An Open Letter:
& Florida College
The following lines represent an open letter to brethren Hill Roberts, Shane Scott, the Bible faculty and administration of Florida College, with particular reference to Colly Caldwell and Ferrell Jenkins:
In Mark 2:1-12 and Matthew 9:1-8, the parallel accounts of Jesus' healing of a bedridden paralytic are given. The text affirms that Jesus' divine power was demonstrated through this miracle when He told the sick of the palsy, "I say unto thee, Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thy house." Mark's account then says that the man "straightway took up the bed, and went forth before them all." Faithful brethren in discussions with Pentecostals and charismatics generally, have pointed out two obvious characteristics of miracles from this and other cases: (a) there was instantaneous action to accomplish fully the intended result, and (b) the action was not explainable by natural law.
Suppose one were to affirm that he fully believed in the power of Christ in this miracle, but went on to explain that the biblical account merely gave us a simplified and abbreviated version of what actually took place. Suppose it was claimed that to understand what really happened in this story, we would need to go to medical science and to understand the healing process because, after all, the Bible merely states the fact of the healing, not how it was done or how long it took. On the basis of this reasoning, let us further suppose that one concluded the man of Mark 2 was healed by Christ over a period of 20 years through the natural laws which Christ decreed on the occasion recorded. If one so affirmed, would we be ready to accept that explanation as being in accordance with the Scripture? Obviously not. But why not? We would no doubt answer that such is a denial of the clear affirmation of the inspired record that the miracle was (a) instantaneous, and (b) could not be explained by natural law. Brethren, if that reply is proper with regard to the miracle of Mark 2, the same principles must apply with respect to every miracle. Surely that includes the "grand daddy" of all miracles, the Creation itself. All other miracles pale in comparison!
In recent years, acceptance and tolerance of what we consider to be a dangerous error has been increasing among our brethren. It is an error which, in our estimation, undercuts the very foundation of our faith. This is the view which suggests that the physical universe began as the result of the Big Bang and developed over billions of years of change by natural law to become capable of sustaining life. Brethren among us have both publicly and privately stated their acceptance of the basic tenets of uniformitarianism and the timetable associated with the general theory of evolution. While they maintain that God created life instantaneously by His word, they deny that a similar process obtained with the inanimate world. Documentation of the particular issues discussed in this essay is provided in the form of endnotes with extensive quotations and citations of sources. We encourage each person to check those sources to make sure that all quotations cited are properly used. If it can be proven that we have misrepresented or misunderstood someone, then we shall be anxious to make a full and public correction.
It is our conviction that if the concepts mentioned above are accepted or tolerated among us, the stage will have been set for an ever progressing acceptance of an evolutionary explanation for all things. We are convinced that when one accepts the basic principles of biblical interpretation undergirding such theories, there is no convenient or proper stopping point in their application. For those who do not take such matters as seriously as we do, nor share our obvious level of distress, let it be known that this is not a cry of "Wolf!" In our view it is a real and present danger. And, it is not our intention to "just let it go" or "learn to live with that which we cannot change." We may not be able to change it, but we assuredly do not intend to tolerate it in silence!
Those signing this letter have been troubled over the recent acceptance or tolerance of views denying the literal interpretation of the Bible account of miraculous creation. Actions taken and public declarations made by some among the Florida College administration and Bible faculty, as well as the "Lord I Believe" seminars, have been at the heart of such compromising efforts. The positive case for the literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 has been set forth in several papers by numerous writers. Several brethren have made repeated efforts for over a year to provide for public discussion with both groups named above concerning the points at issue. Though there have been a few brief private discussions held between individuals which have ended without general agreement on the issues involved, opportunities for public debate or discussion have been rejected by those who maintain this view is an acceptable option for faithful Christians. This article will attempt to set the record straight regarding the real issues and to extend a renewed offer to address those matters with openness and brotherly love.
An advance copy of this article has been provided to brethren Colly Caldwell, Ferrell Jenkins and Shane Scott of Florida College as well as to brother Hill Roberts of the "Lord I Believe" seminars. No such courtesy was provided on their part before engaging in their efforts described below. Nevertheless, opportunity for open discussion to each of these parties is again being offered to the end that we may address the real issues. Our hope and prayer is that such public discussion will take place so that unity may be furthered on the basis of truth, rather than division aided by distortion. None of us seeks the destruction of these brethren or any effort for truth. However, we do believe it essential for us to give an appropriate answer to what we consider a dangerous religious error.
Brother Hill Roberts leads the "Lord I Believe" seminars which have been held in various parts of the country, and in numerous congregations. There is much that is valuable and true that is taught by brother Roberts in his presentations. His refutation of biological evolution is excellent, and his technical expertise has often been applauded. However, there is also a good deal which he teaches that is not true to the Bible.
Brother Roberts was invited to the 1999 Florida College lectureship to present a series of four classes on the use of advanced technology to reach a skeptical world. During that series at Florida College, brother Roberts gave out a compact disk which contained his material from the "Lord I Believe" seminars. Among the documents included on that CD-ROM, were the articles entitled A Harmonization of God's Genesis Revelation With His Natural Revelation and Genesis and The Time Thing. These essays deal extensively with brother Roberts' support for a non-literal view of the creation account as well as his support for an evolutionary explanation for the inanimate world. Please note that all quotations and references to brother Roberts' teaching are taken from the CD-ROM handed out at the Florida College lectures. The following are just a few examples which call for examination:
When one reads brother Roberts' material and honestly evaluates it, there is no doubt that he affirms the present order of the universe is a product of a relatively slow evolutionary process of natural, uniformitarian change, albeit guided by divine providence. There is a vast difference between that view and the Bible's affirmation of instantaneous creation by the command of God.
The psalmist declared that, "By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth" (Psa. 33:6). Did God speak His will and then let the natural forces take over and accomplish it through natural, uniformitarian change over billions of years? No! The following words of the psalmist preclude such an interpretation: "For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast" (Psa. 33:9).
Remember also that Jesus asserted man and woman were created "from the beginning of the creation" (Mark 10:6). If brother Roberts and those of like mind are correct, then man and woman were created far closer to our end of time than "the beginning of creation." Whom will you believe? Brother Roberts' teaching is in clear contrast to the word of God. Jesus taught the doctrine of creation as literally true even as stated in Genesis 1 and 2. Since that is the "doctrine of Christ" on the matter, one going beyond that doctrine or found receiving the teacher who goes beyond that doctrine is clearly condemned as being a participant in evil and devoid of God's fellowship and sanction (2 John 9-11).
Why are we so disturbed to hear of these things? Are we over-reacting, or being alarmists? Some will undoubtedly say so, but we think the lessons of history confirm our worries. Several years ago, false views regarding the Bible doctrine of creation were advanced at Abilene Christian University. No one was able to stop the gradual movement toward the teaching of theistic evolution at Abilene, which began with the classroom instruction of only one or two teachers. Now it represents the approach to origins taken at the school. The error taught at Abilene arose among those teaching in the sciences. Lest anyone think that such is the case at Florida College, it should be emphasized that there is not the slightest hint of error regarding creation arising from the teachers of the sciences at Florida College. On the contrary, several of the science teachers there have publicly taught and defended the literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 - that God created both the animate and inanimate world instantaneously over six literal days. Our concern is not with those in the sciences.
The problem with teaching at Florida College which is contrary to the obvious and literal sense of the Genesis account, has instead originated with some in the Bible faculty, who are either directly advocating or encouraging tolerance for non-literal views of Genesis 1 and 2. To this date, there has been no clear rebuke of the doctrinal error taught on Hill Roberts' CD-ROM passed out at the 1999 Florida College lectures. Provision for that opportunity was the responsibility of the Bible faculty which arranges the lectureships. We accept the explanation offered by some on the faculty that they were not aware of brother Roberts' views at the time he was first invited to participate in the 1999 program. However, instead of responding to brother Roberts' materials and condemning the errors present therein, subsequent "defenses" have either pretended not to notice what was circulated on the campus to those in attendance, or else have attempted to justify his invitation to speak on the reasoning that this matter is very difficult to settle and ought not to be seen as a reason for breaking fellowship between brethren.4 On the latter point, we most assuredly disagree. As to the former matter, let this be considered an open invitation: If any of the Bible faculty at Florida College would be willing to rebuke the doctrinal error taught by brother Roberts, show its dangerous consequences and urge that such teachers of error not be received, commitments have been made by the editors for space to publish such in Gospel Anchor, Gospel Truths, Truth Magazine and Watchman Magazine.
But the Hill Roberts matter is not all that concerns us. The non-literal interpretation of creation has been stated as the preferred view by brother Shane Scott in the freshman Bible course at Florida College. This is known to be true by his own admission, and by statements from his students. His website, open to students, stated his acceptance of this position as well. Shane defended his views publicly in a written discussion with Greg Gwin.5 Brother Scott has also recommended material by Hugh Ross who affirms the Big Bang theory and uniformitarian change to account for the gradual development of the inanimate creation according to natural law. Hugh Ross can accurately be described as a theistic evolutionist. Is this the same material recommended for students in Shane's classes? If brother Scott would refute the error of Hugh Ross and that of Hill Roberts, as advanced in the material distributed at the Florida College lectures, it would be a great step forward. Again, we offer him space to do so.
At the Florida College lectureship in February of this year, brother Ferrell Jenkins conducted a class on "Making Sense of the Days of Creation." (Audio tapes of brother Jenkins' class are available from the Florida College Bookstore for $5 each.) Ferrell began by denying that Hill Roberts had taught on "the age of the Earth" during his classes the previous year. It is true that except for a few incidental remarks, he did not elaborate his doctrines. However, brother Jenkins neglected to acknowledge that the teaching was done on the CD-ROM passed out at brother Roberts' last class in the series. Brother Jenkins also belittled much of the discussion about the issues arising over brother Roberts' teaching as "E-gossip" in which some brethren were sentenced to the "electronic mail chair." It was material good for a laugh, but was not befitting a serious attempt to openly discuss issues which affect our souls. The issues involved in this discussion are not a joke, but are matters dealing with fundamental principles of faith and biblical interpretation. If some have been guilty of gossip, whether through e-mail or any other medium, then that ought to be corrected and certainly should not continue. But the fact that Hill Roberts was invited to Florida College and permitted a forum for the further popularization of his views is something which has rightly raised alarm among brethren. If the Bible faculty thinks that someone with views as controversial as those of Hill Roberts can be invited to address lecture attendees without causing a considerable "stir" amongst faithful brethren, then they are assuredly more naive than we all think them to be!
Brother Jenkins stated that all of us would deny a 4.5 or 4.6 billion year age of the earth. However, the fact is that this is not true of all in the Bible faculty and certainly is not true of Hill Roberts as evidenced by the material distributed at Florida College. It should also be noted that the attempt to characterize the issues in this discussion as an "Age of the Earth" question is misleading. The main issue has to do with whether (a) the physical world and its living inhabitants were created instantaneously by the word of God over six literal, consecutive days as taught in Scripture, or (b) the Scripture must be interpreted non-literally to suggest that the physical world is the result of uniformitarian changes over vast eons of time. This discussion centers on the very heart of biblical hermeneutics and miraculous action.
The main thrust of brother Jenkins' class was that we could not be sure whether the "days" of Creation were literal, 24 hour days or ages of time. Brother Jenkins did state his belief that the "days" were literal days as we know them. However, he also said there were good arguments both ways and equally capable men who reached opposite views on this issue. In dealing with the differences which exist on this issue, brother Jenkins characterized them as being among those where "there are just some things so difficult that I may not be able to draw the same conclusion you've drawn on those and then to give that opportunity for people." Rather than being alarmed over the teaching of brother Roberts and those of the same mind, brother Jenkins urged us all as follows: "Let us be less crisis minded."
Those present at brother Jenkins' class were urged not to be "dogmatic" about the issues involved and to accept brethren who came to differing conclusions. They were further urged not to concentrate so much on these matters and get busy trying to reach the lost. However, we would inquire of brother Jenkins why there was no rebuke of brethren for teaching that the Earth evolved over billions of years from the Big Bang rather than trying to reach the lost? The fact is that such teaching is fundamentally flawed and opposed to efforts to reach the lost. It is an abdication of the Bible ground affirming the miraculous and instantaneous creation of the physical world, and a denial of the fundamental principles of proper hermeneutics. If such teaching is encouraged or even tolerated at Florida College, it is our view that eventually we will have many more lost souls to reach, not less.
In the October 1999 issue of the Florida College magazine, and in the face of heavy criticism, brother Colly Caldwell wrote to assure all of us as to the firm stand of the faculty regarding these matters. He said,
But, brother Caldwell, the matters which you have commented upon are not the issue. At this point, we all agree on these matters. What of the inanimate creation? In the present controversy, that is the issue. Is it necessary for us to believe that the order of the physical world also had its origin in the "instantaneous creation by the spoken word of God as described in Genesis 1"? If so, why has teaching to the contrary been tolerated at Florida College? Or is it acceptable to believe the Earth and the physical universe evolved over vast eons of time - despite the plain statements of Scripture? If that is to be accepted, then we suggest that you openly admit that such will be tolerated at Florida College so that parents and students can be fully informed about the true nature of the teaching that is being done at the school.
In the May 2000 issue of Gospel Truths, Colly further attempted to console worried brethren regarding the faculty and administration's views about fellowship with false teachers with the following remarks:
We agree with these statements. But we urge brother Caldwell to consider carefully the implications of what he has written in terms of the issues which have been raised by the teachings of brethren Hill Roberts and Shane Scott. We want to say it as kindly as possible, but say it we must: We view this teaching as false doctrine. Not only do we not agree with it, but we will have no part in tolerating it. It is our intention to fight it with all the force of our powers to speak and write. If Florida College gives this doctrine aid and comfort, then we cannot recommend the school to others without reservations and warnings. We plead with you not to allow the reputation of the school to be further damaged by this controversy.
Those of us who have signed this open letter stand ready to discuss these matters in a public forum. Since these things have been cast into the public light by public proclamation in the churches, on the campus of Florida College, and in written form, the time for private remedy is past. It is our considered opinion that a serious turn has been taken in a very wrong direction by all those who have been alluded to in this open letter. If these brethren are willing to discuss these issues in print, the pages of Gospel Anchor, Gospel Truths, Truth Magazine and Watchman Magazine have been offered for a written discussion of this issue with any or all of those to whom allusion has been made, and who would agree to discuss either of the following propositions:
"The Bible teaches that we should advocate or tolerate an interpretation of the Creation account which affirms the inanimate creation is the result of a series of changes over billions of years beginning with the Big Bang and resulting in a physical world able to sustain life."
The editors of the papers opening their pages can select the men they desire to defend the appropriate propositions above. If oral public debate is preferred, several stand ready to accommodate in that arena also.
Our hope and prayer is that brethren with opposing views will open the Scriptures with one another and come to unity on the basis of truth. These issues are serious and involve foundational principles regarding our faith. We do not consider them to be mere "matters of opinion." We do not hold that they involve issues beyond the average Christian to assess. We deny the allegation that men simply must learn to disagree about such matters. If we cannot agree on the first chapter of the Bible, how can we expect to find agreement on anything else in the Old Book? Surely no one wishes our differences to widen and produce the fruits of estrangement. Unity will not result from the ridicule of those who differ with us nor from a failure to face up to the true nature of the issues involved. May God help us all to open our hearts to one another as we together open our Bibles to resolve any and all of our differences by humble submission to God and his truth.
1. On page 7 of Genesis and The Time Thing, Hill Roberts asks the reader to "consider just how much of Genesis 1 is paralleled by empirical data using the premise that Genesis 1 is true, but very simplified." Of the first four similarities suggested, brother Roberts cites Big Bang supporting hypotheses as his corroborating "empirical data." He then notes the following on page 18:
In his footnote to the last few sentences of that quote, Hill again supports the validity of the Big Bang theory as the "beginning" affirmed in the Bible. He then continues with this statement:
So, by brother Roberts' own admission, he believes in "stellar evolution." The Big Bang gave the universe its beginning and stellar evolution gave it the form it eventually took. One who accepts the notion that God oversaw this process, as does brother Roberts, is undeniably a "theistic stellar evolutionist." (Back to letter)
2. From Genesis & The Time Thing, page 17: "When the contextural hermeneutic approach is consistently applied to all the body of revelation concerning creation (written and natural), some alternative interpretations require investigation. It has been shown by many dating techniques from geology, astronomy and physics that the view that the earth was formed as it is today in only a few days a few thousand years ago' is at least an area where there is no obvious agreement between most of the scientific data and the young earth interpretation. The natural data supporting these dating results are the other authoritative information' revealed by God which could lead one to ask if a different interpretation of Genesis would fit the sum of the data better. The long age view is based on physical properties of nature such as ongoing geological change, astronomical distances and processes, and decay properties of radioisotopes. Taken all together, if the bounding assumptions are valid, these indicate an age of the universe between 12 and 16 billion years and an age of the earth of approximately 4.6 billion years. I do not know what the actual age is because it cannot be known if the assumptions are correct. The assumptions do appear to be self-consistent. In any event, these numbers are likely to change in the future. However if the past is any indication, we will see these numbers grow rather than shrink. This is indicative of the inherently conservative scientific process that has been used in refining these estimates." (Back to letter)
3. The following are a series of quotations from Hill Roberts in A Harmonization of God's Genesis Revelation and The Natural Revelation showing the repeated affirmation of such a uniformitarian explanation of the inanimate creation of the physical earth:
Again on page 1, he says:
Of the second day, he says this on page 2:
Of the third day, he says this on page 3:
On page 3, he further says of the third day:
Of the fourth day, he says on page 4:
Of the sixth day, he says on page 5:
Again regarding the sixth day, he says on page 6:
In dealing with the command for animals to fill the earth on the sixth day, brother Roberts makes the following parallel on page 6:
4. In his class on "Making Sense of the Days of Creation" at the Florida College lectures in 2000, brother Ferrell Jenkins spoke on the decision to invite Hill Roberts to speak. Brother Jenkins said, "And, I'll have to tell you, I had no idea that this brother was such a controversial person when we invited him to speak at all. That doesn't mean we wouldn't have invited him. I'm just saying I didn't know it." Later in the speech, Ferrell summarized the effect of this invitation by noting, "And so maybe we've done a good service. That's what education is about - making people think and allowing us to come to conclusions based on our study of the word of God." (Back to letter)
5. In Sentry magazine (Vol. 21, No. 1), brother Scott said, "Some Bible believers insist that the world, according to Genesis 1, was created in six twenty-four hour days. I believe, however, that the days of Genesis 1 should not be interpreted literally." The next section of his article is entitled, "The Days Cannot Be Literal." In both his article in Sentry as well as in discussion with others, brother Scott has clearly stated his view that brother Roberts' timetable of the universe being about 15 billion years old and the earth being 4+ billion years old is in harmony with the Scripture. In the same article, Shane also affirmed, "What happened on the fourth day was that the sun, moon, and stars became visible to the earth's surface." However, to brother Scott, that is not a literal fourth day, but a fourth group of vast ages. When he affirms that the Earth's atmosphere changed over long ages to become clear enough for the sun, moon and stars to be visible, what is the basic assumption? It is the same assumption made by brother Roberts - uniformitarian change over vast amounts of time by natural law to account for the present order of the physical universe. (Back to letter)
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