Winter wrote this chronological explanation of his developing understanding in 2007, two years before his death. He included this in his self-compiled book of writings, Frontiers in Mission: Discovering and Surmounting Barriers to the Missio Dei, 344-50.
(Author's Note: Everything here represents either widely accepted scientific understanding or Biblical interpretations that are seriously believed by widely respected Bible scholars. Granted that some of these ideas may seem unusual. To my knowledge there is nothing here that can fairly be construed as heresy. Further explanations are at the end.)
Soon after 1950, when I was 26 years old, discussions at the level of the Wheaton
College Board (following the views of Dr. Russell Mixter, Chair of Wheaton’s Dept. of Biological Sciences) came to a significant decision. The board determined that Wheaton faculty would be allowed to believe that the flood in Genesis was local, covering “the known world” but not the entire planet. Of course, once you speculate that Genesis events do not necessarily refer to the entire planet, other unconventional interpretations of the first few chapters of Genesis loom. In any case, in 1950 I had no knowledge of this decision at Wheaton. Neither did it occur to me that any Bible believer would take that position. In any case, I would not find out about Wheaton’s decision until thirty years later.
Eight years after Wheaton’s decision, the widely respected department chair of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Merrill Unger, went into print with a highly unconventional view of Genesis 1:1, 2, namely, that Genesis 1:1 accurately interpreted described “A” new beginning not “THE” beginning. That is, that Genesis Chapter 1 is the beginning of the human story not the beginning of the universe (Unger 1958). But it was not until I was 80, 46 years later, that I typed into Google the words "before Genesis 1:1" and thus learned of Unger’s point of view about “the geologic ages” occurring before Genesis 1:1.
Then, it was in 1969, when I was 50, that the USA landed on the Moon. But it would be 28 more years, when I was 78, before I heard that what we found there included the fact that the numerous, quite visible Moon craters (un-obliterated by weather or erosion) were actually asteroidal impact craters not volcanic craters— as had long been believed.
Now, in 2007, it has been 32 years since the Moon landing. Ever since 1969 hundreds of scientists have been scouring the surface of our weather-swept earth for similar asteroidal impacts. Result? Hundreds of huge craters have been discovered and thousands of smaller ones (Alvarez 1997). Now, for example, many specialized scientists believe that the 100-million-year dominance of the dinosaurs was suddenly ended 65 million years ago by the global turbulence created when a huge asteroid left a 100-mile wide crater in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.
Indeed, one study reported in Scientific American (Becker 2002, 76-83) tells of the discovery of 45 impact craters at least 15 miles wide, each with a date and size. Furthermore, it is understood that even smaller asteroidal impacts often darken the whole earth until, as the dust settles, first glimmers of light indicating light and day appear and later the sun, the moon and stars become visible—a sequence which, if that of Genesis, is a sequence of restoration not of creation.
Something very strange and puzzling but widely discussed by both paleontologists and evolutionists is the sudden and very wide diversity of life forms appearing in what is called the Cambrian period. That sudden, spectacular profusion of diversity is why this period is usually referred to as the Cambrian Explosion. Such an event obviously damages seriously the idea of a gradual Darwinian process.
However, where have I been? I did not to know until recently that a not-often- mentioned peculiarity of the Cambrian period, in addition to the very-often-mentioned sudden, un-Darwinian profusion of life, was the first appearance at that time of predatory, life-destroying life. I first saw this in National Geographic and later in technical books on paleontology (Fortey 1998, 82, 92-93). Was the Cambrian event the first clear evidence of the attack and distortions of an archangel, C. S. Lewis' "Hideous Strength"? More specifically, has the slow progression of increasingly complex life forms been the work of obedient angels—while the violent, predatory life forms have been the contrary effect of angels whose rebellion enabled them to distort life forms into the violence which we see first appearing in the Cambrian Period? Is that why, when Satan appeared much later in the Garden, he already had a lengthy “crime record”? Was his "fall" when the Cambrian Period began 500 million years earlier, thus explaining the unremitting destruction, suffering and wildly diverse, violent animal life for the next 500 million years?
Back to Unger. His exegesis of Genesis 1:1, 2 (along with C. I. Scofield and a host of other Bible expositors) proposes that v. 2 describes the result of some sort of a destructive event (Unger 1958, 28). Tohu wa bohu in v.2 could mean "destroyed and desolate" not merely “formless and void” (Gibson 1981; Alter 2004, ix; Anderson 1994, 11). In that case such a destruction was the basis for the creative events in chapter one. Furthermore, notice that the text of Chapter 1 insists that both the animal and human life created at that time was not predatory or carnivorous. Hmm.
At What Point Humans?
Furthermore, paleo-historians and paleo-neurologists may have a better idea of when truly human beings first appeared than ordinary paleontologists whose focus is on fossilized bones. Paleo-neurologists, in contrast, look to changes in genomics. Paleo-historians pay attention to evidences of unprecedented intelligence rather than to the sizes and shapes of bones. Paleo-historians have come to the fairly settled conclusion that both plants and animals began to be genetically engineered through highly intelligent selective breeding about 11,000 years ago. Recent articles (even Newsweek [March 19, 2007]) suggest that genes unique to humans appeared only 50,000, or 37,000 or even 5,800 years ago, the first two of which are apparently essential to true human beings.
The most recent of these unique genes, ASPM, clocked in at the 5,800-year date. Could ASPM be the unique “Edenic Gene” characterizing Adam’s stock in Eden? If so, this could mean that prior to Eden humans lacking this third gene were living all over the world. Widespread evidences are that such earlier humans were vicious and carnivorous cannibals. Were some of them wiped out in an area of the Middle East, say, when the impact of a smallish asteroid initiated the events of Genesis? Some, I say, leaving others outside the area to be eye-witnesses of the post asteroidal atmospheric changes.
If that happened, the later breakdown of the Edenic new beginning would have resulted in the interbreeding of the Edenic animal and human life of Genesis 1 with the already-distorted and carnivorous forms of the earlier kind of animal and human life outside of the Garden of Eden. This would have caused a gradual degradation of the unique "image of God" type of Edenic humanity (bearing the ASPM gene). That interbreeding would have meant both moral degradation as well as genetic distortion in the form of carnivorous behavior (Gen. 9) and the resulting steady shortening of life.
The creation of a "new man" in Christ undoubtedly restores spiritual life that was extinguished by Adam's sin—sin which was guaranteed to cause (and did cause) instant (spiritual) "death." But spiritual restoration would not necessarily roll back genetic distortions, which may be what we call original sin. Are we humans not still carnivorous in our digestive systems? Despite being spiritually transformed by Christ do we not still need both our shotguns and immune systems as long as both large animals and microscopic forms of life are still dangerous? Does not, as in Romans 7, our Spiritual nature still fight against our physical nature? The “renewing of our minds” in Romans 12:1 curbs our inherited bestiality except when we may run berserk like Hutu pastors wielding machetes in Rwanda. The “old man” is still there unless crucified daily.
If this scenario is by any chance correct, then there is clearly no contradiction between the Bible and the latest thinking of contemporary paleontology and paleo-neurology. Neither is there conflict if the universe is 13.7 billion years old. There is no problem if the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. The simplest forms of life may very well have begun to appear 4 billion years ago. Then, after 3.5 billion years of angelic labor and intensive learning prior to the Cambrian Explosion, the labor of angels who were all good and, under God’s guidance could have worked directly with DNA life forms to eventually develop larger animals that were not yet the type of vicious nor predatory life first seen in the Cambrian Period.
At that point, totally unexpectedly, after 3.5 billion years of development, during just the next, most recent, half-billion years (one eighth of the total), massive distortion, chaos, suffering and pain would suddenly appear despite good angels continuously fighting against the distortions of rebel angels led by Satan. During these most-recent 500 million years life would continue to get more and more complex and fabulously diverse, as teams of good angels developed new and creative life forms in different parts of the world—but now having to arm the life forms they devised with defensive traits, such as scales, shells, and immune systems, in a continuous all-out war against vicious forms of life which were the constant counter distortions of evil angels.
This lengthy, contested development of life forms, contrary to Darwinian suppositions, could have been a process similar to that of thousands of intelligent engineers across the 20th century developing a series of different but similar automobiles in different parts of the world with ever increasing complexity. Unlike the unguided Darwinian process, however, is the fact that in the intelligently guided “evolution” of automobiles no manufacturer ever developed cars that automatically turned into newer models, much less ate other! By contrast, all life forms both then and now are subject to premature death and destruction as the result of violent aggression. And, in such a scenario (of good angels developing new and more sophisticated forms of life), it would not seem strange—it would be expected—that new “models” would be closely similar to earlier forms of life. That is, finding “missing links” would no more support a Darwinian unguided evolution, than such intermediate forms would confirm a continuity of intelligent design.
Curiously, ever since the Cambrian Period 500 million years ago, asteroidal collisions have apparently repeatedly knocked out much of life on earth, the dinosaurs being one of the most curious and violent species to perish suddenly. Per- haps they deserved destruction?
In this scenario, the destruction of all life in even a local area would have produced certain features mentioned above—initial global darkness and then the restorative (not creative) atmospheric sequence described in Genesis chapter one (total darkness, some light, finally rays of light) followed by the new creation of non-carnivorous life (as at the end of time in Isa. 11). All this could have been witnessed and remembered by intelligent human beings outside of the area of Eden (but the distorted, bestial and predatory earlier forms).6 The breakdown of the Garden of Eden would then have logically exposed both animal and human life (created, as in Gen. 1, in a non-carnivorous state) to interbreeding with forms of life that were distinctly carnivorous and violent, and the “fall” of man would then ensue—not his physical death but his spiritual death.
This would then mean that Adam’s “fall” would have brought a curse upon Edenic life, adding to the earlier “fall” of all creation outside Eden. It would thus continue the global struggle against the corruption and evil of Satan’s doing, that is, good angels working together with reconciled man in a struggle against Satanically inhabited darkness. This is essentially the story of the Bible as well as the last two millennia.
Mission and evangelism then can be seen as a means of recruiting and renewing humans in a struggle which is not basically between God and man but between God-plus- redeemed-man against the kingdom of Satan and his works.
This is a battle to restore in people’s minds the glory of God by helping people to see that not only human but angelic evil is to be identified with Satanic initiative and not God’s initiative—a fact widely and extensively misunderstood in Evangelical circles today, witness James Dobson’s earnest but misleading book, When God Doesn’t Make Sense. Or, witness a Harvard professor’s unchallengeable statement: “If the God of Intelligent Design exists he must be a divine sadist who creates parasites that blind millions of people.” Or witness the sad testimony of a world famous professor of Biblical studies, a Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton graduate, the prolific, erudite professor at the University of North Carolina, Bart Ehrman, who was driven away from faith by his concern for suffering. He could not hold to the view that God was active in the world, answered prayer, and yet allowed a world in which a child dies every five seconds of starvation.
In order to glorify God we must then urgently resist the common idea that all events are initiated by God. We are to rejoice in and praise God in all things but not rejoice and praise God for all things. That is, we can be confident that with God “all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28)” without believing that all things are his initiative. As long as angels and men have free will God is not in the usual sense the initiator of all things.
This scenario is the very opposite of sitting back and assuming that God does all things both good and bad. Rather, it explains the urgent and momentous obligation to distinguish evil from good and to fight all evil and every evil with everything in our command (not just using First Century knowledge).
The scope of the Christian mission that then devolves on every follower of Christ is to seek constantly what is the maximum contribution he or she can make to glorifying God and fighting evil.
This includes healing the sick, rescuing those who are suffering for any reason, preventing disease and malice, and eliminating or eradicating sources of evil and disease. It requires us to engage meaningfully in the global battle against human slavery, corruption in government and private enterprise, family breakdown and so forth.
In most cases it is necessary to organize. It is good but it is not enough for individual believers to do good deeds. Individuals can do much but many things re- quire group action. In some cases groups, such as mission agencies, already exist. In many cases new organizations need to be initiated. It is not necessary to fly a church or even a “Jesus” flag. In the long run God will get the glory. Otherwise what we do may be interpreted as a means of aggrandizing our particular faith tradition. But clearly, fighting evil provides instant common ground with every group and society in the world. By contrast, winning people over to our religious/cultural tradition is not.
Afterview: Is Christian Faith Blossoming Around the World Today Only to Fade Tomorrow When It Faces the Hard Questions of Today’s Anti-Religious Onslaught?
The exploding power of both Muslim fundamentalists and the Evangelical movement has elicited an almost equally powerful backlash against religion in general, and in particular against those who are sincerely religious. It is the sincere who are considered the most dangerous! They are the ones who blow themselves up or shoot abortion doctors!
The anti-religious backlash is intelligent, widespread, and desperate, fully confident of its cause. Science is felt to be more trustworthy than religious dogma. Young people by the thousands, even those from devout homes, are being carried away by assaults on both the Bible and the Christian historical record.
Probably the most vexing and ineffective Christian teaching is what we come up with in the face of tragic and evil events. Why does God allow such things? One young person after his freshman year at college said to his Dad “There is so much evil, suffering, and injustice in the world that either there is no God at all or there is a God of questionable power or character.” This idea is all the more devastating when Evangelicals, having essentially given up believing in an intelligent Enemy of God, take to explaining tediously that all this evil must be because God’s ways are simply mysterious. Satan, rampant and powerful in the New Testament, has mainly disappeared from significance following Augustine’s injection of some neo-platonic thought into the Christian tradition.
Even more common, if possible, and equally destructive is the common saying that the Bible is clearly of no value as long as it baldly proposes that the universe is only 6,000 years old.
In other words, here are two significant barriers to Christian belief: the rampant evil in this world if there is no Satan behind it, and a Bible with the feet of clay beginning with Genesis 1:1.
Both of these obstacles to belief can be dealt with in an unusual way.
Thus, what was first described is a brief scenario that attempts conjecturally to interpret Genesis in such a way as not to conflict with the very latest scientific views. It may be helpful in dealing with either non-Christians or Christians about to lose their faith, people who believe current science is mainly correct in regard to 1) how old the earth is, and, 2) how long ago humans first appeared, but for whom these two things are difficult to square with the Bible.
What has been explained above is also intended to be helpful to anyone who is confused about why and how radical evil appeared in our world. This scenario does differ from the view of many scientists in that it explains the development of life by a means quite different from a Darwinian style random process. Furthermore, it allows for much of both the so-called “Young Earth” and the “Old Earth” perspectives. Most of all, it highlights a strikingly new dimension in the definition of Christian mission. The key stages in this story derive from my own growing up experience.
Alter, Robert . 2004. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.,
Alvarez, Walter. 1997. T. Rex & the Crater of Doom. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
Anderson, Bernhard. 1994. From Creation to New Creation. Minneapolis: Fortress.
Becker, Luann. 2002. “Repeated Blows.” Scientific American 286, no. 3 (March): 76-83.
Dobson, James. 1997. When God Doesn’t Make Sense. Illinois: Tyndale.
Fortey, Richard. 1998. Life: A Natural History of the 1st 4 billion Years of Life on Earth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Gibson, John. 1981. Daily Study Bible Series: Genesis. Louisville, KY: Westminster, John Knox Press.
Unger, Merrill F. 1958. “Rethinking the Genesis Account of Creation.” Bibliotheca Sacra 115 (Jan-Mar 1958): 27-35.
______. 1967. Unger’s Bible Handbook. Chicago: Moody Press.
White, Tim D. 2001. “Once Were Cannibals.” Scientific American 285, no. 2 (August): 58-65.