Since it began Christianity has been involved in debates. From Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees to dealing with early heresies on down to the present day, Christians have encountered arguments against their worldview. Learning to deal with external arguments is a central task of the Christian apologist.
There are however many doctrinal issues that are arguably internal debates within orthodox Christianity. Two qualities typically set these issues apart from other doctrinal topics that confront today’s apologists. First, both side of the discussion are typically considered orthodox views. Second, these topics sometimes generate far more “heat” than “light.”So one might ask, what is at stake in these debates? Why bother engaging in them? Simply put, to engage such questions is at the heart of 1 Peter 3:15. The best way to know why you believe what you believe is to understand all the arguments for and against any given position.
Debates surrounding secondary issues hold a hidden danger for the apologetics project. It is sometimes argued that while orthodoxy may not be affected, the implications of a view may be problematic. The debate surrounding how the word “day” is interpreted in the first two chapters of Genesis is the canonical example of the deceptive power of arguing the implications of a view. There are a variety of interpretations on this subject. (A fair-minded and spirited discussion can be found in The Genesis Debate : Three Views on the Days of Creation.) This post is concerned with what is known as the 24-hour view, more commonly known as young earth creationism or, in popular media, simply creationism.
For the sake of clarity I would like to offer my explanation of how the young earth view potentially harms apologetics. For the sake being irenic I will be brief. Proponents of the 24-hour view argue that the simplest, most obvious, reading of the creation narratives is six consecutive 24 hour days. They contend that other non-literal readings of yom (the English transliteration of the word translated “day”) open the door to treating other scriptures in a figurative manner. Given the nature of man, the nature of sin, and the necessity of salvation through the God-man Jesus are established in Genesis, this admonition should be taken seriously.
However, the “concrete” manner in which the creation days are interpreted entails a variety of doctrines about the history of creation and the nature of sin. These doctrines have a variety of conceptual problems when compared to the rest of the Bible. There are also significant problems when considered in the light of general revelation. Consider these two examples. First, according to young earth creationism death itself, not just human death, was introduced by the fall of Adam and Eve. In other words all creatures, animals and insects, were vegetarians prior to the fall. Second, the entire universe, perhaps the very laws of physics, was changed by the fall.
Besides textual and hermeneutical objections that can be raised against these and other doctrines, there are entire disciplines of science that contradict these interpretations of Genesis. However, the consequences of acquiescing to figurative language or worse yet accommodating the Bible to modern science is a bridge too far for many young earth proponents. Which creates the confusing and untenable consequence that how one interprets the creation days of Genesis dictates how we should interpret the Bible and how special and general revelation should interact.
I would like to offer a metaphor that attempts to capture some of these issues and also shows how intractable the problem seems to be. The inspiration for this is drawn from the preface to Mere Christianity. Lewis used the metaphor of a hallway from which one could enter many different rooms. The mere Christianity Lewis argues for will only draw someone into this hall. However, Lewis asserts that everyone needs to find a room in which to “live.” Regarding the period of time outside of the rooms, he admonishes,
But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?’
If we consider “mere” Christianity to be all the essential doctrines that all sides of this debate accept (i.e. historicity of Adam and Eve and original sin, humanity bearing the image of God), could we expand Lewis’ metaphor? What I am suggesting is that while there may be a particular room in which you spend most of your time (your denomination or home church), what if all the other doctrinal and philosophical debates within the “rules common to the whole house,” were also represented by different rooms or wings within the house. The most important lesson I have learned in two years of studying Apologetics at Biola is to spend time in lots of different rooms, even visiting other buildings (across the street or across the country).
Now consider an apologetic situation where you are giving someone a tour of the common areas in the “doctrine of creation” wing. There are posters with general information, announcements and perhaps even some artwork about the various rooms, inviting and informing people to come in and check them out. However, when you get near the door for the 24-hour view, you have to start explaining away the rhetoric and attitude exhibited by the advertisements and announcements for the 24-hour view. In a sense, the 24-hour view argues that spending time in the other rooms may threaten the structural integrity of the entire house. You have to simultaneously defend how their view belongs in the house and admit the sometimes-large areas of disagreement with the rest of the creation wing.
As an apologist I am committed to spreading the truth of Christianity. I am also committed to demonstrating the truth of an integrated Christian worldview. However modern secular culture and young earth creationism are both committed to a view of reality that dismisses the integration of science and religion. Popular culture is now steeped in the idea that if you doubt the naturalistic/materialistic view of origins, you must be a young earth creationist. Meanwhile, the young earth view is committed to rejecting anything that contradicts a particular interpretation of Genesis. Which leaves the apologist between the Scylla of defending a literal Adam and Eve from its association with young earth creationism and the Charybdis of defending science given its abuses at the hands of metaphysical naturalists.