Review of Crossway-TE in Themelios of The Gospel Coalition

Continuing the discussion from To what brand of TE is the new Theistic Evolution book objecting?:

So, received word that a review I wrote of the Crossway TE book is going to be published in Themelios. This is the theology journal of the Gospel Coalition, which has often been in “dust ups” with BioLogos. I think this is an interesting development.

FIrst off, I think it’s really big of them to let me write that review. The editor was a YEC, and allowed me to do so. Moreover, it appears they received it as a helpful contribution. One privately called it “penetrating.”

Second, it seems to raise to the surface again the key question. What type of theistic evolution could be acceptable to them?

When the article is published, I’ll link to it here. Curious everyones thoughts in the meantime.


The one excerpt I’ll include now is this one:

In advocating a “confrontation” approach to science, Doug Axe explains that Jesus charged the disciples with “guarding” the “truth” with their lives (p.103). Axe applies this teaching not to the confession of the Resurrection but to arguments for design. Is that really what Jesus taught? Why, then, did he command Peter to “lay down his sword,” when he leapt to defend the Truth itself incarnate?

Does anyone have any idea to what passages Axe could be referring? Here is the key section from his article:

Jesus called his follower to surrender their lives, their pride, their earthly security and, at a times, their possessions—right down to the shirts on their backs. He never, however, called them to surrender the truth. That they are charged with guarding, even if it costs them their lives.

In context, this is an argument to confront evolutionary science, even if it costs us our lives. I’m honestly curious if anyone can help me make sense of this Christology. Does Jesus ever say anything that can ground this reading?

I think the closest would be Paul exhorting Timothy to guard the truth entrusted to him in 2 Tim 1:14.

Paul and the apostles constantly affirmed their willingness to suffer and die for the gospel. But equating the gospel with some kind of generic “truth” is abusing the texts. They were willing to lay down their lives for preaching Jesus crucified, risen, and Lord of all, not for “the Bible,” not for an interpretation of Genesis, certainly not for intelligent design theory.


I could find nothing. It is a rather odd statement, in that there are innumerable things Jesus never “called them to surrender” ( Including the right to bear arms, my second amendment rights friends might add…) so if we then focus on the second part of the statement he states Jesus called them to guard the truth with their lives. I can find nothing of that order either, though note the instruction to Timothy that Christy quoted, and when combined with Jesus’ saying " I am the way the truth and the light" would associate Jesus as Truth with the gospel.
The disturbing thing about this assertion is that it implies a particular interpretation is given equal footing as the gospel. Whether that interpretation be ID, YEC, or EC/TE, that implication is arrogant, at best.


That is a very wild stretch to this context. It also is not Jesus’ teaching, but Paul’s teaching. There has to be something Axe is referring to here, right? It cannot be a total fabrication.

All the same, I appreciate his contribution because he at least puts in print his Christology, telling us what he thinks Jesus teaches. This surely seems to motivate his work in ID. I’m just not familiar with his version of Jesus, and I can’t seem to find anything recognizable in the Bible.

First a joke and then a serious part (feel free to remove this if necessary anyone)…

To me, this makes a lot of sense in the context of Paul’s Adam. That’s the only way I can make sense of it where the theory of evolution undermines the entire Gospel itself. One classic argument would like what Al Mohler makes:

The New Testament clearly establishes the Gospel of Jesus Christ upon the foundation of the Bible’s account of creation. If there was no historical Adam and no historical Fall, the Gospel is no longer understood in biblical terms…We now face the undeniable truth that the most basic and fundamental questions of biblical authority and gospel integrity are at stake.

In this sense, fighting evolution is a hill worth dying on because it is equivalent to fighting for the Gospel itself. However, as we all know, @Swamidass has a position that bridges the gap between this particular argument and mainstream science so perhaps he is after all the perfect person to write such a review!


Jesus commanded us to be willing to die defending the truth. I don’t see that as obliging me to defend someone else’s view of what they consider the truth of the Bible. Would many evangelical Protestants be willing to die defending Catholic doctrine?

@Larry_Bunce where did Jesus command us to be willing to die to “defend” the truth?

Your thoughts here are helpful @pevaquark, in that it at least attempts to make some sense of this.

However, where are we called to “defend” the Gospel? Is it not that we are to guard it in our hearts? I’m not sure about the extrapolation from guarding it in our hearts to battling a culture war.

I agree. And it’s absurd to base your life mission on the fact that Jesus didn’t mention anything about surrendering the truth. There’s a lot of things Jesus never mentioned that we shouldn’t make into mandates.

I can’t think of anything Jesus said that could be construed as a charge to guard “the truth”. It seems to me Jesus was more into obedience and putting love into practice than in defending propositions. The disciples were charged with doing the things Jesus taught (John 14:21) and teaching others to do the things Jesus taught (Matthew 28:20). Ultimate love is laying down your life for another person, not for a “truth.” (John 15:13).

I think this whole thing is symptomatic, not of bad Christology, but of making soteriology the focus of Christianity. When salvation is equated with having the right beliefs, and salvation is the whole point of Christianity, it becomes very important to make sure you’ve got the best and truest propositions. When Christianity is about the lordship of Jesus, life is much more focused on living righteously under God’s rule, which has a lot more to do with who you are and what you do than what you mentally assent to. Belief in the NT is closely linked to obedience and action, not just knowing the right answers to theology questions.


Amen to everything you said … and the passages from the gospels you use to support this …(propositional truth?) … seem unassailable to me. I’ve been banging on this drum myself; but mostly I’ve just been challenged to actually live this all out. It’s much easier to settle back into a religion of propositions than to actually live and obediently do for, and relate to others. Maybe that in part is why our propositional proclivities are so strong these days. Wonderful distractions, those!

All that said, it seems to me that the reply could come back from propositional defenders that while love is certainly the essential “muscle” of Christianity, it is nonetheless useless if it has no “bones” (propositional truths) to work on. Without our skeleton our muscles become useless twitching masses. We can’t deny that Jesus did not go around making sure everybody gave all the correct mental ascents to all the correct doctrines. Scriptures simply don’t support that he ever did any such thing. But could we not safely assume that certain truths were assumed and presumed by both healer and recipients of salvation? Not formally, of course. Education was obviously not necessary. But even the simplest among us recognize certain basic things, like the desperation of our need, be it some physical need that looms large, front, and center for us, and beyond that, spiritual need. It seems that many of Jesus’ grateful healed recognized and received something from him beyond the satisfaction of their immediate physical need. Even if it never was stated in some formal way, it would seem there was some essential set of propositions in play.


I don’t think I really answered your question at all, whoops!

I think that directly, you are absolutely correct in regards to there being nothing directly related to these ideas. If I had to dig deeper, I think pictures like these help give rise to the confrontation defense of the truth:

  • Acts 4:19-20 But Peter and John replied, “Whether it is right before God to obey you rather than God, you decide, for it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” – there is this conflict portrayed in Jerusalem that culminates in the stoning of Stephen in the book of Acts that has some intense moments
  • Acts 13:6-17 the blinding of barjesus. Another intense moment of conflict between someone spreading lies vs. the truth.
  • More conflicts in Acts. Here is an AiG article that describes their approach related to Acts 17 evangelism instead of Acts 2 evangelism (you have to start with Genesis and convince people of that who don’t have any knowledge of God-
  • The book of Revelation can be read in a big cosmic us vs. them sense where the churches are urged things like keep out that Jezebel who Jesus is going to strike with sickness and everyone who made their bed with her or the Ephesians are praised for keeping out false teaching (but lost their first love). There is also the image that Jesus is going to spit the one church out of his mouth and the one church is almost dead, so I think these pictures serve to stir people up in a dramatic fashion.
  • Finally, I think many of us have images of Christians being martyred for their faith in our heads (even if the apostles themselves heroic accounts didn’t come til even centuries later if I recall correctly). These stories are inspirational and confrontational in many cases and I think fit nicely in this culture war that has been created.

But at the end of the day, our faith is in a person, not a set of propositions. We obey (i.e. love God and each other) because we are loved (John 15:9, 1 John 4:19)), not because we have nailed down the right doctrines. So, I would argue back with your hypothetical defenders that the bones of Christianity is not what we believe, but understanding God’s love for us. God’s love is the essence of the truth that transforms us.

Quoting, Paul, who sure loved his doctrine and thought it was important:
“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19)


What is the goal here? Is it to seek the truth ourselves, or is it make evolution palatable to YEC?

Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war. As @pevaquark noted, we are attracted to the stories of martyrs, and all of us like to think we’re ready to fight and die for the gospel. The problem, as usual, is that “the gospel” keeps being expanded to include more non-negotiables, such as Tim Keller proclaiming that de novo Adam is a non-negotiable.

So, back to the original question. How should we respond? Continue to multiply ad hoc explanations that “science can’t rule out”? How about a bottleneck to two people a million years ago? Would that satisfy them? No? Well, then maybe we can create a scenario that allows evolution for the animals, but keeps Adam out of it. But wait! Now, Adam needs to be more recent, so that he can be a farmer. Maybe we can create a scenario in which he isn’t the first man, but only the first “theological man.” Yes, that’s the ticket …

Are we simply searching for a scenario that will be acceptable to YEC, regardless of how unlikely or illogical? Is the primary goal a search for truth, or a search for non-falsifiability? Simply saying that “science cannot rule out” an interpretation doesn’t make it a good one, nor does it mean that the interpretation has any correspondence whatsoever to reality. Replacing an interpretation that is impossible with one that is just extremely, extremely unlikely isn’t a great step forward, in my view.

No thanks.

I think you’ve misread Axe slightly here. I copied that passage and found it here on Google. Axe is discussing evangelism, and W.L. Craig’s advice not to launch into an all-out assault on the pillars of science as an evangelistic tactic. Axe agrees to a limited extent, but argues that we cannot surrender everything. It is in that context that he makes his comments about not surrendering the truth. Then, he says, “Sometimes the pillars are exactly the things that need to come down if the truth is to be heard and received.”

In context, then, Axe is simply saying that in conversation with unbelievers, sometimes (the key word) their understanding of evolutionary science must be challenged in order for them to hear the truth. In this case, he is not calling for a life-or-death, across-the-board confrontation with evolutionary science. That may be his position, but I don’t think he is stating it here.

Well said. Salvation is the solution to a problem, not the crux of Christianity (pun intended).

Good thoughts. My observation is that people get far off track when they think that Christianity is a set of propositions to be believed rather than a life to be led. God did not see fit to reveal himself through a systematic textbook of theology, but through a collection of stories, histories, parables, poems, etc.


Had to come back and highlight this, which you posted as I was replying. The thing that strikes people about Jesus when they read the gospels is not his great intelligence, although I would argue he was literally the smartest man who ever lived, but his great love.

If salvation were a matter of believing the right propositions, then explain to me why Jesus sends away all those people who called him “Lord,” who prophesied in his name, and who cast out demons in his name. They surely seem to have believed the right things. So, why are they sent away?



Is Samson and his magical hair to be high on the list of things to defend in the Gospel? It’s a legend derived from a Canaanite solar myth… where the hair is the sun at maximum intensity… and the blindness of Samson a veiled reference to a Sun in eclipse or at night.

If someone were to say that Samson was not a historical person, are we to question his faith?

I found the many stories of early Christians that were martyred for their faith in the Church History by Eusebius to actually be difficult to read at times but I can see how they would provide the inspiration for Axe’s comment about dying for your faith even if it wasn’t said by Jesus.

I certainly have not represented him clearly, because I honestly struggle to understand him here.

William Lane Craig’s advice is genuinely wise. In response, Axe appears to put words into Jesus’s mouth, inconsistent with what I understand of his teaching. Yes, I can see how this is a message that is comfortable, and reinforces the culture wars, encouraging us that we are in the “right.” However, I’m still a bit floored by this. I’m hoping that I somehow missed some point when Jesus asked the disciples to guard the truth.

Maybe, but my confusion is rather about how he marshal’s Jesus’s teaching to this effect, which does not appear to be Jesus’s teaching. I’m just no sure how we can read Jesus this way:

  1. He appears not to have made any arguments for creation. Some of his teaching presumes creation (look at the lilies of the field), but that is different than ID.
  2. He declares that He Himself is Truth (John 14:6), not the doctrine that derive from him.
  3. When Peter leaps to defend Him, he says he is to put his sword away because (1) he has hosts of angels that can defend him, (2) it is not God’s purpose for him to be doing this, and (3) he was not leading a rebellion. Essentially, this Jesus in Scripture is not motivated by our political concerns, and does not need our defense.
  4. To skeptical people, Jesus teaches there is just one sign. Not creation, but the Resurrection (the sign of Jonah).

I’m just not sure how to square Axe’s teaching on Jesus with Jesus. I’m not sure how it squares. I grant that it is rhetorically strong, and rolls forward in a way that makes you feel it must be true. But I cannot ultimately make sense of it.

I wonder how an encounter with Jesus might reorder the creation war. This episode only makes me wonder more.


@Christy, you’d likely find the recent book Salvation by Allegiance Alone by Matthew Bates an interesting read if you haven’t already read it. Highly recommended.


Thanks, I’ll check it out.

The fault in his argument begins as soon as he uses the word “surrender,” as in “If you adopt a policy of surrendering everything but the bare essentials…” Remember that this is in the context of evangelism and W.L. Craig’s advice to focus on the central tenets of the gospel, rather than making the conversation about evolutionary biology (which, of course, comes out as “Darwinism” in Axe’s mouth). By a rhetorical sleight-of-hand, “focusing on the central tenets of the gospel” in conversation with unbelievers becomes “surrendering everything but the bare essentials.” Suddenly, a positive (finding common ground in the gospel) is turned into a negative (surrendering the gospel).

Axe tries to call on Jesus for support, but his argument remains rhetorical, not biblical. Of course Jesus didn’t call on his disciples to “surrender the truth.” A meaningless statement for effect. Where he veers off course is failing to understand the difference between types of truth. Not all truths are created equal, and not all truths should be guarded with our lives. The gospel? Yes. How many other “truths” do you put in that category? Ummmm …


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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