Part 4: Response to The Gospel as Center: Chapter 4: Creation by Andrew M. Davis
Chapter 4, simply titled “Creation” is written by Andrew M. Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church, Durham, N.C. Nothing at the church’s web site indicated that it is Calvinist except the fact that it has elders. Among Baptists, usually only churches that consider themselves “Reformed” have elders. I’m sure there are some exceptions to that, but it is a general indicator.
Sidebar: Just as a point of interest: My Reformed friend Mike Horton tells me that Baptists can’t really be Reformed in the confessional sense. Supporting that is that the World Communion of Reformed Churches does not include any Baptist bodies. It includes over 200 denominations none of which are Baptist. Mike says only infant baptizers can be truly Reformed and that strictly Reformed requires confession of the “three symbols of unity” (the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort). However, Baptists can be and often are Calvinists. So “Reformed” and “Calvinist” are not strictly synonyms.
Chapter 4, “Creation” contains nothing startling. With a few exceptions, any self-respecting Arminian could accept what it says about creation. In fact, in my opinion, ONLY an Arminian (or at least non-Calvinist) should be able to accept parts of it. For example, on page 67 Davis writes that “We live in a universe that was intelligently and lovingly crafted by a God who is good and who loves what he has made.” The chapter’s last two sentences seem inconsistent with Calvinism: “Live your life in fervent hope for the coming new creation. Yearn for it, pray for it, and speed its coming by evangelizing the lost.” (p. 75) “Speed its coming?” Only an open theist can really mean that! (I’m not accusing Davis of being an open theist. Obviously he’s not. I’m pointing out what I think is an inconsistency in his chapter insofar as he is a Calvinist.)
What convinces me Davis is a Calvinist? ON the second to last page of the chapter (p. 74) he writes about regeneration and the “absolute sovereignty of God in our conversion.” He says “Just as God spoke into the dark nothingness at creation saying, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light, so God spoke into the dark nothingness of our hearts to create a new spiritual light—the light of Christ. That is what regeneration is, and only the sovereign God can do it.” That is, of course, an expression of monergism. A Lutheran can also say that, but a Baptist isn’t a Lutheran, so I assume this means Davis is a Calvinist.
Overall, this chapter is a worthy summary of basic, conservative Christian doctrine of creation. God created out of nothing and for his glory. (Arminians can say that, too! Only we believe God’s glory and God’s love are inseparable so that when we say God created for his glory we mean out of love. So I can say that I, as an Arminian, believe everything a Calvinist believes about creation and more! True, Davis does say God loves his creation, but he doesn’t say God created out of love as if love were, as I believe, the other side of the coin of God’s glory.) God’s creation, including physicality, is good. But the fall brought about a curse on creation, including on human existence.
On interesting point in the chapter is that Davis does not reject theistic evolution as a possible Christian interpretation of the emergence of life forms. However, if one holds theistic evolution, he indicates, he or she must hold the form of it that includes “punctuated equilibrium.” I would call that “progressive creationism,” but he treats it as one version of theistic evolution. (pp. 60-61) He allows real diversity in interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 with regard to the “how” and “how long” of creation. He does not affirm young earth creationism as necessary.
Here’s an interesting statement on page 60: “The stakeholders of The Gospel Coalition are not on the same page with respect to all the details, but all of us insist that God alone is self-existing, that he is the creator of all, that he made everything good, that Adam and Eve were historical figures from whom the rest of the human race has sprung, and that the fundamental problem we face was introduced by human idolatry and rebellion and the curse they attracted.” These are the “nonnegotiables” of the doctrine of creation according to Davis, speaking on behalf of the whole Gospel Coalition.
One thing I find interesting about this is the obvious point that traditional fundamentalists will find this completely inadequate. It seems a rule of thumb among them is that young earth creationism and denial of any form of evolution to explain the emergence of species is ruled out as antithetical to biblical faith. This chapter seems to signal a desire on the part of The Gospel Coalition to put some distance between themselves and hard core fundamentalism.
I always find it ironic that no matter how conservative a person or group may be, there’s always someone more conservative than he or they.
I wonder what is meant by “Adam and Eve were historical figures?” What does “historical” mean in that statement? I assume Davis means they were two real people who lived in our time and space. However, “historical” can also mean “factually verifiable” as if archeology could, in principle, at least, find their skeletons buried somewhere. That begins to raise interesting questions such as their ages when created. How old was Adam’s DNA when God created it? Did Adam have a navel? Etc. Go ahead, laugh, but insisting on a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 through 3 raises these and a host of other questions. Inquiring minds will want to know. Sure, it’s possible to simply say “We don’t inquire that far.” But people like Barth, who called Genesis 1 through 3 “saga” would say that too and mean “Let’s not inquire into whether Adam and Eve were a literal first couple in a literal garden, etc.” In other words, it’s not myth, but neither is it (i.e., Genesis 1 through 3) history in any ordinary sense. To insist that Christians must believe in a literal human couple named Adam and Eve from which the whole human race is descended raises a host of problems and issues that are best avoided by taking Barth’s route.
My main qualm about this chapter has to do with Davis’ statements about conversion and regeneration. He equates them with creation ex nihilo and leaves no room for belief in human freed will (notice the purposeful use of the term “freed”) to cooperate with God’s grace. In other words, he seems to equate monergism with belief in God’s sovereignty and goodness. Sure, that’s good Calvinism. Again, however, my question is whether The Gospel Coalition is saying that monergism is part of the gospel. It seems so. Where does that leave non-Calvinist evangelicals? As not truly gospel-centered? As not really evangelical?
My plea to The Gospel Coalition is to come clean and be clear: What about non-Calvinist evangelicals? Unless and until they say otherwise, given strong hints in this book, I have to assume they are saying non-monergists are not gospel-centered and therefore not authentically, theologically evangelicals. That supports my contention, then, that THEY are post-evangelicals in the sense of leaving behind the generous orthodoxy on which the National Association of Evangelicals was founded and opting to narrow the evangelical tent down to themselves to the exclusion of Wesleyans and Arminians.