It is with sadness that I am forced to write such a letter. I am saddened that our denominational magazine The Banner would publish an article that doesn’t build up faith but instead tears it down, calling into question main pillars of Christian doctrine. I am saddened that Rev. Walhout (Ret.) and other ministers have been so ill-discipled and that church discipline has become non-existent so that speculative theology passes as acceptable and orthodox. And I am saddened that yet again, office bearers in the CRCNA have breached their covenant promises with one another and have gone outside of the proscribed manner for handling confessional difficulties by failing to present their requests through councils, classes and synod and instead have opted for popular and uncritical reflection that will affect a far wider audience than any of us can imagine. Rev. Walhout is not free of ecclesiastical constraints as he seems to think. He is still an office bearer of the Christian Reformed Church according to Article 18 of the Church Order. Furthermore, such an article should never have passed beyond the table of the editor, who himself is ordained and understands the proper way to handle such confessional and theological questions, but in the desire to promote dialogue and discussion he has breached his covenantal promises as well.
Now to my response to the content of the letter. In the opening paragraphs of the letter, Walhout proposes that our society is in flux and transformation. There is no doubt about that statement. Everything around us is moving and shaking. Technology is advancing and as it advances every sphere of human society is being changed – medicine, economics, politics, defense, art, etc. Even theology is being forced to confront new realities, or if I may say, “Old realities cloaked in new skins.” Lest we forget the teacher’s wisdom, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9). That is not to say that new inventions aren’t coming to pass, or that we aren’t gaining new understanding of the world in which we live, but rather, that the old sins, heresies and faulty understandings of the world seem to find new ways of cropping up again and again.
Our first hint that old heresy is rearing its head in a new way comes when Rev. Walhout writes, “It won’t change the Bible or the theism that shapes our way of thinking. But as future theologians work at uncovering the implications of this discovery, they may find that some of the doctrines that form the essential structure of our creeds and confessions miss the mark…People in the future will study the same Bible but understand it differently.” Though the it Rev. Walhout is talking about is evolutionism, it wouldn’t matter what he substituted in its place for as soon as a minister quits talking about a personal, living God and begins discussing simple “theism” we have stepped out of the Biblical witness of a God who lives and interacts in his world to redeem humanity from sin and we have stepped into a simple deistic God who may or may not be self-disclosing and/or in the business of rescuing sinners from death. Rev. Walhout has made the dangerous error of trading the God of the Scriptures for the philosophic idea of deity. This is the first step towards liberalism and the denial of the faith once entrusted to the saints.
I take Walhout’s words Christian thinking to mean our approach to life, and living in this world. Though he hasn’t directly defined these words in his article, in reformed circles we have come to use those two words to refer to the proper way of perceiving the world and living in it. That said, his above quoted statement is illogical. How can one’s Christian thinking not change if his or her doctrine is radically altered? As believers, we are called to be shaped and formed by the words of God. The Scriptures call us to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom 12:2b). The implications of the scriptures are that right thinking affects right living. To declare that our way of understanding life and living will not be altered by a change of doctrine is fool hardy and wrong.
Walhout’s third grave error is in his whole-hearted acceptance of science as an equal and arguably greater witness than the Word of God. Walhout believes that when science changes its paradigm, the church must alter her theological beliefs to fit with the prevailing views. Now I am not a Luddite or a throwback to a by gone era. As a civil engineer, I was trained in applied science. I believe that math is valuable. I believe that scientific inquiry is useful. And I enjoy many of the advancements that science has brought.
But as a Christian, I understand that all scientific truths must be tested according to their agreement with the Word of God. It is common to point back to the flat earth time and decry the failure of the church to be so influenced by the philosophy and science of the age, but here we are again, repeating the same ways of thinking and doing theology that got the church into trouble more than 500 years ago. Science is always changing and in flux. Great discoveries and breakthroughs come along every so often and change our understanding of the world.
But does that mean the church should rewrite her theology for every scientific advancement? And what happens when the science of physics and the science of sociology or linguistics are in opposition. If we are being called to always conform our theology to the studies of men then what foundation can we ever have? The answer is none. There is no foundation when we build our faith upon human ideas. The church must quit trying to rework her core beliefs to fit the world and instead must call the world to faith and repentance. As the Belgic Confession reminds us, “we must not consider human writings…equal to divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else. For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself” (Article 7).
The Belgic confession reminds us that science is but a writing of men. And when men or women are not submitted to the Word of God, faithful in heart and mind, then the best they can hope to produce is a half-truth. And half-truths are the devil’s favorite device for leading people away from the truth of the Word. Rev. Walhout, if I were to take your proposal seriously, then every time a new study comes forth which the scientific community hails as groundbreaking and enlightened, then I would be forced to ask, how must my understanding of sin, salvation and redemption change in order to accommodate this new knowledge. Such a proposition is not only preposterous, but it also means that our Christian forefathers didn’t have sufficient knowledge to be saved or to truly know the gospel. And furthermore, that would mean that in the passage of time we would be those ignorant, unsaved people as theology advanced beyond us. This is not the truth. The gospel message has been clearly proclaimed from the beginning of time and people are without excuse. The core doctrines of the faith need not be changed. They are timeless.
In the paragraph on Creation, Walhout argues that a young earth and 7-day creation are incompatible with scientific findings and so we need to find a new way of understanding Genesis 1. I am not a young earth creationists, nor do I see anywhere in the Bible that believers are called to believe in Bishop Usher’s chronology. But Genesis is clear that God spoke and creation came into existence. Was that 4000 years ago? Maybe. Was that 10 million years ago? Maybe. Was it 4.3 billion years ago? Maybe. But does believing in an old age earth also necessitate giving up a literal creation? Absolutely not. For one who has already whole-heartedly accepted evolution, such a statement I recognize will appear foolish, but as a Christian called to judge science by the testimony of the scriptures, I am confident that I can allow for or even embrace an old earth while still believing my God is powerful enough to create it in 7 days if he so chose.
Furthermore, I would challenge anyone who has believed in the macroevolution thesis to travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and visit the national museum where the bone fragments of our supposed ancestors are stored. When I did just that in 2009, while adopting two daughters I was sorely disappointed at the quality of the evidence. A few bone fragments that would fit in the palm of my hands are all that exist of many of our ancestors. And if the physical evidence isn’t enough, then I would encourage you to read the first chapter of Genesis again. In verse after verse, God declares that the plants, the animals the fish and the humans will reproduce according to their kinds, not according to another kind. Plants don’t become fish. Fish don’t become animals. Animals don’t become humans, according to the Genesis account. They may change within themselves. They may evolve and adapt to the environment, but they will always remain fish, or plants or animals or humans – kind after kind. This is the declaration of God.
In the paragraph on Adam and Eve, Walhout argues that animals became human and so the Adam and Eve story is going to be irrelevant in his coming paragraphs. In my previous paragraph I have shown why animals can’t become humans, they are of a different kind. Now I would like to indulge in some playful speculation based upon Walhout’s evolutionary belief. If we take the thesis that homo erectus became homo habilils that became homo sapiens then I must ask What are homo sapiens going to be called in 1,000 or 1 million or 10 million years? And If they are something different, then two problems arise. First, humanity as we know it is not the pinnacle of creation as God declares in Genesis 1. Some other homo species was or will be, but we are not. Homo sapiens are not created in the image of God, we have not been blessed, nor is there any foundation upon which to build a value of human life, for all of these are built upon the truth that we are created in God’s image. Second, and more disturbing is the fact that Jesus as a homo sapien didn’t die for the sins of homo futurus, whatever he or she may be. The scriptures are clear that creation is groaning, but there is no hope of redemption for our “more advanced” future ancestors since Jesus died for the sins of homo sapiens, not the sins of prior ancestors or future evolvements. And if we are just one link in the cog of evolution, the day will come when Jesus will not be sufficient or ‘human’ enough to die for those still evolving.
This leads us to the paragraphs on sin. Where do I start? How about with the straw man argument of having no scientific proof or historical evidence of the Garden of Eden. If Rev. Walhout read his scriptures, he would recall that in Genesis 6 we encounter the story of the global flood. After such an event, the Garden of Eden was destroyed and there would be no evidence. Everything was wiped away. All traces and vestiges of the old world were replaced with the new world and Noah and his family. Now in regard to sin, is the Scripture not clear enough that sin is rebellion against God, disbelief of his word and a turning toward human wisdom in place of God’s revelation? And when this happens, our actions cause ill effects upon ourselves, upon others and upon the face of creation. What else do we need to know about sin? Is this not clear throughout the Biblical witness.
Furthermore, if there is no original sin, then it is possible for every person alive to live the perfect life, and if this is so, then the atonement is unnecessary and we simply need to try harder. The gospel of grace is suddenly replaced with the gospel of works. And while we are at it, if we are questioning the existence of sin, why not question the existence of Satan and the spiritual battle that is occurring between good and evil, and the fact that God will triumph over evil and usher in a new world consisting of a new heaven and a new earth. Oh wait, Walhout did question these realities and he called us to replace the eschatological Kingdom of God with an anthropocentric version of human development that doesn’t necessarily need God.
In fact, that is what strikes me most about the entire essay, God is really not needed in Walhout’s cosmology, aside from maybe starting a big bang. But even that science may ultimately prove has a totally rational explanation apart from God. Evolution has become Rev. Walhout’s god and it is such a pitiful god unable to bring hope or salvation. For we are all just animals acting like animals. What more can we expect?
Against all of this I would like to remind each of us that God has indeed created and redeemed humanity. It isn’t foolish to believe in the biblical story and the ancient doctrines. Jesus certainly believed that Adam and Eve were real people and that the Word of God was trustworthy and useful for correcting, rebuking, teaching and training in righteousness. His answers to the scribes and Pharisees were filled with the Word of God. His theology of marriage was built upon the Genesis 1 and 2 story (Mark 10). He called faulty theology to account declaring to the Sadducees, those men who didn’t believe in the supernatural, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures of the power of God” (Mark 12:24). I fear that such a rebuke is needed for Rev. Walhout.
For other responses that show similar or different critiques of Walhout’s article see:
Sincerely, Rev. Scott Roberts