Old Earth Creationists: Do They Belong at the Table of Fellowship With Evangelicals?

Before I engage the Genesis text and the old-earth interpretation of it, I want to put the discussion in perspective. Young-earth creationists have tended to disregard old-earth creationists as liberal compromisers. Before we can even look at how they handle Scripture, it would be worthwhile to have the proper opinion of old-earth creationists. Without that, any interpretation they offer will be thrown out with yesterday’s trash, but if there is going to be meaningful dialogue, we must hear each other out and show respect to those whose views differ from ours, especially when they have much to contribute to the discussion.

In part 1 of this series I noted that belief in a young earth is a dead concept in scientific community. Astronomers in particular view a young earth to be in the same category as a flat earth. That is not to say that the church needs to abandon the young earth view. But it should cause young earth creationists to be more open-minded toward old earth creationists than many are today. They are not simply compromisers, caving in to the pressures of the modern, scientific community. Rather, they are mostly just doing their best to be faithful to the evidence found in Scripture and in creation.

Today a large segment of the young earth creationist community views old earth creationists as harmful, compromised, or even heretical, depending on whom you talk to. To give an example, Tim Chaffey and Jason Lisle are quoted as saying, “Old-earth creationists are hereby found guilty of compromise concerning the age of the earth and the extent of the flood….old-earthers are sternly warned to stop trying to accommodate the false philosophies of the day and learn to fully trust in the Word of the omniscient God” (Old-Earth Creationism on Trial). Referring to the backlash old earth creationists receive from their young earth counterparts, John Holtzmann, speaking from the perspective of the Christian homeschool movement, had this to say: “any Bible-believing Christian who dares publicly to raise serious questions about the YEC (young earth creationist) model risks social ostracism and possible official exclusion from homeschool groups or events on that ground alone (Can We even Talk Together, emphasis in original).

Ironically, many of the same young earth creationists who ostracize old earth advocates are outraged when scientists exclude advocates of a young earth from state funded universities on that ground alone. Young earth creationists argue that old-earthers deserve it because they are rejecting the plain meaning of Scripture. But scientists say young-earthers deserve it because they ignore the plain evidence found in the observable data. Both groups are making the same argument from the primary source material that they regard as most authoritative. If it is wrong for scientists to exclude creationists from the discussion simply because they are creationists, then young-earth creationists ought to include old-earth creationists in honest, respectful dialogue in the hopes of understanding each other better.

How should young earth creationists view old earth creationists? To be clear, I am not referring to old earth evolutionists, not even theistic evolutionists. The old earth creationists that young earth supporters accuse of compromise include faithful evangelical Christians who are just like their young earth colleagues, except for their belief concerning the age of the earth. To understand why they believe the way they do, see here. The question is not whether young earth advocates should abandon their position, a good exposition of which can be found here. The question is whether they can reserve a seat at the table of Christian fellowship for old earth creationists.

This should not be a difficult thing to ask, because at once it is apparent that this issue is not about a cardinal tenet of the faith. One’s doctrine of the age of the earth will not send anyone to hell. Nevertheless, how we respond to this question could have great eternal significance. Again, the age of the earth is not one of the four spiritual laws. No one witnesses to a sinner saying, ” Jesus died for your sins, you need to repent and believe the earth is 6,000 years old.” But at the same time, how young earth evangelicals respond to the concept of an old earth can make a difference in the salvation of countless souls.

Once we realize that these countless souls view young-earth advocates the same way they view members of the flat earth society, we will begin to understand why these people do not listen to us when we try to tell them about Jesus. If becoming a Christian means adopting the young earth view of creation, many people will simply say, No thanks. But if they understand that there are many conservative Christians who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, but who also believe in an old earth, the stumbling block is removed. An important question remains: is it possible to interpret Scripture faithfully and come away with an old earth?

To answer that question, two key texts must be examined: the days of creation in Genesis 1 and the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11. That is what we will do in the next article. Then we will finish the series by examining objections each position levels against the other before addressing the question of determining to what degree the evidence from creation should affect our interpretation of Scripture.

Tim Chaffey and Jason Lisle, Old-Earth Creationism on Trial, quoted in Jeff Zweerink, “Old-Earth Creationism on Trial,” on line article, April 15, 2009, http://www.reasons.org/articles/old-earth-creationism-on-trial. Last accessed, Oct. 15, 2013.

John A. Holtzmann. “Young- and Old-Earth Creationists: Can We even Talk Together?” On line article, Jan 11, 2006. http://www.sonlight.com/young-or-old-earth.html#1top. Last accessed Oct 19, 2013.


6 comments on “Old Earth Creationists: Do They Belong at the Table of Fellowship With Evangelicals?

  1. Steve Hale says:

    How can there be an open discussion when the old earth side disregards any evidence that does not agree with their already settled view? You stated “…belief in a young earth is a dead concept in scientific community.”
    Sun Paradox Challenges Old Earth Theory by Tim Clarey, Ph.D. http://www.icr.org/article/7734/

  2. I totally agree. I think one of the mistakes young-earth creationists make in debate is to refuse to discuss old-earth as being anything other than a compromise with evolution. That is an in-house argument, only. It doesn’t win people over. There are people interested in the discussion. I posted about the movie “The Genesis Code” and readers consistently trickle in from Internet searches, trying to decide what to think of this particular old-earth theory. http://calvarytraining.org/2013/08/29/the-genesis-code/

  3. You ask: is it possible to interpret Scripture faithfully and come away with an old earth? I think so.

    The Bible is not always clear about what it is saying. A bible passage can produce a variety of interpretations. In the Second Epistle of Peter from the King James Version of the New Testament, verse 8 of chapter 3 reads: “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” This is typically interpreted to say that one creation day is one thousand years. The first two chapters of the Book of Genesis suggest that we are still in the seventh creation day. This means the Earth must be between 6,000 and 7,000 years old.

    Verse 8 seems to repeat that one day is a thousand years within it. But, to say “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years,” “and” “a thousand years as one day,” could be interpreted as providing two pieces of information. The “and” in the verse may indicate that additional, not redundant, information follows. If so, then the days and years mentioned in the first clause may not be the same days and years referred to in the second clause.

    To explore this; first, we denote the days and years in the first clause as Days and Years (beginning with upper case letters). Next, we denote those in the second clause as days and years (beginning with lower case letters). Now, the verse says: 1 Day = 1,000 Years, and 1,000 years = 1 day.

    Let a “Day” be a creation day, a “year” be a year as we know it, and a “Year” be 365 “days.” Then, 1 Year becomes 365,000 of our years, and 1 Day, 365 million of our years. This would make the Bible’s six creation days (6 Days) 2.2 billion of our years. This is about half the 4.5 billion years geology says is the age of the Earth.

    We can go one step further with this line of thought. In verse 4 of Genesis, God divides the light from the darkness. Then, in verse 5, He calls the light, “Day,” and the darkness, “Night.” To distinguish between Day and Night suggests that they are two independent entities, not two parts of an entity, “Day.” If we assume that God divided them equally, then a Night is as long as a Day, or 365 million of our years. Since there is a Night after every Day; then, in addition to the six creation Days, six creation Nights have also elapsed. This means that we have to add another 2.2 billion years to the Bible’s Earth age, making it 4.4 billion years. This is essentially the same as the 4.5 billion-year geological age of the Earth.

    • That is clever, but I doubt Peter had this kind of math in mind when he wrote that verse. But if he meant that God reckons time in a completely different way than man does, then the earth can be 4.5 billion years old and God would think that to be a very short time.

      • I agree, I don’t think Peter was thinking about the age of the Earth or how to determine it when he wrote the verse. However, I think he was aware of the conversion factors he offered in the verse. To know that one of God’s days is the same as one thousand of our years does not involve any complex math. It is as basic a thought as knowing there are four quarts in a gallon. To get to the age of the Earth requires putting several pieces of information together. That was not Peter’s mission.

        Please understand that I am not offering this as the “absolute” Bible calculation of the age of the Earth. Just as an example to show that there are relatively simple ways (just arithmetic, no advanced math) to get to an age in the range of the geological value using information in the Bible. I am not doing it because I think geology is right or the Bible is wrong; but mainly to show that you can get the two to concur fairly easily.

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