Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Critique

Written by J. P. Moreland, Stephen Meyer, Chris Shaw, Ann Gauger, and Wayne Grudem, eds. Reviewed By Robert W. Yarbrough

This weighty, wide-ranging, and often fascinating collection of thirty-one essays succeeds at the goal stated in the book’s subtitle. My remarks below will focus on the theological contribution that the book makes. Some three-fourths of the book is dedicated to scientific and philosophical matters. But the editors recognize that for Christians who acknowledge Jesus’s lordship in ways that Scripture seems to commend, a strong foundation of hermeneutics, exegesis, theology, and even history of interpretation is called for.

As far as history of interpretation, John G. West contributes “Darwin in the Dock: C. S. Lewis on Evolution.” West clarifies the extent to which Lewis can be claimed as a supporter of theistic evolution. In West’s reading, Lewis was ultimately more critical of modern evolutionary theory than not. He was certainly not blindly affirming of Darwinian accounts of the origin of humans, society, or morals.

Complementing West on Lewis is Fred G. Zaspel on B. B. Warfield, who has been heralded by some as a supporter of evolutionary theory. Zaspel cites primary sources both published and unpublished to document that Warfield displayed guarded openness to “the possibility of evolution if it could be established with a reasonable degree of certainty” (p. 953; Zaspel’s italics). But Warfield consistently and repeatedly denied that it had been so established. He clearly affirmed the Bible’s account of origins over against the contentions of current theistic evolution proponents (pp. 966–68 for a helpful summary).

The core of the book’s theological case is found in essays by Wayne Grudem and Gregg R. Allison. Grudem contributes an introductory chapter that documents the distance between the early chapters of Genesis “understood as a historical narrative in the sense of reporting events that the author wants readers to believe actually happened” (pp. 63–64; Grudem’s italics), on the one hand, and how theistic evolutionists understand the biblical narrative, on the other. It is not easy to see how some current interpreters (like Denis Alexander and John Walton) can claim any support in the Bible for their interpretations at all.

Grudem’s important summation (including clarification that the book does not take a position in the age of the earth, does not call for “literal” interpretation because the word is too ambiguous, and leaves open the meaning of creation “days”) is augmented by C. John Collins’s chapter “How to Think about God’s Action in the World.” Although Collins’s remarks appear in the philosophical section of the book, they are important hermeneutically in asserting rightly that responsible critical thought calls for caution “both about appealing to miracle to cover our ignorance” when it comes to origins, “and about excluding, before we even begin our study, the possibility of extra help from outside the natural process” (p. 659; Collins’s italics). Biblically-based arguments may too quickly violate the first rule, while “scientific” arguments in the throes of methodological naturalism may violate the second.

Grudem, after laying down twelve points at which the Bible and theistic evolution seem to be in clear conflict (pp. 72–73; see also p. 785), goes on to refute those twelve points (pp. 788–821). He also surveys important Christian teachings that theistic evolution weakens or denies. These include the Bible’s truthfulness, creation by God’s word/s as affirmed in Scripture, and God’s signature or discernible imprint in physical matter and human moral consciousness. Grudem also shows how theistic evolution imperils Christian teaching on God’s wisdom, goodness, and justice. Moreover, it calls in question the doctrines of human equality, the atonement, and the resurrection. For these reasons and more, theistic evolution is “incompatible” with historic Christian confession (p. 837).

John Currid in his chapter “Theistic Evolution Is Incompatible with the Teachings of the Old Testament” provides additional exegetical basis for Grudem’s contentions. He also shows how certain evangelical leaders are paving the way for more widespread acceptance of (unverifiable) claims made by BioLogos and its allies who affirm theistic evolution at least to a considerable extent. These leaders include Bruce Waltke, Peter Enns, John Walton, Tremper Longman, and N. T. Wright (pp. 842–43). Currid argues vigorously for historic, not revisionist, understanding of Genesis’s early chapters and concludes on an optimistic note: “new interpretations of Scripture will appear” (as they already have in the current climate), “but I also think it is likely that the more traditional interpretations will increasingly prevail in the church” (p. 878).

Mirroring Currid on the Old Testament is Guy Prentiss Waters on the New. He covers specific New Testament passages that refer to Adam and Eve and then theological arguments involving Adam found in key texts (1 Cor 15; Rom 5). Waters interacts vigorously with the views on Adam advanced by Denis Alexander (and Scot McKnight), John Walton, and Peter Enns. He concludes that “the New Testament writings cannot be accommodated to theistic evolution apart from transforming their teachings in a fundamental fashion” (p. 926).

Gregg Allison presents evidence for the proposition that “theistic evolution is incompatible with doctrinal standards that have been required for church leadership, as those doctrinal standards have been developed throughout church history” (p. 927). He surveys key statements from the patristic era up through Origen, views from Aquinas through the Reformation and beyond, and the positions found in current denominational statements by Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and others.

Allison refers (pp. 949–51) to leaders like John Stott, Tim Keller, Derek Kidner, C. S. Lewis, and B. B. Warfield who have been claimed as supporters of evolution. Allison observes, “None of them explicitly embraced theistic evolution as this book defines it” (p. 951).

As far as its biblical and theological coverage, this book must be adjudged a notable success in analyzing what is at stake, and what Scripture and Christian teaching continue to affirm, in the face of an important current debate.

Robert W. Yarbrough

Bob Yarbrough is professor of New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, an editorial board member of Themelios, co-editor of the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament as well as the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Broadman & Holman), and past president of the Evangelical Theological Society.

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