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Genesis and the Age of the Earth

Does Scripture Speak Definitively about the Age of the Universe?

Trinity CommunicationsFebruary 03, 2017

With the Olson Chapel on the Trinity campus at capacity with more than 550 in attendance, along with more than 1,100 online viewers during its live-stream, Albert Mohler and C. John (“Jack”) Collins discussed and debated their respective answers to the question, “Does Scripture speak about the age of the universe?” Mohler answered in the affirmative; Collins in the negative.

Mohler is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Collins is professor of Old Testament at Covenant Seminary in Creve Coeur, Mo., and is serving this year as a scholar-in-residence at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Their debate was part of a three-year Creation Project on the Trinity campus, sponsored by the Templeton Religion Trust and coordinated by the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding.

The age the earth has been an important question throughout the history of the modern evangelical movement. Evidenced by the question’s staying-power, a satisfying resolution has remained elusive. As the discussion ensued, several important exegetical and theological questions emerged, addressing issues like biblical authority, the proper interpretation of opening chapters of Genesis, and the relation between scientific and theological knowledge.

Both Mohler and Collins agreed that the question before them, however, was not a matter of first-order theological orthodoxy, even if it does raise questions about other issues that lean into essentials of the faith.

In summary, Mohler focused most of his initial presentation on the problems associated with not answering the debate question in the affirmative. To deny that the Scriptures speak about the age of earth, according to Mohler, . . .

  • is not a consistent and natural reading of the text;
  • is not in keeping with the consensus of the historic church;
  • potentially leads to dangerous theological compromises;
  • affirms that an old earth is not required by the scientific or biblical evidence.

In contrast, Collins, answering the debate question in the negative, focused mostly on how to interpret the pertinent passages in Genesis that some theologians have used to support an age of the earth from Scripture. In short, he argued that the age question is not answered and thus it does not emerge as relevant to the interpretation of the biblical text. According to Collins, a summary of the biblical teaching on creation posits that God made all things . . .

  • from nothing.
  • by the word of his power.
  • in the space of “six days” (that is, God’s workdays, which are analogous to ours and a pattern for ours).
  • all very good,
  • so that it bears his imprint
  • as the right kind of place in which live out our story.

From there the two participants continued the back-and-forth discussion in a panel format under the moderation of Trinity College Professor of Philosophy Chris Firestone.

Trinity President David S. Dockery commended both Mohler and Collins for what he called their brilliant presentations and for the capable and convictional way that they defended their different positions.

While expressing gratitude to both scholars, Dockery summarized the event by affirming the areas of commonality that had been expressed, including a commitment to the truthfulness and authority of scripture (especially the reading of Genesis 1-11), the shared affirmation of the first line of the Apostles’ Creed, and the importance of believing in the historicity of Adam and Eve.

“We thank our two participants today for an irenic, illuminating, informative and edifying conversation,” Dockery said. “We acknowledge that the differences expressed today were neither matters of evangelical identity nor tests of fellowship.”

The entire event can be watched at stream.tiu.edu and then clicking the “On Demand” tab. Here is the direct link to the video.

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