Jeremy Pierce does a great job of reclaiming the word “creationism” (go here). He covers a lot of ground, and there is a great comment thread, with Tim Bulkeley making a distinction between history and ontology, and Peter Kirk suggesting that Adam and Eve may have lived somewhere in South Africa, “but where, and when?”
I also believe in reclaiming words. Like Bruce Waltke2, I maintain that God individuated the species in the biosphere through the process of evolution. I am thus a CE in Jeremy’s terminology, though I prefer to self-identify with a different acronym for the same thing, EvC. My main burden is to point out how wrongheaded it is to think that any one of the following positions is status confessionis1: EvC, OEC, and YEC. Whoever insists that Joe Smith is beyond the pale because Joe Smith holds to one of the three positions he does not hold, I consider to be an enemy of the body of Christ.
I find Tim’s distinction (which he admits may be his distinction, not that of Paul or the author of Genesis) worth further discussion. My approach is different from that of Jeremy, who invents miracle after miracle in order to save CE from contradicting Genesis and Paul as commonly (and I think inaccurately) interpreted.
Gen 1 and Gen 2-3 are to be read canonically, which is to say, in their current sequence, something Jeremy fails to do.
Gen 1 assumes that the animal kingdom will pose a threat to humankind, with God giving humankind the task of subduing the animal kingdom, and thus protecting human life from animal violence for the sake of preserving the common weal. Neither Gen 1 nor Gen 2-3 tell us when animals began to transgress God’s proscription, according to which, and here God out-peta’s PETA, not just man but also beast were to be vegetarians (Gen 1:26-28).
By analogy with Gen 3-4, however, we might as well assume that animals transgressed the pro/pre-scription from the start, with the first animal couple and the first set of sibs committing, as it were, the original sins. And if the animals did not pose a threat to the first couple in the garden, that was true insofar as the latter hewed to God’s imperative to subdue the animal kingdom.
Enough narrativization of what I take to be true on the ontological and historical levels. The question at hand: In what sense is Gen 1-3 true ontologically, and in what sense historically? I will not try to give an exhaustive answer. I’m just trying to think along with these texts, according to the intent of their authors as I understand that intent.
Gen 1 – that creation is very good – is true in that creation is very good by design (ontology) and in fact (history), even if it is not free from conflict, conflict that is assumed to be a constituent feature of it (Gen 1:26-28).
Gen 2-3 – that is, that man and beast have it within them to transgress divine prescriptions, and in fact do so - is true, ontologically and historically. I don’t make the distinction that Jeremy makes, in which he assumes that the serpent is not really a serpent, but a literary stand-in for an angelic being.3
I admit that this construal has problems, such as, it makes animals accountable for their actions. But God does that according to the Bible (e.g. Gen 9:5). We do it, too. That’s why we kill wolves that kill sheep, or keep their numbers down to the point that they do not constitute an overwhelming threat to human beings and their livelihoods. Another possible objection is that, on this understanding, God equips both man and beast with everything they need to sin against an ideal baseline from day one. Not only against that baseline, but against each other.
I do not find this objection to have an intuitive basis. I have three children of my own, made in my image according to the diction of Genesis (Gen 5:3). It seems to me that my job description is pretty much that: to equip my children with all the tools they need to harm others and harm themselves. I do that because I hope they will also use those tools to bear each other’s burdens, even lay down their lives on behalf of another. I have no illusions. They will use the tools I give them, and that nature has given them, according to the law of the jungle, and, I trust, in harmony with the law of the Spirit (to return to Paul). Meanwhile I pray and believe that, where sin abounds, grace will super-abound.
1 Declaring something to be status confessionis means that something in a particular situation must be assigned the rank of confession in order to avoid caving on bedrock truth. Those who don’t hold to that something are deemed to be enemies of the truth and, in one sense or another, need to be shown the door.
2 Under the link, ABC’s recent news report, which misrepresents Waltke’s take on the debate. For links to Waltke’s actual take on the debate, go here.
3 It’s that, too, on a global reading of Scripture. But that does not mean that it is not to be taken literally as well, which of course it is in Isa 65:25.