Foundations: No.74 Spring 2018

Book Reviews

Creation and Change:
Genesis 1:1-2:4 in the Light of Changing Scientific Paradigms

Douglas F. Kelly, Christian Focus, 2017, 376pp, £19.99

This new publication is a very substantially revised and updated version of a work produced by the same author in 1997. Douglas F. Kelly is Professor of Theology Emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina, and is a prolific writer on theological subjects as well as a worldwide conference speaker.

Books on the subject of creation and evolution are legion, and how to navigate them is a considerable challenge. One very helpful introduction to the whole subject is Darwin on Trial by Philip E. Johnson[1], a soberly-written critique of many important aspects of evolutionary theory written with the discerning mind of a lawyer, and perhaps a good book to give to people who are tackling the subject for the first time. But Kelly’s work, by contrast, is grounded in the text of Genesis 1:1-2:4, which means that for people who entertain a high view of Scripture, this is the obvious “go to” book for them.

The imposing front cover – an attractive plan of the inner solar system –beckons the reader in to browse the Contents page which is a feast in itself. If only one reason were to be identified why this book should become the standard text on the doctrine of creation, it would be the comprehensive coverage of material, which includes the following: the Gap Theory (Chapter 5), the Flood and Fossils (Chapter 6), the Age of the World and the Speed of Light (Chapter 8), the Human Genome (Chapter 13), the Historicity of Adam and Eve (Chapter 14), and the Sabbath Day (Chapter 15).

These fascinating and important subjects, which are not only mouth-wateringly interesting and historically controversial, are in one sense supplementary to the main thesis of the book, which is to study the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:4 in a linear fashion, focusing on the six days of creation and the seventh day of Sabbath rest; the treatment of each of these days forms the backbone of Kelly’s treatment. The subtitle of the work, which refers to “Changing Scientific Paradigms”, demonstrates that although Kelly is first and foremost a biblical theologian, he has also applied his considerable intellectual powers to areas of knowledge that are commonly regarded as “scientific”.  This is to be seen, especially, in the “Technical and Biographical Notes” with which most of the chapters conclude, which are sometimes as long as the body of the chapter in which they are contained.

Kelly is an erudite scholar of the very highest rank, but there is a deep humility in his approach. This book conveys less of a “Fundamentalist” atmosphere than others to which it might reasonably be compared. When Kelly deals with topics in which contentions have arisen, you sense that he has given very thorough, painstaking and respectful thought to these controversial areas before stating his conclusion. For example, in dealing with the problems posed by Australopithecine fossils, Kelly cites a considerable variety of sources, uses the language of “might”, “possibility” and “probably” a good deal, and closes the chapter (6) with a paragraph which provides a characteristic insight into his method and attitude:

Here, as in many other places that deal with facts that admit differing interpretations, it is inevitable that such facts will be understood in a larger paradigm that is thought to make the best sense of them. In this case, evolutionary theory, creationism, or perhaps theistic evolution will be preferred. This volume seeks to give the reasons why I find creationism the most satisfying (148, emphasis mine in each instance).

Here we detect Kelly’s motive and also his manner: convinced as he is of the authority of Scripture in all matters historical, geographical and geological, as well as theological – moreover, convinced as he is of a young earth, several thousands of years old – there is a gracious winsomeness about his approach which should mean that those who disagree with him will nevertheless read this book with appreciation and approval.

Kelly is committed to an understanding of the Six Days of Creation as literal days, and this conviction is grounded in his understanding that Genesis 1-11 are written, not as poetry – and he provides copious and compelling reasons why these chapters should not be viewed as such – but as historical narrative. Characteristically, he cites a number of internation-ally-recognised scholars. He comments in this regard:

One can disagree with the New Testament’s literal, historical usage of Genesis 1-11, but one cannot honestly find in its pages anything less than a straightforward reading of these chapters as literal, relevant facts (58).

That is, Kelly demonstrates that it is more honest to say “I can see that Genesis 1 teaches that God created the earth, from nothing, and created man in his own image, but I don’t believe it” than it is to say “we can make Genesis 1 teach that a process of evolution by natural selection happened gradually, and that God was somehow guiding that process, including human descent from apes”. One is led to the conclusion that the reader of Genesis 1 should either say that he believes the natural meaning of this text, or else he doesn’t. What he has no right to do is to do violence to the clear meaning of the text and twist it into whatever trend happens to be current in contemporary science.

In a similar vein, Kelly believes that the Framework Hypothesis, popularised largely through the work of Meredith Kline,

evades the chronological sequence of six twenty-four-hour days (and one day of rest) by a novel method: introducing a disjunction between “literal” chronological order and “literary” framework within the text of Scripture (155).

Kelly’s critique of what he calls “hermeneutical dualism”(158) is indeed compelling, not least because following a parallel approach – creating a literary-historical dichotomy – to other texts of Scripture, both Old and New Testament, would do great violence to their meaning as understood by the church throughout the ages. Kelly’s references to the largely neglected Jean-Marc Berthoud, in this regard, are extremely helpful:

Berthoud rightly suggests that this axiomatic disjunction between literary form and literal meaning is a philosophical position, that does not come from the Bible itself (159).

Chapter 14, on the subject of “The Historicity of Adam and Eve”, is the only chapter that has not been written by Kelly; the author is Richard P. Belcher, Old Testament Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte and Atlanta. In some ways this is the most alarming chapter of all; it was included in this new edition because of the recognition of,

a surprising trend among many Reformed biblical theologians and preachers; one that has gone “mainstream” since the 1997 edition of this book, and that is the denial of the historicity of Adam, in the interests of accommodating evolutionary theory (311).

Belcher, devoting most of his space to a careful exegesis of Genesis 2:7, approaches his conclusion with a serious warning to all readers of this book, written in a spirit which is representative of the entire volume:

The impact of evolution on the church’s teaching is significant enough that the church needs to be vigilant in preserving the truth. Churches are dependent on their pastors to instruct them and guide them in areas where the truth is under assault… A candidate today [for the Christian ministry] might affirm both the historicity of Adam and evolutionary teachings. Merely to affirm the historicity of Adam is not enough (327).

This is an extremely weighty consideration. It has far-reaching repercussions when it comes to exegeting Romans 5:12-21, especially, and also 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. What kind of “Adam” are we talking about? Various types of exegetical and doctrinal contortions need to take place – and are attempted, as Belcher shows – when “Adam” is shoehorned into an evolutionary hypothesis that does not allow Genesis 2:7 to be taken in its most obvious and natural sense. If the actions of the “one man” Adam are cast into doubt and confusion, what then for the actions of the “one man” Jesus Christ?

It is quite possible for advocates of the Framework Hypothesis, and others who believe in an old earth, to remain safely within the doctrinal bounds of churches and denominations which require historic confessional subscription; but this becomes a far greater challenge when the historicity of Adam and Eve are denied; or perhaps more specifically, when the denial concerns the special creation of Adam and Eve and their non-descent from any human or hominid ancestors.

Seldom mentioned in the book, but clearly subconsciously present in the minds of Kelly and Belcher, is BioLogos, the foundation whose stated mission is to “[invite] the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.”[2] That there is a harmony between science and biblical faith, ultimately, cannot be doubted – there is one Creator God whose ordering of the entire Creation is necessarily in consistent harmony. But Kelly’s work, in conjunction with Belcher’s – again, to my mind, more compellingly and comprehensively than any other I have read – is a most devastating critique of the philosophical assumptions underlying “an evolutionary understanding”.

Belcher’s final comments in Chapter 14 are worth quoting in full:

We believe these things [he mentions the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality] because we believe Scripture clearly teaches them. But if the views that we hold on these important issues are viewed by our culture as uneducated, narrow, intolerant and hateful, why should we be surprised when our view of the historicity of Adam is also seen as uneducated and out-of-touch with mainstream culture? The real question is whether we are willing to endure the shame that comes when we stand for the truth of God’s word (328).

In several places Kelly wonders whether a longed-for “paradigm shift” is taking place regarding “both philosophical, theological presuppositions and empirical evidences… concerning how the world was brought into being, how old it is and how it functions”. (190) Kelly appears somewhat hopeful that this shift is indeed underway across various philosophical and scientific disciplines. It will be of great interest to see whether this point of view is confirmed in the years that lie ahead.

Paul Yeulett
Pastor, Grove Chapel, Camberwell, London


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