The Scandal of the LCMS Mind
By Matthew Becker
One of the more controversial matters among some Christians today is the relation of Christian faith in the triune God to scientific knowledge of the natural world. Disagreements about this relationship have led to conflicts within many church bodies, including the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).
While educated Christians cannot avoid the knowledge that arises from the natural sciences, especially when that knowledge has a direct bearing on the interpretation of Scripture and the formulation of theological knowledge today, disagreements persist among Christians about whether or not specific claims in the sciences are inconsistent with the Christian faith. For example, as recent as the year 1925 the leading theologian in the LCMS, Dr. Franz Pieper (1852-1931), asserted that the Copernican Theory of a heliocentric solar system must be rejected as contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, and thus contrary to the Christian faith. While few in the contemporary LCMS would agree with this view, perhaps a majority of Christians in the LCMS would still agree with the statement against “evolution” in a document that Dr. Pieper and others authored shortly before his death:
We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative Word, and in six days. We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less out of itself. Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation, to God’s own record, found in God’s own book, the Bible. We accept God’s own record with full confidence and confess with Luther’s Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures.”
Since the days of Dr. Pieper and the Brief Statement, the LCMS in convention has occasionally affirmed a “six-day” creation to be a clear teaching of Scripture and thus a basic element in the doctrinal content of the biblical texts. Because many in the LCMS who affirm a “six-day” creation also hold that this biblical teaching contradicts “the theory of evolution,” this scientific “theory” must be rejected as being contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture and the doctrine of creation. So the LCMS has also publicly rejected “the theory” or “the hypothesis” of “evolution.”
A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles (adopted at the controversial 1973 Convention), for example, contains assertions about both “creation” and “evolution.” This document asserts that to read the early chapters of Genesis any differently from clear, literal, historical-factual reports is to misread Scripture and the Confessions. A Statement cites the following assertions from the Synod’s 1959 Statement on Scripture:
Where Scripture speaks historically, as for example in Gen. 1 to 3, it must be understood as speaking of literal historical facts. Where Scripture speaks symbolically, metaphorically, or metonymically, as for example in Rev. 20, it must be interpreted on these its own terms.
We condemn and reject any and all teachings and statements that would limit the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture or that deny the divine authorship of certain portions of Scripture. Inspiration applies not only to such statements as speak directly of Christ but also to such as may seem very remote (e.g., in the field of history, geography, and nature).
Similarly, A Statement repeats in several places the following quotations from the Brief Statement:
Since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, it goes without saying that they contain no errors or contradictions, but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters, John 10:35.
We reject the doctrine which under the name of science has gained wide popularity in the Church of our day that Holy Scripture is not in all its parts the Word of God, but in part the Word of God and in part the word of man and hence does, or at least, might, contain error.
According to A Statement:
We reject the following distortions of the relationship between the Gospel and the Bible (the material and formal principles): …That the historicity or facticity of certain Biblical accounts (such as the Flood or the Fall) may be questioned, provided this does not distort the Gospel…
Likewise, A Statement condemns “evolution”:
We…reject the following:
…2. The notion that man did not come into being through the direct creative action of God, but through a process of evolution from lower forms of life which in turn developed from matter that is either eternal, autonomous, or self-generating.
…4. The notion that Adam and Eve were not real historical persons and that their fall
was not a real historical event which brought sin and death into the world…
Lurking behind this condemnation of “evolution” seems to be the assumption that “evolution” necessarily equates to “atheism” or “anti-godly, anti-Scriptural materialism” or to some other “ism” that is incompatible with the Christian faith. This apparent assumption, that “evolution” means or implies “atheism” or an anti-Scriptural, anti-theistic metaphysical position, must be kept in mind when one attempts to understand what LCMS convention delegates or writers have consistently rejected when they have rejected “evolution.” Since many of the public interpreters of “evolution” in the contemporary media unfortunately have extrapolated from their scientific investigations an anti-theistic/materialistic philosophy that goes beyond the established facts of their science, it is quite likely that many LCMS delegates at these conventions are reacting to these interpretations of “evolution” and not to other evolutionary models.
Since the 1940s some individuals in the LCMS have attempted to provide “scientific” confirmation of the traditional “six-day” view of creation, a “young” earth, and the Noahic flood (e.g., “flood geology,” that is, accounting for all geological data on the basis of an actual Noahic flood). These individuals have also sought to provide evidence and arguments that contradict the hypothesis of “evolution.” The movement to provide a scientific-scholarly defense of the six-day creation is usually called “creationism” or “scientific creationism.” More recently, some members in the LCMS have moved away from the earlier model of “six-day creationism” to affirm what has come to be called “Intelligent Design.”
All of the above information simply sets the historic “anti-evolution” context for the adoption of Resolution 2-08A at the 2004 LCMS convention. This resolution, too, explicitly rejects “the hypothesis of evolution” and affirms a “six-day” creationist view.
While the title and some of the content of 2004 Resolution 2-08A (“To Commend Preaching and Teaching Creation”) are not problematic—after all, no Christian is opposed to the preaching and teaching of creation, since this doctrine is an article of Christian faith—other elements in the resolution are deeply problematic, for the same reasons that elements in previous LCMS resolutions and statements against “evolution” are also problematic.
Here is Resolution 2-08A as printed in the 2004 Convention Proceedings:
RESOLUTION 2-08A: To Commend Preaching and Teaching Creation
Overtures 2-24-25, 5-43-45 (CW, pp. 151–152, 237)
WHEREAS, The Scriptures teach that God is the creator of all that exists and is therefore the Author and Giver of Life; and
WHEREAS, The hypotheses of macro, organic, and Darwinian evolution, including theistic evolution or any other model denying special, immediate, and miraculous creation, undercut this support for the honoring of life as a gift of God; and
WHEREAS, Any teaching that advocates the transition from one species to another, as opposed to maintaining the distinction of species “according to their kinds” (Genesis, Chapter 1), rejects the clear teaching of Scripture; and
WHEREAS, It is the church’s duty to produce followers of Christ who not only know the fundamentals of the Christian faith, but also are “prepared to give an answer . . . for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15); therefore be it
Resolved, That all educational agencies and institutions of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod including early childhood programs, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries continue to teach creation from the biblical perspective; and be it further
Resolved, That no educational agency or institution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod tolerate any teaching that contradicts the special, immediate, and miraculous creation by God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as an explanation for the origin of the universe; and be it further
Resolved, That the Synod’s educational agencies and institutions properly distinguish between micro and macro evolution and affirm the scriptural revelation that God has created all species “according to their kinds”; and be it finally
Resolved, That The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in convention, remind its pastors and teachers to increase emphasis to the doctrine of God as the Creator and Author of Life in their preaching and teaching.
I. Positive Elements in 2004 Resolution 2-08A
Before identifying the serious flaws in this resolution, one should note its positive elements. The first “whereas,” for example, is surely a truthful, biblical statement. All faithful Christians believe, teach, and confess that God is the Creator, the maker of heaven and earth. With Dr. Luther, Christians confess, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures…”
The fourth “whereas” is also commendable, provided one does not confuse “the fundamentals of the Christian faith” (i.e., the doctrine of the gospel as the content of the Scriptures) with specific biblical interpretations about which there can be forthright disagreement without harming the doctrine of creation. All Christians should be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in them. Christian faith seeks Christian understanding. Surely implied in this fourth “whereas” is the necessity for Christians to examine their faith, to explore its foundation in the living word of God, Jesus Christ, and to raise critical questions about “faith and the world” in pursuit of deeper understanding. Asking tough questions in light of the good news of forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ is part of what it means to be a Christian. According to Daniel Migliore, theology “is not mere repetition of traditional doctrines but a persistent search for the truth to which they point and which they only partially and brokenly express. As continuing inquiry, the spirit of theology is interrogative rather than doctrinaire; it presupposes a readiness to question and to be questioned.” Perhaps there will come a time when no more questions need to be asked (John 16:23), but here and now faith sees into a dark glass, not face to face (1 Cor. 13:12), and the questions of faith continue.
Finally, the first “resolved” and the final “resolved” are also commendable, especially when one takes into account how an official commission of the Synod has articulated what it means to preach and teach creation “from a biblical perspective.” The Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) published a report in 1967, Creation in Biblical Perspective, which was officially received by the Synod in convention in 1971. Contemporary members of the LCMS would do well to return to this important official document.
In this text the CTCR affirmed the following important points about the biblical doctrine of creation, especially relating to the interpretation of Genesis, chapters 1-2:
Just how God created the heavens and the earth the [Scriptural] text does not say. Holy Scripture teaches that heaven and earth came into being as a “creation out of nothing” (creatio ex nihilo). On this point it says: “By faith we understand that the world was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things that do not appear” (Heb. 11:3). The Scriptures do not dwell particularly on the creation of matter. They are more concerned to tell us how God took the earth, which was at first “without form and void,” and set it in order so that it might become a habitation fit for living beings.
[In light of some overtures that were submitted to the 1967 Synodical Convention, the CTCR concluded:] [t]hat confusion on the matter of literary form and the nature of language as these occur in the early chapters of Genesis may tend to divert attention from the role of the Biblical doctrine of creation within the life of the church and of the individual Christian (ibid.).
As Luther’s explanation of the First Article suggests, our formulation of the doctrine of creation should not consist of an attempt to provide an explanation of an empirical understanding of the process of how things came to be, but should rather offer the assertion that the relationship of the world and of ourselves to God is that of creature to Creator… (ibid., 10; emphasis added).
The language of the early chapters of Genesis is not “scientific” as we today understand “science.” It offers a phenomenological description of reality. The literary forms and the language are such as to help men understand creation as God’s act so that they may respond to their Creator with thanksgiving and humble service (ibid., 12).
From the early chapters of Genesis the church has drawn those articles of faith which are manifestly intended to teach, namely, God’s creation of all things in perfection, the special creation of man in the image of God, the corruption of the creature world through sin, and the assurance of redemption in Jesus Christ. The church has wisely refrained, however, from establishing an official interpretation of every exegetical detail in these chapters (ibid.).
II. Scientific Criticism of 2004 LCMS Res. 2-08A
While no orthodox Christian will deny that God is the Creator of heaven and earth, many Christians today acknowledge that the early chapters of Genesis cannot be scientific or historical descriptions of how God created the universe, since the literary genres in these biblical texts are different from “scientific or historical description” and the physical evidence in nature contradicts such a literalistic reading of these chapters. In light of the important 1967 CTCR reports on creation and biblical interpretation, reports that were officially received by the Synod in convention and commended to its members as valuable reports, one will detect serious flaws in 2004 Resolution 2-08A, which insists that the early chapters in Genesis be read as scientific and historical reports and that this “interpretation” is a necessary element in the Christian doctrine of creation.
Leaving aside questions as to why this resolution was allowed to come through Committee Two (Congregational Services), since the resolution makes pronouncements on theological and scientific matters that fall properly in the domains of Committee Three (Theology) and Committee Five (Higher Education), the resolution does invite serious scientific criticism for several reasons.
With regard to the resolution’s judgment against “evolution,” and the willingness of a majority of delegates to support that judgment, one wonders which members of Committee Two are experts in the sciences of geology, paleontology, biology, and genetics, to be able to speak so authoritatively about this scientific issue. Somebody on that Committee must have known what the author of the resolution means by “hypotheses of macro, organic, and Darwinian evolution.” The same must be true of the delegates who voted to approve this resolution. Did the Committee or the convention give any serious attention to these “hypotheses?” Did they invite scientific experts to provide testimony about these “hypotheses?” Or, more likely, did they simply assume they know what “evolution” is and implies, and thus rejected it because that “hypothesis” conflicts with what they confidently know to be the meaning of the early chapters of Genesis?
The physical evidence and rational argumentation supporting evolution are matters that cannot be so easily rejected on the basis of a rather literalistic reading of the early chapters of the Bible. While this essay is not the place to set forth a detailed and exhaustive summary of the physical data and rational arguments that support the well-established theory of evolution, some of the more important evidence and argumentation needs to be summarized. This includes the following:
1) The immense age of the universe is demonstrated by the distances that light from stars has had to travel to reach earth. Distant galaxies are traveling away from the earth at a faster rate of speed than those galaxies that are closer to the earth. (The speed of light is constant and has been shown not to slow down over time.) Such data contribute to the general scientific consensus that the universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old (+/- 200 million years).
2) Geological facts, including radioisotope testing of minerals in rocks on earth, provide consistent estimates that the earth is approximately 4.55 billion years old. The concordat agreement of several different types of radioisotope testing further solidifies this conclusion.
3) All over the earth fossils show hard structures of organisms less and less similar to modern organisms in progressively older rocks. Some older rock strata contain the first “fish” fossils, and in progressively younger rocks are found the fossil remains of the first amphibians, then the first reptiles, followed by the first birds and mammals. Included in the fossil record are numerous “transitional” fossils, i.e., fossils of organisms that fit “between” known groups (what some people in the past called “missing links”). More of these are being discovered every year and added to descriptions of the evolutionary record. (By discovering the fossilized remains of organisms in the stomachs of plant-eating dinosaurs, scientists have discovered plants that have been extinct for tens of millions of years!) The fossil record indicates a transition from fish to amphibians, from amphibians to reptiles, from reptiles to birds, and then from reptiles to mammals. One can see descriptions of these fossils on-line, in evolution and paleontology textbooks, and at natural museums. One could also take a “science” trip to the Grand Canyon, or to the John Day fossil beds, or to the Columbia River Gorge, or to some other North American site of natural history (e.g., La Brea Tar Pits, McKittrick Tar Pits). This physical evidence cannot be reconciled with Bishop Usher’s time-scale (or any timescale less than billions of years) or a literalistic reading of the six-day sequence in the first chapter of Genesis.
4) Keeping the above physical data in mind, the strongest evidence for macroevolution comes from the fact that groups of traits in biological organisms fall into a nested pattern. For example, plants are divided into two broad categories, non-vascular (as the mosses) and vascular. Vascular is divided into seedless, as the ferns, and seeded. Vascular seeded plants are divided into gymnosperms, as the conifers, and the angiosperms. The angiosperms are divided into the monocots, as the palms, and the dicots, as the oak. Each of these types of plants has several characters that distinguish it from other plants. Flowers, for example, are only seen in plants that carry several other characters that distinguish them as angiosperms. This is the expected pattern of common descent in evolution. All species in a group will share traits they inherited from their common ancestor, but each subgroup will also have evolved unique traits of its own. Similarities bind groups together; differences show how they are subdivided. Significant similarities among different organisms are consistent with a common ancestor: for example, one can compare anatomies and biochemical similarities among animals. There is also biogeographical evidence for evolution: e.g., comparison of Cape Verde Islands species with African species or comparison of Galapagos Islands species with South American species. This expected pattern of common descent also explains “vestigial organs.” (It explains, for example, why humans have an appendix and wisdom teeth.)
5) The evidence that evolution is occurring in the present includes the following: Quick mutation of bacteria and viruses, genetic evidence (e.g., comparison of DNA among similar species and genera), chromosomal changes in insect adaptation (e.g., fruit-flies), the agricultural revolution, applied breeding, and eugenics.
6) Most scientists do not recognize a qualitative difference between micro- and macroevolution. If microevolution (that is, change in gene frequencies through time in populations) can occur, then macroevolution can also occur, given sufficient time. The geological record is evidence of both sufficient time and of macroevolutionary changes through time. For example, there are no fossils of angiosperms in any of the layers of the Grand Canyon, but there are conifers and ferns in the uppermost layers but no conifers in the lower layers. The only rational explanation for this data is that ferns existed prior to conifers and that conifers existed prior to angiosperms.
7) Perhaps the reason that evolution is persisting as a theory is that it is a well-defined, consistent, and productive set of explanations for how evolutionary change takes place. In this sense, evolution is an eminently practical tool for producing new knowledge in the natural sciences.
For these and additional reasons many Christians, including the late Pope John Paul II, have concluded that evolution “is more than a hypothesis.”
[N]ew knowledge has led to the recognition in the theory of evolution of more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.
Since 1932 many LCMS Christians have said, “Since no one was present at the time of creation the only accurate record we have is what God tells us in Genesis.” But this assumption does not hold up to careful scrutiny. For example, one does not have to be present at a crime scene to be able to figure out what happened during the crime, even if the crime took place long before the investigators showed up to examine the physical evidence at the crime scene. Physical evidence and rational argument allow the investigator (e.g., Sherlock Holmes, who despised “spiritual” explanations) to put together what happened. The physical evidence that is in space and in the earth is sufficient evidence for geologists, paleontologists, biologists, anthropologists, and others to do their investigative work at reconstructing “the crime scene” known as “the formation and evolution of the universe” and “the evolution of species.” Even though no individual person was present “in the beginning,” one may still learn much about what has transpired in nature since then. The data is there, if one takes the trouble to examine it carefully and rationally.
III. Excursus: The Natural Sciences in the Lutheran Tradition
Christians in the LCMS and elsewhere who reject “evolution” in favor of “six-day creationism” could benefit from a re-examination of how the Copernican Theory was initially rejected by nearly all Christians when it first was promulgated in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546) is a good example of a faithful biblical interpreter who rejected this scientific theory because it conflicted with the traditional, commonly-held interpretation of those many passages in the Bible that speak of the sun’s movement around the earth and the latter’s non-movement. Only with time did the Copernican Theory become accepted by nearly all Christians as a more accurate worldview than the previously widely-held Ptolemaic-biblical worldview.
But Luther’s and Melanchthon’s views on the relation of theology to “philosophy” (including what today are called “the natural sciences”) ought not be distorted into a caricature. Even though Luther and Melanchthon were critical of Copernicus, in general they did not hold perspectives critical of “philosophy.” Apart from the famous “fool” passage, Luther himself gives every indication that Christian theology and the interpreter of Scripture need to avoid quackery and scientific error and to pay attention to persuasive knowledge from the natural sciences, which, at the time of Luther, were in the process of becoming disentangled from sorcery, alchemy, astrology, and from illegitimate forms of theology:
Luther was not ignorant of the fact that he lived in an age of scientific progress. He greeted the new science with enthusiasm and liked to contrast himself in this respect with the humanist Erasmus. In the advance of scientific knowledge he saw the gradual recovery of Adam’s dominion over the world of nature. Reason was understood by Luther as the divinely given organ by which man was to move out into the world and have mastery over it. Hence he did not need to become defensive when science and Scripture ran into apparent conflict… [E]ven when theology and science are directed to a common object, like the heavenly bodies, they talk about it in different, but not necessarily exclusive ways. Faith penetrates beyond the visible object to the unseen God, whose gracious care the object attests.
Not only did Luther take a great interest in the progress of science, he also reflected on the relation between philosophy and theology and the place of theology among the other university disciplines. Reason and experience, and the world they explore, are trustworthy creations of God, as Psalm 19:1-4a and Romans 1-2 and other scripture passages state. These natural sources of knowledge serve “philosophy,” including the human/natural sciences, while the Scriptures and faith serve theology. “Reason,” after all, is one of the gifts of the Creator, celebrated in Luther’s explanation to the first article of the Apostles’ Creed.
But “reason” has its limits, according to Luther. Reason is given to human beings for use within the earthly or natural domain. Here, reason has its proper role and function. As noted above, Luther is even prepared to acknowledge that the powers of human reason remain largely uncorrupted by sin. For Luther, it was simply a matter of making proper distinctions, especially between “the things of nature” and “the things of the Spirit.” Only when transferred from the natural domain into matters of the Spirit, does “reason” become a “whore,” according to Luther. Before God (coram deo), reason is unreliable and of no use to human beings; but within the world (coram mundo), reason is reliable and of great use to human beings.
Luther’s “overriding intent is plain: to give each discipline autonomy in its own ‘sphere’… Clearly, it was Luther’s intention to allow the various disciplines full autonomy within their own limits.” In the Lutheran theological tradition, “worldly” ways of knowing have their own integrity within the natural world. So Luther was not opposed to the operation of reason in the discipline of “philosophy” (“science”).
Luther certainly did nothing to hinder the progress of the natural sciences at the University of Wittenberg or anywhere else. Although “Luther thought he could refute Copernicus by quoting Scripture, …he did not therefore try to prevent the spread of Copernican astronomy.” Indeed, the Lutheran theologian Andreas Osiander (1498-1552) was responsible for being the first person to publish Copernicus’ works in Europe—in Lutheran Nuremberg. (Osiander wrote the preface to this edition.) One must underscore, too, neither Luther nor Melanchthon did anything to criticize their closest friends and co-workers, such as Caspar Cruciger (1504-48), who defended Copernicus and his (at the time, quite radical) scientific theory. (Later in his life Melanchthon actually made a few positive comments about other aspects of Copernicus’ work.)
The new world picture is a product neither of the Roman nor the Lutheran spirit. On the contrary, it is the triumph of an exact knowledge of nature—a knowledge that is free from all theological and ecclesiastical prejudices. To this extent one can regard it, at best, as a product of the German Renaissance. Yet it is not accidental that it was enthusiastically accepted first of all in Wittenberg and Nuremberg, and that it started its triumphal march from these cities…But at the central points of Lutheranism the emancipation [from the Ptolemaic world view] was basic in character. The church, which derives its mission from the Gospel and knows that the proclamation of the Gospel exhausts its mission, has no interest in the various world pictures.
It is fair to say that Lutheranism—which began in a university—has been more open to secular learning than less dialectical forms of Christianity (e.g., “Fundamentalisms”), and it has insisted on intellectual integrity and rigor in the tentatively autonomous, secular realm. Elert’s conclusion is telling: “[I]f the teaching of Copernicus was fostered in the universities at all, this took place in the domain of Lutheranism.” Although Lutheran theologians continued to reject the Copernican theory well into the nineteenth century (witness Dr. Pieper!), the great Lutheran universities in Europe and America typically encouraged “unfettered inquiry” into worldly matters. David Hollaz (1648-1713), one of the last significant theologians in what would come to be labeled “Lutheran Orthodoxy,” also rejected the Copernican theory because it contradicted clear statements of Scripture, but after his time Lutheran theology in Europe generally did not attempt to correct or reject the findings of the natural sciences. Indeed, Lutheran theologians tended to avoid matters of science, just as growing numbers of scientists avoided theology altogether.
One should note, however, that some scientifically-informed theologians and theologically-informed scientists have recently begun to reverse this separation between theology and science by posing informed questions to one another, particularly when natural scientists have left little or no room for the reality of God in their vision of nature and when theologians have left little or no room for the natural and human sciences in their formulations of theology. Partly because contemporary scientists and theologians are slowly recognizing the limitations of their disciplines and the need for humility with respect to the knowledge that arises from the various disciples, there has been a recent resurgence in formal discussions between scientists and Christian theologians on matters that both sets of disciplines study. As John Paul II acknowledged in his important 1996 pontifical address, discussions about creation have been among the more fruitful discussions that have occurred between scientists and theologians.
IV. Excursus: Scientism and Scientific Inquiry
To be sure, there are some understandings of “evolution” that are really “scientism” or what some have termed “maximal naturalism” or “maximal materialism” (e.g., atheistic, anti-Christian, reductionistic attacks on Christian faith in the name of “evolution”), and these ought to be criticized by Christians because they needlessly extrapolate metaphysical assertions that do not necessarily follow from the physical evidence.
According to Lutheran theologian Ted Peters, “scientism” is an ideology that assumes “that science provides all the knowledge that we can know.” In this view, there “is only one reality, the natural, and science has a monopoly on the knowledge we have about nature.” “Scientific imperialism,” according to Peters, seeks “to conquer the territory formerly possessed by theology and claim it as its own. Whereas scientism is atheistic; scientific imperialism affirms the existence of something divine but claims knowledge of the divine comes from scientific research rather than religious revelation.” In this view, “natural science is ready to explain religion better” than theologians, “ready to explain the supernatural naturally.” Both “scientism” and “scientific imperialism” are types of scientific “Fundamentalism” or “Absolutism” in that each calls for either the elimination of religious knowledge or the radical transformation of all religious knowledge into naturalistic or materialistic knowledge. Thus, those scientists who hold that the idea of “evolution” is inherently atheistic and antichristian hold views consistent with “scientism.” Those scientists who think that evolution explains all human phenomena (including “religion”) hold views consistent with “scientific imperialism.” Each set of views ought to be criticized by Christian theologians since these views ignore the limitations of human reason (e.g., reason is not able to discover on its own all that is real and true in the universe, reason can become idolatrous, and so on) and they attempt to eliminate the reality of God as the origin of all that is. At the very least, Christian theology will need to demonstrate that faith in the triune God is not irreconcilable with modern knowledge of nature. According to Wolfhart Pannenberg, one of the leading Lutheran theologians in the area of science and theology:
There is more to nature than simply what the scientists, working within the confines of the established disciplines, have been able to report. The reality of God is a factor in defining what nature is, and to ignore this fact leaves us with something less than a fully adequate explanation of things. The recognized contingency within natural events helps us perceive the contingency of nature’s laws, and this cannot be accounted for apart from understanding the whole of nature as the creation of a free divine creator… Our task as theologians is to relate to the natural sciences as they actually exist. We cannot create our own sciences. Yet we must go beyond what the sciences provide and include our understanding of God if we are properly to understand nature.
Christian theologians will thus want to demonstrate that the question of God is important for the natural sciences. The importance of this question for science is not necessarily in the framework of scientific research per se but in the context of philosophical or second-order reflection that arises from such research. The “nonrelational coexistence” of theology and the natural sciences (e.g., the so-called “two languages” view of science and theology) is therefore not necessary.
V. Evolution and LCMS Educational Institutions
“Evolution” per se (leaving aside on-going investigation into the mechanisms that drive evolution) is not something that can easily be dismissed by any person who wishes to be knowledgeable about the natural sciences.
While no Christian theologian will teach that modern evolutionary theories offer a sufficient explanation for the origin of the world or a complete and exclusive account for the nature of human beings as creatures of God, Christian theology has the responsibility to let “nature speak on its own terms.” Theology cannot interfere with scientific investigation by simply appealing to “what the Bible says.”
Sadly, Resolution 2-08A will stifle fruitful learning and scientific exploration in LCMS high schools and colleges, if it is actually followed. Indeed, the limited academic freedom that faculty members in LCMS schools currently have will be further restricted. One wonders if “science,” let alone “theology,” could ever truly be done in the Concordias, if this resolution were enforced.
In point of fact, the resolution is in tension with the Lutheran tradition of higher education. Even within the LCMS context there are policy statements that conflict with the demands of Res. 2-08A. For example, a recent LCMS policy statement on academic freedom includes the following important section:
Because academic inquiry in the schools of the Synod takes place within a Lutheran context, faculty and staff seek to exercise their privileges in a manner that is appropriate to the audience and situation… It is not inappropriate to present information regarding concepts that conflict with synodical doctrinal statements/resolutions. This involves (1) a fair and accurate description of the synodical position, and (2) a manner of presentation that encourages constructive insights and enhanced understanding of the issues. Presentation of differing and even disturbing concepts is appropriate within the context of a constructive educational activity.
In addition, at least one of the boards of regents in the Concordia University System has clarified the Board for Higher Education’s Policy Statement on Limitation of Academic Freedom to mean:
If in his instruction [a professor] is asked about his dissenting viewpoint or pressed to comment on it in connection with a lecture item, he is to state the church’s position, indicating respectfully his difference with it.
The language of the LCMS’s BHE’s Policy Statement and Concordia Portland’s interpretation of the BHE statement are consistent with the basic premise of academic freedom as understood in Lutheran higher education and as articulated and expected by accrediting agencies and professional associations. This freedom is a necessary component that guarantees the common good of the academic community. Unfortunately, if enforced, Resolution 2-08A will undermine that freedom and the common good of LCMS educational institutions and their mission.
VI. Theological Criticism of 2004 LCMS Resolution 2-08A
In addition to these scientific and academic criticisms of Resolution 2-08A, there are also theological objections to the resolution. Leaving aside the fact that the resolution does not explain what is meant by “the hypotheses of macro, organic, and Darwinian evolution,” the resolution does not explain why these particular scientific “hypotheses” “undercut” the “support for the honoring of life as the gift of God.” Using the same rationale in this “whereas” of the resolution, one could argue that any scientific description of a purely natural process or cause regarding life also “undercuts” the “support for the honoring of life as the gift of God,” since scientific description normally examines natural processes and causes apart from any reference to God. Science talks about what in traditional language are “secondary” causes, i.e., natural causes. For example, the sciences have set forth purely naturalistic explanations for the cause and development of human life: sexual intercourse, the fertilization of an egg by a sperm, the natural development of the zygote, the embryo, and so on. At no point does science need recourse to “God” as a natural explanation for the cause and multi-month development of human life, and yet Christians also affirm: “God has made me and all creatures.” Keeping the secondary causes in view, the Christian would have to acknowledge, “God has made me through my parents.” In light of Res. 2-08A, however, what is to keep someone from concluding that the purely scientific description of the natural process of human procreation “undercuts” the “support for the honoring of life as the gift of God?”
The Christian doctrine of creation is not contradicted by the valid insights and knowledge gained about nature within the other scholarly disciplines in the academy; rather, the doctrine of creation is complemented by those insights and that knowledge. Faith in God the Creator does not override the fact that God normally works through secondary causes in nature. Science seeks to understand these secondary causes, while theology seeks to understand the triune God (“primary cause”), the Creator and Redeemer of all that is. Even Dr. Pieper acknowledged the legitimate distinction between primary cause and secondary causes, even if he had difficulty keeping those causes distinct.55] Since the natural causes of evolution properly fall in the category of “secondary causes,” there is nothing inherent in these natural causes and processes that necessarily conflicts with the Christian confession that God is the Creator and that God normally works through secondary causes.
Resolution 2-08A also invites criticism against its view of biblical interpretation in relation to scientific knowledge. For nearly two millennia the vast majority of biblical interpreters accepted that the Bible clearly teaches that the earth rests on pillars or a foundation, that it has four corners, that it is not spinning on its axis, and that it is not moving around the sun. There is overwhelming scriptural support for such a view. Who today, however, accepts such a reading of these clear passages of Scripture or insists that such a reading of these passages is an essential element in the Christian doctrine of creation? On what basis does one now accept as figurative the language of the earth resting on pillars or a foundation, of the earth having four corners, of the sun rising and moving across the sky and setting? Nothing in Scripture can provide one with this basis. One can only surmise that modern, post-Copernican Christians have allowed non-biblical, scientific data to inform their reading of Scripture, at least at these points. Today these scriptural passages that concern “nature” and “cosmology” are understood figuratively, even though previous generations of Christians—and not a few Christians today—have taken them quite literalistically. While Dr. Luther and Dr. Pieper thus interpreted the Bible to affirm the immovability of the earth, a conclusion supported by their close readings of the Scriptures, very few people will accept such an interpretation today in light of what is known to be true about the earth from observation of data outside of the Bible. Nonetheless, modern Christians hold the same faith in God the Creator that Dr. Luther and Dr. Pieper did, even if they disagree with the latter’s interpretation of these passages.
In a wiser time in its history, the LCMS accepted and commended the important CTCR report, Creation in Biblical Perspective, which affirms that the language and genres of the early chapters of Genesis are not scientific but phenomenological. Unfortunately, this understanding has been muted in the LCMS since the mid-1970s. The Synod ought to return to the position outlined in the 1967 CTCR reports on creation and biblical interpretation. If members of the Synod did that, they would be on more solid ground biblically, theologically, and scientifically. They would be following an important interpretational principle, articulated and defended by St. Augustine and other venerable interpreters of Scripture, namely, that Christians need to pay careful attention to those facts of nature that have a bearing on the careful interpretation of scriptural passages that also concern nature. This need is particularly relevant when one converses with people who think they must make a choice between rejecting scientific knowledge and natural facts, on the one hand, or the Bible (e.g., Genesis) and the Christian faith, on the other. Such a choice is a false alternative. God’s “book of nature” is not deceptive. That “book” does not contradict the Scriptures, properly understood. The true sense of Scripture about creation will agree with established natural fact, something Christian theology has been affirming since the days of the Christian Apologists (Second Century), the Cappadocians (Fourth Century), and Augustine (Fifth Century), but which had to be relearned in the years after Copernicus. Scripture itself indicates that we can trust the facts of nature and need not try to re-interpret their “speech” to us, even if such “speech” apparently conflicts with our particular readings of Scripture. If there is such an apparent conflict, then we need to re-examine our interpretation of Scripture and our understanding of nature.
While Lutheran Christians seek to understand the literal, intended theological sense(s) of scriptural passages, Scripture itself indicates that interpreters of nature can trust the data of nature and need not try to re-interpret that data to fit a non-critical reading of Scripture. God does not deceive us in the realm of nature, God’s creation, and that data assists us toward an appropriate understanding of Scriptural passages that also speak of nature. If there is an apparent conflict between natural data and a straight-forward interpretation of Scripture, then the interpreter needs to re-examine his or her interpretation of Scripture and keep an open, humble posture towards the self-correction of scientific theories within science itself. While such self-correction may be assisted by criticism from within the philosophy of science and by reflection on the metaphysical issues that arise from within the practice of science, the practice of merely citing Scripture and church tradition to reject scientific knowledge is inconsistent with Lutheran theology.
Since God’s “book of nature” is reliable and not deceptive, and since human reason is a creaturely gift of God the Creator, human reason is a generally reliable means for “reading” that God-given “book.” The Logos, “the true light that enlightens everyone,” is after all also the means by which the world is created (John 1:9). There is thus a correspondence between the human mind and the universe. This correspondence is made possible by the creative work of the Logos and his Spirit (Proverbs 8) that is operative in both the human mind and the universe. Consequently, the “book” of nature does not contradict the book of the Scriptures, properly understood. As the LCMS’s own webpage declares correctly, “…there can be no actual contradiction between genuine scientific truth and the Bible.” The book of the Scriptures is the means of revealing the Logos incarnate, through whom the book of nature is created and redeemed (cf. John 1; Colossians 1). The same Logos that has created and redeemed the world—and thus the same Logos that makes the universe an intelligible and reliable matter—is the center of the Scriptures (John 1:1-18; John 5:39-40; Luke 24; and so on). He is the “wisdom” of God that makes “foolish” those who seek to understand the world and its future apart from him (1 Corinthians 1).
Aside from the theological appropriation of physical data from “God’s book of nature” to assist one in the interpretation of those biblical texts that also address “nature,” even a careful reading of the first three chapters of Genesis ought to be sufficient to demonstrate that a literalistic reading of these chapters is untenable and inappropriate:
Did God create over the course of six days (1:1-2:3) or on one day or at one moment? (2:4b; cf. Sirach 18:1, which Augustine noted and wondered about)?
How can there be an “evening” and a “morning” prior to the creation of the two great lights? (Cf. the helpful note in the Concordia Self-Study Bible, Gen 1:11)
Was Adam created after the creation of plants (1:26-31) or was he created prior to the creation of plants (2:4bff)?
Were animals created prior to the creation of Adam (male and female; 1:20-25) or were animals created after Adam (male) but before the creation of Eve (female; 2:18-23)?
Were birds created a day earlier than all land animals (1:20-25) or were land animals created before the birds and on the same day as the birds were created (2:19-20)?
Did God finish creating after the sixth day (2:2-3) or has God continued to create after the sixth day (cf. John 5:17)?
Was Adam literally formed from the ground?
Did the snake really speak?
Did God really walk in the garden?
If one’s answer to these questions is that some of the language must be taken as figurative, whereas other expressions are to be taken literally, then one must ask, “On what basis?” For example, how can one so easily understand the “day” in 2:4b to be a figurative expression and that the consecutive “days” in chapter one are to be understood as literal, 24-hour days? On what basis does one make these decisions? A basic, hoary principle of biblical interpretation here applies: the interpreter of Scripture ought to take a scriptural text literally unless there are good reasons to take it otherwise.
If one allows the Copernican theory to influence one’s judgment that Scripture speaks figuratively when it states that the earth rests on pillars or a foundation, that it has four corners, that it does not move, and that the sun rises, moves across the sky, and sets, then what is to prevent the biblical interpreter from gaining assistance from the natural sciences in understanding the contemporary meaning of the early chapters of Genesis?
Of course a “figurative” interpretation of Genesis 1-9 (not to mention the many other passages in Scripture that speak of God as creator, of the world as God’s creation, and of the new creation) does entail a revision of the traditional “creationist” manner of articulating the doctrines of creation, anthropology, and sin, and many Christians are deeply uncomfortable with such a prospect. This “discomfort” is at least as great as the discomfort many sixteenth-century Christians must have felt in view of the revision to traditional teaching that the Copernican Theory entailed. As then, however, so also now: such modification would not necessarily undermine an orthodox understanding of creation, human beings, sin, and grace.  For example, scientific data about the reality of physical death in the animal and plant kingdoms prior to origin of human beings (e.g., fossils of animals that lived long before the origin of human beings) must lead those who interpret the Bible in light of scientific knowledge to restate the nature of God’s good creation prior to the advent of human sin (e.g., such a good creation must have included the reality of death prior to the existence of human beings) and the character of the historical origin of sin (e.g., the advent of sin is to be traced to the first hominids who disobeyed God’s will but not necessarily to their having eaten from a tree in an actual place called the Garden of Eden several thousand years ago).
Biblically, “Adam” (Hebrew: “human being”) was clearly the father of the human race (Luke 3), and thus was a real, historical individual, and necessarily so. But, at the same time and more significantly, Adam as “the first human being” is the representative of all sinful humankind so that we can proclaim that Christ, “the second Adam,” is the progenitor of a new humanity. The Augsburg Confession says, “Our churches also teach that since the fall of Adam all men who are propagated according to nature are born in sin. That is to say, they are without fear of God, are without trust in God, and are concupiscent.” It is this second sentence, not the first, that distinguishes the genuinely Lutheran understanding of original sin from other pre- and post-Reformation versions of that doctrine. The problem with “creationist” understandings of Genesis 3 is that they often tend to concentrate on affirming that Adam and Eve were two real historical human beings, as if the church’s teaching about original sin could be more effectively stated and more firmly grounded by focusing primarily on the two original sinners rather than on hearing the truth of Genesis 3 as it reveals and diagnoses our own lack of fear and trust in God. (One needs to note that the words “historical,” “historicity,” and “real” are neither Biblical nor confessional.) The main point of Genesis 3 is not merely that two people some time ago fell into sin, over and done with, but that these words of God diagnose sin and sinners today, condemn sinners to death, and promise rescue to present readers and hearers. Adam, as Paul says very clearly, is the one “in whom all are dying” (notice: the one in whom all are still dying) as Christ is the one in whom “all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). As the Lutheran Confessions state over and over, Adam is “der alte Adam,” “the old Adam,” that which “is born in us from Adam” (LC 65). Adam, therefore, is still very much a present reality and mortally powerful. That Adam, in which we are all sinning and dying, can only be defeated by nothing less than our dying and rising with Christ, a dying and rising that has begun in our Baptism.
Thus, even if LCMS interpreters might disagree about the “how” of creation and about the nature of the historical origin of sin (though not about the fact that such origins occurred!), they will still agree with the theological truths confessed in the Scriptures, the Apostles’ Creed (and its explication in Luther’s catechisms), in Article II of the Augsburg Confession, and in the other articles of the Confessions that bear on matters of creation, sin, and grace (e.g., Part III of the Smalcald Articles).
Resolution 2-08A will undoubtedly contribute to a false dichotomy that has been present in the ethos of the LCMS since before Dr. Pieper’s day: either one must choose to accept the dominant LCMS interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis as an essential element in the church’s doctrine of creation (“creationism”) or one must leave the LCMS for some other alternative (e.g., atheism, agnosticism, ecclesial inactivity, or some other Christian group). How many people in the past three hundred years have rejected the Christian faith, or have never given it a second thought, because they were told, or they thought, they had to accept a literalistic reading of Genesis (and similar biblical texts with cosmological connections) as an essential element of that faith, when all the physical evidence and rational argument goes against such a literalistic understanding?
Issues surrounding creation/evolution and biblical interpretation are missional, evangelistic issues, especially for teachers and administrators in the schools of the LCMS. A basic understanding of and sensitivity to scientific knowledge is essential for the future of the church’s mission to people in a scientifically-informed culture.
Furthermore, how will Christian voices gain a hearing from scientifically-informed people on matters of real significance (e.g., in the area of bio-ethics, the ecological crisis, and genetics research) if those Christians are ignorant of or even hostile toward the most basic of conclusions and insights in geology, paleontology, biology, ecology, anthropology, and the other natural and social sciences? Scientists and scientifically-informed individuals will be inclined to dismiss anything such Christians might say as being uninformed and unpersuasive.
The most influential theologian in western Christianity, St. Augustine (354-430), offers contemporary “creationists” a trenchant warning:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learned from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brothers when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertions.
The present essay has grown out of a pastoral and missional concern similar to Augustine’s. Too many people in and outside of the Christian church have thought that they must choose between a life based solely on scientific knowledge apart from God and a life based solely on a Christian faith that must ignore or even oppose scientific knowledge. Too many people in our world have thought they had to make such a choice and thus have needlessly rejected scientific knowledge or have needlessly rejected faith in God. The need to make such a choice has been intensified by church bodies that take general positions against scientific conclusions (e.g., against evolution) and by scientists who make statements critical of religious belief, including Christian faith. There is thus the need for pastors, directors of Christian education, professors, other church workers, and educated laypeople to assist people, including especially high school and college youth who might be struggling with issues of faith and science, to sort through these difficult issues. Since students will likely continue to wrestle with these issues their whole lives, Christian leaders have the responsibility to provide a helpful, supportive, evangelical framework in which to think through these issues in a scriptural, faithful, intelligent, God-pleasing manner. Resolutions like 2-08A are not helpful to this process.
 The title for this essay is taken from Mark Noll’s very good book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994). My argument here is meant to complement Noll’s chapter, “Thinking about Science.” I am grateful to the following individuals who read earlier drafts of the essay and provided me with helpful criticism: Lynnell Edwards, Gary Hagen, Jim Hallerberg, Rici Hallstrand, John Hannah, Herb Hoefer, Mark Hoelter, Emil Jaech, Art Kaul, Richard Kiessling, Steve Krueger, Richard Krugler, Charles Kunert, George Loose, Norm Metzler, Ty Miles, Fred Niedner Jr., Craig Oldenburg, Lee Precup, Richard Reinisch, Tim Rippstein, Harold Roellig, Tom Schoenborn, Tom Schuell, Hans Spalteholz, Bill Stuenkel, Robert Sylwester, Paul Tuchardt, E. P. Weber, Bob Weber, Ted Will, Dan Wright, and Karl Wyneken.
Franz Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3 vols., trans. Theodore Engelder et al. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950), 1:473: “As to the astronomical systems constructed by men, every Christian… must keep these four things in mind: 1) Scripture is errorless, also in physical matters. Scripture is indeed ‘no textbook of the natural sciences.’ Its purpose is to teach the way to heaven by faith in Christ. But when, even though only in passing, it does teach matters of natural sciences, its statements are the inviolable truth. 2) Scripture accommodates itself to our human conception of things, but never to erroneous human conceptions… 3) Our human knowledge of astronomical matters is naturally limited much by our inability to view them from a position outside this globe and the universe… 4) It is unworthy of a Christian to interpret Scripture, which he knows to be God’s own Word, according to human opinions (hypotheses), and that includes the Copernican cosmic system, or to have others thus to interpret Scripture to him.” In a lengthy footnote, Dr. Pieper continues: “The Copernicans particularly have the bad habit of offering their ‘view of the cosmos’ as the ‘assured result of science…’ Luther, we know, objects to all astronomical systems which are palmed off as objective truth beyond what experience teaches. By the way, the newspapermen threatened about a year ago that Einstein’s theory of relativity would give Copernicanism the death blow” (ibid., 473-74). That there are still LCMS pastors who support an anti-Copernican geocentric worldview, see the comments of Pr. Joel Brondos, who thinks there is rational support for a geocentric cosmology based on Einstein’s ideas: joelbrondos.worldmagblog.com/joelbrondos/archives/003600.html.
Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1931), 7. This statement was prepared for fellowship discussions with the old American Lutheran Church by F. Pieper, F. Wenger, E. A. Mayer, L. A. Heerboth, and Th. Engelder. Though accepted by the 1932 Synod Convention, this doctrinal statement has been controversial ever since that time.
For additional “anti-evolution” texts in the history of the LCMS, see Theodore Graebner, Essays on Evolution (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1925); Paul E. Kretzmann, “The Length of the Creation Day,” Concordia Theological Monthly 4 (February 1924), 37-43; and J. T. Mueller, “Zur kirchlichen Chronik: Eine scharfe Verurteilung des Darwinismus,” Der Lutheraner 77 (May 31, 1921), 171. See also Milton Rudnick, Fundamentalism and the Missouri Synod (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1966), 88-90, 95-96. When the current president of the LCMS, Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, was elected to that office in 2001, he stated the following as a part of his acceptance speech: “As I assume the office of presidency of the Synod, you, the members of the Synod, deserve to know my beliefs: … I believe the world was created in six 24-hour days less than 10,000 years ago” (Gerald B. Kieschnick, “President-Elect Acceptance Speech,” in 2001 LCMS Convention Proceedings [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2001], 114). When Dr. Kieschnick made this specific comment about the creation of the earth, he was interrupted with resounding applause by the majority of the 1000+ delegates to this convention of the LCMS. The perspective expressed here by Dr. Kieschnick may well represent the dominant view within the contemporary LCMS. Despite their stance against evolution, all of the early LCMS opponents of evolution were also opposed to government legislation against the teaching of evolution in public schools. More than one LCMS writer in the 1920s stated that the Bible does not need to be protected, certainly not by the state.
One must put these words in parentheses, since their meanings in the minds of the LCMS individuals who reject “the hypothesis of evolution” are not clear. The 1986 synodical catechism (Martin Luther’s Small Catechism plus contemporary editors’ “questions and answers”) contains several questions and answers on “creation and evolution”: “97. Why is God, the Father Almighty called ‘Maker of heaven and earth?’ Because in six days He created all things, out of nothing, simply by His word (Gen 1:1; Ps. 33:6, 9; Heb 11:3; Gen 1-2). 103. How did God first create life? God created all living things, both plant and animal, by his Word alone, from nothing. He created humanity specially, from dust, then gave us His own breath as life (Gen 2:7; Ps. 139:14). 104. What plan does God use for reproduction of living things? God created living things to reproduce ‘according to their kinds.’ Animals, plants, and people reproduce only living things like themselves (Gen 1:21; Gen 1:24). 105. What is the Christian’s proper response to theories of evolution regarding the beginning of the world? By faith Christians believe what the Word of God teaches about creation. Evolutionary theories are not scientifically verifiable (Heb. 11:3; 2 Pet 3:5-6; 1 Tim. 6:20-21)” (Small Catechism [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986]). This catechism is a main teaching resource for many LCMS congregations today.
A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles (St. Louis: The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, 1972), adopted in Resolution 3-01at the 1973 LCMS Convention. The convention vote for that resolution was 652 to 455. This was a little larger majority than the one that adopted Resolution 3-09 at the same convention. This latter resolution “repudiated the attitude” of “the faculty majority” (without naming names) of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and declared their teaching “false doctrine” (in three generalities: “subversion of the authority of the Bible,” “gospel reductionism,” and “denial of the third use of the law”). This resolution was adopted 574 to 451 (56% to 44%). No specific evidence or solid argument was presented at the convention. Instead the matter was turned over to the St. Louis seminary’s Board of Control. The political events that followed led to the firing of 45 out of 50 faculty members in 1974. For this episode in LCMS history, see Mary Todd, Authority Vested: A Story of Identity and Change in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 224-28; Laurie Ann Schultz Hayes, “The Rhetoric of Controversy in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod with Particular Emphasis on the Years 1967-1976 (Ph.D. diss., The University of Wisconsin—Madison, 1980); and John Tietjen, Memoirs in Exile: Confessional Hope and Institutional Conflict (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990).
A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles (hereafter A Statement), 22. This quotation is repeated on pages 26 and 33.
Ibid., 28. This quotation is repeated on pages 30, 32, and 40.
Ibid., 19. This quotation is repeated on pages 33, 36, and 40.
Ibid., 26; see also ibid., 19-20.
Ibid., 42. This statement, in particular, sets up a false alternative, as if the only options are “the direct creative action of God” or “the process of evolution from lower forms of life which in turn developed from matter that is either eternal, autonomous, or self-generating.” A Statement does not address the important distinction between God as “primary cause” and “natural or secondary causes.” Such a distinction would allow one to affirm some form of “theistic evolution” wherein “the process of evolution” is not “eternal,” “autonomous,” or “self-generating.” For a persuasive critique of A Statement by several members of the LCMS, see “A Review Essay of ‘A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles,’” The Cresset Reprints (Valparaiso, IN: Valparaiso University Press, 1973). See also Todd, Authority Vested, 224-225. Before the majority of faculty members at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, was fired in 1974, that majority stated its disagreement with the form and content of A Statement. They “called its spirit ‘alien to Lutheran confessional theology,’ imposing on scripture ‘a set of human criteria when it lists certain theoretical and abstract qualifications that Holy Scripture must have, but which the Holy Scriptures do not claim for themselves—such as inerrancy…’ It was the opinion of Arthur Carl Piepkorn, chair of the systematics department, that the ‘superfluous’ and ‘defective’ document ‘breathes a Reformed fundamentalist spirit’” (Todd, Authority Vested, 225).
Since the nineteenth century many scientists have used the theory of evolution to flail and propagandize against Christianity. Very likely a majority of molecular biologists and neuroscientists today have a materialistic understanding of life that precludes the spiritual. “Anti-theistic” accounts of evolution are found in Stephen Jay Gould’s metaphysical assertion that all religions are the product of human imagination and the need to create “some warm and fuzzy meaning” to life that is “just a story”; in Richard Dawkins’ metaphysical assertion that the universe has “no design, no purpose, no evil or good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference”; in William Provine’s metaphysical assertion that “modern science directly implies that there are no inherent moral or ethical laws, no absolute guiding principles for human society”; and in E. O. Wilson’s metaphysical assertion that all behaviors (including religious and cultural ones) have a genetic basis and are the object of natural selection. If these metaphysical extrapolations were actually inherent to the theory of evolution, then indeed Christians ought to be opposed to “evolution.” That “evolution” need not include such metaphysical speculations is quite clear from reading other scientific and theological descriptions of “evolution” (e.g., forms of “theistic evolution,” where “God” and “evolution” are distinct but related causes in nature). The metaphysics and “theological” views in accounts of “atheistic evolution” are rightly questioned and criticized by all Christians, conservative as well as liberal. For Gould’s famous 1998 remark (from a television interview), see http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2843/is_4_23/ai_55208043. See also Richard Dawkins,The Blind Watchmaker (New York: Norton, 1996); William Provine, “Scientists, face it! Science and religion are incompatible,” The Scientist (5 September 1988); and E. O. Wilson, Consilience (New York: Knopf, 1998). For a caustic, atheistic critique of “creationism” and “theistic evolution,” see Frederick C. Crews, “Saving Us from Darwin,” The New York Review of Books (October 18, 2001). Crews presupposes that “evolution” implies the rejection of God and of any kind of divine action in the world. If these implications were indeed true, then of course the orthodox Christian could not accept “evolution.”
See John W. Klotz, Genes, Genesis, and Evolution (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), which defends a universal flood, a young earth, and a six-day creation. See also John Klotz, Studies in Creation (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1985); Paul Zimmerman, ed.,Darwin, Evolution, and Creation (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959); idem, Rock Strata and the Biblical Record (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970); idem, Creation, Evolution, and God’s Word (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972); Walter Lammerts, “The Creation Story: Factual or Symbolic?” Lutheran Layman 33 (July 1, 1962), 9; A. L. Barry, “What about… Creation and Evolution” in Unchanging Truth in Unchanging Times (St. Louis: The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, 2001), n.p. The classic expression of “flood geology” in the LCMS is Alfred Rehwinkel, The Flood: In the Light of the Bible, Geology, and Archeology (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1951). For a sharp critique of Klotz’s earlier book, see Carl Krekeler, “Review of Genes, Genesis, and Evolution,” The Cresset 19 (January 1956), 44-45. Dr. Krekeler is a graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Washington University, and the University of Chicago. He earned advanced degrees in theology and biology and taught biology for many years at Valparaiso University. See his personal reflections in this issue of the DayStar Journal. See also his textbook on biology, co-authored with William Bloom, General Biology: A Unified Text Manual (Princeton: van Nostrand, 1963). In this work, Bloom and Krekeler include a few pages that set forth their affirmative position on “theistic evolution.”
Mark Noll briefly notes the role that some LCMS individuals have played in the “creationist” movement. See Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 189-91. For a well-written and detailed description of the involvement of LCMS laypeople and pastors in the formation of the “creation science” movement, see Ronald Numbers, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1992), 160-72, 190-92, 199, 214-40, 251-52, 258, 261-66, 301-5, 314. “Creationism” has taken many forms, as Numbers demonstrates, but they all begin with the assumption that Genesis, chapter one, is a scientific and historical description of how God created the universe over the course of six days. Unfortunately, the Lutheran Cyclopedia, which is available on-line at the LCMS’s webpage, defines “creationism” as “The doctrine, based on Gn 1:1 and other Bible passages, that all that exists, except God, has its origin in God as Creator. Opposed to the theory of evolution.” As this essay will assert, following LCMS Professors Krekeler, Bloom, and Roellig (and many other scientists in the LCMS today), one may believe and confess that God is the Creator of all things without interpreting the early chapters of Genesis as scientific or historical descriptions of how God created the universe. One can believe in God the Creator and confess the biblical doctrine of creation without being a “six-day creationist” and “opposed to the theory of evolution.” If “creationism” only meant the belief “that all that exists, except God, has its origin in God the Creator,” no Christian would be opposed to “creationism.” For other helpful introductions to so-called “scientific creationism” and to the main arguments against it, see Ashley Montagu, ed., Science and Creationism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984) and Tim Berra, Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: A Basic Guide to the Facts in the Evolution Debate (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990).
For example, see Angus Menuge, ed., Reading God’s World: The Vocation of Scientist (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2004). “Intelligent Design Theory” attributes the “intricate” and “complex” structures and diversity of life to the Creator. ID theorists do not think the natural processes of evolution are capable of developing such structures and diversity. Recently, Concordia University, Mequon, hosted a conference on “Intelligent Design.” For the major texts that present versions of the theory of “Intelligent Design,” see especially Philip Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1991); Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (New York: The Free Press, 1996); and William Dembski, ed., Mere Creation (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998). It is important to note that Johnson (a lawyer), Behe (a biochemist), and Dembski (a mathematician) generally accept the scientific consensus regarding the age of the universe and the age of the earth and do not attempt to fit all the scientific data into a literal reading of Genesis 1-9. Behe argues that there are biological structures that could not possibly have been produced by the natural process of evolution since they are “too complex.” He appeals to a supernatural Intelligent Designer as the direct cause of these “irreducibly complex” structures. His goal is to undermine Darwinian theory since Darwin claimed, “If it could be demonstrated that anycomplex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” Behe thinks he has found such complex organs (e.g., flagella, mitochondria, etc.) that in and of themselves refute Darwin’s theory. In point of fact, many of the examples of so-called “irreducible complexity” that Behe uses in his argument have been shown to have been produced by purely natural means. Many critics of ID theory thus think that if taken seriously, ID theory undermines scientific investigation of the natural causes of things that some conclude are “too complex” to have arisen through natural processes. Why look for a natural, empirical, rational explanation when your whole point is that such “irreducibly complex” structures cannot have arisen through purely natural means but had to have been caused directly by a transcendent Intelligence? Dembski, argues that complexity in nature is a reliable clue to its having been designed by an Intelligent Designer. The problems here are many: How does one test for a supernatural cause of natural complexities? What happens when science is capable of providing rational, purely natural, empirical reasons for that apparent complexity? Does one’s faith then get undermined? Just because something is mysterious or apparently complex does not mean that God is the direct cause of that mystery or complexity. The sciences may eventually uncover a fully natural, empirical, rational explanation that needs no recourse to a direct supernatural cause. Of course to infer that everything in nature suggests a God of purpose or a God of design is not contrary to the practice of the sciences. Christians make this inference all the time. Indeed, Christians ought to appreciate the ID criticisms of the anti-Christian metaphysical judgments of some evolutionary biologists as well as the ID concern to discern a transcendent grounding to the apparent “order” and “purpose” in nature. But this confession of faith (“I believe that God has made me and all things…”) is an inference of religious faith, grounded in divine revelation. A practicing scientist will not use such an inference to attempt an explanation for some complexity he or she examines in nature. Scientific explanations reside at the natural, empirical, rational level. Theological inferences of “design” reside at a different level, a kind of “second-order” level that embraces the former level but transcends it, too. As that great Lutheran scientist, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), put the matter in a prayer: “…deign graciously to cause that these [scientific] demonstrations may lead to thy glory and to the salvation of souls, and nowhere be an obstacle to that. Amen.” But Kepler refrained from appealing to God as a sufficient explanation for a specific complexity in nature. For additional explanations and criticisms of ID theory, see the “Natural History” papers on “Intelligent Design” at www.actionbioscience.org/evolution
According to the minutes of the convention, “(As Res. 2-08, ‘To Encourage Preaching and Teaching Creation’ (TB, p. 51), was introduced by the committee during session 9, the above resolution was read from the floor, to which the assembly agreed to give consideration as a substitute resolution [Yes: 633; No:522]. The resolution was printed and distributed to the assembly prior to further discussion during session 10. An amendment to replace the word condone in the second resolve with the word tolerate was adopted, and an amendment to replace the word ofwith the word by in the same second resolve was agreed to by common consent. In the meanwhile, a motion to refer the entire matter to the CTCR failed. After debate was ended, the substitute resolution as amended was adopted [Yes: 787; No: 206].)” This resolution was adopted on the last day of the convention, almost as the final action.
Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 1-2. See also Douglas John Hall, Thinking the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989).
Scripture passages that stress the importance of the life of the mind include Matthew 22:37 (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”); Philippians 4:8 (“Whatever is true… think about these things”); and 2 Corinthians 13:8 (“We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth”).
Commission on Theology and Church Relations, LCMS, Creation in Biblical Perspective (St. Louis, 1967), 3 (emphasis added). This report, which the Synod accepted and commended to its members, has never been rescinded or modified, even though its content contradicts previous and later Synod resolutions and statements on the interpretation of Genesis, creation, science, and “evolution.”
This important paragraph fits with another CTCR document that was also published in 1967 and was officially received by the LCMS in convention that year (Res. 2-02; see also 1969 Res. 2-04), A Lutheran Stance toward Contemporary Biblical Studies (St. Louis, 1967). This LCMS report includes the following statements:
In hearty agreement with the Lutheran Confessions we affirm that the right understanding of the Gospel (including the proper distinction of Law and Gospel as grounded in the article of justification) is the key that finally unlocks the meaning of Sacred Scripture (Apology, IV, 2-5; FC, SD, V, 1). We therefore hold that all theological questions raised by any interpretation must be posed and answered with reference to this central concern of the Scriptures. We also hold that those technical questions involved in interpretation which neither aid nor impair the right understanding of the Gospel (in its full sense) ought not become a matter of controversy in the church (pp. 8-9).
We consider the following to be basic and legitimate elements of the so-called historical-critical method (cp. “Guiding Principles for the Interpretation of the Bible” as accepted by the Ecumenical Study Conference, Oxford, 1949):
1. Establishing the text…
2. Ascertaining the literary form of the passage.
This entails, as an aid to better comprehension, analyzing the Biblical passage in terms of its formal structure and character at the hand of such questions as these: Is it prose or poetry? Is it an address, a prayer, a monologue, a treaty, an edict, a letter? Is it an oracular saying, an invective, a lament, a liturgy, a proverb, a parable, a creed, a hymn? and so on.
3. Determining the historical situation.
This entails discovering, so far as possible, the original setting—in time and place and circumstances—of the document, its author, and its readers.
4. Apprehending the meaning which the words had for the original author and hearer or reader.
This entails careful investigation of the actual linguistic usage and idiom (together with their overtones conditioned by the social context in which they appear) of the author and his contemporaries in the light of the Biblical data and also of such extra-Biblical literature as may belong to the same social context.
5. Understanding the passage in the light of its total context and of the background out of which it emerged.
This entails consideration not only of the text’s antecedent and contemporary circumstances—religious, cultural, historical—but also of the full range of the Biblical witness in both the Old and New Testaments (ibid., 9).
The problem of “history” needs to be handled with extraordinary sensitivity by the Christian interpreter. He cannot adopt uncritically the presuppositions and canons of the secular historian. In his use of historical techniques the interpreter will be guided by the presuppositions of his faith in the Lord of history. It is indeed true that Christian faith rightly sees in the historicalness of God’s redemptive work (His entry into and participation in our saeculum) a divine warrant for the use of “secular” means and methods in the study of His Word, including linguistic, literary, and historical analysis of the texts. But at the same time faith recognizes that there is more to history than can ever be adequately measured by “laws” derived exclusively from empirical data and rational observation… (ibid., 10).
The undeniably necessary effort to hear a text of Scripture first of all in its particularity, its meaning “then and there,” must be balanced by an equal effort to hear the text both in its integral relation to all the rest of Scripture and in its meaningfulness for all who hear it today. This effort does not require an arbitrary flattening out of the rich variety of the Biblical witness into a dull one-dimensional uniformity… (ibid.).
Whatever cognizance needs to be taken—as indeed it must—of the connection between Biblical materials and their background in the whole complex of social, cultural, political, economic, and religious factors of their day, a clear distinction must nevertheless be maintained between the unique, divine, and revelatory character of Scripture and the sheer human and contingent character of Scripture’s earthly milieu. Parallelisms between extra-Biblical materials and the form or substance of Scripture do not as such constitute causal or substantive relations. This is not in the least to deny the genuinely human and earthly dimension of Scripture itself… (ibid.).
A very good on-line resource that does address all aspects of the physical evidence for evolution, including rational and evidentiary responses to common “creationist” counter-arguments, is www.talkorigins.org. That site includes a very fine essay on the main evidence and arguments for evolution: www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-intro-to-biology.html. See also the following website: http://www.aaas.org.
Bishop Usher (1581-1656), by counting backwards from known dates in the Bible, concluded that creation took place on the evening preceding October 23, 4004 B.C. For more information on Usher’s chronology, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bishop_Ussher
Pope John Paul II, “Message to the Pontifical Academy” (October 22, 1996), reprinted at http://www.unigre.it/cssf/download/evolution.htm
Ibid. Good summaries of the data surrounding Darwin’s basic theory can be found in the November 2004 issue of The National Geographic magazine (cover title: “Was Darwin Wrong?”). For good biographies of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), see Adrien Desmond and James Moore, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (New York: Norton, 1991) and Janet Browne, Charles Darwin, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996, 2003). For Darwin’s reflections on evolution, see The Origin of Species (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1991; [first published in 1859]) and The Descent of Man (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1998; [first published in 1874]). A good one-volume collection of Darwin’s writings, that also contains materials about evolution that pre-date and post-date Darwin (including the famous 1858 essay by A. R. Wallace that provided independent confirmation of Darwin’s basic theory and which prompted Darwin to publish his major book when he did), is the Norton Critical Edition, Darwin (New York: Norton, 1970). Of particular importance for the Christian reader is the section of fifteen essays on Darwin’s influence on theological and philosophical thought to 1970. The secondary literature on Darwin and evolution is immense, but in general see D. J. Depew and B. H. Weber, Darwinism Evolving: System Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995); Michael Ruse, Concepts and Methods in Evolutionary Biology, coauthored with Robert Brandon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); idem, Can a Darwinian be a Christian? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Ernst Mayr, One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993); idem., What Evolution Is (New York: Basic, 2002); idem, This is Biology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998); John Maynard Smith, The Theory of Evolution, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); and Michael Rose,Darwin’s Spectre: Evolutionary Biology in the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998). Since Evolutionary theories partially depend on other basic sciences for their coherence, the person who is inclined toward “young-earth creationism” ought to read G. Brent Dalrymple, The Age of the Earth (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994) and Alan Lightman and Roberta Brawer, Origins (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990).
“Dr. Klotz’s basic approach to the problem is summarized as follows: ‘Now, since Scripture claims to present us absolute truth and science claims to have at best relative truth, the only reasonable approach for the Christian is to accept the statements of Scripture.’ He warns in this connection that ‘we must be sure we understand what Scripture says.’ Yet throughout the book there is no serious questioning of his understanding of what Scripture says; rather, his interpretation is regularly equated with ‘Scripture indicates,’ ‘Bible says,’ etc. It can be readily appreciated that such an approach must color the content of the entire book. It is this reviewer’s firm conviction that it is not Scripture but rather Prof. Klotz’s interpretation (which is subject to error) of Scripture which conflicts with man’s interpretation of scientific facts” (Krekeler, “Review of Genes, Genesis and Evolution,” 44).
On occasion one will hear in LCMS circles, “The statements of Jesus prove that God created the universe just as described in Genesis 1-2. For example, Jesus said, ‘But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female’ (Mark 10:6). Jesus was there ‘in the beginning.’ He should know. If Jesus says human beings were made ‘from the beginning,’ then that settles the matter.” The problem with this argument is that it does not take into sufficient account “the scandal of particularity,” i.e., the scandal of the incarnation. To be sure, the eternal Word through whom God made the universe became flesh in Jesus (John 1:1-14). In Christ the fullness of God dwelt in bodily form (Col. 2:9). But this incarnation was a true self-limitation of the Son of God: He lived, breathed, talked, walked, ate, slept, worshipped, learned, suffered, and died, as a first-century Palestinian Jew. And so his language and his knowledge were couched completely in that first-century milieu. Any first-century Jewish rabbi could quote the words that are quoted in Mark 10. Any first-century Jewish person hearing those words would understand the theological point of them. This is a traditional way that a first-century rabbi would argue his point. Put differently, these words in Mark 10:6 are an expression of Jesus’ full and complete humanity, a humanity conditioned by the first-century context in which Jesus lived. They are not meant to settle our scientific debates any more than the many statements in Scripture about the earth not moving, the sun and celestial bodies moving around the earth, the earth being founded on pillars or a foundation, and so on, were meant to settle scientific debates in the 16th and 17th centuries (Pieper’s comments about Copernicus notwithstanding). Here’s another example: According to Mark 4:30ff, Jesus said, “What can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like the grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth…” In a first-century Jewish-Palestinian context, this comment makes perfect sense, but it contains a misleading statement if you judge it by 21st-century “scientific” standards: There are many seeds that are smaller than a mustard seed. Being the first-century Palestinian Jewish rabbi that he was, Jesus cannot be expected at that time to speak in terms of our 21st-Century scientific culture and knowledge. His point was not to make a scientific statement that will satisfy our scientific sensibilities (or settle our debates about “evolution” and creation). His was/is a much more significant, historic point! We must acknowledge a basic implication of the incarnation: Jesus did not always speak and act like omniscient God. According to the gospel writers, the knowledge of Jesus is limited according to his human nature: “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son…” (Mark 13:32; Matt. 24:36). Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature…” (Luke 2:52). “Who touched my garments?” (Mark 5:30). “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) We must be careful to avoid Docetism (i.e., denying or minimizing the full humanity of Jesus in his first-century historical setting). The “full and complete humanity” of Jesus goes to a self-imposed limitation to knowledge, language, customs, etc. Is such a self-limitation on God’s part “deceptive” to later generations? No. God’s purpose in God’s historic self-limitation (“accommodation”) was not to disclose scientific knowledge to earlier generations that would then hold up to later scientific standards. “God did not bestow on [the biblical writers] in inspiration any new astronomical, geological, physical, and biological knowledge. No one doubts that God could have revealed to the Biblical writers certain pieces of knowledge known to the twentieth century’s Science of Natural History. But then the centuries before our enlightened age would not have understood the Bible, and people of the twenty-first century would have become restless about the antiquated Bible with its Einstein-age viewpoint. Thus we can do nothing but trust God the Lord that He has done right and not lied to us when he left the Biblical authors in their ‘errors’” (Herman Sasse, “On the Doctrine De Scriptura Sacra,” Letter Addressed to Lutheran Pastors, No. 14 [August 1950], trans. Ralph Gehrke. Sasse reminds us that the Scriptural texts were embedded in historical-cultural-linguistic contexts different from our own. These are fully human texts, though also inspired by God. God does not deceive, but God does accommodate himself “to the limited knowledge, intellectual capacity, and worldview of the authors he inspires in the generation in which they live and move and have their being” (Pr. Gene Brueggemann).
Nicolai Copernicus (1473-1543) set forth his theory of a sun-centered solar system around the year 1513. For Copernicus’s theory see:http://csep10.phys.utk.edu/astr161/lect/retrograde/copernican.html. Prior to Copernicus, all western models and understandings of the earth’s relation to “the heavenly bodies” assumed that the earth is the center of the universe (“geocentric”) and that all bodies in the heavens travel around the earth at the same rate of speed. These assumptions, which turned out to be false, are assumptions that are repeated in the biblical texts. Even today there are Christians who reject the Copernican Theory because they believe that the biblical geocentric cosmology is the only true one: http://hypertextbook.com/eworld/geocentric.shtml. See also endnote #2 above.
In 1539, in response to a summary of Copernicus’ theory, Luther is reported to have said at his dinner table, “The fool [Copernicus] wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside down. But even though astrology has been thrown into confusion, I, for my part, believe the sacred Scripture; for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth” (WA. TR IV, no. 4638 [LW 54:358-359]). This appears to be the only occasion that Luther referred to Copernicus or to his theory of heliocentricism. Care must therefore be taken to understand that this was an off-hand remark that Luther made in his Table Talk, a summary of informal comments made by Luther to his students in his home and thus not the most reputable source for understanding Luther’s theology. Clearly, the issue for Luther was the authority of Scripture. Aside from this one comment, however, Luther left the natural sciences to his younger colleague, Philip Melanchthon: “I believe that Philip deals with astrological matters, just as I take a strong drink of beer when I have grave thoughts” (WA.TR EA 57, no. 17). This translation is from Wolfhart Pannenberg, “God and Nature,” in Toward a Theology of Nature (Louisville: John Knox, 1993), 52.
 Brian Gerrish, “The Reformation and the Rise of Modern Science,” The Old Protestantism and the New (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982), 171. See also Heinrich Bornkamm, “Kopernikus im Urteil der Reformatoren,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 40 (1943): 171-183.
The best study in English of Luther’s complex understanding of “reason” is also by Dr. Gerrish. See Brian Gerrish, Grace and Reason: A Study in the Theology of Luther (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), esp. 69-83 (“The Limits of Reason”). See also Bernhard Lohse, Ratio und Fides (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck Ruprecht, 1958), 22-29.
“I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties…” (Martin Luther, “The Small Catechism,” The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000], 354; emphasis added). For Luther’s understanding of the doctrine of creation, see especially Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Intellectual (New York: Harper and Row, 1965). This book, written when Dr. Pelikan was still on the clergy roster of the LCMS, complements Dr. Gerrish’s and Dr. Werner Elert’s studies of Luther’s understanding of science and provides a further piece of evidence of a better approach to the issues of “science and theology” in the history of the LCMS.
“Reason is a whore of the Devil, the greatest enemy that faith has” (WA 51, 126, 7).
Gerrish, “The Reformation and the Rise of Modern Science,” 173. See also Werner Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962), 414-431.
Robert Benne, “A Lutheran Vision/Version of Christian Humanism,” (unpublished essay), 7.
Elert and Gerrish correct the injustice done to Luther by those who judge Luther’s full position on science to be contained in the one offhand comment about Copernicus and Luther’s statement that reason is (sometimes) a “whore.”
Gerrish, “The Reformation and the Rise of Modern Science,” 168-169. “…[T]hat [Luther’s] theological authority hampered the spread of the new world picture—this is a palpable falsification of history” (Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism, 424).
Ibid., 423. One needs to underscore the importance of Elert’s analysis of the Lutheran view of the natural sciences. This most important analysis is found in a classic work that has been in print through the official LCMS publishing house since 1962, despite the fact that its presentation of the matter stands at variance with other LCMS writings, especially those authored by F. Pieper but also A Statement. Contra Elert, however, Christian theologians need to take an interest in contemporary worldviews, including those presupposed in the natural sciences, even though the mission of Christian theology derives solely from the gospel. If theology ignores or needlessly rejects scientific knowledge on matters about which theology also speaks, theology runs the risk of being rejected as pseudoscience and further marginalized in our contemporary culture. While the LCMS shows great interest in cross-cultural ministry, and encourages its missionaries to become familiar with the languages, customs, and habits of the cultures into which they are sent to be missionaries, the LCMS has done a poor job of educating and training missionaries for the “culture” that is inclusive of the natural sciences.
See Ernest Simmons, Lutheran Higher Education: An Introduction for Faculty (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1998), 11-50.
Elert, Structure of Lutheranism, 426.
Benne, “A Lutheran Vision/Version of Christian Humanism,” 8. See also H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper and Row, 1951), 149-189; Harold Ditmanson, Howard Hong, and Warren Quanbeck, eds, Christian Faith and the Liberal Arts (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1960); Eric Gritsch, Fortress Introduction to Lutheranism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994); and David Lotz, “Education for Citizenship in the Two Kingdoms: Reflections on the Theological Foundations of Lutheran Higher Education,” Institutional Mission and Identity in Lutheran Higher Education. LECNA (1979):7-19.
That Missouri-Synod theologians were an exception to this general development in Lutheran theology was probably due to their reaction against what they perceived to be rationalistic inroads into German Lutheran theology in the nineteenth century and to their Fundamentalist sympathies during the Fundamentalist-modernist controversy in America in the 1910s and 1920s. As noted above, the LCMS has also been affected by significant involvement in the creationist movement on the part of LCMS laypeople and a few professors. This involvement has led LCMS laypeople and theologians to make statements about science that are far outside the scientific consensus on such matters.
See Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Theological Questions to Scientists,” in Toward a Theology of Nature, 15-28; idem, “The Doctrine of Creation and Modern Science,” Zygon 23 (1988): 3-21. See also Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1993). Both Pannenberg and Moltmann ground their respective understandings of creation in a revised doctrine of the Trinity. A similar view emerges in Keith Ward, Religion and Creation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996). See also the work of American Lutheran theologians such as Philip Hefner and Ted Peters: Ted Peters, Cosmos as Creation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989); idem, Evolution from Creation to New Creation: Conflict, Conversation, and Convergence (Nashville: Abingdon, 2004); and Philip Hefner, The Human Factor: Evolution, Culture, and Religion (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1993).
For evidence of the growing interest in the interface between science and theology, see the various conferences and publications of such organizations as the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (Berkeley), The Chicago Center for Religion and Science, the John Templeton Foundation, the Vatican Observatory, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Evangelische Akademie Loccum, the Society of Ordained Scientists, and the Center for Theological Inquiry (Princeton). See also the recent series of volumes, Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, published by the Vatican Observatory and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, and the following websites: http://www.zygoncenter.org; http://www.ctns.org; and www.counterbalance.org.
See, for example, the dialogue between David Ray Griffin, F. LeRon Shults, and Howard J. Van Till, in Theology and Science, vol. 2, no. 2 (October 2004), 173-85. This new journal, Theology and Science, is further evidence of the vibrant conversations taking place today between theologians, philosophers, and scientists.
Ted Peters, “Science and Theology: Toward Consonance,” in Science and Theology: The New Consonance, ed. Ted Peters (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1998), 13.
One should note that the natural sciences do present many challenges and problematic issues for Christian theology, and these challenges/issues need to be engaged critically and constructively by Christian theologians. Some examples: Many scientists hold that the more comprehensible the universe has become to modern scientists, the more pointless it all seems. Is the universe purposeful? The data of evolution by natural selection and mutation have led many modern people to reject the idea of divine Providence and the notion of a gracious, loving God who makes good promises for all of creation. What about the extinction of the vast majority of animals that have ever lived on the planet in its multibillion-year history? How does God act in the universe? Does God “intervene” in nature? How does evolution affect theological understanding of human beings? In such a framework, what constitutes the uniqueness of human beings? Many of these issues and themes are identified in the writings of Langdon Gilkey. See especially, Langdon Gilkey, Maker of Heaven and Earth: The Christian Doctrine of Creation in the Light of Modern Knowledge (New York: Anchor Books, 1965) and idem, Message and Existence: An Introduction to Christian Theology (New York: The Seabury Press, 1981), 69-107.
Pannenberg, “The Doctrine of Creation and Modern Science,” in Toward a Theology of Nature, 48.
Pannenberg, “God and Nature,” in Toward a Theology of Nature, 51. Unfortunately, a whole generation of theologians, many influenced by the work of Karl Barth (1886-1968), declined to engage in discussion of the impact of scientific knowledge on theological knowledge and vice versa. Such disengagement has contributed to the separation of theology from the sciences and to the charge among many scientists that theology is pseudo-knowledge and merely a matter of subjective “values.” Within the history of the LCMS, Theodore Graebner (1876-1950) represents a version of this view of science and theology: “I carry the data of stratigraphy, mountain formation, erosion, and the immense areas of volcanic origin in one compartment of my thinking, the narrative in Genesis in another, with a water-tight bulkhead between the two… I cannot harmonize the two. But that does not make me reject the one or the other” (Theodore Graebner, God and the Cosmos: A Critical Analysis of Atheism [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1932], n,p.). Nonetheless, that Graebner was here and in later years at least open to processing scientific data indicates that he held a view at odds with the dominant creationist view in the Synod. The Graebner of later years certainly represented a perspective that was different from the anti-science perspective of Dr. Pieper. See also Numbers, The Creationists, 105-107, 274, 301-305. Many scientists, notably Albert Einstein and Stephen Jay Gould, have tried to keep science and theology separated into two different spheres. This “two-language theory” of the relation of science and theology suggests that theology speaks only one language, that of “values,” while science speaks only one language, that of “facts,” and the two languages are incommensurate with one another. Each language needs to be restricted to its respective domain and should not interfere with the language and operations of the other. Gould calls this the NOMA principle, i.e., “nonoverlapping magisteria.” This separation was perhaps necessary for a time, in order to advance both science and theology beyond the “warfare” model, but the separation has itself created problems for both disciplines. For example, this view of the relation of science to theology implies that there can be no shared understandings between science and theology, but many today are attempting to show that such common understandings are possible and needed. Furthermore, the “two-language” theory tends to ignore that theology also attempts to speak of “facts” and “knowledge,” just as scientists often find themselves properly running into problems of “values” and ethics.
Section 9.3.3, Policy Statement on Limitation of Academic Freedom, Board for Higher Education, LCMS (emphasis added).
Concordia University, Portland, faculty Handbook, 2.671a.
See Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 1:487-89.
One should also note the important study by Norman Habel, The Form and Meaning of the Fall Narrative (St. Louis: Concordia Seminary, 1965). Dr. Habel concluded that Genesis 2-3 is not “an annalistic report of certain incidents from antiquity, but incorporates some elements which must be understood in a double or ‘deeper than surface’ meaning. In short, we misinterpret Genesis 2-3 if we treat it as a bare historical chronicle or record of past events. Symbolism of various kinds is also involved; to follow the surface meaning of the text is not sufficient if we are to interpret the passage in a manner consistent with its character. Perhaps we may tentatively propose the definition of ‘symbolic religious history’ for the literary form of Gen 2-3. In other words, that which God wishes to relate is described in terms of religious symbol and dramatic story rather than in abstract language of dogma or the secular annalistic terms of history as it is commonly defined” (ibid., 9).
For example, see Psalm 19:1-4a. Christians today interpret Psalm 19:4b-6 and Joshua 10 differently from pre-Copernicus Christians since they know that the sun does not actually “run” its “circuit” around the earth. Prior to Galileo’s time, nobody interpreted these and similar verses the way Christians do today. After Galileo, Christians had to adjust their interpretation of Scripture, though indeed many Christians continued to think the sun orbits the earth and some still thought the earth flat.
Particularly strange are those speculations, expressed also in LCMS circles, that God purposely put dinosaur or other fossils in the geological layers “to test one’s faith,” i.e., to test whether or not one will hold to a literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. Another argument that has sometimes been expressed in LCMS circles (most recently in the January 2005 issue of The Lutheran Witness) is one that speculates that God purposely made the universe to look “mature” or “old,” even though it is really “young” (i.e., around 6,000 years old). Why would God make the universe say 6,000 years ago (or, as others have suggested, “just a millisecond ago, complete with all our memories”), but give it the appearance of 13.7 billion years? If God did this, would not such a “deception” make God “deceptive?” Is not such “deception in nature” contrary to what Scripture teaches us about the reliability of nature (e.g.,
Ps. 19:1ff; Rom 1-2)? What Luther says about “reason and our senses” in his explanation to the first article of the Creed seems apropos. As we have noted, Luther had high regard for the power of human reason and human senses to uncover reliable knowledge in nature. Contrary to his understanding, this recent (ca. 1857) and innovative speculation about a “mature-looking but really young universe” leads people to question the reliability of God and of God’s creation, and all in an effort merely to defend a literalistic reading of Genesis 1. This purely speculative notion makes God into a deceptive Being who cannot be reliably trusted with regard to God’s creation. Why would God play such silly games? The only goal of this kind of speculation seems to be the preservation of a treasured literalistic reading of Genesis 1, since the unquestioned theological starting point is the position (e.g., as in the Brief Statement) that states that God made the universe over the course of six twenty-four hour days a short time ago. While “creationists” stress that scientists can make mistakes, they do not often admit that sinful, limited human beings, interpreting Genesis 1, could also possibly make a mistake in their interpretation. Can interpreters of the Bible make mistakes, as had to be acknowledged when Galileo confirmed the Copernican Theory? Of course, a “young earth” created to look “mature” is scientifically indistinguishable from the 4.55 billion-year-old earth that scientists study today! Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888) appears to have been the first one to put forth the theory that God made the earth to look old. For a critical article on Gosse, see http://www.roizen.com/ron/omph.htm For the reasons why the “omphalos hypothesis” has not gathered supporters, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omphalos_hypothesis
Is the procedure of those who merely cite LCMS tradition (e.g., traditional interpretations of Scripture, the Brief Statement, A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles, synodical resolutions, and so on) to reject supported and commonly-held conclusions in the natural sciences any different from that of those who cited a traditional authority (e.g., Scripture, Aristotle, Ptolemy, “common sense”) to reject Copernicus’ theory in favor of a geocentric worldview?
For scholarly commentaries that show why these questions are inappropriate, see Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11 (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984); Gerhard von Rad, Genesis (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961); Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Waco: Word, 1987); and Terrance Fretheim, Genesis (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994). See also G. J. Brooke, “Creation in the Biblical Tradition,” Zygon 22 (1987): 227-48, and J. M. van Cangh, “Creation and the Origin of the World in the Bible,” Epistemologia 14 (1991): 139-52. Literalistic assumptions about “the historicity” of these early chapters of Genesis will lead to inappropriate questions being asked of these texts. See also Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall (New York: Collier, 1959) and Helmut Thielicke, How the World Began, trans. John Doberstein (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961). The latter text, a collection of sermons on Genesis 1-3, has had a particularly beneficial impact on American Lutherans since its appearance nearly fifty years ago.
From the early 1960s to the early 1970s several LCMS scholars published very good materials that sought to move LCMS discussions of Genesis and creation beyond the literalistic understanding enshrined in the 1932 Brief Statement. Not surprisingly, these scholars were often attacked for their efforts to explore the literary, historical, and theological dimensions of the early chapters in Genesis, since their conclusions conflicted with the traditional “creationist” view in the LCMS tradition. A cursory examination of the contents of the main theological journal in the LCMS between 1960 and 1973 indicates several articles that conflict with the literalistic “creationist” view of the early chapters of Genesis. Among the more important “non-creationist” LCMS scholarly materials to appear in this period are the following: A Project in Biblical Hermeneutics, CTCR (1969); Robert Bertram, “Informal Remarks on the Historicity of Adam” (unpubl., 1973); Walter Bouman, “Science and Scripture” (paper delivered at the NW Indiana Pastors-Teachers’ Conference, October 1965); Ralph Gehrke, “Genesis Three in the Light of Key Hermeneutical Considerations,” Concordia Theological Monthly 36 (September 1965), 534-60; Norman Habel, The Form and Meaning of the Fall Narrative (St. Louis: Concordia Seminary, 1965); Herbert T. Mayer, Interpreting the Holy Scriptures (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1967); Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Intellectual (New York: Harper and Row, 1965); Walter Wegner, “Creation and Salvation,” Concordia Theological Monthly 37 (September 1966), 520-42. In connection with these materials one should also note Arthur Carl Piepkorn, “What Does ‘Inerrancy’ Mean?,Concordia Theological Monthly 36 (September 1965), 577-93; Richard Jungkuntz, “An Approach to the Exegesis of John 10:34-36,” Concordia Theological Monthly 35 (October 1964), 556-65; and Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975). Following the insights of scholars mentioned above, as well as the critical commentaries mentioned in endnote #60 above, the first three chapters of Genesis contain two figurative (parabolical) creation stories and one figurative (parabolical) story of evil/temptation/sin/forgiveness. These three divinely-inspired stories were handed down orally until edited into their present canonical form. As with all other figurative-parabolical narratives, one makes an interpretive mistake if one reads too much into their details beyond the truths they were intended to convey.
That process of “assisting” ought not be understood as “dictating.” There are important theological reasons for maintaining a skeptical outlook toward the metaphysical assumptions that sometimes get expressed by scientists. “All too often, the sciences become reductionistic in their attempts to chart reality. Must not our quest for scientific understanding be tempered by humbly acknowledging that the buzzing, blooming manifold of experience, and the criteria of thinking itself, transcend a total conceptualization, either through contemplatio or actio? Theologically speaking, the greatest peril of the university, with all its various disciplines, is the attempt to establish—by whatever means—an encyclopedic ‘God’s-eye’ view of reality, walking by sight, not by faith” (Mark Mattes, The Role of Justification in Contemporary Theology, Lutheran Quarterly Books [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004], 179). While Dr. Mattes is surely correct to identify how frequently claims to “scientific knowledge” become anti-theistic arguments for an alternative faith with a quite different “deity,” the thesis of his book cannot be understood to be supportive of an ignorant or anti-intellectual posture toward basic physical data and argumentation in the natural sciences. Indeed, his criterion of “walking by faith, not by sight” applies to those who try to prove through empirical data the supposed “scientific” and “historical” truthfulness of the Genesis 1-9 texts.
A presentation of specific proposals for a theological revision of creation, sin, evil, suffering, and death, is beyond the scope of this essay, however, in passing, one may note that such a revision will need to address such issues as the nature of God’s good creation prior to the origin of human beings, the nature of suffering and physical death as a part of that good creation prior to the origin of human beings, and the origin and nature of sin. For helpful presentations of Christian anthropology that take into account scientific knowledge from such disciplines as paleontology, biology, and anthropology, see especially Dennis Edwards, “Original Sin and Saving Grace in Evolutionary Context” in Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, et al. (Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Publications, 1998), 377-392; Philip Hefner, The Human Factor: Evolution, Culture, and Religion (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993); Wolfhart Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985); Hans Schwarz, Our Cosmic Journey: Christian Anthropology in the Light of Current Trends in the Sciences, Philosophy and Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1977); Juan Segundo, Evolution and Guilt (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1974); and Gerd Theissen, Biblical Faith: An Evolutionary Approach (London: SCM Press, 1984). See also the very helpful presentation of Lutheran theological prolegomena on God the Creator by Edmund Schlink, Theology of the Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 37-66.
Article II, Augsburg Confession; cf. Article III, Smalcald Articles. The following analysis on “the old Adam” is indebted to some brief reflections on “the old Adam,” written in an earlier LCMS context: Robert Bertram, “Informal Remarks on the Historicity of Adam,” The Promising Tradition (St. Louis: Concordia Seminary in Exile, 1974), 41v-41x. Another former LCMS theologian, Edward Schroeder, following yet another former LCMS theologian, Walter Bouman, offers an evangelical theology of sin that takes into account the main lines of evolutionary development. See Schroeder’s comments on Romans 5:12-19 at the following web address: http://www.crossing.org/Thursday/Thur0211.htm.
Werner Elert acknowledges that from the perspective of the world, human beings have “emerged from causal-biological, sociological associations” (Werner Elert, Die Christliche Glaube: Grundlinien der Lutherischen Dogmatik, 3rd ed., ed. Ernst Kinder [Hamburg: Furche, 1956], 254). “However in relation to God, we are his creatures. This knowledge of the believer regarding his own origin is the key to the secret of all existence. God’s calling-forth founds existence; it ‘founds’ worlds… (ibid.) “That I was begotten by my parents is purely worldly knowledge, which becomes important for my relation to God only by reason of the fact that I conceive of it as a means by which He has called something absolutely new into existence in me. For I did not exist prior to this, and I will not exist for a second time—every one of us is absolutely one-time [einmalig] and non-repeatable [unwiederholbar]. But the calling-forth of the absolutely new is not the conservation of something; it is creation in the strict sense of the word. Self-evidently there is a difference between the first creature and all subsequent creatures. For the calling-forth of the first of all human beings was the first-time calling forth of ‘a human being per se’ [‘Menschen überhaupt’]. But according to the biblical account he too was not created ex nihilo in the sense that his bodily substance was not taken from another substance. And still it was creation, and creation ex nihilo, because the ‘I’ [das Ich] which awoke at the call of God could trace its existence to nothing other than Him who called it. It could recognize no other ‘reason’ [‘Grund’] for this than the will of its Creator. But in this respect there is no essential difference between it and those who followed, who owe their physical birth to human parents. What the parents produce is an ‘It’ [‘ein Es’]; this becomes an ‘I’ by virtue of the fact that it is treated as a Thou by God. Whoever says ‘I,’ confronts God whether he knows this or not, whether he wants to or not; for he is summoned by Him because he is called forth by Him” (ibid., 256-257) The translation here is a revision of that done by Martin Bertram.
The argument that I have presented in this essay need not entail a rejection of the miracles recorded in the Bible, including especially Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead. These miracles are beyond the purview of any science and are only apprehended in faith through the work of the Holy Spirit via the apostolic witness (which historical witness is a much different genre from the kinds of writing one finds at the beginning and end of the Christian Bible). There is no evidence for any of these miracles that science could investigate. But there are literally millions and millions of pieces of evidence from the natural history of our world and the history of the universe, and the sciences have made tremendous gains in our understanding of this data.
For evidence of a limited and recent amount of diversity on the issue of science and theology in the LCMS, see the articles in Issues in Christian Education, vol. 35/no. 1 (Spring 2001). In this volume the essay by Charles Kunert (biologist at Concordia University, Portland) offers a perspective that is quite different from that given by Paul Schrieber (professor of OT at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis) in his essay in the same volume. There is evidence to support the observation that Dr. Kunert’s perspective is shared by a significant number of LCMS laypeople and by a significant number of professors in the Concordia University System. See also Harold Roellig, The God Who Cares: A Christian Interpretation of Time, Life & Man (New York: The Branch Press, 1971); Charles Kunert, The Idea of Evolution, unpub. manuscript; and the other essays in this issue of the DayStar Journal.
Augustine of Hippo, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 2 vols., trans. John Hammond Taylor (New York: Newman, 1982), 1:42-43. Noll uses this quote for a purpose similar to mine in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 202-203.
10 thoughts on “The Scandal of the LCMS Mind”
This writing is most comprehensive and helpful. I had Prof. Gehrke for Ancient History, NWCPrep, 1958-1959, and he took us down to the Chicago museum, where he had connections. We were never told that much about how he got in trouble with the NWC faculty. GLL
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I deeply respect the scholarship behind this article. Let me apologize in advance for anything seemingly incendiary in my remarks to follow… It is always easiest to replay Clarence Darrow at the Scopes trial and sidestep deeper issues. 1) The first of these is acknowledged but put off for another day, the meaning of death and its connection with sin. Evolution presumes that death (and suffering) are the means of development. This realization seems to have caused Darwin himself to lose his Anglican faith. Theistic evolution appears to let us have it both ways in one sense, God’s hand guiding the development of creatures to the complexity of humanity, an intelligent design which leaves an evolutionary trail. How respectable this idea is in the world of scientists I leave the reader to judge. 2) Another issue sidestepped is evolution’s own development from the broader philosophical notion of Progress. The paradigm of Progress is that we are getting better all the time, biologically, morally, ethically. “Better” is of course the catch: the death of the weak or ill-adapted, whether creatures, people, or institutions is what allows for progress. We are shocked by the idea of treating people the way Darwin’s breeders treated pigeons or dogs, but when people of our day abort children for convenience, we are not far from the technologies the Nazi’s tried to pioneer. So, Dr. Becker, is evolution separable from this set of ideas? Or is there no grounding of ethics in the material world? The Christian paradigm is, of course that of perfection in design and execution, followed by a fall, which required intervention for restoration. “Christian” evolution appears to relegate this narrative to the realm of mythology/psychology/theology. 3) The traditional Christian understanding of God’s book of nature is that it, too, is broken by sin: hence death, disaster, deterioration, and other implications of the law of entropy. That we should fail to understand, that we should deceive ourselves with our own interpretations, then accuse God of lying about the age of the earth because data sets do not match up is to be expected. The two theories of physics- quantum mechanics and relativity- are in contradiction of each other, as Hawking observed. The expectation that God’s book of nature has fewer contradictions than the Bible is frankly a conceit of the Enlightenment. I think this is the crux of the issue. The Missouri Synod rejects Enlightenment philosophy. Our standard is 16th Century Protestant Scholasticism and affirms that the “things unseen are more real than those that are seen.” That this is out of fashion, let everyone take notice. In fact this is why Missouri Synod’s entire school system was established, including Valparaiso. Not all have been faithful to their calling.
Dear Dr. Zeile,
Thank you for your comment. You raise important questions, ones that I have also found interesting and perplexing. I only have time to offer you a brief reply.
(1) Re: death and evolution. For the gist of my thinking on this topic, go to: http://matthewlbecker.blogspot.com/2015/04/a-few-comments-on-death-and-resurrection.html
(2) The neo-Darwinian theory has nothing to do with any notion of “progress.” I do not think we are getting “better” all the time. Nor do I think that “death” equates with “progress” in the theory of evolution. Ethical questions and solutions are distinct from scientific explanations for why biological creatures have evolved over time. As a Christian, I believe that the discipline of ethics is grounded in the divine revelation of God’s law, not in the world of nature. What you describe as “the Christian paradigm” is only one way of interpreting the biblical narratives. There are, I believe, better ways of understanding Gen 1-3 that keep us from misunderstanding the genres in these texts and forcing them into literary types (e.g., historical record) that do not fit.
(3) Both the scientific interpretation of nature and the theological interpretation of the Holy Scriptures require careful, patient work. There are similarities in the procedures of both the natural scientist and the biblical theologian (e.g., need for careful consideration of all relevant evidence, desire for consistency and coherence in one’s understanding, humility vis-a-vis others engaged in the same enterprise, openness to revision of one’s ideas, recognition that there are no uninterpreted facts, that both science and theology make use of symbols, models, metaphors, analogies, etc.), although there are also important differences (e.g., the biblical theologian is seeking to understand God [who remains ultimately–but not totally–incomprehensible], whereas the scientist is seeking to understand nature [which is more comprehensible than God], the existential involvement of the theologian is more obvious in his/her work than is typically the case among scientists, the theologian is ultimately concerned with divine revelation and the reality of God–matters that fall outside of the normal practice of the sciences, etc.). There are interesting proposals today for attempting to reconcile quantum mechanics and general/special relativity, just as there are interesting proposals today for attempting to understand the limits of the biblical texts with respect to data in the natural history of the world while at the same time seeing how the abiding theological meanings present in the biblical texts can be related to mainstream contemporary scientific understandings of the universe, the earth, the evolution of species, the nature of human beings, etc. Most recently I have tried to do this in my book on Fundamental Theology (Bloomsbury, 2015), esp. in its treatment of “natural theology” and the relationship between Christian theology and the sciences.
The LCMS doctrinal standard is not “sixteenth-century Protestant Scholasticism,” at least not according to Article II of the LCMS Constitution. That some in the synod understand the norm of theology to be Protestant scholasticism is a sign of its theological decline. What we see and hear with our God-given eyes and ears–and all of the other senses that we have–is reliable, as we confess with Dr. Luther. Our reason and senses are reliable when used to understand nature. That reliability of human reasoning and sensing is what makes modern science possible. That reliability has led to all of the benefits that you and I enjoy every day as a result of scientific advances in human understanding.
I agree, not all have been faithful to their calling. They have made the LCMS’s “Brief Statement” and “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles” into dogmatic standards that are above the Scriptures and have insisted that these documents (not to mention the scholastic theologians to which you referred) are above criticism. The proper task of theology (the proper vocation of the theologian) includes the need and responsibility to criticize the church and its documents when they err or adopt flawed positions.
Thank you again for your comment.
I believe you have confused an “is” with an “ought.” You sincerely believe that LCMS theology ought be be something other than 16th century Protestant scholasticism, but the Formula of Concord, to which you have subscribed is such a specimen. Beier’s compendium which Walther taught from is another example. Pieper’s work is in that vein, so much so that it was accused of being repristination theology. No, an outside historian, even a layman such as James Addams in “Peus of Missouri,” concludes that the views of the Seminex crowd, which Daystar carries on, were revisionist. Your confusion of what is in fact the LCMS standard theology with what you feel it ought to be may explain certain phenomena such as the charges of doctrinal abberation that you have endured.
The confessions of the churches of the Augsburg Confession were produced in historical and cultural settings very different from our own, so the first problem with your observation is its apparent inattention to the problem of interpretation. May I recommend Dr. Piepkorn’s excellent essay on the hermeneutical principles of interpreting the confessions?
We cannot recreate in our present situation the historical situation that gave rise to these confessions. Faithful adherence to the doctrinal content of the Confessions does not mean repeating the words of the historic confessions, or even accepting at face value some of their assertions (which later generations have found to be wrong); it means following those who created the confessions in the way they confessed, and repeating, in one’s own words (which take into account one’s own present situation and understandings) what they had to say in their time and place. It means following the evangelical pattern of doctrine that is set forth in the Confessions, being faithful to the articles of faith (the doctrinal content), and of articulating the content of that faith in one’s own setting. We’re living in the twenty-first century, not the sixteenth.
Christian theology is inherently revisionist, since theologians have the task of understanding and communicating the historic doctrine of the faith ever anew. They seek to understand and pass on the historic faith in cultural settings that are different from those out of which the Scriptures and the Confessions emerged, and to do so in language and thought forms that can be understood by people today. Repristinationist theologies try to hold on to the past faith in a literalistic manner, as if merely repeating the same words and phrases (and philosophical terminology and concepts) used in the past will effectively comprehend and communicate the faith today. Such repristinationist theologies fail, since the theologians who adopt this model would first have to transpose contemporary people back into the original historical, cultural, and intellectual situation out of which the sixteenth-century Confessions first emerged in order for those Confessions to be understood properly, and this is impossible. Even repristinationst theologians cannot escape the problem of hermeneutics, which is created by the temporal and cultural gap that exists between ourselves and the sixteenth century.
Christian theology is an ongoing task, a responsibility that is ever anew, one that must take seriously, on the one hand, the Scriptures and the Confessions (in light of their historical and cultural settings, conditions, problems, etc.) and, on the other, one’s contemporary cultural and intellectual context and the individuals in this contemporary setting to whom one seeks to understand and communicate the gospel and the articles of faith. Responsible theology is thus always seeking understanding (fides quarens intellectum).
I agree with much of what you say. However, stating that we live in the 21st rather than the 16th century is like saying that we live in the Nazi, or Communist, or North Korean century rather than the Western post-Christian century. Different thought-worlds exist side-by-side, and the very notion of repentance carries with it changing one’s mind/perceptions about what is real and how to understand it. You write- “Repristinationist theologies try to hold on to the past faith in a literalistic manner, as if merely repeating the same words and phrases (and philosophical terminology and concepts) used in the past will effectively comprehend and communicate the faith today.” You may be surprised that this works! The rise of Islam in our world today lies not with its accommodation to 21st century Western thought, but in its using ths old words to construct the living world. If such is possible for heretical teaching, how much more for Biblical teaching! (I would not normally use the concept of heresey in such a discussion, but Pr. Brueggemann had used ithe concept in another post and you seemed to accept the concept).
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