Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In the Beginning: From the Very First Verse

In introducing another series, "Discussing Destiny," I explained that as a new believer in Jesus, I was not immediately aware of the debate that had been raging for years within the historic Christian faith between two understandings of God's sovereignty and man's "free will." As I grew in my faith, I discovered another debate stretching far back into the history of the Church, but which in recent centuries has increased in intensity.

Growing up in the American secular public school system I was taught as a matter of fact that the universe is billions of years old and spontaneously leapt into existence solely as the result of natural processes. I was told that humans and all other species evolved from a common ancestor over the course of millions of years through a random process undirected by any supernatural influence. And it was explained to me that the first living organism sprang from a "prebiotic soup" devoid of life as a natural consequence of chemical evolution.

As a new believer, it was obvious that the supernatural--the God of the Bible--had a hand in these processes. However, my years-long indoctrination in secular origins science still held sway when it came to my understanding of earth's history and the diversification of life. I continued to believe that the universe was billions of years old, and that life had evolved from a single original organism, and viewed the history depicted in the first chapters of Genesis--if I gave it any thought at all--as being allegorical in nature.

It wasn't long, however, before I discovered that this is not what many learned Christians throughout the past two thousand years have believed. In fact, most of the Church has historically taught that the universe was young, between 6,000 and 10,000 years young, based on the biblical record. Additionally, it has generally been understood that God created all kinds of life in the 6 days of creation described in the first chapter of Genesis. And to my surprise, many Christians today point to scientific evidence they argue supports these ideas.


Despite the historic understanding of the origin of the universe and of life held by the majority of the Church for the past two millennia, many Christians today believe differently. The Church today is divided. There are "creationists" who believe God created all forms of life from nothing, mostly as they exist today, and there are "theistic evolutionists" who believe that all species have evolved from a common ancestor, but that evolutionary theory is compatible with the Bible, God operating as the driving force behind it. There are "young-earth creationists" who hold to the traditional view that the universe is young, and there are "old-earth creationists" who believe the modern, secular scientific view that the universe is billions of years old is consistent with Scripture.

Those Christians who do not hold firmly to either position, out of a genuine desire to preserve unity amongst the Church ask, "Why does it matter?" Pointing to the divisiveness that often results from this debate, they might urge others to leave this matter behind, quoting Jesus' prayer for unity amongst His followers: "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me" (John 17:22-23). And questioning the relevance of this debate they might say, as one did recently to Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, "The gospel doesn't rise or fall on the days of creation." (Already Gone, Ken Ham & Britt Beemer, 2009, p. 81).


People who belong to the two sides of this debate answer this question differently. "Old-earth creationists" and "theistic evolutionists" may say that it matters because many in our modern culture create a false dichotomy between "science" and "faith," viewing them as being at odds with one another. Biblical faith, they say, teaches one thing about the age of the universe and of the origins of life, but "science" teaches another (nevermind the fallacy of reification they're committing when they put it this way).

Out of a desire to demonstrate the compatibility between faith and science, in an effort to draw unbelievers to Jesus, many Christians interpret the Bible as teaching an account of creation consistent with certain secular scientific ideas. At Reasons to Believe, for example, a ministry that teaches one "old earth" interpretation of Scripture, their stated purpose is as follows:

"Many people assume that science and faith are at odds with one another. The common response: we must either choose between them or keep them apart...It is our conviction that since the same God who 'authored' the universe also inspired the writings of the Bible, a consistent message will come through both channels. In other words, the facts of nature will never contradict the words of the Bible when both are properly interpreted. We want to help seekers of truth to find answers to those questions that bar them from entrusting their lives to Christ. And we want to help Christians find new joy and confidence in worshiping the Creator as they shed their fear of science."


On the other side of the debate, "young-earth creationists" say it matters because of its impact on one's view of the authority of Scripture. They agree that faith and science are compatible, that believers needn't fear science, and that unbelievers are wrong in viewing the Bible as being at odds with modern science. However, they believe that interpretations of the Genesis account which view the days of creation as long periods of time, and the creation of life as symbolic of evolution, result from reading fallen man's fallible interpretation of the evidence into the text of the Bible, thus making man and his methods more authoritative than Scripture.

Here's how Ken Ham and Britt Beemer put it in Already Gone, in which they analyze the trend of young people leaving the Church:

"'The gospel doesn't rise or fall on the days of creation...But does the gospel rise or fall on the authority of Scripture? And does the authority of Scripture rise or fall on the days of creation?'...when a person believes in millions of years (or Darwinian evolution), and then reinterprets the days of creation to be long periods of time, they are undermining the very authority from which they get the message of the gospel. They are undermining the authority of the Word of God by taking man's fallible ideas on the age of the earth and using those ideas to change the clear meaning of the Word of God. It is an authority issue." (Already Gone, p. 81)

What are the consequences of this usurping of authority? The authority of Scripture thus undermined, they argue, young people who leave the Church in their high school and college years and beyond were, essentially, "already gone" from an early age. Here's how Dr. Georgia Purdom put it her article at Answers in Genesis, "Science and Biblical Authority:"

"the research shows that many '20 somethings' have left the church because they question the truthfulness of the Bible, especially as it concerns the age of the earth. As children, they were typically taught Bible 'stories' in church. They were shown bathtub-shaped arks overflowing with colorful animals but no mention of fossils, rock layers, and animal kinds.

Curriculum publishers, Sunday school teachers, and parents failed to connect the Bible to the real world. So, these children learned that you go to school to learn about history and science, and you go to church to learn moral 'stories' and spiritual truths."


In John 3:12 Jesus said, "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?" Whichever side of this debate we fall on, we thus need to make sure that our beliefs are founded upon the authority of the God-breathed Bible. We certainly should expect that what we see in the physical universe lines up with what we see in the Bible. However, how we interpret the evidence drawn from scientific investigation should be recognized, since we are fallen man, as being fallible, whereas God and His Word are perfect.

This is particularly important for those of us (like me) who are parents, for our children are leaving the faith in droves as they get older, questioning the Bible's authority and trustworthiness. If our actions suggest we do not believe God when He tells us "earthly things," such as His account of creation, how can we expect our children to believe when we teach them of "heavenly things," like sin and salvation, hating fleshliness and loving righteousness? We can't.

Therefore, in this series we will look at what Scripture records in the book of Genesis, as it pertains to creation, the age of the universe and other issues. We will make it our effort to understand what it is that the Genesis account is communicating, comparing it with the rest of Scripture. And we will give it the place of authority it demands, interpreting what we see in the universe "through the lens" of the Bible. We will determine what God has told us "From the Very First Verse."

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