23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. . .
Acts 17:23-26 (ESV)
In 1799, the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher published On Religion. His seemingly noble aim was to promote Christianity to its “cultured despisers,” people who had moved on from religion. Yet, to remove stumbling blocks, he eviscerated the gospel of many key truths. For similar reasons, in 1984, the then Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In an effort to appeal to skeptics, it is all too tempting to downplay “incredible” biblical truths. Today, this temptation is nowhere more apparent than over the doctrine of creation.
Although Paul’s evangelism consistently centered on Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, the precise way he presented the gospel varied from audience to audience. When evangelizing Jews, he emphasized the biblical text (e.g. Acts 13:13-41), but when preaching to pagan polytheists, he emphasized the doctrine of creation (Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-31). For Paul, the fact that God created everything is foundational to the gospel.
Amongst the Athenian altars to Zeus, Athena, and Demeter, Paul spotted one to the “unknown god” (v. 23); Athens kept its options open and tried to cover every base. Yet, in the midst of this plurality of idols, Paul went on the offensive, proclaiming that the God whom the Athenians did not know is the true Creator of all, the only God. Unlike their pathetic idols, He does not require housing or food (vv. 24-25). Rather, He gives life and a dwelling place to humans (vv. 25-26). In other words, He is not man’s debtor—He does not depend upon the religious devotion of humanity to provide His needs. Quite the reverse: all people depend on Him; all are indebted to Him. Only with this foundation in place could the Athenians have any hope of grasping their debt to their Creator; only then would they fear His coming judgment and repent (vv. 30-31).
The doctrine of creation is integral to the gospel. Modern men and women will never understand their need of Christ as a Savior from God’s wrath if they do not first have some comprehension that they owe their generous Creator everything. Nor will they grasp the wickedness of rejecting Him and running life their own way. Divorced from belief in a sovereign, holy, gracious Creator, the gospel makes no sense at all.
In the face of frequent public ridicule, holding on to the truths of creation requires clear-thinking courage. But, if the gospel is to grow and spread in the modern West, Christians dare not follow Schleiermacher and Jenkins by cutting and pasting the Bible to appeal to the modern mind. Embarrassed silence concerning creation will help no one; if God did not create, Christians have no gospel.
When we “Cut and paste the Bible to appeal to modern mind” we are actually making a god after our own image. Let us stick to the God of the Bible as He presents Himself.
-Tim A. Blankenship