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Thank God for Evolution

January 14, 2008

A friend recently called my attention to Michael Dowd, an evangelist of “evolution theology.” Dowd is a former preacher who left pastoral ministry to spread the gospel of evolution theology. His primary point is fine enough, marriage and science are not irreconcilable. In fact his scientific research and clear stance on the old age of the earth are refreshing. Where did the Bible ever say just how old the earth is or that such a question is important or essential to faith?

Dowd takes a more positive, all-embracing stance claiming that “the marriage of religion and science can profoundly improve your life and the world.” There is much in science that can and should be integrated with theology. However, Dowd goes beyond the integration of science and scripture to the reinterpretation of scripture from the viewpoint of evolution.

In his book, Thank God for Evolution, (free pdf of book) Dowd writes:

I cannot agree that “Jesus as God’s way, truth, and life” means that only those Christians who believe certain things about Jesus or the Bible get to go to a special otherworldly place called heaven when they die. I used to believe that, but I don’t anymore. In hindsight, I see that my old belief cheapened, belittled, and impoverished the universal glory of the Gospel. What Jesus’ life and ministry were actually about is far larger and more meaningful, and offers more this-world relevance, than my old clannish, contracted “we win, you lose” understanding. More, one need not be a Christian, nor ever have read the Bible, in order to walk what is, effectively, the same path we Christians aspire to—the same “one way”to a realized, redemptive life of fulfillment and service in this world, here and now, while simultaneously blessing future generations.

To be sure, Jesus did not teach a “we win, you lose” mentality. Instead, he taught us to love God and neighbor, rendered possible not just through his example, but through receiving new hearts to love by faith in his sacrifice for our failure to love God and neighbor. An essential claim of Christ is that the man and the world are broken because of sin, rebellion against God. Jesus seeks to redeem humanity and the world through his death and world-renewing return. However, he does not minimize his own sacrifice or teachings as optional. They are essential and joy-giving to those who embrace him.

The problem with Dowd is that he applies an evolutionary hermeneutic to Jesus’ teachings. Dowd claims that we must not interpret Jesus words as he intended them (a great disrespect and distortion to any teacher/author), but with a scientific and evolutionary lens: “If my interpretation of Jesus as “the way, the truth, and he life” of God is the same as that of peoples living hundreds or thousands of years ago, I miss the magnitude and magnificence of what God has publicly revealed through science and cultural evolution in the intervening centuries.”

If I were to apply the same hermeneutic to Dowd and say that what he really meant was that “evolutionary theology” affirms the historic claims of the Church and of Scripture, that salvation is by faith alone through Christ alone, and that evolution is only tenable if it affirms God as Creator and maker of man in his unique image, Dowd would be terribly upset. But I do not disrespect him in that way. Instead, I honor his intention and present his doctrine as he states it. Dowd could at least do the same for Jesus.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Miranda permalink
    January 14, 2008 10:03 am

    Well said. Evolution Theology has been a curious point to me for the past couple of years. Though, I never called it that. I never called it anything really…just questions about weather evolution could be a part of God creating. I really like the sentence stating: “…evolution is only tenable if it affirms God as Creator and maker of man in his unique image…”. This will help me a lot. Thanks.

  2. January 14, 2008 5:10 pm

    Good stuff. Linked at http://getanchored.blogspot.com.

  3. danso permalink
    January 14, 2008 10:23 pm

    Thanks for that post. It’s always very informative and encouraging to read your book reviews. Please continue to do so!

    P.S. How is Austin City Life going?

  4. normanspalding permalink
    January 23, 2008 1:35 am

    Evolution IS and of the IS avocabulary of wittness.Of CREATION Seqwence implies CREATOR evidence of path with prebuilt content DARWINS OBSEVATION challenge mimicing shape sphere that inclusive posture says how ever you challenge it comes back at you!!!!!! The content of the cosmos is waiting for the content EAR(th) to experiance orbitly. The earth is able change freqwency and move like electron in a circitmore conviently than light through the cosmos.ITS SO EXCITEING THE EXPERIANCES THOSE UNCOUNTABLE GENERATIONS OF LOVELY HUMANS HEADED HERE.

  5. Steve Hazen permalink
    March 3, 2008 8:52 am

    I disagree with you. I sense that you are simply regurgitating a party line and not willing to challenge your own thinking. Dowd says “I don’t agree with a ‘we win – you lose’ mentality”. You say “I don’t either”. But then your last paragraph you say “we win – you lose”. I think you are afraid to challenge yourself.
    There was a point of time in our religion’s past when we believed that salvation came from not by grace but by activity. What was different? Same scripture,, scholars were just as smart back then. The difference was how members of our faith interpreted Jesus’ teachings & sacrifice. Are you so sure you’ve got the correct interpretation down now? How shortsighted your book review is. Dowd has opened his mind to the possibility that interpretation itself evolves. History sure corroborates that idea. There seems to be much more than just a thread of truth running through it but you choose to ignore it and stick your head in the sand like an ostrich and say “we win.”
    Your quote-> Dowd claims that we must not interpret Jesus words as he intended them <- end quote
    What I interpreted you saying here is “Dowd claims that we should not interpret Jesus words as I, the book reviewer believe Jesus intended them.” Oh, and are God incarnate and know the proper intention of Jesus’ words?? How arrogant of you! How blasphemous of you! Please disregard that part of the rant if I mis-interpreted the quote.
    I believe a point Dowd was meaning is that we cannot help but to interpret things differently than people did hundreds or thousands of years ago because our physical, mental, & spiritual datum’s lie in different place. Our datum’s even force us, if you will, to interpret things differently. I wonder how many sermons were preached during the crusades about it being God’s will to kill Muslims. Fortunately, our datum’s lie in a different place now. I wonder how many Christian sermons were preached on the virtues of owning slaves to further God kingdom here on earth in the 1700s. Today our datum’s cause us to reconsider that point of view. I wonder how many sermons were preached on the evils of long hair for men in the 1960s. Our datum’s lie in a different place now, it’s no longer an issue but in the day these points of view had every bit of importance to the central understanding of salvation. All of our points of view about everything shape our understanding of salvation. I think that what Dowd was saying (from my point of view) is that the church’s interpretation of Jesus and salvation has changed over time and will continue to do and if we try to latch on and not allow it to reshape we diminish God and his work (his glory) and lose the benefit of its full majesty.

  6. December 16, 2008 3:20 pm

    Jonathan, thanks for the mention of me and my book. I just today discovered this post of yours.

    If you’re interested, you can read more about the kind of God glorifying, Christ edifying, scripture honoring perspective I’m teaching and preaching here: http://thankgodforevolution.com/node/1529

    God bless, and Merry Christmas,

    ~ Michael

  7. December 16, 2008 4:18 pm

    Thanks, Michael. I do have serious reservations about your hermeneutic; it seems to be reader-response, in which case it would not be Scripture honoring.

    However, I do appreciate your willingness to grapple with the implications of Science and evolution for biblical faith.

    Merry Xmas to you, too!

  8. Rebecca Skipper permalink
    September 2, 2010 5:55 am

    Even if some of us have questions or reservations about Thank God for Evolution, I have been inspired by the video I’ve seen from Doud regarding the connection between all parts of our universe! Hearing birds sing or knowing that God has given mankind the ability to see our moon and galaxies only increases my appreciation for the miracles our Creator performs every day. I agree with the notion that God continues to speak to us and is still creating and recreating. God gave humans everything needed to thrive and prosper during biblical times and will continue to do so if we let him! Just go outside and marvel at the simple things! Science will never replace God, and I sincerely think the main point of this conversation is to recognize and be humbled by God’s Grace and complexity of his Creation! We are just beginning to understand it!

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