How Should Christians View the Age of the Earth?

I wanted to step into a different controversial topic this week and talk about the age of the Earth. My intent here is not to pick a side, but to bring some clarity to the conversation. I see a lot of misunderstanding and misrepresentation on this issue. Next week we’ll cover some wider impacts of the topic.

How should Christians view the age of the Earth? The Bible tells us that the entire universe began with God speaking it into existence. The first two chapters of Genesis provide a dramatic account of God shaping everything in six days and resting on the seventh. Many Bible believing Christians take those chapters at face value and hold that the Earth was made in six 24-hour days. Combining that with the genealogies found in later passages, this has led to the view that creation happened less than 10,000 years ago. This is not the only view and interpretation, but it has become a popular one among modern evangelicals.

However, this view, often called Young Earth Creationism, (YEC) has come under some heat over the years. As scientific research advanced throughout the centuries, the Young Earth conclusion became much more questioned. Subjects like astronomy, geology, and anthropology have raised some very serious objections with the view.

These findings have led to some Christians facing a decision. How do we reconcile what the Bible tells us and what we observe in the world?  The first common step is to not interpret the word day as a literal 24-hour day, but instead as a stretch of thousands of years. The second is to read the genealogies as not exact, and that they are more giving the highlights, rather than precise history. Thus, they hold onto the Christian story while holding a view of Old Earth Creationism (OEC).  This has led to a growing divide between the more traditional YECs, who see this as compromising God’s word.

Is Young Earth Creationism Possible?

I won’t go into the details of the science here, but I believe the issues people take with YEC are legitimate. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong though. Simply put, we are trying to test and understand events from ages gone by, so there’s only so much we can know for certain. So much of ancient anthropology and archaeology is extrapolating from small pieces of information. It’s always possible that the Earth is relatively young, and we’ve been looking at the data wrong. With that in mind though, any issues with YEC are scientific, and not theological. I don’t think anyone is going to doubt that you can be a Christian while holding a YEC view.

Do Old Earth Creationists Compromise Scripture?

This is where most of the controversy lies in-house. You may have people criticize YEC as non-scientific or misguided, but it would be hard to argue that it is unchristian. However, OEC is often criticized by other Christians, and I believe somewhat unfairly.

First, OEC is not the same thing as Theistic Evolution. Many people equate the two, when there are very firm differences. More on that next time. In OEC, God still created man, there was still an Adam and Eve, and original sin still happened at a singular moment. They simply think it took a little longer to get there.

The biggest concern I often hear from advocates of YEC is that to accept Genesis 1 as not literal opens the door for doing so elsewhere, compromising the integrity of the Bible. But OEC doesn’t have a low view of scripture, so much as it is trying to use every tool at our disposal to interpret it. If we took every point in the Bible literally, whether parables or prophetic visions, it would not somehow make us more devout. Language is a complex thing, especially when applying it to metaphor, parables, and apocalyptic imagery.

What About the Experts?

It might be surprising for a lot of evangelicals to hear that a literal six-day creation has not always been the default view. Early church leaders like Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Augustine held that Genesis 1 was more allegorical, and that it had all happened instantaneously. This is not to say they thought the Earth was old, but it establishes a precedent for not taking it as literally six 24-hour days.

Even today, many respected names among Christian leadership hold to an Old Earth view. Reasons to Believe has compiled a pretty detailed list on this subject. To claim that all of these people are stepping outside of Christianity is a large claim. Obviously, a view is not right or wrong because of the popular figures who hold it. but this ought to give us some pause in considering whether OEC is acceptable. Most of these names belong to people much smarter and wiser than myself, and I would be hesitant to toss them away.

Hopefully that gives you some clarity on how to view the age of the Earth. You don’t have to be one or the other to be a Christian. It’s a question that matters, but not so much that we start attacking each other over it.

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