My Little Pony, the Elements of Harmony, and confusion at BioLogos

With today’s blog, I want to really make the case that we need to approach BioLogos cautiously with respect to the theology they’re advancing. Frankly, I think it’s toxic stuff. In light of some discussion over the historical Adam & Eve, I started digging into their online content. Sadly, two things seem very evident:

First, nobody over at BioLogos wants to make a firm claim about much of anything with respect to their beliefs. As we’ll see, they instead offer lines like, “Each Christian’s view of [insert topic] is informed by a variety of biblical and scientific data as well as by theological tradition and personal intuition.” So, as I’ve posted before, don’t expect to actually get answers to your questions once you’ve taken the red pill and abandoned what you thought you knew about the Bible.

Second, it seems clear to me that, after distancing themselves from the original founders (Collins, Giberson, Falk, etc.), the folks at BioLogos are now sliding leftward day-by-day in their theological “squishiness.” I’ve also already warned what that can look like.

What has really saddens me is the way in which N.T. Wright has entered this conversation. I was taken aback when he said, “If creation is through Christ, evolution is what you’d expect.” It’s hard to square that with Darwin’s view of evolution (“From the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals”). Christ, a Lord of death and misery, random action and poor design. Really?

Anyway, he seems to be heading for full-on mystic mode these days, which is disappointing, given his absolutely exceptional work on the historical Jesus (and the New Testament in general). It’s here we begin our story, with a summary of his 2015 book, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues, offered at BioLogos.

Admittedly, I have not read his book. In fact, I just ordered it, and will offer subsequent comments if necessary. So, I’m really just looking at how BioLogos interprets it.

Now, with respect to Adam & Eve, BioLogos does have consensus on the following items: They confirm common ancestry (that we evolved from a primate ancestor), and that it is unlikely that there was a single couple from whom all humanity descended. The real question for them is whether or not there’s any “real” Adam in history, or if it’s all symbolic. Of Wright, they offer,

“Many seem to think that the authority of Scripture hangs in the balance here and treat it as though it were a collection of ‘true but miscellaneous information’ or ‘an early version of the Encyclopædia Britannica.’ But Wright says that’s not the kind of authority that Scripture is. ‘The risen Jesus doesn’t say, ‘All authority in heaven and earth is given to… the books you chaps are going to go and write.’ He says, ‘All authority has been given to me.’”

Conclusion:

“[The Bible] is not a collection of timeless truths to which all people everywhere and every time must intellectually assent in order to be saved. It is the dynamic means through which God transforms people into Christ-followers no matter what their context.”

Of course, the question then becomes, how do NT Wright or the folks at BioLogos know that’s true? That is, from where do they derive the idea that the Bible is the “means through which God transforms people into Christ-followers”? From the Bible? Yes. But, what if, in my context, I disagree with their view? What do we do then? This is the sort of self-sacrificing argument all relativism makes. The relativist will say, “what’s true for you is true for you, and what’s true for me is true for me.” But, is that true? What if I don’t think their statement is true? This is where I start getting really uncomfortable with what BioLogos is selling.

But, this is just the sort of squishy theology they actually mean to advance. They continue,

“This emphasis on the dynamic nature of Scripture might trouble some. Wright’s goal doesn’t seem to be to uncover the one correct interpretation of the text that must be imposed on everyone. He says, ‘No, the Bible seems designed to challenge and provoke each generation to do its own fresh business, to struggle and wrestle with the text’ (p. 29) and ‘Each generation must do its own fresh historically grounded reading, because each generation needs to grow up, not simply to look up the right answers and remain in an infantile condition’ (p. 30).”

So, what if one of my students feels that the Bible is just one giant mythical document, intended to teach us the same kinds of wisdom we see in other holy books? Jesus didn’t really exist, but he makes for a nice story about redemption and the need to “die” to sin and be “raised” a better person. And again, from where does Wright get the authority to say that’s what the Bible is?

The stroke is obvious. It permits a continual re-working of what the Bible really means, as secular academic advances necessitate. It permits lots of wiggle room to reconfigure theology around modern thought. For example, they continue,

“In this vein, Paul routinely reinterpreted Old Testament texts, infusing them with new meaning which the original audience of these texts would not have understood. His rereading of the Adam story into his own context of first century Judaism is a prime example. In so doing, did Paul establish that as the normative context for all future Christians? Or did he model for us what we should do too—reread the Adam story in our context, which means to do so in light of what God has allowed us to discover about genetics, prehistoric human beings, and our relatedness to (and distinction from) the rest of created life?”

Well, that depends on the fact that Paul was actually talking about Israel when he “re-read” Adam’s story. Is there really evidence for such a move? That is, did Paul really believe that Adam never existed, but use “Adam” to symbolize Israel? Let’s look:

Romans 5:12-19

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come…. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” [1]

Are we really to think that Paul didn’t mean Adam? How exactly would Israel have brought death to all men? “From Israel [Adam] to Moses” seems not to fit either. At any rate, the suggestion here is, whether or not the generations of people before Paul thought Adam was real, the BioLogos folks are suggesting that Paul knew very well that Adam was not, and used Adam’s name to advance some story regarding the fall and redemption of Israel. Of course, the problem is that, while there can be many views, only one of them can be right. At the end of the day, either Adam did or did not exist. If Adam did exist, then the past peoples were right, and the modern thinkers are wrong. If he did not, then the people of the past were confused, but the modern academics have it figured out. But, both of these options can’t be true at the same time.

This would also be true for the genealogies offered in both the Old and New Testaments. If we believe Jesus actually existed, do we believe Joseph was really his father? Did Hezekiah exist? What about Jesse? Where do we leave the “real” people and move into metaphor and symbolism?

So what does the Adam = Israel move open the door for?

“Not much hinges on the historicity of Adam on this account…God’s purpose of making all of creation a place of delight and joy and order was to take place through them. But they failed and ‘abdicate[d] their image-bearing vocation and follow[ed] the siren call of the elements of chaos still within creation’ (38). Instead of reflecting the glory of God back to creation, through their sin of worshiping created things they ended up reflecting death to the rest of the world. It was Jesus who became the obedient human—what neither Israel nor Paul’s Adam could do—even to death on a cross. ‘He does for Israel what Israel couldn’t do for itself, and thereby does for humans what Israel was supposed to do for them, and thereby launches God’s project of new creation, the new world over which he already reigns as king’ (39).”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the, ‘abdicate[d] their image-bearing vocation and follow[ed] the siren call of the elements of chaos still within creation,’ line. It sounded so much like a My Little Pony episode my daughter owns, regarding the “elements of harmony”:

Nightmare Moon: You still don’t have the sixth Element! The spark didn’t work!

Twilight Sparkle: But it did! A different kind of spark. I felt it the very moment I realized how happy I was to hear you, to see you, how much I cared about you. The spark ignited inside me when I realized that you all… are my friends! You see, Nightmare Moon, when those Elements are ignited by the… the spark, that resides in the heart of us all, it creates the sixth element: the element of… magic!

That is to say, this sounds wonderful, but such phrases are devoid of any real content. What does it mean to “follow the siren’s call of the elements of chaos still within creation”?

So, then, what do we do with this revelation? What “truth” do we move to in understanding our Christian faith?

“In this narrative there is still the question of why the created order was in need of rescuing in the first place. Wright acknowledges that it was in such a state before human beings arrived on the scene, but he doesn’t offer simplistic answers for why this is so. This is a difficult question for us today, and we’ll not find the answers of previous generations satisfactory if they don’t take into account what we have learned about the created order.”

In other words, stay tuned, because the gang at BioLogos hasn’t figured out exactly what to believe. But, whatever they come up with will no doubt conform to consensus science!

To show everyone just how far down the rabbit hole this goes, consider where this particular review ends up:

“Why didn’t God just zap us into existence fully formed? We might as well ask why God didn’t just create a perfect and final heaven and populate it with us from the start. I’m not sure we can say much more to such questions than that God seems to delight in partnering with his creation in order to bring about his intentions. And those intentions seem to be for transformation—not some far off neverland of a heaven that has no connection to this world. If that were the intention, God would have just done that directly. But as Wright keeps reminding us, God is in the business of re-creating this world into the new heavens and new earth, and of transforming us through Christ from what we were into what he would have us be.”

So then, is this really that far from Neil Spurway’s view that,

“If the approach I have outlined is on anywhere near the right lines, Darwinian thinking keeps us earth-bound. We are animals…and are wholly the products of terrestrial evolution…We are ‘of the earth, earthy.’ What glorious things that says about the earth!”

Gone is the meaning of the resurrection. All this talk of Jesus “going to prepare a place,” and Paul saying, “The dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality,” or,  “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds,” is just hyperbole. It’s nonsense about some “neverland.” It seems, increasingly, that naturalism is absolute for BioLogos. We truly are just stardust. So, the question you must ask is, does it look to you like God is “re-creating this world into the new heavens and new earth”?

More tomorrow.

[1] A similar statement is made in 1 Cor. 15:20-22, 45 “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive… The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.”

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4 thoughts on “My Little Pony, the Elements of Harmony, and confusion at BioLogos”

  1. This is exactly what I have feared about Wright for a long time. He has progressively become a theological progressive. Like William Lane Craig–and, frankly, those from the evolutionary creationist background in general–are more than willing to form-fit their exegesis around what others are telling them about science. In an effort to stay “fresh” and “sophisticated,” they have all but sacrificed every meaningful thing in Scripture.

    I especially loved Wright’s comment about “Paul’s Adam,” as though Paul had somehow invented this once-in-a-generation truth that God created the first human being and called him “Adam.” I would love to hear how he squares this with the latter half of 1 Corinthians, where the entire salvation narrative–as well as the hope of the resurrection–is tied to an apple-to-apple comparison of Jesus with Adam.

    Perhaps the next group of geniuses will decide that Jesus is also generationally negotiable. Perhaps he is really a cute little symbol for everything a good human being should be. Then, all they would need to do is decide on their own definition of “good.”

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  2. Hello Wayne,

    Good Stuff (haven’t read it all yet, but we are getting there). this issue is the cause of the manuscript I sent you, what prompted me to start on my life-long journey. Wright started going off the reservation with his emphasis on the New Perspective on Paul and a re-write of justification. It was a short journey denying the historicity of at least parts of the Bible, promoting a works righteousness (we will be judged by our works on entrance into eternity); indicating the Gospels are not accurate in their information regarding the Pharisees; and that Paul was not telling the truth when he said that he was taught by Gameliel (sp?). Once one begins to accept outside sources as the basis of determining Biblical interpretation, accuracy and historicity- ancient near east literature (Walton); Intertestamental literature (Wright, McKnight, Enns); biology (Bio-Logos, all the TE’s) it is very easy, and I would almost say inevitable, that the Bible and Theology takes a hit.

    Dennis Lamoureux flatly declares that TE’s believe the historical part of the Bible begins at Genesis 12. Great! So Jesus, Paul, Peter, John and the writer of Hebrews are all liars and deceived. The TE’s all make it clear they accept the Resurrection because they know without it, there is no Christianity. But everything else seems up for grabs. Since the Bible is historically suspect, why should those that follow the TE’s embrace the Resurrection? After all, allowing for third party evidences, the Bible is our primary source for belief in Jesus’s raising from the dead. Why accept it for the Resurrection if we don’t for Creation, or the Fall, or a lot of other stuff.

    I believe there is a will-full refusal and rejection of anything that contradicts the standard neo-evolutionary theme by many of the TE’s. If you watched the back and forth between Buggs, Gauger, et.all and Venema at Bio-logos regarding the possibility of a 2 person bottle neck being a genetic viability (thus opening a door for a historical Adam and Eve – contra Venema) it was real obvious that Venema refused to accept the evidence from those much more fitted and up to date on the literature than he. He was caught in mis-characterization of the evidence and he refused to concede until the very end and even then it seemed very half-hearted and not accepting of the evidence. All the eggs are in the basket of science, which seems to carry much more authority than the Bible, and everything is marshalled to keep any of them from cracking.

    What disturbs me as much as anything is the train of evangelical leaders that have climbed on this track. It is as if none look at anything contrary. They seem to accept as accurate the characterizations of ID (especially God of the Gaps as you have pointed out often) presented by the authoritative figures in the TE movement and call it good. I think this is the most dangerous trend in the church today, and will have devastating consequences in the years ahead if it isn’t brought to a halt. Thank you for bringing your expertise to this fight!

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    1. Wow! Thanks for the response! Great stuff. I think you nailed it. I didn’t realize Wright had moved to all of those views. I just finished reading Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design. I wasn’t overly thrilled with Stephen Meyer’s approach. Deborah Haarsma writes a very good chapter describing and justifying TE. However, by its very structure, there will be some gaping holed theologically, and she admits those are not easily resolved. Still, the main weakness is not the “squishiness” of some of the theological claims, but her inability to grapple with the lack of a mechanism to power evolution as described by BioLogos. She really affirms a 19th century version of the old Darwinian view (technically, it’s “modern” in that genetic mutation is the driver), even pushing what seems to be the necessity of a gradualistic model. Anyway, it’s a neat read. Thanks again for the feedback. I just realized I’m still yet to send you comments and revisions on that manuscript you sent. Sorry.

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  3. I haven’t read the Four Views yet, but the comment you made about 19th century Darwinism strikes me as dead on. Correct me if I am wrong: everything I am reading points to epi-genetic information as the main driver of body forms and features – why dogs are dogs, humans are humans and flies are flies etc. – and the genomic structures, in particular DNA, are in essence fine tuning devices and instructions for the ongoing life of the organism. If that is the case, then natural selection working on random mutations has little to no effect on significant body plan structural changes or novelty in developing features. Which means all the focus on pseudo-genes, jumping genes, fossil genes, etc. points to nothing. And the case for NDE dies a thousand deaths. This may be an over-simplification, but is the gist of it correct?

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