Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Presbyterian Appeasement

It is remarkable how hostile many otherwise conservative Presbyterians are towards young earth creationism. Why remarkable? Because Presbyterians profess adherence to the Westminster Confession, which affirms the inerrancy and full authority of Scripture (I-4,9) as well as, in particular, the creation of the world "in the space of six days" (IV-1). The latter confessional tenet seems to have become a source of great embarrassment to Presbyterians.

Consider the recent double-barrelled salvo against young earth creationism launched by authors from both the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC): "PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth", in the magazine Modern Reformation (May/June 2010) and "Preachers in Lab Coats and Scientists in Geneva Gowns", by Dr. Bryan Estelle, in the OPC magazine Ordained Servant (Nov.2010).
 
Dr. Estelle is an OPC pastor who teaches Old Testament at Westminster Seminary California. Interestingly, the editor of Modern Reformation--Dr. Michael Horton--also teaches at Westminster. Indeed, much of the PCA/OPC antagonism towards the plain reading of Genesis stems from Westminster Seminary, largely due to the past labours of the late Prof. Meredith Kline, zealous promoter of the Framework Hypothesis.

Placating Geologists
The prime concern in both articles is that the overwhelming majority of geologists believe the earth to be very old; hence, to be credible, Christians must re-interpret Genesis accordingly.

The PCA article asserts that, since the earth looks old to most geologists, it must therefore be old because God is not a deceiver. Embracing an old earth offers great advantages: "If creation conforms to God's trustworthiness and looks old because it is old, we are free to marvel at each new discovery that further reveals the incredible complexity and grandeur of his creativity. If the earth is old and we insist it is young, every new discovery can be met only with distrust and disdain--disdain of his creation!"

More importantly, "if the earth is old and Christians insist it is young, we risk becoming a tragic obstacle to faith for those both inside and outside the church. Non-Christians who logically understand geology conclude that the path to Christ requires belief in an intentionally deceptive god and choose to place their faith elsewhere. Covenant children who are raised with the impression that a young earth is integral to Christianity have their faith needlessly undermined when they are later confronted with the overwhelming evidence of the earth's antiquity, and many leave the faith. It is our prayer that no Christian would be such an obstacle!"

PCA prayers, it seems, are being offered for the repentance of those Christians who sin by taking the Bible at face value, thereby undermining the faith of our covenant youth.

The OPC article promotes much the same view. Dr. Estelle contemptuously dismisses creationists as "preachers in lab coats", "charlatans", and "a caricature of religion", whose teachings (e.g., a young earth) go well beyond the scripturally warranted data. Other legitimate interpretation of Scripture are possible, he claims. Moreover, creationist views starkly contradict what is taught at most universities. Hence Dr. Estelle cautions the church to be silent on such matters. Dr. Estelle sharply contrasts creationists with real scientists, such as--incredibly!-- theistic evolutionist Howard van Till, who raise important issues regarding the relationshio between science and Scripture.

Neither article takes seriously the obvious alternative that, not the Bible but, rather, the geological evidence should be re-interpreted.

Placating Biologists
A larger question naturally arises: If mainstream science is right about the age of things, why should it not also be right about the evolutionary origin of things? If we should listen to the overwhelming majority of geologists, why should we not similarly listen to the overwhelming majority of biologists?


On this point the PCA article is prudently silent, whereas Dr Estelle draws the line at questioning the historicity of Adam or suggesting that Adam had primate ancestors. Estelle concludes,

"On the other hand, the church must speak where her Lord gives her authority to do so: it seems self-evident to me based on the Apostle's treatment of Adam, among other reasons, that one cannot build a historical gospel on a non-historical Adam. On this we should not be silent as officers in the church."

It is evident, however, that Dr. Estelle--and the PCA geologists--have painted themselves into an epistemic corner. One might may well proclaim, "the church must speak where her Lord gives her authority to do so", but the gagging of Genesis 1 to appease the geologists has already nullified the authority of Scripture.

In the same manner that, as noted by Estelle, one cannot build an historical gospel on a non-historical Adam, so, likewise, one cannot build an historical Adam on a largely non-historical Genesis 1-11. The story of Adam--and his fall-- is very plausible within the context of the biblical account of origins. However, when shoe-horned into the origins tale of mainstream science, the biblical Adam simply does not fit. See, for example, my post The Cost of an Old Earth. Estelle's drawing of the line at Adam is abitrary, inconsistent with his rationale for silencing Genesis 1.

It is thus not surprising that other Presbyterian theologians, applying the same faulty epistemology more consistently, have taken the next logical step of caving in also to biological evolution. Consider, for example, theologian Dr. Bruce Waltke's argument for embracing human evolution:

if the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult…some odd group that is not really interacting with the world...To deny scientific reality would be to deny the truth of God in the world. For us as Christians, this would serve as our spiritual death because we would not be loving God with all of our minds. It would also be our spiritual death in witness to the world because we would not be seen as credible."

Waltke's desire for academic credibility--by worldly standards--echoes that of the PCA geologists (see above). Dr. Waltke, by the way, is a PCA member in good standing, currently teaching in a PCA seminary (Knox Seminary). Dr.Tim Keller, another well-known PCA pastor who accepts theistic evolution, teaches that an historical Adam can be reconciled with human evolution.

There is more. According to evolutionary biology, humanity evolved as a group of at least 1000 people. There never was a time when there were only two people. There were no biblical Adam and Eve who were the parents of the entire human race. Consequently, Dr.Peter Enns and Dr.Tremper Longman--two more PCA stalwarts with former Westminster Seminary connections--now question the historicity of Adam.

[Happily, many Presbyterians still remain true to the Westminster Confession and its high view of Scripture. See, for example, the detailed refutation of the PCA article by Dr. John Reed (a PCA elder with a Ph.D in geology). Unfortunately, they are not the ones editing Modern Reformation and Ordained Servant or teaching at Westminster Seminary.]

As recent events at Calvin College show, the denial of an historical, unevolved, Adam has drastic theological consequences. The authority and inerrancy of Scripture, an historical fall into sin, the doctrines of original sin, Christ's atonement, election and eternal punishment are all undermined.

And why stop at questions of origins? Rudolph Bultmann believed science had disproven the possibility of all miracles. Accordingly, he thought that, to be credible to modern man, Christians should de-mythologize the entire Bible, including the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.


In sum, waffling on the Bible to appease mainstream science is futile. The wiser strategy is to firmly uphold the Sola Scriptura of the Westminster Confession, proclaiming all that the Bible teaches. Christian faith is undermined not by biblical consistency but, rather, by unbiblical compromise.

And if that causes us to lose credibility in the eyes of the worldly intelligentsia, so be it.

*****

22 comments:

  1. I would be very interested to hear your response to Tim Keller on his views on the historical Adam & Eve....etc (attached)

    http://www.biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  2. "PCA prayers, it seems, are being offered for the repentance of those Christians who sin by taking the Bible at face value, thereby undermining the faith of our covenant youth."

    That's a very uncharitable and inaccurate way to summarize the quote. I'll leave the uncharity, and correct the content: PCA prayers are being offered for the repentance of those Christians who sin by legalistically narrowing orthodoxy, thereby undermining the faith of our covenant youth.

    Do you see a difference between the following statements?:

    1. If you don't confess that Christ was the incarnate second person of the trinity, born of a virgin, who lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and was resurrected, for the atonement of our sins -- actual and originally imputed from the fall of Adam, then you ARE NOT a Christian, so don't call yourself one, don't pretend you are one, don't think you are one.

    2. If you don't believe that infant children of believers are to be baptized, then you ARE NOT a Christian...

    3. If you don't believe God created the earth ~10,000 years ago, in 144 hours, then you ARE NOT a Christian...

    "Estelle's drawing of the line at Adam is abitrary"

    No, in the quote you provided, Estelle justly draws the line at the gospel, exactly where the Bible tells us in the strongest terms to draw the line. (Gal 1, 1 Cor 15)

    The problem is with those who are ready to anathametize old-earth Christians. It's no surprise that when covenant children are raised to believe that it's young-earth or nothing, they opt for nothing, and end up cutting themselves off.

    Christ is already a stumbling block and an offense, and must of course remain so, or Christianity is compromised. But why do you insist on adding to the offense of Christ?

    I have written on this topic before, if you want fodder to cut me down in a subsequent post...

    (On a more positive note, thanks for the links. I am very interested to read the MR and OS articles, as well as Reed's response)

    ReplyDelete
  3. But what IS the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Do a search: The First Scandal.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "No, in the quote you provided, Estelle justly draws the line at the gospel, exactly where the Bible tells us in the strongest terms to draw the line. (Gal 1, 1 Cor 15)"

    Here is another example of the false dualism that seems to spread from WTS (Cal): these brothers think because they correctly emphasize the Gospel (justification by faith alone), therefore other doctrines (like the doctrine of Creation) are less important. This sounds more Lutheran than Calvinistic ? (Same problem with their radical 2K-natural law view?)

    This dualism is confirmed in this quote from Ruberad's website:

    "To that end, I will be making sure that he understands (more importantly than the ins and outs of various doctrinal systems of creation) that the doctrine of creation is not an article on which Christianity stands or falls. 1 Cor 15 specifies the resurrection as such a doctrine, and I agree with Luther when he identifies sola fide as another. But not creation. To maintain that “the entire Christian faith stands or falls on how Genesis 1 is interpreted”, is to invite mass apostasy among our children. I might grant such pre-eminence to Genesis 2, (Covenant of Works) and 3 (Covenant of Grace), but as for Genesis 1, I agree with the sentiments of Francis Collins ..."

    See the false dualism between Gen.1 (creation) and Gen.2 (CoW) and 3 (CoG): it is not this or that, but both and ‘and’. Creation, CoW, CoG are all inseperably linked, see Col.1.

    Ironically, the term and issue of CoW in Gen.2 are much more ‘unclear’ in comparison to the ‘day’ issue in Gen.1, which seems to suggest that modern evolutionary science, and not Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, seem to be the greater influence on the WTS (Cal) theologians and ‘PCA geologists’ views.

    I would recommend future theological students to go to GPTS, MARS, PRTS (PRCA), PRTS (Puritan), because what you do with the first pages of the Bible (esp. Gen.1-3) will ultimately determine what you will do with the ‘last’ pages (the Gospel etc).

    Yes, hopefully today’s theologians at WTS(Cal) will not take their dualistic views to it’s logical conclusion (still holding to a historical Adam and Fall, but not a historical creation), but the next will do (explaining Gen 2 and 3 also as hypothetical framework?), as Waltke, Longman, Collins, Enns, etc. are doing just now, ending in a false dualism between a hypothetical first Adam and a historical second Adam.

    This is not the faith once for all delivered unto the saints (Jud.3)

    ReplyDelete
  5. " these brothers think because they correctly emphasize the Gospel (justification by faith alone), therefore other doctrines (like the doctrine of Creation) are less important."

    Isn't that what "correctly emphasize" means? It's correct to emphasize the Gospel, because it is more important -- most important!

    Creation, CoW, CoG are all inseperably linked, see Col.1

    I see nothing in Col 1 that would be interpreted any differently depending on young-earth or old-earth creationism. But back to Genesis, Ch 1 is indeed clearly demarked from Ch 2-4, by Gen 2:4, the first of the "toledoths" which structure the whole book into major sections.

    what you do with the first pages of the Bible (esp. Gen.1-3) will ultimately determine what you will do with the ‘last’ pages (the Gospel etc).
    In this regard, I can't wait to read Fesko's book "Last Things First." It's on my shelf, waiting for me to get to it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Darren,

    For my response to Tim Keller see my post http://bylogos.blogspot.com/2010/02/genesis-versus-dr-tim-keller.html
    As well as http://bylogos.blogspot.com/2009/11/evolution-and-fall.html, where I address a view of Adam & Eve that is very similar to that suggested by Keller.

    Ruberad,

    The obstacle to faith, against which the above prayer is directed, is the insistence that the Bible teaches a young earth.

    I know of no creationist who says that those who don’t believe in a young earth are not Christian--only that such people are inconsistent Christians.

    The Christian worldview is comprehensive. Rather than being conformed to the world we should be transformed in the renewal of our minds, taking every thought captive to obey Christ. This entails trust in all that God, who is Truth, teaches in His Word--including Gen.1-11.

    This is no novel legalistic narrowing of orthodoxy but, rather, official Presbyterian doctrine as formulated in the Westminster Confession.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Big Evolution Discovery !

    British professor Nigel Swiggerton of Chapsworth College has recently found a missing link in the evolution/creation debate. Everyone is familiar with the "stages of man" chart found in textbooks which begins with a naked, hairy, bent over, grunting Neanderthal type which over millions of years finally learns how to stand erect while sporting a 1930s-style haircut. Well, Dr. Swiggerton discovered that someone accidentally reversed the negative. It turns out that the first man was actually standing erect with a short haircut but has been descending over the years until he has finally reached the last stage - the stage at any rock concert filled with naked, hairy, bent over, grunting Neanderthal types!

    [Ran across the above web bit! - Miranda]

    ReplyDelete
  8. I know of no creationist who says that those who don’t believe in a young earth are not Christian--only that such people are inconsistent Christians.

    I find it hard to believe you have never run across such a creature, because most assuredly they are out there.

    Consider "Doug", who kindly dropped by my blog to say "Either believe His Word, or don’t. But do not masquerade as a Christian."

    Have you heard of James Jordan?

    This is no novel legalistic narrowing of orthodoxy but, rather, official Presbyterian doctrine as formulated in the Westminster Confession.

    There are some who argue that "in the space of six days" from the Westminster wasn't necessarily meant the way today's 6-dayers think of it; specifically, they were combatting a notion of instantaneous creation, not very long creation.

    But I haven't really studied that issue myself. I am comfortable with the OPC creation report, and the liberty of conscience it allows. I wish the standards could be amended to allow that same level of liberty. But the standards are too enshrined to change any time soon, practically speaking. There are some other changes that we need too, like explicit prohibition of ordination of women.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It is hard for me to believe that Presbyterian leaders abandoning recent creation are ignorant of creationist literature and arguments.

    Catstrophist interpretations of geological phenomena have been around for decades, not only illuminating the occasional appearance of old age in nature, but also spotlighting many signs of a recent global Flood (e.g., upwarped strata, polystrate fossils, live-action fossils, mass animal graveyards, etc.).

    This leads me to one of two possible conclusions concerning their incipient apostasy.

    On the one hand, they are ashamed of the scorn of worldly scholarship, and fearful of being lumped in with the "fundamentalists." But as Presbyterians, they, more than any other family in Christendom, ought to be alive to God's sovereignty in redemption: how he is pleased to choose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise. In such a world, it appears that the Lord test his own people, to see if they are willing to be "fools for Christ?" What a shame then to sell our inheritance of heavenly praise and reward from him, for a mess of approval from the "wise and prudent" of this fallen evil age.

    On the other hand, these leaders may balk because they genuinely feel that seekers will be stumbled by a strongly biblical stance on recent creation.

    If so, I believe they have it exactly backwards. For all the world knows that the Bible pervasively teaches a recent good creation wounded by the fall of the first Adam and redeemed by the obedience of the Last. So then, what could be better suited to undermine the trustworthiness of the Bible in the eyes of a seeker than for its own defenders to deny what it so clearly teaches!

    No, compromise on recent creation does nothing to endear the Bible to seekers, but instead encourages them to reject it, seeing that even many modern Christians admit that it does not speak truly or clearly or both.

    Dear Presbyterian brothers, knowing the ways of a Sovereign God who will most assuredly have his chosen people, you of all men should MOST valiant for the faith; most zealous for the Word with which he is pleased to bring in his elect--and then to test them to see if they will remain true to it and to him.

    ReplyDelete
  10. "Isn't that what "correctly emphasize" means? It's correct to emphasize the Gospel, because it is more important -- most important!"

    No problem to 'emphasize' the Gospel, but not at the expense of other related doctrines, like the doctrine of Creation, that gives purpose and meaning to the Gospel and the rest of the Bible.

    We must uphold the confessions, when it says:

    "We believe that the Holy Scriptures are contained in two books, namely, the Old and the New Testament, which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged." BC art.4

    "Q21: What is true faith?
    A21: True faith is not only a sure knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Ghost works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits."

    BTW, the most essential question in this debate, is not the date of creation or the length of days, but the exegetical and hermeneutical question why Gen.1 must now suddenly be interpreted non-historical and non-literal while Gen.2 and 3 must still be interpreted as historical and literal ?

    It seems the final reason for brothers rejecting the traditional and historical 6 day young earth creation, is because evolutionary science now has the last word, not Scriptural revelation and exegesis.

    Calvin's spectacles (reading nature through the glasses of Scripture), has been replaced by reading Scripture through the lenses of modern evolutionary glasses, and the result is all kinds of false dualisms.

    ReplyDelete
  11. BTW, the most essential question in this debate, is not the value or rationality/irrationality of pi, but the exegetical and hermeneutical question why 1 Kings 7:23 must now suddenly be interpreted as non-historical and non-literal, while the rest of 1 Kings must still be interpreted as historical and literal?

    It seems the final reason for brothers rejecting the traditional and historical value for pi of precisely 3, is because "new math" now has the last word, not Scriptural revelation and exegesis.

    ReplyDelete
  12. When the doctrine of creation is reduced to specifying the relative and absolute chronology of events, we are gravely impoverished, nay, misled. See here for some more on this by Robert C. Bishop of Wheaton.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I fully concur that the doctrine of creation is much richer than chronology. Indeed, I have written extensively on this topic in my: books  and various papers.

    The problem, rather, is that Bishop--and his Biologos kindred--undermine the doctrine of creation by denying what the Bible says about chronology.

    My posts stress the historicity of Gen.1-11 only because that portion of the Bible is currently under attack. When a ship is sinking, one’s first priority is to plug the hole in its hull—not to extol its majesty.

    As Luther said,
    "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest expression every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however, boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace, if he flinches at that point."

    ReplyDelete
  14. Those who want to be correctors should identify themselves. Rob Schouten

    ReplyDelete
  15. Ruberad, I was suprised that you did not quote 2 Peter 3:8 ...

    ReplyDelete
  16. RubeRad said

    "Isn't that what "correctly emphasize" means? It's correct to emphasize the Gospel, because it is more important -- most important!"

    Dear sir, the point that many are trying to make is that the gospel doesn't mean that much without, for eg., an historical Adam.

    Off the top of my head: "In Adam all died", "conceived and born in sin", "all have sinned and fallen short", &c. make little sense without the history of Genesis.

    So, the argument is, one can trumpet "gospel" and pull the rug right out from underneath it, so that asserting the primacy of gospel is moot. You missed the point entirely, it seems.

    ReplyDelete
  17. No, I think you missed that I got the point:

    the point that many are trying to make is that the gospel doesn't mean that much without, for eg., an historical Adam.

    I agree with this point, and so does Bryan Estelle, quoted in the blog post above:

    it seems self-evident to me based on the Apostle's treatment of Adam, among other reasons, that one cannot build a historical gospel on a non-historical Adam. On this we should not be silent as officers in the church.

    ReplyDelete
  18. RubeRad - the link to James Jordan includes the following quotation...

    "Our conclusion is that these modern approaches to Genesis 1 are simply heretical. Not that those advocating them are heretics, for they sloppily and with happy inconsistency retain most of the Christian religion. But if their hermeneutical procedure is allowed standing within the Church, their disciples will in time carry forth their heresy consistently, and the faith will be lost. Thus it has ever been.

    For this reason, no one advocating such views should ever be ordained to the ministry or be allowed to teach in theological seminaries. I don’t expect many Presbyterians to understand this, any more than I expect Baptists to stop being Baptists or Arminians to cease being Arminians. But just as the Baptist and Arminian forms of Christianity have no future, being fundamentally flawed, so evangelicalism and Presbyterianism have no future because of their toleration of this fundamental hermeneutical rot. They have corrupted the very foundation and beginning of the Bible, and the rest will follow in due course".

    James Jordan is clearly pointing out the inconsistency of those who hold to a non-literal or a 'new-literal' interpretation of Genesis 1. While he does suggest that a non-literal understanding of Genesis one is heresy, he does not label all such proponents as heretics... he is careful to point that out. His concern is with the hermeneutic and what consistency would look like for other important doctrines. Thanks for the link to the article - food for thought.

    Chris deBoer
    Kerwood CanRC

    ReplyDelete
  19. He does more than suggest, he clearly labels old-earth creationism as "simply heretical". So I don't take much comfort that Jordan is not calling me personally a heretic, since the only difference between a Christian with heretical views, and a heretic, is office (James 3:1).

    ReplyDelete
  20. "As Luther said"

    Actually, he didn't:

    http://creation.com/battle-quote-not-luther

    But as that was posted online just the day before your post, John, you're well excused for this little slip.

    Dan

    ReplyDelete
  21. Sadly, these opening & closing statements from "Space & Time in the Genesis Cosmogony"* reveal Westminster's ugly capitulation to "science":

    "To rebut the literalist interpretation of the Genesis creation week propounded by the young-earth theorists is a central concern of this article. At the same time, the exegetical evidence adduced also refutes the harmonistic day-age view. The conclusion is that as far as the time frame is concerned, with respect to both the duration and sequence of events,the scientist is left free of biblical constraints in hypothesizing about cosmic origins."

    "47 In this article I have advocated an interpretation of biblical cosmogony according to which Scripture is open to the current scientific view of a very old universe and, in that respect, does not discountenance the theory of the evolutionary origin of man. But whileI regard the widespread insistence on a young earth to be a deplorable disservice to the cause of biblical truth, I at the same time deem commitment to the authority of scriptural teaching to involve the acceptance of Adam as an historical individual, the covenantal head and ancestral fount of the rest of mankind, and the recognition that it was the one and same divine act that constituted him the first man, Adam the son of God (Luke 3:38), that also imparted to him life (Gen. 2:7)."


    * http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1996/PSCF3-96Kline.html

    ~ Hughuenot ~

    ReplyDelete
  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are welcome. However, I reserve the right to reject any comment, especially those that —
1. are rude, offensive, or non-edifying
2. are off topic
3. merely repeat points already made.

Please use your real name. If for some reason you must remain incognito, you may use a nickname if you first email me your real name.