Book Review: Beyond Creation Science (part 2)

BeyondCreationScienceIn part one of my book review of Beyond Creation Science by Timothy Martin and Jeffrey Vaughn, I stated that the authors succeeded admirably in one of their objectives, which was to present a Biblical case against young-Earth creationism, with its 6000-year old Earth and global flood. Their second, and perhaps primary, objective was to present a case for a position regarding eschatology (the doctrines regarding the future) known as “full preterism,” and though this was a key part of their argument against young-Earth creationism, I found their case to be far from convincing.

The basic idea of full preterism is that all of the “end times” prophecies of the Bible, including those in the Old Testament, the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25 and parallel passages in Mark and Luke), and in the book of Revelation, were fulfilled in the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem. In other words, Jesus has already returned and the resurrection has already happened.

I had not previously read any books on full preterism, though I had been exposed to the concept in conversations with a friend. As I read through Beyond Creation Science, however, I saw a number of problems:

  • The basic problem, of course, is that Jesus has not returned. Not in the way that is described in Acts 1:11, which says: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (ESV). The apostles saw Jesus physically ascend to heaven, and we should expect his return to be in the same manner. Martin and Vaughn have a 9-page Scripture index with hundreds of references, but don’t refer to this verse.
  • The full preterists describe Jesus’ second coming as a spiritual, rather than a physical, bodily return. According to full preterism, there were physical events associated with his return, but no Jesus descending bodily from heaven. This isn’t a whole lot different than the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ 1914 return of Jesus, other than the timing.
  • Those who hold to the various futurist eschatologies (e.g. premillenialism or postmillenialism) acknowledge that much of what occurs in the Olivet Discourse  is at least partially fulfilled by the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem, but view this event as a figure of the universal judgment to come. The full preterist position, on the other hand, seems to ignore the possibility of multiple-fulfillment of prophecy. Many Old Testament prophesies about Christ were fulfilled in multiple ways over the centuries. Often there was an immediate fulfilment, and then a complete fulfilment in Christ. Likewise, there is no reason to say that much of what is written in the Olivet Discourse had an immediate fulfilment in the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem, but that there will be an ultimate fulfilment of these prophesies in the future when Christ returns.
  • Most Biblical scholars place the writing of Revelation in the mid-90s, which was after the destruction of Jerusalem. This is based on the testimonies of early church fathers, not long after the apostolic age.
  • Christ’s work for our salvation was complete with his death and resurrection. It did not need the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in order to be complete.
  • The early church did not teach that Christ had already returned. Full preterism is in conflict with the ancient creeds of the church, such as the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds.

Most Evangelical theologians consider full preterism to be less than orthodox. The ESV Study Bible describes preterism (including partial preterism, which is within the historic, orthodox understanding of Christ’s return) as follows:

3. Preterism (from Latin praeteritum, “the thing that is past”) thinks that the fulfillment of most of Revelation’s visions already occurred in the distant past, during the early years of the Christian church. Preterists think these events—either the destruction of Jerusalem or the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, or both—would “soon take place” only from the standpoint of John and the churches of Asia. Some preterists interpret the order of the visions as reflecting the chronological succession of the events they signify, but others recognize the presence of recapitulation (that is, that distinct, successive visions sometimes symbolize the same historical events or forces from complementary perspectives; see Structure and Outline). Full preterism—which insists that every prophecy and promise in the NT was fulfilled by a.d. 70—is not a legitimate evangelical option, for it denies Jesus’ future bodily return, denies the physical resurrection of believers at the end of history, and denies the physical renewal/re-creation of the present heavens and earth (or their replacement by a “new heaven and earth”). However, preterists who (rightly) insist that these events are still future are called “partial preterists.” (p. 2457, Introduction to Revelation, emphasis added)

The authors focus their critiques on dispenational premillenialism, which in in its popular form (Hal Lindsay, The Left Behind series) has often been guilty of wild speculation and date-setting. Perhaps full preterism is an overreaction to nonsense such as 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 88.

While the book made a good case against young-Earth creationism, I was completely unconvinced by the authors’ arguments regarding eschatology. I will stick with the Nicene Creed, which is a summary of what the church has always taught regarding the return of Christ:

On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

Grace and Peace

P.S. Or perhaps author Timothy Martin thinks Christ has already returned because he lives in Montana. Lucky guy.

Book Review: Beyond Creation Science (part 1)

BeyondCreationScienceTwo popular topics among Evangelical Christians for the past several decades have been origins—especially young-Earth creationism—and dispensational end-times eschatology (eschatology is the doctrine of the last things, including the return of Christ and the final judgment). Young-earth creationism has certainly been the prevailing dogma in Evangelical Christian education and in many churches and Christian colleges. Go to a Christian home school convention or book fair, and books presenting any kind of old-Earth perspective will be difficult or impossible to find. At the popular level, books on the end times, such as Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth and Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind series, have been mega best sellers. Many look at these two viewpoints as grounded in Scripture, and as firm evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible. Other Christians look at them as questionable, harmful, or at times downright goofy.

The premise of Beyond Creation Science (subtitle: New Covenant Creation from Genesis to Revelation) by Timothy Martin and Jeffrey Vaughn is that Evangelical Christians are wrong about both ends of the Bible. They do an excellent job of laying out a Biblical case against young-Earth creationism, with its 6000-year old Earth and global flood. People who only read materials from the young-Earth organizations, such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research, are generally quite unaware that there is a vast amount of conservative, Evangelical Biblical scholarship that shows that the Bible requires neither a young-Earth nor a global flood, and Martin and Vaughn do a good job of presenting this case.

I’ll give my thoughts on Martin and Vaughn’s full preterist eschatology in part 2 of this book review.

I have many positive things to say about the authors’ Biblical analysis of young-Earth creationism. They point out that modern geology, with its view of billions of years of Earth history, was not devised as an attack on the Bible or Christianity. Few Christians voiced opposition to an ancient Earth while the concept was being developed in the 1700s and 1800s, and many of the most eminent geologists of that time were themselves Christians.

The authors of Beyond Creation Science tackle the “three pillars” of young-Earth creationism:

  • A 6000-year old Earth
  • A global flood
  • No animal death before the fall

For the sake of brevity, I won’t look at each of these, but will focus on the strong Biblical case they make for the flood being local, rather being global.

Those who only read material from the young-Earth organizations think that a global flood is a given in Scriptures, not being aware that there are a multitude of Biblical arguments for a local flood somewhere in the area around Mesopotamia. The authors believe Noah’s flood was restricted to the descendants of Seth, rather than killing all of humanity. Not all old-Earth creationists would agree with this position; Hugh Ross for example teaches that the flood was geographically limited but humanly universal. Martin and Vaughn write:

If the subject of the account is planet Earth, then does this text [Gen 8:13-14] not teach that the oceans dried up at the end of the flood? Did the entire globe become dry? The plain statement of the text makes much more sense if it refers to a particular local place or “the land” where Noah lived.

If we use our imaginations to visualize the events of a global flood, many logical problems would come to mind. These are some of the most obvious:

  1. If the Genesis flood created the geologic column and radically reshaped the topography of the earth, why do we still have the same rivers in Mesopotamia that Genesis references? The Tigris and Euphrates have been known by those names since millennia before Christ. Would not a global flood, which lays down thousands of feet of strata around the world, obliterate those rivers we see referenced earlier in Genesis?
  2. Why would the ark land in the same part of the world after drifting on a worldwide ocean for many months? Noah appeared to find his world familiar after he landed. He certainly knew how to grow grapes after the flood. A local flood explains why the ark landed in the same part of the world Noah originally lived, i.e., somewhere in the Middle East.
  3. How could one flood event sort out unique fossils to specific layers of strata? A worldwide flood which created the fossil record all at once would leave a chaotic mix of fossils throughout the entire geological column. Outside of a few geological “hotspots,” geologists find specific fossils in each layer of strata. Would one chaotic flood event place fossils neatly in order?
  4. How could Noah fit all the species of animals from around the world into such a limited ark? Realize that he would also have to take the specific foods unique to each animal in amounts that would have to last the entire voyage. The hay required to feed one pair of elephants would have filled the entire ark. Noah would also have to take water for after the rain stopped, at least. He could not use the waters of the flood for drinking because it would be contaminated and briny. Consider what the water would be like with all of the violent churning/eroding action and death flood geologists maintain took place during the flood. [I’m not sure the authors are correct on the hay and elephants statement. And having adequate drinking water would have been a problem only after it stopped raining.]
  5. If the fossil record is a result of the flood, then it means that the number of animals alive in Noah’s day were vastly more than today. Noah was commanded to take a pair of every animal on board, which means a pair of all the animals documented in the fossil record (which are now extinct) on top of all the animals we are familiar with today! They would need food water for these as well, dinosaurs and all.
  6. This logically means that most of the species of animals that God originally created and Noah put on the ark went extinct after the flood. There is a tremendous amount of life documented in the fossil record which is not alive today. More than 95% of the animals that have lived on earth are now extinct. Why would God order Noah to preserve all the animals by bringing them on to the ark and then cause their extinction shortly after the flood? For example, did Noah take dinosaurs (whether eggs or mature) onto the ark only to have them all go extinct? If so, then the explicit reason given for the ark was almost a complete failure. Only a tiny percentage of the animals really survived. No wonder Noah took up drinking!

As others have done, Martin and Vaughn point out that if one translates the Hebrew word erets as “land” rather than “earth” in Genesis, the flood account takes on a completely different feel. For example, Genesis 7:17 would read

“For forty days the flood kept coming on the land, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the land. The waters rose and increased greatly on the land, and the ark floated on the surface of the water.”

This translation is every bit as legitimate as translating erets as “earth,” and presents the flood as a local, rather than global event.

The authors focus on Biblical rather than scientific arguments for an old Earth and local flood, but when they discuss geological concepts they get their facts right, something that is not done even by some other advocates of an old Earth.

I’m not as impressed by their eschatology, which I’ll take a look at in part 2.

The book’s website is: Beyond Creation Science. One of the authors graciously sent me a copy of the book for review.

Grace and Peace

P.S. Part two of my book review is a critique of the authors’ position on eschatology known as full preterism, which is a deviation from what the church has always taught regarding the return of Christ.

Reading — July 2009

I didn’t get as much reading done in July as I would have liked, but here’s the one book I did finish:

  • The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller. The chapters address:
    • The idea that there cannot be only one true religion
    • The problem of evil — how can a good God allow suffering?
    • The proposition that Christianity makes one narrow and restricts one’s freedom
    • The accusation that Christianity is the source of many injustices
    • Hell
    • Science and Christianity (I have a quote from the author here)
    • The historical reliability of the Bible
    • The clues of God
    • Moral obligation
    • Sin and its consequences
    • Grace
    • The cross
    • The resurrection
    • The Trinity

I highly recommend this book for skeptics and doubters, as well as for Christians who want to add some tools to their apologetics toolbox.

Here are some additional books I worked on in July:

  • The History of the Ancient World, by Susan Wise Bauer. I’ve been plugging away at this for several months now.
  • Beyond Creation Science, by Timothy Martin and Jeffery Vaughn. This book is as much an argument for strong full preterism (the idea that Jesus already came back in 70 AD) as it is for old-Earth creationism. The authors do seem to be making a good case that the Bible doesn’t teach a young Earth or global flood, with some insights I hadn’t seen before. So far, this book is strengthening both my old-Earth creationism and my Premillenialism. So I guess the authors are being half successful.

Grace and Peace