Creation and Science…and Common Grace (2)

Although the report of the study committee to the Christian Reformed Synod of 1991, “Committee on Creation and Science,” approves theistic evolution, this is not the main purpose of the report. For the CRC has already approved theistic evolution. The CRC Synod of 1988 received a report from its Board of Trustees informing the Synod of the Board’s decision that the writings of three of the Church’s professors advocating theistic evolution “fall within the limits set by the synodically adopted guidelines for the interpretation of Scripture and by the doctrinal statements of the Christian Reformed Church . . . .” Only then did the Synod appoint the study committee on creation and science.

It was not the mandate of the committee to investigate whether theistic evolution is biblically and creedally Reformed. Rather, the mandate was “to address the relationship between special and general revelation as found in Belgic Confession Article II . . ..” The committee was to explore and formulate the basis for the approval of theistic evolution in God’s general revelation. Then, significantly, the Synod defeated a motion that would have forbidden the professors from teaching theistic evolution while the study was being made (cf. Acts of Synod 1988, pp. 595, 599).

It would be a mistake, therefore, to regard the approval of theistic evolution as the heart of the report. The heart of the report is rather the basis it proposes for the approval of theistic evolution.

This basis is general revelation and common grace.

In keeping with its mandate, the committee on creation and science finds the basis, or ground, for theistic evolution in general revelation. General revelation is Gods making Himself known to men in creation and history, in distinction from the revelation of Himself in His Word, Holy Scripture. The committee proposes that general revelation is an authority in the church alongside Scripture. It is an authority equal to Scripture: “The authority of general revelation, no less than that of special revelation, is a divine authority, which must be acknowledged without reservation” (p. 41). General revelation (which for the committee is virtually identical with modern scientific theory) teaches evolution—not only a world that is billions of years old, but also the development of all things, including man, from the dead matter that resulted from the “Big Bang” (p. 36). This authoritative testimony of general revelation demands a reinterpretation of Genesis 1and Genesis 2 along the lines of theistic evolution.

The report frankly acknowledges that general revelation is responsible for bringing about the new interpretation of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 that is essential for the approval of theistic evolution in the church.

Thus this issue concerns the impact of general revelation upon our understanding of special revelation. If we stood in a tradition that instructed us in our reading of Scripture to ignore either general revelation or the results of science, the question of how Genesis records history would not arise (pp. 14, 15). 

These questions (about the doctrine of creation and the interpretation of

Genesis 1


Genesis 2

—DJE) have arisen because of advances in science (p. 19).

Regarding the question of “the existence of evolutionary forebears of the human race,” the majority of the committee cannot rule out animal ancestors of the first man, because they ‘believe that we are called to somehow take account of both of Gods revelations whether we currently know how to do that or not and that traditional conclusions would be compelling on scriptural grounds were it not that nature (general revelation—DJE) seems to be authoritatively telling us something else” (p. 43).

If the basis of theistic evolution is general revelation, the source and explanation of general revelation is Gods common grace. In support of its contention that “the fall into sin neither eroded the content of general revelation nor destroyed its authority,” the report appeals, on page 7, to “corm-non grace” as taught by Herman Bavinck, particularly in his address, “De Algemeene Genade” (“Common Grace”; for an English translation of this work, cf. Calvin Theological Journal, April 1989: 61). The passage appealed to in Bavinck reads as follows:

God has not left sin to ifs own destructive working. He had a purpose with His creation, and maintained this purpose also after the fall. He has intervened between sin and the creation with His common grace, which, although if does not renew inwardly, nevertheless retards and restrains outwardly. Out of this common grace comes all that which is good and true that we will observe among fallen men. The light shines dill in the darkness. The Spirit of God dwells and works in all that is created. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans-Sevensma, n.d., pp. 16, 17; my translation of the Dutch.)

For its position that ungodly, evolutionary scientists rightly interpret God’s general revelation, the report again appeals to common grace (p. 12). Although it does not quote this passage, the report is adopting the notion that Bavinck expressed in “De Algemeene Gede”when he wrote:

And through His revelation in nature and history, He binds them (the unregenerated world— DJE) to the invisible, supersensual world and arouses in their hearts the desire for worship and virtue. All of that rich life of nature and of the world of humanity is therefore to be ascribed to God’s common grace (pp. 26, 27).

We may fairly summarize the CRC “Committee on Creation and Science” as follows. God’s common grace testifies in nature that the universe is billions of years old and that all things, man not excepted, evolved from the original, dead matter. God’s common grace has been working also in unregenerated, unbelieving scientists, the damned Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley especially included, to receive and interpret the testimony in nature. Evolution is the Word of God in common grace. Reformed believers must, therefore, submit to this authoritative Word of God. In obedience to it, they must at the very least approve theistic evolution as an honorable Christian doctrine. Since special revelation—Holy Scripture—teaches something entirely different inGenesis 1 and Genesis 2, the Reformed church must sanction and promote a reinterpretation of Genesis 1and Genesis 2Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 is not historical and, therefore, is not to be understood literally.

At the heart of the report, as at the root of theistic evolution in the CRC, is common grace. The report itself explicitly says so. The title of the report should have been, “Committee on Creation and Science . . . and Common Grace.”

In this way, the report satisfies Herman Bavinck’s expectation of theology. Bavinck concludes “De Algemeene Genade” by describing theology as a mixture of common grace and special grace: “Theology has first arisen in the congregation of Christ when common grace and special grace have flowed together” (p. 32). They have flowed together, however, as the seven lean and ill-favored cows of Pharaoh’s dream “flowed together” with the seven fat cows. Common grace has devoured special grace. General revelation has swallowed special revelation. Evolution has consumed creation.

But this theology is not Reformed theology. Indeed, it is not Protestant theology. The raising of general revelation to an authoritative position in the church alongside Scripture (in reality, over Scripture) is denial of the fundamental Protestant principle: sola Scriptura—Scripture as the only authority in the church. To this illicit exaltation of general revelation, the Reformed faith says “no.” Article 7 of the Belgic Confession declares it to be “unlawful for any one, though an apostle (much more, a mere scientist—DJE), to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures.” Nothing, insists the Reformed creed, including general revelation, much less, hostile, evolutionary scientists, is “of equal value with the truth of God” which is the Bible. “We reject with all our hearts, whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule,” including prevailing scientific opinion concerning the origin of the universe.

Is there then no general revelation, i.e., Gods making Himself known to all men through creation? The apostle makes plain, in Romans 1:18ff., that there is. But the sole purpose of God with this revelation of His eternal power and Godhead to the unbelievers is “that they are without excuse” (vs. 20). Why does the report on creation and science omit exactly these crucially important words in its quotation of the passage from Article 2 of the Belgic Confession (p. 6)? In accordance with this divine purpose, no unbeliever ever possesses or arrives at the true knowledge of God the Creator from general revelation, for he invariably and instant1.y holds the truth in unrighteousness (vs. 18) and changes the truth of God into a lie (vs. 25). For example, he changes the truth of creation into the lie of evolution. Romans 1:18-32 explicitly teaches that there is in general revelation for the unbeliever no common grace, but only common wrath: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (vs. 18).

With regard to the believer, whose eyes are opened to the wisdom, power, and glory of the Creator in creation by particular,, saving grace, general revelation is “a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God (Belgic Confession, Art. 2). But the believer reads this book strictly in the light shed by Holy Scripture. For the believer, general revelation, like everything else, including angels from heaven, is subject to the authority of the written Word of God (Gal. 1:8, 9).

It is to be expected that the report on creation and science will win adoption by the CRC synod of 1991, opening the Church and the Christian schools of her members to theistic evolution. There can be no radical, effectual resistance to its thinking and argument that refuses to lay the ax to the report’s roots in common grace.

This to me is tragedy.

Oh, that the Church of the report, and all Reformed churches everywhere (for theistic evolution and the view of Scripture that permits it now make inroads widely among Reformed and Presbyterian churches), would simply heed what the report on creation and science itself amazingly confesses at one point:

A plain reading of the first chapters of Genesis, as it was almost universally accepted by Christians until the nineteenth century, indicates that God made the world in six days a few thousand years before Abraham, that the various kinds of plants and animals were created by Him according to their kind, and that Adam and Eve were uniquely created in God’s image. Eve was made from Adams rib, and together they were the first parents of the human race. Originally they were perfect and holy, but after the fall they and their descendants became corrupt and sinful, desperately in need of redemption (p. 36).

This, says the report, is part of “the problem confronting the church.”

The report is wrong.

This is the solution.