We would like to make a few clarifying points regarding Ken Ham’s most recent comments regarding Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) and his dialogue with Dr. Richard Howe at this past October’s SES National Conference on Christian Apologetics.
First, we appreciate Mr. Ham calling our attention to the title wording of the Facebook Live post of his dialogue with Dr. Howe. We missed the fact that, during the rush to get the live stream information entered prior to the start of the session, someone on either the venue’s staff or SES’s staff incorrectly added the word “debate” at the end of the live stream title. One can see this is an error from the simple fact that the word “debate” does not make sense grammatically in the title. This was an easy mistake to make given Dr. Howe’s formal debate the night before. We have corrected this error and want to reiterate that SES has at no time publicly advertised the Ham/Howe dialogue as a debate. This point is emphasized only in an effort to assuage any potential false conclusions that SES attempted to ambush or mislead Mr. Ham in any way. This was not the case, nor do we think Mr. Ham felt ambushed. The agreed upon format was followed to the best of our abilities.
Second, believers can have vigorous disagreements, and we appreciate the fact that we can do so in a charitable manner while acknowledging our identity as brothers and sisters in Christ. Nevertheless, the issues being discussed by Mr. Ham (AiG Article 1, AiG Article 2) and SES in our recent online exchanges are extremely important and have serious consequences for both apologetics and evangelism.
We are delighted that Mr. Ham recommends parents send their sons and daughters to academic institutions that “stand uncompromisingly on God’s Word from the very first verse.” On this point we wholeheartedly agree. We are just surprised that Mr. Ham does not include SES on his list of institutions that purportedly meet this important criterion.
It would be a profound shock to every SES professor, from our co-founder Dr. Norman Geisler until now, for anyone to accuse SES of not holding to the inerrancy of the entirety of Holy Scripture (for example, see the recent blog post on Genesis by SES professor Dr. Thomas Howe). One does not have to endorse Mr. Ham’s interpretation of the Bible in order to believe the Bible is, from the very first verse, inspired and inerrant. Nearly half of our current full-time, emeritus, and/or resident faculty are young-earth inerrantists who work in camaraderie with their old-earth inerrantist counterparts. You can read some of their statements on this issue below. In fact, we have asked for the resignation of people who have departed from the doctrine of inerrancy.
How can young-earth and old-earth inerrantists work side by side? Simply put, because we agree with Mr. Ham that the Bible is authoritative. That fact is not in question here. The real questions are, one, how do we know the Bible is actually God’s Word, and two, how do we properly understand it? The first question is one of apologetic methodology. The second question is one of interpretation (i.e., hermeneutics).
As we have said, the methodology question was meant to be the topic of discussion in the dialogue with Dr. Howe. Mr. Ham says his apologetic method is dependent on the person, their questions, and starting point. We would say virtually the same thing. This is not, however, what Mr. Ham communicates over and over again. As a quick search of the Answers in Genesis (AIG) website will reveal, the mantra that one will find repeated is that one must begin with God’s infallible Word rather than man’s fallible word. This idea is communicated in a larger context than merely how one understands the book of Genesis.
A major problem with this approach, among many problems, is that it is self-defeating. As we continue to point out, the idea of starting with either God’s Word or man’s word is in fact Ken’s word rather than God’s Word, but Ken is a man. Therefore, by his own procedure, we should not accept his view since it is “man’s word.” We will look into the details of this false dichotomy in the coming weeks on both the SES blog and our Why Do You Believe? podcast.
It is impossible in principle to start with God’s Word in either the apologetics or interpretive tasks. There are many things one must know prior to being able to understand God’s Word or even know what a Bible is. The question of interpretation necessarily involves knowledge not derived from God’s Word. A quick example with hopefully show why.
Greg Boyd is an essentially evangelical pastor who holds that God reacts to His creation and is learning and responding rather than literally knowing the future free events of humans (this view is known as open theism). He maintains, “Since exegesis should always drive our philosophy, instead of the other way around…my defense of the openness view shall be almost exclusively along exegetical lines.…While there are certainly passages that depict God predetermining and foreknowing some aspects of the future, there are at least as many passages depicting God as facing a future partly comprised of possibilities” (Gregory Boyd, “The Open-Theism View” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, eds. James K. Beilby, Paul R. Eddy, and Gregory A. Boyd (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 14.). Yet, Boyd also says, “For Kingdom people, therefore, the Bible should be embraced as our God-breathed authority. Everything pertaining to faith and life must be rooted in this collection of writings.”
No doubt, Mr. Ham would stand with SES in maintaining that Boyd’s interpretation of God not knowing the future free acts of humans falls beyond the pale of orthodox Christian teaching. Yet, Boyd appeals only to his interpretation of the text of the Bible he agrees is authoritative. On what grounds can Mr. Ham support such a disagreement over interpretation? He cannot merely appeal to other passages of Scripture detailing God’s foreknowledge. Boyd acknowledges those passages. It is only by using a proper hermeneutic that takes into account our outside knowledge of reality and the nature of God that one can effectively adjudicate between these interpretations.
The same holds true for the fact that Mr. Ham does not believe the sun revolves around the earth even though the Bible clearly says the sun stood still (Josh. 10:13). Our outside knowledge of astronomy allows us to properly interpret that passage. Again, it is impossible in principle to not use outside ideas (i.e., “man’s word”) in order to properly interpret the Word of God. This is why we continue to maintain that the age of the earth is a matter of interpretation rather than inspiration.
Once more, please follow the SES blog as we delve deeper into these issues over the coming weeks. We also hope a formal debate with Mr. Ham at next year’s SES National Conference regarding the issue of biblical authority will materialize.
For more on the apologetic methodology of SES, see HERE
For more on how it is possible to arrive at the objective meaning of the biblical text despite the varying worldviews held by everyone, see HERE
“As I wrote in an article titled Does Believing in Inerrancy Require One to Believe in Young Earth Creationism?, the question of the age of the earth is not a question of inspiration but rather a question of interpretation.
Christians of good will can agree to disagree on this issue. At SES we are committed to remaining a place where Christians on both sides will have a safe environment in which to present their case.
To learn more about the issue of inerrancy, visit our Defending Inerrancy website.”
“I am comfortable working with old-earth colleagues because historically, since the 1800’s at least in USA, this has not been an issue to split fellowship over.
Specifically, affirming or denying the death of animal life before the sin of man is an issue of interpretation, and cannot claim “the plain statement” of Scripture. For instance, is immortality promised to all creatures that have ever lived on the planet since creation? I do not anticipate the resurrection of all animals, just because “in Christ shall all be made alive.” The ‘all’ in the context of 1Cor 15:22 is most certainly restricted to humans. The ‘subjected to futility’ of Rom 8:20-22 does NOT specify ‘death’ of animal life. It merely affirms that the creatures suffer also in a world put under God’s curse because of human sinning. One day that curse will be lifted, but it does not say that animals will stop dying. The ‘last enemy to be destroyed is death’ in 1Cor 15:26 does not occur until the end of the millennial reign of Christ, at which time we all—humans on earth and animals on earth—will be part of the transition to the eternal state in which things will be locked into God’s design for eternity (the details of which are not ample!), and death will not exist in that state, nor will procreation (in my opinion).
The fact that I have had to say ‘in my opinion’ or ‘in my interpretation’ a couple of times only underscores the ambiguity that in fact exists in some of these creation/new creation contexts. We should all take a breath and have a reality check about our assumptions as we approach these passages in Romans 8 and 1Corinthians 15. We should not read into them what in fact is not stated plainly.”
“Many passages of the Bible are perspicuous (that is, “clear and easy to understand”). The perspicuity of the Gospel was an important conviction of the Reformation theologians. However, there are also passages in the Bible that are more difficult to understand concerning which there are often may conflicting points of view.…Indeed there are even controversies over which passages are more easily understood and which are more difficult. There are many beliefs which I hold uncompromisingly and dogmatically—such as the virgin birth, the resurrection, the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of the Word of God, and that God created the universe out of nothing. Nevertheless, there are many interpretations of passages concerning which I am open to hear what others say so that I might learn more and do a better job of interpretations. There are many interpretations that should be held with humility, even though with conviction.
I am personally a young-earth creationist. However, I would not be willing to say that my interpretation is equivalent to the Word of God, or that people who reject my interpretations, such as my old-earth inerrantist faculty colleagues at SES, reject the authority of the Word of God.”
“I happen to agree with Mr. Ham’s interpretation of the text, but I disagree with his assertion that one needs to hold this interpretation to remain within the bounds of orthodox Christianity. I myself am not a Calvinist, nor do I believe that the gift of tongues is a gift for today. However, I don’t hold that those who disagree with my interpretation of related texts to be denying the authority of Scripture. I am able to serve with those whom I have disagreements because they are brothers in Christ who hold firmly to the truth of the Gospel and seek to magnify His name. Allowing issues of interpretation to cause division and animosity between believers is not in keeping with a spirit of Christian charity, and it is antithetical to the Gospel we want to share with the world. There are errors that need to be defended against because they violate the limits of Christian orthodoxy (e.g. the nature of the Trinity, the inerrancy of Scripture, the Deity of Christ). The age of the earth is not one of them.”
Leaning too heavily on science might be problematic (and I think it is in some cases), but that doesn’t mean a Christian has compromised with secular gods when it comes to God’s Word, the Bible. It means they have seen some value in utilizing modern scientific findings in helping to clear up vague passages of Scripture. In the case of Genesis, I don’t think the narrative is vague about creation, but at the same time, it isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be. Still, there’s no compromise. I believe God meant what He said and the Bible is true in every assertion it utters. My inerrantist colleagues believe the same regardless of how old they think the earth is.”
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