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A Treacherous Path

In 2011 (yikes! that was 6 years ago) I wrote about how it is important to not get sidetracked on controversial topics. I was mainly concerned with the thinking that you have to be Calvinist, Arminian, pre-millennial, post-millennial, or fill-in-the-blank to be a Christian. Those who think in this way are led astray.

There is, however, only one correct answer to all of those debates (and in some cases neither side may have it!). As humans, we do our best to understand a particular theological topic, and hopefully if we are in error, we are not in error in such a way as to endanger our faith. Certain camps of thinking, unfortunately, walk a treacherous path, a path that leans out over the railings of truth to say “Look at what I can get away with believing!” Some are less interested in stretching the rules and are genuinely interested in finding the truth, but are nonetheless in danger of falling off the edge.

There is a particular issue on my mind. It is one which is possible to hold to as a Christian, but which leans out so far over the railing as to incur that tingling sensation which happens when one is high above the ground on an unstable ladder. It has to do with the creation of God’s world.

 

The Trouble In God’s World

Christians have debated much about this topic, both within the church and with those outside the church. The specific debate to which I am referring is the date of the creation of the world and how long it took. There are two primary camps in this discussion: those that hold to an old-earth view, believing that the earth was created over a long period of time, perhaps as long as the billions of years proposed by secular scientists (though not necessarily), and the young-earth view (most often those who believe that the creation of the earth occurred roughly 6,000 years ago during 6 literal days).

The trouble comes as a result of scientific evidence that seems to point to an old earth. Christians have sought to embrace this scientific evidence in the attempt to be true to both the bible and reason. Anyone who knows me is probably aware that I hold reason in high regard; it is the medium by which we are able to communicate and by which you are reading this article right now.

The danger with reason comes when it stretches beyond its Creator. We can study the universe and make good conclusions in doing so, but our studies and thinking depend on the fact that “things are” and “things are not”; it is the fabric of everything. That is why it is so powerful when God says, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). God tells Moses to let the Israelites know “I AM” has sent him. Moses’ message was to be validated by the One who….exists! And has always existed, and will always exist…and brought everything into existence.

Keep this in mind as we dive into the science around the creation event. The Great I AM, who just always exists, has done some incredible things and we are going to try to understand them.

 

What’s the Danger?

This blog post is an attempt to show that any view outside of a literal 6 day creation that occurred roughly 6,000 years ago (based on genealogical records in the Bible) is a dangerous path, as was described in the opening paragraphs.

There are three main options to choose from to resolve this apparent contradiction between the Bible and science:

  1. The word “day” in the Genesis 1 account is not a literal day.
  2. The entire Genesis 1 account is figurative / poetic, so whether it refers to a literal day or not doesn’t matter as the whole thing ought not to be taken as literal history.
  3. The science in support of an old earth is not trustworthy.

Let’s look at each in turn.

 

The Genesis 1 “Day”

The focal point of the argument for a non-literal day in Genesis centers on the fact that the Hebrew word yôm has multiple meanings. An example verse we can look at is Genesis 1:3-5:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

(ESV, Gen 1:3-5)

In his in-depth overview of the word yôm, Jim Stambaugh gives us these possible definitions:

i. a period of light in a day/night cycle;

ii. a period of 24 hours;

iii. a general or vague concept of time;

iv. a specific point of time; and

v. a period of a year.

Before jumping to the conclusion that this leaves the door wide open to allowing a non-literal 24-hour day, keep in mind Jim’s wise statement:

If one were to believe that the ‘days’ of creation lasted a long time, then he would have to prove his case from the context of Genesis 1, not simply citing the semantic range of yôm.

We need to look both at the context of Genesis 1 as well as the rest of the old testament to see how this word is used and to determine the proper definition for this occurrence. Doing so reveals that the use of “evening” and “morning” with yôm always refers to a literal 24 hour day in the rest of the Old Testament. This would make “a general or vague concept of time” an exception to the rule if we were to read it that way here.

Now, if we look at Genesis 2:4 we can find an occurrence of the word yôm without “evening” and “morning” which is indeed intended to be used to refer to more than a 24-hour day:

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, Gen 2:4)

Here the word yôm is used to refer to the entire creation week in summary, but the individual days are referred to as literal days throughout the creation process in chapter 1. Much more can be said about this discussion. I recommend reading the article cited above for more details (it’s not the easiest thing to go through but it’s well worth the info). In the end, the burden of proof is on those who would argue that this is an exception to what we find in the rest of the Old Testament.

 

A Different Hermeneutical Approach

I just wanted to make sure you are aware that everything I wrote up until this point is actually a love poem I wrote to my wife. And it has her in tears!

In all seriousness, I would raise an eyebrow if you told me this blog post is anything other than a logical argument for a particular viewpoint. Even if you don’t agree with it, you’ve made some very basic assumptions about what you’re looking at. This is because “things are” and “things are not” in this universe.

An attempt to reclassify Genesis 1 as poetry or figurative is perhaps the most dangerous path to take. If you want to hang on the possibility that yôm might mean a long period of time, ok. But don’t change common sense to make something fit, because no part of the Bible is safe then. There would be no reason why the gospels could not be read as poetic accounts to symbolize the love of God. You’ve probably heard it before: “Jesus wasn’t real, he was just an image pointing us to goodness and God”.

We have the ability in us to determine these things based on common-sense reading skills. One excellent example I’ve found in my studies (though I cannot remember the source) is of Exodus 14 and 15. Exodus 14 gives a narrative account of Israel escaping from the hands of Pharaoh through the sea, while the waters covered over Pharaoh’s army. Exodus 15 gives a poetic account of the same events. Even if chapter 15 didn’t begin with “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord” (NIV) and didn’t have indented lines in the print, we would read it as poetry and it would mean different things than the narrative account in the previous chapter.

Genesis 1 reads like the rest of Genesis: a historical narrative from the beginning of our universe to the time of Moses. It is very clear that the authorial intent is to give us information about what happened. This puts it distinctly out of the category of poetry as well as apocalyptic literature (which is intended to give a cloudy picture of what is yet to come). It’s all right there for us to read and believe.

There are other ways to determine whether the Genesis 1 account is narrative besides just reading it. The RATE team, a group of scientists that measured various rocks and minerals around the world in order to validate contemporary dating methods, also performed an in-depth analysis of the Old Testament. They found that certain tenses of verbs are more common in different kinds of literature in the Old Testament. With impressive accuracy, they came up with a formula for calculating the likelihood that a verse is narrative or poetry based on the verbs in the given passage. The Genesis 1 account was determined to be 99.99% likely to be narrative based on verb usage as compared to other passages in the Old Testament. This is just another reason why the burden of proof is on those who would decide to read the passage as poetry. This information comes from “Thousands Not Billions” by Donald DeYoung, a summary of the RATE group’s research.

 

What about Science?

Let me start off by saying that I am 100% behind science (true science). But I believe even science done by a Christian cannot probe very far into what happened in Genesis 1.

For example, it has been argued that the distance of the stars and the amount of time it takes for their light to reach us proves the universe is very old. But if we take into account the fact that just moments before the point when God began creating, the universe and all of its rules, patterns, temperatures, creatures, mountains, bodies of water, bodies of humans and all of their needs, desires, feelings, aspirations and longings were perhaps never before conceived of by any self-aware being out there other than God himself (and perhaps that there were no other beings to think of such things anyways!), it starts to seem silly that we expect God to follow a physical law he just created.

That’s why the faith of a child is necessary in order to understand Genesis 1. With the faith of a child, there’s no issue with the plants being created (and bearing fruit) on day 3 and the sun being created on day 4. Arguments like, “Well, plants couldn’t possibly grow in that short of time” or “The sun didn’t exist, so how could God tell what a ‘day’ was?” start to melt away.

There are other scientific arguments worthy of mentioning. Most notable are the arguments for an old earth based on radiometric dating of rocks and plant fossils. I recommend reading the above-mentioned book, “Thousands Not Billions”. The RATE group found evidence quite to the contrary of what secular science (and Christians) have been saying. Most interesting is the presence more often than not of carbon 14 in coal and diamond, in which case there should be no measurable carbon 14 if those elements are indeed as old as science claims. The first section of the book is particularly helpful in understanding how carbon dating actually points to a young earth. It shows that you have to assume that the world is really old before you can start achieving old readings with the carbon dating method.

But even if the RATE group had not done their work, what should the Christian do? Should the Christian leave the final word to secular science? It does not matter that there are Christian scientists who claim the same. What matters is what the Bible teaches. If you still disagree on this point, there are two things you need to realize:

  1. Because of the testimony of creation to the glory of God (Psalm 19), non-believing man, who is BENT against God, cannot effectively do historical science (at least as far as the creation of the universe and the earth are concerned). Ask yourself how a secular scientist could possibly arrive at a correct conclusion if the earth is indeed less than 10,000 years old? How can he possibly deal with the awe and glory of creation and the screaming obviousness that Someone made it? No. He must push it to the distant past to deal with it, there’s no way he can make it a recent event because Evolution (if it did exist) couldn’t possibly work that quickly. The idea that he could be objective about this is not even on the table and goes against what scripture teaches about the nature of man. This, by the way, is different than medical science and other fields of study where scientists are not forced to make an immediate decision about how things came to be.
  2. Even a believer cannot measure what happened in the creation week. As far as we know the laws of nature (as we like to call them) could have changed a thousand times during the creation week. This, along with the catastrophe of the flood (which probably transformed the earth), should not allow us to assume that we can possibly verify what took place. I guarantee that there are things that point to a creation event that occurred 6,000 years ago, but even so it is beyond science. Science is far better at doing things with the laws of our universe than it is at trying to figure out when or how things happened, which tends to cross the line between science and philosophy very quickly. Because of the power of God and the non-natural way things came about, I guarantee that this will result in situations where honest science is in fact contrary to scripture.

 

Conclusion

My hope is that anyone who is not reading the Genesis 1 account as what it is will think carefully about the danger of their path. I don’t know exactly what happened during that week, but God has graciously given us quite a detailed account of it. He could merely have said, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and left it at that. Rather, he let us know that it happened in six days and what happened on each day so we could A) have a reference for six days of work and one day of rest, B) see that no one could have done it except for God, and C) praise him for the glory and power through which he made our universe.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2017 in Philosophy, Theology

 

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Theology and Heresy

Image courtesy of FreeBibleIllustrations.com

Denominations, factions, different traditions; it seems that no one can agree on more than a few main doctrines, and even there each, to a certain degree, has his own viewpoint. What is the truth?

Don’t be discouraged by this. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in college, it’s that everyone, including myself, has flawed theology. It was only once I realized this that I was fully enabled to learn. Before that point, if there was an instructor whom I agreed with on almost everything, who said something that I had previously held to be false, then no matter what his argument was, I was inclined to accept his point of view. Likewise, if the instructor’s theology was very different than what I hold to, if he said something right I would still be inclined to reject it then and there, though often I would accept it outside of class. This was never vocalized, but waged war inside my head.

Now, however, learning is much easier and a lot more enjoyable. I look at things differently. I now see it the way Dr. Hauff sees it, which is in light of this proverb:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17, NIV)

If I am in class and I hear something I know is not correct simply because it is incorrect and not because I tend to disagree with the instructor on a regular basis (hopefully it’s not because of that), then I have to say to myself, “I just don’t think that’s right”. Sometimes, I speak up and say what I think the right view is, and this can reveal the flaw in either their argument or mine. Or we both may end up not having a clue who’s right (for issues like the doctrine of the Trinity, this is not uncommon). Either way, we help each other become aware of all sides.

But I have to go into it thinking that I might be wrong, or else I will learn nothing nor change any wrong view that I have. I try to make myself realize that my instructors, more likely than not, have a higher awareness of all sides, and therefore might possess information which I have no clue exists.

If it’s something I agree with, it strengthens my belief, and I say “Thanks for that!” If it’s something new, I say “WOW. Completely missed that. I’m going to chew on that one!” I must decide by reason and conviction, not by bias (to see my take on the role of reason in studying the Bible, click here).

I say all of this to make an encouraging point, which I discovered during my time at Bible college: just because there are so many different views, one should not be discouraged to seek the ultimate truth. A crucial barrier that must be removed in this process is bias, something I am still shedding to this day. There is only one answer, and the fact that Christians disagree should not lead us to the conclusion that we’ll never figure out what it is.

This leads to a question, though: when is the point when theology becomes so off that it is actually heretical? First, we need to define heresy. Whatever you think of Wikipedia, the definition there suits my purposes:

“Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma.”

Then of course we must ask, “What exactly is dogma?” Wikipedia again helps with that:

“Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or by extension by some other group or organization.”

Dogma should therefore be thought of as the central belief or set of beliefs in Christianity, and failure to hold to these beliefs means to be heretical. In the case of Christianity, being heretical means being outside the realm of belief which leads to salvation or denies a crucial attribute of the nature of God.*

In light of this, we need to establish just what these central beliefs are. Paul lays that out for us:

“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2, NIV)

In contrast:

“Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.” (1 John 2:22, NIV)

Take note of this second verse. Denying Jesus means denying the Father. One cannot claim to follow God. and deny Jesus. Even if one claims that Christ is the Messiah but that he is not God, he is essentially claiming that the Father is not God. This lines up with what Jesus says in the book of John, where he actually seems astonished that the idea that he is separate from the Father is being held:

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9, NIV)

Essentially what I am saying is that if you acknowledge that…

  • The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, the only God.
  • Jesus became human, while still remaining fully God.
  • Jesus died on the cross for our sins.
  • Jesus rose from the dead.
    (if I missed anything let me know!)

…then you probably are not a heretic (though some doctrine is heretical because, even if it does not deny any of the above explicitly, it comes too close). But there is a lot of theology and a lot of doctrine that does not prevent salvation or go against the core belief of Christianity. For example, you might as a Christian be either Egalitarian or Traditional, Pre-Millennial or Post-Millennial, Arminian or Calvinist; or you might believe in post-belief baptism or infant baptism, trichotomy or dichotomy, the rapture or no rapture…whatever conviction you have, try to lovingly defend it if you believe it is a warranted belief. But never in these cases threaten the opposite side by accusing them of heresy, or by stating that they are not saved, unless it truly is a crucial doctrine of the faith that they are undermining. It is, however, safe and fair to say that they are wrong if indeed they are wrong.

What’s the key to finding the truth? Read your Bible! Then discuss difficult theology with others.

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*I put a star on this point because what I stated there is based more on intuition than reason. It is difficult to define with precision what heresy is. The Church has traditionally called heretical that which denies the essential character of God and what he has done. This is why creeds were developed: to prevent heresies from becoming the norm. I find this definition to be a good one. The important thing to be aware of, however, is that some heresy, while being terribly off the mark, may not prevent salvation. For example, many Christians today, probably without realizing it, believe that the three persons of the Trinity are manifestations of only one person, who plays all three roles. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the view that each member of the Trinity is completely separate from the others in every way (in the same way that human beings are separate from each other), but that they simply have a relationship with each other, essentially making God into three separate gods. Do not assume that holders of such theology are not or cannot be saved; in fact, never worry about whether someone is saved. Just attempt to correct the false doctrine or heresies! It is not our place to determine their salvation.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in Theology

 

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