The debates over creation and the correct interpretation of Genesis inevitably focus on intellectual arguments. Unfortunately, amidst arguments over the meaning of yom, the reliability of radiometric dating, and so on, it’s easy to lose track of the spiritual. But in fact, our faith is a spiritual matter; God is spirit, and we are created in His image. We must consider the spiritual when seeking truth, or else we degrade the faith into mere religion, or worse, some sort of religious philosophy.
This is perhaps the real challenge that science has brought to the faith — the belief that discerning truth just involves using the natural mind. Because of the success of science in many arenas, it’s easy for us to forget the fact that Scripture teaches against this viewpoint.
If we think about this as we approach the study of origins, it is quickly obvious that the debate is completely unbalanced. This seems to be largely the result of the fact that Young Earth Creationism (YEC) promotes a largely natural understanding of the opening narratives. This essay explores some of the problems with that approach.
Once of the clearest examples of natural thinking is the common use of the phrase “If the plain sense makes sense, then seek no other sense”, essentially saying that whatever makes sense to the natural mind, must be the correct interpretation. Interestingly, this approach would not have worked when listening to the incarnate Word, so it’s not clear why we should expect it to work for the written Word. Nonetheless, one of the most common approaches is to teach people to read Scripture text with the mind of an atheist, instead of the mind of Christ.
Reading with the mind of Christ does not mean overspiritualizing text, but being sensitive to whatever spiritual aspects clearly exist, since the natural tendency is to ignore the spiritual. For example, it’s obvious that Genesis 1 had to have been given to humanity as a supernatural revelation, since no human was present. It is basically a prophetic oracle. By itself, this doesn’t prove anything. However, ignoring this fact completely clearly demonstrates preference of the natural mind over the mind of Christ.
Preferring use of the natural mind not only results in ignoring obvious spiritual content, but in reasoning about the text with human perspectives. For example, the common statement that God’s declaration of a “very good” creation means it was perfect in a sense that humans find pleasant, means that we are defining “good” from a temporal, human standpoint, even though Scripture states clearly that God’s ways are not our ways, and theologians have given several possibilities for a broken creation being very good from a divine, eternal standpoint. Such possibilities for a broken creation only make sense if we look at the world through the eyes of faith. (Not to mention that many things in the text indicate a humanly imperfect creation right from the start.)
Similarly, regarding people mainly according to the flesh leads us to prioritize natural existence instead of spiritual. The origins of people’s natural bodies becomes more important than the eternal state of their spirit. When statements like “you didn’t come from some primordial ooze” or “my ancestors weren’t monkeys” are heard regularly in church, it reflects a deep concern people have over the nature of their temporary, corruptible, dying, earthly tents. Ignored is the acknowledgment that God is spirit and we were created in the image of His eternal, incorruptible, living spirit. Creationism has us focus far more on the material than the spiritual.
This worldly perspective even brings the focus of our salvation to the physical, rather than the spiritual. The fall is described as resulting in physical death, from which Jesus rescued us. While that is one aspect of our salvation, Jesus’ description of eternal life is relationship with the Father, which involves much, much more. Such a limited, materialistic focus results from the need to read specific YEC details into the text, resulting in great lengths being taken to associate humans mainly with the physical, rather than the spiritual. Obviously, this ignores Paul’s example of walking by faith and no longer regarding people according to the flesh.
This warped view of salvation leads to a form of anti-evangelism. The secular world does not accept the YEC viewpoint. Rather than de-emphasizing it in order to place no barriers to the gospel, this false doctrine is pushed all the harder, creating a barrier to those who need to know God. YEC justifies its materialistic emphasis by trying to add belief in a young creation to belief in the resurrection and confession of Jesus as Lord, as all necessary to salvation. The end result is a modern form of gospel-compromising legalism. This may be the most worrisome thing about giving in to natural thinking — not caring about other people’s eternal state. How can one be so uncaring about something for which God cared enough to allow His Son’s crucifixion?
As if seeking another way to prop up the shaky YEC framework, it’s common to assume that a figurative interpretation is somehow less real than a simple historical narrative. “Why would God begin His Word with mere fiction.” This completely ignores the character of God’s voice — the reality that much of His most direct communication in Scripture was figurative, and the fact that Jesus often chose to speak figuratively. In addition, Biblical comparisons between the spiritual and the natural reveal that the spiritual is eternal, incorruptible substance, while the natural is temporary, corruptible shadow. The truth is that a figurative description of spiritual reality is more real than a natural historical narrative.
The real negative impact that science has had on the faith is not leading people to believe in evolution or an old creation, it is leading people to believe they can understand God’s heart through nonspiritual intellectual effort. If it works for understanding the natural world, surely it will work for understanding Scripture.
Even worse than wrong doctrinal beliefs, however, is the way this secular thinking leads people away from a relationship-based view of God, and into a simple mental experience. Instead of hearing from God, people are taught to hear from intellectuals.
This is one of the major problems with the church today.