This coming Saturday I am officially taking on – with a great deal of trepidation – the youth group leader responsibilities. This past Sunday a gentleman from my church stopped me at the door on my way out and told me that he would like to be involved in the formation of the curriculum for the youth. In particular, he said, it’s critically important to teach them that the earth is 6,000 years old “as the Bible teaches”, and to counteract the evolutionary lies they are receiving in the school system with “the truth of God’s word”. He went on to tell me a story of a young lady that he used to teach back when he was a youth leader of a different church, how he ran into her recently and how she explained to him that she really wants to believe in God, but that she can’t see how to do that since evolution has been proven true. So for this guy, teaching that the earth is only 6.000 years old is a matter of eternal destinies. It’s a matter of life and death. Nothing could be more important.
This conversation placed me in an awkward position. For starters it is important to keep in mind that this is a man I personally know and see weekly in church and who I like. This is not some guy in a blog forum somewhere whom I can blast way with sharp rhetoric of disagreement. The ground I was placed on by this conversation was thin and I had to tread lightly and wisely.
Secondly, I do disagree with this man’s conviction that the Bible teaches that the age of the earth is only 6,000 years old (I wrote about this before). Because he assumed in this discussion that I would naturally agree with him and he believed that his statements where truisms that all Bible believing Christians shared, this made the ground I was standing on all the more thinner because I don’t share his conviction, which – for him – would call into question my Biblical trustworthiness.
Now you need to understand that a situation like this is tenuous at best and in a small church like mine, it could very easily be blown way out of proportion and land me in the middle of a steamy controversy (I’m speaking from past experience).
But here’s the irony. This gentleman’s primary concerns are 1) that we must be true to the Bible, and 2) that believing in an older earth leads to atheism. Putting aside for a moment my conviction that the Bible does not teach that the earth is only 6,000 years old (I wrote about how I came to this conclusion here); it’s that second point that I want to zero in on.
This man (like to many people I know) sees everything as polarizations. On the one far end is evolution, which naturally always leads to atheism and a denial of God’s Word (or at best, Christian sellouts). On the other far end is a 6,000-year creation story, which always leads to theism and confidence in God’s Word. Where my heart bleeds – and what I wish that I could tell this man – is that by forcing people into this polarization he is exasperating the very thing he is trying to counteract.
Take the story of the young lady that he used to teach when he was a youth leader who has since denied God’s existence because “evolution has been proven true” (a premise I don’t share). Here is a woman who wants to believe in God, but because she was taught that evolution = atheism (presumably by this very man), and since she has been convinced in evolution, she feels compelled to reject the existence of God, thus rejecting the God of the Bible, thus rejecting Christianity. This is really, really sad. Putting aside for the moment the fact that I do not personally believe in evolution, if this woman were not forced into this either/or situation she may very well be serving Christ today.
What is the answer? For this man the answer is in setting about the apologetics of convincing her that the earth is merely 6,000 years old. But we already saw that doing so only exasperates the situation, forcing people into a false either/or and causing many in fact to turn away from the Christian faith.
In other words, it’s not the school systems teaching of evolution that is causing young people to walk away from the faith, it is our insistence that they must believe in a 6,000-year creation story that is doing that.
What we need to teach people is that the Judeo-Christian God is the creator of the universe. How God created and when God created are questions the Bible does not take up.
Please note: I am not here advocating theistic evolution. I do not personally share that view. All I am saying is that the scriptures teach that the Christian God is the creator of the universe, it does not teach how he chose to create, or when, and to read Genesis 1-11 as if it did is to miss the message of God’s Word in those passages. I wrote about that more fully here.
It is important to add that I am not saying there is something wrong with teaching or believing that the earth is 6,000-years old. What I am saying is that it is wrong to teach that if one does not believe the earth is 6,000 years old one must be an atheist or to say that one cannot be a Christian and believe in evolution. Many, many, many conservative Evangelical Christian Bible teachers, preachers and scholars believe that the earth is much older than 6,000 years.