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.

The Rationalistic Attack on Scripture (Louis Praamsma) — 4

Today we’ve got the final installment of Dr. Louis Praamsma’s article from the December 1979 issue of The Outlook (part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here).  Praamsma was responding to a weakening of the doctrine of Scripture in the CRC especially with men like Allen Verhey and Harry Boer.  Within five years, the exodus out of the CRC began.  Some of those who were the first ones to leave ended up at the Canadian Reformed Churches.  Now these people are watching with deep concern as history seems to be repeating itself.  One correspondent mentioned the old saying, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

Will the Canadian Reformed Churches succumb to the spirit of the age?  If the experience of the CRC is indicative, this question will be answered by what parents tolerate in the elementary and high schools, who is allowed to teach at the federational seminary, the questions that are asked of seminary students/graduates at classis exams (and how the answers are evaluated), and where children are sent for post-secondary education.


Bavinck and Machen

Must I mention more names?  Must I speak of Herman Bavinck who absorbed all the wisdom of liberal Leyden of his days and kept his faith, faith in an infallible Bible?  Must I mention Gresham Machen who absorbed all the wisdom of liberal Germany in the beginning of our century and wrestled with it until he had conquered it and then became that outstanding champion of truth?  Machen wrote, “I hold that the biblical writers, after having been prepared for their task by the providential ordering of their entire lives, received, in addition to all that, a blessed and supernatural guidance and impulsion by the Spirit of God, so that they were preserved from the errors that appear in other books and thus the resulting book, the Bible, is in all its parts the very Word  of God, completely true in what it says regarding matters of fact and completely authoritative in its commands” (The Christian Faith in the Modern World, 36-37).

The point is again that not the valiant Machen wrote those words, but that Machen, who wrestled with all the intellectual problems which then and now are brought in against inerrancy and had conquered them, wrote those words.

Must we draw the conclusion now that Augustine and Calvin, that Kuyper, Bavinck and Machen, not to mention many more, belonged to a certain kind of Reformed tradition which should be described in Dr. Boer’s words as “an unprincipled ruthless exercise that bends any desired Scripture in its foreordained meaning”?

Mind well what Dr. Boer means: he wants to tell us that those men made use of their own logical foreordination, not of that of God.

Escape from Unbelieving Rationalism

We should not draw that conclusion.  We should say that those theologians had escaped from that rationalism which wants to mould and model Scripture after a pattern of time-bound human logic.  Their eyes had been opened to the limits, the defects, often the arrogance of that human logic.  They knew that even the best-informed human scholar does not know everything.

Those “best-informed scholarly theologians” are now referred to as form-critics.  They always speak about documents which they can never produce.  They always refer to a tradition-behind-a-tradition which they construct with all the ingenuity of first-class detectives.  They are the professionals who know – know what?  Next year they will tell you which hypotheses are more probable than those of last year.

Should We Change the Belgic Confession?

There is currently a proposal circulating in our churches regarding article 14 of the Belgic Confession. This proposal, aimed for the floor of Synod 2016, seeks to address theistic evolution by making a change to the opening of article 14. This change will ensure that theistic evolution is officially recognized as unbiblical by our churches. Last week, I addressed those who might instinctively recoil at the thought of changing our beloved Belgic Confession. Can we actually make any substantial changes? As we saw, not only is this permissible in principle (and even necessary at times), but in fact it has happened several times throughout the 454 year history of the Confession, even as recently as 1983. The CanRC Belgic Confession in 2015 is quite different than the Belgic Confession first written in 1561.   I concluded that the question is not “Can the Confession be changed?” The question needs to be: “Should the Confession be changed?” That’s the question I want to address in this post.

A Weighty Argument

One of the weightiest arguments against making the proposed change is that our Three Forms of Unity are already clear on the matter. For example, QA 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism clearly says that Adam and Eve were our first parents. In its current formulation, article 14 of the Confession says that God “created man of dust from the ground.” Some would argue that these statements, especially taken together, settle the matter once and for all. Our current confessions already rule out such notions as Adam and Eve sharing ancestry with primates. Why make a change when our existing Three Forms of Unity are already sufficient?

In ground 4, the proposal acknowledges that, taken in the right way, our existing Three Forms of Unity should rule out any notions of theistic evolution. When the Catechism was first written, we can say with confidence that “first parents” meant what it appears to mean. When the Belgic Confession was first written “dust from the ground,” it meant what Calvin understood: Adam’s “dead body was formed out of the dust of the earth.”[1] Before the moment described in Genesis 2:7, there was absolutely no man-like creature, human or hominid (some kind of biological pre-cursor to man with an evolutionary history). In Genesis 2:7, a creature was formed from literal inanimate dust, God breathed life into his nostrils, and only then he became a living being. For centuries, orthodox Reformed confessors have recognized this as the plain meaning of the first sentence of article 14.

Laying Out the Problem

Yet here we are in 2015 dealing with this problem in our churches. And there is obviously a problem. Let me lay it out. We have a situation where some of us are saying that our confessions clearly rule out theistic evolution: as a Reformed confessor you cannot say that the creature who became Adam came into existence through the meeting of a hominid sperm and a hominid egg, nor can you say that the creature who became Eve was at one point a hominid toddler bouncing on her hominid father’s knee. You cannot say that Adam and Eve, as biological creatures, had parents or grandparents. I reckon that all this is correct and I have made similar assertions.

However, on the other hand, we have Reformed Academic saying things like this (see original source here):

We are all in agreement with all of Scripture and the Reformed confessions, including notably that Adam and Eve were real humans, in a real Eden with real trees (including a real tree of the knowledge of good and evil), and upon a real temptation by the real devil in the form of a real snake, really sinned, so there was a real Fall.

Statements like this are intended to put us all at ease. In essence, they’re saying, “Look, there’s no issue here. We believe the Reformed confessions too. We even believe in a real historical Adam who was the first human being. What’s the problem?”

The problem is outlined in the BC 14 proposal. The problem is that a CanRC scientist involved with Reformed Academic is on public record (see here) as being a supporter of evolution, by which is meant, “biologically, Homo Sapiens evolved through natural processes from ancestral forms in common with primates.”  If he is not a theistic evolutionist (as he claims), why has he never protested his inclusion on this list of “Prominent Christians Who Support Evolution”?  The problem is when another CanRC scientist argues publically that even our Lord Jesus, as a true human being, shared a common ancestry with chimpanzees (see here). The problem is that these scientists are outspoken and influential representatives of this way of thinking. They are regarded as leaders not only in their fields, but in the churches – they have even served as office bearers. The problem is when Reformed Academic and a fair number of others in our churches think that the above-mentioned views are tolerable — their voices can be heard loud and clear on social media.  The problem is further evidenced when the above-mentioned scientists refuse to answer publically five carefully worded questions posed by fellow CanRC scientist Dr. John Byl (see the bottom of this post).  If they’re not theistic evolutionists (or evolutionary creationists, or whatever the nom du jour), why not just give clear answers to these questions and be done with it?  There is obviously a pervasive multi-faceted problem regarding origins and it is not going away. Our church federation is not helped by anyone, especially those in leadership positions, naively pretending that there is little or no problem.  We need to deal with it. The question is: what is the best way to deal with it?

Moving Forward with Eyes Wide Open

First, we need to see that proponents of theistic evolution might readily agree that Adam and Eve are our first parents, as stated in QA 7 of the Catechism. Reformed Academic says that they have zero problem with that – rather, they affirm it wholeheartedly. But we need to ask: what would they mean when they say that? A theistic evolutionist would mean that Adam and Eve were the first Homo sapiens, and that they were endowed with the image of God in some fashion. This endowment supposedly makes them our “first parents” in the sense of being the first humans (the first Homo sapiens), although they are not our first parents in a purely biological sense. This is one way that some associated with Reformed Academic and others can insist that their views fall within the bounds of the Reformed confessions in their current state.

There is also another way. Proponents of theistic evolution might readily agree that man was created from dust, as the Belgic Confession says in article 14. Reformed Academic says that they have no problem with that either. But what do they mean when they affirm what BC 14 says? They could mean that humans are material and descended from lowly origins. They are descended from earlier life-forms (hominids) who may have originally emerged from the dust or dirt of the earth. In other words, to put it technically, the current wording of article 14, “dust from the ground” could still be understood mediately, as if the dust is indeed at the most remote origins of humans, but not the immediate material cause of Adam and Eve. In this way, theistic evolutionists can claim with a straight face that they maintain the Reformed confessions all the while holding something contrary to the teaching of Scripture. Whether we like it or not, even if we insist that what they’re saying is contrary to the true meaning of the Three Forms of Unity, our existing wording is being perceived as leaving this kind of “wiggle room.” That perception accounts for the present confusion in our churches about this matter.

Our situation is somewhat analogous to the situation with the Remonstrants before the Synod of Dort 1618-19. It could have been argued that the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession were sufficiently clear to deal with the theology of the Remonstrants. The problem was that Arminius himself maintained that he was being faithful to the Confessions. Roger Nicole writes:

His attitude toward confessional standards was open to question, for a theologian of his caliber must have realized that there was a substantial rift between his views and the system of teaching as well as the express utterances of the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession. Nevertheless, he paraded under the flag of allegiance and under the vows of conformity from the time of his ordination to his death. He repeatedly promised not to teach anything from the pulpit or the university chair which might be out of keeping with the standards.[2]

It was eventually recognized that the language of the Catechism and the Confession were often being reinterpreted to suit Remonstrant ends. Clarification was needed – Arminianism had to be clearly ruled out. The confusion was resolved by the Synod of Dort. We see the same confusion happening in our day with those advocating for theistic evolution and its toleration. Arguments and assertions are made that our confessions can be interpreted in such a way as to accommodate theistic evolution. In this present context, we need to have an unambiguously clear statement that theistic evolution is outside the bounds of biblical orthodoxy.

Despite the foregoing, even if the existing wording of our confessions is deemed sufficient, the churches need to know this officially, via some decision of an ecclesiastical assembly. In a discussion at Reformed Academic (see here), Rev. John van Popta made the same point:

I do think, however, that the teaching that Adam and therefore Jesus Christ share ancestry with “primitive parents” is a teaching that the church should examine and decide whether or not it falls within the pale of orthodoxy.

Naturally, given the widespread nature of this false teaching, it would be best to have this examination and decision come from our broadest assembly, namely a general synod. But if our broadest assembly is going to clear up the confusion in any helpful manner at all, it needs to have the matter put on its agenda in an ecclesiastical way. Whatever one might think about the idea of changing article 14, it remains that this proposal would put the matter on the agenda of a synod.  A synod could then decide the best way to deal with it for the good of our federation.


Indeed, the best way to tackle the issue at hand is to make the proposed change to article 14. Doing this has strong historical precedent. It is a proven way to deal with serious doctrinal errors in Reformed churches. Moreover, any other options are not presently realistic or helpful (more on that next time). Whatever we do, as Canadian Reformed Churches, we cannot let this matter rest and allow this false teaching to continue unarrested. The need for a clear message is urgent. To adapt the old adage: all it takes for false teaching to triumph is for faithful men to do nothing. It is high time for faithful men to do something bold to put the brakes on this dangerous and evil error in our midst.

[1] Calvin, Commentary Upon the Book of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 112.

[2] Quoted by Louis Praamsma, “The Background of the Arminian Controversy,” in P. Y. De Jong (ed.), Crisis in the Reformed Churches: Essays in Commemoration of the Great Synod of Dort 1618-19 (Grandville: Reformed Fellowship, 2008 reprint), 46.