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The Genesis Issue: the Dichotomy

Yesterday, we laid out the four basic views on Genesis and origins. Today, we want to deal with the “dichotomies” that exist between these positions, and specifically, the one we dealt with in the film, “Is Genesis History?” The word “dichotomy” simply means “contrast” or “division” and where we drew that line raised some controversy and consternation.

Recall that these four positions are primarily characterized by how they view current scientific claims and how they treat the text in Genesis, specifically Genesis 1-11.

If you look at the picture, I have drawn a white dotted line that marks the first obvious division, or “dichotomy”, in the four views. This division has to do with the belief in the existence of God. The Secular Evolution position does not acknowledge His existence; the other three positions do. Now, this does not necessarily mean that someone who holds the Secular Evolution position doesn’t believe in the existence of God, it just means that when it comes to speaking, writing, teaching, researching or talking about origins, they don’t acknowledge Him.  If the point of the film had been to deal with the question of God’s existence, then we would have drawn the line between positions one and two and that would have been the focus of my questions to the scientists.

The second obvious division is represented by the black dotted line. It sets the demarcation between the belief in evolution or creation. Just the labels used for each position make drawing this line quite easy. It is important to note that the first two views are committed to evolutionary theory first when it comes to their position on Genesis. The Secular Evolution perspective disregards the text as either irrelevant to the discussion of origins or labels it as myth. The Deistic Evolution perspective, in most cases, embraces the Bible, yet it, too, is committed to evolution theory first. This necessitates interpreting Genesis in a genre in which the text can be “liquefied” so as to be easily reconciled with Evolutionary conclusions and timelines.

We need to stop here, because this is a critical point that must be understood. Liquefying a text means one declares it to be a flexible genre such as myth, poem or metaphor, where the interpretation of the words and text are left primarily up to the reader. I remember attending a “Folk Literature” class in college and was astounded at how “liquid” the professor encouraged us to make the works we were reading. I thought the story was about a boy and his dog, but she taught us to read into it whatever we wanted. The same happens to Scripture when we change the genre from historical narrative, where words have a fixed meaning, into metaphor, where the words are pliable and can be squeezed into most anything. This linguistic “switch” provides the mechanism for someone to look at words such as God creating Adam and Eve on Day six, which appear to be historical statements, but declare them instead to be metaphor and then interpret the passage to mean something radically different: that the progression of evolution reached a point where a hominid group had advanced enough to be metaphorically labeled “Adam and Eve”. This is the power that is granted to the reader when the text is moved from historical narrative to a genre of liquidity. It also allows one to still claim to “hold to the Bible” though in reality they have molded the Biblical text to match the scientific claims that they believe should be held to first.

However, this was not the dichotomy that we dealt with in the film. If it had been, I would have been asking questions focused upon evolution versus creation only.

This brings us to the final “division”, which is the large yellow line in the picture. It sets the “dichotomy” between the first three positions and the fourth position, Historical Creation.

This was the dichotomy that we dealt with in the film and it is here that the controversy and consternation arose.

The Deep Time Creationists didn’t like being lumped in with the first two positions (I don’t blame them) and so they accused us of creating a “false dichotomy”. Now I will agree that the line between positions two and three, evolution and creation, is a whole lot thicker than the line between three and four. But, the dichotomy between Historic Creationists and the other three views does exist and it is not insignificant.

Let’s look at it.

The Historical Creation view reads the Genesis text as a literal, historical narrative. This leads to a position that God created everything in the way it is laid out in the text: creation in the span of six days, a literal Adam and Eve, a literal Fall, a global flood, a Tower of Babel, etc. The Historical Creation view begins with the text first and attempts to understand the world around us in light of that text rather than beginning with a scientific claim and trying to mold the text to fit that claim.

Those who hold to the Deep Time Creation view, however, come to the text with a belief that the scientific claim of Deep Time is absolute and therefore the text has to be interpreted to fit that claim. In this, they come to the text in the same way the first two positions do. Now, granted, the Deep Time Creationists that I know (and love) hold to a literal Adam and Eve, a literal Fall, etc. But everything in the text where a historical reading would be incompatible with the view of Deep Time is then reinterpreted to fit that timeline. The “evening and morning”, for example, are not a literal evening and morning, but millions or billions of years. The order of creation is not literal, but more symbolic or metaphorical, liquefied to match the evolutionary timeline. If you look at the timeline laid out by Hugh Ross, the most prominent Deep Time Creationist author, the creative acts of God are approximately every 20 million years and there is a different order than the text presents. The two events in Genesis that come in most conflict with Deep Time are the creation of the stars and the Noahic Flood. Therefore, the flood has to be interpreted as either a local flood or symbolic of God’s judgment and the stars, planets and elements came about not by God speaking them into existence, but after billions of years of cosmic evolution.

These interpretations are not driven by the text, but rather by the belief that the scientific claims are absolute regarding Deep Time. The text is therefore secondary to that claim and must be interpreted in such a way as to match it. I can guarantee that if science posited Near Time, no one would be arguing that the text demands millions and billions of years. The contrast here with the Historical Creation position is not insignificant and I do not believe it was a “false dichotomy”.

Now, I understand their frustration and can even sympathize with the argument that we didn’t take the time to deal with the differences between these various positions. That may be a valid complaint. However, the film was not intended to be a tutorial on the four positions. Its purpose was to give evidence for the position that holds to the historicity of Genesis and therefore to show the scientific support for a Near Time perspective of the universe and life and the historical reading of the text. And, in all fairness, we were so pressed with time constraints that we not only had to cut the time down for the scientists and the evidence that eventually made the film, but we had to leave out incredible interviews such as Dr. Larry Vardimer on the ice age as we stood beneath the glaciers of Mt. Shukstan or Dr. Stuart Burgess filmed in the swamp at Reelfoot Lake or Dr. Joe DeWeese in the cancer research lab at Lipscomb University.

The purpose of the film was to deal with the historicity of Genesis and over and over again we made the point that the issue was “time”… “deep time” versus “near time”, for this was, in essence, the basis for a very different view of history. It would have been impossible for anyone to miss this point. Therefore, the line of dichotomy in the film was drawn between positions three and four. Again, it is not surprising that we have been criticized by Deep Time Creationists for lumping them in with those in position one and two. But I am convinced that no matter what “contrast” we had used, no matter where we had drawn the line of dichotomy, there would have been complaints by the Deep Time Creationists because of who they had been “lumped” with. They clearly don’t want to be lumped with evolutionists and they clearly don’t want to be lumped with “young-earthers”. :) I understand that completely. But they do share the “deep time” and evolutionary timeline of the first two positions and therefore they are forced to interpret Genesis in such a way that is incompatible with its historical narrative. My Deep Time friends don’t like that statement, but it is true. The flood isn’t really global, but local in order to preserve the deep time in the rocks. The “days” aren’t really days and the order of the created events are rearranged to match the evolutionary timeline.

When God called forth Israel as a nation, He gave them the 7-day week as a structure for their life, to work six days, as He had done, and then rest on the 7th. These are the words of God spoken to Moses:

So the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed. Exodus 31:16-17

It is hard for me to even imagine how this could be any clearer. I cannot imagine the creation of God spanning billions of years and then have Him so clearly state that He created it all in six days and in a particular order if He really didn’t do that. I cannot imagine that the creation involved millions of years of death with creatures of great violence tearing each other apart, most becoming extinct, before Adam comes on the scene. This is far from the historical narrative. And it doesn’t match what I understand God will do in the future when the lion will lie down with the lamb.

This is why there is a historical dichotomy line that runs between the Historic Creationist position and the other three positions. And it is this dichotomy that was being addressed in the film. It isn’t a false dichotomy. There is a great “contrast” between the historical narrative laid down in Genesis and the histories of the other three views.

This line of course, merely divides the positions we hold and it should not be used as a line to divide us as followers of Christ. I want to again express my deepest respect and admiration for my Deep Time Creationist friends and organizations like the Discovery Institute who have been invaluable in the cause for Intelligent Design. We are all enriched by that work. Though we have different positions, it is important that we show the world that we are united in Christ.

It should be clear, however, that in all of this, the weight of the claims of science is significant. It causes many to believe it has the correct interpretation of the evidence and should therefore be held as primary truth and the Scripture secondary. Next time, we will examine the current role and philosophy of science and how it impacts each of these positions.


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The Genesis Issue: Four Views

[The response to the “Is Genesis History?” film has been quite phenomenal, ranking No. 1 at the box office on the day of its release and was Fathom’s second highest grossing event of 2017. Because of this, it will be re-released in theaters on February 22. Therefore, I thought it would be of some value to talk about some of the issues that it raises. We will do this in a series of smaller chunks leading up to the release so that we don’t burn your eyes out. :) ]

When one comes to the “issues” surrounding science and the Bible, they almost always focus upon the different ways that one looks at the book of Genesis. Some ignore it as insignificant to the scientific discussion. Others feel it should be read and interpreted in the light of the conclusions of science. Another segment believes it is to be read as historical narrative and should therefore inform scientific inquiry as a valid witness to what really happened. Hence the title of the film: “Is Genesis History?”

As weak as it is to “classify” and “stereotype” people’s beliefs, it is of some value to recognize that there are fundamentally four competing views concerning the record of Genesis and therefore “origins”, for Genesis 1-11 deals primarily with the “beginning” of almost everything. Consider the list. Genesis makes claims for the beginning of all of these:

  • the origin of the universe and light,
  • the origin of the stars and their order,
  • the origin of the earth and seas and sea life,
  • the origin of plant and animal life,
  • the origin of human life and imago dei,
  • the origin of male and female, marriage and sexual order,
  • the origin of sin and death, evil and violence,
  • the origin of current geological structures and fossils,
  • and the origin of languages and major people groups.

With such ubiquitous claims regarding the origin of everything, one's view of Genesis is quite important.

The four competing views are, in their traditional labels: atheistic and theistic evolution, old earth and young earth creation. I think those titles are not completely accurate or descriptive, so I will take the liberty to rename them as follows:

1. Secular (Atheistic) Evolution – deep time, evolution through natural processes, both atheistic and agnostic (secular) view

2. Deistic (Theistic) Evolution – deep time, evolution through natural processes, God exists and may have kick-started the evolutionary process

3. Deep Time (Old Earth) Creation – deep time, cosmic evolution, but life arose through the periodic creative acts of God along the standard evolutionary timeline

4. Historic (Young Earth) Creation – near time, God created everything according to the literal, historical Genesis account in six “evening and morning” days, resting from that work on the seventh

It is true that there are nuances and variations within each of these positions and even continuums that exist between them, but most people fall clearly into one of these four. With that caveat, let’s look more closely at each:

Secular Evolution – deep time, evolution through natural processes, atheistic or agnostic view.

This is obviously the most prominent position in our culture. It is the view presented in academia, media, museums, and our national parks, etc. This position is entirely naturalistic, believing that everything in the universe, including life forms, have come about as the result of slow evolutionary processes under no guidance, no intelligence, no purposive forces. Only naturalistic causes and effects are allowed to be considered within this perspective. Deep time is absolutely necessary to maintain the evolutionary position. This view rejects any divine or historical aspect of Genesis.

Deistic Evolution – deep time, evolution through natural processes, God exists and may have kick-started the evolutionary process.

This is the growing position represented primarily by BioLogos, where both evolution and the existence of God is embraced. God’s role in all of this is vague or unknown. I have often asked this question of my theistic evolutionist friends: “What is it that you find lacking in evolution theory for which you believe God must fill the gaps?” The answer has been consistent: “Why do you think that I find anything lacking in evolution?” This often leads one to wonder what the “theistic” part plays in this position and various answers are given, from none to getting life started to “guiding evolution in the background”. That is why I believe it is better labeled, as “Deistic Evolution” for God’s role is primarily one of creating the evolutionary process, winding it up and then letting it go. I'm not saying that the people in this group are "Deists" but that the view is deistic. This group accepts Genesis, but starts first with the conclusions of science and therefore must read the text in a different genre, usually myth or metaphor. This has deep implications. Accepting deep time and evolution is increasingly leading to the textual view that Adam and Eve are non-literal, most likely a hominid group that evolved to a state where the Genesis myth metaphorically labeled them as a man and woman. This is closely followed by a “spiritualization” of the fall and viewing the additional accounts in Genesis, like the Noahic Flood and the Tower of Babel, as more pieces in the Genesis metaphor and not to be read literally.

Deep Time Creation – deep time, cosmic evolution, but life arose through the periodic creative acts of God along the standard evolutionary timeline.

This position holds that God has been the creative force in bringing about life in its basic forms as we know it today. Deep time and the evolutionary timeline are assumed to be true and it therefore normally holds to a “cosmic evolution” regarding star, sun, planet, earth and elemental development. God periodically intervenes with creation acts (i.e. every 20 millions years per Hugh Ross) and the rise of life and its various forms through God’s creative work is matched to the standard deep time framework, including man, who arose millions of years ago. Because of this, and by necessity, the Genesis account is viewed as a combination of historical and metaphor or allegory, where the order is held loosely (the sun and stars evolved earlier, marine life earlier, etc.) and the “evening and morning, day ____” phrases are not literal, but symbolic, meaning instead vast periods of time.

This position includes many who are involved in the critical and excellent work of “Intelligent Design”, which is held by both Deep Time and Historic Creation positions, arguing that the presence of complex design in the universe points to the need of an “intelligent designer”. Some Deep Time Creationists hold this position without elaborating on Who that designer might be, while others openly state that the designer is the God of Genesis. Accepting deep time, which primarily comes from the rocks, necessitates that this position view the flood as not literal nor global, but a local flood, in order to maintain the deep time in the rocks.

Historic Creation - near time, God created everything according to the literal, historical Genesis account in six “evening and morning” days, resting from that work on the seventh.

This position holds that the universe and the earth were created and completed in the literal timeframe and order given (i.e. one literal week) in Genesis. It also accepts the literal understanding of a global flood in which “all the mountains of the earth were covered” and “all the animals that had the breath of life” were destroyed. As such, it concludes that the heavens and the earth are measured in thousands of years, not billions.

Now, I can almost guarantee that there will be some who will read this high-level classification and complain that their particular position is somewhat different than I have characterized. I accept your complaint! :) I believe, however, that if you study the primary authors and formal positions of these views, that these summations accurately portray what they believe and their approach to the Genesis text and the claims of science.

Next time, we will examine the current role and philosophy of science and how it impacts each of these positions.


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Bonaire and the Donkey of the Lord

I’ve run off to the somewhat desolate island of Bonaire. Doing some scuba diving and snorkeling. Enjoying time with new friends and old. But I’m here primarily to contemplate and wrestle.

One of the difficult passages in the Scripture is the story of Balaam. For many, it seems that God gave Balaam permission to go to King Balak when he had been summoned. But when Balaam headed out, an angel of the Lord stood in the path with a sword to strike him down because God was angry that he was going. The angel was invisible to Balaam, but not to his donkey. The donkey shied away off of the path and Balaam got angry and struck him. On the way again, the angel then stood in a narrow passageway and the donkey smashed Balaam’s foot up against the wall. The donkey received another blow. After a third time, Balaam was incensed with the donkey and struck him with his staff. The Lord then opened the donkey’s mouth and he told Balaam about the angel with a sword that had Balaam’s name on it. Balaam’s eyes were opened and he realized the donkey has spared his life.

Someday I will write about this event to seek a little clarity in what was going on.

But for now, it is sufficient to note that sometimes when impediments or obstacles arise in our life, it isn’t always clear if it is the enemy, the normal rocks and weeds of a fallen world, or the Lord’s donkey.

I think most of the time it is clear.

I remember the travails of getting the family to church on Sunday morning or the huge obstacles and waves that seemed to continually crash up against us in preparing the Truth Project. When we filmed “Who Is Jesus?” we lost all of my audio and it had to be redone with ADR… a grueling process. In most of those cases it was clear that we were dealing with the curse of the Fall or the enemy. But sometimes something hits you out of the blue with such force that you just don’t know if it might be the Lord.

It is in those moments that we are driven to do what the Lord modeled for us: go off to a quiet place and pray.

So here I am in Bonaire… a rocky, desert-like island contemplating where to go from here. What is abundantly clear from these contemplations is the Lord’s call to do “the Engagement”. I am increasingly assured of the urgency of its teaching. And, I am assured, after seven days, that He is going to open the last big door and we will be on the final leg.

My encouragement to you is that you turn to Him often and quickly. It is easy to scoff at Balaam who was angry because the events in his life were not going according to his script and yet fail to see our own reflection. When this happens it is even easier to lash out at those around you, even those, like Balaam’s donkey, who had been graciously carrying Balaam around for most of his life.

Find a “Bonaire” where you can withdraw. Pray diligently. Seek His face. God does not hide His will from His children. But He reveals it through His ordained means of faith, which include prayer, the Word and Godly counsel.

Don’t despise the Lord’s donkey, for when he smashes your foot against the wall or lies down underneath you, there is a divine reason for it. Don't kick him.

Soli Deo Gloria!

P.S. Coincidentally, Bonaire is know for its wild donkeys that roam the island.

 


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Christmas - Offensive to the gods

 

The day we call “Christmas” is a celebration of one of, if not equal to, the greatest events in the history of man. It was the culmination of a promise made thousands of years ago in the Gardern of Eden that God would graciously send the “Seed” to crush the head of the evil one and begin the process of making all things right again.

Paul tags this moment this way:

“But in the fullness of time, God sent forth His son, born of a woman…“ Galatians 4:4

Earlier he said,

“Why then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the “seed” to whom the promise referred had come.” Gal 3:19

Even earlier, Paul states this Seed is Jesus Christ, who miraculously came to earth in the form of a man. The King of Kings set aside all riches and put on the robes of a pauper, entering the world in the normal, base process of human gestation, so that we might be reconciled to God once again, brought to life from death, clothed with righteous, made a child of God, a recipient of eternal life through faith in Christ.

What riches we gained from his sacrifice.!

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

Yet, in the midst of this most gracious, most kind, most truly loving act of God, the gods of the earth were offended and bent on destroying the Child and all He represented. Herod slaughtered the young in Bethlehem to eliminate Him; the Pharisees and church rulers conspired to kill Him and be rid of Him; Satan tried everything to crush Him.

Nothing has changed, really.

Today, our culture believes we are gods… equal gods, of course, so that we can all reign in a strange “co-regency”. We do this under the “covenant of tolerance” where each covenants to not impose upon the other’s “god-hood”:

“I won’t tell you that what you are doing is wrong, if you don’t tell me that what I am doing is wrong.”

In this world of godlings, we therefore can reign without guilt or condemnation or restraint. In this world, any offense of a fellow god is repulsive and tantamount to a capital crime, to be met with the most vicious and heated attacks.

In this world, no one god is allowed to reign above another: "There is no one God!" That is horribly offensive and will not be tolerated.

So, the celebration of “Christmas” to pay honor and praise to the One true God and His most remarkable act of coming to earth that we might be reconciled to Him, is offensive to all the gods.

This year, a memo was circulated around the University of Minnesota from the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office stating any celebration that even included green or red was offensive because they represented colors that traditionally were used to point to Christ. Of course, no angels or nativity scenes, bells, doves, or anything else that might offend a god somewhere, someway, somehow.

These seem silly to many, yet it is part of the whole of our culture that finds offense almost anywhere. It is why the traditional Bible on a POW table has been removed and why the symbol of the cross and references to anything of Christ are being taken out of crests, flags, mottos, laws, policies, platforms and any other public forum.

Nothing is new, brothers and sisters, except that we have now become a remnant in the Land, and must begin to act as a Remnant.

And remember... when Harrod and the Pharisees and Satan, tried to wipe Him out…

He prevailed.

And He prevails today, regardless of what the world will want you or me to think.

Take heart, body of Christ! As we celebrate today the coming of our Savior, we will one day celebrate His return and the restoration of all things.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Have a blessed Christmas!


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We Lost a Giant and a Friend - RC Sproul

We just lost a giant in the Faith.

RC Sproul was a unique individual whose contributions to the kingdom are immeasurably understood only in heaven.

He was instrumental in developing in me the understanding that it was all about God. It was all about who God IS… His nature, His character, His attributes. And if you could glimpse, as best as God would allow, the reality of God’s nature, then you would better understand everything that God did or said. For His truth, His Word, His creative and providential acts were all driven by, and consistent with, the essence of who God really was.

We are to be holy, for He is holy. We are to be perfect, for He is perfect. We are to be compassionate because He is compassionate. The commandments of God are not capricious, but reflect His nature. God’s truth is not illogical or irrational because God is not illogical or irrational.

RC was the master of linking the logical to the nature of God and showing how the irrational was in direct contradiction to God’s character.

When we were in the planning stages of creating the Truth Project, I asked RC if he would be willing to give us an hour of his insight and wisdom, which he graciously provided. When I thanked him for that he merely brushed it aside and said, “Any wisdom we have, anything that appears to be insightful, and truly is, does not come from us, but only from God. We are but a mere messenger, are we not?”

Indeed, that is all we are.

And now that great messenger has returned to the Message. It seems to me that there has to be a lot of rejoicing in heaven over the race he ran.

But I’m sure RC would say this, and so I will as well. When God prunes us, as He just has by taking away RC, it is for the purpose that others will then begin to grow and flourish… not to take his place, but to simply build upon what he has left behind. And that is a lot.

Thank you, RC, for your faithful and effective ministry to all of us. You will be sorely missed.


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