A talk with theologian John Whitcomb
Dr John Whitcomb was co-author, with Dr Henry Morris, of the famous 1961 book The Genesis Flood, widely regarded (by friend and foe alike) as launching the creationist revolution of the late twentieth century.
KH: ‘Dr Whitcomb, in my travels, I’ve found that the majority of Christian colleges, seminaries, Christian leaders, pastors, etc., don’t take a stand for literal Genesis. They allow for millions of years and/or evolution, the ‘gap’ theory, progressive creation … Do you find that too?’
JW: ‘Yes, I’m sorry to say. Everywhere I go, right around the Christian world, there are many fine ministries, missionaries, church planters, etc., dedicated to the Gospel message that Jesus Christ is Lord and only by His precious blood can we be saved—through what He did on the Cross, and His Resurrection from the dead. But tragically, Jesus Christ, the Lord who is presented as the only Saviour, is robbed of much of His dignity and glory when it turns out they regard what He said about Genesis as really not true after all.’
What do you mean?
Many Christians, myself included, have been raised and discipled in uniformitarian, evolutionary Earth history. But the Lord Jesus says, ‘Have you not read that He who made them in the beginning made them male and female?’ (Matthew 19:4, cf.Mark 10:6) The human race was not made five billion years after Earth was created. Why would Jesus mislead us? Why did He say that we must believe Moses (John 5:45–46) if Moses presents, in the early chapters of Genesis, six literal days of creation, a global Flood, with death (and fossils!) resulting from the Curse only after Adam rebelled? I’ve been devastated to find out that many, many things that Jesus taught are simply not believed, and yet these same people are saying, ‘Here is the Saviour of the world.’
But many say, ‘As long as people are saved, and are born again, it doesn’t matter what they believe about Genesis.’
I believed that kind of thing myself until I realized that I’m not in charge of the Bible or of the God of the Bible. I am His disciple and His servant. And He has told me in the Great Commission in Matthew 28, among many other places, that I am to teach everything (v.20) whatsoever He has taught. And that begins with Genesis, as Jesus over and over quoted that book as literal history. Who am I to say to my Lord, ‘Well that’s not important,’ or, ‘I don’t believe all that you wrote about ultimate origins.’
I’m increasingly realizing how drastically far short the true church of Jesus Christ has fallen in not teaching people the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Genesis is the foundation, apart from which we can’t really understand the magnitude of sin. Or the redemptive program of God, begun when God shed the blood of an animal to provide coats of skin for Adam and Eve, after He had given them His cryptic Gospel announcement in Genesis (3:15).
Where do we begin history—only at Genesis 12? Why not later on? Let’s be honest—if history doesn’t begin with Genesis 1, then our Lord, who repeatedly referred to the early chapters of Genesis as literal history, is simply wrong.
The Apostle Paul had a very different perspective from many today. He said, ‘We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom that we may present every man complete in Christ’ (Colossians 1:28).; In other words, we shouldn’t just be producing half-born Christians,* who compromise the opening chapters of the Bible. We want, under God, to produce people, through the Holy Spirit, who are fully mature and spiritually healthy and wholesome; who know Genesis to Revelation as the only context within which the Gospel can be clearly understood.
After all, the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 is not that Christ died for our sins, and rose again the third day; the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. Unless we know the background of Scripture as to who the Christ is, why He died, and how He rose, those are just empty ‘gospel words’ in this generation of materialistic atheism.
What do you think becomes of these ‘half-born Christians’ you mentioned?
They become very susceptible to all the spiritual diseases that Satan and our own sin nature make available to us wherever we live, move and breathe. We find distortions, denials, and rejections of every basic moral standard the Bible establishes for us as His creatures and His people. We therefore need the whole armour of God, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God—a two-edged sword, not half a sword, or a broken or rusted one, but one fully designed by the Holy Spirit to deal with the enemy (Eph. 6:12–18). Without it, we become dangerously vulnerable. The enemy is not some little force that can be easily crushed by our finite human resources. It’s Satan, the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), and he will attack us at the weakest places in our armour. And if we’re not really solid on the whole Bible, we won’t be able to stand.
Now I don’t believe that a true, born-again Christian can lose his salvation, but he can lose his effectiveness, and at the judgment seat of Christ before which all Christians must appear, we are warned repeatedly that we could be ashamed before Him at His coming (1 John 2:28), and suffer great loss—not our soul, but our reward—at the time when Christ appears (1 Cor. 3:10–15).
What a joy, however, to be able to say to Him, ‘Lord, I didn’t understand everything in the Bible, but I believed what You said, obeyed what You told me to do, to take the whole Bible and to proclaim it faithfully by the Spirit of God who authored it, that people might be fully equipped to every good work.’
Looking at the big picture in, say, America or England, the church is losing its effectiveness, as the standards of people in it become more like the world’s. And yet millions are spent running big crusades, with some saying they’re seeing thousands ‘come to know Jesus’. What do you make of that?
I would ask, which Jesus have they accepted? The Jesus of the Bible, or the ‘Jesus’ of modern imagination, one who can be moulded and reshaped to fit our own philosophic presuppositions? The Jesus Christ of Holy Scripture is the second person of the triune Godhead, through whom the universe was created (John 1:1–3). He has infinite authority, and He is not about to be compromised for the sake of currently popular theories or influences. He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth. [For more information on the Triunity of God and the deity of Christ, see the Q&A sections on God and Jesus Christ]
So what is your opinion of such mass evangelism?
This is an extremely difficult issue. Though the majority of those who ‘come forward’ backslide to an extent that one must question whether they were truly saved (1 John 2:19), many thousands of people have been saved through such efforts. But their salvation is in spite of, and not because of, the compromises that have gone into many such ministries, where those who totally deny the basic Gospel are invited to help sponsor the crusades in order to bring more thousands of people. But what kind of message are they hearing? They’re hearing a message that is in harmony with the lowest common denominator of the sponsoring organizations, basically some major apostate systems that deny the essence of the Gospel. So I say yes, people can be saved—why? Because the whole Gospel has not been totally compromised. Some Gospel still comes through, but when we appear before the Lord we’re not going to say, ‘Lord, I only compromised part of Your Word.’ God says, you will believe everything I tell you, and preach and teach it to the ends of the earth till the end of this age (Matthew 28:20). I would be deeply ashamed to appear before Christ and say, ‘Well, I knew better than You, Lord. I revised, reinterpreted, or eliminated from your Word all the things that might offend people, in order to win them to You.’
Do you think that many from other religious backgrounds, who say they’ve trusted Christ, have just added Jesus to all their other gods in some sort of subjective, experiential way hoping it will benefit them?
The name ‘Jesus’ in many cultures today has a kind of magical effect, which to some people is wonderful. But Jesus is not some spiritual magician among many other so-called gods. No, He has said, in Exodus 20, ‘You will have no other gods before me.’ He said in the Gospel of John that all those who came before Him were thieves and robbers’ (John 10:1,8). Jesus declared: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me’ (John 14:6) That’s terrifying. In other words, we could be leading people into a false submission, a false confidence in their submission to the name ‘Jesus’, which they have somehow coloured and filled in from their own presuppositions, to the point where He couldn’t be the Saviour of the world at all.
So does the ‘Jesus’ film, shown around the world, really help people understand Christianity?
Well, let’s trust the Lord to use any kind of instrument that says anything that’s correct about the Jesus of the Bible, to attract them to actually do the ultimate thing, to open the Bible themselves—and read what God says about His beloved Son.
You and I have met many great men of God, who love the Lord, who preach the authority of the Word and its infallibility, but when it comes to Genesis 1–11, they don’t want to accept six days. They want to add the millions of years. They don’t even necessarily want to believe in evolution, they just want to have the millions of years in there. Why do you think that is?
Obviously, it’s not because the Bible teaches it, or even allows it. It’s because the academic, scientific, philosophic environment in which we live today demands millions of years as a foundation for intellectual credibility. We don’t even think through this, asking what the Bible really says, we just swallow it as part of the atmosphere in which we live. I think this is why God has given one reason after another for taking those days literally. In Genesis 1 He’s saying something to us about Himself—who He is, how He works—that otherwise could not be understood or communicated apart from the grid of a literal, six-twenty-four-hour-day block of time.
You would think that such leaders who want acceptance from the majority would realize from Scripture that men love darkness rather than light.
Let’s face it. You and I still have a sin nature within us. The Apostle Paul did, too—read his agonizing testimony in Romans 7. Something in us says, I want to be accepted and popular. I don’t want to be hated, despised, persecuted. I want to go with the flow. And—I hope you’ll understand me—so do I. I don’t go out of my way to be despised and persecuted, and I suspect you don’t either. It’s not fun. But God promised us—in this world, we will have persecution, and tribulation (Mat. 5:11, 10:22; John 15:20). Now that doesn’t mean we deliberately attempt to create this negative impact. Just graciously, prayerfully present the whole counsel of God and don’t be shocked if people that you have confidence in, and expected more of, say, ‘No, we can’t identify with you and your position. You’re taking the Bible too literally, and millions of people will therefore not follow us.’ That’s the sin nature within us which will vanish forever one moment after death or Christ’s return, at which point compromise will end.
Would you have a word of encouragement for those in the churches battling to uphold the authority of the Word of God, some a little disillusioned as they struggle to influence the leaders in their church?
Humbly and prayerfully before the Lord Jesus Christ, hold your Christian leaders, your friends, your loved ones—yes, even your parents—accountable for what they’ve done to God’s Word. Let’s be careful here—we respect our parents, and our teachers. But there are ways in which we can lovingly hold people accountable. Mostly, by praying for them, that the Spirit of God, who is infinite in His authority, will bring them, sooner or later, one way or another, but ultimately and finally to a total acceptance of God’s Word. I thank the Lord for those He used to help me understand His Word more accurately during the past 57 years since I believed the Gospel as an evolutionist at Princeton University. And don’t give up if you’re in a minority, even if you’re the only one. The majority is one person who believes the Bible and God.
Dr Whitcomb, thank you so much.