By David C. Read
Jesus saves me because I have a trusting, committed relationship with him. I simply do not believe, on the Day of Judgment, I will find myself standing before Jesus to hear him say, â€œI know you loved me with all your heart and to the best of your ability; I know you took every opportunity to draw closer to me; I know you cared for the unlovable. But, because you did not believe in six recent literal 24-hour days of creation, you cannot enter into eternal life.â€ -Steve Moran
How is a conservative Adventist to respond to this line of reasoning? It is certainly true that the Bible teaches us salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone (John 3:14-18; Acts 16:30-31; Rom. 10:12-13; 1 John 5:10-12). The thief on the cross said only, â€œLord remember me when you come into your kingdom,â€ and Jesus responded that the man would surely be saved. Iâ€™m glad that salvation is not hidden or complex, and that anyone who places their faith in the merits of Christ can be saved.
So why do Adventists place such emphasis on the doctrine of origins when it is not necessary to salvation? The answer is that Adventist doctrine fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. When all the pieces are put together correctly, a beautiful picture of God and His love, grace and mercy emerges. But when the pieces are rearranged, the picture is marred and we are not able to see God clearly.
Without the doctrine of creation, we cannot have a clear picture of who Christ is and what He accomplished for us on the cross. First, Christ is our Creator. The Gospel of John tells us that â€œall things were made by [Jesus]; and without Him was not any thing made that was madeâ€ (John 1:3). â€œIn these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universeâ€ (Heb. 1:2). The Bible clearly teaches that Christ is God and was with the Father from the beginning, and that the Father created all things through Christ.
Now think about the loving Jesus of the Gospels and try to imagine Him creating the world over the course of 600 million years, using death, predation, disease, and genetic copying errors as his tools, experimenting on countless thousands of generations of animals, as they struggled to survive in a remorseless contest of â€œfitness.â€ Does this sound like the Jesus of the Bible? What picture of Christ emerges when one believes that this is how He created the world? Thankfully, that is not how the Bible describes the creation. If we stay with the Bibleâ€™s descriptionâ€”a perfect creation in six days, in which there was no animal predation (Gen 1:30), which God declared â€œvery goodâ€ and afterward restedâ€”it is consistent with the picture of Jesus that we see in the Gospels.
Returning to the concept of salvation, that concept presupposes that humans need saving. But why do we need saving? Darwinism teaches us that we have been getting better and better, smarter and smarter, since our ape-like ancestors split off from the line of descent leading to modern apes. We donâ€™t need saving; to the contrary, we are better now than we ever have been. In a Darwinian worldview, the concept of â€œsalvationâ€ is nonsensical gibberish. The concept of â€œsalvationâ€ presupposes, and only makes sense within, a biblical worldview.
We cannot get a true picture of Godâ€™s character without what theologians have come to call â€œthe Fall.â€ What picture of God would emerge if He created us in sin, already in need of salvation? What kind of God would have condemned his creatures by building into them a fatal flaw that would necessitate such suffering and misery as this world has experience in its recorded history? But in Scripture we learn that we were created in the image of God, a little lower than the angels (Gen. 1:26, 27; 2:7; 5:1; Psa. 8:5, 6). God didnâ€™t create man in a fallen condition: â€œGod made man upright, but we have sought out many inventionsâ€ (Eccl. 7:29). It was Adamâ€™s knowing and conscious decision to disobey that led to the fall of mankind (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-7; Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).
We are now in a position to understand what has been â€œlostâ€ and needs to be â€œredeemed.â€ We were created in the image of God, perfect and sinless, but through disobedience we lost our primal innocence and the possibility of immortality. Salvation means the chance to get back what we lost. Christ was the second Adam, who overcame where the first Adam failed (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21, 22, 45-49). Christ lived in a sin-filled world without sinning; He could have sinned but did not, and thereby redeemed what Adam lost. We cannot understand the significance of what Christ won back for us, if we do not understand how far we have fallen, what was our heritage from Christ our creator, and how it was forfeited by Adam, the father of our race. This is why the Eden story, the first 11 chapters of Genesis, are necessary to a real understanding of what salvation means, and what Christ accomplished for us on the cross.
The concept of salvation from sin and sinfulness doesnâ€™t work in a theistic evolution model. The Bible tells us that we must overcome selfishness, but if we were â€œcreatedâ€ by evolution, our selfishness was a necessary instinct that aided our survival and our evolutionary development. It was presumably Godâ€™s will that we develop this survival-aiding attitude, and it would seem very incongruous that we should now be expected to overcome it. (It has been argued that evolution selects cooperative behavior, but that just shows that Darwinian arguments â€œprove too muchâ€ to be scientifically useful; Darwinism can explain selfishness and altruism, competition and cooperation, anything and its opposite.) What picture of God emerges if one believes that He created the world by allowing His creatures to compete in a merciless struggle to survive and propagate, but now expects us to overcome and be â€œredeemedâ€ from selfishness, lust and greed?
Yes, we are saved by a trusting, committed relationship with Christ. But with which Christ, the Christ of the Bible or the â€œChristâ€ imagined under assumptions of theistic evolution? They have very different characters. I would have a much more difficult time trusting and committing to the arbitrary and capricious creator who created through death and competition over the course of hundreds of millions of years, but now expects us to overcome the instincts he bred into us over thousands of generations and hundreds of millennia.
This is why traditional Adventists are so firm about rejecting compromise on the foundational truths of Scripture, the great truths of the creation, the Fall, the promise of a Redeemer, and the character of God. It is precisely because we realize that we are saved by our relationship with Jesus that we care so much about the picture of Jesus we offer to the world. We want to convey untarnished the Bibleâ€™s picture of a loving Jesus, so that everyone will want to have a trusting, committed relationship with Him. So we cannot consent to have the biblical Christ sullied with pagan notions of origins.
In order to facilitate discussion that is relevant to the thread, key terms are provided to act as categorical guidelines for comments: influence of theist evolution on salvation, gospel, justification, sanctification.