That’s the question I was asked by an online friend/acquaintance yesterday. It was a sincere attempt from another Christian believer to understand why I feel called to focus on creation evangelism. Why not just evangelism?
I’ve included my response just after the break. Of course, I’ve edited out a few personal comments and the dreaded typo (one of which drastically changed the meaning of what I had intended to say!), and done some editorial cleaning up here and there. There are few passions as near and dear to my heart as this one.
“Why creation evangelism? Why not just evangelism? Why the emphasis on creation?”
Excellent, excellent question. There is an elder in my church (a wise, humble, Godly man with an amazing servant’s heart) who has asked me variations of this question more than once. People who have been believers since they were young and/or come from many generations of believers, or at least were churched from the time they were young, often don’t understand the need for an emphasis on creation. It’s not their fault.
The emphasis comes from looking at the difference between the way Peter evangelized the nation of Israel (e.g. in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost) contrasted with the way Paul evangelized the Greeks on Mars Hill in Athens (in Acts 17).
Peter was speaking to a people (the Jewish diaspora, gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, just a handful of weeks after the crucifixion of Jesus), a people who understood who the One True God was, they understood the authority of their Scriptures, they knew what sin was, they knew they needed a messiah…they just missed the Messiah when He came. In essence, they already understood the bad news. So Peter’s message to them, paraphrased, is “Repent from your sin…you who killed your own Messiah!” And thousands were saved and added to the church that day. They recognized the bad news, then heard the good news. They believed and were saved.
Paul, in his various missionary journeys, would often reason the very same way in the synagogues where he travelled. But when he arrived in Athens, and spoke on Mars Hill with the Stoics and Epicureans, he knew he was speaking among a people who had no idea who the True God was, they had no clue what sin was, and hence no understanding of a need for a savior, certainly not one who would have to die. This is why the gospel is “foolishness” to the Greeks while a “stumbling block” to the Jews (1 Cor 1:23). The Jews misunderstood what their own Scriptures had said about the Messiah, but the Greeks were completely lost from the get-go.
So what did Paul do? He took them all the way back to creation and explained to them who the True God was (used their own culture – sculptures and poetry – to do so), explained what sin was, and why there was a need for a savior. He gave them the bad news, from the beginning, so he could then preach the gospel to them.
What was the result? A few believed, right away. More people wanted to hear him out another time. And, of course, as always happens when the gospel is presented in a mass setting, a few scoffed. All in all, a pretty good response.
Unfortunately, many Bible colleges, seminaries, and missionary organizations over the last several decades have literally taught their students, “Look at how foolish Paul was. He got all intellectual with his listeners, and only a few believed. In contrast, Peter boldly declared, ‘Repent, you sinners,’ and thousands believed. So don’t evangelize like Paul, evangelize like Peter.”
Unfortunately, our western culture, especially since the 1950s or so, has become radically more like the culture of the Greeks on Mars Hill than the Jews in Jerusalem on Pentecost. A vast number of people today have no concept of who the One True God really is. They’ve been bombarded by postmodernism and by eastern religious thought. They have no proper understanding of sin. The Bible is not an authority to them. So to simply come and preach the gospel without laying the proper groundwork leads almost always to immediately ignoring or scoffing, or at best (maybe at worst) crisis-based conversions that don’t last because they had no root (as in Mark 4:5-6, 16-17).
The stakes are raised when you consider the stranglehold that evolutionary teaching has on our culture. Every western governmental school curriculum and museum is founded on evolution. It’s being taught (as established fact) earlier and earlier. Its concepts are found in nearly every popular movie and TV show. What do evangelists for atheism like Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and all the rest push as the reason for completely waving away Christianity? The belief (in their minds, the fact) that evolution is undeniably true. If people grow up from the very earliest ages simply accepting evolution as fact, then they simply toss away the gospel as just one of many quaint, ancient, unnecessary, irrelevant myths.
In fact, most atheists understand the critical importance of the Genesis creation account as the foundation for the whole Christian faith better than many professing Christians do! If Adam and Eve were not actual people created in an actual garden, and didn’t reject an actual command of God by eating forbidden fruit (that is, if they didn’t actually sin), egged on by an actual serpent, then people would not need saving from anything, and hence there would be no need for a savior. The entire Christian faith hangs on the Genesis creation account being true. If it’s not true, everything else is totally unnecessary.
And not only every foundational Christian doctrine, look at some of the less obvious things. Why wear clothes (if you don’t live in ND winters)? Because of what happened in the garden. Why do we need to work to survive? Same reason. Why is marriage between one man and one woman, and nothing else? Because of how God created. You can keep going with these sorts of questions. They all hang on Genesis being true.
Even this one – nearly every culture in the world operates on a 7-day week. Why? Is there any facet of astronomy that would lead us towards a 7-day week?
a. The year is based on the revolution of the earth about the sun.
b. The month is based on the revolution of the moon about the earth.
c. The day is based on the rotation of the earth about its own axis.
d. What about the week?
There is nothing…except this: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11). The nearly ubiquitous nature of the 7-day week across cultures lends enormous weight to a human race that has descended from one family (Noah’s) after a global flood, and dispersed about the earth from the Tower of Babel. Also, this statement from Exodus (later written down on tablets of stone by the very finger of God Himself – Exodus 31:18), becomes meaningless if those seven days were not days as we have always understood them, rather than some literary framework or monstrously large periods of time.
It’s even harder to help believers who already know evolution isn’t true to understand why the millions/billions-of-years scenario is so harmful. But if death and bloodshed came through sin and sin came through one man, the first man, Adam (Romans 5:12), then how could there have been millions of years of death and bloodshed before there even was man or sin?
Finally, for myself, once I understood all this, I found that it became much, much easier to engage just about any person in a conversation that could lead neatly to a ripe moment for evangelism. It became natural for me to evangelize, because even though people don’t really care what I think about religion, most people love to talk about what they believe, and it’s actually quite easy to get them talking about what they believe until they have to face a crisis point where their belief system doesn’t square up with the reality they know they see. Some people simply go on living with this cognitive dissonance (isn’t that what postmodernism and eastern thought is all about? As in, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”). But others accept the gospel message and are saved, all because the evolutionary deception has been exposed for them.
I freely admit not every Christian is called to evangelize this way. But I am. And in this culture, creation evangelism has taken on an incredibly important role, since we’re speaking to an audience more like the one Paul spoke to on Mars Hill rather than like the audience Peter spoke to in Jerusalem on Pentecost. It has, however, taken me years to allow God to equip me with the necessary maturity and humility to evangelize this way, because the danger is always to become conceited, or to forget that the gospel is the true aim (see my previous post, Keeping the gospel central). Leading someone to believe that there is a creator but never pointing them to Christ is just as tragic as them never accepting there’s a creator.