Category Archives: reformed theology

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 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).

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* 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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Guido de Bres

Here is a neat cartoon advertising a children’s book about Guido de Bres (1522-1567), the man behind the Belgic Confession:

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Baptists, Signs and Rationalism

I have a further thought regarding R. Scott Clark’s recent series on baptism that he posted on his Heidelblog. In the fifth part, near the end, he says, “Baptists know that they, like Reformed congregations, have unregenerate members but by administering baptism only to those who make a profession of faith they are doing what they can to ensure a regenerate membership. From a Reformed view of covenant theology it is quite difficult to see how this is not, at bottom, a form of rationalism. If it is rationalism that would not be surprising since an over-realized eschatology, which Luther called a theology of glory (theologia gloriae (sic) is just another form of rationalism.”

Knowing that Dr. Clark would disagree with paedocommunion, is he not open to the same charge? If the church only administers this sacrament to those who have been confirmed (or whatever the URC does in light of confirmation), is that also not a form of rationalism? Only in this instance the minister is making a decision to withhold the cup from someone who has actually been baptised and for all intents and purposes is “received into God’s church” (Belgic Confession, Article 34). If the minister can withhold this sacrament from a church member and not the other sacrament, this would appear, on Dr. Clark’s part, to be an even more insipid form of rationalism.

During the Halfway Covenant controversy it is well-known that Jonathan Edwards was removed from his charge in Northampton, Mass. This removal was instanced by Edwards’ refusal to allow members of a “halfway covenant” to the table. In his Distinguishing Marks of the Spirit of God he developed what he called “negative” and “positive signs” that demonstrated, for the sake of the church, whether or not the Spirit had converted someone. While Edwards recognised that the signs in and of themselves proved nothing in terms of whether a person was truly converted (i.e. it was not a sure sign for assurance), it did serve an ecclesiological function: namely, whether a person has given a credible profession of faith that would admit him or her to the privileges of the church. He delineates this in An Humble Inquiry where he says, “The question is not, whether Christ has made converting grace or piety itself the condition or rule of his people’s admitting any to the privileges of members in full communion with them: there is no one qualification of mind, whatsoever, that Christ has properly made the term of this; not so much as a common belief that Jesus is the Messiah, or a belief of the being of a God. ‘Tis the credible profession and visibility of these things, that is the church’s rule in this case. Christian piety or godliness may be a qualification requisite to communion in the Christian sacraments, just in the same manner as a belief that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Scriptures the Word of God, are requisite qualifications, and in the same manner as some kind of repentance is a qualification” (Works 12:176, emphasis mine).

Is Edwards here guilty of rationalism by seeking to “inquire” (pardon the pun) into the condition of a person’s heart in order to admit them to the privileges of the church? Worse, is Edwards not guilty of falling prey to the theology of glory as Luther would understand it in the Heidelberg Disputation? There Luther said, “That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which actually happened. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” Is Edwards a “theologian” or not? Are Baptists theologians or not? Is R. Scott Clark a theologian or not? If we peer into the “invisible things” such as whether a child is converted and can take the eucharist, are we not undeserving of the title “theologian”? In regard to Edwards, Stephen Holmes would argue the opposite, that rather Edwards actually pushed Reformed orthodoxy further away from the theology of glory into a more (but not totally) consistent theologia crucis–Edwards’ overall theological enterprise views God’s glory through the cross, which is the burden of Holme’s work to demonstrate (Holmes, God of Grace, 76, 122-123).

It would be a stretch to accuse Baptists of rationalism when baptising only those who have given a credible profession of faith. I bring this up not to single out Dr. Clark, but as a sincere request to have this matter cleared for my own convictions. The last thing I want, as a Baptist, is to be guilty of rationalism or theologia gloriae. At this point, admittedly, I’m not convinced that I am.

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The New Covenant Community

R. Scott Clark, who teaches at Westminster Seminary California, has recently posted a series on the differences between paedobaptists and credobaptists on the New Covenant. I appreciate the series for its clearness in expressing his views–while not the standard interpretation from a paedo view (one thinks of Richard Pratt’s take)–it is nonetheless extremely clear. I’m also thankful that the rhetoric that can be so common to such debates is toned down to a dull roar. That often masks the argument to such a degree that I rarely continue to the end. In this case, I read all five points with profit.

Dr. Clark is right to point out that the issue between the two groups really centers on the question, “In what sense is the New Covenant new?” I’ve had a number of discussions over the years with good friends who are paedobaptists and I’ve found that our disagreements almost always find their root at this point.

In Clark’s understanding, the New Covenant is entirely new in relation to the Mosaic Covenant, but is not entirely new in relation to the Abrahamic. In fact, the blessings of the New Covenant, that were first announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34 are all found substantively in the Abrahamic Covenant. He says in Part 4: “In Jeremiah 31 the prophet anticipates five great blessings of the new covenant,” although he goes on to list only four: 1) an immutable covenant; 2) an interior piety; 3) an immediate knowledge; 4) an iniquity forgiven.

While I do not disagree that such blessings were indeed found in the Abrahamic Covenant–I would argue that they were found even before in the over-arching covenant of grace beginning at Genesis 3:15–the question is, “Are these blessings constitutive of the entire covenant community, or just those within the community who were ‘saved’ (for lack of a better term)?” For the believer, pre or post-Abrahamic Covenant, indeed they received such blessings. But what of the Jew who performed all of the ceremonies in a perfunctory manner, yet whose heart was not circumcised–an “unbelieving Jew” if you will–is he a recipient of these four blessings outlined by Jeremiah?

The argument for the credobaptist is that the blessings of Jeremiah 31 are for all of the members of the New Covenant. I don’t have to turn to fellow covenant members and tell them to know the Lord, because they already do. I don’t have to tell them to repent because they already have forgiveness of sins. This is so because they are members of an immutable covenant, have the law written on their hearts and have their sins forgiven in Christ.

So, while the issue between us is indeed the New Covenant, to be more specific, it is this: “Are the blessings of the New Covenant, promised by Jeremiah, for the covenant community as a whole?” If yes, then the difference between the Abrahamic is apparent, because this is not the case for that covenant. If the answer is no (to preserve the absolute correspondence with Abraham), then explain the language of law written on hearts, forgiveness of sins, etc.

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The Order of the Decrees

Stephen Holmes, in his book God of Grace and God of Glory, says this about why proposing a logical order to God’s decrees is important:

Decrees are, of course, not before or after one another in time–they are all alike God’s decision from all eternity–but they may be logically, and this in two ways. Firstly, decrees that are means to ends can be regarded as consequent on the decree of the end that is in view; secondly, if one decree presupposes another, it may be regarded as dependent on the decree of the thing presupposed. So, God’s decree to punish sinful creatures is consequent on both the decree to glorify Himself–the end to which this decree is a means–and the decree that (some) creatures will be sinful–the necessary basis for this decree.

Stephen R. Holmes, God of Grace and God of Glory: An Account of the Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 128.

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Post-Reformation Digital Library

The H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies (I have their mug) at Calvin College and Seminary host the Post-Reformation Digital Library. It is a collection of documents from every thinker in the Reformed and Lutheran tradition from the Magisterial Reformation to probably the mid-eighteenth century. This included works by the Reformed orthodox as well as heretical groups such as the Socinians and Unitarians. There is also a good selection of secondary source material and links to sites dealing with patristic and medieval literature. This is a great one-stop-place for everything related to the study of this tradition and era. Most of what they’ve amassed comes from Google Books, so not a lot of it is newly scanned material. But it is great to have it all in one place. Here’s the material by Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656):

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Calvin vs. the Calvinists

Twentieth century Calvin scholarship saw the rise of a theory that there was a stark theological divide between John Calvin and his later followers. Basil Hall, Karl Barth, R. T. Kendall and others have posited this view, and in a lot of circles it is bought into.

Richard Muller, historian at Calvin College, has written much to debunk this thesis. His works on Christ and the decree, Calvin and later Calvinists and his magisterial four volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics are just a smattering of ways in which he’s demolished the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” school.

My friend David Daniels, who writes at Wise Reader, has a great review of the four volume set at the Christian Week website. Read the review and if you’re so inclined, buy Muller’s works. Here’s a quote:

Muller will require focused, disciplined reading. But those who invest the time will find rich reward. And the 123-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources will provide a lifetime of further research for those so inclined.

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Willem van Asselt site

Willem J. van Asselt is a very important scholar specialising in the post-Reformation period. He teaches church history at Utrecht University. He has wrriten numerous articles and major studies on Voetius, Coccejus and Protestant scholasticism. When dealing with Reformed orthodoxy in any way, van Asselt must be consulted.

Thankfully, he has a website! Much of his writings are available there for download as part of his bibliography. I highly recommend this as a resource for budding historians of this period.

HT: Thomas Goodwin

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Filed under church history, puritans, reformed theology, research