QUESTION: Is it true that some Adventist scientists and theologians no longer believe that God created everything in six literal days?
The short answer is, “Yes, it is true.” In your letter you also asked why this is the case. I cannot go into all the details, but I will give you some of the main reasons behind their views. Let me make clear that the number of Adventist theologians embracing some type of evolutionary model is very small. I suspect that the same applies to scientists. Among theologians the fundamental issue relates to the proper methodology of interpreting the Bible. Their reading of Genesis 1-11 is based on a particular understanding of revelation and inspiration.
1. Revelation and Inspiration: Adventists believe that the Bible is its own interpreter. This is based on the conviction that the ultimate author is God; that since there is one Author, there is a fundamental unity in the Bible’s message; and that a passage is to be in-terpreted in its literal sense unless the context points in a different direction. Those who promote some form of evolutionism within the church have rejected or questioned most of those principles. In the area of revelation and inspiration they overemphasize thought-inspiration—that God only reveals thoughts and ideas to the prophets. This idea, taken to extreme, limits the authority of the Bible. With respect to Genesis 1 and 2, this means—to them—that God did not reveal to the biblical writer how He created. For them the question is What was the idea or thought God revealed to the prophet? They answer: God was revealing that He was the Creator. Since the text, they say, does not define how He created, the answer to that question could be evolution. Instead of allowing the Bible to interpret itself, which in this case would mean that God is the Creator because He created everything in six days, they arbitrarily conclude that it does not answer the how question. One could even suggest that they first accept evolution as a concept and then reinterpret the text to make it fit their previous conclusions.
2. Assumptions Brought to the Text: Those theologians use nonbiblical materials to determine the meaning of the biblical text. They argue that the biblical creation narrative should not be interpreted literally because this type of literature was common in the ancient Near East, where this literature served to convey the idea that a particular god was the supreme creator. That argument is then applied to Genesis 1 and 2. But the creation narratives of the ancient Near East hardly describe a particular god creating everything. In fact, scholars now consider one of the longest of those narratives to be a propaganda story meant to justify the supreme role of one god over the other gods, not a creation narrative.
Besides, Genesis 1 and 2 are unique in the ancient Near East. None of the ancient texts come close to it in terms of narrative style, organization, and theological depth. In Genesis we seem to have a witness describing what he saw. This uniqueness places it in a different category, the category of biblical revelation. Some of these scholars have concluded that the explanatory force of natural evolution was sufficient to establish its reliability. Now “science” is used to define Christian theology and doctrine.
3. Your Concern: Space does not allow me to say more about the tragedy of Adventists who are evolutionists. But I do want to address the concern expressed in your communication about what Adventist parents should do in this situation. I agree that having teachers in our colleges and universities arguing and supporting the idea that natural evolution is the best alternative for the understanding of origins is outrageous. They not only violate the meaning of the biblical text, but also violate the trust the church placed in them by calling them to teach our young people.
Your alternatives are few. Remember, you are paying for your children to obtain an Adventist education; and if the school is not providing what you’re paying for, you have to make a decision. This is what I suggest: Visit our colleges and talk to the teachers about their views on natural evolution and their interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. If you are unsatisfied with their answers, discourage your son or daughter from attending that school. Most teachers in other Adventist schools stand by what the Bible teaches. You may also want to inform the school’s administration about your findings.