In her best selling book, The History of God, Karen Armstrong discusses theological evolution, the belief that mankind’s concept of God has evolved over the centuries from worshiping many gods to a belief in one God, and is in fact logically evolving towards a belief in no God at all; and, as we read the works of nineteenth century atheists, God is indeed assumed to be non-existent; but, if there’s no God, why is there still religion?
Dr. Sigmund Freud speculated that religion has emerged as humans, to overcome their fear of the unknown forces in nature, wanted to see nature as being more personal, a mystical force they could negotiate with in an effort to control it. People had a god for every act of nature; a storm god, an earthquake god, a fire god, and gods for various sicknesses. Theologian Dr. R. C. Sproul opines that people believed these gods wielded natural forces to cause disaster, and they could plead with each of them to spare them from harm. As this evolution in theology progressed, eventually, these gods were consolidated into one single deity who was in control over all these forces of nature and man could plead with just him. When we understand the concept in this way, theological evolution makes some sense. It certainly is possible, right?
Yes, it is possible, but not probable. There is a difference between possibility and actuality. I delve more deeply into this issue in Foundation of Belief of The Cabana Chronicles series, but, suffice it to say, although what Freud said is possible, this doesn’t mean the concept is the reality.
Sproul points out that there is a major hole in Freud’s theory. “If Freud’s theory is true, why, then was the God of the Bible ‘invented?’ This holy God we see in Scripture inspires far greater trauma in those whom He encounters than any natural disaster.” In effect, the cure is worse than the disease. So, why do we believe this is true? What’s so terrible about believing that God is righteous and holy? What does this this have to do with us?
Sproul answers that question by correctly surmising that a perfect, sovereign, righteous and holy God requires that we perfectly obey his law or be damned for eternity but, as sinners, we know we can’t do this so we lead an anxious life. We therefore logically conclude there is nothing in the universe more terrifying than being subjected to a holy and righteous God’s authoritative rule. This is a God who has the power to cast us into eternal judgment; this is not a God we would want to believe exists. This would not then be a God of our own design.
Of course, unbelievers state that Christians overcome this fear by inventing a God whom they believe forgives us for our inability to please him and guarantees our salvation in spite of our sin. Well, they would make a good point if all that we needed to do is to believe in Jesus Christ and presto, we can be absolved of our sin and keep on sinning, knowing God will continue to forgive us. Unbelievers refer to this belief as “cheap grace.”
But those Christians who understand our doctrine know that grace is not cheap. Christ paid for forgiveness of our sin with his life, and we pay for it through our recognition we are also to be holy; though we can never attain perfection in this life we know we are to follow Christ’s model of perfect obedience and continue to repent of our sin when we do fall short. Does that sound like an easy task? Of course not. Fallen man is a rebel and doesn’t want to be constrained under the authority of a righteous and holy God. Man instinctively wants to be a part of this world, but Christians know we are to remain apart from this world. Mankind’s ideal God would be a cosmic version of us, a more user-friendly god, a god like a kindly, half-senile grandfather who loves us no matter what we do because he just wants us to be happy and therefore imposes no requirements on us at all. That’s what an invented God looks like.
So then, we could say that those who want to believe there has been some kind of evolution in theology over the ages would concede that the Christian God is not one of those gods designed by man to accommodate a need. They would logically concede that the God of the Bible is unique; he didn’t just come along at the right time and the right place, he has been there all along, working out the salvation of his people. He has revealed himself to those who believe in his Word and in our hearts.
In place of the god whom atheists believe is not there, stands the undesigned, real God, the God of Scripture, the God actor Yul Brenner admitted to believing in in the movie, The Ten Commandments; recall the line “His (Moses’) God IS God.” If people want to accept Freud’s argument that here really has been some kind of an evolution in theology since the dawn of man, they must logically concede the point I hope to have made that this God of Scripture is unlike any God man has ever believed in, nor would want to design, and that we could say this “theological evolution” has indeed reached its zenith in revealing the triune God who has been there all along, the God whom theologian Francis Schaeffer referred to as “The God Who is There.” Believe and be saved.