In this, he is absolutely right. Modern evangelicalism has learned well how to get people ‘in the door’ and excited about what God has in store for them. Quite frequently, however, this is done by reducing the gospel message to the proverbial icing on one’s moralistic cake, as if to say: “Your life is good now, but the message of Jesus will give it purpose and remove the guilt surrounding your shortcomings.” Such a reductionistic form of the gospel not only lacks the most central aspect—the lordship of Christ—but prevents believers from fulfilling their true vocation to the world—a lamp, not a safety deposit box. Greg hits the nail on the head, I believe, in this section.
Earlier in the book (p. 38), Greg observed that “the anti-Christian, atheistic segment of our culture has become very militant.” This statement needs little justification, though he offers a brief body of evidence. Few Christians would disagree, moreover, that an active defense of the gospel and biblical authority is required now more than ever. In this regard, I can only commend the authors for upholding what they see as a faithful response to that call. My critique is meant, therefore, to be constructive; I want to see them succeed in this arena.
But Greg later raises the practical question of church unity, about which he says (p. 161):
Since this view itself rests in the centrality of Christ and the authority of His word, we need to understand Greg’s nuanced form of the challenge. Nobody asserts that unity in Christ can be sought apart from biblical authority, so Greg is once more appealing to a specific hermeneutic (reading) of Scripture that he feels is integral to the mission. Put another way, Greg feels that anyone curtailing a literalistic reading of the Genesis narrative is somehow undermining the centrality of Christ and His word. My counter perspective aside, it is vital to understand this foundational mentality if one is to approach the YEC movement with any meaningful interaction.
On a final note in passing, Ken devoted a full chapter to analyzing variegated responses from the President and Vice-President of each college (or the equivalent position to these titles). I will not elaborate on these results, because I think they are the most interesting of the study. If you want to know why the two head administrators are commonly not on the same page, or whether that is beneficial in education, then I suggest you buy the book!
Alternative views on creation: why won’t Ken compromise?
Ken’s ministry has devoted an enormous amount of time and money defending what it believes to be a spotless presentation of the biblical worldview. Further, he believes (p. 172) that the Answers in Genesis article database represents the honest research of “biblical-creation scientists and theologians,” who have provided solid answers to evidential arguments against a young-Earth paradigm. Within this backdrop, I do not doubt Mr. Ham’s sincerity with regard to his beliefs. Nonetheless, I am taken back by the way in which he interacts with those postulating alternative viewpoints. In response to the poll results, he summarizes (p. 127, emphasis added):
As we saw earlier, the supposed inconsistency among respondents results only from Ken’s rigid, but flawed, schema by which he has interpreted the results. Whether these responses are contradictory to biblical teaching is perhaps a question better answered by theologians—most of whom disagree with Ken on how to read the Bible. Ken’s accusation that respondents are not “thinking Christianly” is therefore not only inappropriate, but somewhat ironic. Moreover, it reveals the dogmatism of his position, in that he precludes the possibility that his ‘opponents’ have reasoned to their perspectives by thinking critically through the body of evidence. Rather, he proclaims that the only explanation behind their dissension is a full-fledged, but unstated, capitulation to “the secular worldview” (as though there were just one!).
Picking on Professors: John Walton and the Lost World of Genesis One
In one of the appendices (entitled Speaking of Newspeak), Ken examines the opposing views of several Christian professors that have published recently on the origins debate. Among them are William Dembski, best known for his work on ‘Intelligent Design’, Davis Young (co-author of The Bible, Rocks, and Time), Karl Giberson (former director of Biologos), William Lane Craig, Bruce Waltke, Howard J. Van Till, John Collins, and more. Ken’s method of examination, however, involves little more than following carefully selected quotes from the respective authors with a witty, rhetorical remark that belies the crucial context of each quote. For example, when Karl Giberson raises several literary challenges to the young-Earth paradigm out of the biblical text, Ken simply remarks (p. 182):
Ken seems to think, therefore, that his readers will not care to pick up—let alone read—the full work of each author cited, and I think he has made a safe assumption. Unfortunately, he has managed to ‘shock’ most of his readers into thinking ‘Wow, this is weird. I better stay away from these people!’ This tactic is hardly conducive to critical thinking, let alone church unity.
Mr. Ham’s rhetorical remarks are hardly worth exploring further, but I do want to comment on his treatment of Dr. John Walton of Wheaton College. In his book The Lost World of Genesis One, Dr. Walton uses comparative literature and cultural studies to elucidate the literal meaning of the famous creation narrative. Therein, he concludes that the Genesis account has nothing to do with the material origin of things, but describes in semi-poetic prose how God pronounced function to, and took up residence in the universe—His ‘cosmic temple’. This interpretation explicitly denies all forms of scientific concordism (Young and Old Earth). Walton believes, therefore, that questions about the age of the Earth, evolution, etc. are left to the scientific disciplines, and that no predictions can/should be made from the text of Genesis.
Although Walton’s proposal is bound to ruffle many feathers among concordist traditions, his argument is well developed, and appeals to biblical texts alongside recently discovered literature from the Ancient Near East (i.e. the lost world in which Genesis was written). The result is an interpretation of Genesis that 1) remains faithful to the historical-redemptive tradition of biblical theology, 2) is consistent with ancient near eastern culture and worldviews, and 3) does not force contradiction with geological evidence regarding Earth history. As an aside, his interpretation also creates the most beautiful picture of the creation narrative that I have come across.
That being said, let’s take a look at how Ken responds. He says (p. 185):
Ken’s charge of academic elitism is easily reversed. After familiarizing myself with YEC literature and the article database at Answers in Genesis, I started to wonder years ago whether anyone could have truly understood the meaning of Genesis 1–11 without grasping general relativity, nuclear physics, catastrophic plate tectonics, seafloor oceanography, accelerated nuclear decay, and accelerated speciation after Noah’s ark landed! But now a few academics like Russell Humphreys, John Baumgardner, Steve Austin, and Andrew Snelling have properly applied these concepts so that I might understand passages like Genesis 1:2–3 to mean that the entire mass of the universe began as a sphere of water that collapsed and rebounded like a neutron star after God altered the cosmological constant!
Opting for frivolous attacks on personal character, Ken has thus failed to grasp the principle of Walton’s approach: if we wish to understand the original meaning of Genesis 1, we have to understand the cultural and literary world in which it was written. But that culture has in fact been lost for more than two millennia, starting with the fall of the Persian/Babylonian empires. New Testament scholars commonly use contemporary literature to elucidate Jesus’ parables, or Paul’s Caesar/Christ antithesis—why not do the same for Genesis? Unfortunately, ancient near eastern literature has only been uncovered in the past century and a half, before which 1800 years of Christian dogmatics (influenced partly by Greek/Roman cultures) had already been firmly established.
On the other hand, the only part of Walton’s proposal with which Ken should really take issue is that it rejects scientific concordism. Walton does not deny the biblical doctrine of creation—only that Genesis might be used to formulate scientific hypotheses! In fact, Walton makes it clear that his view of Genesis 1 does not necessarily contradict the notion of a young Earth. Ken doesn’t buy it though (otherwise he wouldn’t have an argument), and responds (p. 185):
Mr. Ham’s caricature again reveals the dogmatism behind his own stance. He denies a priori the possibility that Walton’s line of reasoning is actually based on the evidence cited in the book. Walton devotes a whole chapter to explaining why the ancients would not be concerned with material origins, since they did not separate ‘natural’ from ‘supernatural’ and it was assumed by the culture that anything ‘material’ existed because of the divine. Rather than dealing with that evidence, Ken raises the unwarranted charge that ulterior motives are at play—motives rooted in secular, humanistic philosophy, no less!
In the next paragraph, Ken redirects Walton’s hermeneutic into a personal attack on none other than the Reformers, as though Dr. Walton’s prime goal is to be the only person that has properly understood Genesis (apparently Ken does not understand how scholarship works?). I can’t imagine how Ken Ham would defend Luther against the charge that he was engaging in academic elitism by offering to be the first person in 1400 years to properly understand justification and the law! Moreover, did Calvin deny the pontifical authority of the Pope so that “people are free to believe whatever they want”? Wisdom is justified by all her children.
Ken further believes that “Dr. Walton has a different view of inspiration to that of Drs. Whitcomb and Morris…our AiG staff, and millions of other Christians around the world” (p. 189), because he appeals to extrabiblical cultural and textual evidence. Is Ken thus admitting that we should never appeal to evidence outside the biblical text to elucidate the biblical text? Ironically, Ken follows with a discussion on the meaning of θεοπνευστος in 2 Timothy 3:16, as though Dr. Walton is unaware of the Greek language. I cannot help but to ask—given that Mr. Ham is Australian and not a 1st-century Greek—did Ken consult a lexicon to obtain this meaning? Does he believe that lexicons are authoritative on matters of faith? He continues:
Of course, Dr. Walton never suggested that nobody has understood Genesis, and he affirms the orthodox doctrine of creation. Ken thus misses the point. On the contrary, Walton favors the power of story and narrative to transcend time and culture over against ‘scientific’ accounts. On page 17 of his own book, he brilliantly explains:
I have not had a chance to read the book yet and probably won't any time soon.
However, I do make regular visits to AiG and Ken Ham's blog.
It seems to me that Ken's sarcastic dismissals of alternative viewpoints have become more frequent of late; and more scathing. He seems to have retreated behind a wall of certainty and the only ammunition he has left is a bunch of cheap shots.
Ken does get his linguistics from a lexicon. I've heard him debate the usage of “day” in Genesis 1 a number of times and his case almost always rests on using a dictionary or a lexicon.
I am a social psychologist (retired now) not a clinician but hearing and reading Ken and reading about his father is interesting. Seen through the ideas of Transactional Analysis, Ken is becoming the archetypal Critical Parent ego state. His interactions with his critics come from the life position known as “I'm OK You're Not-OK”. It's all the more interesting since Ken's description of his father paints Ham senior as Critical Parent also. Just read Ken's and his brother's recollections of their father lambasting preachers who dared to depart from the Bible according to Ham and you'll see what I mean. People who have a very strict upbringing with a critical and controlling parent can go to one of two extremes: duplicate the parent's attitude or turn into a mouse. Of course they can also turn out to be well balanced and emotionally healthy, but Ken seems to be continuing his father's behaviour. There's Ken's way and there's the wrong way and he seems to be getting less and less respectful to anyone who disagrees.
Very interesting observations, thank you for sharing!
I saw Ken speak in May, 1994 at a “Answers in Genesis” seminar put on by the old “Creation Science Ministries” and I don't think he's changed a bit. He came across to me as very caustic and I could see he'd be a rising star in the YEC movement.
Maybe you're right and it's just that I'm noticing the sarcasm more.
Perhaps I'm just getting old.