PCA 2013 General Assembly — The YECs get their turn

In 2012, two old-Earth Christian geologists gave a presentation at the General Assembly (annual meeting) of the Presbyterian Church in America. Gregg Davidson is a professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, and Ken Wolgemuth is an oil industry consultant, and their presentation was entitled “The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?”

The PCA is a theologically conservative denomination, holding to biblical inerrancy, as well as conservative positions on a number of other issues. Like a majority of denominations that hold to biblical inerrancy, the PCA does not take a position on the age of the Earth. There are large numbers of scholars, pastors, and elders within the PCA who believe the Bible teaches a young Earth, and large numbers who believe the Bible does not require a young Earth.

In the 1990s, the PCA created a committee to address the issues surrounding origins, such as the age of the Earth and biological evolution. The committee released its Report of the Creation Study Committee in 2000. This is a fairly balanced document, outlining the biblical arguments in favor of young-Earth creationism alongside those for three old-Earth biblical interpretations.

However, some young-Earth creationists within the PCA were outraged that the denomination would include these old-Earth Christians at the General Assembly. There were those who were upset that any old-Earther would be give the floor in a General Assembly seminar, others who were angry because of perceived ties between the speakers and the theistic evolution (a.k.a. evolutionary creation) organization BioLogos, and others who merely asked why equal time was not given to young-Earthers.

I see that this year’s General Assembly has a YEC seminar, as well as a YEC exhibitor. Here’s the description for the YEC seminar:

Astronomy Reveals Creation
Seminar Speaker: Dr. Jason Lisle, Director of Research, Institute for Creation Research

Critics of the Bible have often attempted to use the methods of science to persuade others that the Bible is not trustworthy. We are told that the universe is a cosmic accident—a “big bang” followed by billions of years of evolutionary processes. However, these attempts to discredit biblical creation do not stand up to rational scrutiny. The science of astronomy confirms that the Bible is true. In this highly visual presentation, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle shows powerful scientific evidence that confirms that our universe is not an accident, but has been designed and created by God as the Bible teaches in Genesis. The Christian can be encouraged that the Word of God is absolutely trustworthy on all matters. This includes not only matters of theology and morality, but matters of science and history as well.

The Institute for Creation Research will have a booth in the exhibition hall.

It appears that there are no old-Earth seminars or exhibitors.

I pray for unity, clarity, faithfulness, love, grace, and peace within the denomination in regards to this sometimes divisive issue.

Grace and Peace

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NOTES

If my recollection is correct, one of the presenters was unable to be at last year’s seminar, though he had been scheduled.

Davidson and Wolgemuth are available as speakers for seminaries, Bible schools, and other organizations through Solid Rock Lectures.

I wrote about the 2012 General Assembly here: PCA General Assembly includes a seminar on the age of the Earth. Here are some quotes and comments I found at the time from blogs advocating YEC-only within the PCA:

“there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent.”

“the assault on biblical creationism will most assuredly destroy your denomination.”

“After reading the description of the anti-YEC Seminar, I was so rattled spiritually and emotionally that I could barely concentrate for the rest of the day.”

“I won’t be attending the actual Seminar. I don’t trust my ability to be gracious and to play well with others in that setting, not to mention to keep my head from exploding.”

“Can someone invite a YEC scientist, with credentials, to attend the seminar and raise objections to the so-called “evidence” that will be presented?”

Davidson and seven other PCA geologists have written an article entitled PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth which was published in Modern Reformation magazine in 2010. YEC geologist and PCA church member John Reed wrote a response which is posted on the Answers in Genesis website.

PCA General Assembly includes a seminar on the age of the Earth

One of the seminars at the Presbyterian Church of America’s 2012 General Assembly (their annual national meeting, held June 19-22 this year) is a presentation of the geological evidence for an old Earth, given by two geologists from Solid Rock Lectures. Here is the description from the General Assembly seminar brochure:

The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?
Seminar Speaker: Gregg Davidson, Professor of Geology, University of Mississippi; Ken Wolgemuth, Oil industry consultant

The Creation Study Committee reported their results in 2000 without establishing a firm position on the age of the earth. The report encouraged the PCA to consider what additional scientific understanding might develop in the future to assist in answering the question of age. This seminar will provide an update on the scientific evidence for an ancient earth using examples non-scientists can easily apprehend. Pastors and theologians are generally familiar with the biblical arguments surrounding questions of the age of the earth, but few have access to scientific data that they can understand. Most rely on information from young earth organizations that do not adequately or accurately reflect conventional scientific understanding. When information from these sources is passed on to students and congregations, Christ, as the author of truth, is poorly represented. More importantly, our members are inadequately prepared to wrestle with challenges to their faith when encountering the actual scientific evidence. Church leaders need to be aware of the evidence even if convinced it is wrong. The seminar will explicitly acknowledge the authority and preeminence of scripture over natural evidence, while also recognizing that God’s natural creation can sometimes aid in choosing between plausible biblical interpretations. Gregg Davidson is a member of Christ Presbyterian Church in Oxford, MS (PCA), a professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, and a member of a non-profit organization called Solid Rock Lectures that is devoted to proclaiming Christ and reconciling science and faith conflicts. Ken Wolgemuth is a member of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, OK (EPC), a PhD geologist working as a consultant in the oil industry, and also a member of Solid Rock Lectures.

The PCA is a theologically conservative denomination, firmly committed to the inerrancy of Scriptures. Within the PCA, there are both young-Earth creationists and adherents of an old Earth. The Old Testament faculty at the PCA’s Covenant Theological Seminary includes C. John Collins, who makes a very strong case that the Bible doesn’t set a date for creation in his excellent book Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary. Collins was the Old Testament Editor for the highly-regarded ESV Study Bible.

The PCA Creation Study Committee of 2000 could not come to a Biblical consensus regarding the age of the Earth, which is as it should be. There is enough ambiguity in the opening chapters of Genesis, that Biblically-speaking, one could go either way. The report did state, as indicated in the seminar description, that scientific evidence could be useful in determining which side is correct in this debate. One of the goals of this seminar seems to be to present the case that the scientific evidence weighs very heavily on the old-Earth side. Davidson was one of the co-authors of the article PCA Geologists on the Age of the Earth, which appeared in Modern Reformation magazine, and I suspect the speakers will make a similar geological case in their seminar.

Not surprisingly, there is opposition from the young-Earth side to the inclusion of an old-Earth perspective in the schedule. Some are concerned that only one side of the issue is being presented. In some settings this might be true, but there are a number of seminars listed in the brochure where there might be some disagreement over one issue or another, and the organizers have no obligation to include all viewpoints on all issues. I would be surprised if at next year’s General Assembly there were not a young-Earth counter-seminar to balance things out.

Others are concerned that old-Earthers are given any voice at all, especially old-Earthers who advocate evolution as well. It seems that some would prefer a young-Earth monopoly within the PCA.

The scientific evidence for an old Earth is overwhelming, contrary to the claims of the young-Earth creationists. Sea salt does not point to a young Earth. Volcanoes do not point to a young Earth. Dinosaur footprints do not point to a young Earth. Sedimentary rocks do not point to a young Earth. The Grand Canyon does not point to a young Earth. The RATE project does not provide convincing evidence for a young Earth. The young-Earth creationism movement has consistently presented poor arguments for their position, and it is important that the church has this opportunity to hear the old-Earth side.

I suspect, however, that the main thing most General Assembly attendees need to hear is not the geological evidence for an old Earth, but the case for the ambiguity of Scripture regarding the age of the Earth. The Bible does not teach a young Earth, and it doesn’t teach an old Earth; it is open-ended on the topic. This seminar on geological evidence will not convince anyone that the Earth is old if they have Biblical reasons for denying the evidence. Many YECs have only heard the Biblical case for a young Earth, have been taught that all old-Earth interpretations are merely compromises with the world, and that acceptance of them will only lead to theological liberalism or apostasy.

The young-Earth interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis is based on three pillars, none of which is explicitly taught in Scripture:

  1. The Bible requires a young-Earth — No it doesn’t. The Bible teaches that the Earth was created in six days. Much of the debate is about whether the word “day” (Hebrew: yom) requires six consecutive 24-hour days (the young-Earth viewpoint), or if it can be interpreted in Genesis in some other way. Yom is used figuratively at least once in Genesis 1-2. Genesis 2:4 states “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” (ESV)  “Day” in this passage refers to the entire creation week, not to a literal 24-hour day. If it can be used figuratively once, it might be used figuratively elsewhere in the passage. Collins develops a much more extensive case for the analogical use of yom in his commentary on Genesis 1-4 I referenced earlier.
  2. The Bible requires that there be no animal death before the fall of Adam — No it doesn’t. I’ve addressed this issue in my post Death before the fall — an old Earth Biblical perspective.
  3. The Bible requires a global flood — No it doesn’t. I written on this topic in The YEC “Did God really say?” tactic.

One can make a thoroughly Biblical case for an old Earth (or again, Biblical ambiguity about this secondary issue), without reference to geology, astronomy, or other historical sciences. Once people see this, they will be more open to what God has revealed in his creation regarding Earth’s history.

Given the potential for tension at this seminar, I hope and pray that there would be a spirit of grace upon all who speak and attend.

Grace and Peace

HT: Tim and Natural Historian

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Here are a couple YEC blog posts on the topic:

A Daughter of the Reformation — “there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent.”

Johannes Weslianus

The comments on the Johannes Weslianus (Wes White) blog give a good idea of the antagonism that can be stirred up by this issue:

“I wonder why the PCA would allow such a one-sided presentation.”

“Even in this brief announcement, the condescension is absolutely palpable.”

“I find it so disconcerting that the PCA GA would allow Biologos into its very presence. How is this not allowing the wolf into the sheepfold?”

“the assault on biblical creationism will most assuredly destroy your denomination.”

“After reading the description of the anti-YEC Seminar, I was so rattled spiritually and emotionally that I could barely concentrate for the rest of the day.”

“After calming down from last night, I decided to write to Michelle and I asked her to cancel this seminar (with reasons). Sad stuff.”

“I won’t be attending the actual Seminar. I don’t trust my ability to be gracious and to play well with others in that setting, not to mention to keep my head from exploding. “

“Can someone invite a YEC scientist, with credentials, to attend the seminar and raise objections to the so-called “evidence” that will be presented?”