Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Framework Hypothesis and Church Unity

It is well-known that the Framework Hypothesis (which asserts that the Genesis days are just a literary structure rather than historical days) is promoted by a number of ministers in the United Reformed Church (URC), particularly those associated with Westminster Seminary California, including Drs. Godfrey, Scott Clark, Horton, and Riddlebarger.

In 2001, in response to several overtures objecting to the Framework Hypothesis, URC Synod 2001 dealt with the creation days. A proposal that “God created all things good in six historical days defined as evenings and mornings” was defeated, primarily due to opposition by Dr. Scott Clark and other proponents of the Framework Hypothesis (see Christian Renewal, June 2001:8-9). The proposal was passed only after the word historical was removed, thereby giving room for the Framework Hypothesis.

Thus URC Synod 2001 affirmed that God created all things “in six days defined by evenings and mornings”, which sounds good to those unaware that in the URC the six days need not be considered as historical--a textbook case of theological double-speak, where truth and clarity are sacrificed for ambiguous compromise.

The URC decision to tolerate the Framework Hypothesis was one of the considerations that led both the Orthodox Christian Reformed Church (in 2001) and the Protestant Reformed Church (2002) to discontinue unity talks with the URC. Regretfully, the Canadian Reformed Church did not take the URC to task on this issue.

In 2004, in response to an overture from Langley Willoughby Church, Can. Ref. Synod 2004 instructed the committee for unity (CPEU) “to commence discussion concerning the Framework Hypothesis and the support this theory has within the URCNA and serve the next synod with information concerning this matter” (Acts 2004, p.95).

Three years later, the CPEU reported to Can. Ref. Synod 2007 that their URC counterparts (CERCU) referred them to the above statement of URC Synod 2001, expressed their conviction that almost all URC’s hold to a literal six days of creation, and agreed to send a written reply. However, in 2007 the CPEU had not yet received this written reply from the CERCU (Acts 2007, p.75).

Now, another three years later, all that the CPEU reports to Synod 2010 is that it is still awaiting a written reply from the URC regarding the Framework Hypothesis (Reports to General Synod 2010, Vol.1, p.14,16).

In short, after six years, there is no evidence that there has been any substantial discussion. Neither the URC nor the CPEU, it seems, has much enthusiasm for pursuing the matter.

This is unfortunate. Church unity should be based on mutual faithfulness to Scripture. The Framework Hypothesis denies the plain sense of Scripture (cf. Gen.1, Ex.20:11, Ex.31:17) and introduces a new hermeneutic that interprets the Bible in light of secular science.

Thus, if the Canadian Reformed Church is serious about true unity, Synod 2010 should strongly admonish the URC to reconsider its toleration of the Framework Hypothesis.
(This post is followed up on the post Genesis & Dr Scott Clark)


Wes Bredenhof said...


I appreciate your thoughts and your taking the time and energy to blog. One thought that crossed my mind when reading this is that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Some Canadian Reformed churches allow men who are avowed theistic evolutionists to be office bearers. That's a big step further than the Framework Hypothesis. According to Scott Clark, the URC statement from 2001 means the rejection of any evolutionary teaching, including theistic evolution (see Recovering the Reformed Confession, 48). We should probably get our own house in order before we start admonishing the URC.

Pro Regno said...

Am I correct to say: some in the CanRC are concerned about the URC tolerating or even recommending the framework hypothesis ... and some in the URC are concerned about the CanRC tolerating or even recommending Federal Vision theology ? (and maybe the other way round ?)

I think we should reject both (FH and FV) from Scripture and the Confessions.

ps. According to my knowledge, the only continental (TFU) reformed church denomination in North America/Canada that do reject both these errors, is the PRCA (and maybe the RCUS?).

Am I correct in this observation ?

ps. I asked this question also on the oc-urc and ref-net e-mail discussion groups.


R. Scott Clark said...

Hi John,

I appreciate Wes' post. I didn't realize that the CanRC tolerated theistic evolution. Do the URCs know this? It's news to me.

Two things.

1. I'm not an advocate of the so-called Framework Hypothesis. I say so-called because just about every proposed interpretation of Gen 1-2 of which I'm aware is a "hypothesis" since none of us was there, none of us really knows what light without the sun looks like and none of us can say with certainty what it means for God to speak creation into existence really means. My own view is closer to the view expressed by Bob Godfrey in his book on creation. There are ways that the creation days, especially after the creation of the sun, are like our days but there are ways in which the creation days are not like our days. I don't doubt that Moses and the original hearers of this revelation would have understood this. The theological point of the original text, in its original context, was to teach the Israelites that the same Yahweh who delivered them from Egypt is the same Yahweh who created the heavens and the earth. The original intent was not to answer questions about the length of the creation days.

The reason I joined others in objecting to the proposed overture is that I believe that the Framework Interpretation is within the boundaries of orthodoxy and I think it's a mistake for the Reformed churches to view it with suspicion. There are aspects of the Framework that are not controversial at all, such as the parallel structure of the days.

2. I'll have to go back and look at that issue of the CR to see what the letter said but I don't have any problem with 6 historical days if "historical" means "days that really happened." The issue isn't whether the days were "historical" but rather the attempt by some to impose on the rest of us a definition of the exact nature of those days (e.g. 24 hour or "solar" days before the sun!). I think the RCUS has ruled that they were 6 "normal" 24-hour days. Really? What's "normal," about "let there be...."? Some of my brothers are convinced that Yom = 24 hours. Okay, then why can't I be a 1-day creationist since Gen 2:4 says "in the Yom that Yahweh Elohim created...." If Yom is figurative (i.e., not identical to post-creation days) in Gen 2:4 why not in Gen 1?

I'm satisfied with the resolution of things at Synod Escondido although I think it's odd that some of my CanRC brothers who are staunchly opposed to extra-confessional binding on covenant theology seem to be quite tolerant of it when it comes to creation. I haven't quite figured out that one but I'm working on it.

R. Scott Clark said...


I discovered the original text (I think) of the letter from Feb 2001. I must say that your characterization of that letter is a bit misleading.

What we actually wrote was strong AFFIRMATION of the historicity of the creation account. The text of the letter is too long for the comment box so I'll post it on The Heidelblog.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a bit misleading for Wes to say that some CanRC's have avowed theistic evolutionists as office-bearers. If it's true, it's something that has only very recently come on the radar screen of the church (likely not churches)involved and it remains to be seen how it will be dealt with. We have reason to expect consistories to be firm in such a matter.

John, I really appreciate your insights. With you, I think the Framework Hypothesis is not a legitimate interpretation of Genesis 1.

Scott is wondering about how the Canadian Reformed Churches can be opposed to extra-confessional binding in regard to covenant theology but not in regard to creation. Opposition to extra-confessional binding does not imply permission to teach whatever one wishes in the church. Ordinary rules of exegesis and interpretation apply also in matters not directly addressed by the confessions of the church. After all, our primary allegiance is not to the Confessions but to the Bible itself. It's one thing to bind oneself to the clear teaching of Scripture about creation. It's another thing altogether to bind ourselves to the theological constructs of an 18th century or 21st century dogmatician in regard to the covenant of grace. Another point: while the CanRC's generally oppose extra-confessional binding, there is no theoretical opposition to a new confession to meed the needs of the day. Rob Schouten

Wes Bredenhof said...


That's not misleading at all; it's a well-known fact. I remember attending at Young People's meeting in Edmonton *in 1991* where one of our members did a free topic on the subject of evolution and creation. It was mentioned already then that a Canadian Reformed Church had an elder who held to theistic evolution. This was not hear-say, but a fact supported by documents. Since then, other Canadian Reformed churches have also allowed men to become office bearers while publicly holding to such views. The consistories involved have not been firm, but have instead decided that this falls within the "freedom of exegesis," or that holding to 6/24 or something like it is "extra-confessional binding."

Anonymous said...

Wes, it's not a well-known fact. In my experience, 48 years and counting in the CanRC's, it would be shocking to have a local office-bearer holding publicly to theistic evolution. No consistory I've been part of would have ordained a man with such a view. I would love to see documentation that consistories have considered this a matter of freedom of exegesis etc. Rob

john byl said...


Yes, I concur that we should get our own house in order first.

But how do we do this? I am not ware of any office-bearers that are “avowed theistic evolutionist”. If so, why has this never been appealed to Synod?

Since the URC has dealt with Genesis, and since we are contemplating unity with the URC, this does bring it within the jurisdiction of our Synod. Thus far the Canadian Reformed Churches have not shown any official concern about the Framework Hypothesis.

The point of my note is that it is high time that our Synod make a statement on where we stand. Only then can we admonish.

john byl said...

Hi Scott

1.Thanks for your input. The prime point of my note was not to critique you personally but, rather, to protest the 6 years of non-activity by the CanRef. Committee that was supposed to discuss this issue.

2.That said, how can you say my characterization of your letter of Feb.2001 is misleading when I never even referred to it? My reference was to the Christian Renewal of June 1, 2001, which described what happened at URC Synod 2001. It reports, among other things, that you would challenge your consistory to discipline you should the original motion pass.

3.You say that you are not an advocate of the FH. However, your Christian Renewal letter (Feb.26, 2001) states “we tend toward the Framework or Analogical view”.

My objection is against any such view that takes the days to be non-historical.

4. You say, “There are ways that the creation days, especially after the creation of the sun, are like our days but there are ways in which the creation days are not like our days.”

Please elaborate why, say, the last 3 days could not have been solar days.

5. You say, “The theological point of the original text, in its original context, was to teach the Israelites that the same Yahweh who delivered them from Egypt is the same Yahweh who created the heavens and the earth.”

How do you know this is the only point? What about Ex.31:17, which says that the point of the Sabbath is a sign that God made everything in 6 days? And surely, the seventh day that God blessed (Gen. 2:3) was a normal day?

6. You say, “The issue isn't whether the days were "historical" but rather the attempt by some to impose on the rest of us a definition of the exact nature of those days (e.g. 24 hour or "solar" days before the sun!).

The point is that Genesis itself defines the days as alternating periods of light and darkness, the last 3 ruled by the Sun.

7. You say, “Okay, then why can't I be a 1-day creationist since Gen 2:4 says "in the Yom that Yahweh Elohim created...." If Yom is figurative (i.e., not identical to post-creation days) in Gen 2:4 why not in Gen 1? “

Come, now! As a theologian you surely know that the meaning of words are determined by their context, and that the “beyom” in Gen.2:4 is idiomatic for “when”.
There is an exact parallel in Num.3:1 “in the day (beyom) when the Lord spoke with Moses spoke on Mount Sinai”, when we know that Moses was on Mount Sinai 40 days. Or do you believe that also those 40 days were “analogical”?

Pro Regno said...

Prof Clark wrote:
"The issue isn't whether the days were "historical" but rather the attempt by some to impose on the rest of us a definition of the exact nature of those days (e.g. 24 hour or "solar" days before the sun!).


1. I use the 6/24 phrase, not to infallibly determine the precise length of the days (it could be more or less seconds, minutes, hours), but I do it to distinguish between the historical understanding held by the reformers such as Luther and Calvin, from all the current deviations from that view.

2. The big question is, why should we suddenly now, accomodate different views, and not stick with what was usually believed, 6/24 days, the natural historical reading of the text ?

3. I think the answer is presicely what John refered to in his article: "... and introduces a new hermeneutic that interprets the Bible in light of secular science."

Your words of 'unbelief' in wonder, and 'belief' in science, says it all: "e.g. 24 hour or "solar" days before the sun!"

Not the Text, but science then, determine how we read Gen.1, and that is where our problems just starts.

The liberal will then say: a man resurrected from the dead contra the laws of nature, where do you get THAT ?

Someone born from a virgin ... get outta here !

I hope you see the point I am trying to make ?

4. How do understand/explain Ex.20:11 on this issue ?

Thanks and greetings, Slabbert

Pastor Jim Witteveen said...

In response to the claim that this view is truly "historical," I have reviewed Dr. Godfrey's book on Genesis here:


Wes Bredenhof said...

To clarify what I wrote earlier, "avowed" was not a good word choice. It would have been better to speak of those who may be fairly described as theistic evolutionists, even if they themselves might not want to identify themselves as such.

John Byl said...


Thanks for alerting us to your fine review of Dr Godfrey's book "God's Pattern for Creation". In it you raise some excellent points.

What concerns me most about this book are:

(1)Its beginning, in the Acknowledgment, where he thanks Meredith Kline for his encouragement (p.11). Kline was an influential promoter of the Framework Hypothesis and strongly opposed young earth creationism. Kline was concerned that our interpretations of Genesis 1 do not contradict science.

(2)Its conclusion, where Godfrey warns about the dangers of "anti-intellectualism" and creation science, which he denounces as a "pseudo-science" (p.91).

One gets the distinct impression that Godfrey has the same agenda as Kline.

Pro Regno said...

Pastor Jim, thank you for the review. Initially I was very excited about Godfrey's book, and appreciated the covenant line (which we all love), but the false dichtomy between 'covenant theology' and 'literal history', is a great problem, which will, IMO, create future theological problems.

Anonymous said...

John Byl writes, "The point of my note is that it is high time that our Synod make a statement on where we stand. Only then can we admonish."

But Rob doesn't believe the CANRC can do this, he writes: "If, apart from the confessions, you are looking for official, synodical interpretations of the confessions on any number of points, that’s not likely to happen among the CANRC. At least, I sure hope not."

So Rob, you vented quite strongly on the Heidelblog when Scott raised questions for you, but now you find one with us and off you go, making an off-handed suggestion that our concerns belong to the "theological constructs of an 18th century or 21st century dogmatician"--this is more than inconsistent.

Anonymous said...


It seems that you make connections where none should be made. We don't need a synodical statement about what the confession might mean before we can take action in respect to ordained men who espouse theistic evolution.

Rob Schouten

Anonymous said...


I am not sure that you are making the same connection that I made. I am referencing "the whole point of his post" that such issues should have "official concern" be "appealed to Synod", and a "statement should be made" as to where where the CANRC stands on these issues--something I add, that you took direct exception to on the Heidelblog.

R. Scott Clark said...

Hi John,

1. Even E J Young, who advocated something like the Framework in the 40s and then criticized it in the '60s admitted that the first three days could not have been solar days since there was no sun. That doesn't seem like a remarkable observation.

2. Absent the sun we can't talk meaningfully about 6-24 creation. Who knows what the nature of days is without a sun? I don't and I doubt the Israelites did and I doubt that Scripture encourages us to speculate about what happened.

3. Some of us who wrote the letter adhere to the FI and some to an Analogical View. Hence the conjunction. We were simply calling for toleration of a view that does not contradict our standards or affect the system of doctrine contained therein (in distinction from some modern formulations of covenant theology which do either contradict the standards explicitly or implicitly).

4. Once more, to assume that a non-6-24 view implies or teaches that the creation days were non-historical is a petitio principii. There's nothing about either the FI or the Analogical view that implies that the days were not historical. It merely takes an agnostic view (as I do) or it says that the length/nature of the days is indeterminate. Once God says, "let there be" in some sense "history" begins. Strictly, as I understand things, time exists from the point at which there is some way to measure it (e.g., the sun). I'm not a scientist, so I may be wrong about these things but I can't see how the days cannot be "historical" but it is a history that we cannot describe in much more detail than we have from Scripture simply because of the absence of data. I suspect that absence of data is intentional and it's an exegetical mistake to try to make the text answer questions it wasn't given to answer.

This quest to make the text answer questions it doesn't mean to or to impose ecclesiastical policy (e.g., "we must hold 6-24 creation") on such a basis is what I call QIRC in my book, Recovering the Reformed Confession.

There's more on this at the HB:


Steve Drake said...

To points #1 and #2 above, Mr. Clark seems to forget that the Scriptures themselves define what a day is in Gen. 1:5, in terms of 'evening and morning', and that this same Hebrew word and expression is used to describe all six days in the same way. So absent the sun until day 4, we certainly 'can' talk about 6-24 hour days, Scripture doesn't speculate, and we shouldn't either.

Steve Drake said...

Sorry, didn't see your follow up post on 1/16/10 where you answer Clark's assertions in much better detail than I posted above. Not really sure how useful it is to comment on something almost two years old, but having only come across your website this summer, it's taken me a while to read through all your excellent postings here.