Monthly Archives: May 2009

Young Earth/Old Earth, the debate rages on

As a preliminary statement, I would like to say that I think old vs. new earth is a fruitless debate that has sidetracked much of evangelicalism from other doctrines (like the infallibility of Scripture) that are far more important. In short, I don’t think there is enough data in the bible to make a conclusion one way or the other based on Biblical data alone. I don’t think the age of the earth is something the Bible was intended to answer and I think asking that question of it is an effort in futility at best.

That said, as one who leans more towards the old earth side of things I’ll appeal to the modified gap theory (held by many evangelical leaders and professors lest we think it is a “fringe movement” or something overly new) which does, in fact, hold to 7 literal 24 hour periods in Genesis 1:2 on. The “modified” moniker is there because there are usually some things people tack on to the original gap theory I’m not willing to follow, but I believe all of the main points in the wiki above, as well as the theopedia article are sound and help us avoid the following issues.
  1. If Genesis is supposed to be a detailed account of the creation (rather than recreation) of the world, where did the water come from we find the Spirit of God hovering over?
  2. As far as God making something look old; How do you get past the deception inherent in such a position?
  3. As far as science goes I’ll bring in a good quote from Galileo Galilei, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same Lord who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use. Why mistrust science when the age of the earth:
    1. is not directly addressed in Scripture and
    2. poses no threat to any major doctrine?

    There are at least two reliable sources that date the age of the earth past 10,000 years which is commonly held as the threshold of “young” earth proponents which are the redshift (specifically the cosmological redshift) and background radiation. Both of which measure the age of the universe in the billions of years.

  4. If the Earth is, indeed, young. And if it really matters that we believe that in order to “truly believe the Bible”, how come the Jews didn’t pass that down in their traditions? Why did we wait for Ussher, a Catholic bishop in the 16th century, to add up the genealogies and tell us that? Why did it never occur to anyone before the 16th century to date the age of the earth based on the genealogies in the Bible? Could it be that it just wasn’t that important?
To end with; I think this debate hurts us far more than it helps as it tends to be the number one thing atheists and non-Christians tend to go for which, if we follow their pied piper tune down this rabbit trail, has the potential to derail any gospel presentation as we fight to maintain a tertiary doctrine at best.
This issue also manages to divide us needlessly, as I often hear unhelpful and erroneous comments like “well, of you believe in the Bible you’d accept a young earth”, as if those of us who disagree somehow believe less or are nefariously looking for a way to smuggle in something like progressive creationalism or theistic evolution.
The truth is that this is an unsettled issue that, while it may be fun to debate and kick around in Christian circles, is not a core doctrine, not worth dividing us, and certainly not worth preaching to the world outside our walls about.

The Perspicuity (clairity) of Scripture

I recently had a chance to teach on Sunday night at a small Church my parents attend and, in trying to decide what to teach on, I remembered an ongoing conversation I’ve been having recently with my neighbor who happens to be Catholic on the nature of Scripture and it’s role in the life of the Church and individual believers.

We’ve discussed at length the authority and inerrancy of the scriptures, and if time permits I’ll post my notes on the subject, but our most recent exchange involved the clarity of Scripture for, as I found out, the roman Catholic position is that Scripture is inherently unintelligible to anyone outside the clergy (as ordained and authorized by Rome) and requires a “final” interpreter to settle disputes over questionable doctrines such as paedobaptism (baptizing infants) and the Real Presence.

In my research on Scripture, which included listening to several hours of lectures by Dr. Wayne Grudem (one of the translators for the ESV), I ran across the old reformation doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture which, in a nutshell, simply states that the Scriptures are written so that anyone can understand them. Not that they are necessarialy easy to understand, but that they are able to be understood by anyone so that special interpreters (such as a priest) and hidden meaning (such as numerology and “I feel this means”ism) are equally wrong.

Much ink has been spilled on this subject and I won’t attempt to present the argument here (the links above are more than adequate for the faithful searcher) but I wanted to point out some of the interesting implications I’ve noticed this doctrine has and, particularly, why we should pay attention to it today.

First of all, it is an old doctrine. I like the way John Calvin speaks about it in his Institutes:

The sublime mysteries of the kingdom of heaven have for the greater part been delivered with a contemptible meanness of words. Had they been adorned with a more splendid eloquence, the wicked might have cavilled, and alleged that this constituted all their force. But now, when an unpolished simplicity, almost bordering on rudeness, makes a deeper impression than the loftiest flights of oratory, what does it indicate if not that the Holy Scriptures are too mighty in the power of truth to need the rhetorician’s art?

Unpolished simplicity, I like that description of the only means we have to know who God is or what he requires of us.

Second of all, it undercuts any argument that Scripture is too hard, or that we are somehow not up to the task of, as Paul commands Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

If we fail to understand what Scripture is communicating it is only because we have neglected to study enough, not that the text is indecipherable to us as mere mortals and not because we are somehow less spiritual as some suppose. No, this doctrine clearly places the onus on our spiritual development upon our shoulders. Not that we do not require the holy Spirit to guide us into all truths according to John 16:13, but that we are able and therefore responsible for diligently studying the Word of God which fits many things we are told throughout Scripture such as the blessing we receive by meditating on the Law in Psalms 1.

Finally, this doctrine combats the subjectivism, sensationalism, gnosticism, feelingism, postmodernism, etc. However you want to define the Zeittgeist that has crept into the Church that detracts from the clear, singular, and objective meaning of Scripture. This includes not only the old-school Gnosticism that Irenaeus wrote (at length) against, but the popular notion of “God spoke to me and showed me _(insert whatever strange interpretation that fits your fancy here)_”. It also has the added benefit of combatting the silly notion that the most important thing is for us to find a way to make everything in the Bible apply to our lives. It also corrects the misguided notion that we need to make the Bible relevant to our lives, which presupposes it was ever irrelevant.

This is a dynamite doctrine, one I think could help the Church in America get back on track. It also goes to show that the reformers are still worth studying because they still have much to teach us.


Natural evil

The other night, while my wife and I were watching a movie (Silver Surfer) when two huge tree limbs fell in my neighbors yards only minutes after my neighbor walked her sister to her car.

Thankfully no one and nothing was hurt. The only damage is the work it’ll take to remove the tree limb, but it reminded me once again the effects of evil on even what we call the “natural” world around us.

Another reminder that even creation needs a savior.