by Rodney Kennedy
Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. The pastor of 7 Southern Baptist churches over the course of 20 years, he pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years. He is currently professor of homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary, and interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. And his sixth book – The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump – has just been published by Wipf and Stock (Cascades).
A favorite tactic of demagogues, political and religious, is reification. These dishonest rhetoricians objectify actual people and treat them as objects. As far back as Genesis, not naming a person was a way of claiming power over that person. No name has always meant powerlessness and voicelessness.
Ken Ham does exactly that in attacking me for this article. By refusing to even use my name, he shows his total lack of respect. Refusing to be erased, I want to say here that my name is Rodney Kennedy. I am a Baptist pastor and professor of homiletics. .
First of all, Mr. Ham makes the false assertion that I “can’t stand” that his organization exists. This is an absurd emotional argument. I am not bothered by the existence of Answers in Genesis or the Creation Museum. I do believe, however, that Ham & Company genuflects to a naïve misreading of the Scripture (Charles Taylor, A Secular Age), but I’m not emotionally invested in anything like the destruction of either the Creation Museum or Ark Encounter.
In the second place, I am not intolerant. I disagree with young-Earth creationists, but disagreement is not intolerance. I am convinced that a literal interpretation of the stories of creation in Genesis is unbiblical, unchristian, and dangerous, but that’s not intolerance. If Mr. Ham didn’t have such a thin skin, he could make his arguments without resorting to a blanket condemnation of “progressives.” Instead of being intolerant, I am passionate about offering readings that differ from those of young-Earth creationists. I have nothing against Ken Ham personally.
Look how quickly he insists that I want to control everyone and force everyone to accept my views. That sounds suspiciously like fundamentalism to me. Harry Emerson Fosdick asked a hundred years ago:
There is nothing new about the situation. It has happened again and again in history, as, for example, when the stationary earth suddenly began to move, and the universe that had been centered in this planet was centered in the sun around which the planets whirled. Whenever such a situation has arisen, there has been only one way out: the new knowledge and the old faith had to be blended in a new combination. Now the people in this generation who are trying to do this are the liberals, and the Fundamentalists are out on a campaign to shut against them the doors of the Christian fellowship. Shall they be allowed to succeed?
I am invested in not allowing the world view of Ham & company to be the dominant truth claim. Ham’s insistence that the world will never be right until the scientific community returns to a naïve age of supernaturalism simply suggests a fierce arrogance embedded in his certainty. Unfortunately, for Mr. Ham, “the cat is out of the bag,” and there’s no putting it back.
I practice the art of persuasion. I am not interested in controlling or forcing. Coercion is not my game. Persuasion is my purpose, and I am not responsible for how my readers respond to my argumentative claims. I am glad that Mr. Ham is reading my articles. Perhaps he can be persuaded to drop his absurd charges.
At no point have I said that Mr. Ham and his followers can’t think for themselves. He sits at the head of a multi-million dollar empire that speaks, prints, televises, and blogs across the world every thought that enters their minds. I have never said they didn’t think. As Raney says in the novel by the same name, “everybody thinks.”
Instead, I claim that Ham & company are in an epistemic crisis because they can’t accept that others have read the same Bible and reached different conclusions.
More broadly, evangelicals can’t stand to be told that they don’t have as much epistemic right as anyone else on any topic that they like to think they understand: “Who are you to tell me that I have to defer to some scientist?” Borrowing from the writing of philosopher Rupert Read, this then reaches the nub of the issue, and explains the truly-tragic spectacle of someone like Ken Ham – a garden-variety theologian, a non-scientist, thinking entrepreneur – who made his name and fortune as a hardline advocate of young-Earth creationism. He seems not to notice that he’s more of a libertarian than an evangelical, insofar as libertarianism is consumeristic, individualistic, and relativistic/subjectivistic.
No one has an automatic right to their own opinion. You have to earn that right, through knowledge or evidence or good reasoning or the like. I argue that Ham has not earned his right through scientific knowledge, evidence, or good reasoning. Instead, he has earned his fortune through sleight of hand that would impress Barnum and Bailey. His libertarianism has careened – crashed – right into and up against actual science, as he is driven to deny the most crucial truth about science today: “Evolution has never been on stronger scientific ground than it is today” (Kenneth Miller). Ham’s subjectivising of everything important leads him finally to destroy his love for truth itself.
Ham is truly a tragic spectacle. Or, perhaps we should say, farcical.
The remarkable irony here is that young-Earth creationism – allegedly congenitally against “liberals,” “biblical criticism,” and “political correctness,” allegedly warring against the forces of unreason – has itself become the most ‘Post-Modern’ of doctrines. A new, extreme form of individualized relativism, young-Earth creationism is one more con job among a plethora of prosperity gospel preachers, rapture believers, America-was-born-Christian adherents, and all those privileged white people who deny racism and even blame racism on – wait for it – evolution.
“Taking God at his Word” may be the most subjective statement in Ham’s criticism. In what way can this be reality when millions of other believers make the same truth claim but come to different conclusions? There’s no ambiguity in Ham. He’s certain that he and his followers take God at his word. He never says, “I believe that the Word of God teaches this or that.” He insists that the Word of God is the same as the Word of Ham in spite of his denials.
I do agree with Ham that we should all examine the Scriptures daily to see what is true. There is a sense of shock when someone accuses me of not taking Scripture seriously. I believe the Scripture truthfully tells the story of God’s action of creating, judging, and saving the world. Texts of Scripture do not have a single, literal meaning, but have complex, diverse possible readings across the centuries. Scripture calls us to ongoing discernment, to fresh re-readings of the text in the light of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the world.
Each Sunday morning, before the Scripture lessons of the week are read and the Word is proclaimed, I lead my congregation in the Prayer for Illumination:
This is the Church’s Bible. The Bible tells the truth about God. The four Gospels tell the truth about Jesus. We read the Bible together as God’s people to hear God’s Word to us. We will engage in the faithful interpretation of the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We gladly hear the Word with open minds and full hearts. Together we will hear and do the Word from God as a faithful and obedient people. Amen.
Ken Ham mistakenly claims that, if I would only come to my senses and read the Bible as he reads it, I will conclude that he is right and that God did create the world in six literal days.
I hate to disappoint, but I am not persuaded by his creationism – it’s just another man-made “ism” and perhaps the worst of all the “-isms.”
Maybe the questions of God in Job need to be answered by Ham and Company, since all the answers are not in Genesis.:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
There were no eye-witnesses to creation other than the Holy Trinity, so Mr. Ham is speculating and his speculations are “just a theory – a theory with ‘no there there.’” In my view, Ham & company might as well be peddling honey-baked hams for Christmas because young-Earth creationism is a half-baked loaf of bread that refuses to rise to the level of epistemic confidence and truthfulness.
Well said! A noble response to an ignoble rant.
I appreciate the support.
I appreciate the support. Ham, hyperbole, and humbug belong together
Ham finds himself at odds with notable church fathers such as St. Augustine, who said, “If it happens that the authority of Sacred Scripture is set in opposition to clear and certain reasoning, this must mean that the person who interprets scripture does not understand it correctly. . . If the mind discerns new truths incompatible with standing scriptural interpretations, then it is the interpretation that is wrong, not the truth.”
He also finds himself at odds with notable evangelicals such as Francis Shaeffer, who said, “The simple fact is that day in Hebrew (just as in English) is used in three separate senses: to mean (1) twenty-four hours, (2) the period of light during the twenty-four hours, and (3) an indeterminate period of time. Therefore, we must leave open the exact length of time indicated by day in Genesis.”
One more example will suffice. The notable German pastor who was executed by the Nazi’s for his refusal to accept their treatment of the Jews, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said this: “The day is the first finished work of God. In the beginning God created the day. The day bears all other things, and the world lives amid the changes of the day. The day possesses its own being, form and power. It is not the rotation of the earth around the sun-which can be understood physically or the calculable change of light and darkness; the day is something exceeding all this, something determining the essence of our world and of our existence. If it were not such an unsuitable thing to say in this context, we might say that it is what is called a mythological quantity. The gods of day and night who, according to pagan belief, inspire and animate the world rule here totally dethroned. Nevertheless the world remains God’s first creature, both wondrous and powerful in the hand of God.”
All of these were fervent believers in the infallibility of scripture and so was the scientist, Galileo. A conflict in the church arose in 1632 over his observations that led him to conclude it is not the earth but the sun that is center of the universe, a theory known as heliocentrism. His view did not sit well with Church leaders. Even though Galileo himself was a devoted Christian who personally believed in the inerrancy of Scripture, the Church found that Galileo’s view that the earth is not the center of the universe “explicitly contradicts . . . Holy Scripture,” citing Joshua 10:12-13 as one of their proof texts. Galileo was forced to recant his views or face execution. Had Ken Ham been alive in 1632 he probably would have been one the church leaders to lead the charge in accusing Galileo of not adhering to a literal interpretation of Scripture.
Well said. You’re nobody until you’ve been attacked by Ken Ham. Consider it a badge of honor,
I appreciate the support.
I really enjoyed reading your piece on Ken Ham and the AiG ministry. It articulated clearly some of my own concerns about this particular YEC ministry. As his empire grows he has become more of a bully than ever and publicly shames Christians who don’t share his particular literalistic approach to Genesis. In a recent AiG article it stated that Francis Collins “was a blight on the church.” I was stunned. Dr Collins is one of the very few Christian people whose faith and authenticity is clearly palpable whenever he speaks even when it’s not on matters of faith. Why cause so much hurt and division among faithful Christian people over an issue that isn’t critical to salvation? However, probably my biggest concern about AiG is that their ministry takes the focus off the Gospel? They will never admit it when asked directly but they make it seem that one must read those ancient scriptures as they do or risk the slippery slope to permanent separation from God. By the way, I’m Australian. Sorry for you know who.
Thanks I appreciate the encouragement.
You are right on. And I wonder what Ham would say about Francis Shaeffer or C.S. Lewis or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, all of whom have had such a significant influence on confronting intellectual doubters with a cogent explanation of the Gospel message and drawing many to an awareness and acceptance of Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Great response, but it needs one correction.
^his speculations are “just a theory – a theory with ‘no there there.’”^
his speculations are not a theory they are “hypothesis”, it is important when discussing scientific matters to know the difference between a “theory” and a “hypothesis”.
“In scientific reasoning, a hypothesis is an assumption made before any research has been completed for the sake of testing. A theory on the other hand is a principle set to explain phenomena already supported by data.”
You are absolutely right. I was rhetorically responding to the evangelical misuse of “theory”. They like to claim evolution is “only a theory.” I like your necessary correction.
Do you have a verse for your interpretation of God’s Pure Word? Remember, God told us not to interpret in 2nd Peter 1:20-21. Also, God told us in stone with His Own finger how long He took as basis for Law in Exodus 20:11. Does your forbidden interpretation have more support from God than His Own verbatim Torah?
I am not a “verse-hunter”, so I do not have a verse that would satisfy your concern. You seem to be hiding serious objections to my thesis in your “alleged” questions to me. So let’s clear the air. I am not a biblical literalist. I am not a Young Earth Creationist. Inerrancy is a flawed philosophy and the idea of a verbally inspired Bible is simply ludicrous.
I apologize for having no idea what you mean by God telling us not to interpret? That is impossible. Every translation of the Bible is an interpretation. Every word we write and speak about the Bible is an interpretation. Every sermon is an interpretation. Your reading of Exodus 20:11 is an interpretation – one not shared by the vast majority of Old Testament scholars.
As to my authority, I have none. I am not granting epistemic authority to my interpretations. I am not indicating any sense of certainty in my readings of Scripture, and I would never attempt to usurp the authority of God. To be clear, I am not bound by the alleged authority of fundamentalists who insist on a certainty that defies human imagination.
I forgot to provide the link for your source-less article, because Ken Ham did present his source, permitting your name to be found: https://www.facebook.com/aigkenham/posts/5063004103729905
With that amended, let me be clear. If you do not have a verse for your position, then we are not even discussing The Holy Bible. It must be concluded, therefore, that “as to [your] authority, [you] have none” compared to God’s Pure Word. Simple as that.
Romans 3:4 (KJV), “God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written [Psalm 51:4], “That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” “
I apologize for my lack of clarity. My comment about not having a verse was a bit of satire poking fun at the idea that a verse suffices as all necessary evidence. I suppose that’s why Ham thinks all the answers are in Genesis.
I claim no authority. I’m a Bible reader who allows texts to speak rather than insisting I have the only correct interpretation.
My article cites numerous sources, but why bother with debating verses and supporting material. Do you have an actual argument? Toulmin says an argument requires a claim, evidence, warrant, and reasons.
You make assertions but argue nothing. You quote verses that prove nothing. You are not being clear at all. If you have an argument, please state it. If you want to refute my claim, then stop hem hawing about the pure Word and make an actual counter claim. I will gladly engage you in debate, but so far you have failed to make an argument.
Hey, Rod! Thanks for this. It’s so bizarre to me that Ham acts so consistently in NOT-naming you. Bob Jones, Sr. did the same thing on Easter Sunday morning in 1960 in his infamous sermon, “Is Segregation Scriptural?” He was talking about Billy Graham. That’s who prompted his racist rant, but for decades none of us knew it.
I had to sign-off that I had read that sermon as a first-year at Bob Jones University in 1986. We all did. It was the school’s statement defending their white supremacy. But we didn’t know that it was Graham’s call for integration that prompted it. His not-naming kept us all ignorant for decades. It kept his insiders dis-educated so that we couldn’t leave the fold. Unfortunately, historians have repeated the myths. I’m working on that one.
But Ham is doing the same thing here. He’s talking only to his insiders. And by not naming the Big-Bad-Wolf outside the fold, he can make you as ominous as he needs to keep them in. I use a dueling metaphor to explain it. But it’s the same.
So maybe congrats are in order?! 😉