Choosing and using a wide-margin Bible for spiritual growth

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“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” – Psalm 119:105 ESV

Among my most-treasured possessions are a small stack of wide-margin Bibles that I have been writing notes in for almost two decades. These Bibles contain much of what I have learned from my personal time of reading and studying God’s word, from numerous sermons and other messages I have heard, from books and articles I have read, and from interaction with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

One of my problems as a Christian is that I have forgotten far more than I remember. For instance, in the past forty years, I have listened to close to 2000 sermons on Sunday mornings. I still have notes for many of these, but I seldom go back through those notes. I know that the cumulative effect of all these sermons (and other inputs) has been significant, but there are things I have learned that I want to keep fresh in my heart and mind.

The solution God has led me to is to write notes in a wide-margin Bible. I do not keep these notes because I am smart but because I am forgetful, and need regular reminders of what God has taught me in the past. The advantage of using a wide-margin Bible instead of doing something such as a journal is that there is the potential that I will be reminded of the things God has taught me every time I read a passage. If something stood out to me, for example, in the second chapter of Ephesians back in 2001, I will conceivably see that note every time I read Ephesians 2 in that Bible. I am not downplaying the value of journals, but this is what works best for me.

I do not actually write down complete sermon notes in my wide-margin Bible. Usually on Sunday afternoon or evening, I will take a few minutes to transfer highlights from my sermon notebook into the margin of my Bible. That way there are key pieces of sermons that stick with me for the rest of my life.

Choosing a Wide-Margin Bible

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There are many wide-margin Bibles (sometimes called journaling Bibles) on the market. I use the two-column wide-margin Bibles from Cambridge University Press. Here are a few of the wide-margin Bible variations that are available on the market:

Translations — A quick search at a bookstore or online reveals that most major English-language translations are available as wide-margin Bibles: ESV, NASB, NIV, KJV, NKJV, NLT, CSB, and more. I alternate between using the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New International Version (NIV 1984) for my reading and study, but of course your preference may be different.

One-column or two columns — The page layout can be a make-it or break-it factor for you enjoyment of your wide-margin Bible. There are editions with two columns of text with two columns for writing, two columns of text with one column for writing, and one column of text with one column for writing. Some wide-margin enthusiasts insist on the one-column option. I really dislike the two text columns with one writing column option, as this does not allow one to write right next to the verse.

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This Bible has two columns but no room to write in the gutter, so your note won’t be next to the verse(s) you are writing about.

Width of blank space — My NIV Cambridge wide-margin Bible has 1.25 inches of blank space on both the left and right side, and about an inch on both the top and bottom of the page. This gives plenty of writing room on the right, left, top, and bottom of the page. There is additional space on the title page for each book of the Bible, which gives room for introductory comments. My ESV Cambridge wide-margin Bible has only one inch of blank space along the gutter, which makes it a little difficult to write notes. I would not purchase a wide-margin Bible that has blank space along the gutter that is less than one inch, as it would be too difficult to write notes.

Style of blank space — Some wide-margin Bibles are printed with faint (or not-so-faint) horizontal lines for you to write on. I would never purchase one of these, as the line spacing is not how I would naturally space my handwriting. Plus, I really don’t think I need lines to keep my writing straight for one inch! In addition, if you are going to include artwork in your margin notes, the lines might interfere with the aesthetics of your drawings.

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The natural spacing of my handwriting does not match the spacing of these lines.

Hard cover or leather — My wide-margin Bibles have hard covers, which are cheaper, but I’m sure less durable, than leather covers.

Red-letter or black letter — This is your preference. I choose only black-letter editions, as I think they are easier to read, and all Scripture is Scripture, not just the words of Jesus.

Paper — My Cambridge Bibles are printed with a heavier paper, which reduces bleed-through of ink.

Tools for Marking a Wide-Margin Bible

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Tools I use with my wide-margin Bible include pens, a highlighter, a ruler, correction tape, and an ink blotter. I keep these together in an old coffee mug.

I have learned by trial and error what tools I need for marking in my wide-margin Bible.

Pen (or pens) — It is best to give some thought to the type of pen you will use in your Bible. You certainly do not want to use a pen that will bleed through the page, and in general this means a ball-point pen rather than a felt-tip pen. Before using a new kind of pen in my Bible, I make some text marks in some obscure place in the concordance or map index in the back to make sure it does not bleed through. I prefer to use a fine ball-point pen, as opposed to medium. More specifically, I use a Pilot B2P blue fine ball-point pen, and have bought a whole box of them.

Highlighters — If you do highlighting in your Bible, I recommend testing the highlighters in someplace like the concordance or map index to see how much it bleeds through the paper. Some people prefer dry Bible highlighters that can be purchased at Christian bookstores or online. My experience is that the lead breaks too easily on these, but maybe you will have a better experience.

Ruler — I use a flexible 6-inch ruler so I can underline with straight lines. This, of course, is optional.

White-out tape — If you are at all like me, you will make mistakes, such as typos, as you write in your margin. I used to use white-out liquid, which was a real pain, but now I use the correction tape dispensers, which are ideal for this sort of work (unless you buy a Bible with off-white pages).

Blotter — Ball-point pens tend to get little globs of ink accumulating near the tip while underlining, and this can result in a smudge of ink on your page. After underlining a verse, I will blot the ink off the tip of the pen with a facial tissue or paper towel that I keep with my other supplies.

Wide-Margin Strategies

This is how I do my note taking, underlining and highlighting, and other things:

Notes — I write kind of small, which allows me to put a lot of notes on the page. I write a verse number to start the note, as it is not always possible to put the note right next to the verse if I have a lot of notes on the page. My notes might be from my personal meditations, copied in part from study Bibles (such as the ESV Study Bible) or from commentaries; things I have learned from books I am reading, or from sermons. I have a lot of notes in my Bible related to apologetics and the doctrine of creation, as those are two of my deeper interests.

Underlining — I am more of an underlining guy than a highlighting guy. I underline words, verses, or longer passages that are especially meaningful to me. I use blue ink, but that is entirely your preference. You may come up with some sort of color code instead.

Highlighting — In my current wide-margin Bible, I have used a yellow highlighter to mark verses I have memorized. This makes memory review easy, as I can just flip through my Bible rather than through a stack of index cards. In previous Bibles, I have used a color-code scheme, with red or pink marking the works of Christ and benefits of salvation, green marking the attributes of God, and so forth.

Topical marks — I put one- or two-letter marks in red in my Bible to mark verses for certain topics. A few of these marks include B (baptism), C (communion, or Lord’s supper), DC (deity of Christ), P (prayer), CR (creation), EV (evangelism), M (missions, God’s heart for all nations), and W (Word of God).

Additional Remarks

I am on my fourth wide-margin Bible. The first one was sort of a trial-and-error project in which I developed my wide-margin style. I do some note-copying between these four Bibles, and I’m pretty happy with how the most recent ones are going. I am hoping that these will be a blessing to my descendants somehow until Christ returns.

I am not an artsy guy, so you will not see any drawings or sketches in my margins. I have friends who love to express their insights from the Bible as illustrations. My Bible probably looks like it was produced by an engineer to them.

The purpose of taking notes in a Bible, of course, is not just to make us smarter (or make us look smarter to impress someone) but so that we would grow in our knowledge of God, and in our service to him as workers in his kingdom. My prayer is that your markings in a wide-margin Bible would accomplish these things in and through you.

Grace and Peace

Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com


Notes

The NIV 1984 Cambridge Wide-Margin Bible is out of print, but unused copies are available:

I affectionately call the 1984 NIV the Old International Version (OIV).

My ESV Cambridge Wide Margin Reference Edition:

There are, of course, many additional options for purchasing a wide-margin Bible.

Back when I was in grade school through high school, an activity the first day of class was to put book covers on our textbooks to reduce wear and tear. I have started doing the same thing on my hardcover Bibles. My NIV Bible is now covered with a “Lands of the Bible Today” map from the December 1967 National Geographic magazine, and my ESV Bible is covered with a print of “The Garden of Eden” painted by Izaak van Oosten in the 1650s or 1660s.

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Putting a cover on your hardcover Bible will greatly reduce wear on the cover and spine.

 

Six Books to Understand Genesis — Old-Earth Edition

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The web site of the young-Earth creationist documentary Is Genesis History has listed “Six Books to Understand Genesis,” all written from a young-Earth perspective. As a counterweight, here are six old-Earth books written by highly-qualified, Bible-believing, inerrancy-affirming, theologically-conservative scholars. As old-Earth Christians, these academics believe in the truthfulness of Scripture just as much as any young-Earth creationist. The issue of the age of the Earth is certainly one of biblical interpretation, not of biblical authority.

Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary by C. John Collins. This mid-level introduction includes an outline of the analogical-days interpretation of Genesis 1.

Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John Lennox. This is the book on the interpretation of Genesis that I recommend most often, because it is very good, and because it is short.

Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, edited by J Daryl Charles. This gives a rather detailed introduction to various young-Earth and old-Earth interpretations. This is better and deeper than most of the “Three views on ______” books on the market.

The ESV Study Bible. If someone believes that only “liberals” accept an ancient Earth, point them to this scholarly masterpiece. The notes on Genesis don’t “take sides” on the age of the Earth or the extent of Noah’s flood, but it is clear that the scholars don’t believe that Christians must accept the young-Earth interpretation.

The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth by Davis Young and Ralph Stearley. This book gives a good summary of the historical development of the concept of an ancient Earth, and gives numerous reasons why young-Earth arguments about geologic time and flood geology simply do not work in the real world of geology.

The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? edited by Carol Hill and others. Most of the contributors to this volume are Christians; a few of them are not. Young-Earth creationists love to point to the Grand Canyon as something that only could have formed by catastrophism. The authors of this beautifully-illustrated book show why, once again, young-Earth flood geology simply does not work.

Four out of my six recommendations look more at the biblical and theological side of the debate rather than the scientific side. It is my conviction that the Bible is at the heart of the matter; most young-Earth creationists will not listen to what we have to say about science until they become at least a little bit open to the biblical case for an old Earth. The two remaining books, reflecting my own background in geology, provide devastating critiques of young-Earth geological arguments.

Young-Earth creationism is not biblically necessary, nor is it scientifically credible. To insist otherwise does harm in terms of Christian discipleship, apologetics, and evangelism.

Grace and Peace

Attempting to respond to hostility with grace

I get called all sorts of names by some of my young-Earth brothers and sisters in Christ: Liar, Compromiser, Rabid Theistic Evolutionist, So-Called Christian. I am accused of listening to the hissing of the serpent, of following Baal rather than Yahweh, and of denying the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am sorry that my old-Earth beliefs bring up such anger. I am seeking to do my best to understand God’s Word and God’s world, and to communicate in love. I am certain that I fall short in all three of these efforts.

Here’s an applicable article from The Gospel Coalition: “10 Reasons to Be Humble Toward Opponents.” I will highlight a few items:

1. Because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). — May I not be more zealous for my agenda than for God’s glory and the building up of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

2. Because we are sinners too. — I am certainly a sinner, and at times love the argument more than I love my brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me.

6. You aren’t the issue; God’s glory is. — I don’t have to win. I don’t have to defend myself. I do have to submit to God and love my neighbor.

7. A humble response to attacks will motivate church members to join you. — I could bulldoze the typical young-Earth creationist who comments on the Facebook pages of young-Earth organizations. What will be accomplished if I do so?

8. Your enemies may be right… about something. — There are young-Earth arguments that I do not fully know how to answer. There are old-Earth arguments that I might get wrong. My young-Earth brothers and sisters have valid insights into the Scriptures. I might be getting some things wrong about what the Bible says about God’s creation.

9. Humility will adorn the gospel for outsiders to see. — I try to make it clear that I consider myself to be on the same side as my young-Earth brothers and sisters in Christ. I find myself defending people like Ken Ham from charges of heresy (Ken Ham is not a heretic). The unity we have in Christ far outweighs those things that divide us.

I am sure there are things from numbers 3, 4, 5, and 10 in the Gospel  Coalition article that would also apply to me as I interact with those who disagree with me.

Grace and Peace

Book Review – Dictionary of Christianity and Science

DictionaryMy ignorance will always exceed my knowledge. This is true even in subjects in which I have a considerable level of expertise. I have been studying various science-faith topics for more than three decades, and have substantial depth of knowledge in some areas. Over the years, I have focused most intensely on the relationship between geology and Christianity (including the arguments of the young-Earth creationists), somewhat on the topics of biological evolution and environmental ethics, and hardly at all on some other important science-faith issues. I would not, for instance, be able to write authoritatively about how cognitive science, string theory, or recent advances in human genetics relate to Christian apologetics. I have a few hundred books in my personal library, but don’t have a collection—and am not sure I would even want one—that covers all of the issues that are raised in the dialog between Christianity and Science.

As a science writer and science apologist, however, I need to at least be conversant in a range of topics outside of my core areas. A new, useful resource is Dictionary of Christianity and Science, published by Zondervan. This 691-page volume has over 400 articles of various lengths, written by over 100 contributors.

Christians do not always agree, of course, on how science and Christianity properly relate. The Dictionary has a number of multiple-view discussions, with separate articles written by authors from diverging perspectives. For instance, the two “Adam and Eve” articles are written from a “First-Couple View” (by young-Earth Bible scholar Todd Beale) and a “Representative-Couple View” (by old-Earth theologian Trempor Longman III). Some examples of topics that have multiple articles are:

  • Adam and Eve
  • Age of the Universe and Earth
  • Climate Change
  • Days of Creation
  • Fossil Record
  • Genesis Flood (four articles)
  • Genesis, Interpretations of Chapters 1 and 2
  • Hominid Fossils
  • Human Evolution

Some controversial topics are covered by only one article. When the subject relates to the age of the Earth or universe, these single articles are written from an old-Earth perspective. Examples include the articles on dinosaurs (Stephen Moshier), the Cambrian explosion (Darrel Falk), the big bang (Hugh Ross), and radiometric dating (Ken Wolgemuth). This approach is consistent with the fact that most leading Christian apologists do not use young-Earth arguments in defense of the faith. Articles written about controversial Christian individuals or organizations are generally written by a “friendly” author, such as the articles on Answers in Genesis and Ken Ham written by Marcus Ross, himself a young-Earth creationist, and the article on The Biologos Foundation penned by Deborah Haarsma, who is the president of Biologos.

I will never be an expert on string theory, the Chinese room argument, or Bayes’ theorem, but as one who writes about science and Christian faith, I should at least know the basics on a breadth of issues. I recommend Dictionary of Christianity and Science for students who are new to the controversies that surround the relationship between Christian faith and science, as well as to science-faith veterans who need to keep abreast on a wide range of science-faith topics.

I would like to thank Zondervan for providing me with a preprint of the first 130 pages, and then a complimentary copy of the complete book. Dictionary of Christianity and Science will be available for sale on April 25th.

GeoScriptures – Psalm 133:1 – Deep unity in Christ despite our disagreements

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!” – Psalm 133:1 (ESV)

There is only one church on Earth, and it is composed of those who, by God’s grace, have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We put different labels on ourselves, such as Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Nondenominational, Roman Catholic, and so forth, but deep down there is a fundamental unity in the body of Christ. I have experienced this in interdenominational Bible studies and in one-on-one fellowship, and I hope you have as well.

Tragically, this unity is often obscured by the important doctrines and practices that divide us. One of these divisive points in the church today is the doctrine of creation. The Biblical teachings on creation are multifaceted, and include much more than the age of the universe and the origin of the diversity of life. It is fine that people have strong convictions regarding these things—just as I do—but many forget to be “speaking the truth in love.” As hard as I try, I at times also fail to speak the truth in love as I wrestle with these issues and interact with others.

Abusive speech comes from both sides in age-of-the-Earth debates. Many on the young-Earth side consider old-Earth Christians to be “compromisers” at best and not Christians at all at the worse. I have been accused many times of calling Jesus a liar because of my old-Earth views, and of being a tool of the devil.

Nastiness comes from the old-Earth Christian side as well, with some accusing young-Earth creationists of being imbeciles. Young-Earth creationists are not imbeciles; they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. In one of the old-Earth online discussion groups I participate in, I find myself periodically defending Ken Ham against charges of heresy. I disagree with Ken Ham, both in terms of his young-Earth views and his tone (most of the time), but he is no heretic. He holds to all of the core doctrines of the Christian faith, just as I do, and insists that one does not have to be a young-Earth creationist in order to be a real Christian.

Being that I get a fair amount of abuse for being an old-Earth Christian, I would like to draw attention to two young-Earth creationists I have recently interacted with, both of whom have demonstrated the love and unity that we have in Christ. These men shine like stars in the darkness.

Jay Wile

The first of these is Jay Wile. Jay, who has a PhD in nuclear chemistry, is well-known in the Christian science education world (especially in the home school movement) as the original author of the grades 7-12 Apologia textbooks, such as Exploring Creation with Chemistry. More recently, Jay has written a series of elementary-level textbooks, organized historically rather than topically. Jay blogs about science and science education at Proslogion.

I have listed Jay’s blog here at The GeoChristian under “The Best of Young-Earth Creationism.” Jay is intelligent and articulate, and is able to write thoughtfully about a range of scientific and educational topics. Jay is also candid, willing to disagree with fellow young-Earth creationists at times (and drawing criticism for doing so).

Jay is also a nice guy. Jay and I have had dialogues on his blog over the past several years on topics ranging from the La Brea tar pits to radioisotope dating. Sometimes I win (at least I think so), and sometimes I don’t. We have also had some correspondence outside of social media. In February, Jay and I had the chance to visit face-to-face at the Great Homeschool Convention in Fort Worth, where we were both speaking and promoting our textbooks. We had several opportunities to visit on the convention floor, and also to share a meal together. We talked a little bit about origins, but spent more time together in getting to know each other and talking about other topics. This is exactly how it should be between brothers in Christ who are on different sides of the age-of-the-Earth fence.

Mark Amenrud

Mark Amenrud is a Bible instructor at Montana Bible College, a school that is committed to young-Earth creationism. Mark is also a speaker for Montana Origins Research Effort, the state’s leading YEC organization. I first met Mark in the early 1980s, when he was the music director at Grace Bible Church in Bozeman while I was an undergraduate student at Montana State University. I remember him but he has no reason to remember me from that time.

I visited with Mark again at a creation conference in Bozeman in 2016. Mark recently invited me to speak in his “Science and Origins” class at Montana Bible College. I spoke last week for an hour and a half on the topic of “Why I am an old-Earth Christian.” The students were well-prepared and respectful. Even more, Mark was a gracious host, and I thoroughly enjoyed my interaction with both Mark and the students. Once again, this is exactly how it should be in the body of Christ.

I am thankful to God for brothers in Christ (and sisters in Christ, such as women in Mark’s class) who hold firmly to the Word of God, and who demonstrate the love and unity that are required of us in the body of Christ.

Grace and Peace

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NOTES

I believe in the Reformation view of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. A person is not saved, however, by believing this doctrine, but by faith in Jesus Christ. John 3:16 does not say, “whoever believes in the Reformation doctrine of justification” but “whoever believes in him.” One flip side of this doctrine is that not everyone who is a member of a church is automatically a Christian.

Another important, and divisive, facet of the doctrine of creation is environmental stewardship.

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” – Ephesians 4:15 ESV

I view any name-calling in origins debates to be the equivalent of calling someone “Raca.” See Matthew 5:22.

Ken Ham and I agree on the gospel.

How can I say I believe the Bible if I don’t believe it all “literally?”

Someone on a social media site recently asked me, “How can you say you believe the Bible and then in the same breath declare that [Genesis 1] may not be literal?”

My answer:

“Is everything in the Bible literal? I would say that not even everything in Genesis 1 is literal, and I say this for reasons that flow from the text of Genesis 1 itself. God’s speech is not the same as human speech, so God’s speech is not necessarily “literal.” God’s rest is not the same as human rest (humans rest because they are tired; God rested because he was done), so God’s rest is not necessarily “literal.” And, as Bible-believing scholars have pointed out throughout church history, the days of Genesis 1 are not necessarily “literal” days, being that the sun did not appear to mark the passage of days until day four. So for me to interpret the days of Genesis more loosely than you do does not mean that I do not believe the Bible. It does mean that there is more than one way to honestly interpret the meaning of the opening chapters of Genesis.”

Grace and Peace

Facebook comment thread: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=679429282226469&id=224603031042432

An old-Earth Christian at the Creation Museum Part 1 —  Rescuing souls but sinking the ship

I recently spent about seven hours at the Creation Museum run by the young-Earth creationist (YEC) organization Answers in Genesis in northern Kentucky (I visited the museum, not the new Ark Encounter). As I anticipated, the exhibits at the museum are all of the highest quality. Whether the displays were animatronic dinosaurs, dioramas of the garden of Eden; fossils, mounted insects, or reconstructions of hominids, they were at the same level of quality one would expect to find in the Smithsonian Institution.

One thing that surprised me was how crowded the museum was. I was there on a Saturday, which is probably the museum’s busiest day of the week. Because of the crowds, I moved through the first parts of the “Walk Through History”—the main exhibits portion of the museum—at a snail’s pace. That so many people would spend $30 per adult to visit the Creation Museum speaks of the enormous influence young-Earth creationism has on the general Evangelical culture in America.

wp-image-2048483396jpg.jpgMuch of the museum’s “Walk Through History” is arranged around the “7 C’s” of salvation. My young-Earth siblings in Christ and I have the gospel in common , with some secondary areas of disagreement:

  • Creation — As an old-Earth Christian, I believe in creation from nothing by the triune God of the Bible. I don’t believe that the Bible requires a young Earth.
  • Corruption — I believe in a real Adam who committed a real sin that has ramifications for each one of us today. The extent of that corruption is not clearly outlined in the Bible. For example, the Bible nowhere ties animal death to Adam’s sin.
  • Catastrophe — Noah’s flood was certainly catastrophic for Noah’s contemporaries, and was universal from Noah’s point of view. But the Bible does not say that Noah’s flood created the bulk of the features of Earth’s crust, and the catastrophism of young-Earth creationism simply does not work as an explanation for Earth’s history.
  • Confusion — As with the initial creation and Noah’s flood, young-Earth creationists read much more into the account of the Tower of Babel than what the Bible itself teaches. The nations in the “table of nations” in Genesis 10 are probably all located in the Eastern Mediterranean and ancient Near East, which implies that the story of Babel in Genesis 11 isn’t about the origin of Australian Aborigines or African Zulus.
  • Christ — I am in complete agreement with the Creation Museum’s presentation. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” (John 1:1 NIV).
  • Cross — Again, I am in complete agreement with the Creation Museum’s presentation. Jesus Christ is God’s solution for the corruption of sin introduced in Genesis 3. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)
  • Consummation — Christ will come again as king over all creation. The effects of Adam’s sin will be completely undone.

If the YECs get the gospel right, why do I write against them? There are certainly thousands of people who claim they came to faith—or have had their faith strengthened—through young-Earth creationism, and I rejoice when people come to faith in Christ (Phil 1:18). But countless others have been turned away from Christianity because of the really bad science presented at places like the Creation Museum. Many of these are young people who grew up in the church on a steady diet of YEC teachings in Sunday school, youth groups, and Christian schools. Once they grew up and figured out that YEC does not work in the real world, they discarded their Christianity along with their AiG or Dr. Dino videos. After all, they had had “If the Earth is millions of years old, the Bible isn’t true” drilled into their heads by well-meaning YEC advocates.

In addition to driving youth out of the church, YEC teachings close the door for fruitful evangelism to many outside the church, adding fuel to the fire of those who find Christianity unreasonable. In a society that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, we should not be surprised that many find Christianity to be foolish. But let it be the foolishness of the cross (1 Cor 1:17-2:5) that drives people away from Christ, not the foolishness of bad YEC science.

Grace and Peace