I recently had lunch with Rich Hannon, who is a member of the Adventist Forum board and frequent contributor to Spectrum online. Because the pedagogy of origins debate is such a flash point issue in the church we both love deeply, much of our conversation was consumed by this topic. Rich and I are in agreement that this issue must not be allowed to fracture the church and destroy the faith of members and potential members. Our hearts hurt because of the struggle. He and I do not deal with the Genesis account of creation in exactly the same way, nor are we worlds apart.
I have read the Scriptural account hundreds of times. I have looked at the scientific evidence which, at the very least, suggests the earth is much older than 6,000 years and casts doubt on a worldwide flood. As I weigh the evidence, there are some things I am certain of: that the world is too complex to have come into existence by chance or by accident; that a stunningly sophisticated scientific community has not, even one single time, been able to create life from non-life; body structures are so complex and so interrelated that they could not have happened without a Divine Creator.
While I am fascinated by the subject, I am not a scientist and I do not have a strong need to hold a particular position on this issue. When it comes right down to it, in some sense I don’t care.
If, when I get to heaven, I find the Biblical account is 100% accurate, I will rejoice. If I find we did not get it quite right, I will be enthralled to hear the real story, to watch Creation: The Movie and I will rejoice. At the end of the day, I choose to ignore the naturalistic evidence and accept the traditional conservative version of the story as an act of faith.
This is not a difficult thing for me to do. Ultimately Scripture was given to us by a loving God primarily to teach us about His character and the plan of salvation. While the Bible contains history, it was not given to us primarily as a history book. I know that the Bible contains science, but it was not primarily given to us as a science book.
Rich’s view is different. He sees two competing sets of evidence. The first is Scripture. It is a marvelous story, explaining that God birthed all of us and everything; that man was made good and perfect; that Satan corrupted us and brought sin into this world; that death makes things worse and not better. The problem is that juxtaposed to Scripture, there is an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that suggests the world is much older than even the most generous young earth estimates. As we were talking, Rich looked across the table and said something that really struck me, “I wish it were true; I want it to be true.”
As I have studied and participated in this debate, I find there to be an underlying assumption by those who hold a strong traditional view. They believe those who do not agree have made a very conscious decision to rebel against God and the church. There is a sense that this rebellion is not so very different from Lucifer rejecting God in heaven. This assumption is wrong and destructive. It hinders discussion, resolution and common ground. It interferes with moving our church toward the Kingdom of God that was Jesus’ consuming passion.
When a Seventh-day Adventist believer does not accept the traditional account, it is generally not because they doubt that Scripture is authentic and authoritative. Their heart’s desire is for carbon dating, the geologic column and anthropological evidence to be consistent with a traditional conservative understanding of the creation story. They want someone, anyone, to come up with a cogent, scientifically valid model that supports a young earth creation. Not accepting does not profit these church members except it allows them to be faithful to both Scripture and science.
Those who hold the traditional view worry that, if one discards the traditional story, it is stepping onto a slippery slope that leads to a total repudiation of Scripture which will ultimately destroy all faith in Adventist distinctives. Some assume that this position becomes an excuse for allowing other sinful thoughts and behavior. However, I would propose that finding a way to reconcile the Genesis story with science, through a consistent interpretation that allows the Genesis account to exist alongside the science, is itself an incredible act of faith. It represents a higher degree of faith than those of us who choose to just discard science and believe a traditional view.
I recently came across an old email that contained the following quote:
People who think they have all the answers to all of life's questions are fake. You have no right to oppose women in ministry until you have made a friend who is called to ministry and you've listened to her story. You have no right to make a statement about homosexuality until you have made friends with a Christian homosexual person.
I believe that a conservative Adventist should never seek to drive from the church someone who does not believe like they do about origins on earth until they have become friends with one.
Adventists who have been able to reconcile the Scriptural account with science, by understanding the Genesis account as a spiritual metaphor, have been able to make peace with two core values in Adventism.
1. That we must always be faithful to Scripture, that Scripture is more than just a historical document, that it is more than just the authors’ understanding of God and history. Scripture is God’s divine Book, a love letter to each of us. Interpreting Scripture in this way maintains its consistency. It remains an amazing, powerful, divine book; a book that defines our absolute values and core principals. It explains the origin of sin and why Jesus has to die on the cross. In short, it explains the Great Controversy.
2. That we are seekers of truth; that education and truth are absolute essentials to understanding God, to knowing God better; that ignorance is never bliss. That, while we need to trust Scripture implicitly, we also need to be seeking God in all aspects of our lives, including science. The Adventist Church came into existence because a group of individuals began to look for fresh truth in the Bible and found what they were seeking. They were compelled to be faithful to their conscience, to follow truth as God revealed it to them.
The problem is one of fundamental honesty. Those with a non-traditional view have often been diligent seekers of truth and of God. They have looked at naturalistic evidence and been unable honestly to reconcile it with the traditional view. They have found a way to make it work, not only to preserve their faith, but to strengthen their faith. Those who hold to the traditional view seem to be saying, “discard what you honestly believe, discard the truth God has led you to. Discard your personal honesty, your personal integrity to support the institution.” This is frightening because it is in some sense very much what the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day were telling the people. Disregard what you see in Jesus because it does not fit with our interpretation. Do not look at the evidence of healed bodies, changed lives, hope and joy.
As Seventh-day Adventists, we need to recommit to the idea of present truth, that we worship and follow a living, dynamic God. Our God is not static, unmoving, dusty and stagnant. We need to celebrate seekers and those who ask questions.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2681