Is evolution a ‘salvation issue’? The Bible is clear, despite YECs’ attempts to muddy its message

Which does the Bible say is more important for the Christian to believe in: this, or the literal interpretation of Genesis?

Which does the Bible say is more important for the Christian to believe in: this, or the literal interpretation of Genesis?

Spend enough time in evangelical culture, and you will hear a conversation about “salvation issues.” The term — which may be unfamiliar to those of who you are not fluent in Christianese — refers to the tenets that are generally understood as necessary for a person to accept in order to “be saved” (i.e., find forgiveness, redemption and eternal life in Christ), according to the Bible and Christian theology (the study of salvation, specifically, is called soteriology). The beliefs commonly held up as “salvation issues” might also be thought of as the “non-negotiable” tenets of biblical Christianity.

Not surprisingly, what does or doesn’t count as a “salvation issue” is also a popular topic of discussion for young-earth creationism proponents like Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, and Jason Lisle, of the Institute for Creation Research. Of course, they both believe that the denial of evolution and rejection of an ancient earth are of the utmost importance for all Christians — and it is in the best interests of the continued longevity of their respective organizations that they get as many people as possible to agree with this perspective.

However, since such a view is utterly and demonstrably unbiblical (as will be illustrated below) they have to be careful in how they present their arguments. So, Ham, for example, must pretend like he doesn’t think one’s opinion of evolution is more important than one’s opinion of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a blog post earlier this year discussing the importance of a historical Adam and Eve, he writes, “Now, I want to make very clear that belief in a historical Adam and Eve is not a salvation issue per se, but it is a biblical authority issue and a gospel issue.”

And Lisle is just as clever. He told a reporter last month that the big problem with “evilution” is not that it causes them to lose their salvation, merely that it puts them on a “slippery slope.”

“You’ve opened a very dangerous door,” he was quoted as saying. “Basically, you’ve decided to say that ‘I’m going to make the secular scientist my ultimate standard by which I interpret the scriptures’ and if you are consistent with that, and most people are not, thank goodness, but if you are well, hey, most scientists don’t believe the resurrection of the dead is possible.”

“Slippery” slopes. “Dangerous” doors. “Authority issue.” “Gospel issue.” These guys have to adopt such vague and shadowy terms because, the fact is that the Bible is blessedly clear about God’s list of “non-negotiables” when it comes to the message of salvation:

Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” — Acts 16:30-31

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. — Romans 10:9

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. — 1 Corinthians 15:1-5

In other words, the core message of Christianity is this: Jesus, the Lord of all, died for your sins and rose again. Through believing in him — placing your faith and trust in his sacrifice — your salvation is assured. A powerful message, yet also a gloriously simple one — which is in no way dependent on or otherwise affected by your particular take on the biological origins of the human race.

You’ll also notice that nowhere in the verses above — or, indeed, anywhere else in scripture — is one’s salvation tied to his or her view of evolution, common descent, billions of years of earth history or any of the propositions that keep Ken Ham awake at night.

Critics may say, “Well, of course, evolution isn’t mentioned in the Bible, because they didn’t know what it was back then.” Right you are, imaginary person. I’m sure that if Darwin had shared First Century Palestine with Jesus Christ, the gospels would have read just like the polemics that come out of AiG and the like.

Except that, the Bible also never says a certain view of the book of Genesis is required in order to be saved. They may not have had scientific theories of evolution back then, but they did have Genesis, and I don’t remember Jesus telling any of the illiterate people with whom he shared his life that they had to learn to read it before he would consider dying for them.

Indeed, Jesus’ only recorded mention of the book at all is the time he quoted from it in response to a question about divorce. That’s right: Not creation. Not human origins. And certainly not salvation. He was talking about divorce. He spent more time discussing local news items and Jewish sects long since extinct than he spent jawing about Genesis. So, if anything, it appears he didn’t think the book was very important at all, let alone a prerequisite for being saved.

Like so much of what proceeds from the blogs of the young-earth creationists, their “evolution’s-not-a-salvation-issue-but-it’s-still-super-important” arguments collapse under the even the slightest bit of reasoned scrutiny. If you were “consistent” with Lisle’s “secular scientist” crock, (“most people are not, thank goodness,” but if you were) it would lead you to reject not only evolution, but also the water cycle (Matt. 5:45Deut. 28:12, Job 38:22-30 and Psalm 147:8), heliocentric solar system (1 Chron. 16:30, Psalm 96:10, Josh. 10:12-13 and Ecc. 1:5) and spherical earth (see the dozens of passages that reference the “ends” or “corners” of the earth, like Rev. 7:1, or verses like Dan. 4:11 and Matt. 4:8, which describe tall objects visible anywhere on earth — only possible if the planet is flat).

And Ham shows that he doesn’t seem to understand the gospel at all, as he goes on to say, “When we deny the existence of Adam and Eve, then how do we explain the origin of sin and death in the world? And if we cannot explain how sin and death came into the world, or if we believe that it was always here, then what was the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection? Why was the atonement even necessary?”

Good question, K-Ham. Allow me to lay it out for you. Completely separate from the questions of who our first parents were and how sin entered the world, the atonement was and is necessary because you are dead in your sins, for which you alone are responsible. Scripture says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” I don’t need Jesus because of the sin my supposed ancestors committed thousands of years ago; I need Jesus because of the sin I myself committed this morning.

But it doesn’t matter that their arguments make no sense. It is emotion that they are appealing to. Like a dad telling his son, “We’re not mad; we’re just disappointed,” they sidestep any reasonable discussion of the issue at hand and, instead, invent terms designed to burden their good Christian readers with guilt and shame.

And, although I find reprehensible these and other attempts to muck up the most important message scripture has to share, I do see why Ham and Lisle feel motivated to do so. You see, not only are their groups financially dependent on their ability to convince backers that their mission is one of vital importance, they must justify their very existence, as it is becoming increasingly and painfully clear that the antagonism toward modern science that they promote is, at least, partially responsible for the mass exodus of young people from the evangelical church.

In the end, it is this unwavering devotion to young-earthism, a premise about which the Bible is — at best — ambiguous, that should give any faithful person strong reason for pause before lending them his or her support. If it is even possible that what the above study indicated (that the views of young-earthers are causing millennials to flee the church in droves), and if those like Ham and Lisle really believed the gospel is more important than people’s opinion of evolution and the proper interpretation of Genesis, you would think they would cheerfully give up their fight.

The fact that they have — if anything — intensified their efforts demonstrates pretty clearly where their hearts actually lie.

Tyler Francke

Category: Culture, Current Events, Latest Developments, The Bible, Theology

  • Michael Brooks

    Well stated, Tyler. I don’t disagree with your comments here, and I understand your focus here is concerning creationism, but the same could be said for a number of other issues that some Christians try to raise to the “almost non-negotiable” level. The prevalence of the “True Scotsman” mentality has been quite a turn off for me personally, on a number of cultural and political positions.

    • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

      Hey, Michael! Thanks for your thoughts! In my experience, I would definitely agree that this same type of unreasoned and closed-minded devotion to an idea can be seen in reference to a lot of different things — not all of them related to creationism, and not all of them occurring solely within Christian or other religious circles. It is probably more an inherent part of human nature rather than something peculiar to fundamentalist sects. I’ve had my fair share of experience with the “no true Scotsman” mentality myself.

  • Leo O’Bannon

    Just discovered your site from a link put out by the Faraday Institute. You are a compromiser, sir! (Just kidding!) Calling someone a compromiser the way Ken Ham does is the 21st century way of calling someone a heretic. And I have felt the same way about AiG and ICR- that they are in too deep with their odd-ball brand of apologetics to turn back and they money is too good. Perhaps this is a bit harsh, but Ham loves to be greeted in the marketplaces and called “teacher.” Thoroughly enjoy your articles.

    • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

      Hey, that’s cool! I like the Faraday Institute! And I agree with your assessment of K-Ham and his tactics. Thanks for reading!

    • Christian Schmemann

      I don’t know exactly what it is about Evangelical Protestantism (and its political arm called the Tea Party) and their disdain for any kind of compromise. I remember growing up in my Evangelical Church that the past frequently spoke of how small victories eventually lead to large victories and small compromises eventually lead to large defeats.

      Even as a kid, this never made sense especially on the compromise part, because it was never clear which compromising side would suffer the large defeat. Anyway, I can think of one example of a contradictory example, where a “small” victory actually led to a catastrophic defeat; this would the be Arian heresy of the 4th century (no relation to Hitler’s Aryan), which enjoyed a “small” victory of being the State religion in the Roman Empire for much of the 4th century, but were so extreme and heavy-handed and greedy that eventually the entire Roman population turned against the Arians, and they were eventually disowned by the Emperor as the State religion in favor of the Nicene Christianity of the Catholic/Orthodox Church.

      • Poosh

        Sorry to see that you think the Tea Party is a political arm of “Evangelical Protestantism” – in reality, yes there may be some of ‘that’, but it is perfectly filled with atheists and south-park conservatives, it’s quite a collection.

  • pauld

    ““You’ve opened a very dangerous door,” he was quoted as saying. “Basically, you’ve decided to say that ‘I’m going to make the secular scientist my ultimate standard by which I interpret the scriptures’ and if you are consistent with that, and most people are not, thank goodness, but if you are well, hey, most scientists don’t believe the resurrection of the dead is possible.”

    “Slippery” slopes. “Dangerous” doors. “Authority issue.” “Gospel issue.” These guys have to adopt such vague and shadowy terms because, the fact is that the Bible is blessedly clear about God’s list of “non-negotiables” when it comes to the message of salvation”

    A much larger problem then the slippery slope described above is that many people will not even consider the possibility of being a Christian if they believe it requires that they believe in young earth creationism. Moreover, many Christians will reject their faith unnecessarily if the become convinced that they must accept young earth creationism as part of what it means to be a Christian.

    • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

      I totally agree with you. It is one of my biggest concerns — and one of the primary motivations for the existence of this website.

  • Stephen Hayes

    Your misprepresentation of Ken Ham’s position is disgraceful.

    • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

      Oh, yeah? Interesting, since my “representation” comes directly out of things that he said and reasonable inferences based on what he and his organization do and how they do it.

  • Christian Schmemann

    I have a couple, somewhat disjointed thoughts about Jason Lisle and Ken Ham and their making acceptance of young earth creationism (YEC) an issue of biblical authority, and their veiled threats of eternal damnation for accepting theistic evolution. Before I start, I need to clarify that I grew up as an Evangelical that eventually found his way more or less to Orthodox Christianity.

    1. To claim that acceptance of theistic evolution entrusts interpretation of the Bible to secular scientists ultimately implies the Protestant doctrine of “sola scriptura” or “Bible alone.” If this doctrine were correct, then why does the Bible even states that God reveals Himself outside the direct revelation of the Bible? Read Romans 1:19-20 if you doubt me. The Protestant claims of sola scriptura (Bible alone) are also historically absurd. The Bible was assembled over the course of many centuries; the New Testament was promulgated in its final form shortly after the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea- under the guidance of the Holy Spirit of course. If the Bible was promulgated by the Church, then why do Lisle and Ham assert that the Bible could interpret itself? Would the Bible not need interpretation- by the Church?

    2. Ken Ham’s claims that YEC is theologically necessary because sin is passed down (almost genetically) from parents to child is a heresy, and Ken Ham is a heretic for daring to claim any such notion. There is no case to be made from the Bible that sin is passed down from generation to generation, or that one is held guilty of an ancestor’s sins. Evangelical Protestants like Ken Ham are so obsessed with sin as a hereditary debt (itself a pagan corruption in Western Christianity) that they completely miss (or sometimes refuse to see) that sin is really understood in the New Testament to be a tyranny that enslaves humanity and a spiritual disease that afflicts humanity.

    I will not say that all Protestantism is incompatible and irreconcilable with Evolution; I certainly think that liberal Protestants have honestly grappled with Evolution and the place of science generally in Evolution. Liberal Protestants have tried to be relaxed and flexible with Sola Scriptura (Bible alone), but at some point I do have to wonder how well Sola Scriptura can hold up. Evangelical Protestants recognize Evolution specifically (and Science generally) as a threat to Sola Scriptura, and I think that this is why they are fighting so hard and so irrationally against Evolution. To me, it seems that Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christianity are infinitely more well-suited to cope with modern science.

    • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

      Hey Christian, thanks for your excellent thoughts. I agree that Eastern Orthodox and Catholic sects are generally far more inclined toward accepting, or at the very least, entertaining the idea of evolution. My theory of why evangelicals are so opposed to evolution has less to do with traditional theology and more to do with the religious right’s near obsession with morality. I think it’s more than a coincidence that the rise of the modern young-earth creationist movement coincided almost exactly with the “sexual revolution,” hippy movement and drug culture of the 1960s.

      • Christian Schmemann

        I can partly understand your thesis about tying Evolution to the hippie movement and drug culture of the 1960s and 1970s, given that Evolution has been used (abused?) by certain atheist scientists in an attempt to disprove Christianity. On another level, the hippie movement and drug culture of the 1960s and 1970s were also a revolutionary time. In many ways evolution is the opposite of revolution. And it doesn’t exactly make sense how attacking Evolution and Science generally would prop up one’s moral authority. Also, if Evangelical Protestants didn’t mandate literal interpretation of the Bible, then it would almost difficult to logically mandate that Genesis 1 be understood as teaching science and natural history to the extent that they do. This is why I maintain that much of young earth creationism is driven by the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (Bible alone).

        One can find a few elements in Eastern Orthodoxy that are hostile to Evolution, but this hostility is driven by completely different motivations than what drives Protestant hostility to Evolution- and is for the most part a product of Soviet/Cold War history. You see, in many areas in Eastern Europe, the initial introduction that people received to to Evolution came under the form of Communist propaganda, which had a militantly anti-religious tone. Now days, most Orthodox Christians recognize that Evolution was abused by the Communists, and the few who still are hostile to Evolution are in their late 70s, 80s and even older. About 10 years ago, the Serbian Orthodox Church mercilessly crushed a Southern Baptist Convention led effort to impose the teaching of young earth creationism in Serbian public schools- and put so much pressure on the Serbian government that the then Education Minister had to resign.

        The status of Evolution in the Catholic Church has a fascinating history. There was an initial opposition, that was driven not by the theory itself, but more by Darwin’s use of Evolution to promote racist causes. Ironically, as evidence for Evolution started mounting, the scientific case for racism started crumbling, and by the 1950s, Pope Pius XII laid out conditions in which it is acceptable for Catholics to accept Evolution- one of which is believing that there were a first man and woman (reasonable enough). Later, Saint John Paul II publicly expressed his sentiments that Evolution is a generally correct scientific theory, and then Cardinal Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) expressed similar sentiments- calling it more than a theory, and also explained how Evolution draws support from biology, psychology, anthropology and geology.

  • Eric

    I personally strive to walk on through the narrow gate, so if there is any part of God’s word that you don’t believe or have complete faith in, would that not show a lack of faith and therefore constitute itself as a “salvation issue” 2 Timothy 3:16, we must come to have an accurate knowledge of God (2 Peter 2-4)

    • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

      No. A “salvation issue” is that which must be understood and believed to attain salvation. Coming to a “full knowledge of the truth” is a separate matter, which is why 2 Timothy 3:16 makes a distinction between the two.

  • http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJZ6xiQoOYCLQoE3EBpuaMA Alex Jones

    There is no doctrine of Original Sin, that I know of, prior to the fifth century. Yea, there is biblical text that can support the idea of original sin, however, I would argue that it is speaking to our nature as humans. People always talk about the fact that the bible says “wages of sin is death” but never stop to think what it means by death. If it was a physical death, then there should still be Christians walking around today who died years ago, people like C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dietrich Bonhoffer, and the apostles, should be walking around hanging out at StarBucks or Gamestop or the bowling alley or whatever. The reason being that if the price for sin is physical death, and if Jesus paid that price on the cross, then it follows that anyone who accepts him should never die as it says in John 3:16. However, if the actual price for sin is SPIRITUAL death, then death in and of itself is just a natural process of the universe’s self-regulation designed by God as part of nature.

    And I don’t distinctly remember death being part of the curse on Adam and Eve when they ate of the tree. Hang on a second. Hmm… Childbearing pains, desire for husband… hmm, no, nothing there… Painful toil, thorns and thistles, sweat… until you return to the ground… Hey, look at that. Wait, hang on a second:

    Cursed is the ground, only through painful toil will you EAT FROM IT, IT WILL PRODUCE thorns and thistles, UNTIL you return to the ground for dust you are and to dust you shall return.

    Is it just me, or is that until under appreciated? The bible then later says “He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

    So… I may be reading this incorrectly, but it sounds like the curse of sin depicted in Genesis 1 has to do with suffering here on earth until we die. Physical death is mentioned in it, however not in context as part of the curse, but in context as the end of that suffering. Then there is the tree of life from which Adam and Eve were separated which has no mention of returning to dust, could it be that that tree represents the source of our spiritual life? That is the only point that the bible EVER mentions Adam and Eve having eternal life, and oddly enough it is separated from the part speaking about their physical deaths.

    • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

      Hey Alex, this is all correct. And I have long said the consequence of sin is spiritual death, for the reasons you list here and many others, drawn from the same text and throughout scripture. As far as “death” being the punishment for Adam and Eve’s sin, this is drawn more from Gen. 2:17 (“but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”), not the curse of Gen. 3. However, even this implies spiritual death — a separation from God — because neither Adam nor Eve died physically the day they ate of the fruit. However, they certainly were immediately separated from God.

      • http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJZ6xiQoOYCLQoE3EBpuaMA Alex Jones

        You could even argue that their spiritual separation from God is referenced when God called out to Adam, asking where he is. The idea that God wouldn’t know where Adam was physically is absurd given the context of God in the rest of the Bible, however if their spiritual connection was broken once Adam ate the fruit, then God calling out to him would be a reference to that disconnect.

        • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

          Yep, that’s exactly how I interpret that otherwise very strange remark.