Chapter 10: Christian Practice and Darwinism
I do not intend to work through this chapter nor Adrian’s appendix in the way that I have done with the previous ones. The main reason is that I have a very different view to Adrian of the Christian life and of what worship is. Liturgy has never been attractive to me as it seems to come close to the vain repetitions which Jesus warned against (Mt. 6:7). In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul alludes to how the early Christians conducted themselves when together; this was not a preplanned “performance” led by one or more people, but a Holy Spirit conducted symphony of contributions in prayer, prophecy and praise. (It should be noted though that on this occasion he was writing to address the notes of discord which were far too common in their relationships.) My own experience is that when every Christian recognises their responsibility to allow the Holy Spirit to minister through them to The LORD and the others present in a gathering, then individual believers are built up in their love of God and are encouraged to get on with the work which their Heavenly Father has prepared for them. (Eph. 2:10 & Heb. 10:23-25).
This vast difference between our views and experience is why I believe there will be little to gain from a point-by-point examination of Adrian’s persuasions. Instead, I want to use the rest of this section to look at the bigger issues which have been raised by Adrian’s book. I will introduce them however with an important question asked by Adrian in this chapter. In the section on Evangelism and outreach, believing he has dismantled “traditional Christian beliefs” by placing them in the spotlight of Darwinism, Adrian continues “we need to ask what gospel we are left with to proclaim.” (p.73). His answer is that “His [Jesus’] life, ministry, and example set the pattern for the world as it could be. We are invited to join his cause, to rally to his banner.” (p.74) He concludes, “Christ gives us the means of transforming the world. And though that transformation can only ever go so far, there remains the hope that one day God will make amends for all that is lacking in this life in a wonderful life to come.” (p.74) Is this really the Gospel of Jesus Christ which was preached by the early church, or is it another false gospel, to add to the many which have been put forward as more attractive alternatives throughout church history? I examine below what gospel Adrian has left himself with to proclaim.
Throughout the pages of “Why Darwin Matters to Christians” Adrian has consistently set his superficial understanding of science, and in particular evolution, against the record of the Bible. Always preferring to side with the secularism of modern science, he has rejected much of the revelation contained in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Amidst this tide of unbelief, he has however clung on to the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus. Furthermore, whilst his god is a feeble reflection of the God of the Bible, Adrian has also shown himself reluctant to exclude the possibility that he had nothing to do with our origins. Instead, he asks his readers to assume “that God had a hand in the creation of the universe by whatever means.” (p.41). Here then, he is playing fast and loose with the Scriptures. Insisting on the one hand that the Bible is “extremely unreliable… as a means of obtaining the truth,” (p.30) on the other he still clings to parts of it as being authoritative. He is not the first Anglican priest to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to retain whilst ridiculing those who take the whole seriously. One amongst many of such doubters is the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries. In April 2002, along with his then good friend Prof. Richard Dawkins, Harries co-ordinated a group of bishops and scientists to sign a letter to the then Prime Minister protesting at his position over faith schools, specifically Emmanuel College, Gateshead. The letter specifically set the teaching of evolution against Biblical creation. (The full text can be found here.) This was part of an on-going campaign against the teaching of creation in all schools. In response to correspondence criticising his views, Harries circulated a three page article which ended in this way:
The evidence for evolution is in general so overwhelming, in all sorts of overlapping areas of science, that the literalist creationist is forced to postulate a God who deliberately faked it in order to deceive us (tempt us?) into thinking that evolution happened. To the true believer, isn’t it an insult to God to suggest that He is a charlatan, a faker? And isn’t literalist creationism therefore a form of blasphemy?
The following year Harries and Dawkins wrote a joint letter to the Sunday Times, again criticising the government’s policy in this area and containing a level of vindictive rhetoric against the Vardy foundation which Dawkins repeated at every possible opportunity for some time afterwards. In their letter they echoed Harries’ words stating, “Literalistic young earth creationism is an insult to God.” They said this even though Dawkins does not believe that God exists! However, this partnership of high profile Richards was to be severely tested not too long afterwards. In January 2006, Channel 4 broadcast a short series of programmes presented by Dawkins with the title “The Root of All Evil”. In Episode 2, subtitled “The Virus of Faith”, Dawkins interviewed his co-protagonist the then Bishop of Oxford. The interview, which occurs about 35 minutes into the episode, was filmed in a parish churchyard with traffic noise in the background. Dawkins and Harries appear to be seated on an old market cross. In a voice-over Dawkins introduced the discussion in this way:
“The established Church of England is being painfully torn apart by these differences of opinion over the Scriptures. The battleground is not so much abortion, but homosexuality and gay clergy. On one side are vociferous Scriptural purists; on the other more moderate believers who interpret the Bible selectively.”
This is followed by his first question to Harries:
“You’re on the liberal wing of the Anglican Church. Maybe the other side are the ones who are being true to their Scriptures in a way that you’re not. I mean, you who are liberal and much closer to what I would think, are the one who is departing from the, certainly from the Scriptural and perhaps from the fundamentals?”
Harries answer focussed on the issue of homosexuality and ended with this summary:
“…so it’s a question of the changing facts as well as a changing understanding of how the Bible should be interpreted.”
Dawkins responds by saying:
“This of course is all music to my ears, but I’m kind of left wondering why you stick with Christianity at all therefore. Maybe some other fundamentalist might say just that to you?”
However, in the film Harries’ answer is faded out after a sentence and a half, and in a voice-over Dawkins comments:
“Some say that while religious fundamentalists betray reason, moderate believers betray reason and faith equally. The moderates’ position seems to me to be fence-sitting. They half believe in the Bible, but how do they decide which parts to believe literally and which parts are just allegorical?”
The film then returns to the churchyard discussion with Dawkins asking Harries if he would not deny miracles. Avoiding the question, the Bishop responded with a denial that “God was doing miracles the whole time.” Eventually, Dawkins tried to tie down the Bishop with this key question:
“Then what about the sort of really big miracles like the Virgin Birth? What do you think about that?”
“I don’t think that it’s on a par with the resurrection, for example. I mean I actually do believe the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is absolutely fundamental to Christianity in a way that I don’t believe the Virgin Birth is.”
The edited interview is faded out again at that point and Dawkins is allowed the final comments in a further voice-over. In this he sharply criticises the Bishop and any who refuse to embrace the whole of Scripture:
“It seems to me an odd proposition that we should adhere to some parts of the Bible story but not to others. After all, when it comes to important moral questions, by what standards do we cherry-pick the Bible? Why bother with the Bible at all if we have the ability to pick and choose from it what is right and what is wrong for today’s society?”
It should be noted that this broadcast significantly changed the relationship between these two prominent members of Oxford society. For instance, when the two men appeared together on BBC Radio 4’s “Start the Week” on 13 March that year, Harries was far more critical of Dawkins than he had been in the past. However The Guardian reports that a subsequent debate between them at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to mark Charles Darwin’s 200th anniversary sounded like “two old pals having a warm ding-dong over a pint. As a result, it was a thoroughly pleasant evening of gentle sparring.” Though they added that “The referee, Jeremy Paxman, tried to inject some controversy into proceedings but soon gave up as the atmosphere remained congenial.” (Audio & video recordings are available from the university website.) The Oxford Times report also confirms Paxman’s bias, stating that he “waded in by asking how people are to know which parts of the Bible are true and which are not.” This was at a period in the conversation when Dawkins was again pressing his “Root of all Evil” criticism of those who pick and choose which parts of the Bible to believe.
In his book Adrian quotes Richard Dawkins many times in order to support his own rejection of Scripture in the light of evolutionism. It is interesting to me that he was either unaware of, or chose to ignore this very real challenge from one whom he respects in so many ways. As noted above, Adrian has ditched most parts of the Bible apart from his god having played some part in creation (a “fount and origin” as Harries stated in the debate) and his version of Jesus coming to earth, having died and been resurrected, but in taking up this position Adrian has avoided explaining why he is reluctant to abandon these particular aspects of Scripture. I disagree with Dawkins on most things, but on this issue I totally agree, that liberals like Adrian are fence-sitting and cherry-picking bits of the Bible to suit their own ends.
“I think the evangelical Christians have really sort of got it right in a way, in seeing evolution as the enemy. Whereas the more, what shall we say, sophisticated theologians are quite happy to live with evolution, I think they are deluded. I think the evangelicals have got it right, in that there is a deep incompatibility between evolution and Christianity, and I think I realised that about the age of sixteen.”
In thinking as he does, Dawkins echoes a widely quoted statement by G. Richard Bozarth which first appeared in the American Atheist, (September 20, 1979, p. 30). It reads:
“Christianity has fought, still fights, and will fight science to the desperate end over evolution, because evolution destroys utterly, and finally the very reason Jesus’ earthly life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin, and in the rubble, you’ll find the sorry remains of the son of god. Take away the meaning of his death. If Jesus was not the Redeemer who died for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is nothing!”
Readers will now understand why this site is entitled “Jesus in the Rubble”. More than anything else I have read, Adrian’s book demonstrates how turning from Biblical revelation to the myth of evolution (made attractive even as it is by being dressed up as empirical science) leaves the hope of the death, burial and resurrection of the incarnate, sinless Son of God buried under the dust and rubble of unbelief. As discussed here Adrian’s lack of faith has resulted in him being left with a god who is weak and a Jesus who was a sinner being limited by his genes, who died to make atonement with us, who did not overcome sin, and who is unlikely to return to earth. Instead of redeeming us from sin, his Jesus’ incarnation was by way of an apology on behalf of his frail god for having started off the creation in the first place. Adrian’s god is a grovelling god who, it seems, can help no-one.
As I have observed previously, despite this pitiful Christ, Adrian is to be congratulated for refusing to gloss over the problems which come from the glib claim of most theistic evolutionists that “God used evolution.” Adrian has demonstrated that Bozarth was correct in his understanding of the central issue of the challenge of Darwinism to the Gospel. He has proven Dawkins right when he stated that liberal theologians are deluded. There is indeed a deep incompatibility between evolution and Christianity!
This conflict is clear to those who take the Bible seriously and study its most straightforward interpretations. These simplest understandings are the way that William Tyndale hoped his now famous, previously illiterate, plough-boy would read the Scriptures. In fact Adrian’s own words demonstrate to us that it is possible to see their plain meaning with regard to the gospel. At the end of my previous section I highlighted one question Adrian asks, but avoids answering, in Chap. 9. I promised to answer it here. The question is this:
“Or is it really possible to live a human life transformed by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, in the way the New Testament envisages?” (p.64)
Despite the sceptical tone in his words, this is a remarkable question by one who is so unbelieving. It is remarkable because it makes plain that Adrian clearly understands the central message of the New Testament. He does not argue with the fact that this is what is claimed for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the books of the Christian cannon; understanding that assertion is not his problem. Adrian’s difficulty is that it does not suit him for the message to be so simple, straightforward and substantial. Now I cannot speculate why he chooses to reject this message of hope, but without a doubt he does so. Not only does he thoroughly reject it, but in his book he gives the impression of having set out to vehemently deny it. He has belittled it so much that I suspect he expects his readers to join him in a mental chorus of “Impossible!” in response to this question. Let me then go against the tide of incredulity and give a simple but assertive answer; “Yes, it is!”
Around the time of writing this part of this review, a group of us began a study of Paul’s letter to the Christians of his day who lived in a city called Ephesus. After his usual style of greeting, the letter opens with an amazing description of the blessings which Christians have in Christ. However, these overwhelming blessings are theirs not primarily on this earth but in “heavenly places” – in other words they are spiritual realities, not material possessions. The second part of the first chapter of Ephesians is an outline of Paul’s prayer for them to grow into an understanding of the realities of what their Heavenly Father has bestowed upon them now that they are in Christ. “All well and good,” you may be thinking, but how does that change lives in the here and now? Paul answers that in the next part of his letter. Adrian’s question above is itself a one line summary of Eph. 2:1-10, for in it Paul declares, “It is possible to live a human life transformed by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ!” Please read these verses for yourself.
Paul describes believers in Jesus Christ as those who were dead in trespasses and sins. Physically dead people are unable to help themselves, but those who are dead spiritually are even worse off. Not only are they incapable of changing their situation, Paul describes these living dead as being pushed around by unseen spiritual authorities which dominate all those who have not been salvaged by Christ. This used to be the lot of those to whom Paul was writing, and it would still have been so had not God intervened. I cannot improve on Paul’s words:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (2:4-9)
Materialists like Adrian cannot but find it hard to appreciate the differences that changes in the spiritual dimension make to life in this three dimensional world. They believe that the material is everything – Adrian has repeatedly made this clear. That is their mistake, for the spiritual existed before the material and it is from the spiritual that this universe was formed. Therefore, it is from spiritual realities that this cosmos takes its shape. Consequently, when a person experiences a change in their spiritual circumstances, there is a change in their circumstances on this earth. They may be no richer or poorer, they may be no stronger or weaker, they may have no more or no less influence in society, but things have changed. Some may think that this change could be for the better or for the worse, but when The LORD gives a person life in Jesus Christ, it is always for the best. Elsewhere Paul expressed this change in this way:
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13-14)
Of course to many all this will be just theory, for what Adrian is asking about is a change in life now, and some will begin to murmur about being so heavenly (spiritually) minded that one is no earthly good. However, without a change in their spiritual condition, no-one can significantly change their life on earth. Yes, they can give up smoking, lose weight, even stop working in “the city” and take up an environmentally friendly “good life” but despite Adrian’s hopes otherwise, men and women cannot stop themselves from living for themselves. Our fallen natures berate us with the false belief that this life really does favour the fittest players in the struggle to come out on top. The weak, it assures us, are those who go under, even if they are doing their best to care for others. Combined with the pressure exerted by the unseen spiritual power-brokers, this means that we are quite unable through our own efforts to change our allegiance to self-centred living.
It has to be acknowledged that amongst those who go to church Sunday by Sunday there are significant numbers who know nothing of this change of spiritual dominion. Though they regularly repeat religious liturgy, they know nothing of the heavenly liberty which belongs to those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. Consequently, anyone seeking evidence of transformed lives amongst such church members will not find it. Despite their good intentions, people who have been fooled into thinking that religion will set them free, find themselves still pushed around by their sinful natures because they continue to walk “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph. 2:2)
Outside this group of those who have been sold short on the Gospel, there are Christians who know what it means to be under the new management of the Holy Spirit. I for one know the benefits of this, but I do not intend to explain myself here, not do I wish to share anecdotes about others. Instead, if you want to discover the difference that being in Christ’s kingdom makes to individuals, my first recommendation would be that you ask The LORD to introduce you to someone who is living the type of transformed life of which Adrian is sceptical. If you find it hard to believe that God would answer your prayer in this respect, then my second recommendation is that you watch some of the videos on this website: A Muslim Journey to Hope has been put together to help Muslims appreciate that Jesus is not a dead God, nor does He stand back from those who appeal to Him for salvation. The videos are reconstructions of the journeys taken by different people who were raised as Muslims, but who through different routes came to know Jesus Christ as the living God. In each of their experiences, God has intervened in this world and has given them a freedom they did not know before. I have watched just a few of the sixty-six accounts currently listed, but I am sure that whichever ones you click on, you will find evidence of a “life transformed by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, in the way the New Testament envisages.”
Finally, for those who want to know more about a Christianity which really does do what it says on the tin, I would encourage you to take a look at my “Journey into New Life”. This is my attempt to explain in language accessible to non-Christians what the Gospel is and the most helpful way to respond to it.
If you have read from the first page on this site to this point, can I thank you for persevering. I trust you have found my observations helpful. Having taken the time to write this review of his book, I do hope that one person who does read it all will be Adrian Bailey himself. I therefore close with the invitation I first made to Adrian when I heard him speak. Despite his reluctance, I remain willing to debate him face to face on any aspect of his book, or indeed on this review of it. All he has to do is to approach me with suggestions of title, venue and a date.