By John Baldwin
At the annual Adventist Forum conference held this year in Chicago on September 3, 2011, James Londis and I enjoyed sharing our contrastive views regarding whether a reformulated Adventist statement of belief on creation should be approved in the General Conference session in 2015. Here is a brief summary of the three-step approach I take to the issue.
Step One: What Is the Status of Belief 6 (Creation)?
Is fundamental belief number 6 (FB6) a statement of belief about origins, or is it a statement of accommodation of various beliefs on origins? If the latter, is FB6 a non-belief statement? Fritz Guy is correct in his 2009 Adventist Forum blog in which he indicates that the Adventist Church has no single belief on origins. What the church has, says Guy, is FB6 which was intentionally formulated broadly enough to accommodate various views on the natural history of the earth. Lawrence Geraty concurs by stating that FB6 was formulated to be inclusive. I assume this means the spectrum of beliefs regarding origins held within the Adventist church.
Significantly, the language of FB6 intentionally lacks descriptors of the “first week” such as “literal,” “historical,” or “recent,” and makes no mention of a Flood global in character. Thus FB6 accommodates mutually exclusive approaches to origins such as a recent six-day creation of life forms on earth as contrasted with models of earth history involving life on earth for millions of years.
Step Two: Reasons Identified for Not Reformulating FB6
I strongly concur with Londis that FB6 should not contain elements not explicitly stated in the text, or, and I would add, not inferable from the text. Londis worries that reformulating FB6 will result in a belief statement that goes beyond the text. Moreover, according to Londis, to reformulate FB6 in such a fashion represents an act of idolatry. For these reasons, and more, he concludes that the present wording of FB6 should remain untouched.
However, by recently voted new protocol, the newly worded FB6 must be circulated for two years to the world church for the express purpose of inviting all its members, its biblical scholars, theologians, and philosophers to review and offer suggestions regarding the proposed rewording of FB6. I believe that this lengthy, fair process offers sufficient time and opportunity for all church members to respond to the statement thoroughly before the GC session of 2015, thus insuring that the statement falls squarely within the clear teaching of Scripture.
Step Three: Five Positive Reasons for Reformulating FB6
1. The relational tone of FB6 can be improved, e.g., “Motivated freely by love, God created . . . humans in His image for intimate fellowship with Himself and with other human beings.”
2. The environmental character of FB6 can be greatly strengthened.
3. The belief needs to indicate that Seventh-day Adventists believe that the Bible teaches that the entire galactic universe and the angels were not created during creation week as held by many Christians. The present language of FB6 with its unexplained “heaven and earth” can give the erroneous impression that Seventh-day Adventists believe that everything but God was created during the Genesis week of Creation because the language says “. . . in six days God made the ‘heaven and earth,’” which most Old Testament biblical scholars construe as meaning everything but God. No wonder the framers of FB6, presumably believing the same way, did not use “historical” before “week” because to do so would be to teach a biblical untruth, that everything but God was created during that “first week” which Adventists do not believe.
However, the first week was historical, involving divine acts of creation of life forms on Earth in time and space. Thus, if used at all in FB6, the phrase “heaven and earth” needs explanation concerning its intended extent, and its relation to the “heaven, earth and sea” of Exodus 20:11.
Some Old Testament scholars, such as John Sailhamer (Genesis Unbound), Richard Davidson and Randall Younker, see a vast difference in extent between the phrases “heaven and earth” (Gen 1:1), and “heaven, earth, and sea” (Exod 20:11). The former can represent an introductory Hebrew merisim placed before the creation week to signify that God is creator of everything except God. The later does not form a merisim, but a triad signifying a more restricted focus on the local “heaven, earth and sea” of planet Earth which can indeed be involved in a seven-day historical creation week. This situation needs clarification in a reformulated FB6.
4. The statement needs to address the present natural evil conditions of planet Earth as flowing from the negative consequences of sin, rather than being constitutive, intrinsic elements of God’s original and intended method of creation.
5. Above all, and related to point four above, FB6 needs to affirm a special creation model (a recent week of creation) for the following foundational reason. In my view, the special creation model of earth history, as contrasted with all long-age models of earth history, alone renders God worthy of worship. How so? On the special creation model alone, God does not create through death over millions of years involving suffering, extinction, disease, famine, fear, trauma and so on. In human flesh the Author of life and love died to eradicate these phenomena showing that the divine nature rejects such things.
God can act only in accordance with His nature. Since the Calvary shows that Jesus Christ died to eradicate the phenomena mentioned above, the cross irrefutably establishes that God’s nature of love is such that He could not create life forms on earth through such ungodly means, as required by any long-age model of earth history.
In sum, long-age models of life on earth render God the author of paleo-natural evil, death, and so on, thus rendering Him cruel and unworthy of worship. This shows why FB6 needs to endorse a single approach to origins in 2015, viz., the biblical, recent creation of life on earth model which renders the Creator worthy of worship.
—John Baldwin, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich.
This article appeared on SpectrumMagazine.org Sept. 25, 2011.
A little-known history about Belief 6