Creation Evangelism and Apologetics

I want to say a few words now about how our Doctrine of Creation and the Fall affects our approach to Apologetics.

Creation reveals God and leaves us without excuse

This theme is picked up particularly by the Apostle Paul in Acts 14, Acts 17 and Romans 1. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas pray for a man to be healed and in response to this miracle, the locals are about to worship them as gods.

Paul responds by insisting that they must not worship him because the true God has already been revealed and it is this God that they need to worship. God is revealed in creation through his providential care for his creatures.  God has allowed the nations to go their own way until now but the coming of Jesus changes things.

David Peterson notes that this allowing the nations to go their own way is not about God excusing their rebellion through ignorance. Rather, just as God’s involvement with his people Israel is a sign of his covenant blessing, so here we see a sign of the curse in the absence of his special revelation to them. They are abandoned to wandering, giving a foretaste of final judgement.[1]

However, God has not left them without any witness at all.

“God’s goodness is experienced by everyone who enjoys the benefits of living in his creation. The pleasures of life are an encouragement to believe in a beneficent Creator. To worship and serve created things rather than the Creator is the essence of sin, and in Romans 1:18-25 it is the reason why God abandoned the nations to the consequences of their rebellion.”[2]

So, creation and providence provide enough revelation so that we can know truth about who God is.

In Acts 17, Paul uses the fact that God is creator to show that he has no need for human temples and shrines. He is the God who made the whole Universe and in a sense, it acts as his throne room or temple but even this finite Universe cannot contain the infinite God.

So, we see God’s goodness in his providence and his greatness in his creative power. Paul puts it like this in Romans 1:20:

“For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So, they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

The Church Father Athanasius also picks up on how Creation itself points back to belief in a creator God. He says:

“In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste. For instance, some say that all things are self- originated and, so to speak, haphazard. The Epicureans are among these; they deny that there is any Mind behind the universe at all. This view is contrary to all the facts of experience, their own existence included. For if all things had come into being in this automatic fashion, instead of being the outcome of Mind, though they existed, they would all be uniform and without distinction. In the universe everything would be sun or moon or whatever it was, and in the human body the whole would be hand or eye or foot. But in point of fact the sun and the moon and the earth are all different things, and even within the human body there are different members, such as foot and hand and head. This distinctness of things argues not a spontaneous generation but a prevenient Cause; and from that Cause we can apprehend God, the Designer and Maker of all.”[3]

Do you see that? Long before the Theory of Evolution became popular, Athanasius was challenging the logic that self-replicating matter would lead to the vast diversity in our Universe.  He sees the hand of a Creator at work who purposefully chooses to design each thing differently according to its purpose. There is no good reason or explanation for mutation: we expect self-replication to lead to clones. A number of people have noticed that our Universe reflects both a unity and diversity which point us back to a Creator who is one God in Three persons, a God whose triune nature reflects unity and diversity.

Humans have rejected God’s Truth as revealed in Creation

In Romans 1:19, Paul tells us that God’s Revelation is Creation means that we have received Truth, not just the ability to access or deduce truth from observation or reason, but who God is has been clearly revealed to us. It is not merely that we are ignorant of truth, rather, we have ignored, rejected and suppressed it.[4]

As we have seen above, this not just a rejection of God’s greatness. It is not about human beings running away from a Creator who is most certainly strong and powerful but may be cruel and bad.  It is a rejection of the goodness we have experienced of God, his loving kindness, his faithfulness, his providential care.

This suppression means that we have exchanged truth for a lie. Here, Paul points us back to the problem in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve chose to believe the Satan’s lie, in the face of evidence and experience that God was not great (they could rival him for power) and God was not good (he did not have their best interests at heart in his command).

We have exchanged worship of the living God for worship of his creature.  The story of Creation used in evangelism convicts us of our idolatry when we place our trust in other created things and/or in ourselves.

We have exchanged natural creation order relationships for unnatural ones. Paul focuses specifically on sexuality here. The point is that believing lies and choosing idolatry over trust and worship of the living God leads inevitable to sinful practices. Sin is not merely the wrong things we do. Those sins are symptomatic of a root heart condition, hence moralistic efforts at self-improvement will never cut it.

So, the story of Creation is important in evangelism because it brings us to the heart of the problem and leads to conviction of sin.  Whether through a single gospel presentation, an evangelistic course or the ongoing day to day work of disciple making, I would expect our apologetics to take us back again and again to how God made this world and what we have done with it.

The problem is not a mere intellectual one

However, we cannot simply rely on a presentation of the facts of Creation to convict people of sin. Notice with me again what Paul says in Romans 1.

“Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.”[5]

Our sinful rebellion has affected our ability to think and to see clearly; it leads to spiritual blindness. If our minds are “dark and confused,” then to what extent can we engage with the logic of an apologetical argument? To what extent can we observe creation and deduce God’s hand in it?

Furthermore, our confused, idolatrous, sinful state is not just a choice we have made.

“So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.”[6]

We have been handed over to sinful slavery. Here we have that same sense of abandonment that we picked up on in Acts 14 with regards to the nations.

If our minds are dark and we are handed over or abandoned to our sin then this constrains us and prevents us from seeing the truth about God in Creation.

This is important when we think about Apologetics. Some Apologetical methods rely heavily on presenting evidence about God’s existence as seen in nature. For example, you have William Paley’s classic apologetical work “Natural Theology” where nature is used to evidence and point to God.

In more recent years, Ken Ham and the Answers in Genesis movement have pushed heavily for an approach to evangelism rooted in demonstrating the scientific reliability of Genesis 1-11. Ham explains that he realised that we need to get people back to a Christian worldview if we are to help them to properly understand the problem of sin and why they need God.[7]

I have strong sympathies with this not just because I am, like Ham, a Young Earth Creationist but because as I stated above, for people to make sense of what the problem is, they need to know why they are here and where they have come from. This would be true whether you believe in a literal 6 day creation or an Old Earth Creation interpretation of Genesis.

The problem is that both Ham’s modern Creation Evangelism and Paley’s Natural Theology place too high a confidence in our readiness to accept the witness of General Revelation. It assumes that presented with the facts, we will move to faith.

The reality is that people don’t. The problem of darkened minds and hard hearts pushes us away from relying purely on an intellectual explanation and our dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit to illuminate dark minds and to warm, prick and convict cold, hard hearts.

Secondly, as Ham certainly would affirm, if we stop here, we stop far short of the Gospel message. The revelation of Creation removes our excuse for not worshipping the one true God but it does not show us how we can be restored to him.

This is reflected in the Biblical examples we have seen. First of all, in Acts 14, we quickly realise that Paul had much more to say but that his message was cut short by the crowd’s reaction. In Acts 17, he moves from talking about creation in General to the Creation of man and from there to the one who is coming to judge and who has been raised from the dead. The Romans 1 passage starts in verses 16-17 by telling us that God’s righteousness has been revealed in the Gospel. This righteousness is all about salvation by faith alone. The description of Creation’s excuse removing testimony and our suppression of it provides the explanation for the Gospel’s revelation of saving faith leading to true righteousness is needed.

Conclusion

Our evangelism must include engagement with the goodness and greatness of God’s wonderful Creation. From there, we will naturally move to the problem of Sin and the Fall. However, we must make sure that we do not get lost in the minutiae of defending the truth of Creation at the expense of pointing to the needed Saviour.

 

[1] David Peterson, Acts of the Apostles (Pillar), 410.

[2] David Peterson, Acts of the Apostles, 410.

[3] Athanasius, On the Incarnation (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, MI), 1 (2).

[4] Daniel Strange, “Perilous Exchange, Precious Good News: A Reformed Subversive Fulfilment of other Religions” (Pages 91-138 in Gavin D’Costa, Paul Knitter and Daniel Strange, Only One Way: Three Christian Responses on the Uniqueness of Christ in a Religiously Plural World, London. SCM, 2011), 112 -113.

[5] Romans 1:21.

[6] Romans 1:24.

[7] https://answersingenesis.org/gospel/evangelism/practical-creation-evangelism/

Advertisements