Evolutionary Dogma and Christian Theology

In all this theorizing there is a tacit assumption that in man Evolution has had its last word:–it has nothing further or better to offer—which some might take to be a tacit admission that Evolution is a spent force, no longer to be reckoned with. The doctrine that man is Evolution’s ne plus ultra is, of course, acceptable to human arrogance, but it would have been more consistent with the fundamental postulate of Evolution to believe that the creative process would continue to operate until the integument of finitude and mortality had been sloughed off, or, as Bernard Shaw put it, until the day dawned when there were “no people, only thought.”



Again, if in the Incarnation the recapitulation and fulfillment of all creation takes place, a consistent application of this evolutionistic theology would demand one of two alternatives: either an ultimate and comprehensive multiplicity in which every Single creature of whatever kind—every elephant, dog, mosquito, and so on—would, in Christ, participate in the eternal state; or an ultimate and concentrated simplicity in which Christ alone would remain, in Himself uniquely and adequately the embodiment of the whole created order. It should be all or One, the whole gamut or the highest, the all-inclusive, alone. The special preservation of mankind, who represents but the second highest level in the series, would seem to be an incongruous tertium quid.

It must further be objected that this system is seriously at variance with Holy Scripture. To be sure, the Bible views man as the crown of creation, though not in any evolutionistic sense. He is not, however, depicted as being in any way deficient either organically or metaphysically; on the contrary, Scripture teaches that man as originally created enjoyed complete integration and self-fulfillment. The blessedness of his state was guaranteed by his experience of unclouded communion with his Maker. Frustration and estrangement were consequent upon his wanton rebellion against the God who had showed him nothing but grace and goodness. In other words, it is sin and not ontological finiteness which is at the root of all man’s problems. Again, Scripture associates the Incarnation with sin, never with biology. The Gospel message is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”; but this theory makes it quite unnecessary to consider the Incarnation as connected with human sin, for its fundamental concept is not of humanity as fallen, but as risen and, in the very nature of things, demanding the crowning experience of elevation to the eternal state. Not that it should be thought that it is the intention of theologians of this school to deny or belittle sin and its effects. Their contention is that sin could not overthrow the divine purpose in creation, which involved the Incarnation, sin or no sin.

Quite understandably, this outlook is conducive towards hopes for the universal restoration of all men. For sin to bring it about that any, whether many or few, should not participate in the Christian consummation, would be a contradiction in the system; it would be a victory for sin. In any case, if it is true that all mankind are embraced and elevated by the Incarnation, whether they know it and desire it or not, whether repentant or not, then all that is needful is to exhort men to become what they are—the imperative must be added to the indicative. No one who wishes to repudiate his being in Christ can ultimately succeed in doing so. It is true that the Scripture speaks of God’s purpose for the summing up of all things in Christ, but it is a soteriological purpose, to be realized in the “new heavens and new earth” when every rebellious creature will have been judged and punished. It is true that the standing of the redeemed is “in Christ,” but this is not the result of an organic or ontological elevation of humanity to a divine or ultra-human level (in which case humanity would no longer be humanity). but rather is it the result of spiritual union with Christ by faith, whereby communion with God is restored and man attains his full and intended stature. It is true that sin cannot frustrate the eternal purposes of God, but Scripture portrays the punishment of the unrepentant and the damnation of hell as a vindication, and not a frustration, of God’s power and justice.

Our complaint is that theorizings of this kind are constructions of speculative philosophy rather than presentations of biblical truth. Man is conceived as possessing some sort of essential affinity to God, and God to man. But the idea of the analogia entis, which is implicit in this evolutionistic theology, is quite definitely not Christian, but pagan. In fact, it is destructive of true Christianity, for it blurs the vital scriptural distinction between Creator and creature and it renders the doctrines of mediation and substitution irrelevant. Man is thought of as finite and needing elevation rather than as sinful and needing reconciliation. The extreme heinousness of sin is no longer apparent. It may even be said that the seeds of evolutionary theology were already present in the philosophy of ancient paganism. The latter, with its doctrine of the soul as ontologically akin to the universal soul and the body as the prison-house of the soul, with its concept of metempsychosis and its gradation of beasts and birds within which the soul might be reincarnated, was readily adjustable to the evolutionary scheme of things.

Of course, not all theologians who have welcomed the evolutionary hypothesis follow the same path. Emil Brunner, for instance, affirms that “the event of the Christ is related to the humanus, not to the homo sapiens of zoology”; “the humanus, that which is distinctively human, cannot possibly be derived from the animal kingdom,” he says: its emergence is attributable to the supposed creative faculty of Evolution. Thus he maintains that “the history of mankind is something more than a piece or section of cosmic history, although that history is rooted in the history of the cosmos.” One thing is evident, and that is that with Brunner “modern science” is sacrosanct: its authority must not be called in question. “We cannot say too strongly,” he insists, “that the Biblical view of the world is absolutely irreconcilable with that of modern science”; therefore he concludes that “we have to stress the fact that modern science (and this means the theory of Evolution) ought not to be opposed in the name of religion.”

And yet, despite these emphatic assertions, one cannot help feeling that Brunner is conscious of being carried in a direction along which he is not eager to move. It is as though he is shouting to convince himself. One consequence of the acceptance of modern science is, for Brunner, that we can no longer teach that man, as created by God, is descended from “Adam in Paradise.” But he is prepared to admit that if such an abandonment of the orthodox view should mean the surrender of the idea of the Fall, which is the point of separation between man as created and man as sinful. “this would mean nothing less than the shattering of the foundations of the whole Biblical doctrine of man, and indeed of the whole Biblical doctrine of revelation and of salvation.” The doctrine of the Fall is regarded as indispensable: “Apart from the doctrine of the Fall,” he says, “it is impossible to understand Sin as the presupposition of the New Testament message of Redemption. Only a fallen humanity needs a Redeemer.” But he is like the man at the crossroads who wishes to go in two directions at once; for while being unwilling to jettison the doctrine of the Fall, he at the same time finds that modern science makes it impossible to accept the biblical doctrine of the Fall as having taken place in Adam. Since the historical doctrine cannot be retained, Brunner will not permit us to ask the question as to the When and How of the Fall; he dismisses it as both unanswerable and unnecessary. We are left with a doctrine in a vacuum. The historical substance having been rejected, what remains is an indeterminate shadow, or what Brunner calls the “mythical idea of a Fall.” Is it unfair to say that already we see the foundations of biblical doctrine being shattered? As Gresham Machen has ably said, “Christianity depends, not upon a complex of ideas, but upon the narration of an event….There can be no salvation by the discovery of eternal truth, for eternal truth brings naught but despair, because of sin.”

In his embarrassment, Brunner takes refuge in a surmise, “a daring idea” he calls it, for which, he grants, “there is no directly Scriptural basis,” and which he mentions “with great reserve”—namely, that God, knowing beforehand that the Fall would take place (we must not ask when or how ), created such a world as would be suited to sinful man, “a world,” says Brunner, “in which, from the very beginning, from the first emergence of living creatures, there has been the struggle for existence, with all its suffering and its cruelty.” (It should be mentioned that Brunner is unwilling to countenance the doctrine that the Fall of man brought a curse upon the rest of the created order! that would be too close to a “historical” statement for his liking.)

This surely is theological contortionism of an advanced order! It is a popular pastime with Brunner to disparage what he is pleased to refer to as “the contortions of Fundamentalist theology”; but it might come better from him if he first removed the beam from his own eye. Here we are back again at the old catch-phrases of last century—emergence, the struggle for existence, suffering and cruelty—with the remarkable proposition that they are but aspects of a makeshift world contrived by God for the reception of man whom He had foreseen would become a sinful creature-a thought which is entirely alien both to scripture and to historic Christianity.

Although with him Fundamentalism (by which he means orthodox historic Christianity) is normally a term of abuse, Brunner does make one concession to it when he says that “over against a theory of Evolution which sweeps away all ideas of Creation and of Sin, Fundamentalism, in spite of its curious aberrations of thought, is absolutely right.” We should have been better pleased, however, if he had perceived that the consistency which his own approach at present lacks is to be found either in “Fundamentalism” or in a thoroughgoing evolutionism which has no place for creation and sin. Those are the real alternatives.

It is interesting to find that Rudolf Bultmann, in making his now celebrated plea for demythologizing the New Testament, announces precisely the same premise as does Brunner, that is, that the biblical world-view is obsolete, and accordingly that the Bible must be shorn of all that is unacceptable to modem scientific man, if the Christian message is to have any relevance for our day. Bultmann, however, sets about the task in a more radical and, it may be thought, a more consistent manner than does Brunner. It was the misfortune of the New Testament writers that they lived in a “pre-scientific” age; hence their cosmology was hopelessly wrong, and must be discarded. For Bultmann, this means discarding every element of supernaturalism since it is incompatible with “the modern conception of human nature as a self-subsistent unity immune from the interference of supernatural powers.” The Christianity of the New Testament, however, is through and through a supernatural religion; accordingly one must be prepared to abandon most of the articles of the historic Christian creeds—Christ’s virgin birth, the performance of miracles, the vicarious atonement, the descent ad in/eros, the resurrection, the ascension, the second coming, and also belief in spirits, whether good or bad. The biblical doctrine that death is the punishment of sin is “abhorrent,” for death is now regarded as “a simple and necessary process of nature.“ “To attribute human mortality to the fall of Adam is,” we are told, “sheer nonsense,” and the idea of original sin is “sub-ethical, irrational, and absurd.”

We see, then, to what extremes this doglike devotion to “modern science” is leading modern theology, and we see in particular how the dogma of Evolution cuts right through the very root of historic Christianity. Modern theologians need to be reminded that never before has science, for all its amazing advances, been in such a state of indeterminacy and flux. Modern scientists, like scientists of former generations, can only seek to find theories and formulations to be that small portion of the over-all picture which they are able to observe. As further portions of the picture are investigated, so the complexity of the whole increases and many of these theories and formulations have to be revised or abandoned. The perplexities posed by recent research are such that theological terminology is even being introduced into the sacred preserves of science in order to assist towards an interpretation of things. Thus the theory of continuous creation of hydrogen particles has been postulated to account for the notion of an ever-expanding universe; the concepts of determinism and free-will are being applied to the behavior of the units of nuclear energy; and the conviction is steadily growing that the basis of matter is immaterial. In other words, the problem of paradox is a very real one for modern science.

In view of all this, the question must also be put: When does modern science cease to be modern science?—for any estimate of it as static and infallible is plainly compatible only with ignorance or prejudice. If we may believe modern theology, until very recently modern science made it impossible for us to accept the doctrine of a sudden catastrophic end of the world. But now, because of the potentialities of hydrogen and cobalt bombs and what not, Brunner gives us permission to salvage this belief from the scrap-heap: “This thought,” he says, “has ceased to be absurd,” and he kindly defines the term “absurd” for us as meaning “such that a man educated in modem scientific knowledge would have to give it up.” Theology, it would seem, is science’s dog, led about here, there, and everywhere on a chain. When science shifts, it must shift also.

Theology has changed indeed—so much so that it is no longer recognizable as Christian theology. With its vistas of evolutionism and universalism the distinction between the unbeliever and the man who is in Christ Jesus is no longer of ultimate Significance. No longer is it necessary for the evangelist to proclaim: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” The Gospel message in its modern form is: “Whether you believe or not, all is well; there is no such thing as the experience of the wrath of God.” A further implication is that, despite all the modern theological volumes that pour forth from the printing presses, Christian doctrine and theology are of no vital importance, except as providing opportunities for displays of philosophical gymnastics. All is expendable—all, that is, except the one thing that men, friends and enemies alike of the truth, wish to hear, namely, “All is weIl!”

The attempt to detach Christian truth from its roots in the objective historical sphere results in the destruction of Christianity; for it is of the very essence of Christianity that God, as Creator, Redeemer, and Judge, sovereignly and supernaturally acts and intervenes in the history of man and the world.

We must lay firm hold of this truth, that for theology which is truly Christian, and that means scriptural, the formula for our generation and for every generation is not “Change or perish” but “Change and perish”; for that theology only is Christian which is founded unashamedly upon “the Word of God which liveth and abideth for ever.”