Who Would Have Thought? A Stone-Campbell Restorationist on Evolution

Should the results of sceince ever revise our interpretations of Scripture?

There was a time when, according to our Stone-Campbell forefather, people believed that “the sun moved around the earth; they interpreted the Bible to say so.” But when “the investigation of the laws of the material world proved the earth moves around the sun,” their interpretation of the Bible changed because the “truths of science” and the “truths of the Bible” do not contradict.

For centuries people “understood the first chapter of Genesis said that the world was created in the six days enumerated in this chapter. The truths of geology led to the study of this matter–lo!–the Bible does not say this.”

“A truth in the material world thus helps us to understand the great foundation and far-reaching truths of the spiritual world….The phenomena of the material world are the records of God’s work in the world of matter through the ages that are passed.” They must not be ignored.

Facts of science–truths about the material world–are interpretative aides for understanding Scripture. “The theory of evolution–and, in deed, the science of geology–claim that in the material wold the simpler forms of life were in point of time first developed; afterwards, those more complex; that in point of time there has been a regular gradation in both animal and plant life from the simplest up to the highest forms of life…These facts are true in nature…The Bible plainly teaches these as facts, and the facts of the material world, so far as they have been determined, fully corroborate the Scripture statement. These facts, given in both nature and the Bible, are the grounds for the theory of evolution.”

Humanity “stands at the head of all created beings and is the best and highest of material beings, and that all preceding creations in the material world were preparatory steps and stages in refining the material out of which man is made and by which his life is sustained, is positively affirmed in the Bible and corroborated by the known facts of nature. When his highest mechanism of God was completed, God breathed into it a spirit that differentiated it from all the lower creation and allied it to the spirits and to God himself.”

“I believe life had existed on the earth previously to the six days’ work of Gen. 1. The Bible nowhere contradicts this. Man and the higher order of animals and plants did not exist before this.”

“Could we adopt the idea that the six days were long periods of time, we could reconcile it all; but this seems a forced and unnatural meaning of the Bible statement, and I greatly object to these. The statement seems to contemplate our ordinary days. So I say there are some things here that we do not understand.”

“My study of these things has caused me to revise my conceptions of the teaching of the Bible, but the comparison of the facts and truths of the natural world with those of the Bibl log since banished all apprehension of the least contradiction between them.”

Who said this?

None other than David Lipscomb, Salvation from Sin, ed. by F. B. Shepherd (Nashville: McQuiddy Publishing Co., 1913) in his two chapters “Evolution and the Bible” and “Geology and the  Bible” (pp. 347-375).

Think we can learn anything from his example?

16 Responses to “Who Would Have Thought? A Stone-Campbell Restorationist on Evolution”

  1.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    Lipscomb was such a liberal. LOL! AC once suggested that the first three days could have been millions of years too. This of course was before the six day orthodoxy test. Thanks for sharing.

  2.   Matthew Dowling Says:

    What a remarkable set of thoughts from Lipscomb! It convinces me that there might just be room in the Stone-Campbell mvmt for me–an evolutionary biologist-turned-theologian. Thanks for sharing

  3.   Randall Says:

    My daughter has several graduate degrees in evolutionary biology so I forwarded this to her. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  4.   rich constant Says:

    What a remarkable set of thoughts from Lipscomb!
    GOOD LORD!!!
    i think the sky is falling.
    John Mark?
    have you gone back to School????
    sounds to me like you just might be

    “finding that god works WITH time not IN time” 🙂

    how bout
    I bring you a book, a little book,as a compared to what… 🙂
    if you have not read it you might be in for a little surprise.
    I hope 🙂
    but then what do i know….
    ITS all theory,
    and as a compared to what?
    except fulfilled prophecy. and
    GODS RESCUE of the creation

    Act 15:18 Saith the Lord, who maketh these things known from of old.

    you are gonna elaborate a little on this topic??????

    i won’t say please
    cus i know, it will not do one bit a good.


    •   rich constant Says:

      a little p.s.
      time was part of the creation…
      and as a compared to what
      what about
      of the irreducible complexities of the cellular mechanism to differentiate in the given time…sounds to me that needed a little help….knowing a little of what diversity means in cellular evolution …
      AND THEN THIS IS…2012
      NOT 1912
      wish ol Lipscomb was around
      he’d be all over this
      john mark…
      john mark?
      oh i wish i had sum schoolen…
      but then ….
      john mark ?


  5.   Chuck Morris Says:

    The intellectual honesty of our forebears is refreshing! Maybe the time is coming soon when we can talk about this in church without making 6 day creation a test of fellowship. Thanks John Mark for showing us this.

  6.   Steve Says:

    There is another brother from the Stone-Campbell movement who has been teaching this for years through his ministry “Does God Exist?” John Clayton has been doing seminars and publishing resources that are well thought out and well documented. Check out his website at http://www.doesgodexist.org

  7.   V. Lee Edwards Says:

    This is refreshing. Thanks for sharing.

    Have you read “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John Walton? If so, I would like to know what you thought.

    I also anxiously await your review of the movie “Tree of Life.” A little holiday homework! 😉

  8.   Charles W. Says:

    “This of course was before the six day orthodoxy test.”

    Right on, Bobby! We are constantly under assault from these neo-circumcisers!

  9.   Clark Coleman Says:

    I believe the creation days were each lengthy periods of time, but otherwise I agree with much of what Lipscomb said. Much more could be said on the subject, but I recommend “Creation and Time” from Hugh Ross for anyone interested in a combination of exegetical survey and scientific survey.

  10.   Alan Canon Says:

    Asking a modern day Stone-Campbell restorationist to accept scientific evidence is like asking a modern day Stone-Campbell restorationist to commit a morally praiseworthy act. Not gonna happen. They’re far too distracted with denying the entirety of the scientific method, making sure their congregations and schools stay as segregated as the law will allow, and fighting against the rights of women and minorities. Reason itself is anathema to these “I’m okay, you’re not okay, and you’re not going to be okay until you’re exactly like me…because Jesus told me so and not you.” bullies

    •   Clark Coleman Says:

      I am sorry that you have such bitterness. You will note that several “modern-day Stone-Campbell restorationists” have already posted comments above yours that disprove your claim of what they will never do, myself included.

      •   Alan Canon Says:

        Look above and you wiill see the time-honored canards of “irreducable complexity” (read the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial transcripts if you want to see a Bush-appointed Republican judge shoot that down) and another reference above to John Clayton’s work as being “well researched.”

        I was raised in a Stone-Campbell church. I know the level of evil it represents. I’m bitter about all religion, but I have a special level of it reserved for the church tradition I know the most about. Those people will never change. The very concept of restorationism means they are hell-bent on maintaining a Bronze-age view of the Universe. Of course, they take antibiotics developed with an eye towards evolutionary science, drive cars engineered with scientific principles, and navigate using GPS receivers which wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the theory of General Relativity (Einstein), and use computers developed by women (Grace Hopper) and gay men (Alan Turing) to post their hatred online. Science gives them all these gifts, and they use these gifts to diss science at every turn, and always will. From the point of view of someone who works in science and engineering, it’s as the scientist develops a nice new rifle, useful for hunting and self defense, give it to our neighbor Christians, only to have them shoot us with them. Hell yes, I’m bitter. What would Jesus have said about these people?

      •   Clark Coleman Says:

        You speak of hatred from Christians, but the only visible hatred in this discussion comes from you.

      •   Alan Canon Says:

        Well, let’s see, 7 billion people in the world and the Stone-Campbell movement numbers, what, 5 million (to be generous, lumping bread breakers / bread pinchers, Sunday school / no Sunday school and all the other dozens of schisms in the movement together for charity, so 6,995,000,000 people alive today whom your people believe are promised the privilege to watch suffer in hell for eternity, condemned to eternal torture by the “loving” creator of the Universe. (cf. Lazarus and the Rich Man.)

        That’s the payload of Christianity. Compared to which my own imposture might seem mild by comparison. The whole of Christianity is based on hatred and the desire to witness the torture of others. It makes little difference that you all call it “love.” The rest of us know it for what it is. The child born a lesbian knows your “love” for what it is just before she hangs herself in her closet from shame and guilt and Christian bullying. The 19th century slave who was considered to deserve that vile condition because she is ‘cursed with the “sin of Ham”‘ knows the true meaning of Christian “love.” The families of slain abortion providers know what it is. None of you are fooling anyone except yourselves and the stray downbeaten convert.

        If any of you actually have a scrap of remaining morality not brainwashed out of you by Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, or whatever it is) then by all means, do the right thing. Abandon religion, join the millions of us who have suffered enough for your “faith.” and let’s get on with the true business Jesus called us to do, to truly love one another.

        My hatred is not toward you, not a scrap of it. It’s all towards religion itself, the thing that takes an innocent child’s mind away and makes he or she a slave to bad ideas that actively hurt others. Yes, I hate that, and I feed that hatred every day, every time I read of a child who has died because their parents prayed over them instead of seeking medical attention, or another suicide bombing, or any of the myriad woes religion inflicts upon the world. It is a human duty.

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:


        I happy to know that we share some common ground: (1) respect for Jesus’ call to love others, and (2) a dislike, even hatred, for the abuses of religion (and especially Christianity). I am grateful for that, and it certainly provides space for dialogue about other matters.

        I might suggest, however, that your understanding of the Stone-Campbell tradition is perhaps dated, if not also provincial. Certainly there are many who fit your description, but there are many who do not.

        The historic, and ongoing, abuses of Christian “love” which you describe are deplorable and lamentable. But I don’t think the solution is the rejection of the Christian faith (as you might guess would come from me), but rather a focused and intentional practice of loving others as Jesus did.

        The abuses–in whatever form they come–are part of the human condition and reflect the self-centeredness of human beings whether religionists or not. Human self-centeredness abuses religion as well as non-religion; it abuses science as well, or any human system.

        I trust our common ground is solid one.

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