Book Review: Battle for the Beginning

John MacArthur is widely known for his thorough approach to teaching God’s Word. He is a popular author and conference speaker, and has served as pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California since 1969. MacArthur is the president of The Master’s College and The Master’s Seminary, and he has written hundreds of books and study guides.

In this book, MacArthur sees the tide of theistic evolution and naturalism slowly making inroads into the evangelical church. Theological liberals have long affirmed evolution and have “have never been reluctant to deny the literal truth of Scripture on any issue.”[1] Unfortunately, MacArthur now sees the same tendencies encroaching within evangelical circles:

The new trend has also influenced some evangelicals who contend that it is possible to harmonize Genesis 1–3 with the theories of modern naturalism without doing violence to any essential doctrine of Christianity. They affirm evangelical statements of faith. They teach in evangelical institutions. They insist they believe the Bible is inerrant and authoritative. But they are willing to reinterpret Genesis to accommodate evolutionary theory. They express shock and surprise that anyone would question their approach to Scripture. And they sometimes employ the same sort of ridicule and intimidation religious liberals and atheistic skeptics have always leveled against believers: “You don’t seriously think the universe is less than a billion years old, do you?”[2]

MacArthur observes that:

[M]ore and more evangelicals are embracing the view known as ‘old-earth creationism,’ which blends some of the principles of biblical creationism with naturalistic and evolutionary theories, seeking to reconcile two opposing world–views. And in order to accomplish this, old–earth creationists end up explaining away rather than honestly exegeting the biblical creation account.”[3]

This encroachment into evangelical circles is what prompted MacArthur to write this book:

My aim in this book is to examine what Scripture teaches about creation. Although I am convinced that the truth of Scripture has scientific integrity, for the most part I intend to leave the scientific defense of creationism to those who have the most expertise in science. My purpose is chiefly to examine what Scripture teaches about the origin of the universe and humanity’s fall into sin and to show why it is incompatible with the naturalists’ beliefs and the evolutionists’ theories.[4]

This is an important point to remember while reading the book: MacArthur is not a scientist and he is not writing a scientific defense of creationism. While he does offer some arguments for a young earth approach to creation and against an old earth interpretation, MacArthur writes from the perspective of a pastor-teacher.

The Battle for the Beginning is unlikely to convince a hardened atheist-evolutionist to believe in the God of the Bible based on the claims of the creationist, and it is also unlikely that this book will change the minds of evangelicals who believe in an old earth.

The book is essentially divided into two sections: the first is comprised of chapters one and two and provides an in-depth discussion on the debate between evolutionists, young earth creationists (of which MacArthur considers himself to be) and old earth creationists who argue that the earth is billions of years old. The second section, comprised of chapters three through 10, is essentially a verse-by-verse teaching of Genesis 1-3.

THE CREATION DEBATE BETWEEN EVOLUTIONISTS,
YOUNG EARTH CREATIONIST, AND OLD EARTH CREATIONISTS

In this section MacArthur takes issue with atheistic-evolutionists and proponents within evangelical circles who argue for an old earth.

Chapter 1: Creation: Believe it or Not

In his first chapter, MacArthur takes aim at the claims of the evolutionist. He defines the belief system of the evolutionist with the phrase, “nobody times nothing equals everything.”[5] Everything in existence is by chance and without purpose or design. MacArthur concludes that this philosophical foundation leads to meaninglessness:

Naturalism is therefore a formula for futility and meaninglessness, erasing the image of God from our race’s collective self–image, depreciating the value of human life, undermining human dignity, and subverting morality.[6]

Using several examples to demonstrate his point, MacArthur asserts that: 1.) Evolution is degrading to humanity; 2.) Evolution is hostile to reason; 3.) Evolution is antithetical to truth God has revealed. In each of these sections MacArthur addresses what he sees as the weaknesses of the naturalists: 1.) the reliance on randomness or chance, 2.) the reality that humanity is degraded when man believes he descended from an animal and is no better than any other animal, and 3.) that to reject the Genesis account of creation is to reject the entire counsel of Scripture. Either God is the Creator of the universe and therefore we can trust His Word, or He did not create the universe. This, in essence, is the summary of his argument: either you believe Genesis 1-2 or you don’t. Of course, most of his readers who are Bible believers will say, “Amen,” while the curious evolutionist who picks up this book would reply, “I don’t believe it.” There is little else to convince the evolutionist.

Chapter 2: How Did Creation Happen?

Was the universe created out of nothing as described in Genesis 1 or did it takes billions of years as evolution teaches? This is MacArthur’s focus in chapter two. He concentrates on the on-going debate between “young earth creationists” and “old earth creationists,” or progressive creationists. The main proponent for the progressive creationists MacArthur identifies as Dr. Hugh Ross.

According to MacArthur, Ross is a conservative evangelical who believes in the absolute authority and inerrancy of Scripture and yet:

[embraces] selected theories of big bang cosmology, which he regards as undisputed fact—including the notion that the universe and the earth are billions of years old—and he employs those theories as lenses through which to interpret Scripture. In effect, he makes Scripture subservient to science—and he does so without carefully separating scientific fact from scientific theory.”[7]

MacArthur asks the fundamental question in this chapter, “is the universe young or old?” Quoting from several sources (Archbishop James Ussher, Henry Morris, and Edward J. Young) MacArthur asserts that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old. This is contrasted with Ross’ claim that Adam was created not less than 50,000 years ago and that the universe is billions of years old[8]. In spite of his old-earth claims, MacArthur reminds us that Ross is a conservative evangelical who believes in the Inerrancy of Scripture.

While this chapter provides an interesting read on the debate between the young earth and the old earth creationists, it is important to remember that MacArthur is filtering all of the Ross’ arguments through the lens of his own beliefs. For a thorough understanding of this complex issue within the evangelical community, the reader would do well to read Ross in his own words and, at the same time, read a more thorough argument for the young earth from a scientific perspective.

A VERSE-BY-VERSE TEACHING OF GENESIS 1-3

Chapter 3: Light on Day One?

Beginning in chapter three, MacArthur looks at each one of the days of creation starting with day one. The focus of this chapter centers on the initial state of the earth following its creation. MacArthur examines the “Gap Theory” which argues that the earth was created perfect in all ways on day one (Genesis 1:1), but became void and without form in Genesis 1:2, and was recreated by God in the six remaining days of creation. MacArthur identifies the conflict this creates:

Old–earth creationism diminishes the biblical emphasis on creation by divine fiat, setting up a scenario where God tinkers with creation over long epochs until the world is finally ready to be inhabited by humans made in His image. This is quite contrary to what Genesis teaches.[9]

Still, MacArthur concludes the chapter and makes his point clear:

It was a spectacular first day. Just in case someone might think this was a long evolutionary process, verse 5 says emphatically, “And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” That’s a literal translation of the Hebrew word order. It doesn’t describe a billion–year–long process; it describes one day—one cycle of light and dark—evening and morning.[10]

Chapter 4: When He Marked Out the Foundations of the Earth

MacArthur covers days two and three in this chapter. In chapter three MacArthur observed than on day one God created time out of eternity and defined it as one day with a morning and an evening. On days two and three God finished His creation to make it ready for life.

Day two saw the creation of “the firmament,” the earth’s breathable atmosphere; day three brought the division of land and water and the creation of plant life. MacArthur makes the point:

Notice that God created plants, not merely seeds. He made them mature, already fully rooted and developed, already bearing fruit and seed, already multiplying. As we see consistently throughout the Genesis account, from the moment He creates something, it appears as if it has been there for some time.[11]

Scripture demonstrates that God created everything from nothing. There is no evidence of any life descended from another form of life.

Chapter 5: Lights in the Heavens

MacArthur begins with the primary question and answer relating to the solar system:

Naturalistic science has always struggled to explain all the stars and planets that exist in the universe. How could so much have evolved out of nothing? How did the stars get scattered across such a vast expanse of space? Why is there such diversity among them? What set the stars ablaze, and where did the planets come from? Genesis 1 gives a simple answer: God made them all. He spoke them into existence.[12]

This chapter describes in detail our solar system and its two reigning planets, the sun, which radiates light, and the moon, which reflects light. It also begins what MacArthur calls “Phase 2” of creation, God’s “finishing work.”

Chapter 6: An Abundance of Living Creatures

With the earth’s environment and heaven’s complete, God turned His attention to filling the earth with living creatures. Day five was the creation of living creatures in the seas and the skies. MacArthur examines several species that defy the claims of evolution. MacArthur concludes:

Every aspect of creation is filled with equally amazing wonders. How could this be if it all happened merely by chance? The clear answer is that it couldn’t. Creation occurred just as Scripture says it did.[13]

In the second section of this chapter, MacArthur identifies three amazing properties of all living organisms: they are self-sustaining, they are self-repairing, and they are self-reproducing. These qualities are the fingerprint of the Creator on every living organism. They are, in MacArthur’s words, “convincing proof of an intelligent Designer.”[14]

Chapter 7: Beasts and Creeping Things

Day six is the conclusion of God’s creation. It begins with the creation of cattle, creeping things, and the beasts of the earth. Again, as in previous chapters, MacArthur uses several examples, from the common cow to the bombardier beetle, that demonstrate the complexity and beauty of God’s creation.

Chapter 8: Man in God’s Image

The creation of man at the conclusion of day six is the culmination of God’s creation.

The creation of the human race was the central object of God’s creative purpose from the beginning. In an important sense, everything else was created for humanity, and every step of creation up to this point had one main purpose: to prepare a perfect environment for Adam.[15]

God created man with four purposes: to bear the creator’s image, to propagate life, to receive the divine blessing, and to rule creation.

Chapter 9: The Rest of Creation

The final day of creation—day seven—is a day God made holy. After a brief description of the significance of the seventh day as a sanctified and consecrated day, MacArthur describes how science gives evidence of God’s day of rest.

The Bible consistently says that God created it all in six days, and Genesis 2:2 says that on the seventh day He ceased His creative work. There is no ongoing creation of matter or energy; in His perfect wisdom God designed the universe so that what He created would be complete and will remain functioning as long as it serves His purposes. It is neither eternal nor self–sufficient. It is the product of God’s creative genius.[16]

Moreover, MacArthur asserts that the seventh day gives credence to a literal six day creation:

To reject a six–day creation is to unbless the seventh day. It robs God of the glory that is due His name. If everything evolved from nothing, or if creation was spread over eons of time, there was no seventh day. Thus any view of this passage other than a literal six–day creation totally confounds the blessing of the seventh day. On the other hand, if we believe what the Bible says, then every seventh day is a memorial and a reminder that God created the entire universe in one week. And for that glorious accomplishment He deserves our praise.[17]

Chapter 10: Paradise Lost

In the final chapter, MacArthur emphasizes the significance of Genesis 3 to the remainder of the Bible. Genesis 3 gives reason and significance to everything we know about the condition of our fallen earth, fallen man, the need for a Savior and the first hint of God’s redemptive plan for mankind.

Moreover, MacArthur asserts, it is in each of these areas that the evolutionist has no answer. Indeed, the very existence of evil is one of evolution’s greatest hurdles to overcome.

[T]he doctrine of evolution (if followed consistently) ends with a denial of the reality of evil. If naturalistic evolution is correct and there is no God, neither can there be any inviolable moral principles that govern the universe. And therefore there is no moral accountability of any kind. In fact, if evolution is true, things are the way they are by sheer chance, for no transcendent reason. Nothing under such a system could ever have any real moral significance. The very notions of good and evil would be meaningless concepts. There would be no reason to condemn a Hitler or applaud a good Samaritan.[18]

The remainder of this chapter is essentially a play-by-play description of the fall of man.

Epilogue: Blessings from the Curse

In his epilogue, MacArthur gives an overview of the hope of redemption that is found throughout Scripture. In MacArthur’s words, “The story of God’s New Creation is more glorious than all the combined glories of the original creation. It is a triumphant story of divine grace—God’s free and unmerited mercy and kindness to sinners who deserve nothing but condemnation.”[19]

MacArthur concludes The Battle for the Beginning with a plea for the reader by faith to accept Christ as their Savior.

PERSONAL REACTION TO THE BATTLE FOR THE BEGINNING

Overall, I enjoy many of MacArthur’s books, and this is no exception. He is a life-long student of the Bible and one of evangelical’s most authoritative teachers. As he states in his introduction, this book is based on a sermon series he prepared for his church and this is a clue as to the type of reading it provides—he breaks complex topics into simple explanations.

The topic of creation is like many doctrinal issues in that it must begin with a foundational understanding of who God is and how he chooses to communicate with us. In short, we approach God by faith and our understanding of creation requires the same faith.

Like many of his books, MacArthur provides a clear teaching of creation from the perspective of a bible-believing evangelical Christian who is also a young earth creationist. I read this book coming from the same perspective as MacArthur, so it only affirmed my beliefs and provided a better understanding of some of the arguments put forward by old earth creationists.

Again, as stated in the introduction, this book is not to be read as a scientific apologetic for young earth creationism, but as an analysis of the Scriptural teaching of creation. With this perspective in mind, MacArthur accomplished his purpose.


[1]John MacArthur, The Battle for the Beginning : The Bible on Creation and the Fall of Adam (Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group, 2001), 17.

[2]Ibid., 17.

[3]Ibid., 18.

[4]Ibid., 27.

[5]Ibid., 31.

[6]Ibid., 32.

[7]Ibid., 57.

[8]Ibid., 62

[9]Ibid., 72.

[10]Ibid., 84.

[11]Ibid., 98.

[12]Ibid., 105.

[13]Ibid., 132.

[14]Ibid., 132.

[15]Ibid., 157.

[16]Ibid., 182.

[17]Ibid., 188.

[18]Ibid., 196.

[19]Ibid., 213.

    Chris Eller is a Christ Follower, Husband, Father, Pastor, Geek, Writer, Photographer, and Church Technology Consultant.

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