A few months ago, I wrote about the emerging belief that Christianity and evolution aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Despite the media’s often-simplistic characterization of people of faith, this notion isn’t as new or surprising as some might think. (As I noted, the great Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton wrote openly about the concept as early as 1908.)
Still, my assumption was that Chesterton was an outlier — that Christians of the day must have reflexively rejected the theory as inherently incompatible with scripture.
Interestingly, though, according to Baylor professor and author Barry Hankins, the notion that the two ideas were incompatible didn’t arise until years after Darwin presented his ideas.
During a recent conversation about his book, “Jesus and Gin,” Hankins told me this:
[T]hat was a fairly common view right after Darwin wrote “Origin of Species” in the 1850s and then his “Descent of Man” in the 1870s. In other words, some of the best conservative, evangelical theologians of the late 19th century were willing to consider ways in which evolution — not Darwinism or Darwin’s theory of how evolution took place — but evolution, itself, could be part of God’s plan. But by the 1920s, the categories had hardened …
In light of this, it is perhaps unfortunate that so much energy and division has resulted from his debate. As Tim Keller, who pastors New York City’s Redeemer Church, recently observed, this debate isn’t irrelevant, but it’s also not necessarily one central to Christian theology, either. “[It's] not in the Apostle’s Creed,” he explained, “and therefore there’s wiggle room.”