Saturday, February 12, 2011

Question: Gap Theory

Esther asks:
I'm very concerned, from both a pastoral and an evangelistic perspective, about the tendency in many young-earth creationist circles to equate YEC with authentic Christian faith.
My question is this: What are the theological implications, and perhaps complications, of suggesting a gap between "in the beginning" and the first, "and God said..." So far, I've suggested to my kids the possibility that a lot of things happened "in the beginning" (that left a geologic and fossil record) and then somehow, it happened that "the earth was formless and void." I know there are theologians who have suggested that the fall of Satan plunged the earth into a chaotic state...and scientists who have suggested that the fall of a gigantic meteor led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and plunged the earth into a dark ice age. I'm not familiar enough with the different schools of thought to know if the "gap theory" fits with the Old Earth Creationism that you espouse.
Have I made sense?  Can you give me some insight?  I'd really appreciate it!
There are three general approaches to interpreting Genesis 1: young-earth creationism, old-earth creationism and theistic evolution. Under the umbrella of old-earth creationism, there are a number of varieties: day-age creationism, gap theory, analogical days and the framework hypothesis. (FYI - the framework hypothesis is also frequently used by people who hold to theistic evolution.) Personally, I lean toward a modified version of day-age creationism, where the "days" in Genesis 1 roughly correspond to different ages that we observe in Earth's geological record. I also am quite sympathetic to the analogical day view and aspects of the framework hypothesis.

Like I said, the Gap Theory is a form of old-earth creationism. There are various versions of the gap theory, but the basic idea of it is that there is a "gap" of millions or possibly billions of years between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. This is usually where people put the dinosaurs, etc. 
Image: Answers in Genesis
Although I do not personally find the biblical evidence for the gap theory compelling (I just think the evidence is a little thin), it's certainly not heretical or unorthodox. There are fine biblical scholars who have held to this view including the Scofield Reference Bible and Pastor Jack Hayford. It's not as popular of a view as it was 50 to 100 years ago, but it's definitely still out there in pews.

My major problem with this approach is that it doesn't really help to make sense of the events described on the six "days" of creation. How does it provide a useful tool for integration other than to say the Earth is old? I have yet to hear a gap theory proponent use this model to make sense of or provide meaningful insight into the fossil record.

For the particulars on what I think happened on the "days" of creation and how to interpret them, see my book, The Bigger Picture on Creation. There is a companion DVD that provides the science integration. I also have a talk on this topic that is available through Reasons To Believe if you're interested. It was featured at one point as a "Message of the Month" (in 2009?), but I think it's available now for individual sale. Just call the office and ask for Michelle. She'll be able to help you out. Tell her I sent you! She'll love that. =)


Breezy Point Mom said...

Just finished working through The Bigger Picture on Creation and it was excellent. I will share it with my friends. Thank you for this exceptional resource.

Theology Mom said...

Always nice to hear when someone finds something helpful. Thanks for the feedback.