Staying Faithful to Genesis 1

Staying Faithful to Genesis

I have been reading materials from some of the more conservative Reformed groups about creation and evolution. In one denomination, a group of scholars—several of them in the natural sciences—are attempting to have a calm web-based discussion about some of the issues that bear on faith and science, and their denominational constituency is trying to shut the discussion down. The academics are asking important questions: Must we believe in a  “young earth” created in six literal days? Did animals die before the Fall? Was the flood in Noah’s time a worldwide phenomenon?

In my youth these same questions were raised by Bernard Ramm in his 1954 book, A Christian View of Science and the Scriptures. Evangelicals gave him a hard time then, and now this group of scholars are drawing the same kind of flak.  I hope the scholars persist. I got to know Bernie Ramm in his later years, and asked him about the controversy over his views in the 1950s. He smiled and said that his main concern was with bright evangelical students. He did not want them going off to places like Harvard, convinced that to be an evangelical is to give the more literalistic answers to those questions—only to experience a crisis of faith that alienates them from their evangelical roots. I thanked him for his courage, and I extend the same expression of gratitude to folks who are walking that path today.

I don’t mean to be flippant about the issues. How we understand the Bible’s authority in all areas of life, including scientific investigation, is a supremely imporant topic. But on these particular issues, the notion of staying faithful to the orthodoxy of the past simply does not ring true. The fact is that those defending a “literal” Genesis on age-of-the-earth issues are more rigid than those 19th century stalwarts—Hodge, Warfield, Kuyper, Bavinck—whose theological formulations they typically hold up as the benchmarks of Reformed orthodoxy.

While I was reviewing the discussions of the present-day controversies, I came across a report of a survey of preachers about how they treat the first chapter of Genesis. The findings were instructive. It turns out that pastors who take a more literal approach to the creation account  preach on it much less than those who do not hold to a literal interpretation. There is a lesson there. The literalists hold to a “scientifically accurate” Genesis 1 in which, it turns out, they can’t really find much to preach about.

I find the first chapter of the Bible to be exciting to read and proclaim. I agree with those interpreters who see the creation account as pointing ancient people—and us!— to the One True God  who alone is worthy of worship. Many in ancient times worshipped the sun. Genesis says: the sun is not to be worshipped because it is itself something that came into existence by the sovereign will of God. And the same  for the moon and stars and animals. Everything comes from the hand of God, who continues in our own day to hold all things together by the Word of his power.

When I read the first chapter of the Bible, I do not sit around puzzling about how to reconcile it with the latest carbon-dating results or the most recent fossil discovery. I want to start singing, “”Praise him all creatures here below.” And that preaches!


  1. […] Genesis 1: Something to sing about […]

    Pingback by Saturday Links — — March 6, 2010 @ 2:10 am

  2. […] of that is to introduce why Dr. Mouw’s recent blog post on Staying Faithful To Genesis 1 was a really great encouragement to me today. Enjoy it. Reread Genesis 1. […]

    Pingback by Dr. Mouw on Genesis 1 « Walk with me… — March 6, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

  3. […] to Michael Kruse for pointing me to this article in Mouw’s Musings. Dr.Mouw is president of Fuller Theological Seminary, and I find his “musings” always […]

    Pingback by Staying faithful to Genesis 1 : From the Orlop — March 7, 2010 @ 1:05 pm

  4. Science is only as good as it proves creation.
    Anything that falls short is unknown or theory.

    As a child in school in the 60’s, it was theorized that a diamond took 1 to 3 billion years to be formed.
    Now in industry, since the 90’s has been commercially magically in a fraction of 1 billion years.

    Comment by Daniel Bryan — March 15, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

  5. Amen! :-)

    Comment by Patrick M — March 19, 2010 @ 9:24 am

  6. a href=”” title=”” I appreciate your approach, but still agree with Ken Hamm and his understanding of Genesis. God could have done it differently, but He is capable of creating all things in three literal days. But, knowing the Father through Christ and worshiping Him is certainly the correct focus for us all.

    Comment by Walter Snook, BD ’55 — March 26, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

  7. Thank you Dr. Mouw.

    In college, I experienced the “faith crisis” you spoke of as I tried to reconcile logic with parts of the Bible such as Gen. 1. Since I went to a Christian college, there weren’t many who could help me. Thankfully, the Lord filled in this human gap and drew me back to Himself. All this to say, I appreciate your desire to help students like me- who must think about these topics to be relevant in society today.

    Comment by Renee Childs — March 30, 2010 @ 7:57 am

  8. Dear Dr. Mouw

    I respectfully sumbit that I think that you are wrong on several counts.

    You write that the “denominational constituency is trying to shut the discussion down.” Right now the bloggers are interacting with an article that several of us wrote challenging some of the positions taken on their internet discussion site. Several of us also (last year) have participated in lively discussions on their blog on matters of biblical innerrancy, the authority of scriptures, and the place of teaching evolution in Christian Schools. That’s not shutting a discussion down; that is entering into a lively debate! These scholars also have been, over the past several years, publishing articles in our denominational magazine. They also are able to send letters and have them published in that magazine (which they do.)

    However, some are concerned by positions taken by at least one of the owners of the blog you mention, concerning his contention (among other things) that God created evil in the world, anticipating the fall. And that the question of the rise of moral evil is an unknown.(You can find the essay in their ‘collected works’.

    Moreover, entering into discussions concerning these things is not “shutting them down”, rather I think that it is a matter of holding Reformed scholars accountable for providing exegetical results that are based on solid biblical data, using sound Reformed hermeneutical models for their inquiries. Would you rather that all simply bow to the “assured results of modern science”, with no skepticism or questions? That, it seems to me, would be “shutting down discussion.”

    I would also ask whether Bavink, in his magisterial Reformed Dogmatics, is a proponent of an older earth.
    I thought I’d check. To my great surprise he was not a proponent of this view at all at the time he published his dogmatics. (Perhaps he changed his mind later in life). However, I have the fourth printing in Dutch 1928, seven years after his death. On the top of page 490 (Vol 2. English version) he writes of those who held to old earth chronologies and calls their numbers “fabulous” (as in ‘incredulous’) and then gives some of the big numbers, 560 million, 2000 million, 80 million and he writes “even Pfaff of at least 20 million.” Today the accepted number is nearly a factor of 7 bigger than the biggest number there! What would Bavink have called that, if not “fabulous X 7″?

    I respectfully submit that having a discussion in Reformed circles about whether we have primitive chimpanzee ancestors; that there was pre-adamite death in the human family; that the origin of moral evil is a mystery; and that God created natural evil in anticipation of a “fall”; and that the Bible is not inerrant; are all matters that are worthy of vigorous debate when put forth as the truth to a serious Bible believing church. It seems to me that for a community of believers to simply accept such profound theological claims — made by natural scientists — without comment, debate or resistance, would be an abdication of Christian responsibility.

    With Christian Greetings
    and with respect

    Rev. John L. van Popta
    Burlington ON.

    Comment by John van Popta — April 3, 2010 @ 10:59 am

  9. If God designed Evolution as a means to “make Man in His image” – then does that mean that God’s image is that of an evolved being, from simple to complex? Or is it true that as God says “I change not”.
    That is in essence what we are being asked to believe is a viable alternative to an instant and immediate creation of Man by the breath of His Spirit.
    If Evolution by design is also true, then the knowledge of good and evil was already engineered in place by God with the first single cell organism, as it would be require the knowledge of weak & strong traits, healthy and unhealthy traits, and the selective choice towards the “stronger” genetic traits plus the culling out of weak and inferior vessels by a process God made. Even an allegorical reading of Gen says that this was not part of humanity, but a result of the deception of the serpent.
    If God made Evolution the process of creating Man, then He also then made death and the process of the culling of the weak, and the survival of the strong/fit and embedded death into the process as a mechanism for stepped ascension up to “Mankind”.
    If evolution is God’s handiwork then death did not enter into the world via “a fall” but via a grand divine design.
    What exactly is Christianity? Is it a cultural practice which can change with the times and morph into whatever popular though unproven scientific theories arose? Or is it creation made new in Christ?

    Comment by David — April 23, 2010 @ 11:10 pm

  10. Dr. Mouw, you wrote:

    “While I was reviewing the discussions of the present-day controversies, I came across a report of a survey of preachers about how they treat the first chapter of Genesis. The findings were instructive. It turns out that pastors who take a more literal approach to the creation account preach on it much less than those who do not hold to a literal interpretation. There is a lesson there. The literalists hold to a “scientifically accurate” Genesis 1 in which, it turns out, they can’t really find much to preach about.”

    I’d say that this quote is very illustrative of the differences in the whole debate. The whole debate is not about the facts at all, but about the epistemic and metaphysical presuppositions through which any fact is considered being ‘for’ or ‘against’ a hypothesis.

    The facts are agreed upon by both of us:

    1. Those who hold to a literal view of Genesis preach in it less frequently.

    2. Those who hold to a non-literal view of Genesis preach on it more frequently.

    Your interpretation is that “The literalists hold to a ’scientifically accurate’ Genesis 1 in which, it turns out, they can’t really find much to preach about.”

    I, on the other hand, would utterly disagree with your interpretation. Speaking from my experiences attending a very conservative church in the LA area, my pastor doesn’t preach on Genesis 1 much because his high view of scripture dictates that he preaches the whole REST of the bible too.

    Comment by Lyndon Unger — June 20, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

  11. Thomas Aquinas argued that the meaning of Scripture is very far from being self evident and that it must often be interpreted in light of other truths. If a literal interpretation is contradicted by an obvious fact; then the literal intrepretation must be false. But as Chesterton points out many scientists have been just as ready to jump to the conclusion that any guess about nature is an obvious fact…just as much as fundamentalists and biblical literalist jump to the conclusion that any guess about Scripture is an obvious fact.

    Comment by Al — July 20, 2010 @ 2:42 pm