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Problems of Wayne Grudem’s Progressive Creation

This article is a transcript from a episode of truthwatchers podcast accessible here.

We are going to continue the discussion on progressive creation from last episode. Last time we looked at the teachings of Dr. Hugh Ross and today we will direct our attention to the theological argument for this view as it is represented by Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, published by Zondervan in 1994.

Grudem’s earliest comment in this text concerning the topic of creation states, “Nevertheless, it must be remembered that scientific of historical study (as well as other kinds of study of creation) can cause us to reexamine Scripture to see if it really teaches what we thought it taught. The Bible certainly does not teach that the earth was created in the year 4004 B.C., as some once thought (for the genealogical lists in Scripture have gaps in them). Yet it was in part historical, archaeological, astronomical, and geological study that caused Christians to reexamine Scripture to see if it really taught such a recent origin for the earth. Careful analysis of the biblical text showed that it did not teach this.”1)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 84

First of all, I have no problem with turning back to the Bible to reexamine any position to confirm if we understood it accurately. Secondly, I don’t disagree with the idea of gaps in the genealogies, or that 4004 B.C. is the precise date of creation. However, I am currently reading Ussher’s work2)James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Master Books (Green Forest, AR: 2007). and it is amazing. He is not some ignorant fool. His assessment is derived from historical sources available to him in his day. He did develop his date 4004 B.C. on some presuppositions that were logical, but probably not accurate. He also used astronomical sources as documented in ancient sources. He frequently mentions that solar eclipsis and other astronomical events to set his dates. Shallow scholars of today are way too quick to ignore Ussher’s work.

My third point I want to make is that Grudem, claims to take biblical positions for his theology, but here he is ignoring this perspective. The question comes down to this… Does God know how to communicate to us when He created the universe accurately in a way we can understand it. If not, why do we assume we understand anything else in the Bible? The creation account is a very clear historical narrative and the calculations of the genealogies in Genesis are straight forward. There are only a few debatable issues when taking a strictly biblical position. An problems essentially arise from accepting long ages of secular and skeptic opinions.

Now, when Grudem speaks about the doctrine of inerrancy, he says, “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.3)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 91 The question here pertaining to creation is, could it be possible that no Bible scholar was able to understand Scripture accurately until after infidels invented ideas about the earth being old. Should Christians be driven to the Bible to reexamine what the Bible says, or should they be driven to the Bible to affirm what the Bible teaches against the skeptics. Who has compromised on the Scripture.

Now listen to this comment from Grudem on p. 121. “Therefore the knowledge of God and creation gained from Scripture must be used to interpret correctly the creation around us. Using the theological terms that we will define below, we can say that we need special revelation to interpret general revelation rightly.” 4)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 121 He makes similar comments on p. 149. I completely agree with this comment, but I have to ask why Grudem will not hold this position consistently? If we need to interpret general revelation through the lenses of special revelation, we are to interpret the “book of nature” in light of the Bible. So why would we compromise what the Bible teaches about the age of the earth based on skeptics whose sin nature effects their ability to think and interpret the “book of nature” accurately? Not to mention that God promised to preserve His word while the “book of nature” is corrupted by the curse of sin. The effect of sin on creation and our minds must be held accurately when we develop the theological position of origins, but this is rarely if every discussed.

Since the totality of man is deprived by sin, including the mind, how natural inclination is to reject sound godly thinking. Ephesians 2:3 states, “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” We are all, by nature, effected by sin, especially our minds. Likewise, Romans 1:21 says mankind, “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” This is in context following the comments in verse 20 which said, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen[.]” So things in creation declare evidence of God but mankind’s sin nature has caused us to reject these self-evident facts from creation. Our only reliable source of truth is the Bible, which being perfectly preserved, should be what we believe against seemingly contradicting opinions.

Now Grudem rejects a young age of creation but also denounces theistic evolution. On pages 278-279 he acknowledges Adam and Eve as literal historical figures and quotes Berkhof who says theistic evolution is an embarrassment, being “neither the biblical doctrine of creation, nor a consistent theory of evolution.”5)Berkhof, Systematic Theology p. 139-140 cited Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 279 Now much of Grudem’s argument against evolution in pages 277-284 is dependent on and frequently references Philip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial.6)Philip E. Johnson, Darwin On Trial, Intervarsity Press (Downer Grove, IL: 1991,1993). Johnson is considered by many as the initiator of the Intelligent Design movement and his book Darwin on Trial is a worth reading (though out of date being originally published in 1991), however, he is also a theistic evolutionist. I’ll have to interact with his book in the future to make my point on that, but as I have said, there are really only three positions, biblical creation, theistic evolution, and naturalistic evolution. What most apologists are arguing today is merely against the philosophy of naturalism, not evolution itself.

Concerning gaps in genealogies, Grudem discusses them on pages 290-291. He notes that Matthew chapter 1 does have gaps. I will also add that Luke 3:36 which reports a Cainan which is missing in Genesis. Many young earth creationists will say this is a textual corruption in Luke, but I believe that the Textus Receptus is the preserved text of the New Testament. The textual information we have allows only one name to be identified as a gap from Adam to Abraham, so this surely does not permit an extensive addition of hundreds of thousands of years.  Definitely not millions. However, Grudem erroneously claims, “In view of the exceptionally long life spans reported for people prior to the flood, it would not seem unreasonable to think that a few thousand years have been passed over in the narrative. This gives us some flexibility in our thinking about the date that man first appeared on the earth.”7)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 291 This is clearly an unreasonable extrapolation that is unjustifiable from the text. Jude acknowledges that Enoch was the 7th from Adam (Jude 14) so we cannot go slipping ideas of missing names in these genealogies and justifiably assume gaps of thousands of years. It would be an argument from silence and eisegesis, reading into the text something that is not there. Our goal is exegesis, reading out of the text what is there and believing what God has revealed to us. Otherwise we are idolatry placing our intellects above the mind of an omniscient God Who revealed His word to us.

Permitting Cainan in Luke 3 would only permit 100 to 150 years, and based on extrabiblical ancient Jewish source 130 years. But in reality, comparing Genesis 11, the age when men were begetting children after the Babel account is around 30-35 years, which would be what our chronology would be based on. 30-35 years is quite irrelevant to be concerned about either way. We really don’t need a precise date, say 4004 B.C., but a general date of approximately 6,000 years since creation is suitable.

Grudem says on page 292, “So how long ago did man appear on the earth? Certainly by 10,000 B.C., if the Cro-Magnon cave paintings have been dated correctly. But before that it is difficult to say.”8)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 292 So he is stepping outside of God’s word to claim a date based on the secular dates of cave paintings. It should be noted that the dating methods are so riddled with problems and assumptions, even evolutionists have said they cannot be trusted, and those which have become accepted are more appropriately termed “selected.” This is because the dating methods yield multiple dates and the scientists select the date closes to what they subjective feel like is most suitable for what they are dating.

Grudem claims on p. 293 that the curse of death may have not been including the animals in Genesis. In other words, he thinks animals may have died before sin was introduced by man. It is clear from the context in Genesis 3:14 that God cursed the entire creation, including animals when God said to the serpent, “Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field[.]” So the curse of sin and death includes animals, “all cattle, and every beast of the field,” which would imply that animals did not die until after sin entered the world by Adam’s rebellion.

On page 415 he addresses the comments of the New Testament which says Satan, “was a murderer from the beginning” in John 8:44, and “the devil sinneth from the beginning” in 1 John 3:8. Grudem explains this to mean “from the ‘beginning’ parts of the history of the world (Genesis 3 and even before).” So exactly how long did sin exist in creation. For millions of years or from the beginning of mankind. Did mankind exist for millions of years? Do the numbers of Genesis chapters 5 and 11 mean anything. Why did God reveal these numbers to us if God never intended us to calculate those numbers to assume we could understand when the beginning was? Is there a purpose for those numbers and should we believe them as part of the inerrant word of God?

Grudem spends a lengthy discussion spanning from p. 293 though p. 297 on the topic of defining the word “day” in Genesis 1. It is interesting that he frequently attempts to set the arguments for a long age, but when addressing the young earth interpretations, he says that “this is a weighty argument,” and notes the old age arguments carries an “unusual suggestions.” He notes the word “day” being identified with “evening and morning” is “persuasive.”9)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 295 But he attempts to explain it away with points that are not persuasive at all, such as “evening” simply marks that end of a day or period, while “morning” marks the beginning of a new day or period, a “new creative day.”10)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 295 this is following Hugh Ross’s progressive creation concept which assumes each creation day represents an epoch of time.

Grudem also argues that the sun wasn’t created until day four so the evening and morning cannot be how we understand evening and morning in a 24 hour day. This point is refuted in his own words as his second argument is addressing the issues that day 3 cannot be long since plants are created before the sun so you cannot have plants for millions of years without the sun. He argues that the supernatural light existed before God created the sun. But since the light existed before the sun was created, why can we not have evening and morning as literal 24 hours like we have to day. Grudem concludes this argument by saying the long ages argument is an “unusual suggestions.”11)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 296 It is illogical and I’m glad he is willing to say so. The ignorance is in attempting to defining the day as 24 hours is based on the sun or light source. The 24 hour day is based on the tilt of the earth and its rotation, not on any light source. If, hypothetically, the sun did not exist we would still have a 24 hour rotation.

The Sabbath command in Exodus 20:9-11 tells us the sabbath is based on the creation account, which establishes the fact that creation was 6 literal 24 hour days. Grudem argues that the context allows the word “days” to be long periods. He references Exodus 20:12, which states, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” He argues that the word “days” in this verse must mean a long period of time. However, there is no reason the word “days” here is not to be understood as a measurement of literal 24 hour days. I don’t find his point convincing at all. It simply means to live many days. Or as Native American would say “many moons ago” which still implies many 24 hour periods in accumulation, making it a long time ago.

At the end of his discussion for the word “days” he states on page 297, “At present, consideration of the power of God’s creative word and the immediacy with which it seems to bring response, the fact that ‘evening and morning’ and the numbering of days still suggest twenty-four-hour days, and the fact that God would seem to have no purpose for delaying the creation of man for thousands or even millions of years, seem to me to be strong considerations in favor of the twenty-four-hour day position. But even here there are good arguments on the other said…”12)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 297 He cites 2 Peter 3:8 which is taken out of it intended context and frequently misquoted with this sense. It simply means God doesn’t view time as man does, which is evident in Psalm 90:4. “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” So to God a thousand year is like yesterday or a watch in the night which is 3 hours. Grudem also presents a brief concept of the anthropic principle in light of big bang cosmology implying the universe took just the right amount of time to prepare for man’s arrival as the earth developed 4.5 million years ago. Here is Grudem’s expression of evolution. He says, “God has chosen not to give us enough information to come to a clear decision on this question[.]”13)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 297 God’s revelation is pretty clear unless you don’t want to believe what God clearly revealed.

He interacts with a few old earth positions after this discussion. Starting with the “Day-Age view” he notes it has some major problems.14)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), pp. 298-300 He identifies the sequence of events is not consistent with the Bible, and he elaborates the problem of the sun being created on day 4. On this point he settles on noting there was a light source before the creation of the sun, moon and stars. The problem with his expression is that I am unaware of any author who is content with that answer. It is usually expressed that the heavenly luminaries become visible on earth during the fourth epoch of creation. Furthermore, having plants on day 3 which make millions of years waiting for the sunlight to become visible on day 4, not only lacks sun light for plants, but also pollinators which are created on day 5, or the fifth epoch. Some plants pollinate by the wind, but many need insects. So this long-age position has to provide new kinds of plants evolving after day 5, which would be interpreted as multiple epochs of millions of years.

Grudem interacts with the literary framework position, which he actually provides one of the better arguments rejecting the view. The literary framework places the first 3 days of creation as forming and the last 3 days as filling. On generalizing, this scheme seems suitable but when braking it down to nuances, this interpretation hold no water.

When interacting with young age positions he practically ignores the Flood geology. Grudem admits he believes the Flood was universal and destroyed all life outside the Ark. However, his comment is “The geological arguments put forth by advocates of this view are technical and difficult for the nonspecialist to evaluate.”15)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 306 He than claims, “The controversy over flood geology is strikingly different from the other areas of dispute regarding creation, for its advocates have persuaded almost no professional geologists, even those who are Bible- believing evangelical Christians… If present geological formations could only be explained as the result of a universal flood, then would this not be evident to non-Christians who look at the evidence? Would not the hundreds of Christians who are professional geologists be prepared to acknowledge the evidence if it were there? It may be that the flood geologists are right, but if they are, we would expect to see more progress in persuading some professional geologists that their case is a plausible one.”16)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 306

This is a very poor argument. He simply refuses to discuss it at any length, committing only 2 paragraphs to justify why he will not consider this position. It’s too technical and no professionals accept it. However, this is utterly wrong. Just a few examples to prove my point. Read the book Persuaded by the Evidence, edited by Doug Sharp and Jerry Bergman,17)Persuaded by the Evidence (ed. Doug Sharp and Jerry Bergman), Master Books (Green Forest, AR: 2008). which contains 39 testimonies of scientists who became persuaded of the biblical creation account. Another book is On the Seventh Day: Forty scientists and academics explain why they believe in God, Edited by John Ashton.18)On the Seventh Day: Forty scientists and academics explain why they believe in God (ed. John Ashton), Master Books (Green Forest, AR: 2002). And one more, In Six Day: Why fifty scientists choose to believe in creation, also edited by John Ashton.19)In Six Day: Why fifty scientists choose to believe in creation (ed. John Ashton), Master Books (Green Forest, AR: 2001, 2005). Just those 3 books represent 129 scientists that became convince young earth creationist. Many of their testimonies express that when they read The Genesis Flood by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, they were convinced in a young earth creationist position. If Grudem say no professional have been convinced of this position, he is either purposely turning a blind eye, or is very limited in his scope of research, or possibly purposely lying.

I’m not a profession geologist, but I was also convinced from apologetic and held a young earth position before I was born again. These arguments converted me from atheism to a biblical creationist while still unsaved. I find it remarkable that time and time again it is scientists that argue for the young earth while theologians are willing to compromise what the Bible clearly says about the age. Furthermore, I frequently find these same theologians misrepresenting the young earth position with lies or straw-man arguments. We would think the theologians would at least be honest and diligent to research and accurately represent another view. It is a sad day and evident of the end time apostasy when we cannot even trust our theologians to be honest, especially when it comes to handling the Word of God.



Heath Henning
Heath Henning
Heath heads the Set Free addictions ministry on Friday nights at Mukwonago Baptist Church and is involved in evangelism on the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, offering his expertise in apologetics at the weekly Set Free Bible Study every Tuesday evening. He currently lives in East Troy, Wisconsin with his wife and nine children. Read Heath Henning's Testimony

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