Question: "How do beliefs about creation impact the rest of theology?"
Answer: The creation/evolution debate has been raging for years. To many, it seems like two opposing sides yelling at each other with no one really listening. The vitriol has gotten to the point where each side reflexively dismisses the other – evolutionists dismiss creationists as completely ignoring science, and creationists accuse evolutionists of engaging in all sorts of Machiavellian conspiracies to silence their side. This is not to dismiss the arguments of either side as being hyperbolic, but simply to point out that there is precious little honest dialogue going on in this verbal war.
Because of this sentiment, many Christians relegate the creation/evolution debate to the status of a secondary issue, an issue that does not relate to how one becomes right with God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. To a certain extent, this line of thinking is correct. We can get so caught up in this debate that we lose our focus from the main issue—the spread of the gospel. However, as with many other “secondary” issues, what one believes regarding creation plays a role in how one views theology in general and the gospel in particular.
Regarding the doctrine of creation, there are several views within Christianity:
1. Literal 24x6 creation – God created all there is in six 24-hour days.
2. Day-Age view – The creation events occurred as depicted in Genesis 1, but instead of six 24-hour days, the “days” of creation represent indeterminate, finite periods of time.
3. The Framework view – The days of Genesis 1 represent a theological framework within which to narrate the creation of all things.
Throughout most of church history, up until the last 150 years, the 24x6 view of creation has been the dominant view of the church. We don’t want to believe something simply because it’s traditional and historical, including the 24x6 view of creation, but we do want to believe a doctrine because it’s supported by the text of Scripture. In this particular case, it is believed by many conservative theologians that the 24x6 view, in addition to having the weight of history, also has the strongest exegetical support from the text. First and foremost, it’s the natural view one gets from simply reading the text. Additionally, whenever the Hebrew word for “day” (Yom) is accompanied by a numeric modifier (e.g., four days) or the combination “morning and evening” (as in Genesis 1), it always refers to a 24-hour day. Finally, the seven-day pattern set forth during creation week is the pattern from which we get our week (Exodus 20:8-11).
Since the advent of modern science, the 24x6 view of creation has been increasingly abandoned by Christians. The primary reason for this rejection is the fact that the 24x6 view of creation necessitates a “young earth” age of the universe (anywhere from 6,000 to 30,000 years), and the prevailing scientific view is that the universe is billions of years old. The Day-Age view (sometimes called progressive creationism) is an attempt to reconcile the Genesis creation account with an “old earth” view of the age of the universe. Please note that the Day-Age view still posits that God created all things and it still rejects Darwinian evolution, so is not to be confused with “theistic evolution,” the view that Darwinian evolution is true but, instead of being guided by blind chance, it was actually guided by the hand of God. However, while Day-Age proponents see themselves as reconciling the biblical account with science, opponents see this view as a slippery slope to rejecting the veracity of God’s word.
Because the creation/evolution debate has been relegated to secondary status, there is little or no concern over the theological implications of denying the biblical view of creation (regardless of which view one takes). The conventional wisdom is that it doesn't make a difference whether or not evolution is true. The doctrine of creation is seen as disconnected with the rest of the Christian message. In truth, however, what one believes regarding creation is actually crucial because it goes to the issue of the inerrancy, trustworthiness, and authority of Scripture. If the Bible can’t be trusted in the first two chapters, what makes it trustworthy throughout the rest of the book? Typically, critics of the Bible will focus their attacks on the first eleven chapters of Genesis (in particular the creation account). The question is, why? The first eleven chapters of Genesis set the stage for the rest of the biblical story. You can’t understand the unfolding narrative of Scripture without Genesis 1–11. There is so much foundational material in these chapters for the rest of the Bible—e.g., creation, the fall, sin, the certainty of judgment, the necessity of a Savior, and the introduction of the gospel. To ignore these foundational doctrines would render the rest of the Bible as unintelligible and irrelevant.
Yet critics of the Bible and those who have placed science in authority over the Bible want to treat these opening chapters of Genesis as ancient Hebrew myth rather than primeval history. The truth of the matter is that compared to the creation stories of other cultures, the Genesis account reads more like history than myth. In most ancient literature, creation is seen as a struggle between the gods. Most creation myths portray the culture in question as the center of the religious universe. The Genesis account, while sharing many similarities with other creation stories, differs in that it portrays God as the sole Sovereign over creation (not one among many gods) and mankind as the pinnacle of His creation, serving as His stewards over creation. To be sure, there are unanswered questions with the Genesis account, such as the exact date of creation, but the purpose of the Genesis account isn't to give a complete historical account that would pass muster with modern-day historians. The Genesis account was a pre-history of the Jewish people as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land; they needed to know who they were and from where they came.
Another thing to note is that much of Christian theology is based on the historical accuracy of the Genesis account. The concept of marriage comes right out of the creation account (Genesis 2:24) and is referred to by Jesus in all three synoptic gospels. Our Lord Himself acknowledges that man was created male and female "from the beginning of creation" (Matthew 19:4). These references rely on the historical accuracy of the Genesis creation account for them to make any sense. Most importantly, our most cherished doctrine of salvation is dependent on the doctrine of creation and the existence of a literal person named Adam. Twice in the Pauline epistles (Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15), Paul links our salvation in Christ with our identification in Adam. In 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, we read, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” The entire human race is in a fallen state by virtue of being “in Adam” through natural birth. In similar manner, those whom God has chosen for salvation are saved by virtue of being “in Christ” through spiritual birth. The “in Adam/in Christ” distinction is crucial to a proper understanding of Christian soteriology, and this distinction makes no sense if there were no literal Adam from whom all humanity descended.
Paul argues in a similar vein in Romans 5:12-21. But what makes this passage unique is that it explicitly says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). This verse is the linchpin in the argument for total depravity (the “first plank” in the Calvinist platform), and like the 1 Corinthians passage, it depends on the existence of a literal Adam for it to make any kind of sense. Without a literal Adam, there is no literal sin and no need for a literal Savior.
Despite what position one takes on the doctrine of creation (24x6 view, Day-Age view, or Framework view), one thing is clear: God created the heavens and the earth. While we believe the 24x6 view possesses the strongest biblical argument, the other two views are valid interpretations within the sphere of Christian orthodoxy. What needs to be stressed is that the Bible does not (either explicitly or implicitly) teach the Darwinian view of evolution. Therefore, to state that the creation/evolution debate is not important is to have a low view of Scripture. If we cannot trust the Bible when it speaks on the matter of creation, why should we trust it to speak on salvation? That is why what we believe regarding creation is important to the rest of our theology.