Spend enough time in evangelical culture, and you will hear a conversation about “salvation issues.” The term — which may be unfamiliar to those of who you are not fluent in Christianese — refers to the tenets that are generally understood as necessary for a person to accept in order to “be saved” (i.e., find forgiveness, redemption and eternal life in Christ), according to the Bible and Christian theology (the study of salvation, specifically, is called soteriology). The beliefs commonly held up as “salvation issues” might also be thought of as the “non-negotiable” tenets of biblical Christianity.
Not surprisingly, what does or doesn’t count as a “salvation issue” is also a popular topic of discussion for young-earth creationism proponents like Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, and Jason Lisle, of the Institute for Creation Research. Of course, they both believe that the denial of evolution and rejection of an ancient earth are of the utmost importance for all Christians — and it is in the best interests of the continued longevity of their respective organizations that they get as many people as possible to agree with this perspective.
However, since such a view is utterly and demonstrably unbiblical (as will be illustrated below) they have to be careful in how they present their arguments. So, Ham, for example, must pretend like he doesn’t think one’s opinion of evolution is more important than one’s opinion of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a blog post earlier this year discussing the importance of a historical Adam and Eve, he writes, “Now, I want to make very clear that belief in a historical Adam and Eve is not a salvation issue per se, but it is a biblical authority issue and a gospel issue.”
And Lisle is just as clever. He told a reporter last month that the big problem with “evilution” is not that it causes them to lose their salvation, merely that it puts them on a “slippery slope.”
“You’ve opened a very dangerous door,” he was quoted as saying. “Basically, you’ve decided to say that ‘I’m going to make the secular scientist my ultimate standard by which I interpret the scriptures’ and if you are consistent with that, and most people are not, thank goodness, but if you are well, hey, most scientists don’t believe the resurrection of the dead is possible.”
“Slippery” slopes. “Dangerous” doors. “Authority issue.” “Gospel issue.” These guys have to adopt such vague and shadowy terms because, the fact is that the Bible is blessedly clear about God’s list of “non-negotiables” when it comes to the message of salvation:
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” — Acts 16:30-31
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. — Romans 10:9
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. — 1 Corinthians 15:1-5
In other words, the core message of Christianity is this: Jesus, the Lord of all, died for your sins and rose again. Through believing in him — placing your faith and trust in his sacrifice — your salvation is assured. A powerful message, yet also a gloriously simple one — which is in no way dependent on or otherwise affected by your particular take on the biological origins of the human race.
You’ll also notice that nowhere in the verses above — or, indeed, anywhere else in scripture — is one’s salvation tied to his or her view of evolution, common descent, billions of years of earth history or any of the propositions that keep Ken Ham awake at night.
Critics may say, “Well, of course, evolution isn’t mentioned in the Bible, because they didn’t know what it was back then.” Right you are, imaginary person. I’m sure that if Darwin had shared First Century Palestine with Jesus Christ, the gospels would have read just like the polemics that come out of AiG and the like.
Except that, the Bible also never says a certain view of the book of Genesis is required in order to be saved. They may not have had scientific theories of evolution back then, but they did have Genesis, and I don’t remember Jesus telling any of the illiterate people with whom he shared his life that they had to learn to read it before he would consider dying for them.
Indeed, Jesus’ only recorded mention of the book at all is the time he quoted from it in response to a question about divorce. That’s right: Not creation. Not human origins. And certainly not salvation. He was talking about divorce. He spent more time discussing local news items and Jewish sects long since extinct than he spent jawing about Genesis. So, if anything, it appears he didn’t think the book was very important at all, let alone a prerequisite for being saved.
Like so much of what proceeds from the blogs of the young-earth creationists, their “evolution’s-not-a-salvation-issue-but-it’s-still-super-important” arguments collapse under the even the slightest bit of reasoned scrutiny. If you were “consistent” with Lisle’s “secular scientist” crock, (“most people are not, thank goodness,” but if you were) it would lead you to reject not only evolution, but also the water cycle (Matt. 5:45, Deut. 28:12, Job 38:22-30 and Psalm 147:8), heliocentric solar system (1 Chron. 16:30, Psalm 96:10, Josh. 10:12-13 and Ecc. 1:5) and spherical earth (see the dozens of passages that reference the “ends” or “corners” of the earth, like Rev. 7:1, or verses like Dan. 4:11 and Matt. 4:8, which describe tall objects visible anywhere on earth — only possible if the planet is flat).
And Ham shows that he doesn’t seem to understand the gospel at all, as he goes on to say, “When we deny the existence of Adam and Eve, then how do we explain the origin of sin and death in the world? And if we cannot explain how sin and death came into the world, or if we believe that it was always here, then what was the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection? Why was the atonement even necessary?”
Good question, K-Ham. Allow me to lay it out for you. Completely separate from the questions of who our first parents were and how sin entered the world, the atonement was and is necessary because you are dead in your sins, for which you alone are responsible. Scripture says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” I don’t need Jesus because of the sin my supposed ancestors committed thousands of years ago; I need Jesus because of the sin I myself committed this morning.
But it doesn’t matter that their arguments make no sense. It is emotion that they are appealing to. Like a dad telling his son, “We’re not mad; we’re just disappointed,” they sidestep any reasonable discussion of the issue at hand and, instead, invent terms designed to burden their good Christian readers with guilt and shame.
And, although I find reprehensible these and other attempts to muck up the most important message scripture has to share, I do see why Ham and Lisle feel motivated to do so. You see, not only are their groups financially dependent on their ability to convince backers that their mission is one of vital importance, they must justify their very existence, as it is becoming increasingly and painfully clear that the antagonism toward modern science that they promote is, at least, partially responsible for the mass exodus of young people from the evangelical church.
In the end, it is this unwavering devotion to young-earthism, a premise about which the Bible is — at best — ambiguous, that should give any faithful person strong reason for pause before lending them his or her support. If it is even possible that what the above study indicated (that the views of young-earthers are causing millennials to flee the church in droves), and if those like Ham and Lisle really believed the gospel is more important than people’s opinion of evolution and the proper interpretation of Genesis, you would think they would cheerfully give up their fight.
The fact that they have — if anything — intensified their efforts demonstrates pretty clearly where their hearts actually lie.