Monthly Archives: January 2012

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).

***UPDATE***

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

Advertisements

6 Comments

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

8 Comments

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

2 Comments

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

3 Comments

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).

2 Comments

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.

2 Comments

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).

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under books

Spurgeon, Pink, and Terrestrial Antiquity

Charles Spurgeon wasn’t one to shy away from the shock-value of things he believed or practiced. The great Victorian preacher was noteworthy for his collection of wine, and his wont for smoking large cigars. When confronted on either of these issues, his quick-witted replies were of Churchillian proportions (for his wit, see here). Even when not intending to shock, some of his actions did so anyway. For instance, he drew his Metropolitan Tabernacle out of the Baptist Union in England over liberalism, a move that surely shocked his friends in the denomination.

In light of the delight I’m sure he took in upending peoples’ sensibilities, I must admit to chuckling a little when I think of the surprise I had when I first read statements on the age of the earth in his sermons. In one called “Election,” found in the  The New Park Street Pulpit 1, p. 13, he said:

“Can any man tell me when the beginning was? Years ago we thought the beginning of this world was when Adam came upon it; but we have discovered that thousands of years before that God was preparing chaotic matter to make it a fit abode for man, putting races of creatures upon it, who might die and leave behind the marks of his handiwork and marvelous skill, before he tried his hand on man.”

He surprisingly—and I use that word intentionally—makes the statement that the relationship between the creation of the earth and subsequently of man was not close, but that “we have discovered” (who is we? The scientific community of his day?) that there was a gap of thousands of years between the two. Does this mean he was a proponent of the “Ruin-Reconstruction” view of creation? This is an Old Earth Creation view, held also by Thomas Chalmers, another great Reformed theologian, that argues for a gap in time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 of billions of years. It was a means for bible-believing Christians to reconcile their reading of Genesis 1 with recent scientific discoveries. It is also surprising to read that he believed that animals “who might die,” who leave things behind–he must mean dinosaurs?–and yet who were on the earth before Adam and his fall.

Another quote of Spurgeon’s, from his sermon “The Power of the Holy Spirit,” from the same volume, p. 229, has likewise striking comment about the age of the earth:

“In the 2d verse of the first chapter of Genesis, we read, ‘And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.’ We know not how remote the period of the creation of this globe may be—certainly many millions of years before the time of Adam. Our planet has passed through various stages of existence, and different kinds of creatures have lived on its surface, all of which have been fashioned by God. But before that era came, wherein man should be its principal tenant and monarch, the Creator gave up the world to confusion. He allowed the inward fires to burst up from beneath, and melt all the solid matter, so that all kinds of substances were commingled in one vast mass of disorder.”

Here he says that the creation period of the earth was “certainly” millions of years before the time of Adam.

Both of these statements are surprising because I just assumed that Spurgeon would have held to a young earth. I haven’t read enough of his works to know what his over-all creational theology was–it would be an interesting study. But for a man who was bred on the best of Puritan and Reformed theology from childhood, who likely had a photographic memory, and was probably a genius, coupled with the fact that he was living during the period of unprecedented scientific discovery, these are startling statements indeed. I’m interested to know more about his views on this subject. I’m also interested to know what sources he read that would inform his theology.

On a related note, a quote by Arthur W. Pink, one who has had a lesser, but none-the-less significant, impact for Reformed theology like Spurgeon did, is similarly surprising to me: “Nothing is said which enables us to fix the date of their creation; nothing is revealed concerning their appearance or inhabitants; nothing is told us about the modus operandi of their Divine Architect. We do not know whether the primitive heaven and earth were created a few thousands, or many millions of years ago. We are not informed as to whether they were called into existence in a moment of time, or whether the process of their formation covered an interval of long ages” (Gleanings in Genesis, p. 13). Pink was ultra-conservative, he was well-versed in the best of Puritan and Reformed theology, and was staunchly against liberalism. To read him say that he was agnostic on the age of the earth is interesting (such a bland, and vague word!). While Pink’s quote is worth exploring, I must admit to being more intrigued over what Spurgeon had to say. Hopefully I’ll have more on here that will shed some light on the subject–let there be light!

3 Comments

Filed under a w pink, creation, quotes, science, spurgeon

Dischronologization

Dischronologization–that’s a word you probably can’t say ten times fast. But it’s an important word, or at least concept, to understand when we read our bibles. I’m not sure if he coined the term or not, but O. T. Allis, founding professor of Old Testament (hence his interesting initials!) at Westminster Seminary, gives us a good explanation of the way scripture will at times take an historical narrative and shape it for another purpose. In his very important The Old Testament: Its Claims and Its Critics, he says, speaking generally about scripture, that “The sequence in which events are recorded may not be strictly chronological.” Why is this the case? Because the author has “the tendency to complete a topic or subject, carrying it forward to conclusion or a logical stopping-place and then to return to the point of departure and resume the main thread of the narrative” (p. 97). An example of his pattern of dischronology is Ezra 4:1-24, where the temple is being built but suffers from opposition. In vv. 1-5 there is opposition to the rebuilding during the reign of Cyrus (late 6th century), in vv. 6-23 the author stops, and moves back in time to the opposition to the building of the temple in the fifth century, and in v. 24, returns again to the sixth century.

This pattern of dischronology is helpful to understand the New Testament text as well, especially when we are confronted with “contradictions” between gospel narratives (the so-called “Synoptic Problem”). If one were to compare two accounts of our Lord’s temptation in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13, it becomes readily apparent that there are differences in the chronological rendering. As New Testament scholar Darrel Bock puts it in the first volume of his commentary on Luke: “It is…clear that one of the Gospel writers has rearranged the order for literary reasons. The event shows that the Gospel writers are not averse to arranging materials for the sake of topical or theological concerns” (p. 365).

Ronald Youngblood, an Old Testament scholar who has taught at TEDS, Wheaton, and Bethel, applies this to Genesis 1 in his JETS article “Moses and the King of Siam“: “Chronology was not always important when relating historical events. Other concerns were sometimes in the forefront. Let us assume, then, for the sake of argument, that the events recorded in the first chapter of Gnesis are not set down in chronological order. This would explain, for example, how light could appear on the first ‘day’ although the light-bearing bodies were not made until the fourth ‘day.'”

Thus dischronologization is a helpful category for us when we are confronted with those who want to disparage the integrity of Scripture and point out so-called “errors.” Sometimes the author is making a theological point when he structures a passage rather than a chronological one. While this might sound odd to twenty-first century ears, who are used to reading rugged historical accounts by experts with PhD’s and lots of footnotes, this was quite a common practice in the ancient Near East and Graeco-Roman times.

2 Comments

Filed under bible, hermeneutics, inerrancy

Calvin on the Lord’s Supper

This is a quote from Bob Letham’s book The Lord’s Supper where he summarizes Calvin’s view of the spiritual presence of Christ in the elements of the bread and wine:

Christ does not come down to us in his body and blood. Instead, we are lifted up to him by the Holy Spirit. Christ, being the eternal Son of God, is of course, everywhere. Moreover, he has permanently united himself to the human nature assumed in the incarnation. In that sense, the person of Christ is present with us as we eat and drink. Yet, on earth, the Son of God was not restricted or confined to the humanity he assumed, but was simultaneously filling all things, directing the universe even as (according to the flesh) he walked the dusty roads of Palestine. So, at the right hand of God, the Son fills and directs the universe (Col. 1:15-20), now unbreakably united to his assumed humanity, while in terms of that same humanity he is limited and in one place. Yet that humanity is never separate or apart from the divinity, the eternal Son of God with whom and in whom it is one undivided person. Thus, in the sacrament the Holy Spirit unites the faithful to the person of Christ as they eat and drink the signs, the physical elements of bread and wine. There is an inseparable conjunction of sign and reality. As truly as we eat the bread and drink the wine, so we feed on Christ by faith.

Robert Letham, The Lord’s Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2001), 28-29.

In Calvin’s own words from The Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.17.32:

Now if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. And, to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it. Therefore, I here embrace without controversy the truth of God in which I may safely rest. He declares his flesh the food of my soul, his blood its drink [John 6:53ff.]. I offer my soul to him to be fed with such food. In his Sacred Supper he bids me take, eat, and drink his body and blood under the symbols of bread and wine. I do not doubt that he himself truly presents them, and that I receive them.

Leave a comment

Filed under calvin, eucharist, quotes

God Is Spirit

The new issue of The Gospel Witness is available, and I have an article in it entitled “God Is Spirit.” You can download it here.

Leave a comment

Filed under articles, god, gospel witness

New Credo Magazine Available

Credo Magazine released its January 2012 issue today entitled, “In Christ Alone.” There are essays in it by scholars like Gerald Bray and Nathan Finn, as well as interviews with David Wells, and Robert Peterson. Among the reviews is my own of Michael Haykin’s very useful Rediscovering the Church Fathers, that I think would make for a good textbook for first year patristics or historiography courses. You can access the PDF of the magazine here or in an open publication format – which means you can “flip” the pages on your screen. Below is the table of contents for the main essays:

Gerald Bray, “Does the Holy Spirit Speak Apart from Christ?” 23

Todd Miles, “The Fate of the Unevangelized and the Need for Faith in Christ,” 29

Todd Borger, “Can Inclusivism Be Supported by the Old Testament?” 39

Ardel B. Caneday, “‘Faith Comes By Hearing’: Some Lessons for Evangelicals?” 45

Timothy Beougher, “Does A Belief in Inclusivism Weaken Movitation and Evangelism?” 52

Nathan Finn, “Responding to Bell on Hell: Some Lessons for Evangelicals,” 58

My review is on page 72.

1 Comment

Filed under articles, credo magazine, michael haykin, reviews

New Issue of Mid-America Journal of Theology

The new issue of Mid-America Journal of Theology — vol. 22 (2011) — is out and in my hands. I’m thankful to Dr. J. Mark Beach, the editor, and the reviewers for publishing an essay of mine on the English Reformation. I’m hoping to get a PDF of it to post here at some point.

Here’s the contents:

Charles K. Telfer, “Toward a Historical Reconstruction of Sennacharib’s Invasion of Judah in 701 B.C., with Special Attention to the Hezekiah Narratives of Isaiah 36-39,” 7-18.

Cornelis P. Venema, “‘In This Way All Israel Will Be Saved’: A Study of Romans 11:26,” 19-40.

John C. Peckham, “The Analogy of Scripture Revisited: A Final Form Canonical Approach to Systematic Theology,” 41-54.

J. Mark Beach, “Calvin’s Treatment of the Offer of the Gospel and Divine Grace,” 55-76.

Ian Hugh Clary, “Backgrounds to the English Reformation: Three Views,” 77-88.

Laurence R. O’Donnell III, “Not Subtle Enough: An Assessment of Modern Scholarship on Herman Bavinck’s Reformulation of the Pactum Salutis Contra ‘Scholastic Subtlety,” 89-106.

As well as notes, homiletics, book reviews and notices.

4 Comments

Filed under articles, journals, mid-america journal of theology