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Famous evangelical apologist changes his mind

RC Sproul says he is now a six-day, young-earth creationist

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Published: 21 May 2008 (GMT+10)
Updated: 28 August 2012 (GMT+10)

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Bible

For many years RC Sproul publicly advocated a non-literal reading of the opening chapters of Genesis. But not any more.

RC Sproul is a well-known evangelical scholar who has authored some 60 books and produced an enormous selection of other resources such as audio tapes and videos. According to Ligonier Ministries, founded by Dr Sproul,  he has degrees from Westminster College, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and the Free University of Amsterdam. Further, he has an extensive teaching career at seminaries and colleges, including Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando and Jackson, Mississippi, and Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale.

Recently RC Sproul published a three-volume layman’s guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith entitled Truths We Confess.1

His treatment of creation within the first volume especially caught my attention because he says he has changed his position from what he held for most of his teaching career. He says that he is now a six-day, young-earth creationist.

Creation is vital

Creation is foundational for the Christian church with every major Christian doctrine coming out of the events recorded in the first chapters of Genesis. Among these are: 1) the nature of God, including his power and goodness, 2) the nature of man, created in the image of God but fallen because of his sin, 3) the nature and consequences of sin, 4) the nature of marriage, 5) the origin of death as a penalty for sin, and an enemy, 6) the need for a Saviour to redeem man from sin, 7) the origin and meaning of work and the weekly day of rest, and 8) the relationship between man and the rest of creation, which is now cursed because of sin, 9) and much more.

This is why the doctrine of creation is vital, but unfortunately this doctrine is denied today, both outside and inside the church.

Dominant scientific view denies creation

Sproul is clear about the reason for this. He says that evangelical academics have denied six-day creation, as Genesis describes, because of ‘science’:

In our time a considerable number of theories have arisen denying that the creation, as we know it, took place in six twenty-four-hour days. Common to these theories is the acceptance of the dominant scientific view that the earth and life on it are very old. Many consider the biblical account to be primitive, mythological, and untenable in light of modern scientific knowledge. (p. 120)

I like his term ‘dominant scientific view’. I also like his graphic use of the word ‘denying’.

Sproul discusses the four main approaches that evangelical academics have taken concerning Genesis: 1) the gap theory, 2) the day-age theory, 3) the framework hypothesis, and 4) six-day creation. (p. 122)

Creation compromises

Concerning the gap theory Sproul says:

However, Scripture nowhere explicitly teaches that the original creation was marred and then after many years, reconstituted. The broader context of the whole of Scripture militates against the gap theory. (p. 123)

Neither does it solve the conflict with ‘science’. He also dismisses the day-age theory:

However, the day-age theory, like the gap theory, ignores the immediate context, as well as the larger biblical context. … From a literary, exegetical, and linguistic perspective, the day-age theory is weak. As a Christian apologist, I would not want to defend it. (p. 123)

The day-age theory does not resolve the conflict with ‘science’ either. Regarding the framework hypothesis, Sproul says:

[T]he framework hypothesis allows one to step into a Big Bang cosmology while maintaining the credibility and inspiration of Genesis 1–2. This is not history, but drama. The days are simply artistic literary devices to create a framework for a lengthy period of development. (p. 127)

‘For most of my teaching career, I considered the framework hypothesis to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation, the fourth alternative and the traditional one.’—R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess, 2006.1

It’s an attractive idea for those who think Genesis is untenable in the light of modern scientific knowledge. It avoids the issue. But Sproul concludes:

For most of my teaching career, I considered the framework hypothesis to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation, the fourth alternative and the traditional one. Genesis says that God created the universe and everything in it in six twenty-four–hour periods. According to the Reformation hermeneutic, the first option is to follow the plain sense of the text. One must do a great deal of hermeneutical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of Genesis 1–2. The confession makes it a point of faith that God created the world in the space of six days. [emphasis in original, indicating these words are part of the Confession] (pp. 127–128)

Note his use of the words ‘traditional’ and ‘escape’. Why try to escape the plain meaning of Scripture as traditionally accepted? As Sproul previously indicated, it is to avoid conflict with the dominant scientific view of evolution over millions of years, which is mistakenly regarded as fact. Significantly, Sproul includes some important scientific evidence for a young earth to dispel this misconception.

Return to orthodoxy

It is very encouraging to learn that Sproul has accepted creation in six days as written. As well as the days of creation, he discusses the age of the earth and again he clearly identifies science as the problem:

We have a problem not only with a six-day creation, but also with the age of the earth. Is the earth a few thousand years old or billions of years old (as scientists today insist)? (p. 121)

On a preliminary reading RC Sproul would appear to be non-committal about the age of the earth.

Although the Bible clearly says that the world was created in six days, it gives no date for the beginning of the work. It would be a mistake to become embroiled in too much controversy about the date of creation. (p. 121)

However, he goes on to make it plain that he rejects the view that the earth is billions of years old.

If we take the genealogies that go back to Adam, however, and if we make allowances for certain gaps in them (which could certainly be there), it remains a big stretch from 4004 BC to 4.6 billion years ago. (pp. 121–122)

‘A big stretch’! Yes, it would be a big stretch to take the genealogies back just 10,000 years, let alone one puny million. Even then we would be nowhere near 4.6 billion years. RC Sproul makes it clear from this statement that he believes in a young earth. (And there is a good biblical case that the genealogies are complete and without gaps.2)

Biblical authority in the church

With the development of naturalistic science in the west and the acceptance of evolution and millions of years, evangelical scholars have generally stopped defending the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. They have tended to distance themselves from six-ordinary-day young-earth creationists, perhaps not wanting their academic standing to be tainted.

Within the church it is rare to find an evangelical academic commentary that will take a stand on a six-day, recent creation.3 Many Bible timelines produced by biblical academics will avoid earth history prior to Abraham.4

We have seen the disastrous effect of such timidity and compromise as the church has lost much support in the west. Why should people listen when they think the church has no answers in this scientific age?

So it is particularly encouraging to see a scholar of the stature of RC Sproul prepared to take a stand on the Word of God as written—and defend it. I was especially impressed that he could admit he no longer believed what he had taught for most of his teaching career. He has set a courageous example of integrity, scholarship and commitment to biblical authority.

May RC Sproul’s example embolden more evangelical academics to seriously consider this controversial issue, examine the scientific evidence and refuse to be intimidated by the dominant, anti-biblical, scientific view within our culture that opposes the Gospel. May our Bible colleges, seminaries and Christian universities be encouraged to declare together ‘In six days’—and give a reason for the foundation of our Christian faith.


Update 28 August 2012

Recently, Dr R.C. Sproul affirmed his stand on six-day creation but distanced himself from the young-earth position.

Tim Challies on his blog on 23 July 2012 reported an interview with Dr Sproul:

[Tim Challies] Have you ever had second thoughts about the stand that you took in favor of a six-day creation and a young earth, especially in view of all the new material on the subject that has come out since 2006?
[Dr Sproul] Well, that’s kind of a complex question because when I took the stand, I took the stand on a six-day creation. I didn’t take a stand on a young earth. I don’t know how old the earth is. I didn’t know then. I still don’t.
And what do we mean by “young earth”? If you’re thinking six thousand years, I doubt that. If you’re thinking 12 billion years, I doubt that, too. All I was speaking about was the understanding of what the Scriptures teach regarding the six days of creation. And I’m not even sure it’s correct to say that I took a stand. I said that’s what my view was.
When you say you have a view, it’s one thing to say, “I think that this is the way it is.” It’s another thing to take a stand where you say: “Here I stand. I’m going to die on this mountain.” I could be wrong in my understanding of Genesis. It’s a very difficult to deal with the literary genre in the opening verses of the beginning chapters of Genesis. I think there has to be some room for some flexibility on it.

How a six-day creation would work out on an earth that is 4,600 million (even one million) years old an interesting question now to be considered. Where would one place all those years into the biblical account?


References

  1. Sproul, R.C., Truths We Confess: A layman’s guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Volume I: The Triune God (Chapters 1–8 of the Confession), P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 2006. Return to text.
  2. See Sarfati, J., Biblical chronogenealogies, Journal of Creation 17(3):14–18, 2003. This makes the case for an earth of about 6,000 years, as Archbishop Ussher calculated, very strong. Return to text.
  3. For example, the New Bible Commentary by InterVarsity Press (1994 edition) advocates the framework view and recommends avoiding issues of science. Previous editions of the IVP Bible Commentary in the 1950s advocated the gap theory and the day-age theory, but scholars now recognize these as untenable, as Sproul says. Arnold, B.T., in his book Encountering the Book of Genesis (Baker Books, 1998) recommends the day-age theory and also of avoiding questions of science. Return to text.
  4. For example, the chart of Old Testament scholar Payne, D., formerly of London Bible College, in his Bible Timeline (Candle Books, 2002 edition) begins at 2100 BC (about the time of Abraham) and shows nothing earlier. It’s almost as if it has been guillotined. Return to text.

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