When I wrote my article “Why Young People are Leaving the Church” I knew it would generate some response. I was taken to task by a few Young Earth Creationists (YEC) because I did not point out the dangers of Old Earth Creationist (OEC) arguments and how they create serious theological problems such as disease and death before the fall. Some OECs have attempted to answer this objection exegetically. YECists can and do disagree with OEC arguments, but they can’t accuse OECists of not appealing to the Bible to make their case.
My point, however, was to argue against the claim that a church exodus among young people is the result of not teaching YECism. Such a view is simplistic, unproven, and shortsighted. I pointed out in “Why Young People are Leaving the Church” that it is factually and apologetically a mistake to imply that OECists take a compromised position on biblical inspiration, authority, and integrity as compared to YECists. It gets YECists nowhere to argue otherwise and vice-versa. I have fundamental problems with dispensationalists on the issue of eschatology, but I have never accused them of not believing the Bible.
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In “Why Young People are Leaving the Church,” I argued that there are exegetical and hermeneutical inconsistencies among YECists who are dispensationalists (e.g., Henry Morris, Tim LaHaye, and Ray Comfort) and among those who speak in these churches and homeschool conventions about YECism (even though they themselves may not be dispensationalists). I contend that prophecy, because it is about the future, has a greater impact on people than does whether the earth is young or old. A person can hold to either position and not have to make a decision about what lies ahead. In fact, some creation/prophecy writers claim that not to believe in a global flood is a sign that the end is near based on 2 Peter 3:3–9. Since there are many who are questioning a belief in a global flood, so the argument goes, we must be living in the last days. For a study of 2 Peter 3, see David Chilton, “Looking for New Heavens and a New Earth” in Gary DeMar, The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance. There is no way to escape a creation-prophecy connection.
While I was writing this article, I received an email that called my attention to a blog post by Ray Comfort. A skeptic had asked the following question:
“Could anyone of you believers tell me when the end times will happen, besides soon? It seems to me that the end times have been preached by man ever since the time they created their fictional deities.”
I have to say that Ray’s answer was wholly inadequate. He is a YECist who is unaware of how his prophetic views, because of the hermeneutical model he uses (dispensationalism), undermine his ability to deal with skeptics on this issue. So what he gives with one hand (creation), he takes away with the other (prophecy). I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Go here for the first in a series of responses to Ray’s answer to the skeptic Jonathan.
Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis wrote a cordial response to my article “Why Young People are Leaving the Church” in which he characterized me as claiming “that creation and the age of the earth are secondary in importance to eschatology in leading to an exodus of young people from the church.” Of course, I made no such point. They are equally importan_t_. To neglect either one is a big mistake. I’ve written extensively on creation issues, probably third behind eschatology and America’s Christian history. My emphasis has been on the ethical implications of evolution. And if we’re going on a percentage count, there is more eschatology than creation in the Bible. After analyzing, cataloging, and commenting on every prophetic verse in the Bible, J. Barton Payne concluded in his Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy that 8,352 verses out of 31,124 total verses deal with prophecies of one type or another ((J. Barton Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy: The Complete Guide to Scriptural Predictions and Their Fulfillment (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).)) That works out to twenty-seven percent of the Bible being predictive. Tim LaHaye declares that “one-third of the Bible is prophecy.” ((Tim LaHaye, “Twelve Reasons Why This Could be The Terminal Generation,” When the Trumpet Sounds, eds. Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1995), 428. ))
The Synoptic Gospels must consider prophecy very important since four chapters (Matt. 24–5; Mark. 13; Luke 21) and the entire book of Revelation deal with the subject. There are many other passages as well (Acts 2:17; 1 Thess. 4:13–18; 2 Thess. 2, etc.). When compared to eschatology, the New Testament says little or nothing about how old the Earth is. In terms of load factor, eschatology wins hands down. So then, we must go “Back to Genesis” and “Forward to Revelation” with a consistent hermeneutic. This being the case, I find it difficult to understand why YECist ministries won’t deal with the inherent interpretive problems that are found among so many YECists who are also dispensational. Once a person becomes a YECist, then what? He or she is taught that Jesus is going to return “soon,” that Russia is set to invade Israel, the rapture must be “near” because Israel is back in the land, the European Common Market is about to bring forth the predicted antichrist, we’re headed for a cashless society, etc.
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These and other topics are covered in Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness and The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance. Does any of this sound familiar? It should; it’s been standard fare for more than 100 years. How do arguments about how old the earth is counter these false prognostications? They don’t. There is a lot of evidence that shows how eschatology has been used by skeptics to question the integrity of the Bible. The internet is filled with this argument. It shows up repeatedly in debates (see here).
Having said all of this, I don’t believe that Ham and Beemer’s Already Gone proves what they claim. The book could have made a better case for why so many of those surveyed devalue the Bible dealing with the statistic that a substantial majority of them — 859 out of 1000 — attend Public Schools! One hour of Sunday school and an hour at Youth Meeting each week can’t make up for 30 hours of Public School instruction and peer associations within Public Schools. The humanists understand this, so why don’t Christians? Charles Francis Potter stated as much in 1930. He signed the first Humanist Manifesto:
Education is thus a most powerful ally of Humanism, and every American public school is a school of Humanism. What can the theistic Sunday-school, meeting for an hour once a week, and teaching only a fraction of the children, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teaching? ((Charles Francis Potter, Humanism: A New Religion (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1930), 128. Quoted in David A. Noebel, J.F. Baldwin, and Kevin Bywater, Clergy in the Classroom: The Religion of Secular Humanism (Manitou Springs, CO: Summit Press, 1995), vi.))
Already Gone is critical of the Sunday School system (as it should be), but the real problem is five days a week, six hours each day, 10 months of the year, 12+ years of Public School which is humanistic to the core.
If these young people are typical evangelicals, the default position of most of the churches that the participants in the survey attended hold to dispensational premillennialism or some variation of it (page 167): Baptist (260), Church of God (84), Pentecostal (69), Assembly of God (66), Calvary Chapel (32), Bible Church (29), Community Church (38). ((As far as I can tell, there may be a denomination called “Community Church,” but it’s more likely that it fits in the non-denominational category. In the research I’ve done, many of them are dispensational. Here’s an example: http://www.biblebb.com/files/eschatology.htm )) Christian Missionary Alliance (17), Evangelical Free Church (15), and Brethren (8). Lutherans are typically amillennial (136) as are Presbyterians (44). Both denominations hold an end-time view that is culturally pessimistic.
I suspect that a majority of these young people don’t even know there is an alternative eschatological position that teaches that the majority of prophetic texts that have been taught are yet to be fulfilled were actually fulfilled in the first century. Since they attend public schools, they are aware that there is a major debate over creation and evolution. It’s a hot topic in schools, the courts, magazines, TV specials, and news reports. There’s almost no dissent among most of the churches represented in the survey on the end-time scenario made popular by writers like YECists Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and Ray Comfort and YECist schools like Liberty University and the Masters College. Look at the majority of prophecy books that hit the best-seller list. They are end-time potboilers. Here’s an advertisement for the Left Behind series:
Are you ready for the moment of truth?
- Political crisis
- Economic crisis
- Worldwide epidemics
- Environmental catastrophe
- Mass disappearances
- Military apocalypse
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In a survey that Left Behind publisher Tyndale did, “More than 50 percent of respondents . . . said ‘I’m anxiously expecting his return.’” So what topic do you think is having the biggest impact on young people? The Left Behind series is a publishing phenomenon that has sold nearly 80 million copies. The books were sold in every major bookstore chain, from Costco to Wal-Mart. Seven titles in the adult series have reached #1 on the bestseller lists for The New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly. It has been translated into many languages including Chinese and Japanese. There is not a single creation book that has sold anywhere near this number or has had the influence of Left Behind. (For a critique of the Left Behind series, see my book Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction).
On statistics alone, I think it’s clear that prophecy has had more of an impact on Christian beliefs than the debate over the age of the earth. Here are some of the questions that should have been asked:
- Have you been taught that Jesus is going to return “in your generation”?
- Does such an end-time scenario affect your view of the future 10, 20, 30, or 40 years from now? Considering what you have been taught about Bible prophecy, do you think you will be here 40 years from now?
- What did Jesus mean when He said: “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”? Was He referring to a future generation or the generation of His own day?
- Are we seeing an increase in the number and magnitude to natural disasters, and are these signs of an approaching “rapture”?
- Are you aware that Bible skeptics point to Jesus’ “failed” prediction to come back within a generation (Matt. 24:34) to be incontrovertible evidence that He was not a prophet and the Bible is filled with mistakes?
- Revelation says prophetic events given to John are to happen “shortly” (1:1) because the “time is near” (1:3). It’s been 2000 years. Do you think the Bible is mistaken? Should these and other time words (“at hand” and “quickly”) be taken literally? If they shouldn’t be taken literally, should the days of creation be taken literally since they deal with time as well?
- The Bible says, in a prophetic passage, “that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). Could this also apply to the days of creation?
- Are you aware that 1917, 1948, and 1967 have been used by prophecy writers to determine the beginning point of when the signs leading up to the rapture will begin? How can the first two of these dates be wrong if the Bible is true?
- Does the fact that many prophecy writers (e.g., Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel) said the rapture would take place before 1988 have any bearing on the authority of the Bible? Does it bother you that they are still considered to be authorities and experts on Bible prophecy?
If YECists and OECists would take on the prophecy issue, I believe we would see a worldwide Christian cultural revival that would dwarf the Reformation and scare the Humanists. Evolutionists are not afraid of creationism; they are afraid of postmillennialism! They loved the Scofield Reference Bible because it made Christians into cultural pacifists. Even if the majority of Christians became six-day creationists, a majority of them would still believe that they are living in the last days, Jesus is coming soon to “rapture” His church, Antichrist is alive somewhere in the world today, the world is headed for a nuclear Armageddon, and we can’t and shouldn’t do anything to stop it.