Article – What I Would Like To Hear A Young-Earth Creationist Say
Article – What I Would Like To Hear A Young-Earth Creationist Say
By Dr. Dennis Venema
October 16th, 2012
***See the companion article: “What I Would Like to Hear an Evolutionary Creationist Say” by Todd Charles Wood
When I was first asked to write this piece, a flurry of thoughts went through my mind about what things I would like to hear a Young-Earth Creationist (hereafter, YEC) say: things such as that the geologic column actually exists, that humans and chimpanzees have incredibly similar genomes, or that transitional fossils are real.[div id=”callout-right”]It’s the simple “brother” or “sister” that says – “we’re both part of the same family.”[end-div]Then I thought of more specific examples I’d like to see addressed – lake varves, ice core layers, or shared pseudogenes in nested hierarchies. Then, as I reflected further, I realized that these scientific issues are not the most important issues on the table. In fact, the most important thing I would like to hear a YEC say to someone of my views isn’t a scientific statement at all – it’s a statement of unity in Christ. It’s the simple “brother” or “sister” that says – “we’re both part of the same family.” Even if we disagree on the mechanism of creation, affirming our unity in Christ needs to be the starting point for the conversation.
One of the issues that Christians of YEC or Evolutionary Creationist (EC) persuasions will likely face, sooner or later, is a breakdown in Christian fellowship over one’s views. For a YEC, this might take the form of being regarded as “ignorant” or “fundamentalist” by believers who hold differing views. For those of us who hold to an EC perspective, this can take place in a general sense when leaders in the YEC movement label us as “compromisers” or “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. While this is hurtful, it is at least somewhat abstract. More challenging is the personal form: what I call that look – perhaps over coffee in the foyer after the sermon – when an acquaintance suddenly looks at you with new eyes in a way that says “Whoa, just a minute. I’m not sure you’re really one of us!” For those ECs who are professional biologists, these encounters are virtually unavoidable:
“So, what do you do for work?”
“I’m a biologist. I teach up at the local Christian university.”
“Oh, really? You must really love the work that (insert the individual’s favorite anti-evolution ministry) does. It’s so good to have Christians like you who fight against evolution.”
And not long after, it’s very likely that I’ll get that look – especially if I happen to be teaching a Sunday school class at the time. Even if my new acquaintance eventually comes to accept that I do have faith (of a sort) in Christ, often the sense I get is that they feel that I’m pretty wishy-washy, or that I don’t have a high view of Scripture. Now, I don’t get those feelings from close friends who know me well, but I wonder how many of those casual church acquaintances would have become closer friends but for this issue.
[div id=”callout-left”]We’ve given up the unity of the body over what I feel is a secondary issue.[end-div]Of course, even more concerning for me is the effect that these issues have on students who learn (almost always for the very first time) that evolution is a well-supported scientific theory, and that it is very challenging to defend YEC from a scientific viewpoint. After dealing with the shock personally, then the next issue is what to tell mom and dad. When they go home, say over Christmas, similar conversations around the dinner table or in the foyer are bound to happen. I’ve had some students relate the pain they go through – some do talk it over with their friends and family, but others can’t bring themselves to do so, because they know what will happen if they do.
And I grieve with them that we as believers are divided. We’ve given up the unity of the body over what I feel is a secondary issue.
It seems to me that the Apostle Paul had similar concerns over issues that divided believers in his day. Things like circumcision and dietary laws were issues that threatened to break the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers. For Paul, these issues were ones that he viewed as non-essential issues for Christians. In the case of food laws, he notes that as one in Christ Jesus he is convinced that no food is unclean of itself, but admonishes that Christians accept those still keeping the food laws without passing judgment. As for circumcision, Paul claims that neither circumcision nor lack thereof counts for anything, but then has Timothy circumcised in order that his partial Gentile parentage not be a stumbling block for Jews Paul was hoping to bring into the faith. These issues, both of which were “boundary markers” under the Abrahamic covenant for who was “in” or “out” of the people of God, are now discretionary items in light of the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Discretionary as they were, there is one thing that Paul will come out swinging on, for both of these: any move that made them essential for Gentile Christians, and thus threatened the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit as a marker for who was part of the people of God. Driving this issue for Paul was a deep concern for the unity of the body: God had brought the Gentiles “in” by filling them with the Holy Spirit, not by requiring them to be circumcised and follow the food laws. He minces no words for those who would make circumcision an essential for the Gentile believers in Galatia. When Peter, embarrassed at the arrival in Antioch of fellow Jews from Jerusalem, now refuses to sit at table with his Gentile brother and sisters, Paul calls him out in no uncertain terms.[div id=”callout-right”]Such division would hamstring the church and raise an unnecessary barrier to those outside the faith.[end-div]These were issues that threatened the gospel by bringing division and separation where God desired unity. Not unity of opinion, but rather the unity of sitting together and eating the Lord’s supper as one people of God, despite holding differences of opinion on disputable matters. For Paul, that unity cut across all social classes that divided people in his day – slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female – and he was not going to allow secondary issues to undo what God had done in Christ and through the Spirit. Such division would hamstring the church and raise an unnecessary barrier to those outside the faith.
For me, I see similar themes with the evolution – creation discussion. Is it an important issue for Christians to discuss? Yes. Does the issue serve as a catalyst for a wide-ranging discussion on exegesis and hermeneutics? Certainly, and that in and of itself can be very healthy. Is it acceptable for believers to hold either opinion and be within the people of God? I would say yes. It is my conviction that the mechanism by which God created is an issue of secondary importance compared to the underlying primary issue of holding God as the Creator and sustainer of all things. As a secondary issue, then, the only danger is making one of the options an essential, and dividing over it. Is it a problem if my brother or sister at church is a YEC? No. Is it a problem if I won’t share fellowship with them because of their views? Absolutely. Our difference of opinion on the mechanism of creation is not a gospel issue, but breaking fellowship over a secondary matter is a gospel issue. It hinders the love and fellowship that we are called to be known for, and raises an unnecessary barrier to those who would consider joining us.
So, to my YEC brothers and sisters, I would make this request. Without minimizing the importance of the exegetical issues that the creation/evolution controversy raises, let’s first and foremost sit at the Lord’s table and break bread together, recognizing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and members of the same body. Those of us who see things from an EC perspective may need to repent of belittling our YEC brothers and sisters as scientifically ignorant or theologically naive. Those of a YEC perspective may need to repent of condemning their EC brothers and sisters as “compromisers” or theologically liberal. Together we can affirm that what matters most is that Christ’s body not be divided over secondary issues – and then work to discuss these important matters in light of that affirmation.