The Rock of (Long) Ages?

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The ancient Greek epic poem, the Odyssey, is one of two famous works attributed to Homer and is one of the oldest extant texts still read by modern audiences, likely because of one of its main lessons; the story of the Trojan Horse. Today, people understand the metaphor of a “Trojan horse” as being a deceptive strategy that allows the infiltration of an enemy’s stronghold often by taking advantage of the overconfidence and negligence of the opponent.

In the original story, the Greeks left behind the supposed “gift” of a gigantic wooden horse as they pretended defeat, and although they should have seen through the ploy, the Trojans opened up their seemingly invincible city to the enemy by dragging the statue inside, and in doing so brought about their own destruction. As the Greek soldiers concealed within the seemingly harmless idol emerged, they began to stealthily attack the lethargic and inattentive Trojans. Eventually unlocking the doors from within, they allowed a wave of enemy warriors simply waiting for the opportunity to pour inside and ravage the fortress with impunity.

It’s an emotive story that touches a nerve with most people. Like the story of the Titanic, we recognize the real tragedy isn’t so much the idea of defeat, it’s the knowledge that pride and inattentiveness on the part of the defeated directly contributed to their own downfall. If only they’d been more careful. If only they’d been more cautious! If only they hadn’t been so confident! And this story has many parallels to the fall of the western church.

The Good Old Days

Looking back at the western world Christian church up until a little over 100 years ago in a figurative sense, it was like a gleaming fortress, dressed in banners of faith with watchmen all around its parapets wielding golden bugles, trumpeting salvation for sinners because of what Christ had done. All seemed well on the outside, but the cracks in its footings were already appearing. And that’s because the enemy was already on the inside, slowly undermining the foundation from within.

Countries like Canada, Australia, the UK, and of course the USA once sent missionaries worldwide, reaching thousands and winning souls through faithful gospel proclamation. The health of the church in their home countries seemed strong and powerful, producing strong Christian leaders in homes, churches, and all facets of community and culture. Families raised up godly children who believed God’s Word was the ultimate authority over man.

The majority fall from the faith due to the withering secularist assault before reaching their 18th birthday, and many become collaborators, join the enemy camp and turn and fight against the faith of their family.

The Here and Now

But all that changed, seemingly in the blink of an eye. Today’s churches are often viciously attacked by the culture, and often from those inside their own walls who hold to the strange doctrines the world is teaching as authority over God’s Word. Christians, especially our youth, seem far from what would have been deemed “Christian soldiers,” and seem unequipped to advance or even defend the gospel on any front. The majority fall from the faith due to the withering secularist assault before reaching their 18th birthday, and many become collaborators, join the enemy camp and turn and fight against the faith of their family.

The authority of God’s Word is not only openly questioned in the state-run classrooms (where the majority of youth from Christian homes are “educated”), but often within church walls. Gospel witness has crawled to a virtual standstill and missionaries from other countries are now coming to share the gospel in the secularized West!

The Main Attack

The main battleground for the church today is the same as it has always been, the fight over biblical authority. If man decides truth, if the Bible must concede to the fallible opinion of the creature vs. the words of the Creator, if the Bible doesn’t have to mean what it plainly says, then biblical authority in church and culture will never be re-established. If the world sees that Christians are willing to bend the knee by reinterpreting large portions of Scripture and adopting strange, unnatural meanings never seen by former church generations (prior to the ascendancy of evolutionary concepts born out of a naturalistic mindset) for their logical theological conclusions (like death having preceded sin), why would we expect non-Christians not to question the Bible’s authenticity in all areas as well? But how could the church have been undermined in such a fashion in such a short period of time?

Know Your Enemy

The Bible describes an enemy so evil, so devious, and so clever that all Christians should be constantly seeking the Word of God (and his illumination of it) in order to protect themselves from him, the one who’s constantly prowling around seeking to destroy and devour. We need to understand that Satan knows the Bible far better than we do: he’s had a lot longer to study it than any of us have. And he also knows human nature very well.

Satan has always used the same basic plan, an error that dates back to the Garden of Eden itself when Eve accepted Satan’s doubting words, “Did God really say” (Genesis 3:1). It’s the same plan the Apostle Paul warned about when he said, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ”(2 Corinthians 11:3). The plan is always to get God’s people to doubt the authority of his Word.

Know His Plan

Now Satan knows man doesn’t tend to fall for recognizable “frontal attacks,” so obviously any affront against Jesus, the cross, salvation, or main tenets and doctrines of the church would be easily seen by the church’s guardians. In pugilistic terms, it’s usually not the right hand that knocks you out but the left hook: the one you don’t see coming. The most effective attack is one that comes at you sideways and doesn’t cause offense. Even better, if it included Homer’s classic equestrian tactic that allowed the unlocking of their own gates from inside, it would be even more demoralizing by letting doubt, panic, and strife come pouring in.

And the enemy did indeed devise just such a plan, an idea that seemed totally harmless and distant from New Testament theology, and one that was quietly accepted and brought inside the fold.

Attacking Jesus Through Geology

The plan was simple: undermine the foundation. No matter how magnificent the edifice, if you destroy its foundation, the entire structure will collapse. The plan was centered around a simple concept, one that could be easily understood, taught, and promoted. And most importantly, it didn’t seem to be related to the gospel in most people’s minds. That attack was simply the concept of “deep time.”

The late 1700s saw the rise in popularity of the idea of millions of years in Western academia, primarily through a naturalistic interpretation of the sedimentary rock layers found worldwide. Prior to its ascendancy, the most commonly held belief in the West was that God created the world in six literal days around six thousand years ago. It was also thought that vast amounts of creatures buried in sedimentary rock layers had been laid down very rapidly as a result of the great deluge described in Genesis 6–9, iI.e., Noah’s flood. The common understanding was that this massive violent catastrophe had covered the whole earth in water, shaping its geologic landscape.

The idea of “millions of years” proposed something different. It began with the idea that the Bible and its account of a great flood should not be seen as an inerrant account of real history, and instead proposed new ways of thinking aside from God’s Word. What if there had never been a great flood? What if the processes we see in the world today has always been the way the earth has functioned? Perhaps the rates we see layers of sediment accumulating in rivers, lakes, and oceans today have always been constant, and that’s how the rock layers we see around the world formed? Perhaps we could use that to determine how old earth really was?

Once these ideas became accepted, the only job left was to figure out where to fit the millions of years into the Bible.

The concept was simple and easy to teach and understand. If a layer or two of strata in sedimentary rock were to have been laid down over the course of a year, then it must have taken millions of years to lay down the massive rock layers observed around the world. And the idea of deep time didn’t seem offensive to many in the church because it didn’t really seem to have anything to do with morality, ethics, or the Lordship of Christ. It had the intellectual credibility that science provided and was supported by upstanding citizens (seemingly) friendly to the church. It was logical and reasonable and didn’t seem at all abrasive to the teachings of the clergy to all except for the most discerning, and they were quite few in comparison to those who weren’t.

Once these ideas became accepted, the only job left was to figure out where to fit the millions of years into the Bible. Surely bright theologians could figure out a number of very sophisticated and clever ways to shoehorn deep time into biblical history. Their brilliance and ingenuity can be clearly seen on display via the veritable smorgasbord of ideas available on today’s theological platter. Gap Theory, Day-Age Theory, Tranquil Flood, Genesis 1:11 as a localized creation, retroactive death, theistic evolution or evolutionary creation—you name it.

In most seminaries today, these are all seen as viable options for reinterpreting what the Bible plainly says. Except for, ironically, biblical creation. That God created in six literal days about 6,000 years ago and that you can take Genesis as plainly written. And it was at the precise moment way back then that the church signaled a very specific message to the next generation. And that message was, “You don’t have to take the Bible as plainly written if ‘science’ says so” . . . and the trap was sprung.

The Doors Are Breached

Doubt in the form of questions derived from this naturalistic teaching now came flooding in against the teaching of the church in a violent, rapid torrent. What church leaders had failed to grasp is that by accepting an alternate history to the biblical one, they had given up the concept of biblical authority. The great doors had been unlocked from within by the defenders of the faith themselves, and now the gates of infallibility were being pushed open further and further as the enemy advanced their position from the ground they had gained.

What about fossils then? Were things dying before Adam sinned? How do you explain dinosaur bones? Was there a creation before the one recorded in Scripture? Why does it say, “In the beginning” then? What about the purported ape-men fossils? Were Adam and Eve “ape-people”? If God is loving and good, why did he use millions of years of death and suffering to “create” and call that good? If Genesis isn’t real history, why do the New Testament writers quote it as if it were, including Jesus? Did Jesus not realize that Genesis was wrong? How could he be God if he was wrong about how he created everything?

Despite the fact that it was plain to see that Genesis (and all of the relevant supporting verses throughout the Bible) pointed to a recent creation and a young earth, naturalistic scientists now controlled the narrative about the beginning of all things. The church had conceded biblical authority be saying Scripture should be interpreted according to what scientists determine about history, which meant that “science” (i.e., conclusions about history by fallible men based on naturalistic assumptions) had more authority than the Word of God. This not only stood publicly against the plain reading of Scripture but also against the teaching of the church fathers and reformers, who had overwhelmingly believed Genesis declared the earth was young.

Church “champions of biblical inerrancy” like Charles Hodge (whether unwittingly or not) began declaring the surrender of scriptural authority with quotes like the following:

It is of course admitted that, taking this account [Genesis] by itself, it would be most natural to understand the word [day] in its ordinary sense; but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts, [millions of years] and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other.1

Unsurprisingly, the enemy’s minions capitalized on this retreat from authority immediately. “Darwin’s Bulldog” Thomas Huxley opened fire at compromisers right away:

If Adam may be held to be no more real a personage than Prometheus, and if the story of the Fall is merely an instructive “type,” comparable to the profound Promethean mythus, what value has Paul’s dialectic. And what about the authority of the writers of the books of the New Testament, who, on this theory, have not merely accepted flimsy fictions for solid truths, but have built the very foundations of Christian dogma upon legendary quicksands?2

Notice his “kill shot” linking “the authority of the writers of the New Testament” to its foundations in the Old Testament, which were being admitted to be “legendary quicksands” by the church itself!

The Walls Come Tumbling Down

By stating the earth was millions of years old, the fossil record filled with all of its death and suffering must have occurred millions of years prior to Adam sinning, which logically concludes God must have used death to create and called it very good!

God’s enemies had now established a direct line of sight at the core teaching of the church: the gospel. By stating the earth was millions of years old, the fossil record filled with all of its death and suffering must have occurred millions of years prior to Adam sinning, which logically concludes God must have used death to create and called it very good! So it couldn’t have been Adam’s sin that allowed death and suffering into the creation: it was there from the beginning.

But the Bible made clear statements about sin and death in the world being the result of our first parents’ fall from grace, which then couldn’t be true if all of the carnage found in the fossil record had occurred before they even arrived on the scene. The average layperson was now empowered to attack the faith by asking basic questions: Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world if God is good? Did God use diseases like cancer to “create”? How do you determine which parts of the Bible are true?

God’s Works Through His People; Satan Works Through His

A primary figure in the war to undermine God’s Word was an anti-Christian lawyer-turned-geologist by the name of Charles Lyell. Lyell’s background in law allowed him to argue persuasively, and the infancy of the field of geology as a serious study combined with the lack of resources for most people to travel widely and observe the evidence first-hand made him a seeming authority on the subject.

He knew the Victorians of the day would not embrace direct attacks on the church, so he used seemingly inoffensive and “scientific” argument from geology to discredit the history in the Bible, all very much on purpose. We know this because of his own writings to his colleagues of the day where he admitted,

I conceived the idea five or six years ago [1824–25], that if ever the Mosaic geology could be set down without giving offence, it would be in an historical sketch, and you must abstract mine, in order to have as little to say as possible yourself. Let them feel it, and point the moral.3

Although written in a style that seems somewhat foreign to modern ears, what he was clearly saying is that if what Moses wrote about the flood could be replaced with an alternate history regarding the age of the rocks, it would undercut the entire Bible eventually by undercutting the teaching of the Rock of Ages.

Knowing there might be some resistance from the church, he focused on seemingly scientific and intellectual arguments rather than overtly theological ones, even though he knew full well there would be a direct impact should his notions be popularized. He also sought allies from the more liberal wing of the clergy, who were more likely to compromise, to help accomplish his goal.

If we don’t irritate, which I fear that we may (though mere history), we shall carry all with us. If you don’t triumph over them, but compliment the liberality and candour of the present age, the bishops and enlightened saints will join us in despising both the ancient and modern physico-theologians. It is just the time to strike, so rejoice that, sinner as you are, the Quarterly Review [a publication he was hoping to publish in] is open to you.4

Again, the language requires closer attention to understand, but what he was getting at is that the strategy should be to not insult the church writings or to lord these ideas over them. Just work with those inside the church open to these concepts and in that way overcome the more staunch Bible defenders that might detect and perceive the logical outworking of removing Genesis as real history before it was well established through academia.

Lyell succeeded in popularizing the concept of uniformitarianism (the present is the key to the past), overthrowing the logical conclusions regarding geology drawn from Moses’ writings involving Noah’s flood and a recent six-day creation. Lyell was very successful in paving the way for Darwinian evolution by establishing its much-needed time-frame. The Western World has been changing ever since, and while many Christians fail to understand the root cause, prominent Bible skeptics like F. Sherwood Taylor do. Asked what he felt changed England from a Christian into a “pagan nation,” he had a ready answer:

“I myself have little doubt that in England it was [uniformitarian, long-ages] geology and the theory of evolution that changed us from a Christian to a pagan nation.”5

What is even more disheartening is understanding that Lyell’s ideas of uniformitarian geology are widely criticized by many modern evolutionary geologists like Warren D. Allmon (the Director of Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, NY, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University), who said,

Lyell also sold geology some snake oil. He convinced geologists that . . . all past processes acted at their current rates (that is, those observed in historic time).6

Calling the concept of uniformitarianism “snake oil” by such a prestigious researcher isn’t exactly flattering, and yet these were the very same faulty ideas that Christians allowed into the church and widely accepted, promoted, and taught to their own children. They of course became more consistent over subsequent generations, to believe less and less in biblical authority until we are where we are today.

Clearly, the compromising of God’s Word with man’s fallible ideas is extremely damaging to the cause of Christ. The watchmen of the day were unlike the Bereans that Paul commended for their love and adherence to the authority of God’s Word. Otherwise they would have identified these evolutionary, naturalistic ideas for the poisonous snare they truly are!

The Moral of the Story

Like most good stories, Homer’s tale has a moral: Beware Greeks bearing gifts. And, like the Trojan’s, not every story ends well. Many Christians are involved in fighting against the results of a modern, secularized culture in areas like the abortion issue, same-sex marriage, lack of ethics and morality everywhere, etc. and still don’t understand these are just symptoms of a battle that was lost years ago.

The concept of millions of years has caused unimaginable damage to the fortress of infallibility. It doesn’t fit into biblical history, and long ages undermine biblical authority and actually destroy the purpose of Jesus’ coming.

To regain any real ground, arguments against these issues must have a source of authority, a foundational platform to base all of these arguments upon. Why is abortion wrong? Because all people are precious, made in the image of God. Source of authority? Genesis! Why are marriage relationships other than one man for one woman for life wrong? Because God created marriage to be one man with one woman for life. Source of authority? Genesis! And because all Christian doctrines, directly or indirectly are founded in Genesis, the root of all of these problems and more is a lack of biblical authority in our culture brought about by the undermining of that foundational text.

The concept of millions of years has caused unimaginable damage to the fortress of infallibility. It doesn’t fit into biblical history, and long ages undermine biblical authority and actually destroy the purpose of Jesus’ coming. Believers should reject the concept and stop trying to blend it into the biblical narrative, because it is in opposition to God’s Word. And those who don’t will continue to flounder in sinking sand of compromise, worshipping the rock of “long” ages.

Instead, we need to trust in the authority of God’s Word from beginning to end and stand firm on the firm footing of the true Rock of ages: Jesus Christ.

Footnotes

  1. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 570–571.
  2. Thomas H. Huxley, Science And Hebrew Tradition Essays, (New York: D. Appleton, 1894), 207–208.
  3. From Terry Mortenson, The Great Turning Point: The Church’s Catastrophic Mistake on Geology—Before Darwin, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004), 226–227, citing Lyell, Katherine (Lyell’s sister-in-law), Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, Bart. (London: Murray, 1881), I:p. 268–271.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Sherwood Taylor, “Geology changes the outlook,” in Ideas and Beliefs of the Victorians, (London: Sylvan Press Ltd., 1949), 195 (one of a series of talks broadcast on BBC radio).
  6. Warren D. Allmon (Director of Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, NY, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University), “Post Gradualism,” Science 262 (October 1, 1993): 122.

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