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?