Lutheran Creation Doctrine: Old Earth Creationism

This week I am continuing in my study of the creation doctrine of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I introduced this new series two weeks ago; I’m following along a series of blog posts on the Concordia Theology blog studying old earth creationism, evolutionary creationism, and everyone’s favorite, young earth creationism. Which one will the Lutherans choose? Or will they make up a new narrative? Stay tuned to find out!

If you want to follow along, this week’s post will be my response to an article titled A Travel Guide to the Evangelical Creation Debates: What is Old Earth Creationism? by Charles P. Arand.

The basis of Old Earth Creationism is that its believers hold to an old earth (we’ll see just how old they think the earth is) but not biological evolution. Over the years I’ve found this to be the position of apologists like Prof Dave and Lee Strobel, and never have I understood why someone would be a proponent of the big bang but not evolution—and upon beginning his study, Arand didn’t either.

The old earth creationism model is essentially a solution for staunch biblical literalists to reconcile about half of their cognitive dissonance of reality: they acknowledge the evidence of an old earth in regards to geology and astronomy, but not evolutionary biology. It seems that evolution is simply not something that they can bring themselves to accept. To connect the bible with these old earth views, several possible solutions were proposed over time, and you may have heard of them. The first to gain some traction was the gap theory, or the idea that there was an immense period of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. According to Arand’s research, many theologians believe that there was some sort of catastrophe that occurred on earth during this time as a result of the fall of Lucifer and his impending punishment from God. Thus, creation was almost more of a rebirth after this initial destruction.

Arand goes on to account that the gap theory lost popularity around the 1950s, and for the next half a century, the day-age theory began to take its place. In my opinion, this was a strange time. In some ways, famous fundamentalists like William Bell Riley had it right in saying there were no “intelligent fundamentalist[s] who [claim] that the earth was made six thousand years ago.” But…this is the same man who founded the Anti-Evolution League of America and the World Christian Fundamentals Association. This seems like a bit of a one-step-forward, two-steps-back type of situation.

After criticizing the idea of flood geology (trying to account for geological discoveries with Noah’s flood), and calling it “ignoble”, “unwholesome”, and “strange”, a theologian by the name of Bernard Ramm came up with the idea of progressive creation as an alternative to both the gap theory and day-age theory, in which creation is described in Genesis as taking six days, but it just…didn’t. To him, it was an allegory reflecting something that God instead did over a long period of time in which he essentially planted the seeds for various species to pop up whenever their time came.

Arand includes a few helpful lists outlining some of the best known Old Earth Creationists today, including the Christian Research Institute and Hugh Ross of the Reasons to Believe Creation Model, his book on which I recently added to my collection> (Maybe some day I’ll find out what reasons he, someone with a PhD in astronomy, could possibly have for believing in creationism.)(Update 9/8/21: I didn’t. I sold the book.) It’s also made clear that both of these organizations/people believe in the 100% inerrancy of the bible, save for their stretched interpretation that they’ve done with their old earth beliefs in order to match external scientific data.

A member of the Creation Research Institute gave a reason for why he believes in old earth creationism but not evolution: he holds to the idea that the bible is perfect, but in regards to topics that aren’t explicitly mentioned, it is then permissible to turn to science for the answer. To me, this is the cherry-picking of facts. Because of this, he believes that the age of the earth is outside of the scope of the bible, but he believes that evolution contradicts the bible because of the special creation of humans by God. On the plus side, he rejects that old nonsensical idea that God could have just made the universe look old because it can be neither proven nor disproven. To me, it is like the existence of God: I have no reason to believe something like that to be true unless it can be proven or at least demonstrated to be likely.

So the most distinct feature of old earth creationism is that it holds to an old earth and universe, although not with any specific ages: the article just said “millions or billions of years”. Some proponents believe in a big bang, but none of them believe in evolution due to (silly) reasons such as a contradiction with the special creation of humans in Genesis, progressive creation, or the age old misconception that “biology cannot arise from chemistry”.

It seems that for now, Arand isn’t proclaiming his own thoughts on Old Earth Creationism, but rather showing his research on the concept which he hadn’t initially been too familiar with. I still have a feeling, however, that the conclusion he arrives at as “The Lutheran Option” will more resemble Young Earth Creationism. In the next few weeks we will find out!

It may be a short while until I arrive back to this series on creationism, because this upcoming Friday I am getting married! I will do my best to find time to write next week’s post on Saturday and have it up at a normal time, but if it is a bit late, now you know why. 🙂

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