Celebrating Creation: A Conversation with BioLogos

Two weeks ago I attended a “Celebrating Creation” conference hosted by the BioLogos Foundation. As many readers know, BioLogos is an organization of evangelicals who accept theistic evolution (or evolutionary creationism, EC, as many prefer to call it). Evangelicals hold to a wide range of views concerning creation and evolution, and I’ve had the privilege of engaging with a number of groups representing positions across the spectrum, including intelligent design proponents (ID) and old-earth creationists (OEC). Similarly, I’ll always be grateful to Answers in Genesis (a young-earth creationists organization, YEC) for the opportunity a few years back to float down the Grand Canyon on an eight-day rafting tour and hear them present the case for the young-earth view. Personally, I hold to old-earth creationism. I affirm the historicity of Adam and Eve and believe the original couple were the special creation of God. When the invitation came from BioLogos to attend this event, I was glad to take part. I’m thankful to Debra Haarsma, Jeff Schloss, and Jim Stump of Biologos for the opportunity. Here are a few of my takeaway thoughts.

1. BioLogos deserves a place at the table, taking part in the conversation. Evangelicals need to hear what they have to say. They represent a minority view among evangelicals, and they realize it. However, significant evangelicals of the past–such as B. B. Warfield and John Stott–held to versions of evolution. And today evangelical thinkers such as Alister McGrath embrace some aspects of evolutionary theory. I still believe that the issue of a historical Adam and Eve present EC proponents with a herculean (and perhaps impossible) theological task. But they are saying some things we evangelicals need to hear. The claims made by EC advocates can be discussed, challenged, and (when appropriate) opposed, but the adherents themselves should not be vilified.

2. EC advocates recognize that they have theological work to do, particularly on the issue of a historical Fall. As the various speakers made their presentations, their candor and transparency was refreshing. We heard from a number of speakers (Denis Alexander and Jeff Schloss) who wished, one way or another, to affirm a historical Adam and Eve within an evolutionary context. In this area, evolutionary creationists face challenges. The latest findings in genetics place human origins in Africa rather than the Middle East, and the evidence indicates that humans descended from a community (of perhaps several thousand individuals) rather than just a solitary couple. Invited guest Jack Collins demonstrated the important role that the original couple play in the biblical narrative. I was glad to hear the BioLogos representatives acknowledge the significance of this matter.

3. EC advocates utilized ID and OEC arguments on several important points. All too often advocates of the respective views have been unwilling to acknowledge points of agreement, instead choosing to stress the areas of disagreement. This conference was different. Several speakers made arguments that parallel those made by ID and OEC advocates. They observed that the Big Bang theory lends itself readily to a theistic interpretation. Time and again presenters noted the fine-tuning of the universe. They acknowledged that, at present, all attempts to account for the origin of life have failed. These are talking points generally made by ID advocates. Some took care to distinguish evolutionary creationism from naturalistic Darwinism and from the atheistic nihilism that Darwinism so often produces. Old-earth creationists such as Hugh Ross and Fuz Rana were referenced in positive ways.

4. We need a Christian understanding of evolution, not an evolutionary interpretation of Christianity. There are plenty of examples of those who have attempted to interpret Christianity through the lens of evolution. (I’m thinking now of modernists such as Harry Emerson Fosdick or Teilhard de Chardin.) The results have not been pretty. Modernists during the late 19th and early 20th centuries attempted to accommodate Darwinism by shoehorning Christianity into a naturalistic framework. The outcome was a complete capitulation to the spirit of the age and the Gospel was lost. The members of BioLogos seem to be keenly aware of these past disasters. But they note that evangelicals cannot pretend that the scientific evidence is going to disappear. Jeff Schloss rightly pointed out that even YEC proponents accept that some type of mutability of species occurred after Noah’s flood. As recent articles in the New York Times and the journal Nature illustrate, Darwinism–as a paradigm–is in serious trouble. But evolutionary theory is not going away.

So without agreeing with the EC position, I am thankful for the BioLogos Foundation. They are prodding evangelicals to examine the findings of genetics and geology in ways that do not appear to be glib and dismissive. Let the conversation continue.

This blog is cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

Briefly Noted: On Affirmative Action and “Wishing You Were Black”

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on December 9, 2013.]

In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education Angela Onwuachi-Willig argues that many whites do not understand affirmative action because they do not understand racism.[1] Moreover, she claims, some whites do not understand race itself. The occasion for Onwuachi-Willig’s essay is the recent Supreme Court decision on Fisher v. Texas involving the student, Abigail Fisher, whose initial complaint resulted in the case.

Fisher sued the University of Texas for denying her admission. She claimed, “There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin.” To this comment, Onwuachi-Willig responds: “ . . . many whites spend so little time having to think about, much less deal with, race and racism, that they understand race as nothing more than a plus factor in the admissions process.” Whites such as Fisher fail to see the various systemic disadvantages many black students face simply for being black, according to Onwuachi-Willig.

Onwuachi-Willig details how she encountered a student who lacked this understanding. “During my senior year,” she states, “a classmate who had the same SAT score as I did remarked, ‘I wish I was black!’ after he learned I had received.” She recounts her shock and explains how she actually had a better GPA, more leadership positions and student activities, and had a job while he did not. Rather than list these, however, Onwuachi-Willig corrected him: “‘I wish I were black,’ I said. ‘And, no, you don’t.’” The correction reveals the fundamental point of Onwuachi-Willig’s argument. Her classmate did not understand, or was not aware of, the realities: the reality that she had worked harder than him; that she had spent weeks researching and applying for scholarships.

Furthermore, “my classmate failed to think for even one moment about what being black may have meant for his life. He never considered what it would have meant to sit all day in classrooms where he was the only white student in a sea of black faces.” As such, Onwuachi-Willig claims, he distorted her achievements, ignored her fortitude, failed to see her cultivating extra skills, and ignored the extra work she had to put in because she did not have a parent with “college knowledge” to guide her through the process. Because he did not recognize these realities, he ignored the broader disparity between whites and blacks.

Onwuachi-Willig finds the same sort of unawareness in the comments of Fisher and the Supreme Court decision on Fisher v. Texas. She argues that Fisher has an assumption that reveals her lack of awareness. Fisher thought her better resumé put her in as good or better standing for admission to UT than her black counterparts. For Onwuachi-Willig, Fisher overlooked the privileges that made her resumé possible, and that these privileges are not accessible to many students, especially to many blacks. Cello lessons, volunteering, and even AP courses are privileges not universals. So Onwuachi-Willig avers, “Nearly 25 years after my own high-school experience, we have not moved much beyond the ignorance reflected in my classmate’s remark about wishing to be black. . . . It is disappointing to think that students have learned so little about white privilege . . . that they still continue to wish that they were black.” In sum, privilege should beget at least awareness of the situation of those who are less than privileged.

In response to Onwuachi-Willig’s article, I wish to affirm her observations that many whites do not understand racism nor have we given much attention to privilege. (I’m not attempting here to weigh in on the merits of that particular Supreme Court case, as I know there is a good deal of complexity going into these issues. What I do wish to affirm is how many whites are blind to privilege.) We misunderstand racism in many ways, but in no way more than when the scope of racism is restricted to individual offenses committed by one person against another person. Racism is certainly perpetuated by individuals, and sometimes by one person against another. But it is not limited to that. Racism also can be structural. Societies can organize themselves in ways that their cultural institutions exclude, marginalize, and otherwise handicap and denigrate those of a certain race.  Furthermore, the same structures that marginalize some simultaneously offer advantages and privileges to others in the same society.

In addition to misunderstanding racism, often we have not even reflected on race itself. A good place to begin is with creation, where it is made clear that God’s creation is good, and it contained within it a diversity of colors and kinds. His creation order issued forth in a profusion of races, and those races are beautiful and good. In fact, in the aftermath of the fall, God crucified his Son in order to provide salvation for people of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. In so doing, God leveraged his divine privileges in Christ on behalf of those in need. Thus, he undercut hierarchies of racial pride and made clear that he does not elevate any tribe, but is Savior of all. In fact, we will not know him in his full glory until we know him as the king of all nations.

All of which brings me to my final point. “Colorblindness” is not the best model for dealing with race. Colorblindness assumes that race is a value-neutral, but in God’s eyes race is a value-positive. For this reason, it is not inappropriate for churches or seminaries to recognize and place value on a person’s race. Predominantly white churches, for example, might actively look for non-Anglo candidates pastoral and ministerial positions. A pastoral leadership team composed of white, African-American and Hispanic leadership is much more likely to be able build a multi-colored church, and a multi-colored church is a resplendent picture of our eternal state with our Savior. Likewise a predominantly-Anglo seminary is well-served to recognize the value of a potential faculty member’s cultural heritage in the spiritual and ministerial formation of its students. That’s a type of affirmative action that doesn’t get much “air time” but that we can and should support.



[1] Angela Onwuachi-Willig. “‘I Wish I Were Black’ and Other Tales of Privilege,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education (November 1, 2013: B20–21).

Teleological Amnesia–What I’ve Been Reading (10)

In God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation, Jonathan Wilson argues that the Church has neglected the biblical doctrine of Creation–he calls it a case of “teleological amnesia”–and all of Western culture is the worse for it. Rather than responding to the onslaught of naturalism, materialism, and Darwinism, theologians of the last 250 years turned inward. Instead of developing a robust theology of Creation, they focused on salvation history. This abdication had consequences–nearly all of them bad. Theology as an intellectual discipline was banished from the academy, the Church embraced a nearly-Gnostic view of salvation (salvation came to be understood as deliverance from Creation rather than the redemption of Creation), and society came to view technology in messianic terms.gods-good-world

One of the worst effects of abandoning Creation as a worldview is that, in the modern mind, Creation has been transformed into Nature. This left the modern world with four miserable options:

  • We can conclude that there is no meaning, purpose, or teleology to the universe.
  • We can try to manufacture meaning for ourselves.
  • We can try to believe that the universe creates its own purpose or telos. However, if death is the final outcome for all then it is difficult to avoid fatalism.
  • Or we can attempt to construe meaning in the light of another god besides the Triune God of the Bible.

Wilson contends that the only proper telos is Jesus Christ (Col 1:15-21). Failure to recognize this leads to despair, and much of modern society’s frenetic activities are attempts to deny, manage, or ameliorate this despair. Only a recovered theology of Creation–a theology that always views Creation in the context of redemption–can heal the pathologies of society.

Wilson presents his case in three parts. First, he surveys the damage caused by ignoring the doctrine of creation. Second, he presents an approach for developing a robust theology of creation. Last, Wilson devotes the remainder of the book to applying the motifs developed in part two. This book identifies an important issue. It’s not the final word on the subject; Wilson doesn’t claim that it is. But he makes a good case for where the discussion should go from here.

This posted is also available at www.theologyforthechurch.com