CMI asked Dr Robert J.M. Gurney, medical doctor and missionary, and author of Six-Day Creation: Does it matter what you believe?, to share how he eventually came to accept a straightforward view of the time-frame of creation from the Bible and why he thinks that this is very important for Christians today.
Postscript: Dr Gurney finalized this article while suffering significant physical deterioration with pancreatic cancer. He died at home with his family with him on Saturday, June 1, 2013. “ … away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
I was born in Burma, where my parents were missionaries. In fact my mother was a fourth-generation missionary, and had been born in China. When I was nearly two years old, the Japanese invaded Burma, and we had to escape to India. My father joined the American army as a medical officer (although he was British!), and went back into Burma, where he remained until the end of the war.
I received Christ as my Saviour and Lord in 1950, at the age of ten. Like my parents, I believed that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant word of God. This belief was confirmed and strengthened as I grew older. I was still at school when I began to be interested in the creation/evolution debate. I used to argue with the biology master about it, but he did not appreciate it! I joined the Evolution Protest Movement and corresponded with its general secretary A.G.Tilney. I remember telling him that the name of the society sounded rather negative, and something more positive might be an improvement. Although I rejected the theory of evolution, I tended to accept the ‘millions of years’.
I studied medicine at Bristol University, and while I was there I read The Genesis Flood in 1962. This book maintains A) that the Bible says the earth is only several thousand years old, and B) that the scientific evidence supports this. I found it fascinating, but in the years ahead I continued to be uncertain about this, thinking that the evidence for ‘millions of years’ was very strong. I never doubted the truth of Christianity—the wonders of creation and the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ were just two of the reasons for my lack of doubt.
In 1965, I went to a Bible College. The college tried to reconcile the Bible with secular science, recommending The Christian View of Science and Scripture, by Bernard Ramm, who advocated ‘progressive creation’. Ramm rejected microbes-to-man evolution, but accepted the millions of years—which was in line with what I thought at the time. After Bible College, I attended Liverpool University, where I obtained the Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
A few months later, in 1966, I married Priscilla. Like me, she had been born in Burma and her parents had been missionaries (her father a surgeon), but in a different part of the country. In fact we had met on one occasion shortly before the Japanese invaded. I had believed ever since my conversion that God was calling me to be a missionary, and Priscilla also had believed the same for years.
Soon after our wedding, we moved to Israel, where I worked in the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society Hospital in Nazareth. We experienced amazing things in Israel. I left just before the outbreak of the six-day war in 1967—Priscilla had left a little earlier for the birth of our first child.
After that, we served as missionaries in East Africa for about 16 years. I was the doctor in charge of various rural hospitals, first in Tanzania and then in Kenya. We spent our first six months in Tanzania at Mvumi Hospital, where Paul White, the author of the "Jungle Doctor" books, had worked. We lived in his former house. About seven years were spent in Moyale, an isolated town in a remote Muslim area in the far north of Kenya. It was an arid area, but the Boran people, like many other peoples all over the world, have their own version of the Flood story. A donkey played a starring role in this version! Non-biblical accounts of the Flood have become corrupted over time!
We were always conscious of God’s loving care, protection and provision, and we had many remarkable experiences. In one rather frightening one we found ourselves in the middle of a gunfight in Moyale. During the night ‘shifta’ (bandits) started firing over the roof of our bungalow towards the police post. And the police returned fire with machine-guns and grenades! This happened twice, and on several other occasions we heard the same sort of thing going on in Ethiopian Moyale, just over the border. We also had pleasant experiences, such as snorkelling when on holiday at the coast (and when we lived near the coast after our time at Moyale). We loved seeing the incredible beauty of coral reefs and their fish.
The creation/evolution debate went on the back burner at that time. When witnessing to Muslims, I referred to the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament more often than to the creation account. I was working on a book about Daniel’s prophecies at the time. It was published in 1980 with the title God in Control1, and I had articles on the subject published in various theological journals. But I remember reading at that time about a missionary who took the gospel to a group of animists who had no knowledge of Christianity. When he presented the gospel to these people, he began right at the beginning, with Genesis, because that is foundational to the gospel. It made real sense to these people, and many of them became Christians. The missionary clearly believed that the early chapters of Genesis are real history. If he had not believed that, his task would have been much harder, and I believe that he would have been less effective in his witness.
When we returned to England in 1983, I went into general practice. During that time I read a number of books which seemed to prove that the scientific evidence for ‘millions of years’ is overwhelming, and that the Bible has to be interpreted in the light of this ‘fact’. I found these books very convincing, in spite of my having read The Genesis Flood. However, I continued to read biblical creationist literature, although I thought it must be mistaken about the age issue. However, I became convinced that the Bible clearly teaches that the earth and universe are only a few thousand years old, and for a time I tried to reconcile this with the scientific evidence for a billions-of-years-old universe. I had already tried Progressive Creation and the Literary Framework hypothesis, so I toyed with a theory of my own invention! The final turning point came when I realized that science does not by any means prove the billions of years—in fact it supports the biblical account. It was Jonathan Sarfati’s book, Refuting Compromise, which provided the final push.
That was in 2004, after I had retired from general practice. I have always believed that the Bible is God’s word, but the realization that the early chapters of Genesis are real history has made me understand this in a new and wonderful way. My faith in the absolute trustworthiness of the Bible has been strengthened.
My wife and three children (and their spouses) are now firm believers in biblical creation. My two daughters are married to a general practitioner (a doctor) and an orthopaedic surgeon respectively, and my son is a wildlife consultant and ex-safari guide in Zambia and Kenya. We have eight grandchildren, including two who were adopted—a boy from Sri Lanka, and a girl from Vietnam. Our eldest daughter, incidentally, was a sixth-generation missionary, serving in Sri Lanka.
I have discussed and debated the subject with church leaders and academics, amongst others, and have found, like others before me, that resistance to the truth of biblical creation is very strong. Out of such a debate came my book Six-Day Creation: does it matter what you believe?2 It seems to me that this resistance is caused partly by spiritual blindness. I have written something about this in the article “Evangelicals and biblical creation”.3 But I can understand their resistance, because I was resistant myself. I believe it needs to be overcome by prayer, as well as by courteous debate, reasoning and education.
What are some of the objections I have had to deal with? They boil down to the following: A) Science has proved evolution and/or millions of years, B) The Bible (according to many evangelicals) is compatible with evolution and/or millions of years, and C) There are real difficulties with taking the early chapters of Genesis literally. One objection, for example, was that because the word “day” does not always mean a literal day in the Bible, the days of creation do not have to be literal days. Another objection was that the temptation of Eve by the serpent cannot be taken literally. Another objection was that although the grammar of the creation account is that of narrative prose, the account could be allegory or parable. Many of these objections can be answered easily,4 but that does not mean that we know the full answer to every question. Some of these answers will be discovered in due course with further research, but enough is known already to assure us that biblical creation is true. We can be sure that there are answers to every question—even if we will not know some of them until we reach heaven.
Another objection was that this debate is a side issue. I was told that it is a distraction from the really important issues, and it prevents many non-believers from taking Christianity seriously. But if evolution and/or millions of years are false—and a satanic deception—and a large part of the Christian church is compromising with it, it is most definitely not a side issue.
One of the other reasons (there are several) why it is not a side issue, is that it is foundational to secular humanism (atheism), which is ascendant in much of Western civilization. The theory of evolution gives people an excuse to say that there is no God, and this means that they believe they are not accountable to God. This in turn means that they do “what is right in their own eyes” (c.f. Judges 21:25), leading to a breakdown of sexual morality, family life, law and order, etc.
The church’s compromise with this theory puts human opinion in authority over God’s word. Instead of interpreting the scientific evidence in the light of what the infallible, unchanging God has told us, it interprets the Bible in the light of fallible, changing human opinion. This policy has greatly weakened the church and, together with liberalism,5 I believe, has played a large part in the decline of the church in the West.
What are the major reasons why we Christians need to accept the Bible’s history in Genesis, including a (relatively) young earth? First, Jesus Christ taught that the Old Testament is God’s word and is supremely authoritative—and He implied that this would be true of the New Testament also.6 (He said that the Holy Spirit would teach the disciples all things, and would bring to their remembrance all things that he had said to them—John 14:26). There are many reasons—biblical, scientific and historical—why the early chapters of Genesis are clearly meant to be understood as straightforward history.7 God will not bless us if we do not receive and believe His word (e.g. John 14:23). Satan’s first temptation in the Garden of Eden was to disbelieve God’s word, and the first sin was to do just that. Second, the Christian church would be much stronger if we were united in believing God’s word concerning this matter, rather than some believing His word, but others believing Satan’s lie. Third, the Bible’s history in Genesis is foundational to the gospel and major doctrines in the Bible.8
What do I think is the way forward for the biblical creation movement? We have to remember that this is spiritual warfare. Satan is determined to suppress the truth and will not give up. Opposition to the truth will not go away. We need to keep on praying and witnessing to the truth, but also to develop effective research and education programs. We need to support organisations such as CMI, and others that promote biblical creation through research and education. We should also work to share the materials published to spread the message. Our experience has been that if we do this we will see fellow Christians greatly strengthened and the unsaved come to Christ. Young people, in particular, need to ‘take up the baton’ and ‘put their shoulders to the wheel’.