Question: [editor’s note: this is a more personal letter than we normally post, but the issue is common enough we are posting it, in hopes that some can relate and use the information]
In my current ministry, my explanation about non-literal days in Genesis 1 is viewed with hesitancy and, I sense, silent distrust. In other words, the room gets very quiet if it is brought up. I get a similar reaction when I try to discuss it one-to-one with some of the mature, shepherding-oriented brothers. Last Sunday our preacher delivered a deeply inspiring and challenging lesson on Isaiah 10 and 11. However, I felt silently “put on the spot” when he covered Isaiah 11:6-9 as literally true, predicting a return to an earth without physical death carnivores as some require Genesis 1:30 to be interpreted. Later, I explained to him my opinion that Isaiah 11:6-9 is figurative imagery of God’s kingdom that would be established, that it was fulfilled in the first century, and that we can continue to fulfill it again today.
I shared with him my own take on Genesis 1-2 allowing for an ancient earth, species distributed over time, carnivores before humans, death before humans, and rain before humans. I described fruit of life that would have granted spritual immortality and communion with God, not physical immortality and permanent youth on earth. He agreed to disagree very amicably, but I still feel uneasy that it will remain silently unaccepted as a “disputable” matter by the brothers and sisters. This is such an excellent family of believers that I want find a way to pursue closure without being contentious or confontational, but also without settling for acceptance as a brother whose faith is weak. I feel that six literal 24-hour days is irrational in light of the overwhelming evidence, and I cannot force myself into an irrational faith with a clear conscience. Doing so would hold me back from participation in weightier matters including evangelism and studying the Bible with visitors.
I am searching for a relatively simple study guide that outlines compatibility between Gensis 1-2 and current geology. Ideally, it would be suitable for both church members and visitors and even included as an optional step in a first principles study series. I feel that a tool like this would help approach the subject in a non-contentious manner. Can you recommend a publication as simple as this?
I can feel for you. I am afraid that it is very likely that you will have to live with this situation. I am sure that you can do it, as these are disputable matters and surely you would not want such a thing to hinder your usefulness to God. To me, the fairly blatantly false interpretation of Isaiah 11 is more disturbing than a debatable and unimportant incorrect interpretation of Genesis 1 (notice that I am calling one a false interpretation and the other an incorrect one). This preacher has, unknowingly, bought into Calvinist doctrine, which is problematic. His argument comes from the false doctrine of Original Sin, even if he does not know this.
Nevertheless, we need to decide what battles to fight. I think you should speak at times and be quiet at times. I am not sure I would make my stand on Genesis 1. Isaiah 11, maybe…. My strategy over the years is to not be a constant critic, but to make myself a useful tool for the leaders so that, over time, they grow in their respect for what I have to say and, also over time, are more able to hear my perspective. If you are voicing your disagreement too often and too soon, you will actually decrease your long term ability to move the ones you want to affect. This is my generic advice.
As for a tool you can use, I have to say that my favorite resource is my own book “Is There a God?” It has been read by thousands and, the best I can tell, has literally never raised controversy. The book gives a fairly passionate defense of the old earth interpretation, but leaves room for those who disagree. It also gives a brief history of Christian thinking on the topic. I strongly defend biblical reliability, which is an important issue (as it should be) for your friends. You should get a copy and give one to your friend(s) there. It is available at www.ipibooks.com