The Theistic Evolution and the PCA – Part 4

By James C. Raketraw, PE, CFM

The purpose of this article is to explore theistic evolution (also termed Evolutionary Creation) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  This article has four parts which will attempt to answer four basic questions as follows:

  1. Where is theistic evolution found within the PCA?
  2. How did theistic evolution come to the PCA?
  3. How does theistic evolution differ from the Christian church’s traditional view of Creation?
  4. What are some Impacts of theistic evolution on the PCA?

Part 4: What are some impacts of Theistic Evolution on the PCA?

Theistic evolution has already impacted the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  Part 4 is divided into four sections as follows: 1) Impacts of theistic evolution on the PCA, so far; 2) Actions required to preserve the PCA; 3) The consequences of inaction; and 4) Summary and Conclusions.

Impacts of Theistic Evolution on the PCA, so Far:

Theistic evolution (Evolutionary Creation) quickly became deeply rooted within the PCA. This is in spite of a heritage of rejection of evolution by the Southern Presbyterian Church, the tap root of the PCA.  This is in spite of implicit rejection of theistic evolution in the Report on Creation Study Committee to the General Assembly (PCA Report) in 2001.

The PCA appears to have been targeted by the BioLogos organization for promotion of theistic evolution.  BioLogos is highly organized and works within traditions and even denominations.  In the words of the BioLogos website:

“Address theological and philosophical concerns which certain branches of Christianity have about evolutionary creation. This work might be done in a tradition- or even denomination-specific manner.”

(The above was excerpted on 2/7/17 from the Evolution and Christian Faith, a grants program of BioLogos on the BioLogos website.  Notes concerning this program are listed as Appendix A.)

So far, proponents of theistic evolution in the PCA appear to have taken a fairly low profile.  The profile of theistic evolution is high enough to be noticeable.  However, this profile seems to be low enough so as not to generate any kind of confrontation with the conservatives in the PCA.

Theistic evolution has not yet been challenged within the PCA.  It has never been called error by those in leadership.  So far, no action against theistic evolution has been taken in church courts.

The PCA has changed from a very conservative, very united, and focused denomination into a basically conservative denomination with a high profile liberal wing.  The conservatives within the PCA hold to the traditional view of creation, the uniqueness of Adam, and the doctrines of The Fall, original sin and the need for redemption.  The liberal wing of the PCA allows their faith to be defined by theistic evolution.  The PCA is in the place that the mainline Northern Presbyterian Church was in the late 1800’s.

There is a developing split within the PCA.  Many in the PCA are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the denomination’s inability to call theistic evolution error and then deal with the error.

Actions Required to Preserve the PCA:

Confronting doctrinal error is never pleasant.  The PCA has confronted doctrinal error in the past with the “Federal Vision” issue.  The following was excerpted from an article on “Federal Vision” from Wikipedia on 2/19/17:

In 2007, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) appointed a study committee to examine the issue, and that committee produced a report which “is to be given due and serious consideration by the church and its courts” concluding that the teachings of Federal Vision on election, justification, and other doctrines are contrary to the Westminster Standards, the PCA’s doctrinal standards.[17]

The issue of theistic evolution (Evolutionary Creation) needs to be brought to the General Assembly through Book of Church Order (BCO) channels.  The General Assembly then needs to take action.

The Consequences of Inaction:

The consequences of not confronting the error of theistic evolution (Evolutionary Creation) will be long term and far reaching.  We can learn much from studying the history of the mainline Presbyterian Church from the late 1800’s to the present.

The decline of the mainline church began with the acceptance of evolution.  It then progressed into doubts concerning the historicity and headship of Adam, original sin, the deity of Christ and redemption.  Conservatives began to leave the mainline church in the 1960s.  There were attempts at renewal but by the 2000’s most of the conservatives had departed.  The departure of conservatives from the mainline church resulted in new Presbyterian denominations.  The most notable of these was the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). This denomination is composed largely of those who left the mainline United Presbyterian Church.  It was founded in 1981 and in 2016 had 171,000 members and about 600 churches.  The decline of the mainline Presbyterian Church took about 100 years.

Failure to take action on the issue of theistic evolution will leave the PCA in the position of the Northern Presbyterian Church of the late 1800’s.  The PCA will then follow the pattern of the Northern Presbyterian Church into ultimate decline.

Summary and Conclusions:

In summary in Part 1of this series, the extent to which theistic evolution (Evolutionary Creation) has become entrenched in the PCA was demonstrated.  In Part 2 of this series the process of how theistic evolution came to the evangelical community, including the PCA, was documented.   In Part 3 of this series the teaching of theistic evolution was compared with the Christian churches traditional view of creation.  It is clear that the teaching of theistic evolution is contrary to the Bible and the Westminster Standards.  Finally, in Part 4 some impacts of theistic evolution on the PCA were examined.

The PCA is at a crossroads.  It is in the place that is similar to that the mainline Presbyterian Church was in the late 1800’s.  The teaching of theistic evolution (Evolutionary Creation) is being aggressively promoted within the PCA.  Ultimately, inaction could transform the PCA from a small basically conservative denomination into a small very liberal denomination in the next 100 years.  In order to preserve the PCA, conservatives need to take action to have theistic evolution to be declared doctrinal error.

Appendix A

The following was excerpted from the BioLogos website on 2/7/17:

“Welcome! You have reached the home of Evolution and Christian Faith (ECF), a grants program that was offered by BioLogos. ECF supported projects and network building among scholars, church leaders, and parachurch organizations to address theological and philosophical concerns commonly voiced by Christians about evolutionary creation. The goals of ECF were to:

  1. Address theological and philosophical concerns which certain branches of Christianity have about evolutionary creation. This work might be done in a tradition- or even denomination-specific manner.
  2. Explore and increase appreciation for how an evolutionary view of creation enriches Christian experience (e.g. worship) and theology (e.g. through an enhanced understanding of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer).
  3. Explore ways in which a Christian worldview adds new dimensions to our understanding of the evolutionary process. In other words, does evolutionary theory “look different” when examined through the lens of Christian commitments (e.g. altruism, human uniqueness, moral and religious cognition, directionality and purpose)?
  4. Address means of constructively engaging Christian communities on matters that concern them about the compatibility of evolution and theology.”