So, yesterday I was sitting in the first round of workshops at The Gospel Coalition National Conference here in Orlando and tweeted this:
I think Bryan Chapell just out debated Al Mohler on whether or not Genesis 1 teaches 6 24hr days (Mohler wouldn’t concede though)
— Nate Claiborne (@nateclaiborne) April 9, 2013
I got several immediate responses, and that’s not particularly surprising. Because it was a workshop, I don’t think audio will be available. They may have recorded it, but it definitely wasn’t videoed. Anyway, I thought at the very least this comment was worthy of extended explanation and so here we are.
The workshop was actually centered on the question of whether Adam and Eve were historical figures. Chapell and Mohler, as you might imagine, both answer in the affirmative. They began by explaining their different lines of argument that support that conclusion. I think, if I remember correctly, there were 4:
- The literary argument (everyone else in the story is historical)
- The theological argument (drawing from Romans 5, and 1 Corinthians 15)
- The ethical argument (our equality is grounded in us all coming from an equal source)
- The pastoral argument (if Adam and Eve are not personally responsible for the entrance of sin into the world the God alone is)
Obviously I’m shortening this so you can get the gist. I thought the ethical argument was actually the most persuasive, especially in a culture that is currently obsessing over the question of marriage equality. If we simply evolved, it is likely, if not certain, they there are currently several streams of humanity. In other words, we are not all equal because back at the head waters of the human race there does not stand one couple, but rather several convergent lines of evolved hominids who it would be very hard to argue are necessarily equal. If nothing else, it is very difficult to ground the idea that all humans are equal if all humans didn’t evolve from the same source (though of course in this model we did all come from the same primordial goo).
However, if you ground human equality in the biblical story and teaching of solidarity in Adam and Eve, then it is very easy to argue that all humans are equal and deserve the respect and dignity of an image bearer of God. But, once you do that, it is hard to turn around and argue that marriage can then be redefined to include same sex participants. Civil unions (state marriages) are defined by the state, but marriage as a transcultural institution cannot be just summarily redefined. That is kind of a rabbit trail (actually more than just “kind of”), but you’re getting the privilege of my semi-unfiltered thoughts from yesterday’s workshop.
Now, because it would have been a fairly uninteresting discussion if Mohler and Chapell just sat up there and went through everything they agreed about. Theologically at least, they both affirmed that the important issue is not the days in Genesis but then proceeded to discuss it and that’s when the disagreement started. Mohler hold Genesis 1 teaches 6 literal 24 hour days of creation. Chapell holds that the days were of indeterminate length which is the analogical day view. He actually just walked by as I am writing this and I confirmed that that is in fact his view (which is also Poythress’ view, and very similar to my view).
Mohler’s primary concern is that we do not start, at any point, bowing the knee to naturalism and reframing our interpretation of Scripture. He sees any questioning of 6 24 hour days to stem from advances in science, not necessarily accusing Chapell of doing this, but suggesting that no one was considering a different interpretation until evolution came onto the scene.
Chapell’s primary concern is that we do not unnecessarily add to the biblical teaching in ways that make more of a conflict between the Bible and science than is really necessary. What he was pressing toward Mohler was whether or not the text of Genesis necessitates affirming that the days were in fact 24 hours. The argument he brought up, that I thought was rather decisive (mainly because Mohler did not offer a counter argument other than just reaffirming his position) is how time was to be reckoned prior to the completion of the solar system as we know on day 4. Chapell thought that for Mohler’s view to work, we have to suspend all natural laws as we know it, except for the passage of time, a point that Mohler disagreed with strongly. He disagreed, but I didn’t really hear a rebuttal of the fundamental issue, which is that Genesis clearly depicts God working to create in 6 days, but it doesn’t necessitate that the days were 24 hours. That is of course an inference from the text (the days were normal days like we now them now), but the physics of at least, if you’re going to affirm that God created the elements in the order presented, is hard to reconcile with time passing in 24 hour increments. I think it is better to be interpretively agnostic on how long the days were than to dogmatically insist on a 24 hour length. If you want the 24 hours, it seems like you can’t have the sun showing up until day 4.
In the end though, this is kind of minor detail, a point that both Chapell and Mohler agreed upon. It was good to see them argue sharply over interpreting Scripture, but without getting contentious and ending on their agreement instead of dwelling on the disagreement. My takeaway from the workshop was seeing a model of two Christian leaders arguing, but doing so respectfully and graciously and both arguing from principles and a commitment the interpreting the word of God in the best way possible.