Communicating Compatibility in Christian Higher Education, Part 4. Daniel’s Letter
Introduction by Darrel Falk
In Part 3 of this series, we described the circumstances surrounding the following letter from Calvin College student, Daniel Camacho, to Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis. We are posting it here as part of our series on Christian Higher Education because informed student opinion is crucial as we journey along the road ahead. It is the students of today, after all, who will lead the church of tomorrow. Daniel is very forthright in what follows. Students tend to be that way, and that is one of the many aspects of what makes college teaching such a fulfilling experience. They tell you what they think—no holds barred. Although we believe it is important for Daniel’s thoughts to be heard, we also hope readers will reflect on BioLogos’s overarching views on how this very significant problem for the church will need to be addressed. Consider reading, for example, the essay "On Feeling at Home in the Family" which explains why the solution to the current dilemma will require considerable patience on the part of all of us. The essay, "Surprised by Joy" explains why this issue is so important to me, personally. As you continue to reflect on the ramifications of Daniel’s words, consider reading "A Plea to My Shepherds" by Stephen Blake or "A House of Sand and Fog" by Karl Giberson.
I'm not interested in a debate or in a war of words. Nevertheless, I would like to extend my courtesy to you and your readers by providing a response to clarify the content of my article.
My article for the Chimes was a brief reflection on your "State of the Nation 2" address, and it was published as an opinion piece (in the op/ed section) for Calvin's student newspaper. Appropriate to its context, it was never meant to be a scholarly piece, a formal refutation, or a professional journalistic article. When I wrote this article, it was unforeseen that I would ever garner the attention of anybody outside of the small circle of students on campus who read the Chimes.
Therefore, I was amazed when I discovered that you had not only read my article, but had proceeded to reproduce it on your website in an attempt to invalidate my points. I lament the fact that you have decided to harm the reputation of Calvin College and its students.
You say that my article "illustrates clearly the overall state of this Christian college, which is one of many institutions that continues to contribute to the undermining of biblical authority in our culture. They will have much to answer for when Christian educators stand before the Lord one day—and they will be held accountable." Mr. Ham, rarely do you make a rhetorical lapse by explicitly saying what some of your claims obviously entail, but what is implied by many of your claims is quite disturbing. (More on that soon.)
You have labeled my article as an "emotional outburst". Were my words very passionate? Yes, they were. Were my words uncharitable at some point? Probably. But do I still stand behind the main thrust of my article? Absolutely. I am not, to borrow your words, a "child who throws stones at others and then ducks behind a woodshed so he can't be held accountable". I may be a freshman in college, but please don't liken me to a child. Thank you.
Anybody reading your blog posts would rightfully assume that the main point of my article was to accuse you of being a "liar". Unfortunately, you have been very misleading in your portrayal of my words. Technically, there is no point in the article in which I call you a liar. I did assert towards the beginning that your State of the Nation 2 address contained "many lies, inaccuracies, and caricatures...". However, my article would have remained completely intact if I had removed the word 'lies'.
The main point of my article is that you are promoting a culture war, presenting people with false dichotomies, and compromising the Church. For some reason, you were very offended and sensitive about the inclusion of that one word: lies. You and AiG have latched onto that one word and have decided to make that the center of engagement. But focusing on this minor detail merely evades my point. If it suits your purposes, scrap the word 'lies' and replace it with 'misrepresentations'/'distortions of data'. My article is ultimately about the culture wars and your contribution to them. This is evident to any thoughtful person who reads my article. Please notice that my point does not concern the age of the earth, the theory of evolution, the meaning of "six days" in Genesis, etc. These are issues that I simply do not take up. In fact, I have no interest in debating these points with you. That is not the point of contention, and it never was.
Now this may befuddle you, but I hope that you will come to see what I mean. You must come to understand why you have elicited such a powerful reaction from me. You stress the importance of believing in the literal six-days mentioned in Genesis. You promote a young earth and denounce any interpretation that would factor in 'millions of years'. According to you, Mr. Ham, a departure from these propositions would inevitably undermine the authority of Scripture. I don't think this is true.
But lest you think this is merely my opinion, I'd like to point out what other Christians think. John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis and recognized for his ministry "Desiring God", allows elders in his church to disagree on the age of the earth. Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, also allows elders in his church to disagree on the age of the earth. He has even gone so far as to write:
"In the end, it must be admitted that the age of the earth is simply not stated in the Bible and it may be young or old. Furthermore, both young and old earth advocates are inferring from the Bible a position that the Bible simply does not clearly state. It must also be admitted that the age of the earth is not a great concern in the Bible; as Augustine rightly said, it is not a scientific textbook seeking to answer the ever-changing inquiries of science, but rather a theological textbook seeking to reveal God and the means by which He saves us."
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, has openly admitted and preached that certain parts of the creation narrative should not be taken literally.
So why do I bring up these three pastors in particular? Because all of them are conservative evangelicals, who hold to Biblical inerrancy, and to the historicity of Adam and Eve. They are also some of the biggest Christian leaders here in America. Now, you may want to play the 'Man's authority' card at this moment in order to dismiss them. And you can play that card if you wish. But please consider the implications of that move.
Mr. Ham, my issue with you and AiG arises from a pastoral concern. Jesus warned his disciples about religious leaders who "tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulder's". I believe that Jesus Christ is the one and true savior of this world. One of my greatest longings is to see people recognize him as the Redeemer of their lives and this cosmos. I am not ashamed of the Gospel. But let us remember that Jesus himself is the stone of offense that causes stumbling. We must not make people stumble with our own fancies. Let the world be offended because there is a Creator and we are mere creatures, because God became flesh, because Jesus died for the sins of the world, and because Jesus rose from the dead. Not because the earth is young and dinosaurs are in the Bible!
I respect Christians who are young earth creationists. I am sensitive to their concerns because I often share them. In fact, I used to be a young earth creationist. Sadly though, for many people a departure from young earth creationism means a departure from the Christian faith. Inversely, many people are not able to commit to Christ because the age of the earth and dinosaurs become a stumbling block to them. Your desire to make a particular understanding of Genesis the foundation for Christianity and Biblical authority can potentially be a source of stumbling for many.
That is why I compared you to the new atheists, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. For both sides, it is all or nothing. Both you and they assert that if young earth creationism is false, then there is no point in trusting the Bible, and if evolution is true, then God does not exist. After publishing my article, I realized I wasn't the only one making such comparisons. Tim Keller, who I mentioned previously, wrote this at a conference held in NYC this past fall:
“Many secular and many evangelical voices agree on one ‘truism’—that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all. New Atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and creationist writers such as Ken Ham seem to have arrived at consensus on this, and so more and more in the general population are treating it as given."
It is easy for you to target certain people (such as Calvin College students) and to ignore the concerns of many Christian pastors, theologians, and scientists. As stated in my original letter:
"You know one of the reasons why American Christianity is in a bad state? Because of the idolatrous nationalism of people like Ken Ham; an idolatry that elevates America above the world, and equates it to Israel, betraying our ultimate allegiance to the City of God."
I stand behind my words Mr. Ham. The imagery in your message is literally just as full of the American Flag as it is of Scripture or the Cross. "America was founded upon the absolute authority of the Word of God...". And so begins the narrative that you love to tell your listeners. You go on and on about how “Christian” America used to be. But your story is very selective and very deceitful. The same periods that you romanticize so well are the same periods in which "Christians" in this country owned slaves, oppressed women, and took advantage of Native Americans. A story can be a lie not only when it puts forth false ideas, but when it consciously omits many important details. In your public response to my letter, you wrote:
"The USA has been (as far as I know) the greatest Christianized nation in the world. And even though God gave specific blessings—and curse warnings—to Israel, His principles apply to all people (as God does not change) and all cultures, regardless—as I explained briefly in the presentation."
That is a bold claim to make with little or no reservations. But let me assume that you are right for the moment. Please help me make sense of something that appeared in your "State of Nation 2" address. Around minute 56 of the video, you begin to focus on some verses from Deuteronomy. These verses deal with the blessings and curses Israel was to receive based upon their obedience to the Lord. During this portion, you are applying these verses to America. At one point, while focusing on the curses, you flash these verses across the screen:
43 “The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. 44 He shall lend to you, but you shall not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you shall be the tail. (Deuteronomy 28: 43-44).
After showing these verses you comment, "Which sounds like today...exactly what's going on." After saying this, you quickly change the subject. I'm afraid to fill in the blank. Although you will most likely assure everyone that you are not referring to immigrants in America or people from other countries that do commerce with America, what exactly are you referring to? It is disturbing to see you put such things forward in such a subtle way.
Although there are many more things that I can write about and analyze, I don't feel the desire to do so. A great Cloud of Witnesses surrounds you. You can marginalize my voice but you cannot drown out the voice of the entire Body. Referring to my classmates and I, someone wrote to you saying, "This young generation, and its arrogance, will soon see the refiner's fire". The reality is that some of us have become disenchanted with the culture wars, and we have dared to dream of another way.