My family and I recently took a trip to the Ark Encounter attraction produced by Ken Ham. I have a lot of mixed feelings about Ham’s ministry, and the degree to which he emphasizes young earth creationism. But while I was there I picked up a book that caught my eye. It was a small book entitled “Gospel Reset.” The books description describes it as a discussion on how the culture has changed and why this necessitates a change in how Christians must share the gospel. While the book started strong, and offers some good insights, it very quickly loses credibility and isn’t able to get it back.
Ham bases the entire framework of “Gospel Reset” on a cultural divide, and he uses Acts 2 and 17 to illustrate his message. Essentially he argues that a culture’s general understanding of the Bible affects the receptivity of those who hear the gospel. We will start with his treatment of Acts 2.
Peter’s sermon on Pentecost in Acts 2 was a message delivered to Jews, or Jewish converts. Ham argues that one of the reasons so many were converted to Christianity on that day is because Peter’s audience was grounded in the fundamentals of biblical origins. Although he doesn’t delineate them very clearly, the fundamentals Ham seems to be referring to are:
1. The Creator God of Genesis; 2. The meaning of the word sin; 3. The creation of Adam and Eve; 4. The fall; 5. Death as a result of sin; 6. Blood sacrifice as a necessary covering of sin; 7. As descendents of Adam, all humanity is guilty because of the actions of our representative; 8. There was a promise of a future Messiah (Gen. 3.15).
Ham states that these points are “foundational knowledge necessary to understand the message of salvation.” With these foundations, Peter could be certain that his message was properly understood by his Jewish audience.
After spending more time discussing what an Acts 2-type culture is (a culture in which the message of the Bible is understood in a broadly general sense), Ham then describes the other side of his treatment of culture. That is, the Acts 17-type culture.
In Acts 17 we see Paul preaching the Gospel to Greeks at Mars Hill. The general response Paul receives is one of rejection, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?…He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities.” Ham attributes this rejection to the Greek’s lack of the foundational knowledge he spoke of in the previous discussion that I listed above, as well as a rejection of an additional element that he did not discuss previously.
It is at this point that I felt Ham’s argument begins to lose focus. Ham states that the Greeks held to an “evolution-based culture” (he does not explain this, the limited experience I have had with the history of the Greeks has never lead me to think this). He also states that whenever someone rejects the creator God of Scripture, “there is usually some evolutionary view substituted in an attempt to explain origins, life, and the universe. Many ancient Greeks were no different.”
I found Ham’s discussion here perfectly illustrates the root of my discomfort with Ham’s ministry. He blurs the line between that which is necessary for salvation, and with young earth creation. Ham himself makes it explicitly clear that the gospel is limited to faith in Christ. However, he places so much weight and importance on a young earth interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, that his belief in this comes into question. If I could use an illustration to help. Imagine a line is drawn on the ground. On one side are all the core doctrines of the Bible that must be held in order to be saved (things like the existence of God, the deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement, etc.), and on the other side are all the other doctrines and interpretations of doctrines. What Ham does is he picks up the young earth view of creation, and then carries it up to the line, then leans over it as far as he can while keeping his feet planted on the “non-essential” side of the line. What this means in practice is that Ham is able to say that belief in a young earth is not essential for salvation, but at the same time treat the doctrine with the weight and importance of the gospel itself.
Relating this back to the Acts 17-type culture discussion, Ham says that one of the reasons the Greeks (and the culture of today) do not readily accept the gospel is due in part because of a belief in “millions of years.” I don’t know if Ham is consciously doing this or if he does it by accident, but when in the discussion of the Acts 17-type culture he cites the belief in an old earth as a reason for the gospel being a stumbling block to the Greeks, he thereby retroactively reads young earth creation back into the Acts 2-type culture as one of those fundamentals that are necessary for accepting the gospel.
I think this is the main issue with the book. Ham raises belief in a young earth up to a functionally equivalent level of importance as faith in Christ, all while simultaneously trying to deny that that is what he is doing.
There are several other issues I had with this book and I’ll briefly mention a few. To start with, the fundamentals that Ham says are necessary for understanding the gospel are not at all unique to a young earth interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. The elements Ham listed are held to just as strongly by old earth creationists. Also, Ham speaks of theistic evolution and old earth creationism as a lie that “no bible believing Christian should embrace,” which in my mind further illustrates how Ham believes that rejection of a young earth view is tantamount to a rejection of the Bible itself.
Furthermore, in discussing the cause of why the western world has moved more towards an Acts 17-type culture, Ham’s primary explanation is simply that… Obama did it. He quotes Obama from 2006 saying “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation. At least not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, and a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation and a nation of non-believers.” Hams first response to this is reasonable: “I believe [Obama] was actually saying, ‘We are no longer a nation that believes in one God and builds our thinking on the Bible.” Again, this a reasonable interpretation of the quote Ham just provided by Obama, and is a reasonable observation on the part of Obama. But, immediately after saying this, Ham veers straight into a straw man and offers an alternate interpretation of the Obama quote: “That’s what [Obama] wanted to let everyone know, that he was going to fundamentally transform the predominant worldview of our nation from a Christianized one to a secular one.” I don’t understand at all how this follows from the original Obama quote.
By way of conclusion, I will say that this book was somewhat difficult to judge. On the one hand, I agree with the main purpose that he sets out to accomplish, showing that our culture has shifted and Christians need to be mindful of how they share the gospel without just assuming the listener knows the basics already. But on the other hand, Ham falls into the trap of raising his pet doctrine up to a level that just barely falls short of explicitly being an element of the gospel itself.