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 senior minister at First Baptist Ottawa, Kansas. He is also putting the finishing touches on his sixth book: The Immaculate Mistake: How Southern Baptists and Other Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump.
Back in 1985, a band called Jefferson Starship, belted out a song, “We built this city on rock and roll.” I have always liked the song. It reminds me of another song in the Bible that claims God built this planet on rock. And that rock has quite an ancient story to tell. In fact, the rocks have been here for more than four billion years.
But about 80 million evangelicals, with their lips pressed flat against Judgment Day, swear on a stack of King James Bibles that the Earth is only about 8,000 years old. This is known as young Earth creationism. So it is that there are ongoing attempts to teach scientific creationism or its cousin, intelligent design, in high school biology classes. The courts, even in Southern “Bible Belt” states, have always unmasked these attempts as a sneaky way to teach a particular kind of evangelical theology in science classes.
When the dominant dualism of our time insists that we must choose between a young Earth embraced theologically, or an old Earth embraced without belief in God, many of us are left out. Thank God we don’t have to choose between fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists. I believe that we and the world are God’s good creation, and I believe she took her own sweet time creating the world. Creationists are right to question the atheistic, materialistic views of some scientists. Those views are not scientific; they are theological. Creationists are right to insist that viewing the world “scientifically” is only one point of view.
That said, it is not necessary to dispute the findings of science on the basis of some scientists’ theology. Rather than fight the scientists over science, why can’t Christians maintain the prophetic, poetic rhetoric (analogy, symbols, metaphor) that has long been our preferred method of truth claiming? For example, St. Paul tells us that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God,” that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption.” All creation longs for the revealing of the children of God – rocks, plains, mountains, trees, cats, dogs, armadillos, weeds, and even us – who are longing for God’s redemption.
Yes, I would rather praise the Lord among the rocks along the road than in places where creation is bundled and hawked as a freak show of the impossible. The psalmist seems to agree: Praise the Lord, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! In Luke 19, Jesus says that if his people stopped praising God, the rocks would cry out! Let the rocks cry! Let the rocks praise!
I find it mildly amusing that in Boone County Kentucky there are rock formations that are part of a famous formation called the “Cincinnatian” that contains some of the richest fossil beds in the world. These fossils date from a half-billion-year-old geological epoch called the Ordovician. Tens of millions of years of geological history lie exposed in these layers – chapters in the four-and-one-half-billion-year story of life on this planet.
Here’s what makes this amusing: Many people driving along Highway 20 in Kentucky are oblivious to the rock formations because they are on their way to a tourist site known as the Creation Museum. At the museum they will be told that the Earth is only about 8,000 years old. The rocks on the side of the road to the Creation Museum cry out to the glory of God’s creation. If the tourists stopped and dug among the layers of earth, they would discover fossils of trilobites, shellfish, and other ancient and extinct life forms – all continuing to give praise to God’s creative power.
But who has time for testimony from God’s ancient creation when there’s a fundamentalist tourist site just around the next curve promising to regale you with tales of an Earth that just showed up a few thousand years ago?
The rocks tell a more biblical, more truthful, more accurate story. The story at the Creation Museum is unfaithful to Scripture, misleading, and unscientific. If evangelical Christians can be this wrong on creation, perhaps we should ask if they are insisting on other questionable ideas that are just as far-fetched as young Earth creationism.