Sean McDowell | May 23, 2017

Should Christians Divide Over the Age of the Earth? Review of the New Book.

Should Christians Divide Over the Age of the Earth? Review of the New Book.

During my Ph.D. studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of my professors, Dr. Ted Cabal, was working on a book about whether Christians should divide over the age of the earth. It’s thrilling to see his research come to fruition in the recent-released book: Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should Not Divide Over the Age of the Earth.

Dr. Cabal is thoughtful, kind, and engaging in the classroom. Thus, I’m not surprised to see his recent book reflect those characteristics as well. Even though he is an old-earth creationist (OEC), Cabal goes out of his way to mention that most young earth creationists (YECs) do not consider the earth’s age worth dividing over, and that many members of BioLogos, who are committed to influencing the church towards embracing evolution, have treated him and his views with kindness and respect.

Although Cabal takes some firm stands in the book, he does so with graciousness, and it’s clear that he desires further dialogue and clarity: “What follows are just my opinion, but I hope they serve as starting points for more fruitful conversations between evangelicals.”[1] His firm yet gracious approach is much needed for this issue (and many others), especially in our contentious times.

Copernicus Vs. Darwin

Controversy of the Ages covers a lot of ground including the discredited thesis that theology is at war with science. Cabal rightly notes that the relationship between science and faith is best explained as “complex” rather than in conflict. Cabal notes that Christianity contributed substantially to the rise of modern science and that most conflicts in the history of science had nothing to do with theology: “Battles between scientists and theologians have actually been rather sparse” (20).

Cabal also compares and contrasts how the church responded to the Copernican revolution compared with its response to Darwinism. Copernicus made discoveries that lead to the correction of both science and theology. The broader goal was to harmonize science and Scripture. Yet during the rise of Darwinism, key figures no longer shared a biblical worldview. As a result, liberal theologians began to emphasize experience over the propositional truth of the Bible and evolution became the lens through which to formulate Christian doctrine.

Do YECs Practice Evolutionary Science?

Two sections of the book struck me as most interesting. First, chapter 7 is entitled, “Do Young Earth Creationists Practice Evolutionary Science?” Cabal notes how certain YECs claim that all non-YEC evangelicals compromise the authority of the Bible by submitting to “evolutionary science,” which is based on naturalistic methodology.

Yet ironically, Cabal gives four examples of how some YECs do the very same thing they criticize in OECs. For instance, he notes how certain prominent YECs have written extensively how the Bible discusses dinosaurs, and yet these biblical passages were never interpreted this way prior to the discovery of dinosaurs in the modern era.

He also gives examples of how some YECs have adapted their theories about the fossil column, radiometric dating, plate tectonics, and whale evolution in light of scientific discoveries. Cabal has no problem that YECs adapt their approach to coincide with modern science, but he notes the inconsistency of labeling others “evolutionist” when they do the same thing.

Drawing Theological Lines

Second, chapter 9 is worth the price of the whole book. Cabal notes that Christians need to have theological boundaries to protect the faith, but ought to draw them with charity and proper balance between inclusivity and restrictiveness. While he does have some criticisms for Reasons to Believe, the leading OEC organization, since they are committed to biblical inerrancy, he reserves his primary criticism for Answers in Genesis (AiG) and BioLogos.

As for AiG, Cabal is concerned that they draw doctrinal lines to narrowly—including such things as a young earth, a flood-shaped geology, Neanderthals, and details about taxonomy in the definition of inerrancy. He contends that they conflate interpretation with inspiration. And Cabal is deeply concerned at a certain attitude that often results from the sweeping, unsubstantiated claim that ineffective worldwide evangelism, the abandonment of the faith by young Christians, and sexual immorality are the result of the church embracing an old earth.

As for BioLogos, Cabal believes they draw theological boundaries too broad. BioLogos does not endorse biblical inerrancy (their website includes many articles arguing for errors in the Bible). Given that various key figures in BioLogos have abandoned the special creation of humans, the fall, the historical Adam, as well as original sin and also offered evolutionary accounts for the rise of belief in God and human morality, Cabal wonders how many more substantive theological reformulations are on the way. As a result, he cannot recommend BioLogos as a constructive resource for the church, even though that is what it seeks to be.

This book was no doubt hard for Cabal to write. For one, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2001, and quite obviously, has limited energy. Thus, he could not have written this book without the help of his co-author, Peter Rasor. Second, Cabal has built relationships with people on all sides of this debate. He sincerely cares about them and has no desire to create unnecessary division in the church. Yet when it is all said and done, he cares most deeply about the health of the church. And thus he takes the risk of making his views public.

Controversy of the Ages fills a need that has existed for some time. While lay people will certainly find value in this book, his primary audience is those who have a vested interest in the intersection of science and faith. If that’s you, I could not recommend this book more highly.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

[1] Theodore J. Cabal & Peter J. Rasor II, Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should Not Divide Over the Age of the Earth (Wooster, OH: Weaver Books, 2017), 190.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: