Chapter 8: Darwinism and the future hope
In this chapter Adrian offers his answer to the question, “Does life, the planet, and the universe have a hope to look forward to? Or are we trapped in our imperfect universe, with all its violence, cruelty and uncertainty?” (p.54) His rhetorical response is that Christianity teaches that it does have such a hope, but we should note here that the question posed was not about human life alone, but the whole material realm (i.e. every living organism as well as the Earth and the whole cosmos). Adrian therefore is considering something other than the future of individual humans; rather it is the destiny of every molecule which has formed since the moment when he believes nothing exploded into something. In common with many others, he assumes that first something became hydrogen which, over a very long time – though time may be a product of the Big Bang – transformed itself into all other elements. These by trial and error then assembled themselves into various compounds and collections, most remaining lifeless, whilst others by some unknown means found the spark which gave them life. To those with such a world view, it is fitting that they concern themselves about the future of the materials of the universe as much as the living beings within it. For to Adrian and many others, man is not only a cousin of the animals, he is a second-cousin to every plant and a distant relative of every element which has descended from our ancestral hydrogen cloud.
Adrian’s search for a hope of universal salvation has been aided by the Rt Revd Dr Tom Wright (who retired as the Bishop of Durham in 2010) and his book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, to give it its full title. Adrian writes, “As Tom Wright points out in Surprised by Hope and elsewhere, historic Christian faith never believed in a disembodied spiritual state when we die. That is a platonic belief, not a Christian one. Rather, Christianity believed in a transformation of the cosmos, which includes us, as graphically described in Revelation chapters 21 and 22. God’s good creation was always meant to be transient, pointing from a universe as it is to what the universe could be one day. The heavenly realm and the earthly realm are not opposites or separate realities; rather, the heavenly realm is poised to break completely into the earthly realm when Jesus returns in triumph as Lord and Judge, transforming us, the world, and the cosmos into the ideal creation which was always planned.” (p.54) I have quoted most of this paragraph because it sets out almost everything which Adrian expands upon in the rest of this short chapter, and also because it contains one important feature about which he expresses clear scepticism just two pages later. I will return to this below.
Though he does not specify it, I can only assume, given his later disagreement, that the paragraph quoted is Adrian’s summary of Surprised by Hope, rather than a setting forth of his own beliefs. I did wonder therefore if it was a fair summary of Wright’s book and from the reviews I have read of it, it seems to be so. Here is one quotation I sourced from the GoodReads website: “The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present – by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbour as yourself – will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”
Whilst I agree with Wright that an angelic-like, spirit existence, with everyone transported everywhere on their own personal cloud for the rest of eternity is not found in the Bible but in cartoons, I cannot help but think that Wright has used this as a straw man. Having stood it up as the “traditional” belief, he seems not to have examined all the alternative options, but only the one which he sought to justify. My own preference when addressing potentially contentious issues such as the second coming of Jesus Christ and what will happen to this creation subsequently, is to at least outline all the well-known options taught across the church spectrum and look at their strengths and weaknesses. On the topic of the future hope as indicated in the Bible, I suggest David Pawson’s “When Jesus Returns” in which he systematically lists the options commonly put forward and then says which one he believes is most convincing and why. To repeat that exercise here would not be profitable, but I must point out that there is at least one alternative future hope which it seems that Wright failed to consider, and which Adrian certainly ignored.
I acknowledge that Adrian and Tom Wright are amongst a large number of people today who teach that it is the Church’s task to renew the earth, repair the damage if you will, a work which starts now with our own efforts. This is a popular concept not only amongst liberal Christians, but it has become common with many evangelicals as part of a post-millennialist view of the future. In recent decades, this idea that Jesus will only return once the Church has put things in order has become popular throughout the “new church” sections of the charismatic movement. For example, Roger Forster, leader of Ichthus Christian Fellowship, London speaking at “Whose Earth?” in Manchester on 18 September 1993, claimed “the Father has destined to give the world to His Son” and went on to say that the work of Church is to clean up the earth in preparation for that day. Furthermore, Forster believes that mankind and this universe share a common destiny and that Christians are called to work at turning the created jungle into a garden city. In common with Adrian and Tom Wright, Forster also took the Biblical promises of a new heaven and a new earth to point to the redemption of this universe, rather than its replacement by a new one. We need to think further about this, for upon it depends the future hope which Adrian has set before his readers.
There are four passages in the Bible which all speak of “a new heaven and a new earth” being created. These are:
Isa 65:17-19, Isa 66:22, 2Pe 3:3-14 & Re 21:1-5. To these we also need to add Psalm 102:25-27, which is quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12 as referring to Jesus. Please take the time to read these in full. (Clicking on the references will open a new tab/window on BibleGateway.)
On the whole I think these promises of a new creation speak for themselves, but as they are wrongly cited so often as a promise of renewal rather than replacement, I will highlight their main points. First, in Isa. 65 the word ‘create’ occurs several times. This new universe will be formed by the same Creator and through the same authority which He used “in the beginning”. Adrian’s scepticism regarding both creative acts does not prevent either from being reality. Secondly, we read in this passage, “And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Now if our future is to be confined to this planet, then the planet itself and the sun, moon and stars which surround it will not be forgotten and they will continually remind us of our and their past. Isa. 66 does not seem to have much to add to our understanding of the matter in hand, save that in it The LORD promises that both the new creation and the people of Israel would remain before Him for ever. This is in sharp contrast with the promises in the above passages that the present creation will come to an end.
Peter is the writer who gives us most detail about the future of this universe – in v10 the heavens pass away, the elements all melt and the earth is burned up! He then wrote that this should spur Christians on to be holy, godly people who are looking forward to the day – even doing what we can to hasten it – when God will incinerate this universe. However, many in the church today are, like Adrian, arguing the opposite; it is because we need to preserve this earth that we need to be holy they argue, yet rarely do they call for repentance in regard to the three things which Isaiah declares elsewhere to be ruining the earth. “The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, Because they have transgressed the laws, Changed the ordinance, Broken the everlasting covenant.” (Isa. 24:5) These are all offences directly against The LORD, the Creator. I need to emphasise here that I am not saying that Christians should be encouraged to live irresponsibly on the earth; we should not. But I am saying we should have a right attitude to creation because we have responsibility to Christ for it as stewards, and not because we have to renovate it for our grandchildren, or to make it last for eternity.
Peter explained why believers in Christ should look forward to the end of this creation – simply put, there is a new and much better cosmos going to replace it. It will be superior to this one because it is a creation in which righteousness will dwell and no place will be found therefore for sin, for struggle, for violence or for death. Given that he values these experiences so much, it is no wonder that Adrian spends the whole of this chapter seeking to deny that such a new heaven and earth will become reality. However, they will replace this one, and they are to be looked forward to. I agree with Peter when he wrote in v14, “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.” This contrast is also the subject of Rev. 21. First we have the exchange of creations, old for new, and then we have the Bride of Christ, the redeemed Church, coming down to the new earth, and here called the New Jerusalem. It is in this city, not in a renovated first creation, that the Creator God chooses to dwell with His redeemed. It is here, as I have pointed out earlier, that He promises to “wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” John then tells us that he witnessed the One who sat on the throne declaring, “Behold, I make all things new.” (v4-5). As I have highlighted before, Adrian dismisses such a new creation in his previous chapter in this way, “Whilst humanity might yearn for Eden, once you think through the practical implications of an Eden, it becomes at best, a mixed blessing and at worse a poisoned chalice.” (p.48) His feeble, emasculated god is incapable of making all things new, so in this chapter Adrian puts forward men and women as the solution, when in reality we are the very reason that this creation has been ruined.
The final passages referred to above are Ps. 102 and the three verses from it which are quoted in Heb. 1. These passages are not often considered when studying Biblical promises for the future, but they should be. The main point of both is to emphasise that the Creator is greater than the creation, a point we should all be aware of from our experience of daily life. Any manufactured product, be it hand-made or machine-made, is less than the people who made it. They existed before it, they are not a part of it, unless they sell it remains under their authority, and of course they will not cease to exist simply because the product is destroyed. This is the message of the psalmist and it is a message which the author of Hebrews believed was worth repeating, though he made clear that it pointed to Jesus Christ, God who is the Son, as well as to God the Father. Within this statement of faith we find these comments about this creation, “They will perish, but You remain; And they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will fold them up, And they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not fail.” This creation, states the Holy Spirit, will perish, will be folded up and it will be replaced with a new one, but the Creator will remain the same. Two promises come to mind in this regard. In Mal 3:6 The LORD told Israel, “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” And secondly, we read later in Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (13:8). The same is not true about their creative work in this cosmos. Whilst this universe was “very good,” they never intended it to last for eternity. Together the whole Godhead has promised to provide a new creation, a new universe filled with righteousness, where those who have be faithful to them on this earth will be allowed to live with them for ever. That is a special offer I will do all I can not to miss out on. However, from what he has written, it is a cosmos which Adrian believes to be undesirable and I am sure that The LORD will therefore not force him to live in it unless he genuinely changes his mind.
For much of this chapter Adrian worries about the implications of the future for any beings which have evolved elsewhere in the universe, but I do not intend to discuss these concerns as they are not central to his point or mine. What is central to his argument though is his commitment to the scientific method, which he believes arose from the Enlightenment. As I have described previously, those in whose “scientific” footsteps Adrian is walking were actually pursuing an anti-Christian agenda and it was to that end that they sacrificed the discipline of hard science to promote an alternative history to the one found in the Bible which offended them. Charles Lyell paved the way with his alternative geology, and Charles Darwin followed his example with a rewrite of biology based on speculation rather than evidence. Adrian however elects to put his confidence in men rather than in the Holy Spirit, “To claim that the first century Christians who wrote the New Testament had some sort of superior theological understanding with their limited appreciation of how God’s creation works, is therefore, quite frankly, laughable.” (p.56) He has already stated that the Bible is an unreliable source of truth, “In Chapter 6, I shall go on to show how extremely unreliable revelation [the Bible] is as a means of obtaining the truth.” (p.30). In both instances Adrian deceives himself because he belittles the Holy Spirit’s work in inspiring the writers of both Old and New Testaments. Jesus had a different opinion of the reliability of the Holy Spirit in making the truth known, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (Jn. 16:13) I know whose opinion I trust the most.
His false confidence now leads Adrian to reject a further truth about Jesus Christ. To the list in his previous chapter of what he denies about Christ he now adds, “At present, though, the reasoning above leads me to conclude that a physical second coming of Christ to renew the material universe is highly unlikely.” (p.56) Now this could be taken to mean that Adrian believes that his version of Jesus is coming back, but when he does so he won’t be rolling up his sleeves and getting involved in the task at hand. That is possible, but given that Adrian believes Jesus died and rose to inspire us to renew the universe, I think it unlikely. What he is actually claiming is that the Jesus who died at Calvary will not be coming back at all, that He now has no further involvement in the future of this universe, the earth or the lives of men and women. This contradicts what he wrote in the second paragraph of this chapter (quoted above), which is why I said above that that paragraph was probably a summary of Tom Wright’s teaching, rather than an expression of Adrian’s own belief. Because he believes that Jesus is not returning, Adrian concludes, “Any renewal of the cosmos would therefore be down to us.” (p.56) But, as I have argued above, it is The LORD who has promised to make all things new and it is Him we should trust, for man’s track record is abysmal.
Even when Adrian seems to come close to a view of the future which might be similar to that promised in the Scriptures, he soon dispels any thought that this is the case. “Only in a life to come, on an unknown spiritual plane, could Christ meaningfully be said to be perfectly present in full power and glory. To those who experience it, it will seem as though he has come again. Everything can be renewed, and suffering and death finally defeated.” (p.57-58) Not many pages before this, as I have already pointed out, Adrian said that death and sin were not our enemies, but co-workers with natural selection which have made us what we are. Is he really looking forward to suffering and death being brought to an end here? Not really, this is a hope that somehow God’s apology for creating us will become a reality, “One hopes then that in a universe devoid of justice, that God will finally be able to make amends to a suffering humanity.” This making amends however must be on Adrian’s terms not those of his god, for he continues, “Those who have lived for the healing of the world, according to Christ’s way could be vindicated with joy. Those who have lived only to exploit or harm could have good cause to be fearful. That doesn’t necessarily mean eternal torment. If God is ultimately a God of justice, then one hopes that his treatment of the unrepentant would be proportionate and rehabilitative.” (p.58)
I have already mentioned my article “If God is all powerful, why doesn’t He just forgive people?” I show there why The LORD could not be a God of justice if He were to rescue the unrepentant from eternal death, so I will not discuss here Adrian’s desire for a god who at the same time is both apologetic and unconcerned about justice. For the reader of this site though, a choice lies before you. You can decide whether what Adrian has set out in his book is a good, careful and accurate reinterpretation of the Biblical account of life on earth. Or you might be persuaded that my defence of Biblical Christianity is the more convincing. Alternatively, you may care for neither of these and follow a different course altogether, be that under the Christian banner or some other religion. Finally, you may choose to do nothing at all, simply drifting along that broad road described by Jesus as being occupied by the majority of the human race. (Mt. 7:13-14) However, once you have read contrasting arguments like Adrian’s and my own, you will be held accountable for how you respond. In Deut. 13:1-5, The LORD warns Israel that amongst them there will arise false prophets who would encourage them to believe in alternative gods. What may surprise many though is that The LORD takes responsibility for raising up these false prophets Himself, adding, “for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.” Your response to Adrian’s book as well as your response to this website will demonstrate your attitude to the God who created you. My prayer is that you will seek Him with all your heart, for if you do He will be found by you. (Jer 29:13)