Seventeenth Annual Symposium on Catechesis
Concordia Catechetical Academy
June 17, 2010
By Pr. Rolf Preus
I have always believed that Darwinism was antichristian propaganda. My opinion was confirmed a few years ago. I was teaching a class at St. Sophia Lutheran Theological Seminary in Ternopil’, Ukraine. The name of the class was, “Issues in Biblical Interpretation and Christian Theology.” I gave it the name, “Assorted Western Heresies,” in that it covered various – mostly heterodox – theological movements popular in the West.
When I explained to the class that most seminary professors in the United States simply assumed that the human race evolved from a lower species they were shocked. These men had grown up in the Soviet Union. They had received Communist indoctrination throughout their childhood. A key feature of that indoctrination was a vigorous attack on Christianity. The doctrine of evolution was an important element of that attack.
The teaching of evolution was used to disprove the existence of God and to portray the Christian religion as superstitious and anti-scientific. It was a contest between atheism and Christianity with the question of man’s origin at the center of the debate. While the Christians could appeal to the Bible, to the Church, or perhaps to the natural knowledge of God, the materialists could appeal to something a bit more persuasive: the sneer.
The sneer has always been the most effective weapon the godless have in their antichristian arsenal. The Psalmist understood this mindset well as we see in the opening words of the first psalm in the Psalter:
Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.
Scorn is irrefutable. As a college freshman attending the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri in the late summer of 1971, I took a course in anthropology. The textbook began with this sentence: “Few educated men and certainly no serious scholars deny that human beings evolved from a primary organism.” There! Take that! And believe, me, you will take it.
So the battles are drawn. On the one side are the materialists. They are smarter than you. They sneer at your ignorance. Their doctrine is science. Yours is grounded in pre-scientific superstition. Since the doctrine of the evolution of man from a primary species is regarded as science, only scientists need enter into the conversation. One who neither claims nor desires scientific expertise is locked out of an intelligent debate.
Well, we can’t have that! We’ll find our own scientists to refute their scientists. I don’t doubt that we can. After all, how hard could it be to refute the notion that systems of themselves become progressively more complex? It sounds like nonsense. Have you ever seen an untended garden? Surely, a clever scientist can find the right words and construct a persuasive paradigm to refute their claims. So the battle of the scientists is on!
For those Christians engaged in the battle, I say, “More power to you.” I wish you well. But keep in mind that the sneer is far more powerful than any rational argument. It doesn’t matter if we can marshal scientific evidence. Our scientists will be scorned. And to the extent that we succeed we will not have made our own case. Showing that rationalists are irrational may make for good sport, but the tearing down of one building does not constitute the building of another. It is only preparatory. Apologetics is a legitimate endeavor. But it is not yet theology.
When we demonstrate that the Darwinian doctrine of human evolution from a primary organism is false we have done a good work. It is a good work just as it is a good work to show the errors in the Koran or to demonstrate how the Book of Mormon was plagiarized from a novel by a fellow named Spaulding. False religions should be exposed for what they are. Their errors should be revealed.
Their errors should never be accepted as truth. There must be zero tolerance for them among Christians. We certainly wouldn’t acquiesce to Mormon claims to the historicity of the fictitious accounts in the Book of Mormon. We would not do so whether the Mormons were a tiny minority or the vast majority of the population. Neither should the Church cave in to social pressure to embrace the errors of evolutionism, as if we can Christianize what is inherently antichristian. It can’t be done and it shouldn’t be tried. To speak of theistic evolution is like talking about the Christian teaching of reincarnation. There is no such thing.
Darwinism is antichristian propaganda. Just ask the Lutheran pastors in Ukraine. Ask the freshman at the University of Missouri. But the refutation of false propaganda does not constitute genuine Christian confession.
“I believe.” So begins the Creed. So begins Luther’s explanation to each of the three articles of the Creed. There is no difference in the nature of the faith that believes that God has made me and the faith that believes that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Indeed, it is the same faith. Faith that God has made me and all creatures is faith that Jesus has redeemed me.
Now it is true that the unregenerate who do not know Christ can come to the knowledge that there is a creator. We call this the natural knowledge of God. The doctrine of evolution seeks to overthrow this knowledge. The Christian rightly recognizes that the attack on the natural knowledge of God is an attack on faith. But it by no means follows that the defense of the natural knowledge of God is a defense of faith. It could be a more subtle attack.
A christless theism is as great an enemy of faith as is any form of atheism. The natural knowledge of God is not faith. It is not the foundation for faith. It is rather the occasion for every form of idolatry. Here is how St. Paul describes it in his Epistle to the Romans:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1, 18-23)
To know what may be known about God is not to know God. To see his invisible attributes – even his eternal power, the power by which he created the world out of nothing – is not to see God. There is no God but the God who reveals himself in his Son and no one can know God except through his Son.
To build a theology on the natural knowledge of God is to build on sinking sand. To reason from evidence to the existence of a Creator is common sense. The material universe points to the existence of a Creator. This is self-evident. But while a republic may be born by an appeal to self-evident truths, the truth by which we are born from above is anything but self-evident. It is in direct conflict with our senses, experiences, and what passes for common sense.
Faith comes from what is preached. What is preached is the foolishness of the cross. What is preached may be apprehended by faith and by faith alone. It is not just knowledge. It is not just assent. It is knowledge, assent, and trust.
A reasonable refutation of godless and materialistic evolution provides a good service to lost souls who trust in its lies. Idol smashing is always in order. But we ought not think for one moment that smashing the idols constitutes the proclamation of the true and saving God.
We Christians view God as Creator and God as Father as being the very same. We may distinguish between creation and preservation, but we ascribe them both to the same loving and gracious Father. The God who made me is my Father. More than that, the God who made me is my Redeemer.
In the prologue of St. John’s Gospel we read:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (St. John 1, 1-3)
When God’s Word identifies Christ as Creator it does not present this truth as a doctrine isolated from our redemption and adoption as God’s children. It joins Christ as Creator to Christ as Redeemer. After ascribing creation to the Word, St. John immediately adds: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (St. John 1, 4) St. John goes on to say:
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (St. John 1, 10-13).
Christ, our Creator gives us the right to become children of God.
Christ as Creator is the foundation for Christ as Redeemer in St. Paul’s writings as well. We read in Colossians chapter one:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. . . . For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight. (Colossians 1, 15-16, 19-22)
He who is the image of God made man in that image so that he could assume man’s nature and redeem him. God cannot redeem what he does not assume. Were man not created in the image of God he could not have been redeemed from the fall. God became a man. This is how the Creator serves his creation. As Thomas Kingo wrote and the Church sings:
Praise to thee and adoration,
Blessed Jesus, Son of God,
Who to serve thine own creation,
Dids’t partake of flesh and blood.
We Christians cannot conceive of a bare and christless word from God by which he made the world and all that is in it. We cannot conceive of creation apart from Christ. Such a creation would not be for us. It would be opposed to us, separated from us, in conflict with us, and our most fearsome enemy.
Christ speaks, creates, and redeems. We read at the beginning of the Epistle to the Hebrews:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1, 1-3)
The One who shed his blood for us is the One who made us in his image. We cannot know the Father except through the Son who reveals him. He who reveals the Father says, “I and My Father are one.” (St. John 10, 30) When the Son reveals the Father he does not reveal someone different from himself. They are distinct persons, not separate persons. Similarly, the works of the Father and the Son cannot be separated. Of all the works of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, there is only one work that is unique to one person and that is the work of redemption.
The Father creates. So do the Son and the Holy Spirit. All three persons are identified in the opening words of Genesis. The Spirit sanctifies. So do the Father and the Son. In Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, prayed by many pastors before they begin their sermons, Jesus asks the Father to sanctify the Church by means of the truth. And how often does Jesus speak of doing the works of him who sent him? We do not separate the work anymore than we separate the persons.
But only the Son becomes flesh. Only the Son subjects himself to the Law and is obedient all the way to the death of the cross. Only the Son is crucified for sinners on the cross, suffers, dies, is buried, rises from the dead, and ascends into heaven. He who becomes flesh, who obeys in our stead, who suffers and dies for us, and who rises from the dead is our Creator God. We could not know God as our Father apart from this knowledge. We could not understand the created world apart from this knowledge.
Why? Is it because Christ as Creator is a constituent part of the puzzle of creation? Is it because our knowledge of Creation would be less than perfect without the additional and very helpful knowledge that God the Son is Creator along side of his eternal Father? It’s much more than that. We cannot understand the created world apart from knowing Christ because we cannot know God – or any of his works – unless we are his children. We are children of God only through faith in Christ Jesus, as St. Paul writes:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3, 26-27)
The article of justification is the central article of the Christian religion, illuminating everything that God has to say to us on every other topic. We cannot know God until he has justified us. We can only know of him and what we know of him will invariably be fashioned into idolatrous worship unless and until God shows himself to us as a loving and gracious Father. God does this only through his Son.
This is our Father’s world. He governs it for the sake of his children. He controls the weather. He rules over the nations. He determines our every physical attribute. He gives us health and chooses when to take it away. He governs everything always for the purpose of blessing his holy Christian Church on earth. This is our Father’s world and we are his children.
In that most beautiful portion of the Sermon on the Mount where our Lord Jesus preaches to us about the folly and futility of worrying, he brings his sermon to its climax by identifying the teaching of justification as the key to understanding God’s providential care. He says:
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (St. Matthew 6, 31-33)
He is not saying that if we do this God will do that. Jesus is saying that if we want to know God as our Father who richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life we must first seek the righteousness that he freely bestows in the kingdom of his Son. When we hunger and thirst for this righteousness, he satisfies our hunger and thirst. He justifies us. In absolving us of our sin he makes us citizens of his kingdom, that is, members of his Church. The holy Christian Church is and will always be the apple of God’s eye.
God’s kingdom of power serves his kingdom of grace. For the sake of the holy obedience of his faithful Son, God views those in his kingdom as worthy of protection and care. He will move heaven and earth to help them in their need. He will always defend them and protect them. He will feed and clothe them. He will direct the affairs of nations, the patterns of weather, the plans of the high and mighty, and every little unnoticed detail of life for the purpose of doing for his Church what she needs him to do. St. Paul writes:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8, 31-32)
These “all things” exclude nothing that we need in this world. St. Paul presents us here with an argument from the greater (“His own Son”) to the lesser (“all things”) that is irrefutable. He also reminds us of the relationship between creation and providence on the one hand and redemption on the other. We learn faith from being redeemed by Christ’s blood. From that our faith embraces as well God’s providential care.
This is because faith is born in repentance. There is no faith apart from the acknowledgement of sin and God’s gracious forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake. Here is where Christ’s creative miracles are especially instructive for us.
Changing water into wine, healing a man born blind, stilling a storm, raising a man from the dead, feeding five thousand men with food sufficient for only a few, restoring lifeless limbs, and a host of other creative miracles all serve as divine commentary on the implications of the centrality of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
As far as I can recall, Jesus did only one miracle that caused actual physical harm with no apparent material benefit. That was the cursing of the fig tree that bore no fruit. Even sending the demon-maddened swine to their deaths served the net gain of delivering a man from Satan’s power. Who could reasonably object? (Except perhaps for the “pigs are people too” crowd). Jesus’ creative miracles show his compassion, mercy, and continual care. In showing himself to be God incarnate he puts divine providence in its proper perspective. The miracles of Jesus illustrate the restoration of the fallen creation. They are signs that signify the gospel of the forgiveness of sins.
These creative miracles of the Son of God constitute divine commentary on what it means to have the righteousness of Christ. It means that the creation is under the control of the Redeemer. The Creator and the Redeemer is the very same person. He governs the creation for the sake of the redeemed. Creation serves redemption.
We don’t need to be healed. That’s where our Pentecostal friends err. We don’t need to be healthy or wealthy. But they are perfectly right in including healing as part of redemption. We are redeemed body and soul. If Jesus cannot heal our bodies neither can he forgive us our sins.
We don’t need to be healed. But we do need him who can heal. It is Jesus as Creator who heals. He restores life to dead limbs. He raises the dead. He does so as the Creator God. He does not raise the dead boy from Nain as Elijah raised the dead boy from Zarephath, by crying out to God, “O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.” (1 Kings 17, 21) He does not appeal to any power outside of himself. He says, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” (St. Luke 7, 14) “I say to you.” He speaks with the full authority of God.
This is the authority to forgive. The authority to restore the creation to its created perfection is the authority to forgive the sins of those who are restored. Christ as Creator and Christ as Redeemer are one. So he says to the paralyzed man, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” (St. Matthew 9, 2) When the scribes object, correctly assuming that the power to forgive belongs to God, how does Jesus prove to them he has the authority to forgive sins? St. Matthew recounts:
But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”; then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” And he arose and departed to his house. (St. Matthew 9, 6-7)
Creation serves justification. When we are justified by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus we know that all of creation serves us. We learn that this is not just the Father’s world. It is our Father’s world and he rules over it for the sake of his holy Church.
The Father and the Son are distinct but not separate persons. The Father creates. The Son creates. The Son forgives. The Father forgives. Creation and justification are bound together both by the unity in the Trinity and by the unity in the works of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Creation serves justification. It is God – not Luther or the Lutheran Confessions – who places justification at the heart of the divine revelation. Only when the God who sees us as we are says to us that we are righteous in his sight can we regard the world in which we live as it really and truly is.
“Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you.” He forgives the man without informing us what the man believed. Mark and Luke in parallel accounts both mention the faith of the man’s friends but none of the Evangelists sees fit to refer to the paralytic’s faith. Jesus does not need your faith. Your faith needs Jesus. The forgiveness of sins elicits faith. The gospel brings about the means by which it is received. When Jesus absolves you, you are absolved and this means that not even God in heaven can see any sin in you.
This is what faith receives and the foundation on which it rests. The declaration, absolution, imputation – call it what you will – amazes the crowd. That God would give such authority to men! Yes, to men! Not just to a man – even if he is both God and man – but to men who themselves require the forgiveness they give to others. That is amazing. This forgiveness is grounded in that time and place where the incarnate God became sin for us and suffered for the sin of the world, washing it away by his blood. The Creator dies for his creation. Now his servants forgive by his authority. We, like the paralytic, stand forgiven.
Now look at God and the world he made! Consider the tornado, the fire, the flood, the disaster that destroyed the city. Consider the disease that eats away at the body, defying every effort to stop its killing mission. Face the stroke, the heart attack, the crippling diabetes, the loss of memory of the one who used to know you. Face it all and interpret the corruption of nature correctly.
No, it’s not the illusion that religious enthusiasts imagine it is. It is perfectly real. But you can see beyond it. You can make a distinction that only a Christian can make. You can distinguish between the corruption of nature and its goodness. You know your own sin and you know you are forgiven for Christ’s sake. You can look at the creation in a similar way as you look at yourself. You can see the already and the not yet features of redemption. We do not yet see with our eyes the created world subject to us. But it is subject to Christ, the Son of man, and he is our God and brother. By faith we see God governing the world and all that is in it for the benefit of us who believe in him. Our faith in the gospel of the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ’s vicarious obedience is faith that everything that happens in this world will serve us. We learn to interpret events in the created world christologically. Natural events are never merely natural. They serve a soteriological purpose that cannot be thwarted. The God-man guarantees it.
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. I think I know why he healed on the Sabbath. It was only in part because he loved the poor souls who were suffering so badly from paralysis or blindness or whatever ailed them. Clearly, he healed them because he loved them and by healing them he could give concrete expression to the love by which their sins were forgiven and they became heirs of eternal life.
But why on the Sabbath? Why not on some other day? He healed on the Sabbath to stick it to the legalists. He could have waited until sundown. But he deliberately chose to heal on the Sabbath in order to challenge the legalism of those who falsely claimed they were honoring the Sabbath when they were twisting it into the very opposite of what God established it to be.
The command to rest on the Sabbath was given to the Israelites after God delivered them from slavery in Egypt and before he led them into the Promised Land. God gave Moses his clear rationale for the command to rest on Saturday. God rested. His people should rest. God did no work. His people should do no work. By honoring the Sabbath they confessed, in the midst of an idolatrous polytheistic religious culture, their faith in the one and only Creator God.
This has a Christological significance, as St. Paul points out in his Epistle to the Colossians where he writes:
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Colossians 2, 16-17)
God rested. Christ is our Sabbath rest. The people rested. They thus confessed that Christ is our Sabbath rest. Our good deeds do not bring us rest. Legalistic observances do not bring rest. Only Christ brings true rest. He is the substance. The Sabbath was the shadow. The substance is the righteousness of Christ that is ours by faith. We rest in its perfection. Behold, everything is good, very good. He has done all things well. The God is the man and the perfect creation from which he rested has become the perfect redemption that provides us with perfect righteousness.
In Jesus I find rest and peace
The world is full of sorrow.
His wounds are my abiding place
Let the unknown tomorrow
Bring what it may here I can stay
My faith finds all I need today
I will not trouble borrow.
The evolutionist who imagines that this complex and beautiful world could have come about by chance is surely deluded. But the theist who imagines that we can find true comfort in the mere knowledge that a wise and infinite personal God created this world is surely deluded as well. There is no comfort in a creation that is not for us. God in Christ is for us. In Christ’s crucifixion God is for us. Therefore, it is there that his work as Creator is finished.
Now the creation serves her Lord by serving his holy people. In Christ the creation is reborn and even now groans as in the pains of childbirth waiting for her final redemption when Jesus Christ returns to judge the living and the dead and to raise up our mortal bodies that they may be fashioned like unto his glorious body according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things to himself. At that moment when our redemption is fully seen and experienced, we will know our Creator as we are known.