“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). These are the very first words in the Bible. They are remarkable both for their simplicity, and for their depth.
One could argue that the doctrine of creation is perhaps the simplest and most profound teaching of Scripture. The universe did not come into existence on its own but was directly called into existence by God. Everything in the universe, whether animate or inanimate, owes its existence to a transcendent Creator God. Thus, the creation itself bears witness to the Creator (Romans 1:20).
In the first chapter of Genesis, we learn the profound truth that all humans, both male and female, were created in the image of God. This truth is reflected throughout Scripture, whether it is King David marveling at being fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) or the Apostle Paul telling a skeptical Athenian audience that we are all God’s offspring (Acts 17:28). Because we are created in God’s image, Christians confidently proclaim that human life is sacred and that all people have value.
However, there is a lot of additional content in the first few chapters of Genesis that gives rise to many challenging questions. Are the six days of creation literal 24-hour days? Did God create the animals and plants in the precise order described in Genesis 1? Were Adam and Eve real people? Was the flood of Noah a global event? Does a belief in Genesis mean that we must reject the theory of evolution?
Obviously, there are many different answers that Christian scholars have given to these questions. These answers typically fall within one of three broad frameworks.
The first is young-earth creationism. This framework holds that the first chapters of Genesis must be interpreted as literally as possible. The days of creation were 24-hours in length, the animals and plants were created in the order listed in Genesis 1, and Adam and Eve were created directly by God. In addition, the earth is approximately 6000 years old, since that is the number we get after adding up the numbers in the genealogies in Genesis.
Answers in Genesis (AiG) is probably the best-known young-earth creationist organization. Based in Kentucky, AiG employs numerous scientists and other scholars. In 2014, AiG’s founder, Ken Ham, participated in a highly publicized creation/evolution debate with Bill Nye, a prominent science educator. Two years later, AiG opened its Ark Encounter exhibit, which is a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark.
The second major framework is old-earth creationism (also called progressive creationism). This framework agrees with young-earth creationists regarding the literal creation of Adam and Eve and affirms that the major animal and plant kinds were created directly by God. Old-earth creationists also reject the theory of evolution. However, old-earth creationists accept the mainstream scientific consensus that the universe is billions of years old and deny that the flood of Noah was responsible for most of the earth’s geologic features.
Reasons to Believe (RTB) is the most prominent old-earth creationist organization. Founded in 1986 by astronomer Hugh Ross, RTB has nearly 50 chapters spread throughout the United States and Canada. Ross is a regular guest on Christian radio and television shows and his articles have been published in many different journals and magazines.
The third major framework is theistic evolution (also called evolutionary creation). Advocates of this perspective accept the mainstream scientific consensus on both the age of the earth and the theory of evolution. They believe that God used natural processes, including evolution, to create the diversity of life on earth. They argue that the Genesis creation account is written using pre-scientific language and must be interpreted as such.
The BioLogos Foundation is the most prominent organization promoting the theistic evolution perspective. Dr. Francis Collins, a geneticist and former leader of the Human Genome Project, founded BioLogos in 2007. Along with the extensive resources available on its website, BioLogos also publishes a faith and science curriculum intended for Christian schools and homeschooling families.
Thus, the battle lines are drawn with three sharply different views about the relationship between Genesis and science. Sadly, there is often more heat than light when this topic comes up. Disagreement over this issue has led to more than a few church splits over the years.
That is why Christians should take the time to understand where other Christians are coming from. We need to listen to each other, even when we do not agree. Remember that all Christians agree on the “who” and the “why” of creation even if they differ on the “how” and the “when” of creation. We must never lose sight of what unites us as believers.
This fall, I’m teaching a course at Steinbach Bible College that hopes to bring greater understanding to this issue. Each of the three major perspectives will be thoroughly explored by examining the writings of some of its most prominent advocates. The goal is not to change minds, but rather to help participants better understand why other Christians believe what they believe about creation and evolution.
God created the heavens on the earth. This we can all agree upon.
Michael Zwaagstra, BEd, PBCE, MEd, MA, is a public high school teacher and a member of Steinbach Mennonite Brethren Church, Manitoba. He will be teaching the Three Views on Creation and Evolution course at Steinbach Bible College this fall. This course is open to the public. To learn more, visit sbcollege.ca.