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Creation Confusion

• David Morrow

In our fifth and final installment of the Priest and Physicist Walk in to a Bar series, we examine how to frame the Genesis creation story with what we know about our history and the cosmos. Specifically, we examine the difference between dogma, doctrine, and opinion and where questions like “how God created” and “when did God create” fit in to that framework. As has been the theme for the whole series, we explore how faith can go beyond reason, but not against reason.

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As we look at what the discussion around the creation story in Christianity has been like over the years, it’s clear there are a lot of ways this conversation has got messed up. For example, many Christians have treated the topic of a literal 6-day creation 6-8k years ago as the theological hill to die on and have thought it’s the job of Christians to defend God against scientists who might say otherwise. As we look at this topic, as well as others, it’s important to remember that not all our beliefs as Christians are created equal. It is helpful to construct a weighted belief hierarchy as concentric circles with those beliefs near the center holding more weight.

At Woodland Hills we put the revelation of God’s true nature and love through Jesus on the cross at the bullseye. Then as we move outward there are dogmas such as the Nicean creed, doctrines about how to apply those core principles to our lives, and then opinions occupy on the outer boundary of the circle. Unfortunately, Christians have historically divided themselves along opinion lines when these should have been merely topics of disagreement. We want to be a people with a hard center and soft edges who are building bridges, not walls. So, when we look at the creation story, we can hold as dogma that God created our world, but don’t need to die on the hill of how or when he did that. Much of that falls in the opinion ring.

For each of the how and when questions, there are many different options of belief that are acceptable and don’t go against the revelation of God in Jesus on the cross, or the central dogma of the Christian faith. Some examples of these are:

How did God create? When did God create?
1.  Creation by fiat – God spoke it and it happened in 6 literal days 1.  Young earth creation – earth is 6-8k years old
2.  Progressive creation – God created original species and they micro-evolved over time to what we have today 2.   Day/Age theory – each of the 6 days mentioned represents millions of years of earth history
3.  Theistic evolution – God worked through the evolutionary process to bring about humans and species we see today 3.   Restoration of the gap – earth is as old as science says it is, but something happened between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 in which corruption entered the picture
4.  Literary framework view – the author’s point was never to answer scientific questions about sequence and when, but rather to teach us about God.

It’s possible, for example, to see God’s role in creation much the same as how Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God. It’s like a seed that starts small but grows over time, or leaven which works its way through the entire bread. The main point of seeing all the different ways in which we could construct the specifics of the creation narrative is to conclude that in the essentials we strive for unity, in the non-essentials we strive for liberty, and in all things, we strive for charity.

The text in Genesis 1 is more topical than sequential. It seems to be poetically getting a truth across that isn’t necessarily literal, or doesn’t have to be read that way, but is no less true. A few key important contextual understandings about Genesis 1:1-5:

  1. The text is not trying to inform us about the beginning of all time. In the original Hebrew there is not a definite article, so it is not so much “the” beginning as it is “a” beginning.
  2. The text is not trying to defend ex nihilo (creation from nothing). It rather says the earth was formless and void, it was chaotic, and was in a condition where something needed to be put back together.
  3. The text is not an explanation of how matter came in to existence, but rather a description of how God takes what is chaotic and puts form and order to it.

The Genesis narrative was one of many creation stories in the ancient near east at the time it was recorded. It has many similarities to these other narratives, but also some key differences. The singularity of God’s rule in the Genesis narrative along with how he ruled are its distinguishing features. Unlike many of the other ancient gods, God doesn’t fight to win and then create out of that victory, but rather God sacrifices and dies to win to have a relationship with his creation. God has breathed new life in to us, just as he did into creation. If we can avoid the seduction of literalness, and see that science and faith are not rivals, but rather answer different questions, then we can avoid division and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as the center of the center. This is where life is, clinging to the one who created without a fight.

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Topics: Controversial Issues, Creation, Defense of Christian Faith

Sermon Series: A Priest and a Physicist Walk Into a Bar…

Downloads & Resources

Audio File
Study guide
Mythology Video Pre-Sermon (0:34-1:59)
Mythology Video used IN Sermon (8:14-11:16)

Focus Scripture:

  • Genesis 1:1-5

    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

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14 thoughts on “Creation Confusion

  1. Kevin says:

    Where is the link to the video clip that David mentioned? He said it was on the website and I can’t find it anywhere. Maybe you guys could start putting those links here?

    1. Sarah Cassin says:

      Hi Kevin –
      Both the video David used before his Sermon, and the video he mentions within the Sermon, are now linked on this page. If you scroll up just under “Downloads” they’ll be there! Sorry it took us a little bit to get them up. Thanks for your patience!

      1. Kevin says:

        Awesome; thanks Sarah!

  2. Mike says:

    So, if the purpose of Genesis 1 is just to make it clear that there is one God who created everything, then why make up a fictional story to explain how He went about it, and in what order He did it, and how long it took Him?

    1. Christopher says:

      Genesis is a fictional story. ‘Nough said

  3. Jerry says:

    I really enjoyed Dave’s sermon

    I’ve been a John Walton setting up a cosmic temple fan.
    Liked to two flicks. Thanks for the links: Found the playlist and put this link out on page 7 of my link stuff below: Watch Crash Course World Mythology 42 videos

    I came out from the Gap Theory.

    I decided to dig into: the Framework Interpretation sees the six creative days dividing easily into two parallel sets of three, that is, two triads. The first triad, Days One, Two, and Three, deals with the creation kingdoms or realms. The second, Days Four, Five, and Six, deals with the creature kings or rulers. On the seventh day the Creator King, God, is in heaven resting over them. Sounds pretty much like a two tier temple.

    I summarized Walton on the cosmic temple so you can compare the two.

    I found nine views all together and summarized them all.

    I found some very interesting stuff on Emerging Scholars Blog and summarized that stuff too plus I put 16 links to different articles, they had, so you can read. John Polkinghorne contributed to a few of them.

    Link: https://www.scribd.com/document/399524340/#page=379

  4. Katie says:

    Thank you for this sermon! We are “podrishoners” living in El Salvador. Years ago, we served in the Peace Corps here and we returned last year to work with an organization that serves orphaned and vulnerable children, leaving family, good jobs, a “comfortable” life behind. Last month, the subject of creation came up with founders of the organization and they shared their conviction that a 6 day young earth literal creation account is central and fundamental to the Christian faith. Although we both grew up in a tradition that viewed things that way, we now hold a more Woodland Hills position that the how and when of creation is peripheral and we don’t tend to read Genesis 1 that way. Unfortunately, the founders felt that because we couldn’t affirm their interpretation as the only “Biblical” one, we could no longer work with them. This was rather perplexing and disorienting, but God has been so faithful and has opened up so many opportunities in this past month to share His love. We are so grateful to be a part of the kingdom!

  5. Ken says:

    You can’t mix truth with a lie. It is like mixing oil and water. I got an idea, why don’t you teach the Bible as it is written and not your misguide error into. It. The Bible is plain that God created in six 24 hour days. By the way it does say how He did it, He spoke it into existence with out the help of Darwin.Ken

    1. Kevin says:

      it’s not that plain to many of us. the bible’s not designed to be read literally. to each their own i guess. i like that greg doesn’t get up on his high horse and teach his views. we won’t know all the answers to these debates till we’re in heaven and then it won’t matter!

  6. Chris says:

    The Bible never mentions how many hours in a day actually. Who came up with 24 hours? Oh yeah, human beings, just like they came up with the Bible, and just like they came up with a deity

    1. Jason says:

      Hi. Great presentation! The Study Guide link doesn’t seem to work for me – all I get is a blank web page. Help would be greatly appreciated.

      1. Emily Morrison says:

        Hi Jason,
        We’ve double-checked the link, and one thing you might try is using a different web-browser. Let us know if you continue to have problems!

        1. Jason says:

          Hello Emily, I tried clearing my browser history yesterday and then it worked. Thanks for the reply.

  7. Jason says:

    Hi Chris. I think many people refer to the Ten Commandments, specifically the Sabbath day as a reference to 7 literal days of creation. See Exodus 20:10 and 11.

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