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).