Christianity 201

November 9, 2011

The Front of the Book

If we’re honest, most of the tensions and debate within some Christian circles are concerned with issues arising out of the front of the book (Genesis) and the back of the book (Revelation).  Not that the 64 books in-between don’t also present their share of challenges; such is the nature of ‘seeing through a glass darkly;’ the last word, darkly, surprisingly accepted by my spell-checker.

When it comes to the front of the book, much ink has been spilled and much fellowship has been fractured by division between young earth creationists and old earth creationists.   Websites like Answers in Genesis and Answers in Creation present the two sides to the debate; while bookstore shelves can be confusing since all the books sit — generally alphabetically — in a single section called “Creation Science” or as a subset of the apologetics section.  If your church wants to have an evening or a weekend where this issue is presented, it’s entirely possible to book a speaker or ministry team and overlook checking which side of the discussion they subscribe to.

Old earth creationism also allows for the possibility of what’s called theistic evolution; or the idea that evolution was the means God used to bring us to the point where we find ourselves now, or what we could term ‘the age of man.’  My personal belief is that I can accept the idea that the ‘days’ of Genesis 1 are not necessarily literal, I can accept the idea that much of Genesis 1 and 2 are somewhat poetic in nature, trying to explain something so far beyond our understanding, just as words can’t describe the vision John experienced described at the back of the book.  I just think there are too many flaws — both scientific and theological — in evolutionary theory to go down that road.

But not all old earth creationists believe in theistic evolution, which makes for a bit of a divide within their community.

Still, the idea of a 6,000 year-old earth with an apparent age — the view I long subscribed to — is equally tenuous when you go out in the evening and look at stars, the light from which may have originated more than 6,000 years ago.

Does it matter?

I think that believers who are trying to understand the nature of God — to really know him — should be asking themselves questions on this issue from time to time.   It should neither be an obsession nor should it be a concern if we can’t fathom all the nuances of creation; but it should be somewhere on our radar.  In fact, I believe our idea who God is will actually shape our opinion on some of the facets of this kind of discussion.

Why mention this today?

I was reminded that this discussion rages on while stopping by Internet Monk, one of the longest running Christian blogs, and certainly a very Christianity 201-ish (or 301-ish) place for deeper discussion.   A recent item there looked at the responses of Peter Enns to an interview that Albert Mohler — a young-earth, six-day creationist — did on National Public Radio; responses by Enns which included this one and this one.

Enns writes:

I am writing, rather, for the sake of those who are living with the consequences of what Mohler says they must believe–those who feel trapped in Mohler’s either/or rhetoric, that to question a literal interpretation of Scripture concerning creation puts one on the path to apostasy.

I find the phrase ‘path to apostasy’ particularly intriguing.  Does a ‘liberalization’ of our view on this subject put other doctrinal understanding at risk?  Does it change our doctrine of man, our doctrine of the nature of God, and perhaps even affect our doctrine of salvation? Or does this issue stand apart from other theological implications.

3 Comments »

  1. I have absolutely no problem at all accepting the entirety of body of scripture from cover to cover as literal and accurate. You posited that you have embraced a sympathetic view of a version of theistic evolution. This to me is almost the invasion of religion by the respectability of political correctness. My take on that view is that to embrace that you would have to preclude a firm grasp on just how absolutely without limit God is in his capability to do anything he chooses to do, which may easily fall outside the scope of human understanding. If the human mind cannot fully grasp God, would it seriously be able to fully comprehend all his works.

    We know the length of time it takes light to travel from one corner of the universe to the other dictates that the universe is older than than 6000 years. When you read the scriptures, if you do not allow your mind to be prejudiced by opinions of others, the material just might speak for itself. Genesis doesn’t describe a 6000 year old earth, but the beginning of a now 6000 year old creation of carbon base life on earth. The earth was here long before God came on the scene in Genesis replenish this formless benighted planet. What’s characteristic of God’s mode of operation in the Genesis creation is that each created thing was created perfect. Why would he inconsistently create a world that was without form and void, given that he does not author confusion? The answer is that the earth was not so created but became that way as a result of some form of cataclysmic judgment. This is seen in the first verse: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (perfect), and the earth (became) became without form and empty.

    Jeremiah 4 uses the same language as that in Genesis to look back prophetically at such an judgment visited upon the earth that made it empty and formless. (Jeremiah 4:23—I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. 24 I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled , and all the hills moved lightly . 25 I beheld , and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled . 26 I beheld , and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the LORD, and by his fierce anger. 27 For thus hath the LORD said , The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end. )

    Genesis picks up in the aftermath of such an event; just how long after is anybody’s guess; could be millions, even billions of years later. What is crystal clear is that Adam was not the first man created, which easily goes to issues of artifacts of life on this planet which predates Adam. When you listen to the account of Genesis what is explicit is that God having created Adam and Eve instructed them to (RE-PLENISH) re-people…repopulate….re-stock an empty earth. You don’t restock what wasn’t stocked before; and you don’t re-people what wasn’t peopled before. I have no doubt God is quite capable of stating just what he means, and if he meant populate, well that is a simpler expression that repopulate; if he meant that he would have said just that.

    Now admittedly this that I’m going to say is a bit of a stretch. We know of Jesus’ first and eminent second coming. Why not allude to his eminent second coming as his eminent last coming which suggests more two commings. By extension the same logic applies to the first and the last Adams. Why call Jesus the Last Adam, not the second Adam which implies sequential limit of 2; to say the last Adam is to leave that sequence open to possibly a number greater than 2. The name Adam suggests something more than the function nomenclature labels; and speaks to a wider application as a concept man, where Adam and Christ are both called Adams. There may have been an Adam before Adam in Genesis, as much as Christ comes after him. in such a world, or worlds before him dinosaurs my well have had their day.

    Comment by newgenesisres — November 18, 2011 @ 1:58 am | Reply

    • I have some real problems getting through this comment when the second sentence says what it says, and I so clearly said,

      I just think there are too many flaws — both scientific and theological — in evolutionary theory to go down that road.

      I just don’t know how I could have said this clearer.

      I believe the discussion at Internet Monk is more focused on the people who feel they are ‘stuck’ on issues in Genesis to the point where it is affecting the balance of the Christian life; people who feel spiritually inadequate because they don’t buy their local church’s party line on the creation narrative. To me it is not unlike having a gay person at your church who has not fully come to terms with that issue, but feels forced to walk away from the church (or The Church) because they don’t fit in. I would rather see that person stay, unless their presence is so threatening or so damaging to the rest of the parishioners that worship together is impossible.

      I do like your sentence,

      Genesis doesn’t describe a 6000 year old earth, but the beginning of a now 6000 year old creation of carbon base life on earth.

      I’ve never seen it put quite that way before. If you ever want to explore that further in a guest post, I’d be more than happy to publish it.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — November 18, 2011 @ 9:07 am | Reply

  2. In response to your question, I would like to begin by saying that I feel there are two types of issues in the Bible: those absolutely necessary for salvation, and those not absolutely necessary. The issue of the creation debate is, in my opinion, one of the latter. Just because you don’t believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis doesn’t mean you’re going to hell. As such, I totally agree that this shouldn’t be an obsession, but neither should it be completely ignored. However, I would also have to say that no theological doctrine, whether necessary to salvation or not, stands by itself. Every issue has impacts on other issues of theology, and I believe this is where the greatest concern exists. I believe that by doubting the literal interpretation of Genesis, we open ourselves up to doubt in other areas of the Bible. Even more importantly is the reason for this doubt; Science. We have essentially allowed our viewpoint of Genesis to be altered by what many scientists claim is undeniable fact. but why should their interpretations of data, which are often inconsistent anyways, alter our view of the word of God? In short, I believe that this doctrine of a non-literal Genesis endangers the levels of faith that we place in the Bible. This is not to say we are guaranteed to fall away if we doubt a literal Genesis, but it has the potential in my opinion to be a weakening factor.

    As to the first post, the author is discussing something known as Gap-Theory. Essentially, Gap-Theory is the belief that billions of years passed either before Genesis 1:1 or between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, and that most of what we find in Earth’s geological history happened during this period. I’ve never heard the idea implicitly suggested that previous life was non-carbon based, and I don’t think there’s anything to actually support such an idea, but i will have to check. Regardless, that is not a belief that most Gap-Theorists hold, and on the whole, I feel the theory to be an incorrect attempt to synthesize the Bible and old-earth science. If you would like more information on this, I would be glad to contribute what I already know, as well as do some searching online and in the Bible to find out more.

    Comment by Cole — November 4, 2013 @ 9:58 pm | Reply


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