2 Stars Out Of 5
Ken Ham takes a page from the KJV Onlyists
August 10, 2011
In their recent book Already Compromised, authors Ken Ham and Greg Hall sound a warning call to parents enrolling their children at Christian colleges around the country. Why the alarm? As it turns out, not every Christian academic shares Ham's view on creation and Earth history. Presumably, students and parents alike opt for Christian higher education to avoid the influence of 'secularism' (i.e. evolution and 'millions of years'), but what "they don't know," according to Ham, "is that, like the secular schools they wish to avoid...a growing number of the Christian schools they attend are...Already Compromised" (p. 8).
The book begins with a rather simple overview that chronicles the transition of Ivy League seminaries in America to secularized universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouthâ€”all began as modest institutions designed to raise up ministers in the Puritan and Protestant traditions. But to meet the demands of a growing and diversifying economy, and preserve their stature as major beacons to American intellectuals, these universities adopted principles of academicâ€”and hence religiousâ€”freedom in their curriculum. Mr. Ham is correct about one thing: it is mildly disheartening to see the spiritual foundations of our university system blurred in a fog of relativism. But if schools such as Harvard had maintained the narrow disciplinary focus and guidelines that Ham envisions, they would not today be known to us as Harvard, etc., but as 'that little old seminary in Massachusetts'.
Regardless of how one thinks the Ivy League schools should have responded to intellectual movements of the past 400 years, we can still ask whether Christian colleges today should follow a similar path. Ken Ham thinks not. In fact, he believes the transition has already begun, and that it's time to take a stand. Ham and Hall polled 312 faculty/administration from ostensibly Christian institutions to assess 'how bad' the situation really is. "Christian colleges took a test on the state of their faith," reads the subtitle, "and the results are in!" If you read the back cover, you might expect the results to be "revealing and shocking!"
But if you've paid any attention to the origins debate in recent years, then prepare to be utterly unsurprised.
Not far into the book, I felt that I was reading inside of an echo chamber (allow me to explain!). Years ago, I became interested in the field of textual criticism, which seeks to reconstruct the original text of the Bible using variant manuscripts. Most Christians ignore the issue of textual criticism, or see it as unfruitful. Others, however, are disturbed that we can't know with 100% certainty the original words of Scripture, and even repulsed by the idea of a 'critical text'. This sort of skepticism in Christianity is fertile ground for what is called the King James Version Only movement. Reacting to what they perceive as a threat to the authority of God's word, KJV Onlyists have posited that God inspired an English translation of the biblical text for our day and age. Which version is that? Well, the 1611 King James Authorized Version, of course!
After the King James Version of the Bible has been dogmatically defined as the standard for God's word, rational discourse effectively comes to a halt. Likewise, Ken Ham and Greg Hall have dogmatically defined their own version of Earth history as the final standard for a 'biblical worldview'. So this poll is not so much about understanding the diversity in Christian opinion as it is exposing educators that would dare disagree with Ken Ham or Answers in Genesis.
Contributing to my frustration is the manner in which Ham crafted the poll and mishandles the results. Question 8 asks, for example, "Do you believe the Bible is literally true?" In reality, any answer to this poorly worded question will die the death of a thousand qualifications. But Ham comments (p. 22): "83 percent said that they believe Genesis 1 and 2 are literally true. But when we asked whether they believe God created in six literal days, only 59.6 percent answered yes. That means about 23 percent are either confused, wrong, or just haven't thought this through."
Ken's fiat declaration that a literal reading of Genesis requires a 24-hour day, young-Earth modelâ€”though well intentionedâ€”is but an artifact of his own hubris. These results merely imply that respondents do not agree with Ken on what the 'literal' reading of Genesis isâ€”not that they are confused or "wrong"! Nonetheless, he continues (p. 34): "nearly four in five who adhere to an old-earth theory believe the Bible is literally true. Keep in mind these two concepts are polar opposites." Like those who limit God's word to a 17th-century translation of the former, Ken has limited the meaning of God's word to his own interpretation, and then acts surprised to find that not everyone follows his line of reasoning.
The authors spend the rest of the book explicating rather uninteresting poll results, defining their own worldview, and belittling various Christian professors for taking a 'compromising' stance on Genesis. In the appendix, Mr. Ham paints misleading caricatures of his opponents with selective quotes. Most unfortunate, in my opinion, was his treatment of John Walton, whose work on the ancient literary world of the Pentateuch has been widely appreciated by students of the Old Testamentâ€”but apparently not by Ken Ham, who had much difficulty articulating Walton's viewpoint on Genesis.
To top things off, guest authors Terry Mortenson and Bodie Hodge refute the Documentary Hypothesis by calling it 'liberal' and overlooking the past century of research. Don't get me wrongâ€”I'm not an outright proponent of the DH (certainly not the classic formulation by Wellhausen). But the authors' superficial treatment here only caused me to better appreciate the most recent work in higher criticism, which has articulated far better, ironically, the unity of the Pentateuch.
On the bright side, this book is an easy read (I finished it in less than 2 days while taking 7 pages of notes), and contains real data from polls of faculty/administration at Christian colleges around the country. Despite my frustrations above, this book is not devoid of meaningful discussion. I particularly enjoyed reading about the widely varied poll responses from the President/Vice-President of each institution. Lastly, if nothing else, this book will help you understand the young-Earth approach to polemics and ecumenism in the church today. For that reason, I must give it at least two stars.
If you regularly use Answers in Genesis as a science/faith resource, you will enjoy this book. My hope, however, is that you will find it in yourself to think critically through this work, and consider that Mr. Ham and Dr. Hall may have overstated the case.