Evangelicals and the creation accounts; 3 diverse views

One of the infuriating things about the social media is being trolled. One especially silly and rude troll, knowing I am a minister with a geology degree, keeps asking me how old I think the earth is. He hasn’t got the sense to realise that I accept geological findings of 4.6  billion years.

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Part of the problem is the high profile nature of Creationists like Ken Ham

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of Answers in Genesis. This is seen in a rather bigotted comment from AIG, saying Francis Collins “professes to be a Christian” implying he may not be.

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“Francis Collins is a well-known scientist WHO PROFESSES TO BE A CHRISTIAN. He also believes in molecules-to-man evolution, the big bang, millions of years, and common ancestry, and he rejects young earth creation, Noah’s Flood, and has been critical of intelligent design. He fully embraces evolution and argues that the evidence for molecules-to-man evolution is compelling—even though we cannot observe or repeat evolution!

Ken Ham IS A BIBLE-BELIEVING CHRISTIAN who believes God created all things by the power of his word in six days. He rejects molecules-to-man evolution, the big bang, millions of years, and common ancestry. He believes in young earth creation, Noah’s Flood, and Adam and Eve. He rejects evolution in favor of a biblical creation view.”

Here I discuss three evangelical theologians from the 1990s and 2000s on Genesis and science. Kelly is just plain wrong and Blocher and Lucas have much to offer.

 

THREE REPRESENTATIVE EVANGELICAL THEOLOGIANS;
KELLY, BLOCHER, AND LUCAS
I have chosen these three as their work is at a serious lay level. The three
are well-regarded theologians in America, France, and Britain. They also
indicate the range of scientific understanding by evangelicals; Kelly is a
convinced YEC and also argues that YEC is correct and reflects a changing
paradigm of science. Lucas, a scientist-theologian, accepts evolution,
though he flirted with YEC over thirty years ago. Blocher firmly rejects
YEC but is hesitant about evolution.
Ernest Lucas graduated in chemistry from Oxford and obtained first a
Ph.D. in chemistry fromthe University of North Carolina and then a Ph.D.
in biblical studies. Henri Blocher, a French protestant, was appointed to
the Gunther H. Knoedler Chair of Theology at Wheaton College in 2003.
Since 1965 he had been Professor of Systematic Theology at the Facult´e
Libre de Theologie Evangelique in Vaux-sur-Seine. He was educated at
the Sorbonne, London Bible College, Gordon Divinity School, and Facult´e
Libre de Theologie Protestante of Paris and has written many theological
books, including In the Beginning, Evil and the Cross and Original Sin. Douglas
Kelly originally studied in the States and earned a Ph.D. in systematic
theology in Edinburgh under T. F. Torrance.
The subtitle of Kelly’s book Genesis 1.1–2.4 in the light of changing scientific
paradigms (Kelly, 1997) makes his thesis clear. Kelly adopts Kuhn’s
paradigm shifts in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and argues
that as a paradigm shift, that is the success of YEC, has occurred in science,
there needs to be a related paradigm shift in theology away from
previously-held old earth interpretations of scripture. After putting forward his
arguments for accepting YEC and a literal hermeneutic of Genesis,
he concluded, “There is only one way for massive intellectual, moral and
cultural healing to occur, and it entails a revolutionary ‘paradigm shift’
from mythological evolution to a Scripturally revealed and scientifically
realistic paradigm of special, divine creation” (Kelly, 1997, p. 245). His
arguments on science reflect conventional YEC understandings of science,
but his theological arguments need considering.
Douglas Kelly
Kelly begins with a chapter entitled Creation: Why it Matters, which is
strongly based on the Scottish theologian Tom Torrance and standard
writers on the history of science and Christianity—Hooykaas, Jaki, etc.
though none doubts the “evolutionary paradigm.” However he doesmove
on to the challenge to evolution posed by Johnson and Behe and concludes
the chapter by saying “God provides us with such information in the first
three chapters of Genesis . . . from the One was the eye-witness . . . ” (Kelly,
1997, p. 30). It is difficult not to conclude that Kelly, like many YECs, draws
his science from the Bible. I find it amazing that T F Torrance was Kelly’s Ph D supervisor, as Blocher, Lucas and I take a similar line to Torrance.
The center part of the book are discussions of the various days of creation.
Kelly argues against those who reject a 24-hour day for yom (Heb
day), and questions all alternative interpretative schemes whether “Gap
Theory,” Day-age or Framework. His weakest argument is to claim that
there are fifty-seven references to Genesis 1–11 in the New Testament and
that “[I]n none of these references . . . is there the slightest indication of
anything other than the literal, chronological understanding of the six
days of creation . . . ” (Kelly, 1997, p. 134).However, most of these references
have no bearing on a literal Genesis. At the end of the book Kelly
argues for no death before the fall (Kelly, 1997, p. 228f) from Genesis 1 vs
31, “And God saw that it was very good,” stating that “very good” means
no suffering or death and that this is in accord with Genesis 3, Romans 5
vs 12, Romans 6, and I Corinthians 15 vs 21.
On scientific questions Kelly accepts the consensus of YEC arguments.

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These include the moon dust argument, the circular reasoning of the Geological
Column, catastrophic deposition at Mt. St. Helens and others.

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All have been shown to be fundamentally wrong. Whether or not one finds
Kelly’s arguments convincing, it is probably the best theological argument
for a YEC “paradigm.”

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Ernest Lucas
Lucas argues that standard science, whether cosmology, geology, or
evolutionary biology, are conformable to evangelical belief. He writes for
the well-informed layman and presents his case eirenically. The title Can
We Believe Genesis Today? (Lucas, 2001) is rhetorical. The first third of the
book deals with Biblical interpretation and stresses the variety of literary
forms before moving onto Genesis itself, as well as considering scientific
matters. Various young earth arguments like the decay of the magnetic
field are found wanting. Despite Lucas’ scientific credentials, he deals far
more with theological questions, and moves easily between science and
theology. Unlike Kelly, Lucas uses science to inform his interpretation
of scripture, and draws a parallel with the use of archaeology. He also
stresses how archaeological evidence has assisted in the understanding of
the Greek of the New Testament.4 In the New Testament there are several
Greek words, which were not found in classical texts and thus their meaning was
obscure, until some Greek documents were found in the nineteenth
century in Egypt, using these words, revealing the meaning. Lucas (2001,
pp. 61–62) argued that the principle behind this is the same as using science
to illuminate the meaning of scripture as it is using the best available
knowledge. His next two chapters apply this approach to Genesis.
Lucas is the antithesis of Kelly and comes to a diametrically opposed
conclusion. These two books are highlight the theological division within
Evangelicalism and are instructive as both are accessible to both the nonscientist
and nontheologian.

Henri Blocher
Blocher’s books represent evangelical theology at its best. In the Beginning
is an extended study on the first three chapters of Genesis. His aim is
theological but makes reference to science and refers to scholars from both
sides of the Atlantic, Protestant and Roman Catholic. His approach is thematic
and provides a useful appendix on Scientific hypotheses and the beginning
of Genesis.On the creation week he outlines the various interpretations
and favors the Framework hypothesis. In his discussion of evil in Genesis
3 he is reluctant to posit that the Fall had any physical effects. Blocher was
familiar with YEC, but rejects it (Blocher, 1984, p. 214), preferring to accept
standard science with reservations about evolution. Philosophical extensions
of science have no appeal for him. Blocher’s book has been widely
used by evangelicals but has come in for much criticismby YECs, like Douglas
Kelly (Kelly, 1997, pp. 115–120), who likens Blocher to a Mediaeval
Nominalist. The fact that Blocher was appointed to a chair atWheaton College
in 2003 demonstrates his acceptability to American Evangelicalism.

EVANGELICAL BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION FROM 1950
The postwar revival of Evangelicalism resulted in a renaissance of theological
scholarship. Many students went to mainstream universities in
the United States and Europe for a doctorate. A proportion broadened out
theologically and often were regarded to have gone liberal. Marsden has
made a good case study on this in his study of Fuller Theological Seminary
Reforming Fundamentalism (Marsden, 1987). In 1949 the Evangelical
Theological Society was founded in the United States, which insisted on
inerrancy for membership and at about the same time the Theological Students
Fellowship and the Tyndale Fellowship were founded in Britain, which
significantly did not.
Whereas in 1950 there were few notable evangelical biblical scholars,
there are now considerable numbers as well as innumerable Ph.Ds in theology.
As a result an immense volume of evangelical theology of varying
quality is published. Some theologians drifted away from Evangelicalism
and at times made a name in the scholarly world, as have James Barr
and Maurice Wiles in Britain and Bart D. Ehrman in the United States.
Of the many who remained in the evangelical fold, their theological perspectives
vary greatly. The more liberal, who adopt a conservative critical
approach, are often indistinguishable from conservative non-evangelical
scholars. An example is Bishop Tom Wright the New Testament scholar.
At the other extreme some have scarcely moved from a fundamentalist
perspective with an insistence on fanciful typology, an Ussher chronology
and a literal Genesis. Hence today there is a great diversity of Old Testament
interpretation, with an immense diversity on how Genesis should be
understood.

CONTEMPORARY EVANGELICAL BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP
Over the last fifty years there has been a growing number of competent
evangelical biblical scholars. New Testament scholars have been far more
numerous than Old Testament scholars and include F. F. Bruce, I. H.
Marshall, R. Bauckham, R. P. Martin. J. D. G. Dunn and N. T. Wright (now
Bishop of Durham) from Britain and G. E. Ladd, Ward Gasque, Joel Green,
G. Fee, and T Schreiner from across the Atlantic. Fewer Old Testament
scholars have gained distinction in Old Testament studies. This is because
the text and the history of the Old Testament are not as straightforward
as the New Testament. The Old Testament text itself is often unclear and
any translator or exegete has to cope with that, along with questions of
historicity and authorship. This means that it is harder to regard the text
as authoritative and inerrant. Consequently Old Testament scholars often
find that they cannot subscribe to an evangelical basis of faith about the
Bible. Even so there are numbers of evangelical Old Testament scholars
publishing competent work. These contribute to the commentary series
such as the Tyndale and Word Old Testament commentary series and the
multivolume IVP Dictionary of the Old Testament.
There is no one evangelical perspective of the Old Testament. The most
conservative insist on the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, that the
OT history is precise and retain Ussher’s 1656 chronology of the Old Testament
with the Flood occurring in 2473 BC, the unity of Isaiah, etc. At the
other extreme the more liberal evangelical accept that the Pentateuch was
compiled centuries after Moses, the OT is only generally historical, the
Flood was local if it occurred. Needless to say that there is an inerrancy
divide here. Apart from implications on how archaeology impinges on the
Old Testament, there are very different understandings on how science
relates to early Genesis and thus I consider a selection of writers on this.
I have put these writers into three cohorts based entirely on their acceptance
or not of geological time. Because of the evangelical understanding
of scripture, evangelicals do not take the position of many liberal scholars,
for whom Genesis is not historical. Barr, for example, argues that though
the original authors of Genesis thought that the days of Genesis One were
solar days, the Bible is clearly wrong on this point, but it still has theological
value. This is anathema to the conservative evangelical. This is John
Whitcomb’s argument in The Genesis Flood (Morris and Whitcomb, 1961,
chap. 6) where he posits “a scriptural framework for historical geology.”
At the popular level many expositions of Genesis argue for six solar
days as the “true” interpretation. More serious studies are rare. One of
the most influential is Douglas Kelly’s Creation and Change (Kelly, 1997).
In 2003 John Currid, Carl McMurray Professor of Old Testament at the
Jackson campus of the Reformed Theological Seminary, published a two
volume commentary on Genesis for the Evangelical Press Study Commentary
Series. This is an academic commentary making much use of the
Hebrew text. Currid argues for six solar days and a global Flood as the best
interpretation, but unusually for a conservative maintains that the firmament
of Genesis 1 vs 6–8 was a solid dome, and that is what the author
of Genesis (Moses) thought along with a belief in a flat earth, which was
typical of ancient Egyptian cosmology. In this he followed the work of
Seely discussed below. No Old Testament theologian has done more to
encourage evangelicals to accept a literal Genesis than the coauthor of The
Genesis Flood, John Whitcomb.
At the other end of the evangelical spectrum, some reject both literalism
and concordist interpretations. Instead they adopt a “framework”
interpretation, which understands the six days as thematic rather than
chronological. Arie Noordzij of the University of Utrecht first used it as an
interpretive tool for Genesis 1 in 1924, and Meredith Kline of Westminster
Theological Seminary developed it in “Because it had not rained”(Kline,
1958). Kline wrote as an exegete rather than an apologist, that a chronological
six-day creation does not fit with Genesis 2 vs 5 (because it had not
rained). As he was loath to admit to contradiction between “two creation
accounts” or that early Genesis was legendary or mythical, he recognized
“the figurative NATURE of the several chronological terms of Genesis 1”
and argued that the author “used the imagery of a chronological week to
provide a figurative framework” for the creation acts. Kline later developed
this in Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony (Kline, 1996). Kline’s
thesis has been widely accepted by many evangelicals, especially those
convinced of geological time, but has been criticized bymore conservative
theologians like Wayne Grudem (Grudem, 1994, pp. 302–305), where he
summarizes the framework hypothesis and its alleged problems. Grudem
is also critical of evolutionary theory and inclines to YEC. Ken Hamis also
critical in his AIG booklet Six Days or Millions of Years? However Kline did
not intend to open the floodgates for evolution and many orthodox Presbyterians
(especially members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and
the Presbyterian Church of America) hold to the framework hypothesis
but deny evolution.
Despite many criticisms, a form of framework hypothesis is followed
by several leading evangelical scholars in their commentaries on Genesis;
Gordon Wenham (Word Commentary), Bruce Waltke (Genesis: A Commentary,
Zondervan), John Walton (NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan),
and Conrad Hyers in various writings. One of the most accessible
expositions is by Henri Blocher in his work In the Beginning (Blocher, 1984,
chap. 2). For an evangelical who is inclined to accept evolution, the Framework
theory is attractive as there is no need to devise any chronological
concordance with six days.
Declining numbers still hold to either the “Gap Theory” or a “Day Age
Theory,” but they are between a rock and a hard place as they claim to be
literalist. Both appear to have been largely eclipsed after the rise of YEC.
The main scholar who holds to the Day age is Gleason Archer. Two nontheologians
who argue for this are Glenn Morton, whose apostasy from
YEC is discussed in Chapter 7, and Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, who
has expounded the day-age theory at length in his recent book A Matter of
Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy (Ross, 2004) and has received virulent
criticism from Answers in Genesis. Davis Young held to a Concordist
Day Age view in the 1970s (Creation and the Flood (Young, 1977, pp. 81–
134), but now has adopted the framework theory. The physicist turned
theologian Robert Newman and Herman Eckelmann Jr. also argue for this
(Newman and Eckelmann, 1977) in as does John Wiester (Wiester, 1983).
Older writers include Peter Stoner and Edwin Gedney in Chapters 2 and 3
of Modern Science and Christian Faith by members of theAmerican Scientific
Affiliation (Everest, 1950, pp. 9–57). Few today argue for the Gap Theory
and the last significant evangelical to do so was Arthur Cunstance. The
Gap Theory is strongly criticized by YEs, most notably by Weston Fields.
It is significant that the Day Age theory today is held by evangelicals, who
are OEC rather than YEC or TE.
These three views still cause considerable debate among American evangelicals
and a useful discussion is to be found in the book The Genesis Debate:
Three Views on the Days of Creation (Duncan et al., 2000). Three pairs of authors
put forward their case and respond to the others. J. Ligon Duncan
III and David Hall for solar days, Gleason Archer and Hugh Ross for the
Day Age, and Lee Irons and Meredith Kline for the Framework Theory.
In the blurb, Geisler stated “The Genesis Debate is a worthwhile volume
that will help you better understand the biblical doctrine of creation.”
Even so, it is wrong to assume that adherence to a literal Genesis blinds
the scholar to critical study of the Bible. David Fouts of the YEC Bryan
College argues that the large numbers in the Old Testament are polemical
hyperbole and thus are not to be taken literally (Fouts, 1997). However he
still maintains that Creation occurred in 144 hours.
As a rider these three views they also tend to reflect “three views”
on science. Those who accept evolution tend to accept the Framework
Hypothesis as do many in the ASA or Christians in Science, Day Age
appeals to Old Earth creationists who reject evolution, and the Solar Day,
not surprisingly, appeals to YECs. The Gap Theory is in eclipse.

 

From my book Evangelicals and Science 2008

1 thought on “Evangelicals and the creation accounts; 3 diverse views

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