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

Anticipating the Creation Museum

I have the unexpected opportunity to visit the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky in a few days.

Positive Expectations

  • High quality — Skeptics and AiG fans alike acknowledge that the museum experience is at a high level. The displays and presentations are all professionally done. This isn’t a mom and pop roadside museum. The museum staff will be courteous and helpful.
  • Beautiful grounds — I am looking forward to a stroll through the gardens.
  • Commitment to the authority of the Scriptures — A committment that I share.
  • Clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus — We are all sinners deserving God’s wrath, but the good news is that Jesus died on the cross to take God’s wrath and rose from the dead.

Expectations of disagreement

  • Questionable Biblical interpretation — I don’t think “literal six days of creation only 6000 years ago” is the only way, and probably not the best way, to understand the text of Genesis 1-2.
  • Bad science — Lots of bad science, especially when it comes to historical geology. Bad science is bad apologetics that drives people away from the gospel.

A Geology Presentation

I hope to be able to sit in on this talk by Dr. Andrew Snelling, the Answers in Genesis staff geologist. It is one thing for a large, deep magma chamber to crystallize rapidly (by rapidly, I mean over a period of decades or centuries), it is another thing to fit the emplacement of a complex batholith into Earth’s crust (complete with multiple injections of magma) in just a few day’s time and then have it exhumed by uplift and erosion a very short time later so it can be eroded and incorporated into sediments of the same or next geologic period. The problems abound.

What will the museum staff think about my t-shirt?

Here’s my custom t-shirt for my day at the museum:

Some have warned me, “They won’t let you wear that.”

The museum “Attraction Rules” say, “We reserve the right to deny admission to or remove any person wearing attire that we consider inappropriate, or attire that could be considered offensive, disrespectful, or inappropriate to others.”

I have a hard time seeing them justifying banning my shirt for a direct quote from Charles Spurgeon, but it is their museum, and Spurgeon was, after all, a dangerous compromiser.

I’ll bring another shirt with me just in case.

Grace and Peace

Another old-Earth Christian scholar – Michael Horton

AmazingGraceMany highly-regarded, Bible-believing scholars, pastors, and other Christian leaders see no incompatibility between the teachings of the Bible and acceptance of an ancient Earth. In the past, I have highlighted J. Gresham Machen, Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, and others.  The scholars I just mentioned all adhere (or adhered, many of them are deceased) to a high view of Scripture, including inerrancy. It would be very difficult to make a case that they accept the Biblical possibility of an old Earth because of conformity to the world rather conformity to the teachings of Scripture.

Yet another old-Earth Christian scholar is Michael Horton, professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary California, editor of Modern Reformation magazine, and host of the White Horse Inn radio program. In the second chapter of Horton’s book Putting Amazing Back Into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Bible, Horton writes about the Biblical doctrine of creation and humans being created in the image of God. The chapter begins with the proper starting point for the Good News about redemption in Christ:

“Whenever we take up the subject of redemption, [Genesis 1:31] is where we need to begin, at the beginning, with creation. Very often, however, a gospel presentation starts with the fall—the origin of human sin and the need for redemption. But creation is the proper starting point for any consideration of human identity and its recovery through the gospel.”

A couple paragraphs later, Horton continues,

“It is only when we more fully appreciate the majesty of humanity as God’s creation that we can adequately weigh the horror of the fall.”

The Christian doctrines of creation and sin are foundational for understanding the good news (gospel) about Jesus. Humans are made in the image of God, so were created to be good in every way, but humans are also universally marred by sin which is an integral part of who each one of us is. In Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, Michael Horton is able to distinguish between what is essential in regards to the doctrine of creation (image of God, fall into sin) and what is not essential (age of the Earth). He writes,

Modern science has promised more than it can deliver. That accounts for much of the cynicism postmoderns seem to have toward the answers to their ultimate questions. To be sure, science is better equipped to answer some questions than any other field. For instance, it is science and not theology that will tell us the age of the earth. The Bible does not provide that kind of information, nor does it care to. There are a lot of important and reasonable questions the Bible does not try to answer. If it did, there would be a lot of unemployed geologists.

While science will lead the way toward the discovery of when we got here and will help us find the reasons for how we got here (beyond the revelation we already have in the inspired text of Genesis 1–3), there is a question to which of those other questions ultimately lead, a question, nevertheless, which science will never be able to answer any more than theology will be able to determine the age of the earth. That question is, “Why are we here?”

Many YEC leaders speak out of both sides of their mouths regarding the gospel and the age of the Earth. On their better days, YEC leaders acknowledge that one does not have to believe in a young Earth in order to be a Christian. But then they write a steady stream of articles accusing old-Earth Christians of compromise and even spiritual adultery. I am thankful for writers like Michael Horton who, unlike many of my YEC brothers and sisters in Christ, are able to stick to what is essential in the gospel message.

Grace and Peace