Book Plunge: Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation

What do I think of Gavin Ortlund’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Gavin Ortlund is a pastor and a scholar.

Yeah. I know. I didn’t realize that was legal either. Pastors can actually be well-educated and write scholarly books?

Thank God they can and we need more like that. This book is on Augustine and his doctrine of creation. What can we learn from him on this? After all, he did not know about Darwin and the theory of evolution. He did not know about what modern science says about the age of the Earth. He did not know about Einstein and cosmology. We also have about 1,400 years of biblical exegesis on him now.

If we think we cannot, we miss out. As Ortlund tells us, Augustine’s time was a different time and they had different issues and debates going on which can cause them to see our issues and debates in a new light. Imagine a table where you have Francis Collins from BioLogos, Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe, and Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis all sitting together debating creation. Augustine comes and joins them. What will he add to the conversation? What will he take away from it?

Let’s start with one of the first lessons he can teach everyone at the table. Humility. Augustine did hold strongly to his positions, but when he wrote, he also said “This position that I disagree with now could be right.” He is not dogmatic in his stances and does not hold only one position on the matter of creation as the Christian position. While we debate how long it took, many might be surprised to hear what Augustine would say. Young-earthers sometimes ask old-earthers about God taking so long to create. Augustine would say the same to young-earthers since he held that creation was instantaneous and Anselm even said that was the most common view in his time years later.

The first lesson that Augustine would want to teach us I think is that we need humility to be able to listen instead of just try to respond. What are the concerns of the intellectual opponents. Why do they hold their position? Should we really be calling their faith into question over this topic? You cannot tell someone’s commitment to Christ solely based on how they answer questions on evolution or the age of the Earth.

Augustine could also tell us a lot about the literal interpretation of Genesis. He wrote a book called that and yet we today would not think his interpretations are very literal. He’s got figurative and allegorical meanings in his understanding of creation. Yet despite this, he also does pay attention to the historical matters in the book. He does tend to want to take it to be historical, but his main concern is how we see the Scriptures. Augustine would have more understanding to someone who takes the passages in a figurative or allegorical sense and yet holds to inerrancy than one who rejects them because he thinks they don’t cohere with modern science and that the Bible just got it wrong thinking the Bible requires one interpretation.

What about animal death? This is a big one and we can be tempted to think that modern science again has caused many people to think animal death was going on before the Fall and Augustine would be unfamiliar with that debate. We would be inaccurate. Augustine spoke about animal predation. He would tell us it’s unwise for us to critique the design of the universe in this area like it would be unwise for a layman to go into an engineer’s office and see many of the tools and be critical not knowing what the tools represent.

For Augustine, creation is a key doctrine and the one that gets him the most enthralled quite likely. He has endless praise for even the simple worm. He does see something beautiful in even predation. The way the system works together is amazing as he says old life needs to pass away to make room for new life. Augustine also lived in a time before the world was touched by Disney. We can automatically think hunting is evil after hearing the story of Bambi after all.

The chapter on evolution is wonderfully named. Can we evolve on evolution without falling on the fall? This chapter deals with how we should see evolution. Ortlund doesn’t take any side in this actually, but he says many of the debates aren’t new. For this one, it usually comes down to the historical Adam and there are evolutionary creationists who think Adam is historical.

Yet even before the coming of Darwin, many interpreters of Genesis were suggesting that Adam was not the only human being on Earth. When the story of Adam and Eve took place, there were other humans there. This explains where Cain got his wife, Cain building a city for inhabitants, and the avoidance of inbreeding to bring about new people.

I am not saying this is what Ortlund says happened as he admits he doesn’t know enough of the science to comment, but I think he just wants us to be more open. Even if we can’t agree in dialogue, is there a way we can have better dialogues? If all three organizations could meet at the table, have a heated debate, and in the end shake hands and leave as fellow Christians and friends though still disagreeing, I think Ortlund would be pleased and even more, I think Augustine would as well.

Those interested in the debate about creation and evolution and Genesis should read this book. Again, I think the main lesson to learn is humility. Reading Augustine could cause us to look with new eyes at creation.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/14/2015: YEC vs. OEC

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This week, I’m going to be putting announcements up early for the podcast. Why? Because I’m visiting my in-laws for Thanksgiving and going early so that we can go to ETS/EPS together so if you’re there and you want to find me, let me know. We’ll see what we can do. Since I will be out, I do not plan on blogging and I cannot guarantee I’ll get the show in your ITunes feed ASAP, but I’m going to try! Today, I’ll be writing about what’s coming up Saturday and then tomorrow, who will be on on the 21st, and then the next day my guest for the 28th.

Christians are not without their share of disagreements. One that often raises its head up today is the age of the Earth. What does the Bible teach? Is it in accord with what we know from science? Does science tell us that the Earth is young or old? What does that say about questions like animal death before the fall? Would God have created a good creation that had predatory activity in it?

A few months ago I was contacted by Jay Hall who wanted to come on my show to promote his book on YEC. Now I do not hold to YEC so I laid a condition. I could have him come on if he would be willing to debate an OEC. He agreed and when I sent out a call for one, Ben Smith answered the call. Books have been exchanged and I’ve read both of theirs. Now we prepare for the second debate we’ve had on Deeper Waters. Also, while I am OEC, I will do my best to avoid any bias and it will be up to you and my guests to decide if I did a good job.

Our first debater to enter the ring in this next episode is Jay Hall. Who is he?

Jay Hall_pic

According to his bio:

Jay Hall is Assistant Mathematics Professor at Howard College in Big Spring, Texas. He has a Master of Science degree in Mathematics from the University of Oklahoma. Hall has 53 credit hours of Science courses in various disciplines. He has taught at the High School, Technical School and Community College levels. He also has experience in the actuarial field for a number of insurance and consulting organizations. Hall has previously published the Math textbook Calculus is Easy and has a paper on MathWorld. (One-Seventh Ellipse) He is also a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. You may contact Jay Hall at, his website is – go here to find the YES-YoungEarthScience YouTube page and connect on the various social media platforms.

As you’ve probably guessed, Jay will be arguing for YEC.

Our second contender in the ring is Ben Smith. Who is he?

Ben Smith current photo

According to his bio:

Ben Smith has been studying and teaching theology and apologetics for 30 years since becoming a Christian while attending Ga. Tech. He is the author of the book Genesis, Science, and the Beginning available now on Amazon and Kindle. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Worldview and Apologetics from Luther Rice College and Seminary. He is the Ratio Christi Chapter Director at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton GA, teaches apologetics at Christ Fellowship Church, and is a regular speaker at the Atlanta chapter of Reasons To Believe ministries which meets at Johnson’s Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, GA. He is president of Discovering the Truth Ministries.

We’ll be discussing the issues of science and Scripture both on this show. I hope to have a fair debate and I hope to have you listening.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Can A Seminary Be Academic?

Is there freedom of thought? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A friend sent me an article by Peter Enns wanting to see what I thought of it. I will put a link to it at the end of this article, but basically, Enns is saying that there is a problem in many evangelical circles in that one cannot have freedom of thought since one must believe such and such about biblical interpretation to be included.

As I read this, I thought about how in the last election cycle, actor Jon Lovitz came out speaking against some policies of Obama and when he did so, he immediately became a target. He had gone against the party line. For some of us, that shows a groupthink mentality in Hollywood. Do we want to have the same here?

Of course, there is an important difference. In order to be an actor or some role in Hollywood, one does not need to have a certain set of political beliefs. In order to be a Christian, one does require a set of religious beliefs certainly. I do not doubt that Enns would say that someone who denies truths like the physical resurrection of Jesus, his deity, the Trinity, and salvation by grace through faith is not a Christian. If he does not, then I say he definitely has his own set of problems.

Yes. There are identifying beliefs of a Christian, but is Enns right that our academies are in danger of losing their effect on the world due to how they treat ideas that are contrary?

In many cases, I think we could be. The church has had a history of minoring in the majors and majoring in the minors. The minors are made a big issue because it’s suspected that they could lead to major errors. The irony is that it’s quite different from that. It’s the ideas that are treated like sacred cows that can often become the problem.

For instance, Ken Ham wrote a book on why young people were leaving the church. Why? We weren’t teaching young-earth creationism enough. Now this is a debate for those who are interested in that, but the reality is that Ham is completely off base. It is when a secondary issue is raised to a primary that the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. When students are convinced, rightly or wrongly, that the Earth is not young, they decide the whole thing is a sham. I cannot be more certain about this point. If your faith rests on the age of the Earth, young or old, instead of on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your faith is misplaced.

In the same boat, Inerrancy is also an issue like this. Now keep in mind this is a position that I hold to. I do think the Bible is true in all that it teaches. However, I also know that there are a number of Christians who are sure that if there is one error in the Bible, then that means Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead and the Bible is in error.

An example of the problems this leads to can be found with one atheist who is not worth naming mentioning an email he received about someone who abandoned the faith.

“One day I was at a Barnes and Noble browsing around. I got to the Philosophy section, and picked up (this book by an atheist) . Part 2 of the book is titled “Why the Bible Is Not the Word of God.” After reading about some historical, scientific, and moral errors I went to the Christian Inspiration section of the store to get a Bible so I could read the context of each verse. Finally, hours later I renounced my faith.”

Yep. A whole hours later. That’s a real commitment right there. Never bothered to go to the Christian section and see if there were any responses to this, which would have been a fruitful endeavor. Now if after a long time of searching, he was convinced the Bible was wrong and untrustworthy, he should not be a Christian. I still think he’s wrong entirely and the contradictions can be resolved, but at least he did his due diligence then.

Do you see what happened? A non-essential was made an essential and because of that, someone fell away from the faith. In fact, it is for reasons like this that while I hold to Inerrancy, I no longer really argue for it. Why? I’m just out to demonstrate that Jesus rose from the dead. If you say we need Inerrancy to do that, then it seems that you are saying we cannot make a historical case for the resurrection. We are left with fideism. We believe the Bible because it says so. We believe the Bible is separate from history and cannot be touched on history but speaks authoritatively in history. I consider this a highly dangerous position.

Enns mentions a number of beliefs like the historicity of Adam (Which I hold to), different ways of reading creation (I prefer John Walton’s idea), and the dating of the Pentateuch, Isaiah, and Daniel. (I hold to their traditional dates.) Note something in each of these cases. If I am wrong in any of them, I would prefer to be shown that I am wrong rather than holding to something that is false. To be fair, there are some issues I have not invested time in since I can’t study everything. With those, I trust the majority of scholars I have read, but if better arguments come forward, it behooves us as people who claim to be champions of truth and logic to believe those arguments.

When we act like an Inquisition in our own circles, it gives off the aura of doubt. Instead, when someone comes up with something like “I don’t hold to the historical Adam,” instead of reacting with panic, we need to say “Okay. Fair enough. Make your case. Give your evidence. We will look at your evidence and give a counter-response.” If we speak from Sinai, we instead become totalitarian and more like cult leaders instead of people who claim to be open-minded. It doesn’t help us when we tell skeptics to approach the Bible with an open-mind, when we don’t do the same when someone in our own midst says they question an interpretation of it that we hold to.

If we hold such debates, it can only help us. Why? If our position is false, we are blessed because we are no longer saying what the Bible doesn’t say, and instead saying what it does say. If our position is true, then we’ve been given further reason to believe it is not because of authoritarian statements, but because of evidence and reasoning.

To be open to truth, we must be open to being wrong.

In Christ,
Nick Peters