Was Charles Spurgeon sufficiently Christian?

John Holzmann, co-founder of Sonlight Curriculum, continues to tangle with Christian organizations who seem determined to make young-earth creationism into a shibboleth. I encourage you to start with this post and its comments, and then work backwards to get a fuller picture of where Holzmann is coming from and what sorts of difficulties have been inflicted upon him.

But I think this latest round is fairly self-contained and worth considering for its own sake. I will try to summarize it with excerpts, and without adding any commentary of my own.

Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham’s organization, is currently posting revised versions of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons. The revisions include not only updated language but updated thinking.

Beyond just typographical corrections, the text of each sermon has been updated. For instance, many words that are now obsolete have been modified to modern equivalents, and in some instances, the word order has been modified slightly when necessary. If the words could not be changed, footnotes or inline explanations have been added to clarify expressions or historical references that a modern reader might not be familiar with. In addition, concerning areas in which Spurgeon could not have known what we now know, these sermons have been updated to reflect current thought; however, the original text is also included so that you can see what was changed. [Emphasis added.]

In the thirtieth sermon posted, entitled “The Power of the Holy Ghost,” Spurgeon indulges in passing in some decidedly old-earth-creationism language.

We do not know how remote the period of the creation of this globe may be—certainly many millions of years before the time of Adam. Our planet has passed through various stages of existence, and different kinds of creatures have lived on its surface, all of which have been fashioned by God. But before that era came, when man should be its principal tenant and monarch, the Creator gave up the world to confusion. He allowed the inward fires to burst up from beneath and melt all the solid matter, so that all kinds of substances were commingled in one vast mass of disorder; the only name you could give to the world then was, that it was a chaotic mass of matter; what it should be, you could not guess or define.

True to their promise to update Spurgeon’s writing to reflect current thought, this text has been removed from the main text and placed in a footnote saying:

Bracketed text removed from the sermon. As brilliant as Spurgeon was, even he did not understand the age issue. –Editor

At least that is what the footnote says; in fact, the main text has this reworded section of the passage still in place.

Our planet has passed through various stages of existence in creation, and different kinds of creatures have lived on its surface, all of which have been fashioned by God. But before that era came, when man should be its principal tenant and monarch, the Creator gave up the world to confusion initially created the world as a chaotic mass on the first day of creation.

Holzmann has some analysis of the differences in meaning between the original and revised passage, but what interest me is that Answers in Genesis is so comfortable changing the words of a thinker they champion in a way that isn’t obvious to the reader. It would have been clearer (and more honest) if they had left Spurgeon’s wording intact in the main text, and relegated whatever comments they wanted to make about it to the footnote.

If you read Holzmann’s post, you will see that when he first wrote it the footnote containing the removed text was not then present, and he criticizes Answers in Genesis for that. It was added later, along with this note.

Please also note that this footnote was intended to be in the original posting, but was lost somehow in the transition of these files for web publication. Thanks to our astute readers for finding and reporting this error.

And then Mark Looy, co-founder of Answers in Genesis, adds this comment to the post.

It’s a shame that Christians will use a public arena like the worldwide web to denigrate other Christians/ministries for not being honest without first contacting those persons (or ministry) to get its perspective — and thus hear all sides before coming to a conclusion (per Proverbs 18:13) — and certainly before going public. Such "gotcha police" in the Christian world are not being good police detectives at all when they don’t make inquiries and thus face the potential of ignoring evidence (rather than practicing good common sense — moreover, following the instruction of Proverbs 18). Furthermore, making this issue public and hurling such an accusation for all the world to see is hardly manifesting the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5) and is ultimately tale-bearing.

Quite simply, a mistake was made in posting the devotional/sermon of Spurgeon to our website, where an editor’s note was inadvertently missing. That note has now been re-inserted, as someone has already commented on this site. A staff member in our web dept. informed me that "the note dropped off the file we received [from a person in Canada who supplied us with the devotional/sermon]. The man who supplied it says he put it in, but I checked the file he sent and it wasn’t on it, but I got it to be resent."

The original editor’s note is now in position at the end of the sermon/devotional: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2009/02/26/power-of-holy-ghost. Please be aware that the note was NOT added because we were "caught" at something. It was composed for the web before posting. The person in the web dept. who posted the piece did not know that an editor’s note was coming.

Please, if someone has a gripe about someone or a ministry, do the Proverbs 18 thing (as did an enquirer in Georgia about this matter). Indeed, there can be another explanation, which, if discovered, would prevent false charges from being made about a ministry’s actions and integrity.

Mark Looy, CCO, Answers in Genesis

Unfortunately, John Holzmann is the wrong person for an Answers in Genesis officer to be wagging his finger at when it comes to biblical protocol for calling out a ministry publicly. Holzmann responded with this comment, which he also emailed to Mr. Looy.

Dear Mr. Looy:

Thank you for setting the record straight about what happened to The Rev. Spurgeon’s sermon. I receive–and I hope my readers, too, will receive–your explanation at face value. The revision you all have posted, I think, both honors Spurgeon and enables AiG to maintain its own perspective on how it believes Christians should interpret the biblical record. And I am delighted to acknowledge your revision and to broadcast it to that portion of the blogosphere to which I speak.

Again, thank you.

Having said that, however, I would like to address your opening paragraphs and your conclusion. Because they distress me. Quite a bit.

I’m not exactly sure how to express this. But I will try to do it in the most helpful and God-honoring manner possible.

You see, if it weren’t for the fact that your organization–actually, above and beyond any other organization with which I, personally, have had the opportunity (or misfortune
, as the case may be) to interact–has acted very much contrary to the principles by which you urge the "rest of us" to operate.

I say that because of my distinct memory of how your organization, and, particularly, your president, Ken Ham, treated me over the two-year period between late 1999 and 2001–in public speeches before homeschool convention audiences, in magazine articles, and, even, in statements made by AiG customer service representatives over the phone to "whoever happened to ask" [a fact I confirmed, eventually, by calling in to AiG while pretending to be a potential Sonlight customer. I said I had been told that AiG was warning people not to buy from Sonlight and wondered why. Your customer service manager at the time explained exactly why AiG was warning people away from Sonlight. –Except the reasons were all based on false information] . . .

You see, at that time–and at least till 2004, when your organization published Jonathan Sarfati’s Hold on, Mr Holzmann article on your website–no one at Answers in Genesis ever approached me or anyone else at Sonlight Curriculum, Ltd., to get ourside of the stories you-all told about us or to get your facts straight.

So, I wonder: Beyond expressing your discomfort with how you believe I and, apparently, others behaved ourselves over the last two days,

  • Are your pleas also a declaration of a change of heart and change of policy on the part of AiG with how it treats–and plans to treat–those with whom it believes it is in disagreement? I.e., has AiG now dedicated itself to act–as it has most definitelynot acted in the past–so that it no longer (and willno longer) discuss the views or practices or beliefs or teachings of those with whom it believes it is in disagreement . . . unless and until it has, as you said, done "the Proverbs 18 thing"?

    Put another way, are you saying AiG has now dedicated itself never to "use a public arena like the worldwide web [and/or magazine articles and/or homeschool conventions and/or radio programs and/or seminars, etc.] to denigrate other Christians/ministries for [any shortcoming that AiG believes it has discovered] without first contacting those persons (or ministr[ies]) to get [their] perspectives–and thus hear all sides before coming to a conclusion (per Proverbs 18:13)– and certainly before going public"?

    If so, let me congratulate you heartily, and tell you how glad I am to hear of your organization’s wonderful new commitment!

    . . . But/and, moreover, if this is so,

  • I would sincerely appreciate learning from you how AiG works these things out in practice. I mean, for example, how do you make sure you have contacted your presumed opponent? How much time do you give him or her or them to respond? How many rounds will you go with him/her/them in private before bringing the issue out into the public sphere? . . .

    If Answers in Genesis has established those kinds of policies and practices, would you please share them with us? Truly. I cannot guarantee I will adopt all of them myself. But I think your open leadership and guidance in these matters could–pretty much as you implied by your email–go a long way toward revolutionizing relationships among Christians for the good.

    On the other hand, if your organization has notcommitted itself to such standards of behavior . . . Ummm . . . I don’t even want to finish this sentence. The prospect is too horrible even to consider.

I am so hoping to hear a set of positive responses from you . . .

In Christ,
John Holzmann

I hope you take the time to read through Holzmann’s response carefully, because it raises a point that I haven’t seen discussed, yet I think is key to brothers dwelling together in harmony: Answers in Genesis, along with many others, are insisting that Christians adhere to principles that have barely been articulated, much less submitted to the church for discussion and consideration. It may very well be that those principles are clearly scriptural and will be easily accepted by all. But it should be a warning sign for Answers in Genesis and others that those who disagree with them seem not only to be violating those principles right and left, but are responding mostly with puzzled looks when those principles are invoked.

5 thoughts on “Was Charles Spurgeon sufficiently Christian?

  1. Rick,

    My concern is that if AiG will misrepresent a single sermon, how do I know they are not misrepresenting the other facts they give me. I have always been a literal 6 day young earth creationist. However that belief was mostly based on believing these men. I haven’t had time or resources enough to check for other Christian opinions.

    I find myself needing to take time to re-examine where I get my teaching from (yet again!). I said on John’s blog: It reminds that all men are fallible. Only God is perfectly true. I need to remember that every day!

    My other concern is AiG’s teaching that if you don’t believe in a literal 6 day creation you cannot be Christian. We just reviewed a DVD for our small country church and heard this statement for ourselves. That rules out a lot of good old Christian saints both past and present.

    Kim H

  2. Kim,

    My other concern is AiG’s teaching that if you don’t believe in a literal 6 day creation you cannot be Christian. We just reviewed a DVD for our small country church and heard this statement for ourselves.

    Do you have the exact wording of the statement? It would be helpful to know more about how Answers in Genesis teaches that the boundaries should be drawn.

  3. Rick,
    I will try to get the DVD back from our Pastor. It was clearly stated and I have it in quotes in my notes from watching.

  4. Also, is it true that AIG takes sermons from Spurgeon and takes out parts that they don’t agree with about election and predestination? I know an unnamed Christian College in north Florida that I attend does this.

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