To repeat a common theme of The GeoChristian blog: One can be a committed Christian with a very high view of the Bible, and yet hold to a 4.5 billion year-old Earth and evolution.
John Piper is pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and is a leading author and speaker within the Evangelical and Reformed Christian communities. He has a very high view of Scripture, and yet his church takes no position on the age of the Earth or evolution. Here are three aspects of the doctrine of creation that elders at Bethlehem Baptist must affirm:
- A real Adam and Eve fairly recently in history.
- God created the universe out of nothing.
- God’s creation is good.
Piper’s statement specifies that there is no commitment at his church to a recent six literal day creation (e.g. Answers in Genesis or Institute for Creation Research). There is also no statement requiring elders to not believe in evolution.
Despite the vocal insistence of the young-Earth creationists, there are perfectly valid understandings of Genesis that allow for an old Earth. These interpretations are not forced on the Hebrew text, but actually flow out of the text.
John Piper: What do you have to believe about creation in order to be an elder at Bethlehem?
HT: Internet Monk
P.S. I am not saying that John Piper accepts either an old Earth or evolution, just that he doesn’t consider the age of the Earth or evolution (apparently) to be issues in terms of Christian orthodoxy.
22 thoughts on “John Piper and the age of the Earth”
A real Adam and Eve fairly recently in history.
God created the universe out of nothing.
God’s creation is good.
The evidence for this nonsense is what?
Where’s the scientific evidence for your magic fairy creating universes out of nothing?
Did it say abracadabra or hocus pocus? Did it use a magic wand?
And Christians wonder why everyone laughs at them.
Thanks for your comment.
The point of the post wasn’t to provide a detailed defense of the truth of Christianity, but to point out that another widely-admired Evangelical pastor/scholar has no problem with a 4.5 billion year-old Earth or the concept of biological evolution. I have two reasons for doing this:
A. One hope of mine is to help wean the Evangelical Christian community off of young-Earth creationism by showing that it is scientifically untenable and Biblically unnecessary. It is nice to have prominent pastors such as John Piper on my side.
B. Another hope of mine is to remove obstacles that skeptics such as yourself have against Christianity. I believe that young-Earth creationism blocks people like you from even considering Christianity, and that is a tragedy.
Your response of “nonsense”, “magic fairy”, and “abracadabra” tells me that you may not have given Christianity or theism any really serious thought, but have only read superficial works of men like Dawkins (see what atheist Michael Ruse says about Dawkins here). Perhaps I am wrong.
Christianity is rational. That is not all there is to it, but it is not an irrational view of the universe. It is not a blind leap of faith. I’ll briefly back up the three points that Piper made about creation.
1. “A real Adam and Eve fairly recently in history.” This is not something that has been derived through science, but through the Bible. That does not mean that it is not true, but that we as Christians believe it for some reason other than scientific observation and experimentation. Perhaps some day it will be backed up by scientific investigation (sort of like the idea of “mitochondrial Eve”), and perhaps not. Christians reject “scientism” — the idea that science is the only way we know things. And you probably do too, at least on a practical level, or when it comes to topics such as history or politics.
I will say this however: the Christian view of the nature of being human is a very good one. There are three important aspects about human nature that we affirm from Genesis 1-3.
First, humans are made of the same stuff as the rest of creation; we are created “from the dust of the Earth.” This unites us with the rest of creation.
Second, humans are created in the image of God. This does not mean that God is created in our image; that he has hands and organs and so forth. It means that we are somehow distinct from animals, and that we have attributes that animals don’t have or only have in a significantly diminished way, such as will, emotions, and the ability to relate to each other and to God. Because we are created in the image of God, we are each valuable and worthy of dignity and respect. This sets Christianity apart from atheism, where human value is only what we decide it to be (a very dangerous point of view).
Third, humanity is fallen through Adam’s sin, and through our own sin. This sets Christianity apart from atheism or some other systems such as pantheism, where the concept of sin is nonsense. I believe that murder, rape, and child abuse are inherently wrong because they violate the character of God. When it comes down to it, an atheist may not like these things (because he is created in the image of God) but he cannot really call them inherently evil.
2. “God created the universe out of nothing.” This is a much more rational (scientific) statement than the only alternatives, which are to say either that the universe has existed forever, or that it created itself. I’m not talking about the big bang here, but something at a more fundamental level. Why is there something rather than nothing? Where did the laws come from that allow the universe to exist? Positing a multi-verse behind the universe gets one nowhere; this only puts the issue back one step. Any non-theistic answer to these questions is unsatisfactory. The theistic answer to these questions is the “cosmological argument” for the existence of God. To dismiss this argument as “magic fairies creating out of nothing” is rather junior-highish. If you are satisfied with that level of thinking, that is your choice.
3. “God’s creation is good.” Again, this is a theological affirmation rather than a scientific discovery. It sets Christianity apart from atheism, which says that the universe is meaningless, or many other religious systems (e.g. gnosticism) that say that matter is evil and only what is spiritual is good. Because creation is good, I can enjoy a walk in the forest, a good meal, sex, or the stars at night.
The Christian concept that the creation is good lays a better foundation for environmental protection than can be developed from other world views. The creation (or nature, if you prefer) has inherent value, whether we humans are there to enjoy and use it or not. We Christians don’t always live up to this ideal, I am sorry to confess.
This all has been very brief. I think if you honestly look into it, you will find that Christianity presents a coherent, comprehensive, rational worldview that is much deeper and robust than the “hocus pocus” that you have been led to believe.
I don’t think you fully represented the information that John Piper has on the Bethlehem website.
“1) You have to believe that Adam and Eve were historical persons and that, therefore, there can’t be millions of years between the first human being and now. That’s because the Bible won’t work for millions of years between Adam and Even and now. If you allow for gaps in the genealogies, then you might arrive at 15,000 years or whatever. So that’s clear in our affirmation of faith.”
Millions of years is out. Would you agree this is what is being communicated? If so, I think that should be included in the post you wrote in order to clarify with what beliefs are NOT held.
Thanks for your comment. I think you may have read something into Piper’s statement that was not there. Millions of years are not out.
It is clear that Piper would not accept the idea that Homo sapiens has been on Earth for a few hundred thousand years. But it is also clear that he leaves the door open for a very old Earth (4.5 billion years), and he says nothing about biological evolution. He refers approvingly to John Sailhammer, who accepts an old Earth.
He said very clearly that they believe a requirement is that they must believe that the earth is either under 10,000 or 15,000 years. (can’t remember the exact number)
He’s okay with people accepting the gap theory so long as is doesn’t get ridiculous and exceed 10 (or 15) thousand years.
Do you have a place where he said those things?
In the page mentioned here, Piper states, and I quote:
“We do not have in our affirmation of faith an old earth / young earth distinction: a seven day literal approach, or some kind of extended age theory, or one like John Sailhamer’s, which says that creation is billions of years old…. So any of those three would be possible on the eldership at Bethlehem.”
Zach, you got some bad information somewhere. As Geo said, they definitely do NOT believe a requirement is to believe the earth is under 15000 years old.
What do you have to believe about creation in order to be an elder at Bethlehem? How wide of a variance does this allow?
1) You have to believe that Adam and Eve were historical persons and that, therefore, there can’t be millions of years between the first human being and now. That’s because the Bible won’t work for millions of years between Adam and Even and now. If you allow for gaps in the genealogies, then you might arrive at 15,000 years or whatever. So that’s clear in our affirmation of faith.
2) The second thing you need to believe is that God created the world out of nothing. It is not co-eternal with God. We are not pantheists. We believe that God created the world.
3) Third, you need to believe that everything he made is absolutely good. He didn’t create sin. He looked and six times said, “It is good.”
We do not have in our affirmation of faith an old earth / young earth distinction: a seven day literal approach, or some kind of extended age theory, or one like John Sailhamer’s, which says that creation is billions of years old, but God’s action in chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis is a real, literal seven day preparation of the land for his human creatures that he makes at that time. So any of those three would be possible on the eldership at Bethlehem.
here’s him responding to the question about evolution/old earth. He does indeed lean Old Earth.
his entire answer sounds mealymouthed here.
Paula – point of curiosity here. What about the response sounded “mealymouthed” to you? Of everything Piper has been called by detractors or fans, I suspect “mealymouthed” has never been among them.
I’ve heard “convoluted”, “complex”, and things like that, but “mealymouthed” isn’t one of them.
Here are some of the definitions of “mealymouthed”, just so everyone is clear on what the term means:
avoiding the use of direct and plain language from timidity
excessive delicacy, or hypocrisy
insincere, devious, or compromising
If by “mealymouthed” you mean something more along the lines of “vague” or something like that, I could see that, but “mealymouthed” – sorry, I just don’t see it.
Do you see him being timid in his statement? insincere? devious? a hypocrite?
I agree Piper doesn’t consider the age of the Earth to be an issue in terms of Christian orthodoxy. But I think he’s very clear regarding evolution and Adam:
“I don’t believe in evolution as the way that Adam came to be a human. I think God created Adam from the dust of the ground. I think he was unique and that he is the father of all humanity—Adam and Eve—and that he is not the product of a long evolutionary process. I can’t make that jive with the way the text reads.” One might want to say Piper doesn’t discard evolution altogether, but he’s clearly ruling out Adam being the product of evolution.
Thanks for your reasoned response to Bobxxxx.
I’m curious. Why are you trying to make the bible fit man’s fallible science? Why do you hold science in higher regard than the Word of God? As a Christian, shouldn’t you be letting the bible speak to you instead of trying to make it fit your fallible worldview?
What other compromises do you make? Are you simply trying to make Christianity more palatable to non-believers? What truth will they learn if not the whole Truth? How many compromises will it take to save them?
Science, stripped of it’s atheistic and agnostic biases that hide ridiculous assumptions and enormous inconsistencies, actually supports a young earth and creation with no evolutionary component.
Thanks for visiting The GeoChristian and thanks for your comment.
I could turn your question around against young-Earth creationism. “Why do the YECs create a fallible scientific system (flood geology, which is always changing) and then hold it up as gospel truth?”
I don’t hold science as higher than Scripture. My position is that all truth is God’s truth. God does not lie. What he has said in his Word is true. He has not lied in the rock record either. If there seems to be a conflict between the two, either we don’t understand the Bible correctly, or we don’t understand the creation correctly. Either could be the case.
I accept the opening chapters of Genesis as historical. What I don’t accept is the YEC spin on those chapters.
Any real science will change when the data and/or evidence changes or is discovered. Sciences that don’t are clearly biased and hiding something. How about the science you seem to hold as “gospel truth”? Has it addressed it’s false assumptions? Has it adjusted to fit the discrepancies?
Speaking of spin, where do you insert millions of years into Scripture? Specifically, what verses are lacking the whole story? It clearly doesn’t indicate billions of years on it’s own.
When Christ changed water to wine, how long did that wine have to sit in the vases before it became wine? Did the wedding guests have to wait decades for the wine to ferment and become the best wine of the feast? No. He created a properly aged and mature wine! So, again, why do you insist the earth must be billions of years old because it looks old to you?
Would you accuse John Piper (the topic of this post) of bias, putting science over Scripture, being subject to false assumptions, and compromise, as you seem to be accusing me?
I understand the YEC Biblical arguments for a young Earth, and find them to be unconvincing. I don’t see millions of years in the Scriptures, but I don’t see a Biblical requirement that the Earth is only 6000 years old either.
Consider the following:
–The word for “day” (yom) is used figuratively in Genesis 2:4, and by Moses in Psalm 90:4. Both of these are in the context of creation. Could yom be used figuratively in Genesis 1 as well?
–From Psalm 90:4, we see that a day to God is not the same as a day to us. Could God’s work day be different than our day? Absolutely.
–The days of Genesis 1 are used as a pattern for the Sabbath. But they are also used as a pattern for the Sabbatical year, and even for the year of Jubilee (occurring after seven Sabbatical years). The important thing is the pattern, not the length of the day.
–The days of Genesis 1 are not complete days. There is evening and morning, but evening and morning do not make a complete day.
–Genesis 1:1 could be a summary of the entire passage (this is the YEC understanding) but it could just as easily be a preface to the rest of the passage, and could be at any time in the past.
–The genealogies of Genesis are used by YECs to come up with their chronology (4000 BC creation; 2300 BC flood) but in none of these is there a summation of years, and by comparing these genealogies to parallel lists elsewhere in Scripture one can see that there are gaps in the genealogies. The author (Moses) had some other reason than chronology for placing these genealogies in the text.
These are issues that come out of a close reading of the text. Perhaps geology has caused Biblical scholars to take a closer look at the text, but that is not the same as saying that we old-Earthers are imposing science on the text.
I have outlined Biblical issues with other YEC teachings elsewhere:
–The Bible does not teach that there was no animal death before the fall [click here].
–The Bible does not teach that the flood was global and that it deposited the Earth’s sedimentary layers [click here].
Note that I have not used science to interpret Scripture in any of my arguments. I believe it is the young-Earthers who have stretched the Scriptures, not me.
Grace and Peace
Listen to what Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds, two YEC’s, say in “Three Views on Creation and Evolution” ( Zondervan 1999, ISBN-10: 0310220173): “Presently, we can admit that as recent creationists we are defending a very natural biblical account, at the cost of abandoning a very plausible scientific picture of an “old” cosmos. But over the long term this is not a tenable position. In our opinion, old earth creationism combines a less natural textual reading with a much more plausible scientific vision. They have many fewer “problems of science.”… Recente creationism must develop better scientific accounts if it is to remain viable against old earth creationism” (pg 73)
While I find it regrettable that anyone would question any group of proclaimed believers’ status of salvation, that is a two way street and not something I will take part of in any form. It’s not our place to say one way or the other.
With or without science, you are making implications, an interpretation, by citing what the bible doesn’t say. While I’m brand new to the entire debate, it seems to me the other side let’s the bible do the leading and is postulating theories around it.
By making an interpretation about what the bible doesn’t say and adding what science does say, you come to a belief. I am not comfortable with this at all. For example, if science changed even one assumption in it’s dating method, the entire model for millions of years could instantly become 100,000’s of years. Likewise, your view of creation and Genesis would follow suit. Another example, changing the word earth to land to open up the potential for a local flood is something I find disturbing. While it may be an accurate approximation for translation, of which there may be many, there is only one correct interpretation and yours does not address God’s promise later on.
While reading through the comments of this argument, I find a few, assuming many more and maybe even yourselves, believe in evolution. Evolution, for which there is little to no evidence, is not necessary or likely since God created “everything” as is repeated in Genesis. So, from my perspective, the authors and followers of this site, fall back on ‘science’ to interpret every actual or supposed biblical ‘difficulty’.
In any case, my life will be defined by relying on Him to attempt to do all He has laid out before me and giving Him the glory forever.
No need to respond as I will not likely return, but feel free to refute for your followers.
“By making an interpretation about what the bible doesn’t say and adding what science does say, you come to a belief. I am not comfortable with this at all.”
Which is a great reason to NOT believe the YEC view. The Bible DOESN’T say the globe was flooded. The Bible DOESN’T say the universe is only 6000 years old. The Bible DOESN’T say that there was a massive increase in the rate of radioactive decay during the Flood which would have melted/boiled the Earth if God hadn’t done a miracle to remove the heat.
All those things are things that the YEC view believes based on doing exactly what you said: making an interpretation about something the Bible doesn’t say and then adding science. (and it’s REALLY lousy science, to boot)
“For example, if science changed even one assumption in it’s dating method, the entire model for millions of years could instantly become 100,000′s of years.” — That’s not even vaguely true, so I won’t touch on it further.
“….does not address God’s promise later on.” — It doesn’t? When God says he won’t flood the land in Genesis 9 he can’t be referring to the exact same land that was flooded in Genesis 8 for some reason?
“Evolution, for which there is little to no evidence,….” — Really? I suggest you go talk to Dr. Todd Wood of AiG and ICR. He’s one of their scientists who is actually a practicing scientist with a doctorate in the field he writes about. (something rare at those places)
Here’s what he says.
“Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.
I say these things not because I’m crazy or because I’ve “converted” to evolution. I say these things because they are true. I’m motivated this morning by reading yet another clueless, well-meaning person pompously declaring that evolution is a failure. People who say that are either unacquainted with the inner workings of science or unacquainted with the evidence for evolution.”
“No need to respond as I will not likely return, but feel free to refute for your followers.” — Don’t go! Discussion is good about this – it sharpens thoughts and everyone learns.
Just because it could clear up a lot of things, I’ll stick a link to the source of Dr. Wood’s quote. He’s a YEC writer and researcher for AiG, and an active researcher in the field of genetics, as well as have a real PhD in the field.
Seems to me that the key to the whole debate over creation/evolution is found in Exodus 20:11 where the Lord Himself speaks of creating the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is them in six days!!!
I apologize if this was already mentioned but I am curious of what Bobxxxx believes about evolution. I do not see anywhere that Piper supports evolution but just leaves it open to an old-earth. He mentions John Sailhamer who currently teaches at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and before that Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In my old testament class at Southeastern, my professor Dr. Mosely stated that Sailhamer is not trying to defend evolution with this theory. Do you really think if Sailhamer believed evolution that he would be on staff at an SBC seminary today? Here is the problem. Christians can not be faithful to the Bible and believe evolution at the same time. It comes down to sin. Adam’s sin brought death into the world and cursed it. Therefore evolution which teaches a process of death does not jive with what the Bible teaches about sin.
Biblical Theology safeguards the biblical interpreter from isolating theology and practice from the Gospel. One application of biblical theology is connecting the theology of sin to the Gospel and its development throughout Scripture. The narrative of sin through the lens of biblical theology is pertinent to the current discussion of creation interpretation. Adam and Eve are created and everything about them is good, thus no presence of sin (Gen. 1:31). But Adam sins with his wife and sin enters into the world (Rom. 5:12). Creation is then cursed and exposed to death for the first time because of man’s sin (Gen. 3:14-18; Rom. 5:12; 8:21-23). Jesus comes to redeem mankind from corruption and death (Rom. 8:21-23). The Scriptures parallel the redemption of mankind with the redemption of creation, just as the fallen state of man was linked with the fallen creation (Rom. 8:21-23; 2 Peter 3:13). Finally, man and creation will be in a glorified state for eternity, without the presence of death nor sin (Rev. 21:4). Therefore the story of the Gospel from a harmartiological perspective is that man sinned, man and the earth were cursed, Jesus accomplished an initial redemption of man, and Jesus accomplishes a final redemption of man and creation for all of eternity.
While discussing the best understanding of “yom” in Genesis chapter one in light of new old-earth interpretations of the biblical creation is important and quite relevant, theology is the tower in which a full assault against the modern era is most effective. It is the dagger that commits the final blow. Therefore God and his Word must be abandoned, or evolutionary theory accepted, but it is an impossibility to synthesize the two. Walking through Scripture, it is apparent that sin has cursed creation and that death on this earth to any creatures did not occur until Adam and Eve rebelled against God. The implication of this is simple; evolution requires death (survival of the fittest) to advance species in the natural selection process. Therefore if evolution were a reality, then the hamartiology that teaches sin brought forth death into the world is wrong. There are many other theological points that can be raised such as the constitution of man or the imago dei in regards to man evolving from lower forms but ultimately the knockout punch of incompatibility is hamartiology.
I appreciate your input on this topic. Here are a few of my thoughts on what you wrote:
John Piper has clearly stated elsewhere (e.g. here) that he rejects any evolutionary explanation for Adam and Eve:
On the other hand, I can’t find anyplace where Piper says whether or not he sees a problem with evolution of other species. I have not read Sailhamer’s works, though I would like to. It seems, however, that he doesn’t view most of Genesis 1 as being about the initial creation of the universe, but about the preparation of the land for Adam and his descendants. In that case, the question of biological evolution (other than of humans) becomes secondary.
You stated that “Christians can not be faithful to the Bible and believe evolution at the same time.” I don’t think this is true, because I believe that the YEC’s biblical case against biological evolution is actually rather weak. The supposed biblical case against evolution is based on two premises. The first of these is that there was no animal death before Adam’s sin. The second is that animals were to reproduce only after their own kinds.
The Bible clearly teaches that human death came because of Adam’s sin. None of the passages used to show that there was no animal death before Adam’s sin (Gen 3, Rom 5, Rom 8, 1 Cor 15) actually say anything about animal death. It is the YECs who are reading something into the text here, not the old-Earth Christians. I’ve written more about this here.
To say that evolution cannot be true because organisms were created to reproduce after their own “kinds” is reading a whole lot into one phrase. No mainstream YECs say that this means that there can be no genetic change in populations over time; they usually allow for some degree of microevolution. But if a pair of Pliohippuses (ancestors of modern horses) mates to produce another Pliohippus (i.e. reproduction after one’s own kind), and this goes on within a population over many generations (more reproduction within a “kind” group), and the genetic makeup of the population changes over time (microevolution), and eventually one ends up with a population of modern horses (Equus), has the “reproduce after one’s own kind” concept been violated? What is the limit to this sort of change? Is Pliohippus to Equus biblically acceptable? How about Hyracotherium to Equus? How about from synapsids (Mesozoic mammal-like reptiles) to Equus? Even along each step of this long evolutionary chain, each generation would represent a reproduction after one’s kind. If there is a limit to biological change, the Bible does not state what it is.
I’ll even go a bit further. I think one can make a case that God used processes in creation, not just creation by fiat. Genesis 1:24 (ESV) states “And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.” “Bring forth” implies a process occurring on the Earth, and processes involve laws and time. Does this mean that Genesis 1 teaches molecules-to-man evolution? No, but it does open the door for some sort of evolutionary process being involved in God’s creation process.
I don’t think anything that I’ve written here is the result of reading science into Scripture. Instead, it is the result of taking a closer look at what the text actually does and does not say in regards to biological evolution.
In terms of hamartiology (the biblical doctrine of sin), I’ll just repeat my creation creed:
As an old-Earth creationist
I believe that the universe was created by the triune God of the Bible
I believe that the Bible does not dictate when this creation took place
I believe in a real Adam
in a real garden
in a real fall into sin
in real consequences for that sin
and in Jesus Christ as the only solution for sin