Is accepting an old Earth heresy?
|There has been some controversy regarding this post. I’ll do my best to clear up any misunderstandings here at the beginning:
I had no intention of misrepresenting (either here or in my comments on that blog) what anyone said. In a few instances, my wording could have been a little more precise.
Many young-Earth creationists have zero tolerance for opposing viewpoints within the church. I’ve been involved in a discussion on a young-Earth creationist (YEC) blog where I’ve been accused of heresy (or at least setting the stage for apostasy) for accepting the concept that the Earth and universe are billions of years old. One commenter (Dan) stated:
“In my FIRST post I asserted in effect that for almost 18 centuries NO theologian who so much as professed the name of Christ (including therefore even the various heretics) held any form of old-earthism. Anyone may step up to cite a counterexample, but I’m not holding my breath. Kevin, how do you feel about teaching a doctrine that (among Christians) appeared completely out of the ether over 17 centuries after Christ? From that point of view, if THIS isn’t heresy, nothing deserves that name.”
This is a common tactic of young-Earth creationists, and here is how I responded:
I agree that some sort of YEC was the almost universal view of theologians until the 18th century. Young and Stearley have documented this in their excellent old-Earth book The Bible, Rocks, and Time. Among the church fathers, there were men like Origen and Augustine who held that the days were symbolic or figurative, but there is no indication that these fathers imagined a universe billions of years old.
But then again, geocentrism was the almost universal position of the church throughout this period as well. When the overwhelming evidence for heliocentrism (sun-centered solar system) was presented, there was resistance within the church (and within science). Eventually, the church took a closer look at what the Scriptures actually said, and realized that the scriptures did not teach geocentrism after all.
Regarding heliocentrism, then, one could have said, “if THIS isn’t heresy, nothing deserves that name.”
One could even take your approach to something like the doctrine of justification: saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This doctrine was absent from the church for a long time, and was never stated in those words until the 16th century. The Roman church took your approach rather than taking a closer look to see what the Scriptures themselves said on the topic.
The Copernican Revolution required a closer examination of the Scriptures to determine what the Bible really said and didn’t say about nature. The Protestant Reformation took a closer look at the Scriptures, to see what they really said and didn’t say. I take the same approach to the age of the Earth and the extent of Noah’s flood.
If all you read is YEC writings on the topic, you will be convinced that the Bible requires a young Earth and planetary flood. There are a large number of conservative, orthodox Old Testament scholars, however, who hold to an old Earth. They do this because they have taken a closer look at the text than the young-Earthers have, and have come to the conclusion that it does not require a young Earth.
There are plenty of young-Earth creationists out there who believe that one cannot be a Christian if one believes in an old Earth. My response to that is:
I believe in:
- A real creation by the triune God.
- A real Adam in a real garden
- A real fall into sin with real consequences
- In Jesus Christ as the only solution for our sin
Where’s the heresy? Where’s the apostasy?
I also believe that:
- The opening chapters of Genesis were not intended to be an outline of the history of the universe, and do not require a young Earth.
- The Bible does not say that the flood covered the entire planet, nor did it create the geological column.
I’ll write more on these points soon.
Grace and Peace