TH 525: SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY
John MacArthur: The Battle for the Beginning: Creation, Evolution and the Bible
Luther Rice Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for the Degree
Masters of Divinity
Justin Z. DuBose
152 Sherwood St.
Toccoa, GA 30577
I.D.# GC6831 / Phone: (678) 707-1491
November 27, 2011
Professor: Dr. Coleman
Hours Completed: 12 -- Hours Remaining: 60
BOOK REVIEW: THE BATTLE FOR THE BEGINNING, BY JOHN MACARTHUR
Presented to Dr. David Mapes
Luther Rice Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
TH 525: SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY
Justin Z. DuBose
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. NECESSITY OF SUBJECT MATERIAL
II. AUTHOR QUALIFICATIONS
III. PURPOSE AND ORGANIZATION
IV. PRIMACY OF SCRIPTURE
VII. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
The topic of evolution versus creation is very much a hot-button issue in religious and scientific circles today. There is much associated with the topic. John MacArthur’s book, Battle for the Beginning, addresses these issues from a Scriptural, biblical perspective. In doing so, he attacks evolution, naturalism, uniforitarianism, progressive creation, and others as being contrary to Scripture. He challenges readers to examine the Scriptures in their entirety to formulate their theory of creation.
MacArthur, John. The Battle for the Beginning: Creation, Evolution and the Bible. Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group, 2001. Pp. 236.
NECESSITY OF SUBJECT MATERIAL
Since the introduction of the theory of evolution in 1859 by Charles Darwin, the authority of Scripture has been relegated to the ranks of second-class, or worse, in acceptable explanations for the origins of the world. As modern science and academia have progressed in the century-and-a-half since the introduction of this theory, college students, along with a host of others, have essentially been taught to instruct biblical Scripture to take their proper seat at the back of the academic bus. A literal, six-day creation account, as laid out in the book of Genesis, is widely ignored or even scoffed at because of the apparent contradiction it poses with modern science. As a result, Scripture has not only slowly been discredited, but, as John MacArthur suggests, societal values and cultural morality have eroded and deteriorated as well. MacArthur draws a line from our current moral situation straight back to the proliferation of the theory of evolution. He suggests that this theory is responsible for much of the moral decay present in society, and the only way to reverse this frightening trend is to advocate a literal six-day theory of creation. This he seeks to do in his book, The Battle for the Beginning: Creation, Evolution and the Bible. Dr. John MacArthur is the Pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. He is the President of The Master’s College and Seminary, located in nearby Santa Clarita. His expository teachings can be heard on his syndicated radio program “Grace to You”. Additionally, The MacArthur Study Bible, which he edited, has won the Gold Medallion Award and sold more than one million copies. 1
As an author, MacArthur has compiled a rather impressive resume. He has authored over 150 books, many of which have earned him accolades. His MacArthur Study Bible won him a Gold Medallion Award from the ECPA in 1998 for Study Bible of the Year. MacArthur is a rather versatile author as well, having won a Gold Medallion Award from the ECPA in 2005 for his children’s book A Faith to Grow On. MacArthur has also authored multiple books, to include Twelve Ordinary Men, which have sold over half-a-million copies. MacArthur is also the President of The Master’s College and founder and President of The Master’s Seminary. In addition to the above qualifications, as a Christian minister MacArthur is extremely accomplished as well. In 1969 he became the Pastor of the floundering Grace Community
Church. Since occupying the pulpit over forty years ago, the
1 MacArthur, John. The Battle for the Beginning: Creation, Evolution and the Bible. Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group, 2001. Back cover.
church has grown to its current size of ministering to more than 8,000 congregants each week. MacArthur is one of the most influential evangelical ministers today. He is often featured on Larry King Live as the voice of the evangelical Christian position on various moral issues. MacArthur received his bachelor’s degree from Azusa Pacific University, his M.Div. from Talbot Theological Seminary, as well as honorary doctorates from multiple theological institutions.
PURPOSE AND ORGANIZATION
MacArthur begins his book with an introduction that wastes no time in getting to the heart of why He is authoring such a book. He says that “evolution was invented in order to eliminate the God of Genesis and thereby to oust the Lawgiver and obliterate the inviolability of His law.” 2 Science, he argues, has replaced Scripture as the primary means of knowledge about creation even within Christianity. “Scripture, not science, is the ultimate test of all truth”, MacArthur argues. 3 MacArthur’s purpose in writing this book is demonstrate the inability to hold to both a biblical view of creation and still maintain an evolutionary belief or a naturalistic belief. His organization of the book, for the most part, is broken down into
2 Ibid, pg. 25
3 Ibid, pg. 26
the days of creation. Generally, each chapter addresses one day of creation. These days can only be interpreted as literal, 24-hour periods, argues MacArthur, is one is to maintain an accurate, Scriptural view of creation. MacArthur’s organizational structure is easy to follow and his writing style is very “down-to-earth”. When MacArthur does exercise academic vocabulary, it is only introduce a new theory and his explanations make the theory understandable to the reader. Because of his organizational pattern of breaking down the biblical days of creation into chapters, the reader is not overwhelmed with information, but rather is allowed to digest the information slowly without feeling overwhelmed. MacArthur does a good job of avoiding “data dump” on the reader, and invites the reader to examine the evidence with him little-by-little.
THE PRIMACY OF SCRIPTURE
The over-arching theme of the book is that those who have adopted the theory of evolution and naturalism have placed science above Scripture, and this is incorrect. The primary audience of the book seems to be those who are Christians, but MacArthur does well to incorporate readers of all backgrounds into the text. From early on in the book, MacArthur makes both his intended audience as well as his position known and clear. "Evangelicals who accept an old-earth interpretation of Genesis have embraced a hermeneutic that is hostile to a high view of Scripture." 4 Here, MacArthur makes both his audience – evangelicals – and well as his position – a high view of Scripture – clearly known early on in the book. In addressing the “framework hypothesis” later in the book, MacArthur’s purpose is made clear again when he says, "Those who embrace such a view have in effect made science an authority over Scripture." 5 In talking about Dr. Hugh Ross, an old-earth creationist, MacArthur says that "he makes Scripture subservient to science--and he does so without carefully separating scientific fact from scientific theory." 6 Again, his position is clear and unchanged. In addressing the miraculous works of the Lord, MacArthur says that, “our understanding of science should never govern whether we take God’s Word literally or not.” 7 All of these examples are to demonstrate that MacArthur is very consistent in his thesis as well as his target audience. MacArthur is primarily addressing those of the Christian faith and his purpose is to demonstrate that, in this area of faith, Scripture has taken a back seat. Christians need to read and understand the Bible for what it says and what it actually
4 Ibid, pg. 20
5 Ibid, pg. 22
6 Ibid, pg. 57
7 Ibid, pg. 93
means – that God created the world in six days, and these days were literal 24-hour periods of time.
MacArthur begins his book by seeking to answer some “vital metaphysical questions” that evolution simply provides no solution to. 8 This opening chapter provides the basis for much of the rest of his book. He seeks to show that evolution is not only counter-productive, but it also devalues humanity and is contrary to reason. In addressing the fact that evolution devalues humanity, MacArthur’s primary goal is to demonstrate that an increase in various types of crime should not at all be surprising if this is the case. If man has no real value, why should he value himself or others? After listing several troubling cultural problems – drug abuse, abortion, suicide, etc. – MacArthur says that "these trends are directly traceable to the ascent of evolutionary theory." 9 MacArthur sticks to his premise here that the devaluation of the Scriptural view of creation is the cause for moral decay in society. He further demonstrates what a rampant problem this is by tying it to the fact that it is not being discouraged – in
fact it is being spread and encouraged to young people. "The
8 Ibid, pg. 32
9 Ibid, pg. 32
absurdity of naturalism goes largely unchallenged today in universities and colleges." 10 MacArthur is building upon the fact that evolution and naturalism have been placed above Scripture as authoritative, and thus society at large is suffering. This is a natural progression from his introduction where he spent a good deal of time addressing Carl Sagan, the founder of naturalistic thought. He quoted Sagan’s mantra of “the cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” 11 How can society expect any less of themselves when this is the creation view which they adhere to? This is a point which MacArthur seeks to drive home in this opening chapter. According to MacArthur, evolution does not even have a place in universities because it is contrary to reason and logic. Of those who subscribe to and spread the theories of evolution and naturalism, MacArthur says they have, "left the realm of reason, they have left the domain of science." He then says that "evolution does not deserve to be deemed true science; it is nothing more than an irrational religion--the religion of those who want to sin without guilt." 12 As he closes this first chapter, he is sticking to his premise that man has voluntarily left the God of the Bible and the Scriptural view of creation.
10 Ibid, pg. 39
11 Ibid, pg. 12
12 Ibid, pg. 39
Now, he prepares to answer the questions of how creation actually occurred.
MacArthur begins his answer to this question by attacking the view of those who, as he sees it, have strayed from the biblical creation account. His point of attack is against uniformitarianism. This is the view that things have always been the way that they are now, they have not changed nor will they ever change. This is not only false, but it is counter to Scripture. MacArthur cites the flood as an example of this. MacArthur attacks this theory with catastrophism – the view that great catastrophies created the geological record as we have it. To this point, he goes to the fossil record. He points to this as great evidence that uniformitarianism is an untenable theory. Fossil are not created slowly, but rather through quick catastrophic occurrences, argues MacArthur. He sums up his position by saying that "a moment's reflection will reveal that the fossil record is impossible to explain by any uniformitarian scheme." 13 Other than being contrary to science, why is this view so dangerous? "To imagine that the earth was formed by natural processes over billions and billions of years through
13 Ibid, pg. 51
slow and steady evolution is to deny the very essence of what Scripture teaches about the earth's creation. It is to reject the clear account of God Himself that He created the earth and all its life in six days." 14 Again, MacArthur uses evidence to point back to Scripture. In addressing uniformitarianism, MacArthur’s ultimate goal is to challenge the read to examine the Scripture and, in doing so, see that this is more than unscientific, it is unbiblical. This is the greatest threat that this theory poses, and yet it is taught in universities and public schools throughout this country.
From here, MacArthur moves on to address the theory of progressive creationism. Like naturalism, MacArthur primarily attacks the leading figure of this movement and his ideas. Last time it was Carl Sagan, this time it is Dr. Hugh Ross. The danger of progressive creationism is the same as the danger of other views, "the argument seems to suggest that God could not possibly have created such an intricate universe in only six days' time." 15 For MacArthur, this is the sticking point. If a theory undermines a six day creation, it is contrary to Scripture and must be labeled as dangerous and disregarded. How, then, has this theory gained such a large
14 Ibid, pgs. 53-54
15 Ibid, pg. 64
following? "Only by denying key expressions or interpreting them in a nonliteral sense can the Christian read any degree of evolution or "progressive creation" into the Genesis account." 16 Again, MacArthur’s literal interpretation of the Genesis account is the pivotal argument here. Why is this such a big deal for MacArthur? Why is it cause enough to attack other Christians who interpret Scripture differently than he does? For MacArthur, it is because "nothing in Scripture itself permits the view that the days of creation were anything other than literal twenty-four-hour days." 17 MacArthur see this as a huge issue not because it is a misinterpretation of the creation account, but rather it is because it is a disregard for the rest of Scripture and thus a relegation of Scripture, which MacArthur sees as the cause of many of the problems we face today that are only growing.
As MacArthur moves on to the next chapter of the book, he continues to build his case about this disregard for the rest of Scripture. His premise is that this view is anti-biblical and thus dangerous. Why is that? What evidence does he have to accompany such a harsh stance? On page 78, Macarthur cites that everything that God created was instantaneous. 18 When God said,
16 Ibid, pg. 65
17 Ibid, pg. 69
18 Ibid, pg. 78
“Let there be light”, there was light – instantaneously. There was no gap between when He spoke it and when it occurred. The same applies for creation in its entirety. To hold to an evolutionary view, in any form, is to lessen God, which is to devalue humanity. Perhaps his strongest evidence in this case is his quotation of Genesis 1:4-5 where we read that “the evening and the morning were the first day.” Not only can this only be interpreted literally, according to MacArthur, but it is consistent with the rest of the creation account.
As he moves on to talk about the foundations of the Earth, MacArthur clearly bases his view upon his interpretation of Scripture and continues to attack those who interpret it differently from him. He talks about the water canopy theory, that water was suspended in the atmosphere, and cites Scripture as evidence for this theory. "Scripture says that before the Flood there was no rain (Genesis 2:5)." 19 To some, this may seem absurd. This is only if, according to MacArthur, you do not hold a high view of Scripture and of the God of the Bible. He then talks about the New Testament miracle of the multiplying of the loaves and the fish. According to science, this is impossible. Fish needs time to mature and reproduce. However, MacArthur warns that “our understanding of science
19 Ibid, pg. 92
should never govern whether we take God’s Word literally or not.” 20 One of the pillars of evolutionary theory is the introduction of new species. According to evolution, this occurs when a species produces a different species, or at least a varying kind of species from itself, in the reproduction process. Why is this incorrect and dangerous for MacArthur? Again, because, as he sees it, it is contrary to Scripture. For evidence, he goes to the biblical phrase “according to its kind” found in the book of Genesis. "In fact, it is fair to say that this crucial phrase, "according to its kind," clearly refutes the very heart of the evolutionary idea." 21
From here, MacArthur moves to the topic of stars and planets. What is the biblical account for this aspect of creation? MacArthur’s answer is not surprising in that it is completely derived from Scripture. “Genesis 1 gives a simple answer: God made them all.” 22 MacArthur will need to expand upon this theory in order to convince some of his argument, which he does. In reading the biblical account, one comes across this phrase “and it was so”, and upon this MacArthur hinges his argument. Addressing the phrase “and it was so”, MacArthur states, “that is a technical phrase that
20 Ibid, pg. 93
21 Ibid, pg. 99
22 Ibid, pg. 105
means it was made permanent.” 23 According to MacArthur, God made all the stars and put them in their place. Stars did not evolve over billions of years. MacArthur continues unwaveringly to deduce his theories from his understanding of Scripture and nothing else. Even when he uses science, it is only in conformity with his understanding and interpretation of Scripture. This is made evident once again in how he addresses the theories of those who change based on new scientific findings. "It is yet another example of how scientific theories are in constant flux--in contrast to Scripture, which never changes.” 24
MacArthur then moves on to living creatures. The basis of MacArthur’s entire argument rests upon genetic evidence. When genetics are observed, one will never find the introduction of a new species from an existing species. This is building upon an earlier argument of MacArthur’s in the book. He explains the genetic theory of evolutionists by describing bugs who are trying to avoid extinction from a snake. Some develop wings and fly, others developed adaptations that allowed them to burrow into the ground. Then the snake, himself facing extinction, developed ways to climb trees and dig into the ground.
23 Ibid, pg. 115
24 Ibid, pg. 117
MacArthur’s conclusion is that "in comparison to the biblical account it is fanciful, preposterous, and genetically impossible." 25 So why, then, do people, especially Christians, continue to subscribe to such a theory? “There is one reason ultimately: Fallen humanity hates the God of the Bible, and the complexity and wisdom seen in creation is the single greatest rational obstacle to an atheistic world-view.” 26 After examining the evidence, what then is his conclusion? "Science has never observed, and never will observe, the evolution of one species into a new life form." 27
MacArthur transitions from here into an interesting discourse about “beasts and creeping things”. In this chapter, MacArthur examines several different types of animals and shows that to explain them using an evolutionary model is impossible. He discusses cattle, sheep, and camels at some length. Then he comes to the bombardier beetle, which he spends a good portion of the chapter on. He talks about the beetle’s defense mechanism of mixing chemicals and spraying them into the face of a would-be predator. When the chemicals mix together and land on his body, they reach temperatures of boiling water.
25 Ibid, pg. 126
26 Ibid, pgs. 126-127
27 Ibid, pg. 134
MacArthur says of this beetle that “it was created with a unique defense mechanism that is impossible to explain with the evolutionary theory.” 28 In this chapter, MacArthur deviates from his usual use of Scripture to explain creation, and primarily uses science and nature to do so. His intent is still the same, however, to point to the validity of Scripture in formulating a correct view of creation.
MacArthur’s next chapter is one of his longest, “Man in God’s Image”. In reading this chapter, it came across as the most forceful of all the chapters so far. The entire book was building up to this chapter – that man was created in the image of God. This, for MacArthur is the ultimate danger of evolution. It removes the relational aspect of God to man. When the personhood of God is removed, man then becomes purposeless and hopeless. In addressing this issue of the personhood of God, MacArthur says, “the doctrine of evolution would utterly erase this truth from the collective conscience of the human race. That is why the battle against evolutionary theory is one Christians cannot afford to abandon.” 29 This is very much a conclusion statement by MacArthur. This is, for him, one of the major reasons why evolution must be
28 Ibid, pg. 147
29 Ibid, pg. 167
abandoned at all costs. This is a central issue in
Christianity. What, for MacArthur, are some of the practical ramifications of holding to this theory? “The evolutionary lie has brought even this under attack, as society now seeks to justify and legitimize fornication, easy divorce, homosexual relationships, and other perversions.” 30 For MacArthur, this is what it is all about – this is the ultimate danger of evolution in explaining creation – this is why the “Battle for the Beginning” is of the utmost importance. His ultimate conclusion is found within the pages of this chapter. Evolution is dangerous becomes it eliminates the need for Christ. “Above all, man is unable to subdue his own sinful tendencies. Christ, the perfect Man, will do what fallen man has been unable to do.” He goes on to say that “that victory was already sealed when Christ rose from the dead.” 31 This is the climax of the entire book.
The final two chapters of the book were, for this reader, more evidence on top of what was already built in the preceding chapters. A different view on the dangers of evolution was presented when MacArthur said, "Instead of teaching that man began at the bottom of the moral ladder and slowly rose higher
by social and psychological evolution, Genesis 3 teaches us the
30 Ibid, pg. 167
31 Ibid, pg. 174
opposite." 32 The book could have ended at chapter eight and his case would have been more powerful to the reader. The final two chapters explain other aspects of theology that, as this reader viewed them, were not directly related to the creation account. This was the only portion of the book where MacArthur’s consistency waned, although his purpose was understood in writing them.
The book is highly recommendable, yet, there was one dangerous flaw that could not be separated from his message and purpose while reading through the book. MacArthur seems to be extremely divisive. His stated audience is primarily fellow Christians, yet he attacks them as if they were his mortal enemy. His rant against Dr. Ross was a rant against what many consider a very influential evangelical Christian. MacArthur seems to be attacking his own teammates, in a sense. This divisive characteristic is very dangerous to a body already fractured. It seems that his point would have been more effective if either aimed at a different audience, or presented
32 Ibid, pg. 196
in a more loving fashion. It seems a bit counterproductive to
attack those who believe in Jesus and His fide creation of the universe just as much as you do, yet interpret the sequence of events differently. Overall though, the book was most enjoyable, challenging, and provoking, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.
VII. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
MacArthur, John. The Battle for the Beginning: Creation, Evolution and the Bible. Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group, 2001. Pp. 236.
NG, LR, & NCU
My collection of personal papers written over the years