Growing up in the Church of the Nazarene, when I did (born 1970) and where I did (Southern California), meant that I was somehow given a lot of what could be called run-of-the-mill, nondescript conservative evangelicalism—of the Wesleyan-Arminian variety, to be sure, but also of the general North American variety. Included in that nondescript, run-of-the-mill evangelicalism was a decent bit of anti-evolution thinking. Somewhere in my childhood, though I can't recall exactly when, I learned of evolution and got the distinct impression that it was something bad. I remember, if nothing else, the standard jokes about—or rather against!—humans being descended from monkeys.
Like many young people at that time, my devotion and piety were often manifested by listening to Christian music, listening to Christian radio (which included, invariably, its fair share of radio preachers), and regular study of the Bible. The first two of these—the music and the radio preachers—often took prominent stands against evolution, reinforcing their point with a sufficient supply of the standard monkey jokes. The cumulative effect of all this devotional "input"—including that from the Bible, too, at least to some degree (but see further below on Genesis 1)—left the impression that good, devout Christians just didn't side with evolution. If nothing else, there were the monkey jokes to consider.
But then there was school. Science classes in my public schools didn't shy away from evolution, and since my parents (devout Christians) didn't either, neither did I. For some reason, my adolescent brain realized that despite the Christian music and the radio preachers, even the mesmerizing power of Genesis 1, there was something true about scientific inquiry, scientific results, and the scientific method.
But how was I to put these different truths together? Somewhere along the way, probably in my church youth group, I was given a crucial tool by which to draw a distinction between evolution—the scientific theory—and "evolutionism," which could be considered a much broader ideology if not religion. I think that it is this latter entity, evolutionism, that many well-meaning Christians think of when they speak against "evolution," but the two are not the same. Evolution-the-scientific-theory is a well-established fact in scientific literature for how biological life grows and develops; evolutionism-the-religion is a non-scientific but heavily philosophical and (a)theological deduction from science to argue that, given evolutionary processes, natural selection, random mutations, and so on and so forth, there is no God, no Creator, no purpose in life, etc. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The evolution vs. evolutionism distinction helped me through my secular school years but also, surprisingly enough, in my Christian college where I encountered a good number of people who were convinced that evolution and evolutionism were identical. Precisely because of this conflation, they were forced to do some serious mental gymnastics in their college science classes, buying into some but not too much of what they were learning there. All the while, they were second guessing the faith of any of their professors who happened to subscribe to evolution-the-theory, and they were reinforcing their mental gymnastics with a rather rigid and mechanistic understanding of the Bible, what it was about, and how it worked. I felt the latter issue acutely, though I couldn't yet articulate its problems, during my freshman year when I participated in a Bible study that had its fair share of anti-evolution (or, rather, anti-evolutionism) folks. So, imagine some college students, a faculty member or two, the biblical stories about David, Jesus, Moses, Paul...and throw in a few monkey jokes.
Experiencing this group and seeing firsthand the strangeness of the positions—not on the scientific side, mind you, but on the biblical side—revealed that just as evolution (not a problem, in my view) could become evolutionism (a definite problem, in my view), so, too, could the idea of creation (a core theological doctrine and therefore definitely not a problem) become "creationism." I would define "creationism" as a religion not unlike evolutionism. It frequently makes recourse to creation-science, and the two are often closely linked. But in terms of the Scriptural side of things, "creationism" is limited, as far as I can tell, to an inexplicable valorization of Genesis 1 above all other texts in the Bible that concern creation.
Great help in better understanding the issues at work in evolution(ism) and creation(ism) came in a biology class taught my senior year by Dr. Darrel Falk. The help came in two forms: First, in an assigned textbook by Richard T. Wright, a Harvard trained Ph.D. who taught biology at Gordon College, entitled Biology through the Eyes of Faith (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989). The book took up not just evolution in general, but human evolution specifically—along with many other important issues—and treated them all reasonably and, or so it seemed to me, with complete competence in terms of both science and Christianity.
The second and more important help came in Dr. Falk himself. He was a fantastic teacher, an expert in his field, a top-notch scientist fully at home in and at peace with evolutionary theory, and a deeply committed Christian to boot (and at root). Here, in the flesh, was an instantiation—incarnation even!—of the paradigm that I had heard of with the ear but hadn't yet seen with the eye (to allude to Job 42:5), the paradigm that I knew inchoately, that is, but which lacked key pieces and much evidence. I will never forget the time Dr. Falk told his own moving story about how he looked at his children playing one day and felt sad because they would lack the church upbringing he had enjoyed. Why would they lack that? Because he was a scientist, convinced of the truthfulness of evolutionary theory, and he was, as a result, sadly convinced that no church would have him for that reason and for that reason alone.
But a church would have him! In this case it was the Church of the Nazarene, a Wesleyan-Arminian denomination that understood Scripture less rigidly (but no less seriously) than some other branches of North American evangelicalism. And so, happily, Dr. Falk found his way to my college and to my home church. The daughters he felt sorry for ended up as key members of my church's youth group.
I will also never forget the hours Dr. Falk invested in me, meeting with me outside of class as I began to put together the implications of evolution within a larger theological framework—a point I was eager to do since I was a religion/Bible major.
As I have already indicated, Scripture was present from the very beginning in my thinking about creation and evolution. Growing up Wesleyan helped a great deal. Indeed, I suspect that it is precisely the Wesleyan aspects of my evangelical heritage and upbringing that enabled me, despite my deep, primal love of Scripture and the well-meaning monkey jokes, to be able to see and agree with that distinction between scientific theory (evolution) and scientific religion (evolutionism)—though I realize the term "scientific religion" is something of an oxymoron. I don't mean to suggest that religion and science have no overlapping relationship whatsoever.1 But I do mean to say that science is not, as such, religion.2
In any event, after college I went to seminary and then did a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies with a focus on Old Testament. Since then I've been teaching seminarians, some of whom have had serious questions about creation(ism) and evolution(ism). It was in the course of teaching students about the Bible, especially about Genesis 1, that I came to see that the Bible itself is not of one mind about how God created the world. It is of one mind—if the Bible can be said to have a "mind"—on the fact that God created the world and all that is in. But how God created the world is a matter of opinion in the Bible. There is no getting around Genesis 1, front and center as it is, but while that is an important text, a breakthrough came when I realized that its seven-day schema of creation was never repeated elsewhere in the Bible.3 Rather than simplistic and extensive repetition of Genesis 1 elsewhere in the Bible, what we find instead are a lot of other texts about creation, texts like Genesis 2 (immediately adjacent to Genesis 1!), which suggest that God created things in different ways and in different sequences than what is set forth in Genesis 1. Consider Psalm 74:12-17, which uses creation language in conjunction with God's combat against the sea dragon (a long-standing creation motif in the ancient world), or Proverbs 8:22-31, which says that the first thing God created wasn't light, as Genesis 1 would have it, but Wisdom personified. And this doesn't mention still other texts from the Old Testament let alone the New Testament. For the latter, one need only think of John 1:1-4 or Colossians 1:15-20, which contribute to the discussion but also complicate it by placing Jesus, the Word of God, present at the creation. In brief, there is a lot to be said about creation in the Bible. A lot more than just Genesis 1.
What do all these different texts with their different "takes" on creation mean? Well, there can be no doubt that they mean a number of things, but here's one obvious conclusion: any overly obsessed focus on Genesis 1 to the expense of all other texts about creation in the Bible is seriously mistaken. On what grounds should one favor Genesis 1 over Genesis 2, over Proverbs 8, or over John 1? All of these texts are canonical; all of them, that is, are Holy Scripture, not just one of them and certainly not just the first in the series. And here's the crucial point: these different, holy, canonical writings disagree on the how of creation. But here's the next, equally important point: they are in full agreement on the fact of creation—or, better, on the Who of creation, which is to say, they agree on the fact that it is God who created heaven and earth, even if God had Jesus or Wisdom (or both!) near at hand in the process.
And that is why we find the Apostles' Creed affirming our belief in "God...Creator of Heaven and Earth" but without any further discussion or qualification. The Creed moves on immediately after that to "and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord." The Creed does not tack on a rider to the creation part indicating how God created (e.g., "in seven twenty-four hour days"). And that is not because the Creed is afraid of (or somehow infatuated with) Darwin, but because the Creed is thoroughly biblical. The Creed knows—if a Creed can be said to "know" something—that the Bible affirms the fact that God created, but it also knows that how God created is not clearly portrayed in Scripture, at least not unequivocally.
If the Creed had mandated belief in seven twenty-four hour days, it would have reflected only one Scriptural perspective on creation (and only one particular interpretation of that perspective) to the neglect of all the others. That would do injustice to the full witness of Scripture. And so the Creed doesn't do it. Why? Because the Bible itself doesn't do it. Why, then, do some Christians insist on doing it? No doubt they mean well, but their well-meaning runs seriously afoul. In their zeal for Genesis 1, and in their defense of Genesis 1, they end up doing serious damage to the rest of Scripture and what it has to say on this crucial subject. And note that the difficulties I am mentioning here are only on the biblical side of "creationism"; I haven't even begun to mention the scientific problems inherent in the same.
It was in the classroom, then, that my journey came full circle, much like it had begun in the classrooms of my youth at school and at church. It was a journey from Genesis 1 and creationism, to evolution and evolutionism, and back to creation and Genesis 1. In light of all that, I see no reason to affirm "evolutionism." In fact, Canon and Creed combine to indicate that I cannot affirm it. Instead, I confess belief in the Triune God who created heaven and earth. But I also see no need to affirm "creationism." Scripture includes far more than Genesis 1, the Creed agrees, and my theological tradition affirms God's truth everywhere it can be found, even outside Canon and Creed—places like the amazing natural world that God created along with its many scientific laws and processes. I see no reason not to believe that all of these things—the world with its scientific processes—also include evolution, just as I affirm that all of them, of whatever sort, are created, redeemed, and sustained by the Lord.
1 The celebrated atheistic evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould argued just that: that religion and science do not overlap. See his Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (New York: Ballentine, 1999), a book that, in its own way celebrates religion. I myself believe science and religion do overlap and interrelate in many ways—some of which are quite close, none of which, however, are exactly coterminous. See the helpful book by William P. Brown, Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
2 Perhaps it would be better, in light of what I've said above about evolutionism, to say that science can be a religion of sorts—which is to say that it can be an ideology and philosophy that moves outside of the laboratory, the scientific method, hypotheses and verification/falsification, etc. But at that point, it is no longer a privileged repository of "hard data": it is yet another religion or ideology in a large marketplace populated by many others and must take its turn competing for attention and adherents, justifying its claims and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, there are no test tubes that prove science-as-religion correct. The scientific endeavor can't, in the end, prove or disprove religion as such. There's no mixing Jesus up in a test tube, let alone God; nor are the notions of revelation or inspiration capable of replication in a lab.
3 There is, to be sure, a reference to God resting on the Sabbath day in Exod 20:11, but that is not found in the parallel text in Deut 5:15. Even in Deuteronomy 5 there is no repetition of the seven twenty-four hour day schema—if, in fact, the days in question are twenty-four hour days, which is a point of debate in some circles, though I see no compelling reason to think that the Hebrew text suggests otherwise.