Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finding Truth

In the last post, I claimed that there is value in Christians seeking to know the truth about the age of creation. In particular, I suggested that those who would be teachers (or pastors, evangelists, or apologists) ought to teach only that which they know to be true. So the question comes up, how do we know how old the universe and Earth are?

Let me first frame my answer in very general terms, not having in mind the age of creation but any question about which there are two dissenting views. In such a case, and before one is qualified to teach on the subject, one ought to...

1) Study as much of the relevant evidence as is necessary to have a full grasp of every facet of the issue.

2) Read widely on both sides of the issue, not just proponents of the view to which you are already inclined.

3) Where you remain dependent on the arguments of others, ascertain the qualifications of those sources to weigh in on the issues.

4) Examine the arguments made by proponents of both views (for validity, truth of premises, cogency).

5) Interact with the strongest (not the weakest) arguments of each side, particularly of the view with which you disagree.

6) Never mischaracterize the view of either side, particularly the one with which you disagree.

7) Treat those with whom you end up disagreeing with the utmost respect.

These steps are easily understood, and amount to nothing more than common sense. Basic courtesy, let alone Christian charity, would seem to dictate that we follow them.

And so, if either you or the friend with whom you disagree cannot honestly say that you have followed each of these steps, then a level of uncertainty and humility should characterize whatever discussions you have, and those discussions should definitely remain intramural. That is, neither of you should teach on such an issue until you can say that you have done the necessary research.

All that said, there's an even more basic issue that may need to be settled regarding the specific issue of the age of the creation. The steps discussed above apply to any case where there are different views or interpretations. Among Christians, such disagreements often (as in the age issue) involve differing interpretations of Scripture. But on this particular issue, it is common for proponents of the young-earth interpretation to pretend as though they are defending Scripture itself, rather than an interpretation of Scripture.

If (and now I'm speaking directly to the reader who posed this question) your friend cannot first acknowledge that his view is an interpretation (if , instead, he believes it is "what God's Word says"), then I submit that you will never help him to reach truth on this issue.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Value of Discussing the Age Issue

A reader asked
A friend of mine (who is a follower of Christ) and I have been debating the old earth vs young earth positions. He holds to a young earth and I hold to an old earth (and universe). Neither of us are experts or even scientifically minded. In our debates we find ourselves simply pulling out arguments from others in our respective camps. We have agreed that this issue is NOT a salvation issue.

Do you think there is any value in these types of discussions?

Sometimes it feels like we are dealing with a 'recess' issue and we should get to work strategizing and carrying out how we can better serve those in need and share our faith. On these issues we agree.
Here's my response...

You're absolutely right, it is not a salvation issue. That is, God redeems people through Christ's atoning death on the Cross when they recognize their need of a Savior and accept God's provision of forgiveness. Nothing in there depends upon how old the universe is, much less on how old the sinner in question believes it to be. Many will enter eternity with misunderstandings about the age question (and about a whole lot of other tangential issues).

That said, let me give a few reasons why there is value in mature, teachable Christians discussing (examining) the issue of when God created the universe and Earth. (I'll make the points without taking the time to support each. That will allow the reader to question the validity of each and may allow me to post support for each as necessary.)

1) Scripture makes it clear that God cares a good deal about truth.

2) The two opposing views on the age of the universe (6-10 thousand years or 13.7 billion years) cannot both be true. There is a right answer.

3) Christian theology deals not only with God, but also with the world. Christianity claims to be the accurate understanding of the real world, the one in which we actually live.

4) Although acceptance of the central truth claim of Christianity does not depend upon rightly understanding the age of the world, proclaiming (as Christian belief) falsehood about the age of creation can create an artificial barrier to even considering the central Christian claim.

Taken together, these points suggest that those Christians who would answer the call (of II Cor. 5:18-21) to be ambassadors for God--and that would include, at a minimum, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and apologists--should seek to know the truth about the age of creation. And here, Scripture itself offers a very relevant caution...
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)
Of course, those who are called by God to teach--whether as preacher, evangelist, teacher, or apologist--should be all the more careful to teach only truth. And that realization raises the question, "how does one go about discovering truth about the age of the universe and Earth?"

Let's look at that question in the next post.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Knowledge of the Age of Creation

In the last post, I discussed biblicism among pastors in the church today. If you read the footnote, I shared that my pastor was an exception, a throwback to the days when pastors were not just knowledgeable about Scripture but also about philosophy, history, literature, and science.

In the video below, my pastor (Ken Wytsma at Antioch) answers a question, which itself involved an undertone of biblicism (and that with regard to a question near to my apologetic heart, the age of creation). Check it out!

Can we come at Truth on questions like the age of the earth? from :redux on Vimeo.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Biblicism, a Reprise

In the last post, I discussed the fact that biblicism--the claim that the Bible is the only reliable source of knowledge--is unbiblical, naive, and self-refuting (and thus illogical). And yet, the church in our day is filled with pastors and teachers who espouse this bizarre idea. Why?

Not all that long ago (say, 150 years), the pastor of the local church was often the best- and most widely-educated individual in the community. By this I mean not just the most knowledgeable about Scripture but also about history, great literature, philosophy, and the latest advances in science. Since that time, there has been an explosion of knowledge (especially in the sciences), and staying on the cutting edge in any discipline requires specializing. No modern pastor can be expected to be so versatile.

And yet, pastors are still looked up to by entire congregations as spiritual leaders and keepers of truth. In such a fix, the wise and humble servant of God would surround himself with committed Christian historians, philosophers, and scientists, counselors who could help him be "all things to all people." But how much easier it is to promote biblicism, to claim that one's own Bible knowledge trumps all these other sources of knowledge, that these others are, in fact, illegitimate ways to discover truth.

Now, I hope that sounds a bit silly to you, but that's what's been going on within many churches for the past 60 years or so. And I'm not saying that pastors are all self-important men giddy on the high esteem accorded them by their congregations and determined at all costs to keep that regard. Rather, in most cases they are simply a product of systems that we* have helped to create. We select our pastors from Bible schools and seminaries at some of which there is no learning offered apart from Bible, interpretation, and preaching methodology. Indeed, it is the church that has created such institutions, so fearful have we become of 'secular' knowledge or so unwilling to do the hard study necessary for responding to the challenges raised by secularists or by scientific materialists.

(Relevant to this discussion is the following fact... When Ronald Reagan was elected President, he asked advisers and Christian leaders for the names of Evangelical men and women who were top thinkers in the various fields of human endeavor, Christians that he could appoint to his cabinet. Only one man was deemed to fit that description, C. Everett Coop, who became Surgeon General.)

I'm not saying that Christian colleges are bad, but I will always strongly favor their offering a more well-rounded education than many do today. And I don't have a practical solution to the problem of biblicism among pastors and in the church. But I do know that biblicism does not serve the church well or further the Kingdom of God.

The Christian message, the biblical message, is one of hope for all people that applies to the real world in which we live. There is no knowledge--from science, history, philosophy, or any other discipline--that threatens the truth of Christianity. But attempting to insulate certain interpretations of Scripture by rejecting other valid sources of knowledge serves only to portray the gospel message as outdated and irrelevant.

*I'm using 'we' here simply as a way of identifying myself with the reader for empathy's sake. In actual fact, my own senior pastor is a throwback in this regard, having acquired a graduate degree in philosophy before his graduate degree in theology. He's as well-read as anyone I know, and an ardent student of history. Moreover, in areas in which he might feel a bit weak or unprepared, he is willing to seek wise counsel from individuals more knowledgeable than himself. I don't know how to ensure that church leadership is like this, but I'm sure that the solution includes not settling for biblicists who lack the humility and wisdom to surround themselves with competent, committed Christians who can provide the knowledge sets they themselves lack.