My genetic father was not a believer. He was a great army colonel, John C. Whitcomb. I’m John C. Whitcomb Jr., and his only child. My spiritual father was Donald Fullerton, who welcomed me at Princeton in the summer of 1942. One of his disciples came to my dorm room and invited me to come to his class to study the Bible, which I did reluctantly after several invitations. And I’ve never recovered! Donald Fullerton had such a love for God. He graduated from Princeton back in 1913, then went to India and Afghanistan as a missionary. He came back in broken health in 1931, asking the administration to use Murray Dodge Hall for teaching the Bible on Sunday afternoons. In a weak moment the administration said yes, and he held on for 50 years. His love for Jesus and his humility made a stupendous impact on my thinking. I had never seen a person like that.
Charmed life or not, Whitcomb found the military was no respecter of privilege. His Princeton years were interrupted by the draft, when he was deployed to Europe and assigned to a field artillery fire direction center that saw heavy action during the Battle of the Bulge. When an artillery shell destroyed a position Whitcomb had vacated just seconds previously, he realized that only God could offer such protection. Many years later he recalled God’s clear message: “You owe your life to Me.”
What was it like, living next door to a famous general?
Just before the Second World War, 1939 through ’42, my father was stationed in Fort Benning, Ga., at the Command and General Staff School. He was a very top theoretician in military tactics and strategy and very high up in the realm of military science. And our next-door neighbor those years was General George Patton. Now, I was off in prep school most of that time, but my father knew him personally. During the war my father served as a chief of staff under Patton in the Third Army in Europe. During the war, I was with the Ninth Army farther north.
Patton was totally convinced that he was predestined to win a great war in Europe and that he was a reincarnation of Julius Caesar and Napoleon. He was always spit-and-polish, beautifully uniformed. He wanted to come across as overwhelmingly irresistible.
And I have to say this, that our top military people—Eisenhower and Bradley—were a little apprehensive about turning over to his command a third of a million soldiers in the third army. They just loved Patton, but he didn’t let them rest at night! He could do things that were hard on people, especially one of his chaplains. He was frustrated when he was called to go north to rescue us in the Battle of the Bulge that December. The weather was so bad his airplanes couldn’t bomb the German tanks. So Patton told his chaplain, “You tell God to move those clouds!”
Despite your military upbringing, you became known for a gentle spirit. What did your experiences teach you about leadership?
We are to be like the apostle Paul, who imitated the Lord Jesus, Who is infinitely authoritative and yet totally gracious, humble, He said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor, and I’ll give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me. I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” He was not arrogant, proud, officiating all the time, demanding—but gracious, humble.
And if that’s true of the Son of God Himself, Creator of the universe, Savior of the world, who do we think we are to exemplify an opposite mentality in reaction to people?
So I said, “Lord, help me to do what our Lord would have done, every day I live and every situation I’m in. Say what He would say. React the way He would react to people. Help me to praise the Lord.”
Whitcomb had such an opportunity in 1947, when the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship sponsored a Moody Institute of Science Film, The God of Creation. The topic interested an elderly Albert Einstein, who attended and was given a gospel tract by Whitcomb.
After graduation from Princeton in 1948, Whitcomb enrolled in Grace Theological Seminary at Donald Fullerton’s suggestion. There he studied with Alva J. McClain, Herman A. Hoyt, and Homer Kent Sr. On the morning after his graduation in 1951, Whitcomb was offered a job teaching Old Testament at Grace.
How did you respond to the growing conflict between the Bible and science in the 1950s?
Well, of course the nature of the problem is, Can we really take God seriously in understanding what He meant by what He said in the only book He’s ever written? Where does special revelation fit into your whole perspective of the origin of the universe, the structure and function of the universe, and its destiny? Do we follow the general consensus of contemporary scientific opinion (which dominates the thinking of most theologians, even good theologians). Are we intimidated by that threat? If all scientists agree, then why should we theologians disagree?
But we have discovered a formula—this is spectacular: One man with God is the majority, in the truth business. Just one man is all you need to win if he agrees with God. We have read the end of the Bible. Jesus wins!
When our movement of churches started, many of our pastors and theologians held to a gap theory or day-age theory. Why did our viewpoint change?
Well, I’m part of the problem myself! When I came to know the Lord at Princeton University, the gap theory was the view of evangelicals. Why? Because it honored the six days of creation as literal 24-hour days. In those days we were overwhelmed by the supposed evidence for a very ancient universe and earth. Why not embrace a viewpoint that allowed for both: start with six literal days, then put the billions of years back between the first couple verses.
It was a marvelous compromise. But that’s what it actually was, a compromise. When you look closer, the Hebrew text in Genesis 1:2 does not allow the earth to have “become” waste and void, empty and formless. The earth was that way when it was created. It was a perfect world, but uninhabitable. It was totally dark, covered with water, and not a very nice place for people to live. But step-by-step through the six days, it became inhabitable and beautiful and appropriate until finally God says, “Very good.” Man is now here—comfortable, happy, and provided for.
So you see, what would the gap theory require? It would require Adam and Eve to be walking on a cemetery filled with trillions of extinct fossilized creatures they would never see alive. This is a contradiction to “Behold, everything is very good” if it’s full of dead things, destroyed things, buried, fossilized things. So what actually the gap theory does is to ignore the Genesis Flood as the hydrodynamic mechanism for fossilization and put it all back into the supposed catastrophe in Genesis 1:2, which doesn’t say a thing about any water catastrophe or the fall of Satan. Satan couldn’t have fallen back there if the universe was still “very good” when Adam and Eve were created. You add up one point after another after another, and finally Christians began to see the hopeless contradiction to the Biblical text concerning creationism and the Flood.
Henry M. Morris, under God, helped to launch the new creation movement and to realize the Genesis Flood is the dynamic of fossilization and sedimentation. So Christians everywhere began to say, “Yes, that’s right. Let’s shift our focus on the magnitude and effects of the Flood.” That is what destroyed the gap theory finally.
After the sustained success of The Genesis Flood, did you ever consider producing a revised edition?
I think a quarter of a million copies have been sold now, and it’s in four different languages: in German, in Spanish, in Korean, in Serbian. We were just amazed because in many ways, obviously, the book needs to be updated. I mean, it’s 50 years of searching, studying, analyzing the various evidences for a global flood. The fossil world has brought to light things that we never could have dreamed of.
Henry Morris and I decided very early on not to do revised editions because that would be endless. We decided to leave the book as it was, writing new books to give updates, new perspectives, new insights on various aspects of Biblical catastrophes.
We wanted the day to come when we’d see books like what Andrew Snelling, an Australian geologist, has published: An updated version of The Genesis Flood called Earth’s Catastrophic Past in two volumes. His work is a definitive, careful, comprehensive update, geologically speaking, of what we did back then.
But you know, to say it cautiously, it’s hard to improve on what we did, Biblically.
Is it a wise idea for a believer to hold formal debates with unbelievers on the creation issue?
My personal opinion is no. I can’t visualize the apostle Paul having a formal debate with the Judaizers in a format that hinders or limits the use of Scripture.
You see, in a debate with an unbeliever, you set the Bible aside. You can’t use it. You have to agree to use “logic” and “scientific evidence” without appealing to spiritual, theological authority. You can’t function effectively as a theologian, as a teacher, as a witness when you can’t use the Scriptures. Preaching, on the other hand, is telling people what God said. You’re not debating anything. You’re just announcing, proclaiming, what God has entrusted to us in His precious Word. And so that’s a very, very different format than debate.
What causes a denomination to drift from its beliefs?
I have come to this conclusion: there is such a thing as a Second Law of Ecclesiastical Thermodynamics! Every system that has ever been launched in human history by human beings that has quality to it, that has integrity to it, that has something that’s divine in it, through the passing of time, it will drift downward unless acted upon by outside intelligent, authoritative energy.
One of the most fragile, delicate ephemeral systems in the world is the faculty of a theological seminary, where all the professors are in harmony with what God has written, where they are in harmony with Him personally day by day, where they are in harmony with each other.
That is a target of Satan, isn’t it? Because a faculty of men who want to teach the whole counsel of God to another generation (2 Timothy 2:2) will cause a chain reaction that will evangelize the whole world; that’s the Great Commission. That’s the dynamic of it, so it has to be the most prominent target Satan has on this planet.
The same application applies to a fellowship of churches that is in harmony with God and each other—my, show me one that has no deviations or driftings or problems in terms of integrity and faithfulness to the original model and commitment. So God is watching, Satan is watching, and we have to be very conscious, don’t we, of the fact that this is fragile system that has to be daily prayed over, confronted, watched, disciplined, controlled—or it’s going to go down irretrievably, irreversibly.
What are the first signs of this drift?
John put his finger on it with the church of Ephesus: “You have left your first love.” Your doctrine is okay and you still have some standards, but you have lost your first love. Unless you repent, I will come and take away your candlestick. In other words, we need a relationship to Christ personally, day by day. “Lord, tell me this day how to serve You effectively. Guard my thoughts, my motives, every thing I do. I’m answerable and accountable to You.” If we’re not consciously committed to Him day by day, our service becomes mechanical and professional; then we begin subconsciously to drift.
What is the greatest need in our churches today?
From the perspective of the theologian, the greatest need is getting back to God and His Word, getting back to the Bible. You may say, “Well, I’m doing more important things. I’m on the cutting edge of some new philosophy or perspective or principle.” To which I respond by saying, Now just be careful here. If an idea isn’t solidly based on Scripture and Scriptural priorities, it is immediately suspect.
One of things that hurt us back in the 1980s was the approach of integrationism in psychology. We had psychologists who claimed to be Biblical but really weren’t. That was the new idea back then, but it polarized us and damaged us terribly. The so-called psychoscientists were going to tell us how to counsel people, how to evaluate their personal needs and their relationship to God? It was a bad, bad trend. Fads need to be immediately confronted and evaluated.
What’s next for you?
Guess what’s going to happen next? After the dead in Christ rise, the living Christians will join them in an upward call to meet Him in the air. And I say, “Lord, I can’t wait!” When we see the Lord, we will be like Him and we will see Him as He is. This hope we have in Him purifies us even as He is pure. It motivates us because we will be accountable—perhaps in the next five minutes!—to the Savior Who gave His life for us. That’s a powerful motivation, isn’t it—the moment by moment anticipation of His appearing!
Kevin Mungons is managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin. Photos by Lance Young, graphic artist for Faith Baptist Bible College, Ankeny, Iowa.