Vos on Creation

It is indeed wonderful to have available to us for the first time Geerhardus Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics. Vos is often co-opted (and misinterpreted!) by people who love biblical theology, but hate systematic theology. Unfortunately for them, Vos does not go along with them. It is starting to become better known (now that his Reformed Dogmatics is being published) that Vos taught systematic theology at Calvin Seminary before he went to Princeton to teach biblical theology. Does his Reformed Dogmatics give any ground to those who despise systematic theology in our day? Not an inch.

Vos would also be extremely uncomfortable to those (often the same people!) who want to relegate Genesis 1-2 to the realm of myth. The idea that these chapters are myth is not a new idea. It was around in Vos’s time. Here is what Vos says about the genre of Genesis 1-2:

How many kinds of interpretation are there of Genesis 1 and 2? Mainly three: the allegorical, the mythical and the historical. The first two views, however, are untenable because within the narrative of Scripture the creation narrative is interwoven like a link in the chain of God’s saving acts. God does not make a chain of solid gold, in which the first link is a floral wreath. If the creation history is an allegory, then the narrative concerning the fall and everything further that follows can also be allegory. The writer of the Pentateuch presents his work entirely as history (Reformed Dogmatics, volume 1, p. 161).

Fancy that: the father of Reformed biblical theology (and who was the greatest precisely because of, and not in spite of, his unified encyclopedia) rejecting the mythical interpretation of Genesis! May those who are motivated by the desire to look respectable in the world of academia take note that Vos was not afraid of what others might say, and he feared God rather than men.

A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology, Take Three

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a link to a 30-minute talk that I gave at a Bible study conference this October. It’s another introduction to redemptive history, this time tracing the theme of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles through the Old and New Testaments. I also play around with a connection between the Syrophoenician woman and Paul’s words about the “mystery” of Gentile inclusion in Ephesians 3. It’s on YouTube this time NOT because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I made slides to illustrate the audio. Please listen if you like, and pass the link on to others who might benefit, especially those who are just getting to know the Word.

Soli Deo Gloria!

PCRT Seminar: Major Approaches to Creation, Part 1 (Derek Thomas)

(Posted by Paige)

[I owe this to Lane in return for a delicious Italian meal, good company, and the privilege of hearing him sing “And Can It Be” – just amazing. Sorry this one wasn’t live; I still don’t know how he does that, even after watching!]

I chose Derek Thomas’s seminar because I’d just finished reading his Job commentary with my 14-year-old, and I only belatedly realized I’d assigned myself to write up what Thomas dubbed a particularly “complex, difficult, divisive issue.” (That is a short “i” in the middle there; he’s Welsh.) So, here goes. Please don’t shoot the messenger. Please do read everything with a Welsh accent.

There was a lot of content in this presentation, so this will take two parts.

To begin with his endpoint: as the PCA study committee also affirmed, there are several views of creation that can be held without threat to inerrancy. While Thomas would personally subscribe to about 1.5 of the views he presented (on which see part two), he acknowledged that several other views were the convictions of scholars he respects. That said, there are lines in the sand past which inerrancy is no longer viable. The three non-negotiables he mentioned were creation ex nihilo, the special creation of man, and the historical, biblical individual named Adam. (I suspect there may have been more examples in his mind, but he didn’t get to them before Q&A time.)

Before describing any particular views of creation, Thomas dwelt on the tension that exists between biblical and scientific worldviews regarding the nature of the universe. He noted that evolution was not really a scientific theory, but rather “a philosophy, a worldview, an epistemology that affects ethics, morals, and standards.” Even the Big Bang theory moves beyond science and into theology when it tries to address origins (i.e., what happened before this singularity?). “Theologians should get antsy when scientists do theology – generally they do it pretty badly.”

Still, as the church we don’t want to commit another embarrassing error along the lines of geocentrism; it may be healthy to be skeptical of science, but “not to the extent we look foolish.” Thomas acknowledges that we trust science for many things (e.g., “If they’re going to cut me open and remove bits of me, I am going to have to trust the science”). Yet there is no way to reconcile even a generous 7-Day-Creation age of the universe (50,000 years ago? 200,000?) with scientific claims – 13.77 billion years – without doing something radical to the biblical account. And this we may not do.

In any case, “we need a degree of modesty when talking about these issues.” Science may be wrong; it is changing, not a constant. And theology may be wrong – the Bible is inerrant, but its interpreters are not.

Thomas also cautioned us to remember that there is a distinction between the Neo-Darwinian viewpoint (represented by Richard Dawkins) and the worldview of Darwin himself. Darwin’s deism was “ungodly, he had no gospel”; and yet he posited that God creates a few primal forms and always assumed a fixity of species (i.e., he did not advocate trans-species evolution). “That is 13.77 billion years away from Neo-Darwinism,” which has no fixed point of origin and traces “an unbroken line from mollusk to man.” This view is now the most dominant philosophy in modern thought…and it introduces the absorbing question, What might man ultimately become??

Speaking of evolution, we must remember that any so-called Christian view of creation that calls into question the historical, biblical Adam has dropped away from inerrancy. Thomas stresses the adjective biblical here because there are those who suggest that “there was a [historical] dude called Adam that God singled out from other hominids” to endow with the divine image. He referenced Dennis Alexander [dates??] who believed that hominids were around for a couple hundred thousand years (and had acquired language!) before any one of them was singled out by God for homo divinus status. John Stott unfortunately adopted this view. It introduces the conundrum of whether Adam & Eve’s parents were human – or a source of food. (And what happened to all those other hominids? What did they become? Hmmm.)

Closer to home we have Peter Enns asserting that Paul’s endorsement of the historical, biblical Adam can be disregarded because Paul was an ancient man, a product of his times…and we know so much better now about human origins. In Derek Thomas’ wry assessment, “That isn’t just a slippery slope – that’s an Alpine slope!”

Stay tuned for part two…

Third Plenary Session: Adam, the Lord of the Garden (Liam Goligher)

Genesis 2:4ff is the text.

A hermeneutical point: we start with a completed canon, and so we start from the end.

The garden of Eden is a proto-tabernacle and proto-temple (this insight comes from Beale). The image-bearers of God are required to multiply the image of God and fill the earth with God’s image. The image-bearers would extend Eden to include the entire earth. Adam was to serve and to guard in the garden. He is more than gardener. He is required to do what the priests would later do. Again, these insights come from Beale. The words “serve” and “guard” are only ever used together when referring to priestly activities, guarding and serving the tabernacle and temple. They are supposed to keep out unsanctified beings from the Garden. This is why Adam’s very first sin is actually letting Satan into the Garden of Eden at all.

Adam is given a covenantal role. The word “covenant” is not used in Adam’s relationship. Neither is it initially used in David’s covenant. Goligher’s take is that the word is much more used later on in history, and it would be somewhat anachronistic for Moses to have used the term. However, Adam’s situation is still truly called covenantal. This covenantal relationship is a matter of life and death. The meaning of the tree of life is suspended until the book of Revelation: it means eternal life, resurrection life, transformation of the universe. (LK: did Adam not then eat of the tree of life? The evidence seems to point to Adam eating of the tree before the Fall: it is possible, of course, that the tree of life in the respect that Liam means, is a sacramental tree, as Calvin would say. In this sense, the tree did not itself bring those things, but signified them).

The first covenant was a covenant of works: eat of the tree and you die (that’s a work!). If Adam had obeyed, he would have filled the earth with image bearers, and expanded the garden until it covered the whole earth. We have to exclude foreign elements from the church. Elders need to guard the church from false teaching.

Eve was the first theological liberal: she added to God’s Word in the temptation, and paraphrased. We do not paraphrase when we are quoting God. The command is changed into something jealous, small, and mean. Knowledge is the lure for Eve. The first doctrine that is ever denied explicitly is the doctrine of judgment. Denial of Hell and judgment is nothing new, obviously. Temptation attacked reason first. Sin is an assault on the truth of God. If we want to look at sin, don’t look first at the whorehouse, look at the academy. This is why Enns has fallen for the lie of the devil, when he says that science has a consensus on evolution, and that therefore biblical theologians must follow suit. Why is the academy more authoritative than God?

Second Plenary Session: The Case for Adam (Joel Beeke)

Trueman has said that the historicity of Adam is the most important doctrinal issue facing the church today. Beeke means by the historical Adam that a real human being existed who was the progenitor of the human race. The alternative that many Christians claim today is that there were a thousand hominids in the beginning. Genesis 2 is then a symbolic allegory of the entrance of the human soul into a previously soulless animal world. Enns, for instance, believes that evolution is scientifically proven. And therefore the interpretation of the Bible must conform to what science has irrevocably proven. Beeke’s specific focus is go back to what the Bible itself says about the historical Adam. He will make an historical case for Adam from the Bible (4 points), and then a theological case for Adam from the Bible (6 points).

Historical case 1: Genesis portrays the creation of Adam as an historical event. To overcome this historical interpretation, opponents raise three points. 1. They say Adam is a symbol for man (given the name for Adam). Answer: but the Bible distinguishes between man in general and Adam in particular. the reason Adam was given the name he has is because he is the progenitor of the human race. 2. Genesis 2 contradicts Genesis 1. Answer: they are not contradictory, but rather describes the same events from complementary perspectives. 3. The serpent talks: it must therefore be symbolic. Answer: the Bible tells us that the devil was not the snake, but that the devil used the serpent.

Historical case 2: Biblical genealogies present Adam as the father of other historical persons. Genesis 5 is not myth, but historical record. 2 Chronicles 1 follows Adam to Abraham, to David, and to the exile. Luke 3 traces the lineage of Jesus back to Adam. This latter is particularly crucial. Luke 3 is nonsense if Adam is not historical.

Historical case 3: Christ himself spoke of Adam and Eve as historical persons. Jesus’ teaching concerning marriage quotes Genesis 1-2.

Historical case 4: If Adam is not a real man, who else is not real in the Scriptures? Why not make Abraham, Moses, and even David into mythical figures? Skepticism makes a tidal wave that covers over all the Bible. In what chapter of Genesis does historicity begin in Genesis? Will you not eventually deny Christ’s resurrection?

Theological case 1: Adam is not just an interesting figure, but is foundational to our theology. If Adam is myth, then our view of human identity and human sin (and through the parallel to Christ) our Savior. The historical Adam is the basis for believing in humanity’s original nobility. If Adam is myth, then there is no difference between humanity and the animals. The image of God is part of our very constitution, not an add-on. We will treat man like animals and animals like man if we lose the historical Adam.

Theological case 2: The historical Adam is the root of mankind’s unity. This is not just Israel’s story (contrary to Peter Enns). Genesis 3:20 says specifically that Eve is the mother of ALL LIVING. Acts 17:26 says that all are made from one blood (some translations say “from one man”). Christ takes on Himself common human nature, not the nature of part of humanity. Our unity in Christ depends on the historical Adam. How shall we stand up against racism if we are not from one origin? True philanthropy depends on the unity of the human race.

Theological case 3: the historical Adam is the foundation of gender relationships. The Bible loses its authority to tell ALL humanity what God’s will is in regard to sexuality (or anything else, for that matter) if we lose the historical Adam. We need an historical basis for our sexual ethics.

Theological case 4: The historical Adam is the basis for understanding the Fall. Paul says that death reigned from Adam to Moses. Paul means (among other things) that Adam is just as historical as Moses. Otherwise, Paul’s entire argument in Romans 5 is meaningless. We can’t understand the second Adam in His person and work unless we understand the first Adam. We lose the doctrine of original sin. We lose his imputed guilt, which then means that we lose the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Theological case 5: The historical Adam is a type of the Savior. Paul says explicitly that Adam is a type of Christ who is to come. Paul is not just using Adam as a cautionary tale, but rather Adam and Eve is the story on which all history hinges.

Theological case 6: The historical Adam is a test-case for biblical authority. Without the lenses of Scripture, our sin-clouded eyes will only see what the world sees. Enns actually says that we do not need to follow Paul in his statements about Adam, because he is an ancient man, and we know better. What is the husk and what is the kernel, and who gets to choose which is which?

Are we going to believe the Bible and are we willing to endure the shame that the world heaps on us for believing things that the world believes is completely outdated (and that is only the kindest term)?

First Plenary Session: The Bible’s First Word (Derek Thomas)

The text is Genesis 1:1-2. The centrality of God in the very beginning teaches us that our hermeneutical human-centeredness (“what does this passage say to me?”) is fundamentally wrong-headed. We need to ask, “What does this passage teach about God?” Leibniz says that a great question to ask is, “Why is there something, and not nothing?” For the Big Bang theory to happen, there has to be something before that. But the Bible states that the Triune God created by His powerful Word.

The creation account exalts God. Our culture seems to exult in the weightlessness of God (a la David Wells). The vastness of space ought to give us an inkling of how great God is. He notes the apologetic slant to Genesis 1 (vis-a-vis the Egyptian cosmologies, which worshiped the created sun and moon). The creation is Trinitarianly created. All the external operations of the Godhead are indivisibly the work of all three persons of the Trinity.

If someone says that the creation happened through a singularity, then we ask, “What was there before the singularity?” Nothing at all. Out of nothing everything came. (Why then can’t they believe in the resurrection?) This is irrational. Some people say that gases existed before the singularity. Some claim that electro-magnetism existed. This also is absurd. Science can be trusted when it comes to airplanes, cars, and surgery, but when science attempts to invade theology and philosophy, it becomes absurd. Before creation, there was God. Why is there something and not nothing? Because God is.

The creation account emphasizes the Creator-creature distinction. One of the best things that we can learn is that there is a God, and then we are not Him, or the fourth person of the Trinity, contrary to human tendencies. The biggest problem with the Egyptians gods is that they don’t exist (!).

The biblical doctrine of creation teaches the essential goodness of creation and matter. The constant refrains of God’s approval “God saw that it was good” militates against a Platonic rejection of matter as inherently evil, or of the body as the prison-house of the soul. This world will be restored, not obliterated. There are some things more beautiful (“good” versus “very good” in Genesis 1). God is the judge of what is truly beautiful. Grace is always restorative.

The biblical doctrine of creation is the basis for morality and ethics. What God has separated (genes, for instance) let not man join together. When we forget we are creatures, then we make our own morality.

The biblical doctrine of creation is the basis, ground, and motivation for worship. We were made to worship God.

Futility, What Futility?

by Reed DePace

Let’s label it D3. The Bible teaches that in some manner the historical Fall of Adam brought about the introduction of three things as a curse-judgment on Adam and Eve’s sin: death, decay and destruction – D3.

If you believe in a historical Adam and a historical Fall, what does it mean for God to judicially administer these as judgment for sin? (If you do not believe in a historical Adam or a historical Fall, no disrespect, but this post is not addressed to you.)

If you think the death, decay and destruction existed before the fall:

Do you believe these things were in some manner also introduced in response to sin? If so, how are pre-fall forms of D3 different from post-fall forms of D3?

Do you think there is no difference between the pre-fall and post-fall forms of D3? If so, then what does God’s judicial administration of these on sin actually consist of?

If you want to limit the extent of God’s judicial administration of D3 on sin to just man, then what is the nature of the futility that the created order has been subjected to on account of sin (Rom 8:20)?

Do you believe God uses actual physical things to both picture and apply the gospel? If so, did God actually use a rainbow as a physical picture for a story that didn’t happen? Did God provide a real tree for a mythical test in a mythical garden? Etc., how do you determine where history ends and myth begins?

Sincerely, it does not appear that we are thinking through the necessary ramifications of affirming some sort of theistic evolution position.

by Reed DePace

POSTSCRIPT: these and the last two posts on this topic were written at the same time, last week. Nothing I’ve said in these may be construed ad specific responses to any discussion on these previous threads.

My focus in these posts has not been to make a positive argument for a specific pre-fall death scheme. Instead my focus has been ask my theistic evolution persuaded brothers to think about what this position does to the reality of a historic fall and God’s curse-judgment response to it. I do not believe theistic evolution enables an adequate explanation of sin and death. Please disagree. Please do not take personal offense.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: here is a good starting article to consider problems evolution: What Are the Top Ten Problems with Darwinian Evolution? This is a scientific perspective, not a biblical perspective. For those interested in an informed and reasonable critique of evolution from a science perspective, I recommend this site.

Fall, What Fall?

by Reed DePace

Theistic evolution maintains that the natural processes currently seen in the physical world are part of God’s original creation. That is, these are the processes he has used to bring into being all that we see.

Thus stars and planets evolved over billions of years through processes involving death, decay and destruction. The ecosystems of our planet (geology, meteorological, biological, etc.) similarly evolved over millions of years through processes involving death, decay, and destruction. And God was in charge of it all.

O.k., got it.

So what does that mean for God’s claim that He made everything good, very good, that is perfect? What does it mean that God created everything without the reign of death to be found anywhere in the created order?

Well, the deadly poison of theistic evolution can be seen in the kinds of arguments that are being offered by young folks raised to believe both that God created everything and that He created everything perfect. Watch the Q&A discussion Doug Wilson has with such young folk at the Indiana University, Bloomington. Their arguments demonstrate that they hold to the following convictions:

  • God created everything, including me.
  • God created everything perfect, including me.
  • God created the capacity to love as a part of this perfect creation, including in me.
  • I was born with the desire to love members of my own gender.
  • Therefore Christians who say homosexuality is wrong are acting wickedly – they are sinning!

It is not a surprise at all to find young folk raised in:

  • Schools teaching them that everything came about via evolution,
  • Communities that protect and promote their self-esteem,
  • Churches that tell them God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives, and
  • A Culture that says God (if He actually exists) doesn’t make mistakes,

Would reach the conclusion that their same gender sexual attractions are pure and holy.

Now, as Theistic Evolution has already affirmed that death, decay, and destruction are a normal, good, wholesome, beneficial part of God’s original creation,

How are we ever going to be able to justify the idea of sin and judgment?

It is no surprise when such folks, acting consistent with the necessary conclusions of Theistic Evolution, want to shut us up when we tell them the gospel.

“Fall, WHAT FALL! There is nothing wrong with me. You’re just a judgmental jerk!!”

by Reed DePace

POSTSCRIPT: For those who think I’m making ridiculous connections in this post, here is another example:

The Little Boy Who Wanted To Be a Girl

So how do you explain to these folks that the problem is the fall? How do you explain to them that God did not create this child this way? After all, mankind keeps evolving, right? If you follow theistic evolution you have no alternatives here.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: here is a good starting article to consider problems evolution: What Are the Top Ten Problems with Darwinian Evolution? This is a scientific perspective, not a biblical perspective. For those interested in an informed and reasonable critique of evolution from a science perspective, I recommend this site.

Theistic Evolution – PCA

by Reed DePace

Some of you already know this, but it may be new to others. Please do not think I am writing against theistic evolution because I want to drive adherents to it out of the PCA. As men formally acknowledged to be called by the Spirit to undershepherd Christ’s Church, the teaching and ruling elders of the PCA are already in agreement that theistic evolution is inconsistent with the gospel that we are to preach and teach.

A number of items demonstrate this:

One, while not as explicit, the PCA Creation Report does provide exceptional nuancing into the issues surrounding this whole topic. It is a must read starting point for discussing this topic within our circles. At the very least this report is unfriendly to theistic evolution.

Two, one of the decisions at this year’s PCA General Assembly makes it clear that at least in regard to a theistic evolution understanding of Adam and Eve, this is already out of bounds for the PCA. In response to a number of overtures to issue an in thesi statement on the historicity of Adam and Eve’s creation, the PCA GA went with an overture that rejected issuing such a statement. Among the reasoning for this was that the Westminster Larger Catechism already provides sufficient clarity to deny a theistic evolutionary model for Adam and Eve’s creation. In other words, the GA decided that there was no reason to issue a statement saying what we already say we believe. The PCA is already on record as saying that any teaching that Adam and Eve were created through evolutionary means is contradictory to what we believe the Bible to teach.

Three, the teaching of theistic evolution in the PCA has already been explicitly denied in a previous judicial case involving this question. This was a matter that eventually found its way into the hands of our Standing Judicial Commission, where the decision to declare theistic evolution out of bounds was upheld. As all such SJC decisions must be accepted or rejected by the GA, and this one was accepted, this is a formal and explicit declaration on the part of the PCA –

The teaching of theistic evolution is contrary to the Bible and not to be taught in our churches.

If someone believes this is wrong there are reasonable biblical-ecclesiological options to address this and see the (supposed) error corrected. Among those options IS NOT to ignore the decision of our fathers. Brothers, let us not be among those who takes vows lightheartedly.

by Reed DePace

POSTSCRIPT: here is a good starting article to consider problems evolution: What Are the Top Ten Problems with Darwinian Evolution? This is a scientific perspective, not a biblical perspective. For those interested in an informed and reasonable critique of evolution from a science perspective, I recommend this site.

Theistic Evolution and the PCA

by Reed DePace, TE, PCA

O.k., I know this is a touchy subject. Yet it is important. I’m not going to name names, as to do that with the respect owed to brothers would take up much more space than I have here. I am however, going to say that I am persuaded that the teaching of theistic evolution is occurring within the PCA.

Some of this is overt; those involved know that this is what they are teaching. Some of this is under layers of rationalizing that hides the connection to theistic evolution (sometimes even from those supporting the rationalizations). Either way, there is support for theistic evolution going in our denomination.

So what! Right? Well, mark me as a trouble maker if you wish, but theistic evolution is deadly. It is a doctrine that presupposes the validity of an origins theory that fundamentally denies the Biblical origins doctrine. And in doing so, it proves a fatal poison to the gospel.

We can spend our time trying to parse out what “death” is, but we doomed to fail up front because evolution in theistic evolution is antithetical to the Bible. Evolution is fundamentally opposed to the Bible’s explanation of death. We may think we can wall off some limited form of death that protects the historic credibility of the Fall into sin and the ensuing curse of all creation. Yet beginning from a position that affirms that in any manner, to any degree, the reign of death now being experienced throughout the created order is actually how God created things in the first place leaves us with no hope.

Evolution calls good everything the Bible says is God’s judgment on Man’s sin. It truly is a matter of darkness denying the light. There is no compromise with it that will succeed. We don’t have a choice if we are to maintain the Bible’s integrity. Whatever the natural processes before the fall (biological, geological, astronomical, et.al.) they cannot partake of what God calls the reign of death. They cannot be a variation of it or a perfected form of it.

To so argue makes biblical interpretation no more than metaphor. If first Adam is nothing more than a metaphor, then last Adam is likewise nothing more than a metaphor. You agree in even a small way that the reign of death IS NOT exclusively a result of the fall and you lose the gospel. No fall, no judgment; no judgment, no atonement; no atonement, no gospel.

It is that simple.

by Reed DePace, TE, PCA

POSTSCRIPT: here is a good starting article to consider problems evolution: What Are the Top Ten Problems with Darwinian Evolution? This is a scientific perspective, not a biblical perspective. For those interested in an informed and reasonable critique of evolution from a science perspective, I recommend this site.

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