iStock_000017595463MediumLast week Christianity Today posted an article discussing clergy and their views on origins. As the article reports, new Barna Group research (commissioned by BioLogos) “shows that a slight majority (54 percent) of Protestant pastors across all regions most likely identify with young-earth creation.” Those remaining are more likely to lean toward theistic evolution. The other two positions offered were “progressive creation” (an ambiguous term) and “uncertain” (meh).

In a sense it feels like there are only two clear options: young-earth creation and theistic evolution. It’s helpful to keep in mind that origins scenarios extend beyond an “either/or” option. Here’s where some clarification of these ever-changing terms might help. This list, which borrows from Hugh Ross’s book More Than a Theory, helps elucidate the options.

Evolution

Initially referring to “change over time,” this term has (ehem) evolved to describe a belief that all the changes observed in the record of nature (including the origin and history of the universe, Earth, and all life) can be attributed to natural causes alone.

Young-Earth Creation

According to this perspective, the Genesis creation days must be six consecutive 24-hour periods. Moreover, the Genesis genealogies contain few if any gaps, leading proponents of this perspective to calculate that all of creation is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. The general public tends to assume that “creationism” is synonymous with “young-earth creation” and intertwined with the evangelical belief system.

Intelligent Design Movement

Various cultural and religious backgrounds have proposed that an intelligent Designer is responsible for the origin and history of life. The distinction with the Intelligent Design Movement is their aim to get this concept into the classrooms. However, the movement refrains from identifying the Designer, making the concept untestable and therefore deficient as a scientific model.

Old-Earth Creation

In general, those who hold this view accept the biblical account of creation as a historical event (the creation days being long but finite periods of time) as well as the findings of mainstream science (including a billions-of-years-old universe and Earth). Views on the creation days and genealogies, bipedal primates, and Noah’s flood vary.

Theistic Evolution

This view maintains that God miraculously intervened at the origin of the universe. From there, perspectives on God’s involvement vary. Fully gifted creation, for example, asserts that God is responsible only for the initial creation of the universe. Evolutionary creation, on the other hand, suggests that God created the universe and all life through evolution.

Framework Theory

Framework theory upholds the biblical creation account yet doesn’t assign chronological order to the details of the creation week. The creation account provides pictures or metaphors for God’s creative activity in the kingdom of heaven.

Progressive Creation

The Barna Group describes this view as belief that God created life in its present form over a period of time, but not via evolutionary process. We would clarify that some who call themselves progressive creationists accept that all life stems from a common ancestor. (Our point is that the term is vague, sometimes referring to old-earth creation and other times to theistic evolution.) Variations on this view accept an old universe and Earth but concur that life has been present on Earth for only thousands of years. RTB is often misidentified as adherents of progressive creation.

Concordism

This view asserts that God’s Word (the Bible) and God’s world (the record of nature) are in harmony. Any conflict or discordance between the two arises from a faulty interpretation or incomplete understanding of the data. (Hugh articulates our concordist position here.)

As you can see, there are plenty more origins scenarios to consider. Ideally we’d like to see more colors (representing more perspectives) added to Barna’s graph. Moreover, it would be nice to see the percentages for those in the “uncertain” camp diminish. (Uncertain was defined by Barna as those who believe that God created life but are uncertain how.) Delving into the science might seem daunting, but understanding where the universe and humans came from (and where both are headed) helps answer some of life’s big questions. “Ultimately, what’s at stake is who or what determines the meaning of life,” Hugh explains.

Looking back to my first year of faith, I recall falling into the “uncertain” camp. But in the years since, I’ve come to cherish how God reveals himself through nature. Science (yes, science—the subject I dreaded in high school) continues to affirm the Bible—therefore it must be the inspired word of God.

So which of the above options do you lean toward? Perhaps you already hold firmly to your selection or perhaps you’re still trying to nail it down. In either case, it’s helpful to give careful thought to the other perspectives. As Hugh puts it,

Understanding the variety of choices for origins’ scenarios supplies a context for testing which positions are indeed the most viable. Any hope of understanding creation/evolution issues requires a comprehension of the various positions.

From there we can begin to engage in conversation with those from varying perspectives and offer informed (and gentle and respectful) responses.

–Sandra

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