“Modern humans thus have different evolutionary trajectories: Melanesians have both Neanderthals and Denisovans in their lineage, Europeans have Neanderthals, and Africans have neither.” – Dennis Venema
What is the Theology?
As Genesis 1 is often read, God created one man and one woman in God’s image. Thereafter, every human bears this image. This raises difficulties with how we interpret the image of God. If evolutionary theory is taken seriously, then when did humans begin to be made in the image of God? Were Neanderthals and Denisovans created in the image of God? Are their descendants? This also affects our understanding of redemption. According to Paul, just as sin entered the world through one human, so also through one human, Jesus, the free gift of life and grace is extended to us (Romans 5:12-21). If humans evolved over time, our understanding of the historical Adam changes. Must our understanding of atonement and redemption follow? These are important questions that pastors can raise and offer some tentative suggestions.
What to Consider
- How do you read Genesis 1? Is it historical? Scientific? Allegorical? Mythical? Something else?
- What does it mean to be made in the image of God? How might evolutionary theory influence your understanding of the image of God?
- How is your understanding of Jesus and the atonement affected by this reading of the fossil record? How might it affect your eschatology?
How to go Deeper
- Start a book club using Adam and the Genome by Scot McKnight and Dennis Venema or Evolution and the Fall by William Cavanaugh and James K.A. Smith.
- Preach a series on the different historical interpretations of the image of God. Check out this great biblical and historical summary or this one. You might consider looking at Augustine, John Wesley, Karl Barth, or this more recent interpretation in light of modern scientific evidence.
- Put the creation narratives of Genesis 1:1-2:4 and Genesis 2:4-3:24 in conversation with this retelling of the creation narrative in light of evolutionary theory. Place participants into discussion groups and invite them to critically reflect upon their responses to these different stories.
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