Mallinson: An LCMS Lutheran Review of the GAE

I also endorsed this book too. My vantage point is that of a professor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), a denomination with a history of tensions and controversies, often centered precisely on the question of human origins. This summer, for example, the LCMS reaffirmed its commitment to creation in “six natural days.” Meanwhile, surveys indicate 40% of our congregants affirm evolution. More than once, professors in our denomination have been hassled for suggesting that the earth just might be old. Don’t get our crew started on the matter of the evolution of Homo sapiens.

Some in my tradition have even suggested that it is theological infidelity to encourage understand or open conversation with Christians who affirm evolutionary science. Meanwhile, the LCMS seminary in St. Louis partnered with scientists through the Science for Seminaries program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The reality is that at least some conservative Lutherans are still working through their relationship to science, and trying to do so in a way that respects both historical commitments and also current constituents. This is where Swamidass’s work comes in handy, since it opens up space for scholars in situations like mine. Indeed, it offers breathing room for genuine reflection and honest inquiry with students and colleagues outside our tradition.

Make no mistake, there is real professional risk in my endorsement of this book. People will likely misunderstand what I’m after here from one angle or another. Nonetheless, I cannot ignore the importance of what Swamidass presents; it is too important for my students and students like them. Church bodies like mine are looking for voices in science that we can trust, scientists who can meet us where we are, receive our questions with empathy, and explain to us what they see with honesty and rigor. Such trustworthy voices are scarce, especially in a divided society. Origins science is contentious. Swamidass is offering a different way forward. I perceive common ground growing broader, and a new voice in science that is neither dismissive of our theological concerns, nor twisting science to pander to Christian leaders.


@Philosurfer, @JustAnotherLutheran, @J.E.S, and other lutherans on the forum, what do you think of Mallinson’s review?


It appears that Mallinson writes a very positive review. I will be curious to see what I think after I have looked through your book myself. :slight_smile: I am not 100% sure as to where Mallinson stands when it comes to Creation/Evolution, but I have previously gotten the impression that he is sympathetic to evolution (although, for full disclosure, I readily admit that this impression may be wrong :slight_smile: ). Ultimately, since I think that the most faithful interpretation of Genesis leaves little room for evolution and/or an ancient earth, I will probably come away with some different opinions (once again, assuming that my impressions of his underlying opinions are correct).

Even so, I will be curious to see how the conversation develops from here. Do @Mlkluther and @EvolvingLutheran have any thoughts they would like to share?


The question for you is if any faithful interpretation leaves room. Making space for evolutionary science, in fact, is good for the Church. So, if you can, you should, whatever your personal views.

Take it as a thought experiment. You don’t have to agree it is true.


The review does a nice job of discussing the value your book may bring to a theologically conservative readership. It will be interesting to see how faculty and students respond to your presentation of it in the Spring 2020 semester. I’m looking forward to it!


No offense, but I do not think that condoning and/or advocating a teaching that contradicts God’s Word is particularly good for the Church. Given that, what exactly do you mean by “making space?” I am very curious to hear how you define this terminology so that I can ultimately gain a better understanding of where you are coming from (which is always helpful knowledge along the road to mutual understanding :slight_smile: ). Also, out of curiosity, what are your criteria for determining whether or not something is good for the church?

Nice. I like thought experiments. :slight_smile:


I suppose you have to demonstrate that it contradicts God’s Word, rather than just assuming it so @J.E.S. I don’t think you can do so.


I will go out on a limb for Mallinson (and it is definitely my position) that he(we) are NOT condoning or advocating a teaching that contradicts God’s Word. We are also not after doctrinal change. However, we work at a liberal arts college that prepares students (some of them LCMS) for work in the sciences. They must learn the science as it is in the field even if it does appear to contradict clear doctrinal teaching. We also help prepare future church workers that will be in congregations with students interested in STEM fields and/or have parents that are STEM through vocation.

The current conversation/debate about evolution/theology polarizes. Josh provides a way to think more like a Christian living in captivity (e.g., Moses or Joseph in Egypt). Is it possible that being familiar, in fact, living within an opposing viewpoint might work to benefit the kingdom overall (e.g., Moses or Joseph)? Are not most of us (laity and professionals) called to live in tension between their church and state? I wouldn’t say that Moses or Joseph became Egyptians. In the same way, Josh is NOT an evolutionary biologist (by identity) – he is a Christian (identity) that affirms evolutionary biology (trade).

Jeff and I are blessed in having a lively theology/science conversation at Concordia, Irvine. I see Josh’s work not necessarily as THE solution, but a way to broaden a conversation so I don’t become blinded by my own presuppositions. Again, my vocation is to awaken the student’s imagination to what is possible while being bound to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Josh provides some interesting avenues to explore to see if what he proposes MAY exist within the boundaries of Scripture and the Confessions.

If his thesis does not live up to the dual nature (Scripture and Confessions) of professional Lutheranism, than perhaps his view may attain the status of something like Augustine’s view of creation. It is not the preferred (or even doctrinal) view within Lutheranism, but it also does not seem to be outright heretical. And so, perhaps, we read Josh in the same way we read Augustine, interesting food for thought and discussion, but not inline with denominational beliefs – perhaps even something worth teaching to students…


Well said.

Perhaps I can be a faithful heterodox. Not orthodox, but not heresy either.


Ha! Well, the world is larger than Lutheranism. I think “we” (Lutherans) have some of the best theology around. But, we are penultimate as is every other denomination out there. I think this basic fact, ALL denominations are penultimate, is sometimes forgotten. I have a sneaking suspicion that when Christ comes again, we will all recognize the “faithful heterodoxy” of the communion of saints.


This discussion again? :slight_smile: I think this has probably been one of the most common conversations that I have had on the forums. I’m not just assuming things here. Ultimately, I don’t think it is very hard to see the contradictions between evolution and Scripture. BioLogos invites Christians to “witness” the harmony between science and scripture, as if this harmony is something that is easy to see. I disagree. Evolution and an ancient Earth do not fit into the Scriptures in an intuitive manner. If they did, then there would be little or no need for BioLogos, the GAE, or, for that matter, the YEC organizations.

Given all of that, I would be interested to hear your case for the thesis that evolution does not contradict Scripture. To be clear, I think the burden of proof is actually on you for this one. If your arguments rest on placing the burden on me to show that evolution and Scripture contradict each other, then I don’t think your arguments will get very far (as I don’t think it is that difficult to prove that evolution contradicts Scripture, in case that wasn’t self-evident).

Even so, I am still interested in hearing your case. I will be interested in examining all of the ways that your approach differs from that of BioLogos. Please note that I won’t be offended if you tell me to “just read the book.” :slight_smile:

I am glad. @Philosurfer, I would be interested in hearing more about how you think through the different issues Creation/Evolution debate. :slight_smile:

Thank you both for this discussion! I am still interested in seeing how the broader conversation will continue to develop.


This atheist is seeing the shift from “[evolution] contradicts God’s Word” to “contradictions between evolution and Scripture”, and noting that this begs the question of whether scripture is in fact “God’s Word”, which is perhaps the harder part to demonstrate.


I think that @swamidass and @Philosurfer would agree that Scripture is, in fact, God’s Word. :slight_smile:


You are correct @Roy and @J.E.S! I do believe that Scripture is the Word of God and that, fundamentally, that is the more central thesis. It is why I started my journey into philosophy through historical apologetics!

However, as with any family, there are all sorts of tensions between the children, parents, close relatives, and distant relatives. The LCMS is one such family regarding the relationship between science/religion generally and biology/theology specifically. Internally we are struggling to figure this out. However, our family does assume in this conversation that the scripture is God’s Word.

The conversation gets vastly more complicated and interesting and frustrating when the conversation moves to the public sphere where that assumption is no longer a given. Peaceful Science is a testament to the difficulty, frustrations, and enjoyment that can come through working on these issues in public alongside the family conversations that are happening back home.



So you think God would Never, Ever use Evolutionary processes to shape life forms on Earth?


I don’t think that I think that :slight_smile: . However, I do think that God’s word indicates that he didn’t use Evolutionary processes to shape life forms on Earth.


To hold that position, you have to reject and overturn massive amounts of science.

This is why GAE scenarios are offered … to allow a person to retain a position on Christian atonement - - without overturning science as we know it today.

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I always feel a bit awkward making theological criticisms. Though I’m quoting @J.E.S, I do not mean this as criticism OF @J.E.S.

But we don’t “see” harmony, we hear it in music, from people playing together. – OK, I might be taking this analogy a bit too far, but in discussion between science and religion, when is there harmony and when is there dissonance? Does the church benefit more from harmony or more from dissonance?
Noting that people like Ken Ham are not the church, dissonance has certainly been good for Ken Ham.

It’s not so simple as fit OR not-fit, there is a continuum of “fit”. On one end there is practically no conflict, and on the far end (the claim is) basic laws of physics conflict with Scripture. Evolution is focus because Scripture has a Creation story (If Scripture gave us Laws of Theodynamics maybe it would be the focus instead?). I’d like to suggest evolution is not the cause of the conflict, but that what we say and think about that Creation story might be.

That’s why I appreciate Joshua’s ideas about GAE, because it opens up some breathing space for what people think about that Creation story.

Just my two cents. If you want to burn me at the stake for heresy, you know where to find me. :slight_smile:


I think most people would agree with you who lack a prior commitment to both propositions that 1) the bible is God’s word, inerrant, and 2) the bible and science, properly understood, can’t disagree. Certainly the most obvious reading is of a young universe. Then again, the most obvious reading is also of a universe in the form of a box with a lid, surrounded on all sides by water, with the earth being the floor of the box. Yet you don’t (I hope) believe that interpretation. What’s the difference?


As one of the 40%, I think it’s terrific! We need to have this conversation in the LCMS in a thoughtful, peaceable, respectful fashion. So kudos to you on the book and to Mallinson for helping (hopefully) advance the dialog at the academic level.

Also, an update. I have had further candid and healthy discussion with my own pastor. It’s not ongoing, but doesn’t need to be. Nobody’s aggressively pushing a creationist agenda currently. He seems uninterested in having unnecessary conflict over the issue, even though he personally holds the official LCMS position. It seems to have resulted in a more nuanced approach when dealing with the issue when it occasionally surfaces in Bible Study. Perhaps he recognizes the possibility that there may be more people present who affirm evolutionary science in the room.

I’ve given more thought to your CAES terminology (Christian Affirming Evolutionary Science) and have decided it’s quite helpful in dealing with our church body. However, I put a slightly different spin on it. I like CLAES: Confessional Lutheran Affirming Evolutionary Science. I think it’s a good disruptor within the LCMS because it equally affirms a high view of Scripture and our Confessions, and forces would-be detractors to ask how one can hold such views alongside evolutionary science. They typically tend to dismiss terms like TE/EC for that precise reason.

Again, well done!