A few weeks ago I attended the National Apologetics Conference, sponsored by Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES). One of the sessions was a moderated discussion between Dr. Richard Howe and Mr. Ken Ham on the topic “God’s Word or Man’s Word: From Where Must Apologetics Begin.” Ken Ham is a well-known young earth creation writer, speaker, and ministry leader. Richard Howe is a seminary professor, writer, and speaker. Both men are young earth creationists and both hold to the inerrancy of scripture.
Since both men agreed on what the scriptures taught, the discussion was not on the age of the earth. Their disagreement was on what methods are proper for Christians to use when reading and deriving the meaning of the Bible. Ham continues to use the phrase “God’s word or man’s word,” saying that it is illicit to start from a human conclusion and apply it to interpreting the Bible. Howe contends that we must compare scripture to what we know about the real world. Howe would say that when Jesus says “I am the door” we know things about humans and doors and conclude that Jesus was using a metaphor, and He is not made of wood.
In the talk, both men were asked questions by the moderator and the audience and gave their positions. The problem came a few weeks later when Ham sent out a fundraising letter, which you can read here. Although Ham agrees with Howe in what Genesis is saying, Ham portrayed the event in an uncharitable way:
- Howe’s view is “a plague in the church”
- “the battle over the age of the earth came down to God’s infallible Word versus man’s fallible word.”
- Ham said he was “planting seeds and encouraging those who do believe in Genesis to stand for the truth” as if Howe did not believe Genesis.
- Several times Ham keeps mentioning the issue of age of the earth, even though that was not the topic
- Ham claims many academics, presumably Howe and SES, hold that the average person cannot understand the Bible for themselves
- Ham mentions seminaries have “compromise positions” on the Bible that “twist the scriptures”
SES was rightfully concerned, and published a response which you can read here.
I attended the discussion and have a recording of it. Ham’s statements do not align with what actually happened. Despite the fact that there was no disagreement on the age of the earth, Ham continues to paint it as if there was one. He is painting a picture that Howe and SES’s positions are a plague, accusing them of compromising scripture, making false claims about what they stand for about the Bible, even twisting the scriptures.
What is so disappointing is that this conference is one of the few places that is trying to get Christians together to have a safe discussion of the issues without name calling and mud slinging. The conference invites Christians to discuss the issues openly and charitably.
Keep in mind that Howe and SES are in the strongest camp of inerrantists. Both the seminary and this particular professor have defended Biblical inerrancy in the strictest possible terms. Anyone who knows Richard Howe knows that he takes a very strong position on the inerrancy of the Bible and has done so all his career. Howe even agreed with Ham on what the Bible says, but this was not good enough for Ham. The use of the phrase “God’s word or man’s word” is used uncharitably and inaccurately.
It seems that not only does Ham not allow someone to disagree on what Genesis says, but also will not allow anyone to disagree on the way we come to the conclusions about what Genesis says. He misrepresented what happened at the conference in a fundraising letter, painting the position to donors that he was defending the truth of scripture against the compromising plague of attacks from seminary professors. Ham’s statements are untrue. Ham either knows the difference in what he is saying and does not care, or genuinely does not understand what the whole discussion was to be about. He painted this issue in light of age of the earth, even though age of the earth was not at issue. Therefore Ham is the one making age of the earth the issue.
In making these statements, Ham is ensuring that Christians cannot even have a dialogue about how to approach the Bible. He turns an attempt at a calm academic discussion into an emotional appeal for support for his ministry. He has lowered his credibility and damaged the ability of well-meaning Christians to discuss the Bible and come to a common understanding of what it means. In that, we cannot recommend Ham or his approach to the issue.