The SES vs. Ham
Debate Dialogue Debate
Evangelical apologetics has apparently taken a rather bizarre turn since I left it some time ago. My alma mater, Southern Evangelical Seminary, hosts an annual apologetic conference; and in 2017, they invited Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham to a dialogue (aka debate) with my friend Dr. Richard Howe. They had their discussion, reviews seemed positive, but then Ken Ham made the mistake of writing a critique of his encounter. So now Southern Evangelical Seminary, and Ken Ham are duking it out in an online blog war.
“Over what?” you ask. Good question. You see, Howe agrees with Ham on the age of the earth – so it’s not that. Rather, SES and Ham are fighting over exactly how clear the Bible is on the Young Earth position.
So really this whole SES vs. Ham debate is not really over apologetic method (as SES thinks it is) or biblical authority (as Ham thinks it is) – but rather it is about biblical perspicuity.
Problems with Perspicuity
In order to escape the tyranny of an authoritative Church, Evangelicals are forced to believe the Bible is sufficiently clear as to be understood plainly in all relevant areas. This is known as biblical perspicuity (for Evangelicals, the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura is more properly labelled solo scriptura).
Ironically, the Bible nowhere says that it is clearly understandable. In fact, it seems to strongly imply the exact opposite (e.g., 2 Peter 3:16 or the test case of Acts 8). Further, even if it is assumed that the Bible is sufficiently clear in all relevant areas, the Bible nowhere lists these relevant areas (contra Geisler). Finally, as I have shown elsewhere, Protestantism offers its own best refutation of biblical perspicuity (here are 75 examples). Now we have two Young Earth Evangelicals debating exactly how clear the Bible is on Young Earth!
As I read Ken Ham’s initial response to SES, I found that it provided a perfect illustration of why biblical perspicuity doesn’t work out. I wonder how he would respond to his own words with just a few doctrinal tweaks?
We are seeing a trend in which it seems many of these academics are saying that the average person can’t fully understand the Word of God for themselves, but has to listen to what these “learned” people are saying. . . . God’s Word is for all people for all time. And its message (even though there are difficult passages) is easy for anyone to understand—and that it’s not difficult to understand John chapter 6 if we just read it and take it as written, as did Jesus, Peter, and Paul in the New Testament. That’s how
mostall orthodox Christian scholars accepted John chapter 6 up until the 16th century when the idea of communion as a mere symbol (which came out of Anabaptist and Zwinglianism) began to infiltrate the church.
Compromise positions on John chapter 6 are permeating our seminaries and other Christian institutions. Academics have come up with all sorts of fanciful ways to twist the Scriptures to try to fit in a symbolic-only view. It’s almost like the Gnostics who claimed some sort of special knowledge. Many of these academics are telling the average person, “Trust us. We’ve done in-depth theological study, and you need to reinterpret God’s Word as we tell you to.”
There’s so much compromise about John chapter 6 today in the non-Catholic churches. And now we see compromise on marriage and gender, as people increasingly compromise other parts of the Bible. The message the non-Catholic churches presents is not clear—it’s not certain. And as 1 Corinthians 14:8 tells us, when there’s an uncertain sound, people will not be prepared for the battle. There’s a spiritual battle raging around us and many in the church are not prepared for that battle with a clear understanding of the Word of God.
Now, I would wager that if Ham (or Howe) got a statement such as this, they’d both have no problem coming up with reasons why John chapter 6 somehow escapes the biblical perspicuity rule. Ham would either say it’s just clear that John 6 is symbolic, or that it’s one of those “difficult” passages (which he would have a very hard time proving given that he thinks a portion of Genesis which has been contested since at least the 4th century is perfectly clear!). Howe would likely offer hermeneutic/ philosophical reasons why John 6 can’t be literal (which would be contrary to his philosophical hero, St. Thomas Aquinas).
Regardless, my point is made. Calling out a biblical passage as “clear if we just read it and take it as written” does not – and cannot – end the debate. But for Evangelicals, the Bible must be that clear – otherwise they would have to trust the Church’s councils and creeds (as they already do for the canon).
And that way lies Catholicism!
Post Script: Apparently not even the discussion’s title is perspicacious enough! 🙂