My friend Paul is hilarious.
He is the guy that can post a random status and instantly get close to 100 likes in the first hour. He is no celebrity, so in my eyes that is mighty impressive. He is the social butterfly with the charisma to attract a room. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love him. One of my favorite things that Paul does (and I promise I haven’t gotten sick of it yet) is when he says that everything is based on a true story. Last week a few of us were talking about going to see the opening show for Guardians of the Galaxy, and then Paul chimes in: “I hear that’s based on a true story.”
The joke is funny, because everyone knows the movie with talking raccoons, personified plants, and outer space awesomeness is anything but non-fiction. Everyone who hears the joke knows this, because they have a firm grasp not only of reality but also of movie genres. One can look at a movie preview and get a feel of where it is at in the spectrum of real and wonder. And even more so than that, people can even watch movies based on true stories and see where there is added drama to make the movie more entertaining – otherwise it would be a documentary. Understanding this doesn’t take away from the historicity of the event. Understanding this is to understand the purpose of the product – whether it is to inform, persuade, or entertain the viewer.
I think this is where the controversy lies with Michael Gungor and the comments he made about his view of the “literal” interpretation of the Old Testament – specifically in reference to Creation and a historical Adam and Eve. Many people read the bible as though it were meant to be historic by our standards, as though the earth can be dated through genealogies, and as though the text was INTENDED to be scientific. The people who hold these opinions strongly and don’t understand why others might think differently do so because they either don’t understand biblical genres or the purpose of biblical texts. I’m not saying that all people who claim to believe in a young earth do so out of ignorance. What I’m saying is that they are being ignorant if they think there isn’t a rational reason to think otherwise.
In Gungor’s response to the recent criticism, he even makes reference that at least some of the biblical authors believed the earth was flat and stood on pillars. Not every passage in the Bible is intended to be taken literally. Many prophecies and psalms and texts use imagery to convey truths in a way that is more engaging. Using anthropomorphic language to describe the attributes of God doesn’t mean that God actually has a physical form, but it is relating God to man in a way that he understands. Does this take away from the legitimacy of the text? No. Does this mean the text isn’t inspired? Not at all. What it does mean is that God’s intention wasn’t to be scientific, and then, like now, God speaks to people in ways that they understand. I don’t understand why Gungor is getting all this heat for telling people they shouldn’t be so quick to judge others. And I commend him for coming out and saying what he believed. I’m sure he knew there would be some backlash. He, like many silent evangelicals, knows that there is a price to sticking by your convictions – especially if you’re in the minority.
Being in the minority and standing by convictions never stopped others from holding the same beliefs that Gungor holds. St. Augustine of Hippo seemed in the middle in terms of the age of the earth. At least to him it wasn’t something that deemed someone a heretic. And there are other early church fathers who hold the same beliefs. There are even more credible people in recent years that hold to a similar belief as Gungor – one being CS Lewis. Lewis was very skeptical of the historicity of the Old Testament and believed that the Creation story wasn’t intended to be taken literally. He even ventured to say that other Old Testament passages such as Job, Esther, and possibly even Jonah were mythologies and stories of fiction. We don’t burn Lewis’ books. We don’t call him a heretic. Because Lewis was a writer, he looked at the Bible as literature and knew that different stories from different time periods of different genres were meant to be read different ways. And most importantly, Lewis’ view of the Old Testament didn’t affect his view of the New Testament. He believed that the Gospels were inspired, and he believed in the resurrection.
Even my own denomination, the Assemblies of God, doesn’t hold to a literal 6-Day young earth interpretation of the Creation account. I’m glad my denomination understands that this isn’t a hill to die on. Even in the past several years, the A/G has invited its members to conferences surrounding “faith and science.” The Assemblies used to hold firmly to a literal 6-Day Creation, but now they just have three truths they hold on to: 1) God is the Creator, 2) He created the universe ex nihilo, and 3) Humanity is the apex of creation. Whether or not one wants to believe God created the earth millions of years ago or several thousand years ago is only secondary to these three points.
If you look at the Creation account in Genesis compared to the creation accounts in other Ancient Near Eastern cultures, you’ll notice something – that they are VERY similar. Maybe the Creation account was meant as a response to other beliefs on the world’s formation. While some people believed that the universe was birthed from both good and evil, the bible says that God’s intention was for creation to be good from the get go. It wasn’t evil that had corrupted creation, it was man that corrupted creation by succumbing to evil. While other cultures worshiped the sun, God made light on day one but didn’t create the sun until day four – the sun ultimately points to the splendor of God and not the splendor of itself.
What ultimately points to the splendor of God? For Christians, I don’t think it matters whether God created the universe in six days or several billions years – the importance is that God is the Creator of it all. While the scientific naturalist is a slave to his theories in order to explain away a deity, Christians know that God is still miraculous whether that miracle is done in a short amount of time or a long amount of time. Jesus’ resurrection would’ve still been miraculous if Jesus resurrected on day two instead of day three. We don’t take away from the Bible or God’s miraculous power by believing in an old earth instead of a young earth. There is much more that I would like to say. This is one short article, but I know there are countless books written on this subject. Luckily for me, there are many people more qualified than me who have talked about this matter. I just wanted to write a short challenge to think outside the box. Where do you stand, and why do you stand there on the issue?
17 thoughts on “The Age of the Earth and the Age of the Argument”
Nailed it! This is exactly what I’ve been saying to my friends who discuss this issue with me…
There is so much more I wanted to say, but I figured this is the least I could say. I think it’s weird that most people I knew in bible college were old earth… or maybe that was just the crowd that I hung out with.
Great take on this recent controversy, and refreshing to see someone truly trying to explain and understand Gungor’s intentions and honest convictions. I say honest, because it is honestly what he believes, and he knew that when he made these statements, he would clearly become a target of everyone who thinks he is spouting heresy. I completely”get” where Gungor is coming from. What upsets me more is the response he has received. I saw one post on FB where the claws came out in full force and he was ripped to shreds, (by Christians of course). These people are quick to jump on anyone who does not check off all the boxes in what they believe Christianity really is. I would rather have my child visit a soup kitchen, than sit in a Sunday school class week after week learning about Noah’s Ark for the umpteenth time. I am not saying that Bible history and the Old Testament is not important, but it seems that most Christians today are, as I said before “box checkers”. Christianity = Conservatives for instance. You can’t possibly be Christian and have any liberal views. I am getting so tired of the judgmental attitude and the quick responses of condemnation instead of love and understanding. I guess Gungor is no longer considered a Christian in many peoples eyes, even though he still professes Jesus as Lord. Churches are even canceling his scheduled concerts. WOW…the story should be about them and not about the Musical group that drew thousands of people (mostly young) to the wonderful understanding knowledge of an amazing Savior. Sad.
I think understanding the bible and applying the bible go hand-in-hand. I love learning about the bible, because I feel like every new thing I learn is yet another reason to love God on my infinite list of, “reasons why He is worthy to be praised.” So as far as whether people should serve at a soup kitchen or learn about Noah, I say that kids should have their cake and eat it too.
I think the controversy with Gungor just stems from the American Christian culture’s mentality to rally around things. I’ve told others that this thing with Gungor is people’s distraction from everything happening in Gaza.
What I think is the strangest thing, and it is why I said that this issue isn’t a hill to die on, is that this wouldn’t be an issue to Christians who were in a land hostile to the Gospel. If I believed in young earth creation in a country that was hostile to the gospel, I wouldn’t turn away or chastise a brother of mine in Christ. I think in our comfort we sometimes forget what it means to love our brother.
Totally agree Bobby!
While I believe in a young earth I understand what you’re saying about people having good reason to not believe so. I understand the arguments for an older earth and I see why people hold that view. I don’t think they’re heretics or ignorant. But to flip it I feel that the majority believe in an old earth and you’re automatically ignorant if you believe in a young one. Having looked at both sides I believe there’s a great amount of reason to believe a younger earth and so I chose that.
I like that the AG says that mankind is the apex of creation because that is very important! But (rhetorical question) how do you keep mankind as the crown of creation when you’re dealing with billions of years of evolutionary history? I don’t believe in the evolutionary stages of humanity. I believe that Adam and Eve were created perfect and didn’t have to learn about tools or how to create fire. That they were actually stronger and smarter than we are now and humanity has been in a decline ever since the fall, which flies in the face of evolution.
For me, it’s not that someone is old earth or young earth it’s about are they picking and choosing what to believe out of the Bible and how does what they omit affect their faith, theology and eschatology? Your understanding of Genesis effects your understanding of Revelation (and much more). If Eden, Adam and Eve and fellowship they had with God wasn’t real, what is God restoring in Revelation? For me that’s the bigger issue. And once you start classifying huge chunks of Scripture as fairy tale what stops people from doing that to the rest? Just some of my thoughts 🙂 Thanks for the blog post!
I would say from the world’s standpoint, it might be true that the majority believe in an old earth and think it is foolish to believe in a young earth. I think in the Christian realm (in America from what I’ve experienced) that it isn’t the case. I think both sides are pretty strong on what they believe, and there are few that allow for wiggle room.
As far as answering those who are for evolution and how they can reconcile evolution and humanity being the crown of creation, I think they would say that humanity is the pinnacle of the created order – that they are the end of evolution (in a sense). They may even say that God took His time to create a being with whom He could give a soul.
And I would also say that there is no biblical evidence for you to say that Adam and Eve didn’t have to learn how to use tools or how to create fire. There is no biblical evidence that Adam and Eve were stronger or smarter than the rest of humanity. I’m not saying this with hostility – I just want you to know that everyone puts their own interpretation and worldview into a text. Also, it is highly contested that humanity is in a constant free fall since the Fall – especially through the lense of the gospel. If anything, I would say that the cross and resurrection are the reversal of the fall – Christ is the NEW Adam (Romans 5), and salvation is the assurance that we will one day stand in glorified bodies justified spiritually and physically before God.
And for me, I think to understand Genesis (and Revelation) one has to understand the time they were written and the genre with which they were written. If one only reads Revelation but has never read any other Jewish apocalyptic literature, they might understand some of the text, but they won’t understand the intention with which the text was written. I’m saying the same with Genesis and ancient mythologies.
I love debates and conversations on these topics, there’s just too much to say in comment feeds! We do go into the realm of speculation when thinking about what Adam and Eve were like so some of my opinions are just those. I believe various Scriptures inform those opinions but without a black and white verse saying “…and Adam and Eve were stronger and smarter than all the rest after them…” we’ll just save time and say yes, those are my opinions. My point being Adam and Eve were the first humans and weren’t some sort of ape-human hybrid.
On Christ being the new Adam – in fact Christ’s glorified body is what informs my opinion about what Adam was like and what our glorified bodies will be like as we’re also restored to what Adam was. (So much here.) I was just listening to a speaker the other day who spoke about how Christ represented what humanity should have been without the fall. It was really interesting, I’ll send the link if you want.
The cross and resurrection assures us of the reversal of the fall – the lifting of the curse – but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m wary to say that the cross reversed the curse now (Romans 8:20-24) and people will keep getting better until the return of Christ for fear of going into a form of postmillennialism and trying to usher in a Christian utopia on earth. Obviously we’re being regenerated through faith but its a process and we still have to deal with the effects of the curse now. Jesus said that many horrible things are just the beginning and that it will continue to get worse – like birth pains, becoming more severe and frequent (Matt 24:9).
BUT ALL this to say that many of these topics are gray areas and we shouldn’t judge a person’s relationship with or love for Jesus based on their ideas about them.
Great thoughts Bobby. Always challenged by your perspective.
Thanks, Jenel! I appreciate you reading it! Look forward to reading your next post. It’s been too long.
Thanks for your insight. I concur. I am surprised….I thought AG held a literal six 24 hrs-day creation?
Nope. They changed it I think four years ago. They just had another faith and science conference late this past June. I think at the conference most people hold to a “Day/Age” view – that each day is representative of an age in time, as the Hebrew word for “day” can also be translated as “age.” But they are not longer so strict. I think they might be a little more forceful in their belief of a historical Adam and Eve as it correlates with their doctrine of original sin and the Fall, but the two are unrelated.
Thank you for taking the time to read this!
My only concern with old earth theories as they relate to Christian theology is how to deal with death. Scripture clearly states that death is the result of sin and that sin started with Adam (or humans – different discussion for another time). This is a central pillar in Christian theology which has no clear place in any old earth theories. I have read feeble attempts to deal with this by saying that the death this refers to is “spiritual” death, not physically death. This might sound reasonable to some people, but it creates many more problems than it solves (if it solves any problems at all).
This sounds more like you’re referring more specifically to the historicity of a literal Adam and not necessarily old earth vs young earth. There are many people who hold to an old earth and still believe in a literal Adam and Eve. But with this post, I kind of lumped them together, so I can see why you worded your comment that way.
I think this problem can still be resolved. There are websites like biologos and others that have done a decent job trying to find the balance between our physical and spiritual death without jeopardizing the text. I think it might get muddy, but I think it is possible. No where in the text does it say the Fall was the birth of ALL death; it is just referring to human death specifically. But again, we just need to decide what the intention of the text was – what God and the author were trying to get across. I don’t have all the answers to every possible flaw. All points have them. But at the same time, that isn’t an excuse to ignore them.
Thanks for your comment, Ken! I appreciate you taking the time to read it and to respond!
Great Article Bobby! I think people who believe in a young earth rarely consider the presuppositions that lead them to think that the text must be a literal account of scripture. What methodology did they use to determine genre, purpose, context, audience, etc? I have yet to talk to someone who had a methodology or a process for answering those questions. Most glaze over the part where none of the Old Testament was written to “them”.
I haven’t met a young earth creationist who knows Hebrew, understands the history of the language, and the form of Hebrew in different genres. Granted those people almost certainly exist but I say all of this to point to how much more work a normal reader of the text needs to do before they are prepared to begin “really” understanding and interpreting the text.
Anyways, that’s not new information to you. What I do think is rarely talked about is that a non-literal account of creation doesn’t preclude a belief in a young earth. Although most young earth creationists would realize the basis for why they believe in that is a literal account and once that’s gone they have to re-think their entire perspective.
A few of my favorite books on this subject are:
The Lost World of Genesis 1 by Dr. John Walton
Understanding Genesis by Dr. Nahum Sarna
JPS Commentary of Genesis: Dr. Nahum Sarna
Creation or Evolution: Do We Have To Choose?: Dr. Denis Alexander
Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution by Dr. Denis O. Lamoureux
Love the article. Thanks for writing it.
As always, we see eye to eye. It’s like you are my brother from another mother. Excellent post. Well thought out and, as always, you said it better than I did.