Response to Tom Couchman's Response

by Dudley Ross Spears

July 21, 2000
Tom Couchman's Response to the "Open Letter"
Maurice Barnett's Review of Couchman

      Published on the web page owned by Ferrell Jenkins, head of the Bible department at Florida College, is a response to an open letter, written by Harry Osborne and Dan King, and signed by sixty-seven brethren. It is one of two responses so far. Couchman offered one on the Internet, and Dr. C.G. "Colly" Caldwell, president of Florida College, offered another. Caldwell's response was a form letter sent to each of the signers of the open letter.

      One issue raised by Tom Couchman that first needs attention is his assertion that those whose concerns over the soundness of Florida College are initiating this discussion "for the express purpose of dividing brethren over an issue which has nothing to do with obedience to the gospel message . . ." Couchman is making a huge conclusion jump. He extracted all that from the statement:

      ". . . instead of responding to brother Roberts' materials and condemning the errors present therein, subsequent 'defenses' have either pretended not to notice what was circulated on the campus to those in attendance, or else have attempted to justify his invitation to speak on the reasoning that this matter is very difficult to settle and ought not to be seen as a reason for breaking fellowship between brethren. On the latter point, we most assuredly disagree."

      The primary concern expressed in this excerpt from the Open Letter is the distribution on the campus of Florida College of Hill Roberts' naturalistic conclusions regarding the length of the days of creation. The secondary concern is the complicity of Florida College in that distribution on campus (neither disclaimer nor explanation has been offered by the college administration to my knowledge.) The third concern is regarding the alleged "difficulty" in settling this issue. (Those who signed the Open Letter urge the very simple method of just taking the first chapter of Genesis literally) and a fourth concern (and last) has to do with fellowship.

      From this, Couchman extracts his conviction that those who signed the Open Letter have expressed their intention to divide the brethren. I urge Couchman to read the statement once more. A strong disagreement on the "latter point" by no means indicates anyone, on either side of this thing, has or will "express" their intentions to divide brethren.

      A comparison of the Caldwell letter and the Web post of Couchman is revealing. In Caldwell's letter, we are told that the only allowable teaching from Genesis 1 at Florida College is stated forthrightly in point 7 of a statement of faith. The statement was attached to the letter. Point 7 reads:

"In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them" (Exodus 20:10; see Genesis 1:1-2:25). This statement of Scripture must be presented to students as absolute truth. Any teaching relating to the "days" of creation designed to influence students to interpret them as accommodating any of the naturalistic conclusions disavowed above is not tolerated at Florida College."(Emphasis added).

      The major portion of the concerns expressed in the Open Letter involved the teaching of Hill Roberts, an advocate of the day/age theory of creation. Since Couchman recognizes Robert's view of "abundant evidence of a great age" for the earth, he should realize that according to the president's dictum, he cannot teach at Florida College - but he has. Ferrell Jenkins' weak explanation that "He didn't talk about the creation. He didn't talk about the days of creation," is misleading at the best.

Couchman says this is the "Hub of the Issue":

      "If one is going to use the evidence from nature to prove that there is a God and that He is responsible for both the 'animate and inanimate' creations, one cannot honestly ignore the evidence, from that same nature, of the antiquity of the earth. Brother Roberts cannot present an 'excellent refutation of biological evolution' without reference to the natural sciences, and 'his technical expertise' and credibility as a scientist depend on his having the integrity to acknowledge that those natural sciences provide abundant evidence of great age."

      Scientist Hill cannot repel biological evolution without "accommodating a naturalistic conclusion" not tolerated by the president of Florida College. But it gets more interesting. The head of the Bible department, Ferrell Jenkins argued for tolerance on this very point.

      "Is there a place for two brethren who strongly believe in creation, but who hold differing views on the gap theory? Well, I used to think so when I had these guys preaching where I was preaching. And I've always said, 'It might be that there was a gap.' You know? I've given you the indication I don't much think there was now, but it might have been. I can't rule it out. Is there room for these two brethren in the church where you are?"

      The better question, is there room on the faculty of Florida College for two brothers, one of whom teaches what the president says cannot and will not be tolerated and the other who teaches what Hill Roberts teaches?

      Couchman is concerned over breaking fellowship and that is a legitimate concern. But he is wrong when he insinuates those signing the Open Letter have "expressed their intentions" to do the withdrawing. Fellowship over this issue will be broken only when those who teach "naturalistic conclusions" about creation continue teaching it. It will not be the sixty-seven (that is not inherent in the statement Couchman quoted).

      The sixty-seven signers see the compromising position of Florida College in regard to the teaching of Hill Roberts and Shane Scott as dangerous - very dangerous. They agree that it is an issue that will break fellowship, but the question always returns, "Who split the log?" It is not the one whose faith is limited to the infallible word. Based on what Caldwell said will not be allowed to be taught at Florida College, I fail to see why he could not have signed it himself. Couchman and Jenkins should question the president in the same manner they question the "Sixty-Seven".

      If and when fellowship is broken, where will the president of Florida College and the head of her Bible department land? If the president's position is rigidly held, the head of the Bible department will have no room to adjust to the fellow who holds the "gap" theory. If the head of the Bible department finds room for fellowship with those who come to "naturalistic conclusions," the president cannot rigidly hold his intolerant view.

      Couchman is wrong in a comparison of Hosea 6:1ff and Genesis 1. The prophet was assuring his people that in a very short time they would be revived. Couchman is comparing a Hebrew expression intended to convey the thought of a short time to the days of creation. Admittedly "day" in the prophetic passage is used figuratively. Both the context and actual events help us to see that. There is nothing in context or actual events in Genesis 1 that allows the days to be understood as long, extended and indefinite periods of time. No one denies that the Scriptures sometimes uses "day" figuratively (e.g. John 8:56). I deny day means anything more than a solar day in Genesis 1.

      But this is not how the president of Florida College sees Genesis 1, nor will he tolerate any teaching to the contrary. Here is his statement of faith, point 7. Dr. Caldwell flatly states his case for literal consecutive solar days:

      "This statement of Scripture must be presented to students as absolute truth."

      One of the things that hurts a discussion like this is the effort to reduce it to a matter of trivial pursuit. I hope Mr. Couchman doesn't think the Sixty-Seven sit hour after hour at a computer, scouring all over the brotherhood for a morsel of false teaching and practice to refute. To insinuate that any or all of the Sixty-Seven are not interested in unity and peace is simply wrong. No sin can be ignored. No erroneous doctrine or practice is sacrosanct.

      Couchman asked if "teaching that the earth is 4.5 billion years old will prevent someone from becoming a Christian?" This question is an apparent attempt to shift the issue to the old question of "how much must one know before he can be scripturally baptized?" This is not the question we are discussing. It should be noted from Couchman's article that, to him, it doesn't matter what one believes regarding the days of creation, whether he is a Christian or a non-Christian. Does Couchman believe that for one to be saved he must accept only a few core gospel principles and be baptized? Is he saying that it really doesn't matter what he believes about the rest of the Bible?

      New converts do not generally possess a working knowledge of all truth. The fact that one may not know or understand every aspect of Bible teaching does not negate his duty to believe that teaching when he does become aware of it. Repentance demands this response. In repentance, the sinner turns from false doctrines and practices and turns to the truth. Upon future discovery of any wrongdoing, the penitent person will always change.

      Of course, the assessment of a convert's ability, and the amount of time granted for him to use that ability are determinations made by God. What we do know is that no converted sinner who becomes a Christian can teach any false doctrine and remain in fellowship with God (2 John 9-11). It is possible for one to be converted who holds false views on some subjects, but he may not continue holding those false views (1 Jn. 3:9). For example, one may hold the view of an imaginary millennium, but when presented with Bible truth on the subject, he is obligated to accept that truth and reject the error. If he refuses to accept the truth, God will eventually send him a "deluding influence," and he will be condemned (2 Thess. 2:10-12).

      Hopefully, if Caldwell's items of faith are rigidly observed by teachers and professors at Florida College, students being graduated will emerge believing creation occurred in those six days mentioned in Caldwell's 7th item of faith.

      The issue is not who makes what a test of fellowship. Faithful Christians do not draw lines of fellowship; God does. God drew it around the doctrine of Christ. Faithful Christians simply recognize the line God drew and abide in the teaching (2 John 9-11). The Open Letter was forthright in demanding only plain Bible teaching as the criteria for fellowship. Just as Dr. Caldwell says any other teaching than the six days of creation as taught in Genesis 1 will not be tolerated, so faithful Christians everywhere say amen.

      There are several areas, including fellowship, that we all should be willing to study. I applaud Couchman for his expressed gratitude for help in addressing these questions. To that end I offer one brief suggestion. The study of the origin of the physical universe is not, nor can it be, a scientific issue. It can be a philosophical issue or an issue settled by history, but it cannot be a scientific issue. History is reliable only to the extent eyewitnesses and verbal testimony are reliable. Science is not reliable in regard to things it cannot examine and reproduce.

      The only real issue: Is there in the Bible the most accurate and reliable eyewitness to creation, and is there in it the most accurate historical record in existence? If so, then God's divine history doesn't need to be harmonized with anything modern science posits.

      I close with this quote from J.S. Jones and S. Rouhani: "The human fossil record is no exception to the general rule that the main lesson to be learned from paleontology is that evolution always takes place somewhere else." (Cited in Marvin Lubenow's book, "Bones of Contention," A Creationist Assessment of Human Fossils," published by Baker Books.

by Dudley Ross Spears

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