Updated: Mar 26, 2020
Recently my Winston-Salem alma mater, Piedmont Baptist College, now called Piedmont International University, released information on Facebook regarding its upcoming "Steven's Lecture Series" featuring Dr. Kenneth Keathley of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. For some reason, however, the intended topics of discussion were not listed. So, after my inquiry, I was informed that Keathley was scheduled to speak on "What is Moses 'doing' in Genesis 1, Genesis among the Pagans," and "The Hunt for the Historical Adam."
Upon seeing this information and having already taken a cursory look at Keathley's views, I sent an email expressing my concern about those views to the event's organizer, Dr. Jerry Hullinger, Dean of Bowman School of Bible and Theology, who assured me that "Dr. Keathley shares our doctrinal convictions."
While Dr. Hullinger assured me that Keathley shared Piedmont’s convictions, further research yielded evidence to the contrary. In fact, Keathley’s views on the creation account specifically and the pseudo-hermeneutic he employs are opposite Piedmont’s historic position on both. Hence, had COVID-19 not intervened, Keathley would have forthrightly denied the literal 6-day creation, the global flood, and the legitimacy of the very hermeneutic inherent to Piedmont’s DNA, a literal interpretation. Notably, then, while there may be other “shared” doctrinal issues between Keathley and Piedmont, the ones he was scheduled to address at the Steven’s Lecture Series are not among them. As such, Dr Hullinger’s unqualified assurance of doctrinal agreement was a bit troubling.
Below I list Keathley’s positions and their lack of agreement with Piedmont’s historic position on each.
Keathley’s Honest but Telling Admission:
For starters, and as a self-proclaimed old-earth “creationist,” Keathley not only interprets the first two chapters of Genesis differently than Piedmont has historically done but does so after admitting that a normal reading of Genesis 1-2 actually yields a young earth position. "The conclusion must be," said Keathley, "that though a cursory reading of scripture would seem to indicate a recent creation, the preponderance of empirical evidence seems to indicate otherwise" (Article: Confessions of a Disappointed Young-Earther (Journal for Baptist Theology and Missions: Volume: JBTM 10:2, Fall 2013).
So, there it is in his own words. "A cursory reading...would seem to indicate a recent creation...," yet, Keathley discards the normal reading of the text because of what he calls the "preponderance of empirical evidence to indicate otherwise." That, I might add, is contra-Piedmont’s long held position and practice on biblical interpretation.
Keathley’s Blatant Militation against the Literal Hermeneutic:
Not only does Keathley deny the literal method in dealing with Genesis 1-2:4ff as noted above, but forthrightly militates against it. He is convinced, so it seems that "It is theologically essential that the days of creation in Genesis 1 be interpreted in nonliteral terms” (JBTM 10:2, Fall 2013).
This is no small matter because the essentiality of his “nonliteral” method forthrightly pits itself against Piedmonts tradition of a consistent application of the literal method. He does not say that Genesis 1-2 “is best interpreted by a non-literal interpretive method,” but says that such is “essential.” In doing so, Keathley not only questions the literal method dogmatically espoused by Piedmont since its beginning but militates against it. It declares its insufficiency in extracting the truth regarding the creation account.
In the same journal, Keathley tells us that the YEC position “remain(s) unproven and improvable," and that "YEC adherents veer perilously close to fideism" (JBTM 10:2, Fall 2013). Of course, while the supposed lack of empirical evidence drives him to this imagined “improvable” nature of the YE position, linking the YE position to fideism is the most denigrating attack. It strongly implies that literalists, i.e. young-earth proponents, lack not only “scientific” evidence but sufficient evidence of any kind for their position. Basically, Keathley accuses recent creationists of a blind and baseless faith - a very serious allegation against those whose conclusions logically flow from a consistent literal hermeneutic.
As such, Keathley not only interprets the creation account through different hermeneutical lenses but militates against the very method that Piedmont has taught since its inception.
Keathley’s Replacement of an Objective Hermeneutic with a Subjective one.
Keathley not only militates against the literal method as noted above but also offers a convenient, flexible, and dangerous alternative that allows him to move beyond the apparent meanings of the words themselves. Hence, he offers what he calls the "missional" method that frees him from the chains of literalism and accommodates the empiricism he brings to the hermeneutical table. “What was Moses doing (emphasis his) when he penned the creation account in Genesis 1-2?”, he asked. "In day-to-day communications," he continued, "we typically recognize the difference between what a person says and what they mean, and intuitively interpret them accordingly. However, we often don’t notice a third component: what a person is doing with his or her words" (http://www.theologyforthechurch.com/2018/02/19/what-is-genesis-1-2-doing-a-missional-interpretation/). In other words, since Moses neither said what he meant or meant what he said in Genesis 1-2, it's up to us to ascertain just what he "was doing” beyond the text itself.
Regarding his hermeneutic in dealing with the creation account, then, Moses may have been “doing” several things with his words, but one thing is certain as far as Keathley is concerned. He was not giving a simple factual play by play account of God’s creation of the world in 6 literal consecutive days as his words indicated.
The problems with such a subjective hermeneutic are many with the following being taken from Dr. Andy Woods of Sugar Land Bible Church, Sugar Land, Texas.
1. Text is not being interpreted
2. Authority is transferred from text to interpreter
3. There is no way to test the interpreter
4. No mechanism for controlling the interpreter’s imagination
Hence, once the literal method is abandoned, the text is no longer being interpreted at all but, rather, fitted to the interpreter’s imagination.
The primary point being, of course, is that Keathley’s methodology in dealing with Genesis 1-2 opposes the consistently applied literal hermeneutic traditionally espoused by Piedmont. So not only does he not share Piedmont’s position here but denigrates it in dealing with the texts in question.
Keathley’s “Missional” Method reaches further than just Creation
Sadly, this “missional method” reaches further than creation. While Keathley interprets Genesis 1-2 using his "missional” method, he does the same in his denial of the global flood. Of the flood, he asserts that "Mainstream geologists believe that over the last million years there have been several glacial periods where glacial ice has advanced and retreated. These models, of course, do not fit with a global flood model" (JBTM 10:2, Fall 2013). So, apparently, he must also avoid the literal method in dealing with the flood, due, of course, to the same "empirical" data supplied by "mainstream geologists."
Keathley's Hermeneutical Flop-Flopping
Finally, Keathley is adept at jumping from one interpretive method to another with ease. Notice his hermeneutic flip-flopping between Genesis 1-11. Conveniently, Keathley begins with his “missional” method to interpret Genesis 1:1 - 2:4, then jumps back to the literal method in order to “rescue” Adam and Eve from the same non-literalness to which he consigns the original creation. In a more recent presentation (April 2019), he showcased this inconsistency. "Genesis 1:1–2:3 covers an indefinite period of time," he says, "while Genesis 2:4–4:26 recounts a fairly straightforward historical narrative that should be understood accordingly" (Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding, (https://henrycenter.tiu.edu/2019/04/how-high-are-the-stakes/).
My question here is simple, how can anyone who begins with a "missional" method in interpreting Genesis 1 and 2, jumps to a literal one in order to "rescue" Adam and Eve from the same non-literalism to which he consigns the rest of creation, jumps back to either the "missional" or some other non-literal method to deny the flood's universality and, finally, jumps back, yet again, to the literal method beginning with Genesis 12 and the calling of Abraham be taken seriously?
As I mentioned earlier in this brief review of Keathley’s position, it seems to me that nothing therein resembles the historic convictions of Piedmont on those same issues.
Further, I am also convinced that each position he would have posited in the absence of COVID-19 would have been given legitimacy to not only his errant views on creation and the global flood but also to the rogue hermeneutic by which those views emerged. Hence, Keathley should never be allowed such uncontested free reign at a Piedmont event without either a strong disclaimer or academic rebuttal of some sort.
So, has Piedmont taken a left turn on Compromise Blvd?
Well, since the school has yet to respond to my follow-up letter in which I outlined the above differences between Keathley and Piedmont, it appears the school may have done just that.
Finally, the fact that the Steven’s Lecture Series has been cancelled due to COVID-19 neither nullifies the import of this matter nor relieves Piedmont leaders of their responsibility in confronting rather than legitimizing the kinds of errors that the likes of Keathley bring to the theological table.
In Christ and as a Concerned Alumnus,
 “Old-Earth Creationists” of Keathley’s type, here, are those who deny that God created the world in 6 literal and consecutive days. Instead, they hold to some mixture of evolution and creation and, hence, an “old” earth. The world, such people hold, is billions rather than thousands of years old. In other words, they believe that the world is ancient rather than recent.