Lutheran Creation Doctrine: Introduction

As you may know, a while ago my pastor-in-law informed me and my fiance that he had found this blog. The following conversation was interesting, of course, but it probably went about as well as it could have. I took this opportunity of openly talking about our beliefs to ask him a few questions, as well. I’d always been under the impression that the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod was a strict believer in young-earth creationism stemming from a literal interpretation of Genesis; this had actually been one of my biggest reasons for deciding I couldn’t accept its teachings or religion at all.

So that’s what I told him when he asked what some of my biggest problems were with LCMS teaching. When I inquired about his own beliefs, he said he hadn’t specifically made up his mind as to what he believes about the age of the earth, only that he know God was capable of anything and whatever happened, it was God’s doing. He had seen my last post on LCMS creationism where I responded to what I believe to be a ridiculous YEC article from the Synod president, and he referred me to a somewhat more intelligible source: the Concordia Theology blog.

Beginning in December 2017, writers for the Concordia blog began publishing a series of articles on creation. They express that, as we know, there are various viewpoints among Christians as to how it all went down, and it’s somewhat of a hot topic theologically. As my brother-in-law said, the LCMS isn’t as solidly decided on its position as I’d always thought it was.

The first article in this series is titled, “A Travel Guide to the Evangelical Creation Debates: Introduction“. Before introducing the different “sides” of creation debates, the author justifies his reasoning:

“Furthermore, I believe that it is important for us to become familiar with these debates and the various camps or “teams” engaged in them, for two reasons. First, all of the camps in these faith and science debates publish extensively and address an audience that often dwarfs The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. This means they may even influence our own pastors and people who will run across their materials online and in Christian bookstores. Second, if we are going to be drawn into these debates, we need to know who the various teams are and the particular positions that they seek to defend and promote. It is kind of like having a map or ‘travel guide’ by which we can follow along.”

After cautioning Lutheran readers that none of the three ideological positions are expressly Lutheran, he identifies them as “Evolutionary Creationists (who hold to both an old earth and theistic evolution)” on one end, “Young Earth Creationists (who reject both old earth views and evolution, theistic or otherwise)” on the other, with “Old Earth Creationists (who hold to an old earth view but reject theistic evolution)” somewhere in between. These are all terms I am all too familiar with, as I am what I could only call an atheistic evolutionist according to this terminology.

I’ve always found the Christian camps of creation/evolution belief to be interesting because I don’t think they really have any right way to go about it. Sure, I’d say that evolutionary creationists (also known as theistic evolutionists) have got it closest to the real truth of biological evolution, but if you’re a Christian and trying to believe that, you’d have to do some real gymnastics to make this truth fit with the biblical narrative. Similarly, I’d say that young earth creationism most closely ties in with the Genesis account, but anyone accepting that now has to do even worse gymnastics in order to fit their beliefs with the reality of scientific discovery.

So as an atheist, I suppose I don’t really have a bias for any of these three views over the others. And I’m not trying to determine which I “believe” either, since after years of examination, I’ve decided my beliefs lie in the realm of naturalistic evolution following a deity-free big bang. Here, I just want to follow along to learn what the LCMS really has to say on creationism, and see how close they can get to an official position on the question. I’ve always wondered what my family believes in regards to origins, from my mom to my pastor’s-wife sister to my super-smart other sister who is a doctor but is also married to a non-denominational believer. Maybe one day I can ask them, or even interview them, but for now I can stay ahead of the game by learning what their own denomination’s leaders believe.

The article’s author next outlines what these three “camps” share in terms of concerns and goals, listing their concern as “the prevailing culture” (essentially, the teaching of evolution in public school classrooms and occasionally even in churches), their motivation as “evangelistic and pastoral” (trying to win back deconverts who left the church after feeling forced to choose between faith and science), and their means as “apologetics” (using the metaphor of “God’s two books” of scripture and nature, which apologists love to say cannot conflict because they are both true, using the law of non-contradiction). He also points out that the three positions have a lot in common, essentially that they all stem from bible-believing conservative and fundamentalist Christians with different scriptural interpretations.

Although I admit that this seems so far to be a modest enough study of biblical creation, it didn’t let me forget that it is, at bottom, much more about faith than it is about science. Apologists often like to appeal to the truth of both nature and scripture, but I’m quite positive that when they do (inevitably) conflict, their faith always snaps them back to put the truth of the bible above all else. I’m reminded of this in the next paragraph of the article:

“As a result, all three of these camps also reject neo-Darwinistic or naturalistic evolution, which can be defined as:

“‘The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments’ (National Association of Biology Teachers).” (I love their audacity to directly reject a statement from an association of biology teachers before their study has even begun!) “This rules out any supernatural activity of God in the origin and development of life and of humans, and hence makes a naturalistic metaphysic the basis of science. (“Report of the Creation Study Committee”  [Presbyterian Church in America, 2000], 2317)”

The author goes on to explicitly explain that all three positions are creationist and that they believe in God and Jesus and the bible and the resurrection, but that they are not only theological but also scientific positions which arise from “questions raised by science for the Bible”. He outlines that the following posts will look into each creationist position in-depth (which, in turn, I will respond to, so my posts in this series will be mirroring his). After gathering information from what I could only call “creation-scientists” in a faintly Strobel-esque style, he will piece together a Lutheran view of creationism, which he calls The Lutheran Option. I’m excited to see what he comes up with and how it differs from what I’ve always thought Lutherans have believed.

12 Replies to “Lutheran Creation Doctrine: Introduction”

  1. A few days ago I met my Republican, Lutheran friend, and I’m not being ironic. He is a great friend. He was pulling out of his driveway, and I was walking Cody, my black lab. We met and talked for a bit. I mentioned the bomb insanity and Trump’s divisive and violent rhetoric. He shook his head but didn’t address the Trump issue at all. He told me that at his Bible Study, another man, whom he respected, said what all in the room agreed to. (This group are all Lutheran and meet for Bible study on Wednesday evenings.) I asked what did the man say?

    “It all goes back to original sin,” he said. “Ah,” I responded. My friend went on to explain that the current state of affairs is sinful, and it reflects the inherited (from Adam and Eve, that is) sinful nature of man. “It all goes back to the garden…to the apple.” He actually said “apple.”

    It was depressing to listen to a grown man, one with whom just a few nights before, I had labored long hours helping him and his son replace a transmission in the son’s 1995 jeep.

    Quite frankly, my friend, is one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever known. We drink beer. We talk. We laugh, but when it comes to religion we are eons, literally, apart. I said to him in a quick rebuttal. But doesn’t that concept make it easy for folks to just throw up their hands and do nothing. The old “devil made me do it.” kind of notion. “No, no, no,” he said “we have a responsibility as well.” And then he launched into a rather convoluted explanation that even now I can’t recall. But I do remember that it made little sense.

    What’s my point? Well, the clergy can argue however they wish, but amazingly, there are people out there, and probably more than we think, who still believe, or want to believe, that a first man named Adam and a first woman named “woman” disobeyed a god’s screwy demand not to eat from a mysterious fruit tree that was obviously growing near another magical tree that, had they known, would have made them immortal…the tree the god didn’t mention. And the disobedience occurred after the woman was “tricked” by a talking serpent.

    How can a seventy-four year old man, who served on a nuclear submarine during the Cold War of the sixties, an electrical career for thirty years, and even now can successfully change the standard transmission on a ’95 jeep, and believe me, it’s complicated… how can that man believe such an absurd explanation of human frailty and evil?

    My own belief is that my friend, like so many other intelligent humans are clueless when it comes to abstract thought. For instance, Steve Ruis’ insightful remark that “Truth is an abstraction created by people so we can have philosophical discussions.” is a concept that my friend cannot deal with. He wants a conclusion. A conclusion in the sense of putting things together: a crossword puzzle or a complicated engine, or the wiring system for a multi-level complex. Things that possess a beginning, middle, and end. You start, and once you finish, there is a desired result. One places the last piece of the puzzle or tightens the final bolt or tests the whole circuitry with a computer program. BUT, abstract thought that has no real beginning, no damned end is too much. The Christian belief system provides folks with a patchwork quilt of narratives, a connect-the-dots diagram, that makes everything believable. It’s original sin! Of course!

    Why don’t they see the obvious contradictions, lies, flat out absurdities of the Bible? For the same reason they don’t see Donald Trump’s racist, misogynist, jingoist, evil rant, they have nothing in reserve. I can’t be a liberal, so if I don’t believe in Trump then I’m nothing. I can’t be a non-believer, therefore, if I don’t believe in the Bible as the literal word of a god in the sky, then I’m less than nothing, I’m evil and hell bound. Trump and Christianity share a common thread: The highly effective use of Fear.

    Another fascinating post! Thank you so much. I look forward to “the Lutheran Option.”

    Liked by 6 people

  2. It’s good to hear that LCMS has not gone completely over to the insane side. YEC is just a ridiculous cult within the church.

    I left Christianity for entirely different reasons. But while a Christian, I never saw a serious contradiction between evolution and the Bible. For sure, science ruled out a crude literalism. But that crude literalism is ruled out for many reasons, not just those coming from science.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I think you’re going to find that the evolutionary and old earth creationists don’t actually need to do much in the way of gymnastics with the biblical text, and there’s many cases where it is the YEC interpretation that is jumping through hoops or treating the text inconsistently. It’s a mistake to think that the “literal” is always the default.

    That being said, I’m glad you’re looking into this. It’s good to understand other people’s perspectives. That’s one of the reasons I appreciate reading your blog.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. How does one know though to take the Bible literally or to take the Bible figuratively? This seems to be always the problem. If scientific findings don’t agree then we take things figuratively, but if science doesn’t have anything to say about it, then we can take it literally. And then when science does say something about it, all of a sudden people reinterpret that part of the bible figuratively. Perhaps I am wrong in this assertion, but either way the original question still remains. What people take literally and figuratively has changed historically, and is even different from Christian to Christian. Personally I’m happy to take it all as one big metaphor and that none of it actually happened, but they are great stories to teach moral lessons. But that doesn’t seem to fly with a lot of Christians. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Swarn, we find out the intended meaning of the Bible the same way we figure out the meaning of any text: by reading it in context and inferring from what it says (and other relevant information that we have) what the author most likely meant.
        For the Bible, that ultimately means paying attention to the original languages, the kind of literature it is, the historical and cultural context of its human authors, and taking care not to let our presuppositions wrongly influence our interpretation of the text.
        And it certainly isn’t the case that the Bible is always interpreted literally until science comes along and disagrees with it. Figurative interpretations of Genesis, for example, go back long before the scientific consensus on the age of the earth.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I would tend to agree that the Bible started out as something that was meant to be far more inspirational, than literal, but it still seems to me that there are plenty of cases where the switch between literal and figurative occurred…perhaps sometimes several times on the same matter. It seems that the word of God would be a little more clear on the matter. Especially given for long bouts of time, most people weren’t even literate. The potential for people to be mislead was huge. Entire governments and justice systems have been centered around passages of the bible that were taken literally but should not have been apparently.

          In regards to creation, some of the best scholars of the day were put to work in trying to work out the age of the Earth. If anybody should have understood the context and languages of the bible it should have been those scholars and yet they still believed using the Bible to put together an age of the Earth was a worthwhile use of their time.

          During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.
          Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry…..There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.
          – “Bible Teaching and Religious Practice,” Europe and Elsewhere

          Liked by 1 person

  4. The crux of the issue is summarized in the statement ““God’s two books” of scripture and nature, which apologists love to say cannot conflict because they are both true.” This is otherwise known as the “Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?” principle.

    There has never been a book written that is wholly “true.” In fact, I think such a book is impossible. So, the insistence on the Bible being wholly true is a complete block to understanding anything involving this question. As you know there are two creation stories in Genesis, and the days of creation are in different orders. Both of these orders can’t be true, so there is a contradiction right there. There are hundreds of other such cases in which the Bible contradicts itself (and other oddities such as anachronisms, e.g. Goliath wearing armor that wasn’t invented until several hundred years later). Insisting the whole thing is true is a way of avoiding digging down and figuring out which parts are believed to be true and which parts are mistakes. It also avoids the argument as to which parts are inspired and which parts are not (the mistakes cannot be, you see).

    Science doesn’t pursue truth. Truth is an abstraction created by people so we can have philosophical discussions. It plays little role in our lives. Declaring a book to be true is the very beginning of folly.

    Liked by 7 people

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