Category Archives: creation

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)

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

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:

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

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.”

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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).

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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.

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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!

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Bryan College Conference and Adam

Bryan College and the Bryan Institute recently hosted a conference called “Reading Genesis 1-2,” dealing with the doctrine of creation and its entailments. The keynote speakers were John Walton of Wheaton, Jack Collins of Covenant, Tremper Longman of Westmont, Victor Hamilton (moderator) of Asbury, Richard Averbeck of TEDS, and Ted Beall of Capital. Break-out sessions included various evangelical scholars dealing with a whole range of topics, such as David Powlison on the nature/nurture debate; T. M. Moore on culture; J. Budzieszewski on Niebuhr’s view of culture; Kelly Kapic on rendering to Caesar; and a whole lot more (see here for audio from all of the sessions).

There were a number of panel discussions between the main speakers. This one is a discussion of the historical Adam issue, and is particularly relevant because one of the key-note speakers, Longmann, holds to a theistic evolution view of creation and argues that Adam was likely not an historical person. I haven’t listened to this yet, but I thought it might be helpful for those of us going to the talk on Adam next week.

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Resources on Creation and the Framework View

“By a simple reading of Genesis, these days must be described as days in the life of God, but how his days relate to human days is more difficult to determine” (ESV Study Bible note for Genesis 1:3-5).

History

Robert Letham: “In the Space of Six Days”: The Days of Creation from Origen to the Westminster Assembly – Reformed theologian Robert Letham’s, who currently teaches at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology, article for the Westminster Theological Journal that deals with the history of interpretation of the creation days in Genesis from the church fathers to the Westminster Assembly. Letham concludes there there is no consensus in church history as to what the days mean. This is must reading for anyone studying the issue of creation days.

William S. Barker: “The Westminster Assembly On the Days of Creation: A Reply to David W. Hall.” Barker is a published expert on the Westminster Assembly and taught church history at Westminster Seminary (PA) until his retirement. This essay was published in the Westminster Theological Journal in 2000 and is an historical response to young earth creationist David Hall. Barker argues that there was no uniform view of the creation days among the Westminster Divines and thus the statement about “in the space of six days” was primarily a refutation of the Augustinian view of instantaneous creation held in the middle ages. Ministerial candidates should not have to declare an exception to the Standards’ teaching on six days because of the ambiguity of the language. Unfortunately a subscription is required to view this essay, but I have it in its entirety as a PDF.

Max Rogland, “Ad Litteram: Some Dutch Reformed Theologians on the Creation Days.” This essay, from Westminster Theological Journal (Fall 2001), written by a presbyterian minister, and professor of OT at Erskine College, and who has a PhD in OT from Leiden, argues that it is erroneous to say that late-twentieth century and early twenty-first century Dutch Reformed theologians held to the 24 hour, six day creation. He evaluates Kuyper, Bavinck, Honig, Aalders, Schilder, and some synods to demonstrate this. The only Dutch theologian who possibly held the 24 hour view was Vos, but it is hard to tell from his writings. This link requires a subscription, but I have it in PDF if anyone wants it.

Confessional Subscription

None of the sixteenth-century Reformed confessions mention the days of creation, because to this point in church history there was no consensus on them, thus it was not a confessional issue.

Westminster Seminary and the Days of Creation – Westminster Theological Seminary’s (PA) statement on the days of creation and how their faculty have historically understood them in light of inerrancy. WTS upholds inerrancy and allows for various young-earth and old-earth interpretations. They argue that “in the space of” as a qualifier for the “six days” is a refutation of Augustine’s view of instantaneous creation, not a reflection of the Standards’ view of the creation days themselves. Westminster Confession subscriptionists such as Hodge, Warfield, Machen, Young did not see their “day age” views as contradictory of the Standards.

Creation Report of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church – Study Committee on Creation’s report to the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The report concludes that the major evangelical views (days of ordinary length, day age, days of unspecified length, the framework view, the analogical day view) square with the statements about creation in the Westminster Standards. Subscription to “six days” can be preserved through different permissible understandings of the word “day.” Note: The OPC is a conservative and Reformed denomination in the US and Canada that was founded by Machen and requires subscription to the Westminster Standards by their ministers.

Creation Report of the Presbyterian Church in America – This is a report that is similar to the OPC’s noted above, and came out before the OPC’s. Like the OPC, the PCA requires their ministers to subscribe to the Westminster Standards. The report concludes with the recommendation (that was accepted by the General Assembly): “That since historically in Reformed theology there has been a diversity of views of the creation days among highly resected (sic) theologicans, and, since the PCA has from its inception allowed a diversity, that the Assembly affirm that such diversity as covered in this report is acceptable as long as the full historicity of the creation account is accepted.”

Hermeneutics and the Creation Wars by R. Scott Clark. This essay is written to relate the hermeneutical principles of the Reformation, including the principle of sola scriptura, to the recent “creation wars.” Clark is a historical theologian who specializes in the Reformation and post-Reformation periods; he teaches at Westminster in California. Clark is concerned with showing that to hold a Framework reading of Genesis is in line with a Reformed hermeneutic.

Perspicuity, Exegetical Populism, and Tolerance by William B. Evans. This is a response to G. I. Williamson who argued that a plain reading of Genesis 1, read as if a non-trained Christian were reading it, will lead one to a young earth, six day creation view. Evans is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian minister, a professor at Erskine College, was an editor of the New Geneva Study Bible, has written for Banner of Truth, and is a member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals where he blogs at Reformation 21 (edited by Derek Thomas). This essay argues against “exegetical populism,” and in favour of tolerance for all evangelical views of creation including the Framework, Day Age and Analogical Day views.

Framework View

The Framework Interpretation: An Exegetical Summary by Lee Irons. A very readable introduction to the framework view. This was originally published in the Ordained Servant, a magazine for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Irons co-wrote a chapter with Meredith Kline in The Genesis Debate book that I read and found very convincing, and this essay (though more popular) has the same exegetical rigour. Especially good is the discussion of “temporal recapitulation.” This is a great place to start for an understanding of this view.

Framework Interpretation by various authors. This article is a combination of lengthy selections from other written material on the framework view. It is quite introductory and easy to read; the charts give a visual picture of what is going on in Genesis 1. The second excerpt is quite helpful in its discussion of how the “formless and void” is being filled by the two triads of days.

Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony by Meredith Kline – This was written for the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith journal in 1996. At the time of writing, Kline taught at Westminster Seminary in California, before that he taught at Westminster in PA, Reformed Theological Seminary and Gordon Conwell. Kline was a major Old Testament scholar and was one of the principal teachers of the framework view. This essay is very influential.

Because It Had Not Rained by Meredith Kline. From the Westminster Theological Journal written in 1958. This was Kline’s earlier contribution to the development of the “framework” view. He argues for the use of “ordinary providence” in the creation narrative, based upon Gen. 2:5.

Because It Had Rained: A Study of Genesis 2:5-7 With Implications for Gen. 2:4-25 and Gen. 1:1-2:3 by Mark Futato – This was written for Westminster Theological Journal as a compliment to the previously linked article by Kline. Futato is currently Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, though at the time of writing he taught at Westminster Seminary (California).

Origins by Justin Taylor. This is a blogpost that summarizes the Futato article linked above, written from the “analogical day” perspective. Taylor is the editor of the ESV Stuby Bible and is VP of the editorial board of Crossway Publishers. Before going to Crossway, he worked for John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries. Taylor’s blog, Between Two Worlds, is one of the most widely read evangelical blogs.

God Created the Heavens and the Earth by Kim Riddlebarger. This is a sermon preached by Riddlebarger at Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, of which he is pastor with Mike Horton. This sermon is from a Framework perspective and shows how naturally this view springs from the text of scripture. Riddlebarger is one of the hosts of the White Horse Inn radio program.

Thoughts on Those Genesis Days by Rowland S. Ward. The author is a very conservative Australian Presbyterian minister who is an expert in Reformed theology. This article defends the Framework Interpretation from a biblical, theological, and historical position, and shows that it does not break with the “Three Forms of Unity” (Dort, Belgic, Heidelberg). He also deals with criticisms that a non-24hr 6-day view is not in keeping with a plain reading of the text and is on a slippery slope.

Review of Douglas Kelly’s Creation and Change by Lee Irons. Douglas Kelly wrote a defense of young-earth creation that is critical of old earth views. He devotes a chapter to critiquing the Framework view. Lee Irons writes a pretty thorough response.

Sermon on Genesis 1:1 by J. V. Fesko. This sermon was preached by Fesko, prof. of systematic and historical theology at Westminster California, at Geneva OPC in Woodstock, GA. He makes the interesting point that the creationist movement has its roots in Seventh Day Adventism and dispensationalism.

Animal Death Before the Fall by Lee Irons. Evaluates the four key texts used to argue that there was no animal death before the Fall, and two texts that support the idea.

Books 

Bill T. Arnold, Encountering the Book of Genesis: A Study of Its Content and Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 24, argues for the framework view of creation days (see Table 1.1).

Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVaristy Press, 1984). When I first read this book I was deeply impressed by how well-rounded it was in terms of exegesis, theology and philosophy. Blocher taught at Wheaton, and his other book Original Sin is the lead book in Don Carson’s “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series.

David Hagopian (ed.) The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation (Mission Viejo: Crux Press, 2001). Contributors: Ligon Duncan and David Hall (24 hour view); Hugh Ross and Gleason Archer (day age); Lee Irons and Meredith Kline (Framework). I believe this was the first book I read on the subject, rather innocently. I was surprised by how poorly the 24 hour perspective was argued, because I highly respect Duncan and Hall and love their work. Their chapter was full of generalizations and dismissals, and I didn’t feel that it really had much of an argument. The Ross and Archer chapter seemed to be too influenced by science and had little in the way of exegesis. The Framework view by Irons and Kline is strong exegetically, very well argued, and deals decisively with criticisms. It’s worth the price of the book just for their chapter.

James M. Houston, I Believe in the Creator (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, ). Houston is the founder and first chancellor of Regent College in Vancouver. Before that he taught engineering at Oxford University, where he also did his PhD. He has written a number of books on theology and spirituality, including a reprint of John Owen’s work on sin. In I Believe in the Creator, he argues for the framework reading of Genesis 1, based on the “forming and filling” triad.

Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2006). This is the reprint of his important book on Genesis that became a standard exposition of the Framework interpretation. Here is a PDF of the first forty pages.

Peter Leithart, A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, ). Leithart, a noted Reformed theologian who did his PhD at Cambridge and teaches at New St. Andrews College, argues for the framework reading of Genesis 1 on page 45 of this book.

Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006). Numbers, is a former Seventh Day Adventist; he is also an historian of Adventism and an expert on the history of science. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin, and in this book demonstrates that the young earth creationist movement has its roots in the Seventh Day Adventist tradition,  American fundamentalism, and is a recent view in the history of the church. The book is endorsed by George Marsden.

Ronald L. Numbers, “The Creationists” in Zygon 22.2 (June 1987): 133-164. This article contains the substance of his arguments in the book noted above. I have it as a PDF if anyone wants it.

John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009). This entire book is an exegesis of Genesis 1, and demonstrates in detail the framework structure of the chapter. John Walton is a respected OT scholar who teaches at Wheaton, before that he taught for 20 years at Moody.

John H. Walton, Genesis The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).  He argues for the framework pattern in his comments on Genesis 1.

Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 Word Biblical Commentary 1 (Waco, TX: Word, ). In the section dealing with the days of creation, Wenham argues for the framework pattern of two triads of filling.

The article in the New Bible Dictionary (co-edited by Packer) by Gordon Wenham speaks of the poetic nature and the literary framework of Genesis 1-2. So does the article in The Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theoloby (ed. by Walter Elwell).

Age of the Earth

PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth in Modern Reformation magazine. The authors are geologists who are also members of PCA churches. They give evidence from their field that the earth is old.

Apparent Age & Theology: Appearance of Age in a False History? by Craig Rusbult. This article gives helpful distinctions between categories (like essential and non-essential apparent age). He argues that non-essential apparent age, like the left-over light from a super-nova, has no intrinsic need or value for creation, and would make God out to be open to creating falsehoods if a young earth with “mature creation.”


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