19-35.

[17] Ibid.

[18] James K. A. Smith, “From Culture Wars to Common Witness: A Pilgrimage on Faith and Science,” in How I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science, ed. Kathryn Applegate & J. B. Stump (IVP Academic, 2016): 21-28.

[19] See also, Evolution and the Fall ed, William T. Cavanaugh (Editor),  James K. A. Smith (Eerdmans, 2017

[20] Discussing Origins, 69

[21] River out of Eden, New York: Basic Books, 1995), 132.

[22] Stump, Discussing Origins, 72.

[23] Stump, Discussing Origins, 72-73. See also, Celia Dean-Drummon, The Wisdom of the Liminal: Evolution and Other Animals in Human Becoming (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014). See also Sarah Coakley, Sacrifice Regained: Evolution, Cooperation, and God Gifford Lectures, 2012 (Cambridge University Press).

[24] John Wesley, “The General Deliverance,” in The Works of John Wesley, 34th edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 6:251.






9 responses to “A Travel Guide to the Evangelical Creation Debates: What is Evolutionary Creationism?”

  1. Rev Michael Mueller Avatar
    Rev Michael Mueller

    An aweful lot of confused thinking. Sin always results in death, and death is always the result of sin. If you can die you are a sinner. Jesus believed in a literal Creation, a literal Adam and Eve (see Y-Chromosome Adam and Mitochondrial Eve), an actual fall into sin, a literal Flood, a literal Noah. So, if Genesis is just stories, is Jesus just a story? Science does not support abiogenesis, nor evolution. I have debated geneticist, biologists, astronomers, geologists, etc and they can easily be cornered with the enormous fallacies inherent in their hypotheses. There is no unified hypothesis of evolution, only a multitude of one-off attempted explanations of the observed phenomena that fall apart when applied to more than the narrow scope of their argument. These so called ECs do far more damage to the faith of our youth than the atheists and evolutionists.

    1. James Gibbs Avatar
      James Gibbs

      Pastor Mueller, lots of ECs believe in a literal Adam and Eve, an actual Fall, and a literal Flood. Let’s not jump to the conclusion that a figurative interpretation of parts of Genesis equals throwing the historicity of the entire Bible out the window. I have never read an EC writer say Genesis is “just stories,” so please don’t put words in their mouths. We can disagree with evangelical ECs without wildly exaggerating the extent of our disagreement. Let’s be fair to them in a Golden-Rule kind of way!

      If mainstream scientists can be “easily cornered,” if their hypotheses have “enormous fallacies,” and if their ideas “fall apart,” why are ideas such as evolution so widely accepted in mainstream science today? Surely, so many scientists (many of whom are religious men and women, including many Christians) are not all dupes of Satan. If Francis Collins (an M.D. and a Ph.D., head of the Human Genome Project and head of the NIH, as well as a sincere Christian) says evolution has strong support, I feel obligated to at least listen to so eminent a man. He is certainly no quack!

      Dr. Todd Wood (a biochemist and a young-earth creationist!) has said “There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory.” Dr. John Klotz, an LCMS pastor with a Ph.D. in genetics (and a young-earth creationist), said most scientists who espouse evolution are not motivated by hostility to our faith, but are sincere seekers after truth. Let’s be fair to our opponents, and be willing to admit it when they have a pretty good case. Denying that “the other guy” is ever right can often backfire.

      As far as ECs doing more damage to our youth than atheists–I’m not sure I follow your logic. Surely, it would be better for a Lutheran young person to remain a Christian while accepting evolution than it would be for them to go all the way and espouse atheism!

      Btw, I would enjoy hearing the arguments you have used in your debates with various scientists. Let me know your congregation and we could exchange emails.

    2. Rev. Michael Mueller Avatar
      Rev. Michael Mueller

      ‘@ James Gibbs Wow, where to start? I have debated geologist, astronomers, biologists and geneticists over abiogenesis and macroevolution with great success. You ask a good question–“well, then why?” I don’t know the motives. I don’t know the faith or how much they have tried to falsify their hypotheses. I can only analyze the arguments and debate the evidence. Evolution does not stand up well. When I taught Anatomy & Physiology, I had all of the students form five groups and take an evolutionary idea–Vestigial organs–and examine the best evidence for evolution and Creation. Most started out evolutionist. All ended up Creationists.

      No, it is not better for a youth to hold to evolutionary creation. That is an oxymoron. That would mean that God created with death…trillions of deaths…before Adam and Ishah. Therefore, death is not evil if God used it before the Fall…though in Revelation it says that the final enemy death is also cast into the lake of fire. Once you reduce Genesis to a story…and YES evolution would reduce the Fall to a story…then our youth rightly question whether the rest is also true. I’ve seen it hundreds of times and speak with actual knowledge, not sophistry. While in seminary for four years, I taught High School–Anatomy & Physiology, Physics, Algebra, Geometry, Leadership, Logic, Senior Literature, Writing Through Literature, U.S. History, and German, and also at the same time taught College–Economics, Business, Law, Information Technology, Leadership and Statistics. Yeah, I know I’m a glutton for punishment!

      You cannot read the Genesis’ Creation in the Hebrew and put long ages, gradual molecules to man or anything else into it. You can reject it or interpret it to fit your acceptance of how some people interpret the evidence, but that is not what it says. Better we should hold to Scripture’s plain intended meaning, and examine the evidence for support, rather than the other way around.

      But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth (II Timothy 3:1-7).

      Sometimes we feel like if only we knew everything, then we’d have no problem living what we say we believe because then we’d know it’s true. Like, ‘well, if God would just appear to me, then I’d believe.’ Got news for you, He did come in the person of Jesus and at the end of His three years of ministry, there were only 120 gathered in the Upper room after His crucifixion (Acts 1:15). ‘Well, then how about someone coming back from the dead and confirming the existence of heaven or hell.’ That, too, happened on Holy Saturday, but again, it brought no conversions (Matthew 27:52-53).

      Faith is not based upon reason. If it was, then we’d all be atheists when we’re asleep, and little children, those in a coma and the mentally challenged all would be lost. The reason Jesus pointed to the faith of a little child (literally an infant—Mark 10:13-16; Matthew 18:3) was because faith is something God gives to us as a gift. It is not something we grasp or can make a decision to choose (Romans 9:16). But what God says, we should find evidence to show that it is true (John 3:12).

      Time Magazine (March, 1990) in its “Science” section, had an item, “Score One for the Bible,” refuting the research of the late British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, who claimed Jericho was destroyed 150 years before Joshua could have done it. Time also noted many facts consistent with the Biblical story. While Bible believers don’t need a prop for their faith, it’s nice when “science” and the secular, like Time, catch up with the Word of God.

      While there is nothing wrong with knowledge, God warns us that when knowledge comes to the point of causing doubt in His Word, a flashing red light should be going off in our head. Knowledge of who God is should bring increased fellowship with Him (I Peter 1:2-7). The world around us is the illusion that will melt away at the end of time (II Peter 3:10-12). The spiritual world–in which we are citizens (Philippians 3:20)–is the reality that endures forever.

      Be especially careful of those who claim special revelation, want to relegate the Bible’s meanings to ‘those days only’ or have novel meanings for Scripture ‘in our day.’ God’s Word is timeless and should always be read first for the plain meaning that was intended (Luke 24:27; Revelation 22:18-19) in the form of literature that it is written—history, poetry, theology, metaphor, etc.

      We should not let knowledge cause us to doubt the Word of God. The knowledge that we gain should bring us to a better understanding of the Bible and of Christ, because all of Scripture testifies about Christ (John 5:39). We pray for those who’ve so much knowledge that they now doubt God and His written Word. There’s a danger in knowledge if it provokes the foolish behavior of doubting God’s Word.

      I, too, would enjoy a chat and exchange of information and ideas. I’m easy enough to find in the LCMS website as an ordained pastor in Lancaster, California.

    3. Barry Pfanstiel Avatar
      Barry Pfanstiel

      Why do we want to create an unnecessary faith crisis for young people going into sciences … positing an either/or between creation and evolution? I know from pastoral experience that this is happening, and we are losing that battle far too often. St. Augustine, on one occasion, warned about how we “come across” to non-Christians when we attempt to speak in areas of which we may not be equipped. He wrote, “If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?” I have great respect for Biologos and its efforts to steer a course of both responsible faith and science. I also sympathize with the struggle that scientists affiliated with BioLogos are having, catching its from both sides of the debate. “How I Changed My Mind About Evolution” is an important compilation of 28 personal testimonies of Christian scientists describing their journeys. I know that Evolutionary Creationists (as in BioLogos) are providing a sense of relief from faith-anxiety to many of our youth. Plus, BioLogos offers much to inform and maybe challenge us all.

    4. Rev Michael Mueller Avatar
      Rev Michael Mueller

      ‘@ Barry Pfanstiel The answer you posit contains the seeds of its own destruction. The evidence supports Creation, not evolution. The ‘crisis” is the desire to marginalize Creation, and therefore the Fall, and finally Jesus.

      BTW–I AM competent in the sciences, so I have never been accused of being out of my depth in discussions or debates. Relief comes when one is assured that God got it right. To try to blend Cristianity and atheism is to accuse God of not being a good communicator. I believe He is quite clear and doesn’t others to make excuses for what He wrote.

  2. Justin Walker Avatar
    Justin Walker

    Dr. Arand,

    These posts are proving to be very informational and interesting. I continue to wait on the edge of my seat for the Lutheran approach and discussion of magisterial/ministerial use of reason, especially since so much of this seems to stem from the position of assuming an equality of Scripture and current scientific findings (hence the urge to reconcile). I found the views on natural revelation mentioned above to be particularly interesting in this way.

  3. Joel Dieterichs Avatar
    Joel Dieterichs

    “Likes the two previous comments.” Agree, gents! This will be interesting…I will resist spouting off again about any of this. But to echo your thanks to Dr. Arand. Thanks, Dr. A!

  4. James Gibbs Avatar
    James Gibbs

    Pastor Mueller, you say you have debated scientists with great success. It’s impossible to judge what you mean by this, since you cite no specific arguments other than “vestigial organs” (with no specifics), which you presented to a high-school class. I’ve taught high school for nearly 30 years, and I know how easy it is to lead teenagers to a predetermined conclusion. I’ve seen lesson plans online which promoted evolution, and I’m sure they are just as effective as yours was!
    Men and women who have spent their entire professional lives studying these issues (such as Dr. Collins and Dr. Wood–both Christians) have stated that the scientific evidence for evolution is conclusive or very strong. The National Center for Science Education has compiled a list just of scientists named “Steve” (about 1% of all scientists) who accept evolution, and it’s longer than any creationist list of scientists who oppose evolution. Christian TV-show host John Ankerberg once asked the late Henry Morris (the “godfather” of modern creationism) and the late Dr. Duane Gish (biochemist and well-known anti-evolution debater) to name scientists persuaded that the universe is “young” based purely on the science. Neither man could! All of which tells me that, prima facie, there is a serious case to be made for the theory of evolution!
    If someone opposes evolution on Biblical grounds, I totally respect that. But to say that evolution is on shaky scientific ground is simply whistling past the graveyard! We need to be fair-minded as Christians, and be willing to admit that there is a strong case to be made for evolution, even if we ultimately reject it.
    Does God “create with death”? Well, he certainly made the new creation possible by the death of Christ! Even Answers in Genesis argues that natural selection (which, of course, involves death) is how God created today’s millions of species from a few thousand creatures preserved on Noah’s Ark. Isaiah 45:7 says God “create[s] calamity.” Job 39:13-17 tells us that the ostrich “deals cruelly with her young” because of the way God made her. Psalm 104:21, 27-28 speaks of how God feeds all creatures, including young lions “roar[ing] for their prey.” For the beasts, at least, God certainly does “create with death.”
    When Scripture speaks of death as an evil, it only addresses the human race. We were meant to eat from the Tree of Life and live forever! Human death tears body and soul apart, a sundering only to be restored at the resurrection of the just. Nowhere does the Bible say the Fall of Man transformed herbivores into carnivores, gave prey animals camouflage, or doomed the beasts to death for the sin of our race (which would seem to contradict Ezekiel 18:20). Why couldn’t God have created the lower animals mortal from the beginning? The Bible certainly doesn’t say a word about any eternal destiny for Fido, as many Christian parents have discovered when trying to comfort a distraught child mourning a departed pet!
    No, EC does not “reduce the Fall to a story.” Plenty of ECs believe in an historical Fall. Again, those who interpret the Fall (or any part of Genesis) figuratively are not calling it “just a story.” Were the parables of Jesus “just stories”? Again, please do not smear EC Christians with the accusation of despising Scripture. That is completely unfair!
    As far as evolution making the youth question the Faith–we could trade anecdotes all day long. I don’t doubt that some people learn about evolution, and it destroys their faith. I also am certain that being told you have to choose between evolution and the Faith has also destroyed faith. I have read personal accounts online of both situations. When people reject Christianity, there are usually several issues involved, and it’s hard even for the person involved to be totally clear about the exact genesis of their crisis of faith. I do know this: no real truth, scientific or not, can threaten our Faith, since we serve the God of Truth. So , I am inclined to be honest and clear about everything, and let the chips fall where they may, using tact and Christian discernment along the way. I am also concerned about Christians who use intellectually dishonest tactics to promote creationism (not meaning you personally). That sort of stuff is way too common, and only dishonors our Faith.
    As far as the interpretation of Genesis–we could be here all day. I will say this, though: you could use the “plain reading” standard to argue for geocentrism. Luther certainly did! So, if Copernicus & co. led us to re-think some old ways of interpreting Scripture, I am inclined to not dismiss out of hand suggestions for reconciling science and Scripture.
    I completely agree with you that there is a temptation inherent in earthly knowledge–the temptation to despise the Word. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). The words of Solomon, wisest man who ever lived–and look how terribly he fell away from the Lord, despite his great knowledge! God preserve us all from that!

  5. S. Joshua Swamidass Avatar

    It is possible that this recent post might be useful to readers of this blog: Reworking the Science of Adam, http://peacefulscience.org/reworking-adam/. There has been errors in how Evolutionary Creationists have understood the scientific evidence regarding a historical Adam. These errors are being corrected now. Looking forward to hearing about the Lutheran option soon too.

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