Are the Essentials Really Essential?
Up to this point in this essay, I have argued for the importance of each of the nine elements to young earth theology. The collection of these elements and their cohesion together define young earth theology. If any of these are taken away, the view ceases to be a young-earth view.
From this young earther’s perspective, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of leeway in the matter. I cannot imagine a young earth creationist view that doesn’t rest on literal hermeneutics, that doesn’t include supernaturalism, that leaves God out of the creation of some parts of the universe, that takes longer than six days, that dates creation to billions of years ago, that doesn’t posit a literal Adam, that chalks up death to something other than sin, that doesn’t have a global deluge, or even worse that suggests Scripture is insufficient as our rule of faith and practice.
Some of these characteristics can be affirmed by non-YET views of creation. The fact that they are not then “distinguishing characteristics” does not mean that they cannot be “essential characteristics” for the YET view. For instance, someone could affirm belief in comprehensive creation, or in the method of supernatural direct acts of God without affirming belief in full-orbed young earth creationism.
Young Earth Theology Essential to Christian Doctrine
I have examined essential elements of young earth theology. But is young earth theology itself essential to Christian theology as a whole? The essay thus far as given away my view on that question, but I would like to look at the question more specifically, and then critique an approach to theological study that can diminish the importance of whole portions of Christian theology, including YET.
Is Young Earth Theology Really Essential to Christian Theology?
I have called the subject under discussion young earth theology because it interconnects with the full body of Christian doctrine in a way that touches on far more than just creation in the opening days or even years of the universe. It affects many other crucial areas including the gospel proper, hermeneutical method, the trustworthiness of God, and one’s theology of God relative to the creation. If we were to fully develop this “essentiality” it would be necessary to consider all the references and allusions to creation in the New Testament. A full treatment is beyond the scope of this article, but a few thoughts are in order.29
The many Isaiah texts affirm God’s creatorship as an explanation of his lordship. Romans 5:12–21 relies upon the literal Adam and the sin described in the creation account to explain the marvel of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. The apostle Paul began his gospel message in Athens with a reference to the comprehensive creation (Acts 17:24) in which God made “from one man” all mankind (17:26). Jesus referred to the first man and woman in his proclamation of the sanctity of marriage. The great time of tribulation that will come upon the world will be unparalleled from the time God created (Mark 13:19). Creation texts like John 1:1–3 and Colossians 1:16 proclaim the deity of Christ, in part based on his role in the creation. The Colossians text serves another purpose, namely, to highlight the headship and preeminence of Christ over everything in his creation. According to Romans 1:20, the visible creation declares two key invisible attributes of God: his eternal power and deity. This could not be true if the creation sprang into existence by itself or through mostly natural means. Furthermore, Romans 1:20 declares that the unbeliever is without excuse and therefore under the wrath of God revealed in the creation (1:18–20). Ephesians 3:9 indicates that the overarching plan of God for the ages includes his creative work as part of a coherent package from beginning to end. The miracle nature of regeneration is likened to God’s creation of light on the first day of the creation week (2 Cor 4:6). Timothy is told that false teachers would forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods that God created as good things to be received with thanks (1 Tim 4:3–4). Peter emphasizes the truth that God’s supernatural activity in creation makes it certain that he can and will intervene again in a supernatural way at the final judgment. The doxological focus of the Christian message is highlighted in Revelation 4:11 when the heavenly worshipers announce God’s worthiness of worship because he created everything.
I hope that these few references to the New Testament persuade the reader that there are at least substantial connections between creation and what any conservative Christian would agree are absolutely essential doctrines. More than that, I hope the texts remind the reader that if creation did not happen as we have described in this essay, the meaning of the key texts above is eviscerated. If a view of creation eliminates one or more of the essentials we have described in the previous section, they do serious damage to the New Testament texts that rest upon those essentials. Creation is not ancillary; it is foundational to the gospel, to all other Christian doctrines, and to the right functioning of society. This is not a conclusion that rests on tenuous evidence. It is solidly founded in the Bible.
This is not to say that a conscious or fully-formed belief in young earth theology is required in order to be saved. To say so would be to add a condition to salvation, other than repentant faith, and that is not permitted by Scripture. But it is to say that the believer today who would be fully faithful to God and his revelation will acknowledge that God is the literal, miraculous creator, and that his word is the sole authority in faith and practice, including in the area of creation.
Young earth theology is part of a conservative biblical systematic theology. A theology may be otherwise conservative, but to the extent that it embraces cosmologies other than young earth creation, it is to that extent liberal in its stance.
29 For a helpful discussion of the theological ramifications of creation, see the chapter by Morton H. Smith, “The Theological Significance of the Doctrine of Creation,” in Did God Create in Six Days? ed. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. and David W. Hall (Taylors, SC: Southern Presbyterian Press, 1999): 243–65. Smith writes about creation’s impact on epistemology, revelation, theology proper, anthropology, hamartiology, redemption, and eschatology.
Dr. Postiff has served as Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church since 2006. He holds a PhD in computer engineering from University of Michigan and ran an engineering consulting firm specializing in design and simulation of computer microprocessors. He earned his ThM from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in 2010.