Category Archives: evangelicalism

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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The Implications for Harvest

There are a number of reasons to be disturbed by James MacDonald’s invitation to T. D. Jakes to appear on the Elephant Room. My biggest disturbance has to do with the gospel here in the Toronto area. As most are aware, MacDonald heads the Harvest Bible Fellowship network of churches. There are a good number of Harvest churches in Ontario, most of which are near Toronto. They are vibrant, growing, gospel-centered, Calvinistic churches. I’m thankful for them and am always delighted to hear when new ones are planted.

What are the implications of MacDonald’s actions for Harvest churches?

If I were a minister in a Harvest Bible Chapel I would be severely upset to see the face of my movement courting heresy; and so naively. I’d be embarrassed to read MacDonald say that Jakes isn’t a modalist, and then define Jakes’ view of the Trinity in perfectly modalist terms (” T.D. Jakes website states clearly that he believes God has existed eternally in three manifestations”). I’d be horrified to read his dismissive treatment of those who are concerned with what’s happening–especially when some critics are respected leaders in the very same movement that MacDonald is a part of: The Gospel Coalition. Are Carl TruemanAnthony Carter and Thabiti Anyabwile’s concerns unfounded?

While MacDonald may not ultimately pay a personal price for his relationship with Jakes, whom he calls a brother, the churches in his movement will. Each minister and each church member now have to seriously reflect on whether they can partner with a minister who could be so willing to allow a wolf into the sheep-fold. They have to reconsider their involvement in a movement that has put its imprimatur on an ant-trinitarian, health-and-wealth heretic; because by extension, their membership in Harvest would imply their endorsement of MacDonald’s actions, whether explicit or implicit.

Last night a friend and I were talking about this whole mess. My friend was nonplussed over the virtual silence of TGC higher-ups like Justin Taylor, John Piper, Don Carson or Tim Keller. My hope is that there are a lot of back-room discussions about this and that the TGC guys are soon to be coming out with some strong actions against MacDonald. They must, not merely for the purity of abstract theology, because good theology is never merely abstract. MacDonald’s theological laxity will have direct impact on the churches he leads, and the TGC guys need to step up not only for the cause of the Trinity, but also for the churches who are sure to be damaged by this. I trust that these leaders will do what is right. We’ve already seen good responses from members like Trueman and Anyabwile, and if what Thabiti intimated is an indication–he spoke of discussing his initial post with respected leaders before putting it online–then surely others are concerned and talking.

I’m sad that this is happening. I’m sad that MacDonald has been so flippant. I’m sad because I love what Harvest is doing, and I don’t want it to stop or be hindered. These are the ecclesiological implications of bad theology and bad pastoring.

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Filed under churches, evangelicalism, harvest bible chapel, heresy, james macdonald, t d jakes, trinity

Tim Challies the Gnostic?

A friend’s blog pointed up Kevin Johnson’s critique of Tim Challies on the issue of doctrine and Christian unity. Johnson’s post is stunted at a number of levels.

First, why use a dying metaphor like “wax eloquently.” Why not think of something that conjures up a nice word picture? I’m your reader, you want my sympathy; don’t test my intelligence with banality. Was Tim’s waxing that eloquent? Or is this mere cheek for the sake of it?

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Whitefield’s Flaws

In the name of historical honesty, evangelicals must be willing to face the flaws of those we hold up as heroes. George Whitefield, the spark of the Evangelical Revival, was no doubt an incredible person. In many respects, he was what today we would call a celebrity. He counted Benjamin Franklin as a friend, crowds in the thousands thronged to hear him preach, he co-founded the Methodist movement and has left a legacy that evangelicals can look back on with pride.

However, there are some significant stains on his memory. Probably the worst was the purchase of slaves for personal use while in Georgia (1740). Mark Noll explains:

Whitefield’s all-or-nothing commitment to evangelism at the expense of well-considered Christian social ethics left an ambiguous legacy as well. His stance toward the institution of slavery is an instance. During 1740, he criticized Southern slave owners for mistreating slaves and took special pains on several occasions to preach to slaves. But he also decided on the spur of the moment that, since Europeans were unable or unwilling to work the land supporting his orphanage, it would be “impracticable” to survive in Georgia without purchasing “a few Negroes” as slaves. Whitefield, who preached so willingly to slaves, hardly gave a thought when he became a slaveowner himself.

Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys A History of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2003), 108.

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Defining Evangelicalism

Evangelicalism is hard to define. Is it a movement? An institution? Can it be described by a set of necessary beliefs? Historians are of many opinions; some even going so far as to deny that evangelical, as it is commonly used, is a valid term. Mark Noll of Notre Dame, in his The Rise of Evangelicalism, has some helpful thoughts:

“Evangelicalism” is too loose a designation ever to have produced a tidy historical record. To be sure, some thoroughly evangelical denominations possess well-organized and conveniently available archives. But many evangelicals have been active in mixed denominations where evangelical emphases exist alongside other convictions. Evangelicals have also established many stand-alone churches of the sort that are always difficult to document. And still more evangelicals have devoted much of their energy to multidenominational voluntary societies. Difficulties in controlling the subject notwithstanding, it is still possible to present a coherent history of evangelicalism as defined by genealogy and by principle.

By the same token, however, it is important to realize that the emphases of evangelicalism have shifted as they came to expression in different times and places. The late Canadian historian, George Rawlyk, who did so much to promote study of evangelical churches and movements in his native land, shrewdly observed on several occasions that evangelicalism has constituted a fluid subject.

The four main principles identified by David Bebbington do not exist in the same proportions or exert the same effects in all times and places. Sometimes the experience of conversion takes precedence, at others the concentration on Scripture as ultimate religious authority and at still others the importance of missionary or social action. The evangelical traditions consistently maintain the major evangelical traits, but they have done so with a tremendously diverse array of emphases, relationships and special concerns.

Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys A History of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2003), 20.


			

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Why the End (Probably) Isn’t Nigh

I must confess that I have mixed feelings when I see a billboard declaring May 21, 2011 to be the end of the world. If you live in a big city, you’ve likely seen them. Here in Toronto, one of our main subway stations is plastered with apocalyptic announcements posted by Harold Camping and Family Radio.

On the one hand, I am agitated by the billboards. I think, “How could Christians be so gullible?” After countless predictions by so many Christian-hucksters, why do my brothers and sisters take this foolishness seriously? Don’t they see that it comes as a source of embarrassment that Christians like myself have to explain to a jeering society?

A journalism student at Ryerson University recently interviewed me about the billboards and asked what I thought about the Evangelical fervour behind them. I had to admit to feeling a little red-faced because I get lumped with those who are perceived as naive and crazy. She further asked me what accounted for this millennial madness, to which my only reply was that Christians are ignorant. We are ignorant of the Bible’s teaching about the end. Jesus said very clearly in Matthew 24:36 that no one knows when the end will come; not angels and not even the Son himself, only the Father. Rather, Jesus will return like a thief in the night, as Paul would describe it. So why do Christians presume to know something that even Jesus, in his earthly ministry, was unaware? Christians are also ignorant of their own history, both distant as well as the more recent. In 999 there was an uproar over the coming apocalypse where people gave possessions to the church, freed criminals from prisons, and forgave debts all in the hopes of being ready for Jesus’ return. You can imagine the resultant disarray when Jesus did not come back! How hard it must have been to recapture the lucky prisoners who found themselves “sprung” because of a false prediction! More recently, would-be predictors like Jack Van Impe, Ronald Weinland and Harold Camping have fixed one failed calendar date after another to the return of Jesus. In the case of Camping, he wrote the book 1994? where he noted that some time in September of that year the end would come—interestingly, he refused to fix a specific day because of Matthew 24:36; what changed??? If Christian history is pock-marked by an endless cycle of failed eschatological predictions, why do people keep on believing it?

On the other hand, I am in some, small way excited about the possibility that Jesus could return soon. This is not because the billboards have convinced me; I believe in the immanence of Christ’s return regardless of what Harold Camping says. In my view, Jesus could indeed return on May 21—if he did, it would owe nothing to Camping’s calculations—he could also return tonight, or thousands of years from now. But the prospect of his return is exciting none-the-less. Indeed, I pray that he would! I would love to see my Saviour face-to-face, to bask in the radiance of his glory and to be free from the shackles of sin!

If there is one good thing that the “end-is-nigh” billboards can effect, it is that they can be a reminder, however misplaced in intention, that Jesus is indeed returning. This could incite non-believers to ask Christians questions about this. Just like Dan Brown’s ignorant novels provided opportunities for evangelism, so to do Camping’s likewise ignorant signs. So let’s not miss this opportunity to talk about our returning king.

This post is to appear at the Sola Scriptura Ministries blog.

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Filed under dispensationalism, end times, eschatology, evangelicalism, harold camping, ssmi, stupidity

Cynicism and the Church Historian

Historian Carl Trueman, author of the recent Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History, has a piece at Ref21 about the importance of cynical historians (sounds like he’s trying to justify his own existence!). His point is that for all of the hype and hyperbole about every new intellectual or cultural fad, most of the biggies (he even includes September 11 [I’ve stopped calling it 9/11, a la Martin Amis]) in history tend to have little impact on average people. Thus, historians are needed to put a proverbial fork “in it.” Here’s a couple of doozies:

We live in a Warhol world where everybody wants their fifteen minutes of fame, preferably while still here to enjoy it.  You can see this even in writing style.  Too many theologians think that the first person singular pronoun is like a main verb: no English sentence is properly complete without one.   It derives from overestimating the importance of the here and now; or, to put it more pointedly, the importance of ourselves and our contributions.

And this one:

And that is why church historians play such an important role and our cynicism is such a boon.  Church history keeps things in perspective. Through reading the texts and studying the actions and events of the past we can truly say that we have seen it all before.  Thus, whatever it is that the latest guru is suggesting, it definitely will not work as well as expected, probably will not work at all, and anyway it will be a hundred years or more before we can say whether it made a real difference or not.

For the entire thing see “The Price of Everything.”

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Carson’s Common Sense

Historian David Bebbington has said, “A specific inheritance from the Enlightenment was commonsense philosopohy” (Bebbington, “The Dominance of Evangelicalism,” 123). Commonsense realism, as it is often referred to, owes its popularity to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid who taught ethics at Glasgow University from 1764-1796. Incidentally, this is the same university that Irish Baptist Alexander Carson attended as an undergraduate. Indeed, Carson calls Reid “the first name in moral science” (p. 402).

Common sense philosophy was the principle opponent of the skepticism of David Hume, but as Bebbington observes, it was also used to defend against German  rationalism and the philosophy of Mill. As an apologist Carson wrote much against higher criticism, or Neologism, that came out of Germany and used the categories of common sense in his defense.

Here is a quote from Carson that situates him well within this tradition:

Philosophers have laboured much to rest all their knowledge on the foundations, not only of self-evident, but of necessary truth. They have esteemed it an affront to their art, not to be able to deduce all their doctrines from the intuitive light of their own reasoning faculty. Evidence has been supposed to consist in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas; and, consequently, to believe anything which is not the result of the operation of reason, is to believe without authority.

For this purpose, some of our greatest philosophers have renounced the empire of common sense, and commenced their career with universal scepticism (sic). Even their own existence, and the existence of the world, cannot be taken for granted. These truths must be proved by reason, or they must want a foundation. But they have laboured in vain. After all the exertions of the greatest human faculties, it cannot be proved even that there is a world, unless implicit credence is given to the testimony of the senses. Not only do men in general, but even philosophers themselves, continue to believe in their own existence, and in the existence of the world, not from the arguments alleged by Des Cartes (sic), Malebranche, Arnauld, and Locke, but from the testimony of consciousness and the senses.

The theologian who loves to strut in the philosopher’s steps, and to ape his sentiments and language, has, also, talked much of subjecting the contents of the Word of God to the control and determinations of reason. What cannot be comprehended or accounted for by the reasoning faculty, it is supposed irrational to believe. With this standard in his hands, he goes through the Scriptures, pruning, and retrenching, and refining, and supplying, that the dictates of the Spirit may be modelled (sic), so as to pass the review of human reason.

Alexander Carson, “Faith the Foundation of the Greater Part of Human Knowledge,” in Works (London/Edinburgh: Hamilton, Adams/Wm. White, 1847) 1:401-402.

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Interacting with Bebbington on the Enlightenment

In an earlier post I summarized David Bebbington’s chapter on the Enlightenment from his excellent book The Dominance of Evangelicalism. Here I link to some responses to his views, not just from this book, but from his overall historical project. The first place anyone should turn to for a response to Bebbington, on a range of issues, is The Advent of Evangelicalism edited by Michael A. G. Haykin and Kenneth J. Stewart. There are three chapters in this book that deal with the issue of Bebbington on the Enlightenment, two of which are available in other forms on the internet.

The first is a direct response to Bebbington on the Enlightenment, by Haykin, called “Evangelicalism and the Enlightenment: a reassessment.” This is the second chapter of Advent and also appears in similar form in Loving the God of Truth ed. Andrew M. Fountain.

The second is Stewart’s chapter dealing with the doctrine of scripture: “The evangelical doctrine of Scripture, 1650-1850: a re-examination of David Bebbington’s theory.” This essay appears in Evangelical Quarterly 67.2 (2005): 135-153 as “Does Evangelicalism Pre-Date the 18th Century? An Examination of the David Bebbington Thesis.”

The third is Garry J. Williams’ chapter “Englightenment epistemology and eighteenth-century evangelical doctrines of assurance.” This can be found in Tyndale Bulletin 53.2 (2002): 283-312 as “Was Evangelicalism Created by the Enlightenment?

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Bebbington on the Enlightenment

The following is a point-form summary from my reading of David Bebbington’s chapter “The Legacy of the Enlightenment” from his book The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody The History of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 117-147. Here he discusses the relationship evangelicals had with the philosophical period of the so-called “age of reason.” I’m putting these summary-statements on the blog mostly for personal use, but if someone finds them helpful, well…I’m glad. Unless you’re a nerd like me, though, you’ll be bored with this:

– Bebbington begins by noting that the ideas of evangelicals in the late nineteenth-century were molded by the earlier phase of Western thought called the Enlightenment

– It is worth nothing at this early point that Bebbington does not get into the debate over how to define the Englightenment (think for instance of the recent revision by Gertrude Himmelfarb)

– The Enlightenment “method” was a “single-minded” quest for knowledge about how the world operated

– Seeking an end to metaphysical debates, empirical techniques were developed: “There was a premium on science, on exploration, on wisdom from new sources” (117; see also 122)

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Midweek Prayer – An Evangelical Tradition

“Corporate prayer was felt to be barely less essential to a congregation. ‘The weekly prayer-meeting’ it was said, ‘is the pulse of the church.’ If the prayer meeting was enthusiastic and well attended, the vitality of the congregation could be guaranteed. Normally held on a weeknight evening, it offered an opportunity for lay members to offer spontaneous prayers.”

David W. Bebbington, The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody A History of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 84.

I’m especially appalled when I hear of Christians who do not attend prayer meeting at their church, especially if they’re members. They expect all of the privileges of membership without any commitment. I am acquainted with one church of over two-hundred where almost no one attends the midweek prayer meeting. The response? Cancel prayer meeting. I know another church that makes prayer meeting a requirement for membership, that is orally affirmed in the church covenant, and a person who does not have a reasonable excuse for their absence, can be removed from the membership.

What is especially despicable is when church leaders themselves don’t attend prayer meeting. This, in my mind, is disqualification for eldership. I know I write harshly, but prayer meeting is ballast both for the individual Christian and for the church. While it is not as important as Lord’s Day worship, it is nonetheless indispensable. As demonstrated from the quote above, this is an evangelical tradition–one that I hope does not get lost.

***UPDATE***

Many thanks to Bob T. who commented on this. He rightly points out that there are some who cannot make prayer meeting for legitimate reasons, he cites work as an example. We could add to that list seniors and young mothers who may also have reasonable excuses for missing prayer meeting. I should have been clearer in my original post and qualified my concern for those who have no good reason not to attend.

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More on Bonhoeffer and Metaxas

Further on my earlier post (scroll down), Tim Challies links to Richard Weikart’s excellent article critiquing Eric Metaxas’ biography Bonhoeffer. This goes into much further detail than the one I linked to in my post and comes from an evangelical perspective. Check out “Metaxas’ Counterfeit Bonhoeffer: An Evangelical Critique.”

***UPDATE*** Carl Trueman offers his thoughts, making a useful comparison between the reception of Bonhoeffer in evangelical circles with that of C. S. Lewis: “Bonhoeffer and Anonymous Christians.”

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New Haykin Book – Extract

Here is an extract from a new book co-edited by Dr. Michael Haykin. It is a concerted effort to address David Bebbington’s “quadrilateral” and includes contributions by Ken Stewart (co-editor), Crawford Gribben, Paul Coffey, and others. This extract includes portions of Paul Helm’s chapter.
Currently the book is available in the UK and will be in North America soon(ish). It’s title is: The Emergence of Evangelicalism.

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