Ranald Macaulay reminds us of what Lloyd-Jones and Schaeffer said about the scientific interpretation of Genesis 1-3
Three names dominated the UK’s evangelical landscape during the second half of the 20th century.
These were Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott and Francis Schaeffer. All of them were concerned about what is sometimes called ‘New’ or ‘Open’ Evangelicalism and in particular by the loss of an emphasis on real history in relation to the Fall. The statements reproduced here (heavily edited for want of space) highlight this concern; the former by Martyn Lloyd-Jones delivered at an IFES conference in 1971, the latter by Francis Schaeffer in 1980. The second is no longer available: interestingly, it was endorsed by six others, including John Stott who said: ‘I am decidedly with Dr Schaeffer in principle… what the Bible affirms about history and nature is as much truth from God as what it affirms about spiritual and moral matter’.
‘We accept the biblical teaching with regard to creation and do not base our position upon theories of evolution. We must assert that we believe in the being of one first man called Adam, and in one first woman called Eve. We reject any notion of a pre-Adamic man because it is contrary to the teaching of the Scripture. Now someone may ask: why do you care about this? Is this essential to your doctrine of salvation? Yes. I would contend that the early chapters of Genesis are given to us as history. We know that there are pictures and symbols in the Bible, but when it presents something to us in the form of history it requires us to accept it as history. The Bible does not merely make statements about salvation. It is a complete whole: it tells you about the origin of the world and of man, how he fell and the need of salvation.
‘Therefore these early chapters of Genesis with their history play a vital part in the whole doctrine of salvation. Take for instance the argument of the apostle Paul (Romans 5:12-21). Paul’s whole case is based upon that one man Adam and his one sin, and the contrast with the other one man, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his one great act. Similarly in 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle’s whole argument rests upon historicity. Indeed, it seems to me that one of the things we have to assert, particularly today, is that our gospel is not a teaching, nor a philosophy, but primarily a history. The works of salvation are God’s acts! Salvation is not an idea; it is something that results from actions which have taken place on the concrete plane of history. Historicity is a very vital matter. In addition to that, of course, the whole question of the person of our Lord arises. He clearly accepted this history, he referred to Adam, and in speaking about marriage he clearly accepted the his-toricity of that portion of Scripture (Matthew 19:4-5). But, quite apart from this, if you do not accept this history and prefer to believe that man’s body developed as the result of an evolutionary process and that God then took one of these humanoid persons and did something to him and turned him into a man, you are still left with the question of how to explain Eve, for the Bible is very particular as to the origin of Eve. All who accept the theory of evolution in any form completely fail to account for the being, origin, and existence of Eve.
‘But certain evangelicals are tying themselves to modern, scientific teaching, and nothing is more dangerous than that. We must base ourselves exclusively on the Scriptures and if this has always been true it seems to me it is especially true today. Modern science itself teaches us that we are not anti-scientific or obscurantist simply because we reject statements made by certain prominent and great scientists. We know that great scientists have made very dogmatic statements in the past, which by now have proved to be wrong. All I am saying is that it is very dangerous to base our position upon the pronouncements of science. And while we admit that we cannot explain everything and that there are certain things put before us for which we cannot account, what we must say is this: we believe that whatever is asserted in the Scripture about creation, about the whole cosmos, is true because God has said it, and though Scripture may appear to conflict with certain discoveries of science at the present time, we exhort people to be patient, assuring them that ultimately the scientists will discover that they have been in error at some point or other, and will eventually come to see that the statements of Scripture are true. Thus we base our position upon Scripture alone and this has always been the Protestant view.
‘There are some who say: “Yes, I accept it. I haven’t changed my view at all on your basis of faith and what it says about the Scriptures”. But, when you talk to them in detail you find that they have departed in this very serious, and I suggest, radical manner from the true position of the evangelical.’
‘Sadly, a reduced view of the Bible is being pressed on us today by a wide, vocal, articulate and growing section of teachers and writers in the evangelical world. One of them says: “Dr Schaeffer insists that the revelation of God must be expressed only in space-time historical events. So he argues for a literal Garden of Eden, a literal temptation and Fall, a literal tower of Babel, and so on”. He goes on: “I once asked him whether he believed that poetry (in the opening chapters of Genesis) could ‘tell the truth’ as truthfully as history. Not in this case, he said”. He shows he has misunderstood me. I was not speaking about the use of one literary form as over against another. Certainly truth can be communicated via poetry as well as in straight didactic narrative. But that doesn’t change the central question: did the Fall really happen? Was there a time before the Fall and a time after the Fall?
‘Consider what is lost if the Fall is not a space-time event. First, God is then the author of the sorrows of the present world. Second, if there is no literal Fall there is a loss of true moral guilt because Adam and Eve would not have passed from obeying God to disobeying him. In such a case, Christ’s death as a substitutionary atonement is gone. It becomes an enigma. Third, if all is normal now to what God made it to be, there can be no way to say “such and such is really wrong, absolutely wrong”. Along with the secular humanists, we are caught in the relative.
‘Later he says: “Dr Schaeffer… has gone on record as saying that it is essential for the truth of Christianity that the Bible should relate ‘true truth’ about ‘history and the cosmos’ as well as about spiritual matters. That is precisely the kind of claim that worries me, because it means that should any part of the Bible be shown to be inaccurate about ‘history and the cosmos’ then an essential part of faith has gone…”. A few sentences later he relates his worry to the story of the creation of woman in Genesis.
‘But if the Bible is reliable only in so-called spiritual matters we face an insurmountable problem. Many, if not most, “spiritual” matters in the Bible occur in the cosmos and in space-time history, for example Christ’s incarnation, miracles, resurrection and return in glory. In saying this I am not suggesting that some of these New Evangelicals don’t maintain these Christian truths, but on the basis of their own classifications what can they be sure about finally? All that is left is a leap of faith without certainty – a subjective inner witness!
‘We must reject this weakened, reduced Bible which is being urged upon us’.
This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, check out our on-line version of the paper www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.