Good Words


My aunt Paula passed away from cancer last week, and today was her funeral. I am thankful to have been able to give the eulogy, which I am posting here. My aunt was a special lady, and I will miss her.

Nor dread nor hope attend
A dying animal;
A man awaits his end
Dreading and hoping all;
Many times he died,
Many times rose again.
A great man in his pride
Confronting murderous men
Casts derision upon

Supersession of breath;
He knows death to the bone —
Man has created death.

“Death” by W. B. Yeats

I thought it would be appropriate to begin this meditation on the life of my aunt, Paula Clary, by quoting from the poem “Death” by William Butler Yeats, the great twentieth-century Irish poet and playwright. I do so because Yeats should have been the subject of my aunt’s doctoral dissertation, had she done one. His writing occupied much of her mind throughout her life; and I believe is tied to one of her biggest regrets. A couple of months ago, as she and I were reflecting together on her life, she said as much. She told me of a dinner that she had in Toronto with her father, my grandfather, as she was caught in the throes of indecision about whether to do a doctorate. She had an offer to join a local school-board, which gave her job security and a really good wage, and my grandpa strongly encouraged her to take the job. She did, and regretted it ever since. Now we will never be able to read what her prodigious mind had to say about Ireland’s great poet.

Since aunt Paula was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, I have thought a lot about who she was, and we spent a number of occasions talking about her life. It seems to me, as I look back on the last few months spent with her, that I got to know her in a much deeper way.

Those of you who knew my aunt will not think that I am being crass when I say that she could be quite a character. At times frantic, at others basically irate, she could frustrate even the calmest of us. Yet, at the same time, my aunt was one of those eccentrics, whose eccentricities were perhaps a mark of genius—at the very least of intelligence. We’ve seen that already, as she should have done a PhD. But she was more than just smart. She had that rare ability to look at the world about her and capture its essence with words. She was, like her hero Yeats, a writer and a poet. I have had the pleasure of reading her poetry, and am proud that she lent her creative gifts to the name that we share. My regret for her is that she published very little.

She was also a novelist who a wrote a book that was selected to be published after winning an award, only to have the publishing house close before her book could hit the shelf. This was a blow to her self-confidence, I fear, and is probably a key reason why she never became the author she always wanted to be.

One of her great loves was Northern Ontario, specifically the region of Temagami where we all cottage together—her cabin is next to ours. Her writing captures this love of the north, as she expressed herself with some very personal and thoughtful prose and poetry. Take, for instance, this poem simply called “Temagami”:

To-day, I try to think what made me.
In sunlight, the hills restored against the sky,
I can’t find why.
these trees, high up along the rock,
This house, sprung from rock,
and water, washing rock below,
This land I love most under snow
must be the reason why
I want to say, Temagami.

I have spent the last ten or more years going up to the cottage with her face as a regular part of the landscape. Red Cedar Lake will seem strangely empty when I go in a week. My aunt not only had that place stamped on her heart, but her very person was stamped on the water, the sky, and the sounds of life.

Oddly enough, some of my memories of her up there are of her at her most disheveled, which were for me when I was most entertained. Like the time her old dog Sadie—another great love of her life—got into some fish guts that my dad had left in a garbage can. We laughed our heads off as aunt Paul chased the dog across the yard, yelling for it to drop the guts.

I have other memories too. One of my favourites was watching her slowly drive Ken’s boat on Marten Lake as he and I fished for trout with down-riggers. She often had this actor’s look of being an old pro at such things.

Over the last number of years I have developed a deep appreciation for literature and poetry. I have three academic degrees in theology, and am now working on a fourth, and so I have spent a large part of my life slogging through highly technical non-fiction. After finishing a master’s degree a year and a half ago, I dove into the great works of English literature, and found in my aunt a reliable guide and insightful critic. Not too long ago I brought with me to her house a pile of books of poetry by T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and others to get her opinions. Though she hadn’t taught English for some twenty years, she immediately fell into her old form, and helped me through some of the metaphors and allusions in Eliot’s great “Prufrock” poem. Who will I turn to now for such careful help?

With this growing love of poetry I came to discover that my aunt and I shared many great loves. Not only had we both left our hearts in Northern Ontario, and not only would we get lost in wonder with the great works of literature that the world has gifted us with, but we also share da love for the antique. I don’t merely mean antique furniture, but those things that are old and have and are marked by story. This should not have come as a surprise to me as I am a trained historian, but to see that she had that same love has left me smiling.

We also shared that lovelorn ache for a country we have only ever visited, but feel as though our identities are strangely shaped by nonetheless: Ireland. She went to County Sligo to research Yeats for her dissertation; I went to County Antrim to research Alexander Carson, the subject of my own. The emerald shores of Erin’s Isle caught our hearts, and how I would have loved to have visited the place with my aunt on my arm—drinking in not only the sights and the history, but the stout as well!

My aunt and I also shared the love of rich debate over the essential issues of life; namely existence, life, death, and most importantly, God. Some years ago, as we sat around the table in her cottage, she and I debated whether St. Paul was a Platonist. I argued then, and would still today, that he most certainly was not! I don’t know whether I convinced her, but I know I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion. About two years ago, with my sister driving blithely, and no doubt bored stiff in her car, aunt Paula and I debated the existence of hell—with me taking the affirmative. She was the only family member I have where I felt that I could open the engines for debate at full throttle, without fear that he would either be offended or confused, and I always came away having grown from the experience.

About a week before she went into palliative care aunt Paula and I had a very warm discussion about God, salvation, and Jesus Christ. I quoted to her the words of St. Peter from his sermon in the Book of Acts. The words are very simple, and are as true for you as they were for her, and are for me: “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” It was one of those discussions that I dread, because I hate looking like a religious fundamentalist—but I must say it was one of the most beautiful conversations that I have ever had. We both wept, and hugged, and told one another of our mutual love. My aunt was not the kind of person who was as forthright with her affections, but I felt a connection with her that I never felt before.

I really don’t know what she did with my advice to her—but I worship a God of hope. The bible speaks very clearly about the need for all of us to be reconciled to God through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that he is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father but through him. That is a message of profound hope. And so I carry this hope with me, when I think of my aunt Paula. Death is not the end. When we put a person in the ground, it is with the hope that we will see that person again. When Jesus Christ returns, we will all rise from our graves—some to death, and others to life—and will live and reign with Christ on a new earth forever. My hope is that I will spend many a night talking with my aunt about poetry, about the beauty of God’s creation, and the last wonder of God himself.

My aunt was something of a hypochondriac, so I feared that she would take the news of her cancer quite poorly. But I must say, I never once found her feeling sorry for herself, I never once heard her complain or say “Why me?” She has turned into a real model of someone who died with a certain dignity—as undignified as death always is. She immersed herself in books, reading anything that came across her lap, often offering stinging criticisms. I gave her the wonderful book, Surprised By Oxford, about the life of a London, Ontario-born Carolyn Weber who did a doctorate in literature at the famed British University—the affinities between the author and my aunt were strong. She loved it, and gave some very useful critiques that proved to be a great conversation starter.

We have all lost something in the death of my aunt. Who will be my seasoned conversation partner as I go through this continued discovery of English literature? Who will be my mom’s movie-going partner who will dissect the story for her? Who will go antique shopping with my dad? Who will bug the tar out of my sister, always looking for help shoveling snow or some other such thing? Who will be Ken’s indominatable euchre partner? She leaves a gaping hole.

Let me conclude with another poem, this one also a favourite of hers. It is by Archibald Lampman and is, like the one I read of Paula’s, called “Temagami”:

Far in the grim Northwest beyond the lines
That turn the rivers eastward to the sea,
Set with a thousand islands, crowned with pines,
Lies the deep water, wild Temagami:
Wild for the hunter’s roving, and the use
Of trappers in its dark and trackless vales,
Wild with the trampling of the giant moose,
And the weird magic of old Indian tales.
All day with steady paddles toward the west
Our heavy-laden long canoe we pressed:
All day we saw the thunder-travelled sky
Purpled with storm in many a trailing tress,
And saw at eve the broken sunset die
In crimson on the silent wilderness.



Filed under death, me, poetry

Jules on Genesis 1

My good friend Julian Freeman is the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Don Mills. He and I went to bible college and seminary together, and for a long while he was one of my pastors. Julian is one of those preachers who makes me feel like I should never ascend a pulpit again—he’s an incredibly clear, logical, affective, theological, practical preacher (and he never looks at his notes!). He recently preached from 1 Peter 5 at New City, and it was excellent. I’m so thankful for him.

Jules is preaching through Genesis at his church. Not long ago he preached on Genesis 1, and I must say, it is an excellent sermon. I highly, highly recommend it. He wisely sets God as the foundation of Genesis 1 and shows why we can’t approach the text by asking it scientifically-driven questions that are determined by our pagan, scientific culture. The text is about the who of creation, not the how. He and I hold the same view on this text, but though I’ve read much on it lately, I learned some good stuff from Julian. There is much wisdom in this sermon. I also wonder if he footnoted this blog in his sermon manuscript? :)

God, His World, His People (Part 1)


Filed under audio, creation, genesis, grace fellowship church don mills, sermons

Calvin Documentary

This is from Faith Matters and is called “John Calvin: Reformer and Man of Controversy”:

Part 1

Part 2

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Filed under calvin, church history, video

Augustine the Mentor

I’ve been finding Edward Smither’s book Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders to be quite useful. As I was searching about for a quote, I came across Smither’s doctoral thesis “Principles of Mentoring Spiritual Leaders in the Pastoral Ministry of Augustine of Hippo,” (Here) completed at the University of Wales Lampeter. I must say, I’m a bit bummed out that I bought the book first, knowing the the thesis is online for free! Anyways, I thought I’d share the wealth. Here’s the abstract:

Though Augustine is highly regarded for his contribution to philosophy and theology, his primary occupation for the last forty years of his life was serving as the bishop of Hippo Regius. A highly personal man with a natural inclination to friendship, Augustine was a bishop monk who served the church while living in a monastic community with other clergy. Hence, he made monks out of his clergy and regarded the monastery as a group that existed to serve the church. Through intimate contact with the clergy of Hippo as well as spiritual leaders of the fourth and fifth century African church, Augustine emerged as a mentor to these leaders influencing them in their spiritual lives while practically resourcing them in their ministries. After proposing an early Christian model of mentoring spiritual leaders and discussing the background of mentoring in the third and fourth century church prior to Augustine’s episcopate, this study treats the primary forms and principles which characterized Augustine’s mentoring toward supporting the claim that he was both deliberate and effective at mentoring spiritual leaders.

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Filed under augustine, books, church history, mentoring, patristics

Wedgeworth Reviews Wright on Luther

Steven Wedgeworth, who blogs at Wedgewords, posted a thoughtful series of reviews on William J. Wright’s book Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms: A Response to the Challenge of Skepticism from the excellent series edited by Richard Muller called “Texts & Studies in Reformation & Post-Reformation Thought” {HT: Fulford}:


Chapter 1- Interpretations of Luther’s Idea of the Two Kingdoms during the Last Two Centuries

Chapter 2- The Skeptical Challenge of the Early Italian Renaissance

Chapter 3- Northern Humanism: The Context of Luther’s Two Kingdoms

Chapter 4- The Two-Kingdoms Worldview: How Luther Used the Concept in Diverse Contexts

Chapter 5- The Reformer Applies the Two Kingdoms to the Christian Life

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Filed under books, martin luther, reviews

Orwell the Libertarian?

In 2011 I committed to work my way through the Orwell corpus, both books by and on him. I’ve read Selden’s biography, Hitch’s Why Orwell Matters, and then a slew of books by the man himself like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Homage to CataloniaThe Clergyman’s Daughter, Coming Up for Air, a pile of collected essays, and more. As one with libertarian leanings, there is a lot that I find congruent in Orwell’s writings. Of course, he was a socialist, so there are areas where I have strong disagreements with him. But his strong anti-totalitarianism makes any libertarian smile; that’s why he tends to be well-received in such circles.

I recently listened to a podcast by the Ludwig von Mises Institute on Orwell by Jeff Riggenbach that gave Orwell a decent placement in the libertarian tradition. Riggenbach claims that Orwell’s posthumously published “Such, Such Were the Joys,” forms the basis for his anti-totalitarian writings like Nineteen Eighty-Four. I tend to disagree. Orwell famously lambasted his teachers from St. Cyprian’s where he attended public school. But recent biographers have indicated that Orwell’s fellow students, like Cyril Connolly didn’t share in Orwell’s distaste. My theory is that Orwell wrote “Such, Such Were the Joys” as a partly fictionalized story of totalitarianism, using the genres of memoir and historical fiction. It’s probably why the essay was never published by Orwell himself–it was likely something he toyed with, but never took seriously. So instead of “Such, Such Were the Joys” forming the basis of later writings, it was his experiences of totalitarianism in places like Burma and Spain that had Orwell re-evaluate his public school days, if only to communicate his fears in a medium that may have interested his society; it is worth remembering that Orwell wrote about the popularity of “boys’ weeklies,” and may have wanted to tap into that market as well.

Just a thought…

Here’s the podcast:

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Filed under audio, libertarianism, ludwig von mises, orwell

Augustine and Charitable Authority

These are wise words:

Where charity is not present, the command of the authority is bitter. But where charity exists, the one who commands does so with sweetness and the charity makes the very work to be almost no work at all for the one who is commanded, even though in truth the subject is bound to some task.

Augustine, Commentary on the Letter of John to the Parthians, 9.1.

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Filed under augustine, quotes, vocation

Exegetical Populism

A number of years ago I was in a church where the pastor constantly spoke of the need to “Put the cookies on the bottom shelf.” What this meant was that preachers and teachers should make truth accessible to everyone in the church; to follow the metaphor, the baby Christians in the church should be able to reach the cookies. This is commendable—no pastor should preach in a way that opaque, technical terms are so loaded into a sermon that only specialists can understand. Implicit in the statement, though, is that the church should all remain eating cookies taken from the bottom shelf. It was definitely the case that this pastor did not want his congregation to grow beyond his sloganeering of theology; he came across as intelligent and profound, but I believe that there was an element of fear on his part that to have congregants surpass him in knowledge put him on the defensive.

While this scenario doesn’t work itself out in every church, there is a sense where Christians are kept from progressing in their knowledge of the faith. Whether from fear, or the lack of desire to do the grunt work of theological learning and teaching, churches leave their members gurgling on the milk of theology, when they could all be dining on grade A steak.

William B. Evans makes a similar observation in his essay hosted at the Reformation21 site called, “Perspicuity, Exegetical Populism, and Tolerance: A Reply to G. I. Williamson.” Evans, who is Younts Professor of Bible and Religion at Erskine College, discusses the common misappropriation of the perspicuity of scripture among Reformed Christians. Continue reading


Filed under exegesis, hermeneutics, scripture

Mark Jones on Tullian

Mark Jones freaks me out. No, not because he’s scary looking, however that may be the case, but because the guy is proving himself to be a prolific writer. Not a hack, mind you, his works are serious. Take for instance his doctoral dissertation on Thomas Goodwin from the University of Leiden (I love the look of terror in his eyes in the above picture of his thesis defense), or the work he co-edited on Reformed controversies with Michael Haykin published by the venerable Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. This is not to mention the beast of a book co-authored with Joel Beeke: A Puritan Theology. Generally when Dr. Jones writes something, I try and pay attention–even if he’s writing on paedobaptism or some other such Pelagianism…I mean Presbyterianism.

Recently Mark wrote a review of Tullian Tchividjian’s Jesus + Nothing = Everything at the Meet the Puritans blog that he contributes to. In it he draws a comparison between the book and seventeenth-century antinomianism–not that Mark would call Tullian an outright antinomian, but that there are some dangers in Tullian’s approach that would fit in that general category. One of the key problems with the book, according to Jones, is Tullian’s version of the law/gospel distinction. He says: “The section on the law and the gospel in the book evinces a problem with certain versions of the law-gospel antithesis, especially when this antithesis is read into the Christian life and not just simply justification…In essence, my concern has to do with the fact that a number of biblical passages are read in a manner where people automatically assume that the text is driving us to Christ for justification when in fact the text is saying nothing of the sort.” The whole review, though long, is well-worth digesting.

The substance of the review is picked up in an interview that Mark did with the guys at Reformed Forum. I like the interview primarily for the opening bit where one of Mark’s kids is acting out in the background, and Mark is doing his darndest to get him to pipe down–even Presbyterians have to deal with kids disobeying it seems, we Baptists aren’t alone! Aside from that, however, Mark helps with the historical problems of antinomianism, and again points to related problems in Tullian’s book. Sadly, Christians today are imbibing the tendencies evident in the book under review, and so Mark brings us back to a healthy model of gospel-grounded obedience. We are free, yes indeed; but we are free to obey Christ. Hopefully the Reformed and Puritan vision of justification and sanctification can be grasped and grappled with for the sake of the holiness of Christ’s people. I think ole Jonesy does a good job at bringing us back to that grounding.


Filed under antinomianism, justification, mark jones, reformed forum, sanctification, tullian tchividjian

Luther Dipped

I almost became a Presbyterian, it was years ago, and I still feel the swoosh of the cars under my feet as I hung off a ragged precipice ready to jump. Those were scary times. Now I’m quite a convinced, dyed-in-the-wool Baptist, and in my better days I think of baptizing babies with only minor horror. But with that all to say, when I consider the Presbyterian view of baptism, I can at least catch a glimmer of a rationale behind it, I can see a haze of a biblical argument. But when it comes to the Lutheran view, ach wo!

Westminster Confession 28.1 speaks of baptism as the admission into the church, and while it goes on to say that it is regeneration, remission of sins, etc., WCF 28.6 says that the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the time when it is administered–therefore baptismal regeneration is avoided, notwithstanding the head-scratching of many Baptists like myself.

However, when you read major Lutheran statements on baptism, one goes from head scratching to head pounding…on a brick wall. The denomination whose founder was so strong on justification by faith alone leaves all that negated; or at the very least, faith alone is “preserved” through a series of back-spasm-provoking exegetical back-flips that leaves you heaving in a whirl of pain waiting for the demerol to kick in.

The pain of course comes from baptismal regeneration. In his “Sermon on Baptism” from 1534, Luther says that baptism brings the new believer “out of sin into righteousness, out of guilt and condemnation to innocence and grace, out of death into eternal life” (WA, 37:645.17-18). Later he says that the Christian is drawn by Christ “out of unrighteousness, condemnation, wickedness, death. He draws us through baptism into righteousness, life, and goodness. Where does baptism get that kind of power? It has God as the one who is at work in it” (“Sermon on Baptism,” 1538, WA, 46.175.37). He believed that the power of Christ’s suffering was brought into baptism, and that the waters of baptism “make atonement.” In effect, Luther believed that baptism washes away original sin.

Now, if you are a Baptist with a high sacramentology, and you argue for a deep relationship, though a distinction, between the “sign” and the “thing signified,” you may not be a baptismal regenerationist, because faith can still be a predicate. But when you are Luther, or a Lutheran, you believe this happens to a child, and faith cannot be a predicate. Well, unless you think that a newborn child can have faith that is, but who would believe that? Oh…Luther does: “Baptism is true. If it is possible that children do not have faith–and that they cannot demonstrate it–nevertheless, we should piously believe that God himself baptizes children and gives them faith and the Holy Spirit. That follows from the text” (“Sermons on Baptism,” 1539, WA, 47.655.1). I love that last line, it’s as if he says it to reassure us in light of our incredulity that it is in the text at all.

What is more incredulity-rendering is this: “But as our would-be wise, new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in us is of any avail but faith, as we shall hear still further. But these blind guides are unwilling to see this, namely, that faith must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and rests. Thus faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation and life; not through the water (as we have sufficiently stated), but through the fact that it is embodied in the Word and institution of God, and the name of God inheres in it” (Larger Catechism XIII.4). So, faith alone saves–check. That faith must have an object–check. This faith must cling to…the waters of baptism. Sure, it is not mere water, but a water that is “embodied in the Word,” but please tell me how this does not heave works or merit into the mix. I love Luther, I want to read Luther as charitably as possible, I don’t think he was a heretic…but this just doesn’t make sense!

While Luther says that baptism is a work of God, and not of us, he cannot get away from the fact that baptism is a command that must be submitted to, and is therefore rightly understood as a work. As D. Patrick Ramsey says, “Since justification does not occur apart from the reception of the sacrament of baptism, the doctrine of justification is compromised because we are not justified by faith alone but by faith and baptism. One must believe and be baptized. Luther’s qualifications notwithstanding, his view inevitably turns baptism into a work” (“Sola Fide Compromised? Martin Luther and the Doctrine of Baptism” in Themelios 34.2). Luther also stumbles on the rock of Christian perseverance, because in his theology a baptized (note: regenerated) person can fall away from faith. This explains why later Lutherans do not espouse a theology of perseverance of the saints.

There is an object lesson in all of this: we must be wary of uncritical adulation of heroes. Luther was a great man, and his contribution to the defense of the gospel should be respected. But Luther, as an early Reformer, had significant problems. Sadly, his problems have flowed into later Lutheranism that has picked up the inconsistencies that he sought (though failed) to avoid, and run with them. Luther was the man for the hour in the Magisterial Reformation, he was a good Reformer, but he was not an exegete. There is a reason why commentaries on Galatians, or Romans today quote Luther sparingly, but Calvin figures large–the latter was skilled with the text of Scripture, the former was not. Luther should be read, but he must be read with a critical eye, and the areas where he failed must be admitted, and the theology must be rejected.

I am, of course, much more comfortable with these words about baptism: “Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance,” and “Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance” (Second London Confession of Faith, 29.1 and 4). Ah, home sweet home.


Filed under baptism, justification, martin luther

The Supper as Means of Grace

Richard Barcellos, a Reformed Baptist author and pastor in the States, posted his lecture given to an ARBCA meeting last year on the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace. I’ve linked them below because I think that they are quite instructive. Because they are his lecture notes, they are mostly point form. But he gives a good argument for understanding the “real presence” or “spiritual presence” in the Supper:

The Lord’s Supper As A Means of Grace 1

The Lord’s Supper As A Means of Grace 2

The Lord’s Supper As A Means of Grace 3

The Lord’s Supper As A Means of Grace 4

You can also watch an interview with Barcellos on the subject:

Q&A with Dr. Barcellos and John Divito | ARBCA GA from MCTS on Vimeo.



Filed under eucharist, richard barcellos

I Hate Rude Behaviour In A Man, Won’t Tolerate It

Speaking of Lonesome Dove, this is one of my favourite scenes from the film:

And this would be another – “to the sunny slopes of long ago”:

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Filed under film, westerns

That’ll Be The Day

Carl Trueman often finds himself in the thick of it when it comes to debates in evangelicalism, which of course should come natural to him as a middle-aged, white, Reformed guy. But unfortunately he’s not living up to the standards of MAWR, as displayed at the end of a recent interview he conducted on a very serious topic. Now, before I get into the true nitty-gritty of Trueman’s MAWR failure, it should be said that he made his faux pas fully aware of the ecclesial ramifications of his actions. I believe that he’s broken his confessional standard, and for this I am truly sorry. Whereas I was once a big fan of his writings, I fear that I must cease-and-desist from reading any and all that comes from his pen–I speak as an aspiring MAWR, a catechumen if you will, as I have yet to hit my fourth decade.

So, in what way did “Dr.” Trueman break his confessional vows? In the Solemn League and Covenant, a statement specifically adopted by an as-yet published revision of the Westminster Confession, it says plainly: “I solemnly covenant to league myself with those who rightly uphold the following: to read, watch, and admire Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove novel, and film, and cry when Gus dies; to defend the honour of John Wayne, even when he acted in a real stinker like The Conqueror.” Sadly, Trueman outed himself  as a “hater” (though thankfully he maintained his love for The Searchers), and didn’t list Lonesome Dove in his top-four westerns–while his top four was pretty impressive, I wouldn’t think that even ole Henry would admit to outdoing Bobby Duvall or Tommy Lee Jones. Sure John Wayne’s real name was Marion, but should that effect our exegesis of so many brilliant texts? Why wouldn’t our British friend at least have some sympathies for a man who could stand alongside Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man? It makes me want to spit my tobacky on my poor dog’s head.

And while we’re on the subject of heresy—and modalism ain’t got nothin’ on this—why no Magnificent Seven? Why no Jeremiah Johnson? Not even Rio Bravo? Oh, of course, he doesn’t like John Wayne! Not even for the crooning of Ricky Nelson?!

Finally, what amazes me even more than this—what can you expect from a Presbyterian?—is that there seemed to be a hushed acquiescence on the part of his interviewer, Clint Humfrey—shouldn’t he have lived up to his namesake and blasted the Tuco in his midst?—and the audience. Humfrey has preaching boots for pete’s sake! And here Trueman sits in front of a crowd in Calgary, Alberta, where movies like Open Range were filmed, where business execs wear cowboy hats to lunch, and he gets away with murder. Where is the Steve McQueen or Yul Brenner in their midst who would bury the slain? Is there no justice?

So, if Dr. Trueman wants a show-down on the great evangelical wasteland, and his posse chickens out and runs for the hills, who will he turn to for help? This gunslinger? In the words of a movie great, “That’ll be the day.”

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Filed under carl trueman, film, movies, westerns

Seventh-Day Adventism and Young Earth Creation

I’ve been working through a series of posts on the history of interpretation regarding the days of creation. Initially I highlighted some old earth quotes by Charles Spurgeon and asked how it could be possible that a confessionally Reformed theologian like him, who stood in the  Puritan line of interpretation, could believe that the earth was old or that animals died before Adam’s fall. I traced the interpretation of the days in church history, using Robert Letham and William Barker’s essays to guide me, showing that Reformed theology has not held a consensus on these matters. Therefore Spurgeon can’t stand outside of the norm, because there is no norm. I followed that with a post about modern Reformed theologians, using Max Rogland, looking primarily at the Dutch Reformed tradition of Kuyper, Bavinck, etc., with quick notes on Old Princeton and the founders of Westminster Seminary, to show that even these theologians did not agree on these peripheral matters surrounding the doctrine of creation (I could have included Martyn Lloyd-Jones in this list as well). As an interlude, I posted a collection of quotes from noteworthy Reformed and evangelical theologians, showing that even up to today, nobody is agreed as to what the creation days mean, whether the earth is young or old; the only agreement seems to be is that the matter is tertiary, and does not impinge on the gospel.

In the post about the Dutch tradition, I mentioned that I would do one more post on where young earth creationism (YEC) comes from historically. While theologians in church history have held to a 6/24 reading of Genesis 1 (take Basil of Caesarea for instance), there is a sense that the recent YEC phenomenon is marked by key areas of difference with these earlier theologians–by YEC, I am thinking of those who strongly support Answers In Genesis or some other such group, not a disparate theologian who is young earth and 6/24 per se. One is YEC’s historical provenance, another is it’s different hermeneutic. While I’ll comment on the latter briefly, this post is concerned with history.

Reformed historian R. Scott Clark, whom I’ve quoted a number of times in this series, makes the following statement about YEC’s origins: “The irony of using the 6/24 interpretation as a boundary marker of orthodoxy is that it threatens to let the wrong people in and keep the right people out. Ronald L. Numbers has shown that one of the primary sources of the creationist movement is not orthodox Reformed theology but the Seventh Day Adventist movement, the distinguishing beliefs of which have little in common with the Reformed confession” (Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession, 49). When I first read this, I was quite taken aback. I had no clue that there was a connection between YEC and the Adventists (note: Adventists are typically understood to be a cult, though there are many with a more evangelical persuasion, they none-the-less are problematic). Clark references Ronald L. Numbers’ book The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1992), which was recently reprinted with additions by Harvard. Ronald Numbers used to be an Adventist, and is something of an Adventist historian, and is even a past president of the American Society for Church History, and the History of Science Society. Vocationally he is an historian of science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I have the book on order at Crux (it just came in), so I can’t vouch for it yet, but I have read some positive reviews, and I managed to track down his essay that the book is based on: “The Creationists” in Zygon 22.2 (June 1987): 133-164 (this requires subscription, but I have the PDF if anyone wants it). It is well-researched, sympathetic to its subject, and convincing. Numbers shows how early YEC’s like Henry Morris and John Whitcomb (Numbers did interviews with the latter for the book), authors of The Genesis Flood, were influenced by Adventists like George Price, who was deeply shaped by the writings of Adventist founder Ellen White. According to White, she had been given direct divine revelation about Noah’s flood. Price, not a trained geologist, then began to write books on “flood geology” that began gaining influence in Adventist circles. While his work was largely panned by the scientific community, the early fundamentalists, looking for arguments against Darwinism, began to use Price more frequently. Price had direct influence on the later work of Henry Morris, who took up the cause for YEC in the 1960s. Early reviews of The Genesis Flood claimed that it was basically an update of Price’s work. The influence of The Genesis Flood cannot be overstated; it was the first book using this line of argument that had the appearance of scholarship, with footnotes, and detailed discussion of complex geology. It spawned groups like the Creation Research Society that included Baptists, Lutherans, and Adventists.

While of course one does not want to fall into the “guilt by association” fallacy, but when all of this is considered, a couple of conclusions can be drawn. If the history of theology is any indication, YEC was not a major view among leading conservative and Reformed theologians. YEC came to ascendancy with the rise of the Seventh Day Adventist movement, and its influence on fundamentalism. As Clark further comments, that YEC has become a boundary marker in Reformed circles, though it was birthed by the Adventists, coupled with fundamentalism, all the while the range of the Reformed tradition had little to do with either, is telling. Mainstream evangelical eschatology is influenced by the popular dispensational theology of Left Behind, likewise it has also been influenced by the popular “flood geology” of similar movements that Clark calls “an anticonfessional fundamentalism” (p. 50)–though it should be noted that some early fundamentalists, like C. I. Scofield were old earth, and I’ve heard (though not confirmed) that William Jennins Bryan of the Scopes Trial was also old earth. Therefore, Reformed Christians need to be aware of their exegetical and confessional history, and be careful not to allow the hermeneutical problems of outside traditions impede upon their own. When one reads YEC interpretations of Genesis, what is found is not deep biblical exegesis, or an awareness of theology and history, but rather strong statements coupled with the proof-texting of irrelevant biblical texts. This is not a good method of exegesis, and were it applied to other texts of scripture, on other doctrinal issues (say Calvinism), we would be horrified by the conclusions.

I conclude with this observation by Clark: “The great tragedy of the modern creation controversy is that, while we in the Reformed sideline have been arguing about the length of creation days, many of our congregants, even those in denominations that hold a 6/24-creation view, have stopped believing in “creation” or “nature” altogether. While congregants will confess a 6/24 creation, many of them no longer think of the world as something created by God, with inherent limits on our choices. In Reformed terms, many of us no longer think and live as if we are creatures, as if there are such things as nature and providence” (p. 51).


I found an interview with Ronald Numbers about Ellen G. White done in 2009:


Filed under creation, evangelicalism, r scott clark, reformed theology, ronald numbers, seventh day adventists

Shooting An Elephant

Trevin Wax is live-blogging The Elephant Room, hosted by James MacDonald, with Mark Driscoll as a guest host. There has been a swell of controversy over one of their guests, T. D. Jakes, and how his anti-Trinitarianism is understood, especially by MacDonald (see my post about it here). This has recently led to MacDonald resigning from The Gospel Coalition (it’s curious that in his post he mentions nothing about this controversy. What was said to him by TGC leaders to make him leave? Was it not this issue?). Trevin posted his notes from the interview on his blog, and I’ve read them over and wanted to share a couple of initial thoughts.

A brief caveat: these are only Trevin’s notes, not the full-blown, word-for-word interview, so some of my thoughts are subject to change in light of the clearer picture that will come once the video is released. There are other interviews as well that may also give clarity; my thoughts are based primarily on this first one.

1) There is a conciliatory air between those involved. It seems that the interviewers have already decided on Jakes’ orthodoxy before interviewing him. Driscoll promised us, when the controversy first broke, that he would be hard on Jakes on the Trinity–but Driscoll was much harder on Justin Brierly over complimentarianism than he is on Jakes. While he thankfully asked a number of creed-oriented questions, he didn’t push Jakes on his unclear statements.

2) Jakes hasn’t clarified the issues in the way The Elephant Room guys seem to think he has. Continue reading


Filed under elephant room, gospel coalition, james macdonald, mark driscoll, t d jakes, trinity

The Consensus – An Interlude

The last number of posts have dealt with the question of Charles Spurgeon’s old-earth theology, and how he doesn’t break with the Reformed mainstream by holding it, because there was no consensus among the Reformed on the issue. In fact, there has been no consensus on the issue of creation days at all in church history. I have one more post about this, that will account for the rise of young earth creationism in evangelical circles, but before I post it, I wanted to share a number of quotes by noteworthy Reformed and conservative evangelical theologians on this issue. You’ll notice that I include voices from past and present, and across disciplines–so you’ve got historians, biblical theologians (Old and New Testament), and systematicians. You also see the various views represented, like the framework, day age, day of unspecified duration, and analogical days view. It’s not exhaustive, there are a number of theologians who have written major works on this, that I’ve left out. I title this as a consensus, and do so facetiously for obvious reasons. Be warned, this post is very long!

So, here’s the list (I particularly recommend those by James Montgomery Boice, Ernest Kevan, Graeme Goldsworthy, Bob Godfrey, and R. C. Sproul):

T. Desmond Alexander (Union Theological Seminary, Belfast), from his “Introduction to Genesis” in the ESV Study Bible (pp. 43-44): “Faithful interpreters have offered arguments for taking the creation week of Genesis 1 as a regular week with ordinary days (the “calendar day” reading); or as a sequence of geological ages (the “day-age” reading); or as God’s “workdays,” analogous to a human workweek (the “analogical days” view); or as a literary device to portray the creation week as if it were a workweek, but without concern for temporal sequence (the “literary framework” view). Some have suggested that Genesis 1:2, “the earth was without form and void,” describes a condition that resulted from Satan’s primeval rebellion, which preceded the creation week (the “gap theory”). There have been other readings as well, but these five are the most common. None of these views requires denying that Genesis 1 is historical, so long as the discussion in the section on Genesis and History is kept in mind. Each of these readings can be squared with other biblical passages that reflect on creation.”

Oswald T. Allis (former founding OT professor of Westminster Seminary) from his God Spake By Moses (pp. 159): “We may well hesitate to assert that the days of Genesis i must be taken literally as days of twenty-four hours. But we should not hesitate to assert that infinite time and endless process are no adequate substitute for or explanation of that fiat creation by an omnipotent God of which this sublime chapter speaks so clearly and emphatically. It is equally true that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years” and that “a thousand years are as one day.”

Edgar Andrews, is Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London, apologist who debated Richard Dawkins, and author of Who Made God? published by Evangelical Press. This quote comes from an interview he did with Tim Challies after the book came out: “I really don’t like terms such as “young earth”, “old earth” and “Intelligent Design” (with ID in capitals!) because when you look more closely they are actually very ill-defined. I therefore don’t apply any of these labels to myself. My own non-negotiable position is that (1) the early chapters of Genesis are historical not mythological; they describe things that actually happened; and (2) the universe and all that it contains was created ex nihilo by God, who continues to sustain it. Beyond that I have my own theories (for example, that ‘Big Bang’ cosmology is consistent with a historical view of Genesis One) but respect the views of those who differ from me.”

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), important medieval theologian, indicates a “framework” pattern in his Summa Theologiae: “The first part, then, is distinguished on the first day, and adorned on the fourth, the middle part distinguished on the middle day, and adorned on the fifth, and the third part distinguished on the third day, and adorned on the sixth. (Q 74, Ar. 1).”

Gleason Archer, professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, from his book Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (p. 59-60): “It would seem to border on sheer irrationality to insist that all of Adam’s experiences in Genesis 2:15-22 could have been crowded into the last hour or two of a literal twenty-four-hour day.”

Bill T. Arnold, Old Testament professor at Asbury and author of numerous books including Encountering the Book of Genesis. This quote comes from p. 22: “Yet as important as creation is theologically, the precise details of the process of creation seem unimportant in the opening chapters of Genesis.” Arnold also says on page 23: “We should not be too concerned with the issue of how long it took God to create the universe. Nor should this debate be used as a litmus test to determine who is really serious about Christ. This is not a faith issue. If it were important to know how long it took God to create the world, the Bible would have made it clear. The important lesson from Genesis 1 is that he did in fact created it, and that he made it orderly and good in every respect.”

Herman Bavinck, Dutch Reformed theologian and author of the influential four-volume Reformed Dogmatics, he taught theology at the Free University of Amsterdam. He held what is now called the “analogical day view.” This comes from Our Reasonable Faith (p. 172-173): “Scripture itself contains data which oblige us to think of these days of Genesis as different from our ordinary units as determined by the revolutions of the earth. In the first place we cannot be sure whether what is told us in Genesis 1:1-2 precedes the first day or is included within that day. In favor of the first supposition is the fact that according to verse 5 the first day begins with the creation of light and that after the evening and the night it ends on the following morning. But even though one reckons the events of Genesis 1:1-2 with the first day, what one gets from that assumption is a very unusual day which for a while consisted in darkness. And the duration of that darkness which preceded the creation of light is nowhere indicated. In the second place, the first three days (Gen. 1:3-13) must have been very unlike ours. For our twenty-four hour days are effected by the revolutions of the earth on its axis, and by the correspondingly different relationship to the sun which accompanies the revolutions. But those first three days could not have been constituted in that way. It is true that the distinction between them was marked by the appearance and disappearance of light. But the book of genesis itself tells us that the sun and moon and stars were not formed until the fourth day.”

Here’s another one from Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (Vol. 2, p. 495-496): “It is nevertheless remarkable that not a single confession made a fixed pronouncement about the six-day continuum, and that in theology as well a variety of interpretations were allowed to exist side by side.  Augustine already urged believers not too quickly to consider a theory to be in conflict with Scripture, to enter into discussion on these difficult subjects only after serious study, and not to make themselves ridiculous by their ignorance in the eyes of unbelieving science.  This warning has not always been faithfully taken to heart by theologians.”

John Blanchard, author of the popular Ultimate Questions evangelism booklet says in his Does God Believe in Atheists? (p. 462): “As we might expect, the Bible is more concerned with questions of meaning than mechanism. For example, it does not give us a detailed explanation of how creation took place. Instead, it merely says of the universe and everything in it, ‘The Lord…commanded and they were created.’ Some theists see this as contradicting the Big Bang theory as presently understood, but others see no conflict here between science and Scripture. In Thinking Clearly about God and Science, David Wilkinson, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, see Big Bang theory as ‘currently the best model we have which describes how God did it,’ and goes on to say, “Genesis 1 complements that description with the fundamental truth that the purpose, the source of order and faithfulness of the Universe can only be found in this Creator God.’ The word I have emphasized is important!”

Later Blanchard says (p. 462), “The massive gap between the positions of those who say that the earth is millions of years old and those who claim that a straightforward reading of Scripture teaches an earth only about ten thousand years old at most is impossible to dissolve, and Ian Taylor notes that each of the popular attempts to reconcile Genesis with science on this issue ‘mixes more or less science with more or less Scripture and produces a result more or less absurd.’ The issue is well discussed elsewhere; here, we need only recognize that the Bible’s specific focus is not on a precise chronology but on the comprehensive fact that ‘God…made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.’ God is the Author of everything (which means, incidentally, that he is the true origin of species).”

James Montgomery Boice, minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church, founder of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and past president of the International Counsel on Biblical Inerrancy, wrote in Foundations of the Christian Faith (p. 163): “Is the sequence of the Genesis days to be compared with the sequence of the so-called geological periods? Do the fossils substantiate this narrative? How long are the ‘days’–twenty-four-hour periods or indefinite ages? And, perhaps most important, does the Genesis account leave room for evolutionary development (guided by God) or does it require divine intervention and instantaneous creation in each case? The chapter does not answer our questions. I noted a moment ago that the Genesis account is theological rather than a scientific statement, and we need to keep that in mind here. It is true that it provides us with grounds for constructive speculation, and at some points it is even rather explicit. But it is not written primarily to answer such questions; we must remember that.”

John Calvin, famous Reformed theologian of the sixteenth century. This is from his Commentary on the Book of the Psalms (p. 5:184): “The Holy Spirit had no intention to teach astronomy, and, in proposing instruction meant to be common to the simplest and most uneducated persons, he made use by Moses and other prophets of popular language, that none might shelter himself under the pretext of obscurity.”

R. Scott Clark, is an historical theologian with a PhD from Oxford, who teaches at Westminster California and is an expert in Reformation and post-Reformation theology. He is also a minister in the URC. In his book Recovering the Reformed Confession (p. 48) Clark argues that 6/24 creation should not be a test-case for Reformed orthodoxy. He says this: “[T]he debate over the days of creation has had little to do with the Reformed confession. Proponents of 6/24 creation as a mark of Reformed orthodoxy have been unable to explain the theological reason for making the 6/24 interpretation a standard for orthodoxy.”

Later Clark says (p. 49), “From the middle of the nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century, virtually none of the leading Reformed theologians held or taught that Scripture teaches that God created the world in six twenty-four-hour periods.”

One more from Clark (p. 49): “Most importantly, one’s view of the length of the creation days is an improper boundary marker, because it does not arise from the interests of the Reformed confession itself but has been imported from fundamentalism. The elevation of an extraconfessional, exegetical disagreement to the level of a boundary marker, despite the fact that there is nothing obviously at stake in Reformed theology as confessed by our churches, is a strong indicator of the presence of QIRC [Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty] (an anticonfessional fundamentalism) in our midst.”

Continue reading


Filed under creation, quotes, reformed theology

Carl Trueman at Calvary Grace Conference

This weekend Calvary Grace Church in Calgary, AB, hosted its “Calvary Grace Conference” on the Reformation with Dr. Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary (PA) and Clint Humfrey, the pastor of the church. The audio is now available on their website; I’ve linked each talk below. An interesting topic covered by two talks on Menno Simons and the Mennonites:

Luther and His Legacy – Trueman

Menno Simons and the Mennonites – Trueman

Can a Mennonite be a Calvinist? – Humfrey

Panel Discussion and Q & A – Trueman/Humfrey, moderated by Terry Stauffer

Calvin and Calvinism – Trueman

Sunday School Interview – Trueman, interviewed by Clint Humfrey

Like a Sheep Without a Shepherd – (Mark 6 Sermon) – Trueman


Filed under audio, calgary, calvin, calvinism, carl trueman, clint humfrey, conferences, martin luther

The Reformed Consensus

In my previous post I asked the question: “How could Charles Spurgeon maintain views on creation like an old earth, death of animals before the fall, etc. in light of his Puritan theology?” I answered it by looking through the history of interpretation on the Genesis days, using Robert Letham and William Barker’s essays as guides. We saw that from Origen through to the Westminster Assembly, the major orthodox thinkers held no consensus on how to interpret Genesis 1. I concluded that Spurgeon did not stand outside of the Puritan and Reformed mainstream of history past, and could therefore happily claim adherence to that tradition.

In that post I also noted that Spurgeon was not out of step with his Reformed contemporaries, and provided a quote by historian R. Scott Clark to make the point. Clark says: “From the middle of the nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century, virtually none of the leading Reformed theologians held or taught that Scripture teaches that God created the world in six twenty-four-hour periods” (Recovering the Reformed Confession, p. 49). This is quite a sweeping statement that I figured warranted some explaining. So this post will highlight the conclusions of Max Rogland in his essay “Ad Litteram: Some Dutch Reformed Theologians On the Creation Days” from Westminster Theological Journal 63:2 (Fall 2001): 211-233 (this link requires a subscription, but I have a PDF of the essay if anyone wants it). Rogland, a PCA minister, is assistant professor of Old Testament at Erskine College, the seminary of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church, and did his PhD at Leiden University.

This essay surveys five major Dutch theologians: Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Anton Honig, Gerhard Aalders, and Klaas Schilder; he also includes discussion of the Synod of Assen. In the second section of the essay he turns to Dutch-American theologians Geerhardus Vos, William Heyns, Louis Berkhof, and Cornelius Van Til. This is a well-written piece that goes into some detail respecting each theologian. Of the Dutch, Rogland concludes that none of them held to the six, twenty-four-hour days view. While early on Bavinck held to  the “Day Age” view, he later moved from that to what is now called the “Analogical Days” view; at the time he referred to them as “extraordinary days.”* Rogland says that there was a surprising amount of agreement between the five theologians, all of whom saw the first three days as extraordinary because of the lack of sun, and generally applied that to the full creation week. Yet, in spite of their taking the days as other than twenty-four hour, it is surprising to find that they initially referred to them as “literal.” Later they turned from that language because of the rise of Barthianism that spoke of “literal” days but did not mean by that “historical.” Others like the famed New Testament theologian F. W. Grosheide, and Jan Ridderbos, also held to this idea of extraordinary days.

Regarding the three Dutch-American theologians, it becomes harder to discern their views. Rogland surmises that Vos held to the twenty-four-hour view, though it is hard to prove, because his statements are generally in rejection of the Day Age view, and not the idea of extraordinary days. Van Til wrote little on the subject, so it is hard to determine his view, though he freely associated with those who were not of the 6/24 school–one thinks of his role as a founding professor at Westminster Seminary, that consisted of J. Gresham Machen, and O. T. Allis, neither of whom held to the 6/24 interpretation. Van Til was also an heir of the Old Princeton tradition of the Hodges and Warfield, and they didn’t hold to the 6/24 position either. Berkhof, on the other hand, was squarely in the six, twenty-four-hour day camp; Rogland is quick to correct Berkhof’s misreading of Kuyper and Bavinck.

So, when one combines the Old Princeton school, that did not hold to a twenty-four-hour day approach, and the majority of the Dutch Reformed on both sides of the Atlantic, R. Scott Clark’s statement is indeed true: “virtually none” really means almost none of the leading Reformed theologians held to the young earth model.

My next question, then, is probably obvious. Why is the young earth view so prevalent in popular evangelicalism today? I’ll take that one up in my next post (DV).


* Herman Bavinck says this about the days in his Our Reasonable Faith: “Scripture itself contains data which oblige us to think of these days of Genesis as different from our ordinary units as determined by the revolutions of the earth. In the first place we cannot be sure whether what is told us in Genesis 1:1-2 precedes the first day or is included within that day. In favor of the first supposition is the fact that according to verse 5 the first day begins with the creation of light and that after the evening and the night it ends on the following morning. But even though one reckons the events of Genesis 1:1-2 with the first day, what one gets from that assumption is a very unusual day which for a while consisted in darkness. And the duration of that darkness which preceded the creation of light is nowhere indicated. In the second place, the first three days (Gen. 1:3-13) must have been very unlike ours. For our twenty-four hour days are effected by the revolutions of the earth on its axis, and by the correspondingly different relationship to the sun which accompanies the revolutions. But those first three days could not have been constituted in that way. It is true that the distinction between them was marked by the appearance and disappearance of light. But the book of genesis itself tells us that the sun and moon and stars were not formed until the fourth day” (pp. 172-173).

In his important Reformed Dogmatics he says: “It is nevertheless remarkable that not a single confession made a fixed pronouncement about the six-day continuum, and that in theology as well a variety of interpretations were allowed to exist side by side.  Augustine already urged believers not too quickly to consider a theory to be in conflict with Scripture, to enter into discussion on these difficult subjects only after serious study, and not to make themselves ridiculous by their ignorance in the eyes of unbelieving science.  This warning has not always been faithfully taken to heart by theologians” (Vol. 2; pp. 495-496).


Filed under church history, cornelius van til, creation, geerhardus vos, herman bavinck, reformed theology

The Puritan Consensus

Earlier I posted some quotes by the Victorian Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon about the age of the earth and related issues. I noted some surprise when I first read the quotes and asked a question about how it could be that Spurgeon, one well-versed in the Puritan and Reformed tradition, and one living in the midst of great scientific strides, would advocate for things like an old earth, animal death before the Fall, and a large amount of time between creation and Adam. It’s likely a safe assumption that most people would assume Spurgeon, a staunch defender against liberalism, to be a young earth creationist; I know that was my assumption.

So what are the reasons behind why he would hold the view he does? What sources did he read, theological or scientific, that led to the conclusions he drew? It could be that he held to the “Ruin-Reconstruction Theory” of creation, a view made popular by the Reformed theologian Thomas Chalmers. This view states that there is a gap of millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 that allowed for things like dinosaurs. While out of vogue today, it was something more common in Spurgeon’s. Ultimately, at least from the two quotes I posted, we can’t be sure. Another view at that time was the “Day Age” view, one that another noteworthy Reformed theologian, Charles Hodge, held. Was Spurgeon reading Chalmers or Hodge? There’s a good chance he was, but I haven’t done the research to find out. That’s not the point of this post. Rather, I want to answer the question, “Did Spurgeon break with his theological tradition by espousing these views?”

It is well-known that as a young boy Spurgeon stumbled upon his preacher-grandfather’s book collection in a shuttered attic. At an early age he devoured the works of the sixteenth-century Reformers, the seventeenth-century Puritans, and eighteenth-century Evangelicals. He was reading Calvin, Bunyan, Henry, Whitefield. Likely Spurgeon had a photographic memory, and read voluminously. There can be no doubt that he imbibed the best theology the Puritan and Reformed tradition had to offer. As a Baptist, he demonstrated his Calvinistic stripes by publishing an edition of the Second London Confession of Faith (1689). His wife, Susanna, was responsible for distributing Reformed literature to pastors as she lived a life mainly as a shut-in. Wouldn’t one think that for a man was firmly entrenched in this older, orthodox literature, that he would have felt behooved to adopt another, more conservative view on creation?

The answer to this question requires a foray into times past to first of all see what the Puritan and Reformed tradition said about creation and the ensuing doctrines. A helpful resource is a recent essay by Robert Letham in the Westminster Theological Journal [69 (1999):149-174] called “‘In the Space of Six Days’: The Days of Creation from Origen to the Westminster Assembly.” Letham is a well-known Reformed theologian who currently teaches at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and is the author of a number of important books, in particular The Work of Christ is a personal favourite. In his article Letham surveys major thinkers in church history from the patristic period, beginning with Origen of Alexandria, and concluding with the period just before the Westminster Assembly in the mid-seventeenth century. Some church fathers, like Basil of Caesarea, held to what we call the “6/24 hour” view, while others like Augustine posited an “instantaneous creation”; Augustine also argued for what may be called a “literary” reading of Genesis 1. In the Middle Ages, Augustine’s view dominated and thus it is seen in the writings of Robert Grossteste and Thomas Aquinas. During the Reformation, Letham notes that not one Reformed confession (i.e. French Confession, Scots Confession, Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, the Thirty-Nine Articles, etc.) has a statement about the creation days. Letham’s conclusion as to why the silence: “It was not a matter of definition since it was not a matter of controversy or even a point for discussion, despite the varying views in exegetical history” (p. 170). Great Reformed theologians like John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger don’t mention the creation days in particular—which Letham thinks is telling—and Calvin seems primarily concerned with refuting the Augustinian “instantaneous creation” view in his commentary on Genesis, though there is some indication that he may take the 6/24 hour view on the days. While that may be the case, Letham points out that Calvin saw the language of Moses in Genesis 1 as “accommodated,” so that the reader might be able to understand. Peter Martyr Vermigli, another important Reformed theologian, read the opening of Genesis with hints of allegory, and did not mention the six days of creation. All of this, it is significant to remember, during the period noteworthy for the science of Copernicus and Galileo.

The first Reformed confession to actually speak of the days of creation and such things is James Ussher’s Irish Articles (1615); Ussher is of course notorious for dating the creation at 4004 BC. As for the Puritans, like the Reformers before them, there was no consensus on the creation days. Richard Greenham doesn’t mention them, and William Perkins gives them scant attention. While the latter takes the days chronologically, he says that the first three days are not “solar days” because of the lack of sun. William Ames is important for understanding the view of the Westminster Divines, because he, like Calvin, is concerned to refute the Augustinian reading of creation as instantaneous. He does so with the language of “in the space of six days,” that was picked up by the Assembly. Ames likely did not believe that the days were solar days.

That takes us up to the time of the Westminster Assembly, but what of the Westminster Divines themselves? Letham gives a short space to the question and says: “The single most astonishing and noteworthy feature of English Puritan theology before 1647, and the Westminster divines in particular, is the virtually complete absence of interest in creation” (p. 173). Yet this was the time of the founding of the Royal Society, that was largely made up of Protestants, and it was a time of great scientific advance. Letham says that in his research he hadn’t found a single Puritan work on creation up until the time of 1647. Letham further adds: “One obvious conclusion is that the days of creation were not a matter of contention, although divergent views existed” (p. 173).

William S. Barker, now Emeritus Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and a published expert on the Puritans, continued Letham’s project by examining the writings of the Westminster Divines on creation in more detail. He did so in an essay called “The Westminster Assembly on the Days of CreationWestminster Theological Journal 62.1 (Spring 2000): 113-120 (the link requires a subscription, but I have a PDF if anyone wants it. Or, for the sum of the argument, see this statement by Westminster’s faculty here). Barker is concerned to show that the Westminster Confession of Faith’s language of “in the space of six days” not be construed to mean that only a 6/24 hour view of Scripture is confessionally sound (the PCA creation report as well as the OPC’s agree with him). Rather, following Calvin and Ames, the language directly refutes the Augustinian view of instantaneous creation. This view was taught at this time by the Anglican physician Sir Thomas Browne in 1643, the year when the Assembly first began to meet. The language of “in the space of” doesn’t describe what a day was at the time of creation—some held it to be longer than twenty-four hours like John Lightfoot—but rather that it took longer than an instant for God to create. Barker notes that some Divines merely spoke of “six days” but did not get into the nature of what those days were, namely, Stephen Marshall, John Wallis, Thomas Vincent, and John Ball, who don’t go beyond that statement.

When turning back to Spurgeon, who bled Puritan theology as much as he did “bibline,” it is not at all inconsistent for him to argue for long ages or a gap theory, and still rightfully claim a Reformed heritage. The Second London Confession that Spurgeon reprinted uses the same language as the WCF about “in the space of six days,” and so the argument that the WCF was written to refute Augustinian instantaneous creation is just as applicable. Just like a minister in a Presbyterian church wouldn’t have to make an exception at this point in his confessional commitments, neither would Spurgeon. Nor was Spurgeon out of step with the Reformed theology of his own day. As historian R. Scott Clark, who teaches at Westminster California, says in his recent book Recovering the Reformed Confession: “From the middle of the nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century, virtually none of the leading Reformed theologians held or taught that Scripture teaches that God created the world in six twenty-four-hour periods” (p. 49).

This may not answer the question of source material, which is something I’d really like to get into with Spurgeon, it does answer the question that he stands firmly in line with the Puritan and Reformed tradition—because there was no consensus on creation in this tradition, and to hold a different view on creation is not to break with it.


Filed under calvin, church history, creation, genesis, puritans

Reading 2011

This past year I used my blog to keep track of the books I read. I had a healthy competition with my friend Mark Nenadov, although my list only included real books, while his also had e-books and audio books (!). Mark read 40 actual books (I won’t tell you the number if you include the others), and I, sadly, only hit 39. I’ve posted the titles and date of completion below as a more permanent record of them. I didn’t include a book if I didn’t finish it, so I have a number that could possibly be on the list. For instance, I read Tom Sawyer by Twain, but I didn’t finish Huckleberry Finn, but they were both part of a single volume. Also, I read about 95% of Pelikan’s 5th volume in his The Christian Tradition series. Honesty is the policy!

What’s interesting to me is to see how many works of fiction I read. It hit me over a year ago that for the last ten or so years of my life I’d been reading theology, history, and philosophy to the neglect of literature. I finished my master’s thesis in September 2010, so I devoted my time afterwards to try and catch up on fiction. Noteworthy books of 2011 were those by or on Orwell, Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.

What’s also interesting is that when I look back on the list, it doesn’t seem that long ago that I read those books, and I can often remember with some clarity where I was when I read a particular book. It’s strange to be able to mark our your year by the books that were read.

This coming year, with the hope of being in a doctoral program, means that the next list will have a lot more non-fiction. But with the good start I had last year with literature, I hope to keep it up—in fact, I want reading literature to maintain a life-long interest. I hope to read some more Dickens because it is the 200th anniversary of his birth this February. I’m also hoping to finish the Orwell corpus this year, as well as Taylor’s biography of him. I’ll keep a record of it here.

So, here’s the list of 2011:

1) Stephen R. Holmes, God of Grace and God of Glory: An Account of the Theology of Jonathan Edwards (completed Jan. 9, 2011).

2) Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (completed Jan. 17, 2011).

3) George Orwell, Why I Write (completed Jan. 29/30, 2011).

4) Carl R. Trueman, Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History (completed Jan. 31, 2011).

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Filed under books