De Moor on Science and Scripture

de-moor-21

One of the reasons history is exciting is that you often find others who have dealt with similar questions to the ones you’re dealing with.  No, they’re not usually identical questions, but they are sometimes similar.  When it comes to these similar questions, it’s also interesting to compare the answers given in history to the answers we come up with today.  Here at Creation Without Compromise we’re especially interested in the questions and answers that have to do with the relationship between science and Scripture.

Today’s venture into history takes us to the late 1700s.  By and large Reformed theology had been devastated by philosophical influences associated with the Enlightenment.  There were only a few holdouts who could be described as confessionally Reformed and orthodox.  One of them was Bernhard De Moor (1709-1780).

After serving for several years as a pastor, De Moor took up a position as professor of theology at the University of Leiden.  In this capacity, De Moor lectured at length on a textbook published by his teacher and friend Johannes à Marck.  These lectures were later published in massive seven-volume set with the catchy title, Commentarius perpetuus in Johannis Marckii Compendium theologiae christianae didactico-elencticum.  De Moor’s book is regarded as the high water-mark of Reformed orthodoxy.  It was a comprehensive overview of Reformed theology as it stood at that time.

Dr. Steven Dilday has taken on the massive task of translating De Moor’s magnum opus into English.  He has been making it freely available online here.  He began in late 2012 and, at this moment, he is currently in chapter 2.  This is obviously going to be a project that stretches over many years!

One of the topics dealt with in chapter 2 has to do with the relationship between science and Scripture.  I would like to briefly survey what De Moor writes on this.  Here we can observe a Reformed theologian from about 200 years ago dealing with questions similar to what we face today.  If you’re interested in reading the English translation of Dr. Dilday for yourself, the topic begins at this blog post.  But I think you will find my summary a little easier reading…

Broadly speaking, De Moor is dealing with Scripture in chapter 2.  In section 21, he begins by noting that the Bible does have a primary subject:  true religion.  The Bible is mainly about “the right manner of coming to know and of worshipping/serving God for the salvation of man as sinner and the glory of God…”  However, Scripture does also speak of other things related to this primary subject.  These other things include natural, historical, and genealogical matters.

 From there, section 22 of chapter 2 deals with the fact that Scripture speaks truly.  De Moor insists that God’s Word speaks truly about all things, including natural things.  This is directly connected to the fact that the One who inspired these writings is the Spirit of Truth.

Here one has to remember that De Moor is commenting or lecturing on a textbook of Johannes à Marck.  De Moor mentions that à Marck points out an alternative hypothesis, namely that “Scripture in natural matters speaks according to the erroneous opinion of the common people.”  The philosopher Baruch Spinoza advocated this position, and so did theologian Christoph Wittich.  De Moor also notes that the English theologian Thomas Burnet took this position in regards to what Scripture says about creation and the Flood.  Just prior to that, he also points out that this was the view of Balthasar Bekker (1634-1698), a Dutch theologian heavily influenced by Cartesian rationalism.

Now I want to pause here for a moment and mention something important about Bekker.  Bekker argued the hypothesis mentioned by De Moor in relation to demons.  Specifically, Bekker taught that the angels (including demons) are not real, but the good angels in Scripture merely speak metaphorically of God’s omnipotence. Bekker also taught the Eve was not tempted by a literal snake in the garden, nor was Christ literally tempted by Satan – it was merely a dream.  At issue was Bekker’s way of interpreting Scripture.  Dutch theologian Wilco Veltkamp has written a dissertation which delves into this.  In a December 2011 article in Nader Bekeken (see here), he explained the connection between the hermeneutics of Bekker and that of theistic evolutionists today.  The connection is a refusal to start with the authority of Scripture and submit to Scripture through to the end of an issue.

Going back to De Moor, this hypothesis gets several points in response, beginning with the observation that its foundation is preconceived human opinion rather than Scripture.  De Moor points that the Bible was inspired in all things by the Spirit of Truth.  Scripture calls God the God of Truth. This hypothesis makes him a liar.  Moreover, God is omniscient and he knows that of which he speaks.  He would also never deceive us or leave us in error.  If this hypothesis were true, De Moor writes, we are at liberty to interpret Scripture as we please and there would no longer be any certainty as to what it actually says.  De Moor quotes Augustine as he insists that none of the canonical writers erred.  He finishes responding to this hypothesis with a reference to article 5 of the Belgic Confession, “We believe without any doubt all things contained” in these canonical writings.

De Moor then adds some nuance to the discussion.  He notes that while the Holy Spirit “never speaks according to the errors of the common people,” he can accurately relate errors made by people.  Further, De Moor acknowledges that Scripture does sometimes speak according to external appearances.  For example, the Greek in Acts 27:27 literally says that the sailors with Paul suspected that some country was “drawing near to them.”  Of course, the land wasn’t approaching the ship, but it is common to speak in that fashion and no one errs in so speaking.

There is one more objection that De Moor addresses – this one also comes from Spinoza.  It’s one that is still trotted out today, albeit in a different form:  Scripture is not designed to teach us concerning natural matters or science.  Instead, the intent of Scripture is to make people obedient.  Today’s version usually refers to faith or salvation rather than obedience.  But certainly we do hear today as well that the Bible is not a “textbook for science” and such things.  How does De Moor respond?  He affirms again the primary purpose of Scripture is to teach true religion.  However, that primary purpose does not exclude subordinate ends such as teaching people the magnificent natural works of God.  One does not rule out the other.  Finally, it would out of place to suppose that the Holy Spirit would use errors to carry out his purposes.  He would never give anything contrary to the truth – it would be out of character for him.

De Moor concludes this section with an intriguing reference to an Order of the States of Holland and West-Friesland, dated September 30, 1656.  This order actually prohibited the interpretation of Scripture by nature, rather than the other way around.  In other words, at one point there was Dutch legislation maintaining that Scripture is to be the lens through which we interpret nature.  De Moor deems this legislation “altogether pious.”

It’s important to remember the era in which De Moor lived – it was the heyday of Enlightenment rationalism.  The Bible was under attack by those who said that it could stand in the face of reasoned scrutiny and scientific developments.  Intelligent people could not take the Bible seriously at face value.  In that milieu, De Moor stood for the absolute authority of the Word of God.  He promoted confidence in the infallible and inerrant Scriptures, also when it came to the relationship between Scripture and science.  He was not a rationalist – no, he was addressing rationalism and doing so on the basis of Scripture.  Those promoting theistic evolution today, especially in Reformed churches, need to ask themselves whether they are carrying on the heritage of theologians like De Moor or betraying it.

“The Historic Reformed Understanding of Genesis”

QA 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism -- the first German edition in 1563.
QA 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism — the first German edition in 1563.

Creation Without Compromise exists because of concerns about origins in our Reformed churches.  In the “About” tab on this website, we state that we are “committed to the historic Reformed understanding of Genesis.”  In the November 6, 2015 issue of Clarion, Rev. Peter Holtvluwer wrote a review of our website and under the heading of “Improvements,” he suggested we fill out the meaning of that statement.  What do we understand by “the historic Reformed understanding of Genesis”?

Essentially, what we mean is the consensual understanding of the first chapters of the Bible that prevailed amongst confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian churches especially prior to Darwin.  In the Reformation era, our theologians agreed in emphasizing the literal understanding of Genesis as the ground for doctrine — this was coupled with an emphasis on careful methods of interpretation.  Hence, prior to Darwin, there was a definite consensus regarding how to read the first chapters of the Bible.  Occasionally there were dissenters from that consensus, but this dissent was not encouraged or tolerated.  After Darwin, we recognize that this consensus was challenged in significant ways.  Yet it must be remembered that the Reformed consensus was maintained in the church courts even after Darwin.  For example, we think of synodical decisions against Rev. J.B. Netelenbos and Dr. J.G. Geelkerken in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (1920 and 1926) and Dr. Ralph Janssen in the Christian Reformed Church of North America (1922).

What are some of the features of this historic consensus?  First and foremost would be the insistence that the first chapters of Genesis describe history in a literal and straight-forward fashion.  While they may have some literary features, these chapters are not metaphorical or mythical, but plainly historical and should be interpreted as such.  What follows from that is creation in six ordinary days.  When Genesis 1 speaks of “days,” it means days more or less as we experience them today.  Moreover, if we take Genesis at face value, Adam was created from actual, physical dust of the earth by God.  He was the first human being.  He became a living being when God breathed life into him.  He did not have a biological father or mother, human, hominid or whatever else.  The first woman Eve was created by God from Adam’s rib.  She did not have biological parents either.  Together, they were the first human beings and the parents of all human beings who have since lived.  God also created all other kinds of creatures in the six day creation period – and these were created by his Word.  More could be said about what follows in Genesis – a literal snake speaking to Eve, a fall into sin, a worldwide flood, etc. – but I trust readers get the picture.  Everything I have said up to here was the historic consensus view in Reformed theology.

Some elements of this historic consensus have found their way into the Reformed and Presbyterian confessional heritage.  On the matter of creation days, we can think of the Westminster Confession’s statement in chapter 4.1 that “it pleased God…to create or make of nothing the world…in the space of six days, and all very good.”  In article 12 of the Belgic Confession, we confess that “the Father through the Word, that is, through his Son, has created out of nothing heaven and earth and all creatures, when it seemed good to him, and that he has given every creature its being, shape, and form…”  Article 14 goes on to say that “God created man of dust from the ground.”  Heidelberg Catechism QA 7 confesses that our depraved nature comes from “our first parents” Adam and Eve.  Other elements of the historic consensus are not found in our confessional heritage, arguably because they were considered to be so self-evident from Scripture as to not require such codification.  When most of the Reformed confessions were first written, the challenges that we face today regarding origins were virtually unthinkable.

Since this is just a short blog post, I’m not going to lay out all the evidence for the existence of this historic consensus.  William VanDoodewaard has done that for us at length in his excellent book The Quest for the Historical Adam (see my review here) and I refer readers to his research.  Amongst others, VanDoodewaard discusses John Calvin, Wolfgang Capito, Girolamo Zanchi, Lambert Daneau, William Perkins, William Ames, the Leiden Synopsis, Thomas Goodwin, Thomas Manton, John Owen, Bernard Pictet, Herman Witsius and Wilhelmus à Brakel.  According to VanDoodewaard, figurative interpretations of Genesis existed even before Darwin, but they were found amongst Roman Catholics, Socinians, and Anabaptists.  Reformed and Presbyterian churches would not countenance such interpretations.  He writes, “Anything that contradicted or failed to cohere with the literal reading of the Genesis text was rejected as subversive to God’s revelation.” (p.86)

Now the big question is:  why do we think that “the historic Reformed understanding of Genesis” is so important to maintain and defend?  It’s not because we’re conservative and just want to hold on to old-fashioned things because old-fashioned must be better.  No, it’s simply because we are convinced that the old consensus is biblical.  Old-fashioned often is better, but only when it lines up with God’s Word.  That’s where we stand.

Thus says the LORD:  ‘Stand by the roads and look, and ask for ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…’”  Jeremiah 6:16a

Pre-Adamites — Old and New

Samuel Maresius
Samuel Maresius

One of the most important reasons we need to study church history is because Satan repurposes just about every error and heresy he has ever engineered or promoted. Seldom do you encounter a totally original false teaching. The evil one regularly takes advantage of the fact that human beings have short memories and are easily distracted. But by studying church history, we can equip ourselves to discern and resist his evil ways.

In 1655, two hugely controversial books appeared in Europe. In these two books (which can be found here), Isaac La Peyrère argued that many other human beings had existed before and alongside Adam and Eve. He claimed that Adam was merely the ancestral father of the Jews. However, the Gentiles traced their lineage back to various “pre-Adamites.” To make his case, he appealed to Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments, although he did question the authority and authenticity of Scripture in many places.

Today we hear talk again of pre-Adamites, although the arguments have shifted because of the wide acceptance of biological macro-evolution. If human beings have an evolutionary history, then we are necessarily looking at the existence of pre-Adamites. If macro-evolution is true and also applies to our species, then an historical Adam (if there was one) cannot have been immediately created by God from literal dust of the earth (cf. Gen. 2:7). Instead, this historical Adam was biologically created by the normal process of a sperm fertilizing an ovum. In other words, prior to being constituted as a human being (being endowed with the image of God), the being we call Adam had a biological father and mother – pre-Adamites.

Plenty has been written recently to demonstrate that this contemporary argument for pre-Adamites is unbiblical. However, is there anything we can learn from Reformed engagement with previous forms of pre-Adamitism? Francis Turretin addressed La Peyrère’s arguments in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology in 1679. In the English translation, Turretin’s discussion takes up about six pages (pp. 457-462 of volume 1). This is a good summary of the issues, as well as an orthodox biblical response. But it was by far not the only response.

Refutation of the FableJust one year after La Peyrère published his pre-Adamite books, a full-length book response appeared from the pen of Samuel Maresius (1599-1673). Maresius was a Reformed theologian from France (his original surname was De Marets). When he responded to La Peyrère, he was a theology professor at the University of Groningen, in the northern Netherlands. Maresius’ book was entitled, A Refutation of the Fable of the Pre-Adamite: Accomplished in Seven Basic Questions. This volume appeared in several editions – the one I used in preparing this post contained 689 pages (you can find it here).

As the title indicates, Maresius treats the topic through seven basic questions. However, he first of all writes a lengthy (109 pages) preface in which he defends the authenticity and authority of Scripture. That provides a window into his method in this volume. His answers to the questions are based first and foremost on Scripture. Yes, Maresius does bring in other supportive material as well, but the authoritative foundation is Scripture alone.

Let’s now briefly look at the seven questions Maresius asks and see what can be learned from them in terms of our present-day engagement with pre-Adamitism. Even though the background is different, some of the questions have not changed and the answers are still relevant.

1. Is Adam the first of all men and is he to be acknowledged as the parent of the whole human race?

Maresius answers in the affirmative. He supports his answer by appealing to Scripture passages, including Matthew 19:4-5. Matthew 19:4 says that God created male and female (Adam and Eve) at the beginning – which means the beginning of the universe, during the six days of creation. Adam was at the beginning and is therefore the first of all, the parent of the whole human race. Maresius understands that the issues at hand are not solved merely by looking at Genesis 1 and 2. Rather, Scripture must interpret Scripture. Jesus clearly believed that Adam was the first of all men, and therefore we ought to as well.

2. Is the forming of Adam and Eve described in Genesis 2 different in order and time from the creation of man in the image of God referred to in Genesis 1?

This is to be denied, says Maresius. You cannot drive a wedge between the first two chapters of Genesis in an effort to make room for pre-Adamites. The man in Genesis 1 is the same as Adam in Genesis 2. La Peyrère argued to the contrary and it’s important to remember that background. Maresius argues that the first two chapters of Genesis present the same history of human origins from different perspectives. Moreover, he again appeals to other Scripture passages outside of Genesis to support his position.

3. Should the foundation of the world and human affairs be regarded as having taken place long before Adam?

To this Maresius says, “No.” In other words, in answer to La Peyrère, he maintains a young-earth position. Any time someone starts introducing pre-Adamites, we run into the question of the age of the earth. Maresius had to deal with it, and so do we today. The biblical evidence runs in favour of a young earth.

4. Does it follow from what Paul says Romans 5:12-14 that other men existed before Adam?

This was a nearly-clever argument introduced by La Peyrère. He reinterpreted Paul to be saying that there were other human beings before Adam who were lawless and sinful. But their actions were not considered sin until Adam came along and broke God’s command to him. This comes across as a radical attempt to reinterpret a problematic text for La Peyrère and Maresius recognizes it as such. It is simply sloppy exegesis to use Romans 5:12-14 to argue for pre-Adamites. Lesson: beware of the Scripture-twisting needed to support a refusal to believe what Scripture plainly reveals in Genesis 1 and 2.

5. Is it possible for the sin of Adam to be imputed to men not descended from him, or those who are pretended to have existed in the world long before him?

Another way of putting this question: can the imputation of original sin be universal if Adam is not the head of the entire human race? Maresius denies this and argues that universal imputation requires a single head of the human race. In both old and new forms, pre-Adamitism is going to have human beings who are not biologically descended from Adam. If they are not descended from Adam, then Adam’s sin cannot be imputed to them. In La Peyrère’s version of pre-Adamitism, he also has human beings existing before Adam, and these too cannot be regarded as sharing in Adam’s sin. In whatever age pre-Adamites are proposed, it should be noted that a reconfiguration of the imputation of original sin becomes necessary.

6. Scripture frequently distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles. Can it be inferred from this that the latter are not descended from Adam, but instead from pre-Adamites?

This question is peculiar to La Peyrère’s position. While we can note that Maresius denies this, I don’t think there’s anything that can be drawn from this in terms of relevance for our present-day discussions.

7. Was the flood of Noah universal?

Maresius affirms a global flood in the days of Noah, contrary to what La Peyrère argued in his books. Like at least some contemporary advocates of pre-Adamites, La Peyrère maintained that the flood was a local phenomenon. Noah’s family, preserved in the flood, continued to represent the line of Adam. However, the Gentiles continued to exist in other parts of the world, unaffected by the flood in Noah’s locale. But Maresius points out that Scripture simply does not support this view. After all, Genesis 6:12 speaks of what precipitated the flood: universal corruption. Universal corruption requires universal punishment. After the flood, Genesis 10 provides genealogies which account for the existence of all peoples after Noah, including Gentiles. Maresius proves that arguing for a local flood requires the twisting and perversion of Scripture, and his arguments remain applicable today.

Conclusion

There is a bit more to be gleaned from this episode in church history. When La Peyrère wrote his books in 1655, he still identified as a Calvinist and was a member of the French Reformed Churches. He soon ended up being arrested by the Roman Catholics – they regarded him as an enemy of their faith too. Faced with their threats, he apologized to the Pope, recanted his views, and became a Roman Catholic in 1656. “Recanted,” however, is a term that can only be used loosely here. La Peyrère went through intellectual contortions to officially disavow his pre-Adamite views while actually still holding them. He wanted to save his life and his intellectual legacy. He actually wrote a defense in response to Maresius’ book, but did not publish it because of a promise to the Pope not to promote pre-Adamitism. There is sometimes more than meets the eye or ears. Sin is deceitful and the sin of unbelief no less so.

Perhaps you’re wondering: if his views were so wrong, why was La Peyrère never disciplined by the French Reformed Churches? Well, it had been tried. Already in 1626, he was suspected of teaching and holding to unbiblical ideas, although it’s not clear whether pre-Adamitism was on his mind yet. His case went to a provincial synod of the French Reformed Churches. However, some 60 pastors defended him and he was acquitted. In his monograph on La Peyrère, Richard H. Popkin suggests that it was the La Peyrère family name which led to this outcome – they were well-respected and influential. Although no formal discipline took place, La Peyrère’s views were roundly condemned by Reformed theologians like Maresius and Turretin. They did what they could to broker no room for pre-Adamitism in the Reformed Churches of Europe. If there ought to have been no room then for La Peyrère’s form of pre-Adamitism, why should there be room now for a different form of pre-Adamitism with many of the same features?

Extraordinary days = support for theistic evolution?

Quote 1:

As I have pointed out some years ago, there is a striking difference on the interpretation of Genesis 1 between these North-American Reformed theologians and their Dutch colleagues – such as Kuyper, Bavinck, Honig, Aalders, Schilder . . . Are we in danger of forgetting our own Reformed tradition in favour of the American one – both in the interpretation of Genesis 1 and in the inerrancy issue?

Quote 2:

Theistic evolution is not outside the bounds of the Three Forms of Unity.

Comment on quotes 1 & 2: Anyone reading the first quotation on a website that includes the second quotation can be forgiven for thinking (incorrectly) that the theologians here named supported some version of theistic evolution. Arguing towards the thesis of quote two in fact provides the raison d’être for the Reformed Academic blog, from where these quotes are drawn.

Quote 3:

This [the global flood] is a major argument in supporting its [creation science’s] belief that the earth is quite young — some 6,000 to 10,000 years in age, rather than the billions of years acknowledged by most scientists. According to creation-science most of the geological features of the entire earth have been shaped by a global Noahic flood which took place some 5,000 years ago.

Quote 4:

With respect to the results of modern science regarding so-called “origins” questions, we do acknowledge that there are multiple converging lines of evidence in favour of an ancient cosmos and even for the common ancestry of all living things. Now, especially in the latter case we do not consider this evidence to be incontrovertible proof, and we certainly believe God did something special in creating humankind.

Quote 5:

This includes especially the field of paleontology (studying the fossil record, including the use of radioactivity and geology) as well as astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology (these deal with stars and galaxies whose light often takes many years to reach us). These are the disciplines, after all, which have been marshalling the evidence that life has been around for about ¾ of the earth’s 4.54-billion-year history, and that the universe itself is about 13.75 billion years old. And these ages are supposed to contradict a “plain sense” or “traditional” reading of Scripture.

Comment on quotes 3, 4, and 5: Two choices are placed before the reader: either 6,000 to 10,000 years of age for the earth [and universe, I might add], or 13.75 billion years for the universe, 4.54 billion for the earth, and about 3 point something billion years for life on earth. Note: to make the contrast clear, I added the italics to these quotations from the Reformed Academic website.

My concern: For several years, as part of their argument that Reformed Christians need to make room for theistic evolution, Reformed Academic has been appealing to some key continental Reformed theologians—as listed above, Kuyper, Bavinck, Honig, Aalders, and Schilder—and their views on the length of the creation days in Genesis 1. Of course none of the authors at Reformed Academic have argued that these theologians supported theistic evolution as such. In one place, they even correctly state the opposite. Nevertheless, my concern is that by way of repeated rhetorical appeal to the latitude of these men regarding “Genesis 1”—and by using “Genesis 1” as shorthand for their views on the length of the days in Genesis 1—Reformed Academic leaves the impression that they can claim the support of these earlier theologians. I assert that these men neither supported theistic evolution, nor tolerated the deep time required for the supposed evolutionary process—the millions, let alone billions of years of the universe and the earth. Nor should we.

We can all point to a number of theologians who argued that some or all of the days of Genesis 1 were “extraordinary” in length, or that they were “God’s working days,” and “creation days.” Both Max Rogland (2001) and Frederika Oosterhoff (2003) have proved the case for this, and shown that Bavinck, Schilder, and others used primarily exegetical points from Genesis 1 to argue against being bound to the 24-hour view. But the fuller picture requires a more robust affirmation of their adherence to the literal, historical, common-sense reading of Genesis 1. I will explore only two of these figures, Bavinck and Schilder, and I shall follow them up with a quotation from one of the former professors of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary on the same point.

Herman Bavinck (1854–1921)Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 1.17.35 AM

Bavinck dealt at some length with evolution in his Reformed Dogmatics, in an essay on Evolution, and in another essay on Creation or Development and in his Our Reasonable Faith.[1] All of these are available in English. In none of them does he endorse theistic evolution, though he certainly appreciates the way in which God made creatures with the ability to adapt. On the idea that humans have biological ancestry with animals, Bavinck writes,

The descendance theory of Darwin may be an indispensable link in the doctrine of development; it finds no support in facts. Man always has and still does form a distinct species in the world of creatures. For this reason there is still room in science for the wondrously beautiful narrative which the opening chapters of the Bible contain concerning the origin of things . . .

And thus the Scripture states it. In an ascending series, covering a period of six days, by the word of his power the Almighty brings all things to appear from the unseen world of thought . . . What an insight into the origin of things! What an exalted simplicity! Here is poetry and truth and religion all in one. This is both natural science and philosophy (859–60).

After offering extensive critique of evolution for usurping the term development, Bavinck points out that the evolutionary worldview has no purpose of the individual person, for humanity as a whole, or for the earth. In this context he adds a point about the “millions of years,” calling it “child’s play,”

Endless duration together with an endless progress is inconceivable for the earth as well as for man. An end must come. To reckon with millions of years, in the past or in the present, is child’s play and unworthy of mature minds, and is at best of no greater value than the gigantic numbers of Indian mythology. All physicists teach that after some millions of years the earth shall come to an end. However rich in provisions, the earth is not inexhaustible.[2]

James Visscher, in a study on Bavinck on creation, includes part of this quote also, and adds in a note, “[Bavinck] considered the figures coming from geologists to be far-fetched. He had little use for Darwin’s ‘incalculable number of years.’ He stated, ‘As a matter of fact, there are other reasons as well why the human race cannot have existed many thousands of years before Christ.”[3]

Benjamin Warfield, in a review of Bavinck’s essay, spoke with great admiration,

[Bavinck] uncovers with great skill the inconsistencies of the evolutionary philosophy and exposes its vast assumptions; and sets over against it the creationism or supernaturalism of the Biblical world-conception. The address divides itself into three parts, in which are contrasted the two views of the world successively with reference to the questions of the origin, nature, and end of things, the result being to show that the evolutionary scheme stands helplessly before each of the three problems. It is a very thorough and very telling exposure of the essential atheism of evolutionism, considered as a philosophy of being.[4]

Perhaps Warfield was more open to the millions of years hypothesis than was Bavinck, for he doesn’t mention that as part of Bavinck’s critique of evolution as a philosophy of being, he also called its appeal to millions—let alone billions!—of years, “child’s play.”

Klaas Schilder (1890–1952)Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 1.17.00 AM

We needn’t comment extensively on Schilder’s views, as Frederika Oosterhoff has already done this work and I haven’t time to pursue this research deeply. However, the comments of Jacob Kamphuis are helpful, in his study on Schilder on heaven. He writes,

Without compromise Schilder makes his starting point the faith in Scripture, specifically in the historical trustworthiness of the history related in Genesis 2 and 3, dealing with the original state of righteousness and the fall into sin. In this book Schilder does not refer even once to the decisions of the Synod of Assen of 1926 [though he had earlier written much about it] regarding the historical trustworthiness of the narrative in Genesis 2 and 3. Nevertheless, Berkhouwer’s words are strikingly applicable to What is Heaven? “I know of no theologian within the circle of Refomred theology for whom the decision of Assen was of more material significance than it was for Schilder.” Schilder reminds us repeatedly of his position, “With resepect to the beginning of the world we must accept the historicity of the narrative of Genesis 1–3.” This is the starting point.[5]

Jack DeJong (1949–)

One of the professors of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, now retired and sadly incapable of entering this debate, commented in Clarion some years ago on the length of the creation days. Like Schilder, whom he studied for his dissertation, DeJong argued that we should not be bound to an exact length of 24 hours for our view of the creation days. Not everyone appreciated his position. However, that he in no way intended to make room for millions of years or for theistic evolution is clear from a brief comment he made in a published work for instruction in pre-confession classes, where he wrote,

The world was created in six days, according to the following pattern . . . [he lists the six days]. The theory of evolution says that all present things evolved from original cells through a process spanning millions of years. Although we cannot deny the process of limited change and micro-evolution, we must rule out the possibility of a change from one species to another (macro-evolution). While we cannot accurately determine the age of the earth, an evolutionary process of billions of years does not accord with the testimony of Genesis 1–3 and its relation to the rest of Scripture.[6]

Conclusion

Let’s not be misled to think that the Reformed theologians here mentioned intended to make room within the Reformed faith for millions or even billions of years of prior existence of the universe, earth, and life. All of them did argue that the days of Genesis 1 (the first three days, or even all six of them) should be called “extraordinary days,” “God’s working days,” and “creation days,” because they thought that these days were not necessarily identical in time with our 24-hour days. But they never suggested that their views allowed room for the deep time advocated by evolutionists.[7]

[1] All of these are easily found, but one: Herman Bavinck, “Creation or Development,” The Methodist Review (1901), transl. Hendrik De Vries, 849–74. See  https://archive.org/details/methodistreview8351unse. Accessed November 9, 2015.

[2] I thank Anthon Souman for drawing this quotation to my attention. I have since noticed that Herman Van Barneveld has also raised it in dialogue with Reformed Academic.

[3] James Visscher, “Bavinck on Creation,” Living Waters from Ancient Springs , ed. Jason Van Vliet (Wipf&Stock, 2011), 145, n. 44.

[4] From the Presbyterian and Reformed Review 12 (1901), 507, as quoted in Eric D. Bristley, Guide to the Writings of Herman Bavinck (RHB, 2008), 75. Checking the original source, I note that Warfield was reviewing the Dutch original, not the translation.

[5] Jacob Kamphuis, “Schilder on Heaven,” Always Obedient, ed. J. Geertsema (P&R, 1995), 102.

[6] Jack DeJong, Credo (Premier Publishing, 1997, etc.), 28–29.

[7] Finally, as a bit of an aside, readers of Reformed Academic’s blogs also repeatedly encounter one or two quotations from John Calvin to the effect that we are to learn astronomy and other disciplines from the scientific experts and not from the Bible. Creation Ministries International replied to this trope some time ago, with a much more wholesome account of Calvin’s views.

Book Review: The Quest for the Historical Adam

HistoricalAdam5__70127.1421354609.1280.1280The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins, William VanDoodewaard. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015. Hardcover, 400 pages, $37.85.

Once in a very rare while I come across a book which brings me to think, “If I had the means, I would get a copy of this into every single Canadian Reformed home.” This is one of those books. If I couldn’t get it into every single CanRC home, I would settle for getting it into the hands of every single minister, elder, and deacon. The Quest for the Historical Adam is not only relevant, but crucially important for these days in which a biblical view of origins is under pressure. This volume could do a world of good if it would only receive the careful attention it deserves.

The author, William VanDoodewaard, is a church history professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also a minister of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). For those unfamiliar with this church, the ARP is a long-time member of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). Alongside his seminary teaching, Dr. VanDoodewaard is also an ARP church planter in Grand Rapids. Apart from his doctoral dissertation, this is his first published book.

The title of this volume plays off a much earlier book by Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. In that book, Schweitzer examined how historical conceptions of Jesus led to a variety of Jesuses. While his book had some value, unfortunately, Schweitzer did not honour the authority of Scripture, so his conclusions were necessarily flawed. However, VanDoodewaard has the highest view of Scripture as he traces out how people have variously conceived of Adam. The author points that contemporary debates over origins are often afflicted with what he calls “historical amnesia.” This volume seeks to recover our collective memory of how ages past have written about, preached about, and thought about our first parents and their origins.

The first chapter provides a general overview of what Scripture says about Adam. From this overview, the author reaches this conclusion, “…there is no inherent ground to posit anything aside from a special, temporally immediate creation of Adam and Eve as the first humans on the sixth day of creation” (18). The following five chapters trace out the post-biblical history of how Christians have looked at the early chapters of Genesis. If anything is clear from these chapters, it is that there has been a consensus view for millennia. The consensus is that the first chapters of Genesis must be taken seriously as a historical record. When it comes to human origins, the vast majority of Christian interpreters have understood Scripture to teach a special or immediate creation of Adam and Eve, a creation which allows for no prior biological ancestry of any sort. The Quest for the Historical Adam concludes with a chapter entitled, “What Difference Does It Make?” In this chapter, the author lays out ten areas of doctrine that are affected by how one views the origin of Adam. What are those ten areas?

  1. Scripture and hermeneutics
  2. Man and the ethics of human life
  3. Marriage and unity of race
  4. Human language
  5. God, the Creator
  6. The goodness of creation
  7. In Adam’s fall sinned we all?
  8. Christ as Creator and Redeemer
  9. Adam, Christ, and the Covenants
  10. Adam and accountability: the last things

Dr. VanDoodewaard convincingly makes the case that no one can soundly argue that one’s view of origins can be hermetically sealed off from the rest of one’s theology. Even taking an agnostic view or allowing for latitude in the matter will invariably have some impact.

The heart of the book is the historical overview. Let me mention five highlights that are worth sharing. There are many more highlights that I could mention, but I hope these five will whet your appetite and motivate you to buy the book.

Today we sometimes encounter the idea of pre-Adamites – human beings or human-like creatures (hominids) who lived before and beside Adam. One of the first to promote a form of this idea was a Frenchman named Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1676). While he worked with the text of Genesis in his book Men Before Adam, he did so in a rather revisionist way. He argued that only the Jews were descended from Adam and Genesis 2 only described where the Jews came from. Everyone else came from other groups of human beings who had existed long before Adam. What motivated La Peyrère to develop this theory? He wanted to make Genesis more reasonable so that unbelievers would be more receptive to the Christian faith (143). Does this sound familiar?

La Peyrère developed a small following in Europe. His ideas were widely discussed, but uniformly rejected by Reformed theologians. His ideas were also rejected by Roman Catholic figures such as Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Following what Scripture taught on this matter, Pascal held to a young earth of about 6000 years age and “was also explicitly critical of pre-Adamite thought” (122).

Another valuable contribution of VanDoodewaard is his critique of historian Ronald Numbers. Numbers wrote an influential 1992 book entitled The Creationists in which he argued that a literal understanding of the early chapters of Genesis only exists in our modern day because of the influence of American creation scientists, and particularly through the writing of a Seventh Day Adventist, George McCready Price. “However,” writes VanDoodewaard, “more thorough scholarship reveals significant evidence of a strong stream of both nineteenth- and twentieth-century sources that remained firmly in the millennia old tradition of a literal hermeneutic” (157). What Numbers and others have failed to see is that, entirely apart from twentieth-century creation science, theologians and clergymen have for centuries maintained a literal reading of Genesis, reaching their conclusions based on the text alone. Our author gives several good examples with Dutch-American Reformed theologians like Geerhardus Vos, William Heyns, Foppe Ten Hoor, and Louis Berkhof.

An important part of the work of a historian is discerning patterns. The Quest for the Historical Adam reveals an important pattern in thinking about origins. It starts with sources outside of Scripture and Christian theology pressuring an alternative explanation – these sources could be philosophical, scientific, literary, or archaeological. Under that pressure, interpreters begin to make allowances for alternative explanations. Other generations eventually arise which take things a step further and assert these alternative explanations more stridently, also following through on their logical consequences. This pattern is evident throughout the book.

As mentioned earlier, Dr. VanDoodewaard is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian minister. It is not surprising then to find his church and its struggles with this question mentioned. He notes that the ARP adopted a synodical teaching statement in 2012 that affirmed the clear biblical teaching on origins. He contrasts that with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). He notes that efforts were made to have the PCA clearly rule out aberrant teachings on origins. A 2012 effort to have the PCA General Assembly issue a teaching statement on this matter floundered. Why? There was a convergence of two broad camps. VanDoodewaard writes:

Some argued that the confessional standards of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms provided sufficient clarity on the topic – positing that if there were concerns, they ought to be pursued through the means of church discipline. Other delegates held that belief in evolutionary biological processes in human origins, as circumscribed by Collins, Keller, or others, was harmonious with Scripture and represented a legitimate latitude of ecclesiastical theology (248).

These two lines of argument paralyzed the PCA and prevented it from taking a stand. The result is that various forms of theistic evolution continue to have a comfortable home in the PCA and very little, if anything, can be done about it. Will we in the Canadian Reformed Churches learn from this history while the opportunity is still there?

Obviously, I have a great deal of appreciation for this book. However, there are a couple of oversights that I noticed. Chapter 3 deals with “Adam in the Reformation and Post-Reformation Eras.” While the author does spend some time with the Westminster Standards (especially the issue of “in the space of six days”), he disregards the Three Forms of Unity or other Reformed confessions. This is important in our day when we hear it asserted by some that theistic evolution falls within the bounds of our confessions. Nevertheless, VanDoodewaard’s research certainly does support the position that in the era in which these confessions were originally written, it would have been unthinkable for forms of theistic evolution to be tolerated in Reformed churches. Chapter 6 deals with the 1950s to the present. The author has some discussion about developments in the Christian Reformed Church, but there could have been more said. For instance, it would be helpful for readers to see how the tolerance of theistic evolution in the CRC grew out of a weakened view of biblical authority starting in the 1950s, especially under the influence of the Free University of Amsterdam.

The Quest for the Historical Adam is a unique contribution to a vitally important topic. It might be a bit technical at times for some readers, but those who persevere will be rewarded. As intimated in my introduction, this is especially an important book for office bearers. As those who have promised to “oppose, refute, and help prevent” errors conflicting with God’s Word, we need to educate ourselves about those errors and the patterns that lead to them being accepted. This is all the more case when an error is right before us, threatening to undo us. I heartily commend Dr. VanDoodewaard for writing this valuable book and Reformation Heritage Books for publishing it. May the day hasten when historians look back and say that the publication of this book was a turning point for the maintenance of orthodoxy on origins!


This review was originally published in Reformed Perspective magazine and reappears here with their gracious permission.

Knocking Down Straw Men is Too Easy

Straw-ManIt has been some time since we have heard from the bloggers at Reformed Academic. Last week, however, a post finally appeared from Dr. Freda Oosterhoff. In this post, she is interacting with an article in Clarion written by Rev. Klaas Stam. She claims that Clarion refused to publish her response and so it now appears on Reformed Academic. The focus of her article is a critique of Henry Morris. Certainly some of what Morris writes is worthy of critique and my goal here is not to defend Morris. Instead, I want to interact with the last of her conclusions.

Dr. Oosterhoff writes, “It is high time, I am convinced, to issue warnings against an inerrantist view of the Bible, one that has, unfortunately, been much promoted among us in recent years.” Naturally, as one of those who has been promoting biblical inerrancy, I take note of her burden to warn against this. Dr. Oosterhoff and I will agree on this point: biblical inerrancy is at the heart of the present controversy in the Canadian Reformed Churches over whether there should be room for those who wish to hold to an explanation of man’s origins that might or does include biological evolution. Deny biblical inerrancy and the room is more likely to be created. Affirm biblical inerrancy and the room is not likely to be there for creation compromisers. Find out where someone stands on inerrancy and you can predict where they will likely fall on what can be taught or tolerated in terms of origins. This is obviously a vitally important issue.

Another point where I can agree is Dr. Oosterhoff’s last sentence in her article. She states there that we should not ignore the difficulties in this discussion nor cover them up with fallacious arguments. To do so is dangerous – and I absolutely agree. Because we are united to Jesus Christ (who is the Truth, John 14:6), it is incumbent on us to conscientiously avoid fallacious reasoning.

The irony is that Dr. Oosterhoff’s warning against “inerrantism” (as she calls it) employs a common informal fallacy: the fallacy of the straw man. She offers an extreme and uncharitable portrayal of inerrancy and then knocks it down with the “the traditional Reformed belief” in a Bible that is infallible (but not inerrant). She even says that infallibility is what “the traditional Reformed belief has always been,” implying that inerrancy has never featured in traditional Reformed theology. This is the way she defines the problem she is warning against:

Inerrantism on the other hand teaches the Bible is without any factual errors in the modern-scientific meaning of that term; that it contains no ‘mistakes’ in quotations, no ‘discrepancies’ in for example genealogies, and no ‘errors’ of memory, of grammar, of word choice, of historical information and description, and so on. According to inerrantists, the Bible can be proven to be accurate, again in the modern-scientific meaning of that term.

Dr. Oosterhoff provides no source for that description. She refers to no specific “inerrantist.” There are no footnotes to support these claims. She appears to be providing her own description of what proponents of inerrancy believe.

Now perhaps Dr. Oosterhoff can find some example of someone defining inerrancy in the sloppy way she described. However, I’m sure that Dr. Oosterhoff is aware of the Chicago Statement produced in 1978 and signed by over 200 theologians, including several from the CanRC. The Chicago Statement is still widely-recognized as the most precise and helpful definition of biblical inerrancy. In view of Dr. Oosterhoff’s portrayal of inerrancy, it is worthwhile to read carefully Article XIII of the Chicago Statement:

We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of materials, variant selections of material in parallel accounts or the use of free citations.

Dr. Oosterhoff’s portrayal of “inerrantism” simply does not line up with this – in fact, I would expect her to be able to agree to what the Chicago Statement says here about Scripture. Moreover, if you are compelled to warn people against inerrancy, you need a good definition of inerrancy, and what better place to find one than in the Chicago Statement?

But there is not only a problem with her portrayal of inerrancy. There’s also a problem on the other side of the equation, with her portrayal of “the traditional Reformed belief.” She says that our traditional belief is infallibility, and not inerrancy. Now I could multiply historical examples to prove that she is wrong. However, let me only refer to a highly-respected Reformed theological textbook from the seventeenth century, the Leiden Synopsis. The first volume of this has recently appeared in English translation, so readers can check it for themselves. We find Antonius Walaeus writing, “It is made clear to us that the authority of Holy Scripture is much greater than that of the Church by the fact that the Church is capable of erring while Scripture cannot” (71). Sometimes it is claimed that biblical inspiration or inerrancy only extends to doctrines. In other words, the core teachings of Scripture are inspired and even inerrant, but this does not apply to “peripheral” matters.  This notion existed in the days of the Leiden Synopsis already and Walaeus had a ready answer in thesis 28:

And here one ought not to pay heed to Socinus and several other Christians who grant that Holy Scripture is divinely-originated in issues of special importance, but that its authors in situations and circumstances of lesser importance were abandoned by the Holy Spirit and could have erred. Because this opinion paves the way for contempt, and expressly contradicts Scripture which testifies that “everything that was written was written for our instruction (Romans 15:4), and “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Likewise, “no Scripture is of one’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20); indeed, “not even one iota will disappear from the Law” (Matthew 5:18). “And it is not permitted for any man to add or to remove from it” (Deuteronomy 4[:2], Revelation 22[:18-19].” (69)

In a footnote, the editors of the Synopsis point out that besides Faustus Socinus, Walaeus noted elsewhere that Erasmus displayed “the same pernicious view.” We can do away with the flawed notion that biblical inerrancy has been smuggled into Reformed theology from fundamentalism. The traditional Reformed belief has long been an inerrant Bible. Yes, yes, I know about Rogers and McKim and their efforts to say otherwise. Their flawed research has been quite adequately answered by Richard Muller (in his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics) and many others (see here for a bibliography).

This response has already become too long, but I need to raise one more point. Dr. Oosterhoff says that “According to inerrantists, the Bible can be proven to be accurate, again in the modern-scientific meaning of that term.” Here she paints with a broad brush. To which specific inerrantists is she referring? All of them? Some of them? Which ones? Certainly, I would grant that there are proponents of inerrancy who take such an approach, but they would generally not be Reformed. Reformed proponents of inerrancy like Dr. Greg Bahnsen have argued for a presuppositional approach. We do not prove the Bible to be accurate, but we believe it to be accurate because this is the way God himself describes it to us, it is the self-attestation of Scripture. Inerrancy is never a matter of proof, but of faith. It is not a matter of a conclusion reached by our reason, but a matter of faith accepting what God’s Word says about itself as our starting point. As I have pointed out before, even some Lutheran theologians have taken this approach to biblical inerrancy. Dr. Oosterhoff does not acknowledge that this presuppositional approach even exists and that again puts inerrancy in the worst possible light.

If Dr. Oosterhoff and her colleagues at Reformed Academic feel a burden to warn the Canadian Reformed Churches against biblical inerrancy, they will need to at least become familiar with the best arguments for biblical inerrancy, especially from Reformed theologians. Taking the weakest and sloppiest statements of inerrancy and demolishing them is easy and it scores points with sympathizers. However, we are those who are to “take every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and certainly that means we have to forsake all fallacious reasoning.

What I Learned From My Dutch Reformed Brethren

14In the Canadian Reformed Churches the question has come up, “Can we change our confessions?” and many assume the answer must be and emphatic “No!”
because the confessions must be unchangeable. But as this post, by Rev.Williamson, shows, that is not how the earlier Presbyterian churches viewed their confession.

********************

It was my privilege to serve as a pastor for nearly two decades with the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (or RCNZ). And it was during this time that they adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) as one of the doctrinal standards of their Churches having authority equal to that of the Three Forms of Unity. And what has impressed me more and more over the years is not only the fact that these Dutch immigrants did this rather remarkable thing, but also showed quite clearly by their actions the integrity of that adoption.

It was not long after the WCF was adopted that one of the pastors who came from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands lodged what they called a gravamen against Chapter 2
1:7-8 of the WCF. The pastor who brought that gravamen to his Session, then Presbytery, and finally Synod, was a man of integrity. He did not start publicly preaching or teaching ‘his’ view of the Lord’s Day/Sabbath. No, he had too much respect for the integrity of Confessional Subscription.

What he wanted was either the removal of 21:7-8, or a newly written replacement for that section of the WCF. So he sought it by refraining from publicly teaching or writing anything contrary to the Church’s adopted Confessional Standards, while working within the assemblies of the elders of the Churches to effect a change that he could agree with. I was opposed to his gravamen, but I respected very much the way that he dealt with this matter. We remained good friends during the time when this was adjudicated – and also after he left New Zealand to serve in a different Confessional context in Australia.

One of the things that left a deep impression on me was the fact that even though this was an issue that could have become a serious source of conflict, it did not. The reason was that an orderly course had been followed. And when the Synod (or what I would call the broadest assembly of the elders of the RCNZ) determined that the churches wished to uphold WCF 21:7-8, my friend did not even want to publicly teach or preach what was contrary to this. He sought, instead, a place in a church that had not adopted the WCF as the RCNZ had. And it is my conviction that we Presbyterians would profit by learning from this example.

In our earlier history, as I understand it, we Presbyterians had a similar concept and conviction. Let me give two examples:

  1. The original text of the WCF 25:6 said “There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof: but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.” I hope that everyone who reads this will understand that I am in complete agreement with the first part of this section of the WCF. But I am also thankful that the part which I have underlined, above, has been changed.I certainly believe that what the Scriptures say about the Antichrist has a valid application to the false claims of the Papacy. I also believe what II Thessalonians says about “the man of sin [or lawlessness]” can be applied—by the principle of analogy—against the Papacy. But I do not believe (as the authors of the WCF did) that the Papacy is what the apostles Paul and John specifically intended us to understand their words to mean. I am therefore in complete agreement with the deletion of the underlined words in the OPC and PCA version.
  2. The original text of WCF 25:4b said “The man may not marry any of his wife’s kindred, nearer in blood than he may of his own: not the woman her husband’s kindred, nearer in blood than of her own.” It is my recollection that Professor John Murray defended this original section of the WCF. But my interest here is to point out that in earlier times Presbyterians saw it as important to either agree with their Confession or change it so that it says in plain, understandable words, what the church actually believes. When they no longer held this view it too was deleted. And it is this integrity that I wish we could recover.

I have noted several instances, lately, in which the great Herman Bavinck has been cited in support of the assertion that no creed has as yet made six-day creation a confessional doctrine. And it is true that Dr. Bavinck not only admitted that historically “Christian theology, with only a few exceptions, continued to hold onto the literal historical view of the creation story” but then went on to say “not a single confession made a fixed pronouncement about the six-day continuum…” I have the highest respect for Herman Bavinck and am thankful, at last, to have my hands on his great work of Dogmatics in English. But even great men make mistakes. And the fact is that on this he was not correct. The Westminster Assembly of Divines did make a fixed pronouncement about the six-day continuum. They said in the WCF, and again in both the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, that God—by the word of his power—created “all things visible and invisible, in the space of six days.” And that they intended this to mean what our children take it to mean when they learn the shorter catechism, has been clearly demonstrated by Dr. David Hall.

I (and other six-day creation people) have been accused of wanting to excommunicate Hodge, Warfield and Machen because of their willingness to tolerate views such as the day-age view. This is a false charge. Did Luther and Calvin want to excommunicate Augustine because they found error in his teaching? Wasn’t the Reformation itself a liberation from blind obedience to false tradition—even if that false tradition was sometimes embraced by truly great men? I therefore refuse to be silenced by this sort of tyranny, and insist on my right to say that a serious mistake was made in the way this issue was handled by some truly great men. I think it should have been handled in the same way the two examples cited above [1 and 2] were handled.

Men who did not hold to the six-day view (so clearly expressed in the three Westminster Standards) should have been required to refrain from public teaching or preaching their different views unless and until those sections of the WCF and Catechisms were either removed or rewritten. I say this because I think it is a serious failure on the part of the eldership of the church to teach our children one thing (in the catechism) while the preacher teaches another thing. Had this restraint been required those who do not agree with six-day creation would have seen it as their duty to remain silent (in public utterance and writing on the subject) while they made diligent study in order (in private) to formulate what they had come to believe to be the truth in order to bring it before their Session, Presbytery and General Assembly, seeking a change in the Westminster Standards.

Had this been done it is possible that the church would have finally been persuaded that one or another of the various views was correct. Then the doctrinal standards could have been changed to clearly state the other view. Or at least it might have resulted in the church simply removing the sections of the WCF and Catechisms that say God created the world “in the space of six-days.”

As it is at present we have, in effect, taken on a new method of Confessional revision. We no longer insist that our Confession and Catechisms unambiguously state what we as a church unitedly believe, so that the words of our confession themselves are subordinately authoritative (meaning that while they can be changed when appropriate, as Scripture cannot, they nevertheless must be adhered to unless changed by due process). Now the doctrinal authority seems more and more to reside in whatever the majority is willing to allow, rather than in the words of the Confessions and Catechisms taken according to their intended and long-received meaning.

I think the brethren who brought the Dutch Reformed heritage to New Zealand exhibited something better than ‘our way’ of dealing with our subordinate standards, and we would do well to learn from their example.

G. I. Williamson is a retired minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, living in the Orange City, Iowa area. He is the author of study guides on the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and the Heidelberg Catechism. This article was first published on The Aquila Report, and is reprinted here with their permission.