Hill Roberts' Response to our Open Letter
by Daniel H. King, Sr.
August 03, 2000
It is comforting to note that brother Hill Roberts has finally "come out of the closet" to respond to our Open Letter. Up until now his silence has been deafening, and this is especially noteworthy since his writings and teachings are the major reason for the present controversy. However, it is sad that he has come out of hiding only momentarily. He informs us that it is true that he will not debate the issues regarding his views on Genesis 1-- "sort of." He says that he will debate the issue with those "demonstrating a spirit in accord with 1 Peter 3:15," but "brothers who introduce themselves to me with the verbal equivalent of 'Put 'em up' will be disappointed." We will let the reader decide for himself as to the spirit of the Open Letter and that of those who composed it. With respect to attitude, though, it is clear that brother Roberts has his own problems to deal with.
The Fools Who Wrote and Signed the Letter
As brother Roberts admits in his response, the two of us have never met, and I personally have no axe to grind with him nor reason to have any ill feelings toward him whatsoever. In spite of some of his very personal insults toward us, I still do not. I have known his parents for better than 30 years and love and admire them greatly. His brother Phil has been a colleague and friend for 25 years or more. He has obviously sprung from a wonderful Christian family. But that does not remove the taint which attaches to the doctrinal positions which he himself espouses. Those of us who signed the letter are sorry that he has not seen fit openly to discuss these matters. We have no desire to misrepresent or malign brother Roberts, but a man's public writings and teachings are certainly subject to public review, and that is primarily what we had hoped that we could accomplish. We are sorry that he has seen fit to react by calling us all fools repeatedly in his response. Perhaps brother Roberts ought to pay some heed to the words of Christ on this subject, "Whosoever shall say, 'Thou fool,' shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matt. 5:22).
At any rate, this sort of name calling is unproductive of any good, and is at best a sign of a weak argument and of a lack of Christian virtue. Rhetoricians call it argumentum ad hominum, or "argument against the person" and classify it as a logical fallacy. It certainly does not further understanding between people who differ nor does it foster brotherly love or kindness. We shall attempt in our review of Hill's response to treat him as a brother in Christ who has erred doctrinally, rather than as an enemy (2 Thess. 3:15), despite his obviously uncharitable feelings toward us.
In his response, brother Hill argues that our opening illustration of the instantaneous nature of the miraculous (Mark 2:1-12) represents the "folly of self-contradiction." Actually, he does not offer any reply to what Mark tells us in this particular text, that is, that "straightway" the man took up his bed and went home. This miracle was instantaneous because the Bible says that it was. That is the point we were making in our allusion to this passage. We were showing that when the Bible says that something was immediate, there is no reason to attempt to stretch it out over millions or billions of years. Further, if we attempt to do so, we are twisting the Word of God to our own ends, whatever those ends may be.
Brother Roberts uses the case of the parting of the Red Sea as contrary evidence. He writes: "The parting of the Red Sea was a miracle. It was not instantaneous. It was produced by the forces of nature acting in accord with God's fiat over a span of six hours (Exodus 14:21)." What the Bible says is, "And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and Jehovah caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided." I am afraid that in his anxiety to find a miracle that is not instantaneous, Brother Roberts has misread this text. Hill assumes that the wind blew all night before the Israelites were able to cross the Sea. This is not what the verses that follow say. Rather, the passage says that the Egyptians crossed the Sea "in the morning watch" (v. 24), which tells us that Israel had been crossing all night long. How long did it take approximately 2 million people, their cattle and possessions, to cross the Red Sea. Probably most of the night. That is why the wind blew all night and kept the waters open for so long a time. During the early morning hours the Egyptians attempted to cross, but were drowned when Moses stretched out his hand over the Sea once more (v. 27). The waters closed upon the Egyptians quickly enough to deny them an opportunity to escape, so it is difficult to deny that this was instantaneous also.
Brother Roberts does not have a parallel here in any respect, however, for the passage defines precisely the period of time involved in the miracle, i.e. "all the night." When the hand of Moses was stretched over the Sea, the wind began to blow and the Sea parted, allowing the people to cross on dry land. If brother Roberts could prove that instead of taking a single night for the wind to dry that part of the Sea, (that science has proven it requires many thousands or even millions of years to affect such an event) and this is fully within the limits of "all that night," and in harmony with all that Scripture otherwise says about the subject, then and only then would he have found a parallel that was useful for his purposes. Otherwise, it shows that he is willing to go to considerable lengths to hold on to his approach to the days of Genesis.
If, on the other hand, the text did say that it took "all the night" for God's powerful hand to divide the sea, then the signers of the Open Letter would believe it implicitly. It is brother Roberts who is given to the habit of extending God's miraculous interventions over vast eons of time in order to make them consistent with the theories of historical geologists. We are quite satisfied with the biblical assertion that in six literal and consecutive days "God made the heavens and the earth and all that in them is." Likewise, we are satisfied with the biblical assertion that God "caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night." We recognize that in either case God could have performed these miracles in less than the time alluded to in the text, but are happy to allow that God took the amount of time he says he did. Brother Roberts is not willing to do the latter, at least with respect to the creation narrative of Genesis 1 (and we are not happy with his treatment of Exodus either). Moreover, if his contention is followed to its logical consequences, it will lead to interpretive confusion. Brother Steven F. Deaton has made the case well against this view in his "tongue-in-cheek" handling of the Israelites' attack upon the city of Jericho in the days of Joshua:
"Traditionally, Bible believers have understood the days of Joshua 6 to be literal consecutive 24 hour days. However, with the great advances of science we may need to rethink our position on this matter. We know by experience and observation that an army cannot simply walk around the walls of a city, ancient or modern, and expect them to fall down. A large army of 2 million strong men cannot walk around a walled city once a day for six consecutive days and seven times on the next day and cause the walls to fall. This, modern scientific scholars tell us, is impossible! Therefore, if we are to maintain some kind of faith in the biblical record, there must be an explanation. The explanation must be that the "days" of Joshua 6 are not literal and/or consecutive days--they must be vast eons of time or days separated by vast eons of time. You see, according to (pseudo) scientists, we are told that in order for city walls to fall, separate and apart from a pick and shovel (dynamite or bulldozer), the only way is for them to deteriorate over a long span of time--the elements will bring the walls down eventually. In time, lots of time, the walls of a city such as Jericho could crumble due to rain, heat and wind. Hence, the biblical account of Joshua 6 can be harmonized with science by viewing the "days" as either vast eons of time or days separated by vast eons of time. Shazaam! It makes for some OLD Israelites, but never mind that" ("The Days of Joshua," The Gospel Teacher, July 30, 2000).
"Miracles are instantaneous, therefore--the miracle of creation spanned six days. False!" says brother Roberts. The miracle of creation, brother Roberts, is not a single miracle which "spanned six days." It is a series of many grand miracles which took place over a six day period. Every time God spoke, he caused a multitude of things to happen which are encompassed in the summary language of Genesis. For example, of the fifth day the Bible says, "Then God said, 'Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.' So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good" (1:20-21). This section of Genesis 1 reflects the creation of a multitude ("an abundance") of different living creatures. As soon as God spoke them into existence, did they begin to exist at that precise moment? Yes, they did. Certainly before that single twenty-four hour period was over, God had brought all these creatures into being. Before that twenty-four hour period was past, God could see them and describe them all as 'good': "And God saw that it was good." They existed and they were good. God could not have seen them as existent reality, as the passage most assuredly states, unless they were at that point fully formed and whole. God could not have pronounced them "good" unless they had attained this state. Now, brother Roberts, do you believe this? Or, do you rather believe that God only gave this command on this single day, and that it may have taken several millions of years for it to come to pass? This is precisely what you say in your material. Are we fools because we have read your literature, or is it because we disagree with you? I will leave the reader to judge whether brother Roberts is right to suggest that "six days is just as complete a contradiction of 'instantaneous' as fifteen billion years"! I will also leave the reader to judge whether those who accept God's truth at face value are foolish to do so.
Marriage In The Beginning or Near the End?
Next, brother Roberts asserts that because marriage was instituted late in the creation week, i.e. on the sixth day, he sees the words "from the beginning" as having no bearing upon the span of time that preceded the events relating to the marriage of Adam and Eve. He calls the conclusion we drew from it a "classic non sequitur." I suppose that he would, under the circumstances. But, let me see if I have this right: brother Roberts contends that it took 15 billion years or so to create the entire universe and 4.6 billion or so to create the earth as part of that larger package. On the other hand, the Bible says it took just six days (Ex. 20:11; 31:17; Gen. 1:31; 2:1-3). We contend that "at the beginning of the creation, male and female made he them" (Mk. 10:6) refers us to the time sequence of the original pair's marriage in the Garden of Eden and places that marriage "at the beginning of the creation" (the Lord's choice of words, not ours!). Brother Roberts tells us that man appeared on the earth, as per the scientific theory of his development, 50,000-200,000 years ago. Now that is supposed to correspond with the biblical sixth day. It was at that time that God instituted marriage for the human family, says brother Roberts, based on his particular reading of the Genesis account. The universe had been in existence for some 15-20 billion years and the earth for some 4.6 billion, and then man appeared on the scene almost at the very last historical moment. This is so obviously a contradiction of Jesus' words that it is difficult to imagine how he has come to believe the two things simultaneously. Suppose one wrote of an event on July 10, 1776 as having taken place at "the beginning of this nation." Would brother Hill tell the writer he was incorrect?
Again I will say that it is easy to understand how the events of the sixth day of a 144 hour week might be viewed as 'the beginning of creation'; but it is difficult indeed to see how man's creation 15-20 billion years after the original creation might in any sense be called 'the beginning.' The Lord said it was at the beginning of creation. Brother Roberts' view is that it was near the end. I will leave the reader to judge who is right. But with all due respect, I will place my faith in the words of my Lord.
Theistic Stellar Evolutionist
As to the charge that he is a "theistic stellar evolutionist" brother Roberts counters that we are using "prejudicial labeling in an attempt to get readers to pass judgment without considering the arguments on both sides." He does not mention the fact that this terminology is borrowed from his own materials, which we cited in the notes to the Open Letter. It is his own language that indicts him as such. What is stellar evolution? Let us provide a definition from an unbiased source:
"Stellar evolution is the series of phases that a star passes through between its birth and its death. The following article describes the evolution of typical stars.
The space between stars contains gas and dust at a very low density. This interstellar matter tends to gather into clouds (see nebula). Sometimes the density becomes high enough so that gravity causes contraction, leading to the formation of a protostar. As a protostar slowly contracts, its pressure and temperature increase, the temperature rise being the result of the release of gravitational energy. Any hot object radiates energy, and the protostar eventually becomes hot enough to shine, although temperatures are not yet great enough to sustain nuclear reactions. The pressure builds up enough almost to balance gravity, but the radiation emitted drains energy and inhibits the ability of the internal pressure to complete the balance. Therefore the contraction (and heating) slowly continue.
The temperature at the center of the protostar finally becomes high enough to initiate nuclear reactions and the subsequent release of nuclear energy. Hydrogen is the most abundant element, and hydrogen-burning reactions, in which hydrogen is converted to helium with an accompanying release of large amounts of energy, are the first ones to become important. When the nuclear energy released exactly balances the radiation energy lost into space, the protostar finally enters a state of balance, and contraction ceases. At this point the object becomes a true star" (Grolier's Encyclopedia).
So, stellar evolution is an developmental process which produces stars, and which depends upon a uniformitarian assumption of the universe for its explanation. What that means is that astronomers view the stars that are presently visible to them through their telescopes and extrapolate from what they see now, assuming that the identical or similar processes which they presently see have been going on for billions of years. From these observations and assumptions, they formulate their theory of how stars form. So, vast ages of time and uniformitarianism are the most essential elements of this theory. They cannot prove any of this because they would have to observe at least one star pass through this entire process, from beginning to end, to establish it as fact. And that would take, as per their theory, millions or billions of years. So, they take a leap of faith and construct this theory. Brother Roberts believes that it is the proper explanation of the present makeup of the present universe.
Brother Roberts very clearly argues in his materials that the Big Bang gave the universe its beginning and stellar evolution gave it the form it eventually took. Yes, of course, he believes that God was behind all these processes, but so do all theistic evolutionists. There is only one--rather major--problem with this scenario: this is not what the Bible says. It says that "in six days God created the heavens and the earth and all that in them is" and they were completed in those six days (see the same references as cited above). Those who signed the Open Letter do not deny that stars change. We know that stars change now. But we do not accept the thesis that the present is the key to the past (uniformitarianism). Nor do we accept the idea that through a process of uniformitarian change the universe has evolved over billions of years into its present state, so that the stars which we presently see are the product of this process. That is stellar evolution, and we reject it outright. God said he created the stars in a single day (Gen. 1:14-19).
Hill inquires as to whether we believe that stars change. Yes, stars do presently change. That is undeniable. But that is not what all this controversy is about, and brother Roberts knows this. The question is whether God created the heavens and the earth by the Big Bang and then used a process of natural laws to form the material universe over a span of billions of years--or spoke the heavens and earth into existence and over the span of six consecutive 24 hour days created the living world by the same Word: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth...For he spoke, and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast" (Psa. 33:6, 9). If we are fools for believing this, then we will gladly be called fools for Christ's sake (1 Cor. 4:10).
The Earth Produced the Plants?
Regarding the "literal" meaning of Genesis 1, brother Roberts offers some argumentation which is most telling. He says, "Answer this question, 'Did God create the plants?' If you answer 'yes,' you do not take the text of Genesis 1 literally. Be clear: I believe 'yes' is the correct answer. However, the text of Genesis 1 literally says the earth produced the plants. Nowhere does the Genesis 1 text state that God created plants. Are you or they willing to be that literal?" Most brethren will assuredly raise their eyelids and pique their ears when they hear this. The very natural question which arises when you read this is as follows: Where is he going with this point? Obviously he believes that God created the plants, for he says so. But the means that God used to do that creating was not such as most of us would consent to, apparently, given his attempt at defining the process. He believes that the earth produced the plants, and further states that "nowhere does the Genesis 1 text state that God created plants." Of course, he is able to say this because he defines creation only as bara creation, that is, "creation from nothing."
In our other essays on this subject we have dealt rather extensively with this issue, so I shall not repeat it here, but will only say that comparison of the three words used in the creation narrative, bara, asah, and yatsar, evidences they are used almost synonymously in the Hebrew Bible in the sense of "making, forming and creating." So, if the Bible says (1:31) that God "saw everything that he had made" (which included the grass), then God created the grass by making it spring forth from the earth. The fact that the earth "brought forth" grass does not mean that the earth created the grass by some wholly natural means (which would, by the way, be described in the common parlance as "biological evolution"). It means that God created the grass when he made it spring forth from the earth in the same fashion as when he made the fish multiply in the oceans and the living creatures come forth from the earth. I would truly like to explore this whole issue further with our brother, although he has already refused to do so, just to see how far he would take these philosophical and scientific meanderings.
About the CD and Errors Taught At Florida College
The Open Letter stated that brother Roberts did not openly teach his theories at the Florida College Lectures, just as Colly Caldwell and Ferrell Jenkins have said, and as Hill has argued in his Response. The point made in the Letter is that he passed out the CD in the final class which contained them. It is by this means that he taught his errors. This is precisely what the Letter stated. Ferrell admitted that Hill made a few offhand remarks which were indirect allusions to certain things which some might find offensive. But the real problem lay with the fact that, in spite of several warnings about his doctrinal views, the invitation was not revoked, and when he did speak, the distribution of his CD on the campus did constitute teaching of his theories at the school.
How far brother Hill's articles lie down in the CD file structure, and how difficult they are to access on the CD is of precious little relevance to the questions that we have been asking. The fact that they are there and that Hill Roberts wrote them is all that is important. Moreover, he argues that those things which we have called attention to comprise only 4/10,000ths of the total CD content. That may be true (I will trust his mathematics), but all of the offending material to which we made reference is written by him, whereas much of the CD (by his own admission) was written by others. Moreover, how much error does it require to condemn the soul? How much poison are you willing to swallow?
No Debates With Bad People
Brother Roberts makes the customary diversions and quibbles aimed at avoiding open study and debate of issues: "Debates are seldom about arriving at the truth...," etc. We have heard all of these claims in the past from denominational preachers and liberal brethren who are unwilling, for all of their assorted reasons, to defend their beliefs and practices. It is difficult to take them seriously.
But then he proceeds to lecture the brethren that "such behavior as exemplified in the Open Letter will rip your churches apart, like a Solomonic baby." Our Open Letter was a missive of loving concern for the future of faithful Christians, given the fact that brother Roberts was lecturing to churches across the country and great consternation was being caused by his teachings; it was directed to the faculty and administration of Florida College, because we believed that this invitation and the distribution of his CD was a dangerous precedent; it concerned us that Shane Scott was teaching his beliefs at the school, students were being influenced to accept his views, and that the faculty and administration appeared unconcerned; it was directed to Hill Roberts and Shane Scott because of the content of their teaching and our concern for their souls. Pray, tell us brother Roberts, what behavior are you talking about?
King's Self-appointed Council
As to the "courtesy" which we afforded those brethren whom we sent an advance copy of the open letter, Brother Roberts takes great offense, since he reads our statement that "No such courtesy was provided on their part before engaging in their efforts described below," as a demand that everything done at FC and among the brethren must first "bear the seal of approval of King, et al" and "obtain pre-approval from this self-appointed Council." Brother Roberts, let us not lower ourselves to the level of the absurd! We were merely pointing out that we were trying to give due warning of this publication before it appeared it print. This was a courtesy, not a requirement. The things which we read and heard, and about which we wrote, came to us completely without warning. We were both shocked and dismayed by these developments. It was our desire to be fair and give some small amount of time for a rethinking of the situation. We had hoped that some of the principals involved would offer a different solution than to force this issue out into the open in the journals. However, that hope was quickly extinguished, and we were left with only this option to deal with the matter.
Historicity of Creation Account Insignificant?
Finally, Hill asserts that we are trying to turn the commandments of men into the doctrine of God. He says, "The Bible nowhere makes the age of the earth or the timing of Genesis a matter of any doctrinal significance at all, and especially so in the gospel of Christ." He further points out that, "Showing that "God is Creator" is a central part of Christ's gospel message is not the same thing as the age of creation, or the timing of Genesis days." It is clear from these statements that brother Roberts has swallowed the gospel/doctrine distinction of Neo-Calvinism. He contends that one part of the Word of God is not relevant to the issues of salvation and redemption, i.e. "especially so in the gospel of Christ." Brethren Ketcherside and Garrett have won the day among a very sizeable number of our brethren, brother Roberts apparently being one of them! The timing of Genesis days, as well as any other part of Holy Scripture, is completely relevant to the Gospel of Christ when it is denied or so reinterpreted as to constitute an essential denial. And, make no mistake about it, that is precisely what we have in brother Roberts' case.
Additional Concerns About Hill Roberts' Teaching: Waxing Worse and Worse...
Now that I have reviewed the most recent material from Hill, let me point to some of the other reasons that brother Roberts has a very large problem with so many of his preaching brethren, aside from those mentioned directly in the Open Letter:
1. In his Genesis and the Time Thing, he questions whether the Flood of Noah may have been a local one rather than a "world-wide" flood. In his own words, "Geologically, the flood of Noah was very short, a mere hiccup; although the spiritual significance would prove to be enormous. It would not be likely that such an event would leave much of any geological record, especially if it was a world flood in the sense of their view of the local world, as used in the New Testament for the spread of the gospel. The 93' floods of the upper Mississippi, though widespread in destruction, have left very little of permanence in the regional geology other than some new sediment deposits in the Mississippi delta" (p. 33). Apparently brother Hill believes the flood during Noah's time was no more geologically important than the 1993 floods of the upper Mississippi! Yet Scripture says Noah's Flood covered the highest mountains upward of 22.5 feet (Gen. 7:21, 21). This situation prevailed until ten months after the Flood began (8:5). If the mountains were the same elevation then as now, which the local flood theory assumes, the waters were at least 17,000 feet high, being that Mt. Ararat, on which the Ark rested, is this high. Why would Noah have built an Ark "to keep seed alive on the face of all the earth" (7:3) if the Flood was only a local event? Furthermore, God's unequivocal promise never again to send the Flood (Gen. 9:11) has been broken repeatedly if that Flood were only a local one. Brother Roberts must be reading a different Bible than we are. Brethren, especially those of you who have defended brother Hill, are you prepared to "give ground" on the issue of whether the Flood of Noah was a local or worldwide flood? Apparently brother Roberts is willing to accommodate this view, which has been a mark of modernism for years.
2. In the same document, Hill remarks that religion is more subjective than science, and that science is therefore more trustworthy than religion in ascertaining certain truths. Again, in his own words, "Of the two disciplines--religion and science--one is more subjective, the other is more objective. It has been this author's experience that one direct consequence of this is that there are more variations in doctrinal interpretations of scriptures than there are for most sets of scientific data. Subjective religious interpretation should welcome whenever objective data can shed some light on the difficult issues, thereby helping to show the proper way" (p. 19). It is certainly a good thing that we have so many scientists to instruct us in those areas where we are ignorant, because the Bible is so subjective as to leave us floundering for dependable information!
3. Taking his queue from John Clayton, Hill argues that evolution occurs within four very broad groupings. These he claims are the "kinds" of Genesis: "In the first century, Paul mentioned four kinds of flesh: birds, fish, beasts and man (1 Corinthians 15:39). This appears to be the way kinds is used in Genesis--for very broad groupings" (p. 15). His view seems to be that God only created broad groupings of living organisms. The rest evolved from these simple subgroups of life into all the vast array of life which exists upon the earth today. This process of "micro-evolution" by genetic speciation (which sounds like it barely stops short of macro-evolution to this writer) explains the marvelous diversity of life on the planet. I have always considered such a program to be theistic evolution, plain and simple! Apparently, according to Hill, I am quite deluded.
4. "Evening and morning"in the Genesis account, to his way of thinking, is possibly just a literary device, and does not represent any valuable information about time in the narrative: "The phrase "evening and morning" was possibly just a literary device suitable to the Hebrew repetitive style to connect the structure of the passage which reflected the passage of time in the sequence. If so, then its repeated use in conjunction with the concept of time would be an example of Hebrew parallelism." This writer taught Hebrew poetry and its parallelism for several years, and I must confess that I do not know what type of parallelism he would have reference to here. Actually, he probably has in mind "repetition" rather than "parallelism." Repetition is indeed common in Hebrew literature. However, I look in vain in the Old Testament for what must be identified as (according to his theory) "meaningless repetition." At still another place he surmises, "Could it be possible that the phrase "evening to morning" is merely a connective part of the simple descriptive picture painted in chapter 1?" Here it is "merely a connective part of the simple descriptive picture painted," there it is "possibly just a literary device suitable to the Hebrew repetitive style to connect the structure of the passage." Clearly it does not have any substantive meaning for brother Roberts. Little wonder, since it presents his view with one of its many serious headaches.
Brother Roberts calls those of us who question him fools in the numerous quotations he selects to make reference to us. I aver that we are not nearly so foolish as he makes us out to be! Those whom brother Roberts calls "fools" are merely Christians who affirm by faith the literal truth inspired by God. Let us all remember that God's view of wisdom and folly often differs from the evaluation of men who place their faith in the certainty of current human theories and philosophies (1 Cor. 1:18-31; 3:18-20). Where are the first-century scholars and wise men whose theories and philosophies led them to be confident that idolatry was true religion? Where are the wise modernists of the 19th century who were absolutely sure the Hittite nation never existed? With the record of change in the wisdom of man, we would do well rather to be fools for Christ, and place our trust in His word, for it has never yet failed. May God bless us all to that end.
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