YEC is theologically harmful if people reject Christ just because they don't believe certain tenets of YEC such as the six 24-hour day of creation and the historicity of Adam.
A corollary is when people reject Christ because fundamentalist Biblical inerrantist pastors / leaders convinced them that Christian faith requires reading all of the Bible as historical facts, in addition to putting our faith in Christ. A famous story back in May 2020 can serve as an example: Jon Steingard, an evangelist-pastor kid, abandoned the faith he was raised with and announced it in a series of Instagram posts. A few weeks later, he was interviewed in the Unbelievable? program with Sean McDowell (son of apologist Josh McDowell) as another guest.
A part of his decision seems to have something to do with his relying too much on the Bible being inerrant so that he always has a reliable answer for every question in life, although after watching the video it seems more to do with the hiddenness of God and with his inability to understand why the Father in Heaven would abandon helpless kids to die before they reach 5 in impoverished and dangerous places (which is so hard for him who is a father to young kids himself).
Some quotes from the Instagram post:
I was raised to believe that the Bible was the perfect Word of God. Sure, it was written by human beings, but those people were divinely inspired - and we can consider the words they wrote to be the Word of God.
I began to have questions and doubts about that. It seemed like there were a lot of contradictions in the Bible that didn't make sense. ... Suffice it to say that when I began to believe that the Bible was simply a book written by people as flawed and imperfect as I am - that was when my belief in God truly began to unravel.
Once I found that I didn't believe the Bible was the perfect Word of God - it didn't take long to realize that I was no longer sure he was there at all. That thought terrified me. It sent me into a tailspin. The implications of that idea were absolutely massive.
From the video (min 39:02-39:49):
"... I just came away with this feeling [that] everyone is just deciding for themselves what they want to believe. And there is no way to know for sure. That was the conclusion I reached. ... A real key point for me was the inerrancy of the Bible. ... If the Bible is not the perfect Word of God like I was taught, then to your point Sean about the anchor, what is the anchor? ..."
Sean responded with 2 points:
- Knowledge doesn't require certainty, Christians live with doubt and are given mercy citing Jude 1:22, doubt is not the opposite of faith/belief/knowledge, what's important is what makes the most sense even when we have some doubts/questions. (min. 40:07-41:10)
- He also believes that the Bible is "the inerrant perfect word of God", but more important to him is what is the heart central issue? He said that to Christianity it is not inerrancy. Even if we had an errant / flawed Bible (which Sean does not believe) but still show that Jesus claimed to be God, died, buried, and rose in the 3rd day, Christianity is still true. (min 41:10-42:37)
Does Paul's Christ Require a Historical Adam?
J.R. Daniel Kirk, a Fuller's NT professor, wrote a 2013 journal article "Thinking Science and Christian Faith Together" which is posted in the Fuller Seminary's blog as Does Paul's Christ Require a Historical Adam?
His main point is that for people who are convinced that the human origin story is best told from a non-YEC perspective, they don't have to abandon the Christian faith. He believes that
The task of reimagining a Christian story of origins for our modern era has already begun. 9
9 After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science by Daniel C. Harlow, an article in the September 2010 issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
From His concluding paragraph:
To accompany Paul on the task of telling the story of the beginning in light of Christ, while parting ways with his first-century understanding of science and history, is not to abandon the Christian faith in favor of science. ...
Christ, the Law, and History
He assess the following question:
To what extent do we need to affirm a historical Adam in order also to affirm the saving dynamics of Paul’s Adam Christology?
and interpret Rom 5:12-21 to represent Paul's attempt 1) to take all other options other than Christ "off the table" and 2) to establish that God's people are not demarcated by Torah (i.e. Gentiles and Jews have the same problem and need Christ as the solution). He concluded this section (emphasis mine):
Paul’s Adam theology is an avenue toward affirming that God has one worldwide people; therefore, the specially blessed people are not defined by the story of circumcision. But he does not ask the question of whether an evolutionary account of human origins might stand within the story of God’s new creation work in Christ, and his argument is not aimed at denying such an explanation of where we came from.
Retelling the Story of Origins
In the second section of the article he reminded us of the perspective used by ancient writers when telling stories of human origins (such as Genesis 1), that
it was never simply to tell people “what happened.” Instead, such narratives indicate why their particular people and their particular god played the roles of sovereigns of the world.
Similarly, (emphasis mine)
Paul employs the story of Adam based on his new understanding that Christ is the man through whom God has chosen to rule the world and that the churches are the people who are the fulfillment of the promise of numerous descendants. For neither Paul nor the writer of Genesis does the story of Adam exist as a standalone narrative to which later history must correspond. Instead, the convictions about what God has done at a later point in history determine how the Adam story is read.
... what is a “given” for Paul is the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The other things he says, especially about sin, the Law, and eschatology, are reinterpretations that grow from the fundamental reality of the Christ event. ... The gospel need not be compromised if we find ourselves having to part ways with Paul’s assumption that there is a historical Adam, because we share Paul’s fundamental conviction that the crucified messiah is the resurrected Lord over all.
... For many, the cognitive dissonance between the sciences and a historical Adam has already become too great to continue holding both.8 We therefore have to carefully determine whether the cause of Christ, and of truth, is better served by indicating that a choice must be made between the two, or by retelling the narrative about the origins of humanity as we now understand it in light of the death and resurrection of Christ.
8 Recent Genetic Science and Christian Theology on Human Origins: An "Aesthetic Supralapsarianism" by John R. Schneider, an article in the September 2010 issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
YEC in itself is not harmful at all. Millions of Christians have been nourished in their faith assisted by YEC-formulated theology, especially before 1800. The harm lies when a YEC church, coupled with a particular version of the inerrancy doctrine, teaches their followers in such a way (through sermons, Sunday school programs, reading list, apologetics) that resulted in
- their misplacing the central issue of what needs to be believed away from Christ alone, by requiring them to package Christ together with reading the Bible in a certain way (such as reading Gen 1-3 as history) as though they rise and fall together
- "protecting" them from asking the truly hard questions (problem of evil, etc.) by giving substandard apologetics based on an increasingly-hard-to-defend version of inerrancy (which is stricter than Chicago Statement), refusing to be aware that the inerrancy doctrine itself is not as clear cut as the doctrine of the Trinity. For example, see the 2020 article Inerrancy and Evangelicals: The Challenge for a New Generation.
Thus, the harm lies when YEC Christians (or would-be Christians evangelized by YEC) have doubt about Christianity. This is the time when they need to dig deep into the resources that help Christianity "makes sense" to them so they don't have unnecessary cognitive dissonance that interferes with their personal relationship with Christ. Humans are metaphysically wired to love the truth, making cognitive dissonance unbearable.
Unlike Trinity, doctrines / teachings that are still open (such as eschatology, historical Adam, atonement, nature of baptism, original sin, inerrancy) should be presented in such a way so that when a Christian has doubt he/she can switch to another theory of human origins / atonement / etc. to resolve the doubt. I myself, for example, prefer St. Irenaeus's understanding of Adam and the associated atonement theory which in doing so alleviates my personal concerns of God's justice and love, but I do not exclude the legitimacy of other Christians who prefer other theories as long as we all subscribe to the early creeds (like the Apostle's creed).
Therefore, if a YEC-promoted way of reading the Bible prevents a Christian from choosing a legitimate option of particular doctrines or from reconciling with other sources of truth (such as evolution) which could have contributed to the resolution of that doubt, then that unnecessary narrowing of theologically legitimate options is where YEC is theologically harmful.