Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Days of Creation: What Kind? How Long?

The Genesis of the Problem

Henry Morris - 6-24

B.B Warfield - Day Age

Meredith Kline - Framework

What follows is a Soul Food column published in the July 26/August 2, 1997, issue of World magazine. Several notes are in order: (1) This is obviously not a scholarly piece, something of which I would not have been capable, even had I not been working within the 1200 word limit for these columns. (2) This was intended as a popular introduction to the three views of the days of creation of which I was aware at the time. It was written prior to the formation of the PCA's Creation Study Committee on which I served in order that every other member might go home knowing himself smarter than at least one other person in the room. (3) I was not aware of the "analogical days" proposal of Dr. Jack Collins when I wrote this. I have chosen to leave the column as it was published 16 years ago. (4) Dr. Morton Smith, whom I accurately quote in the next to last paragraph, no longer holds the postion represented by the quotation. He holds to the 6-24 view of the days and believes this positon to be the one required by Scripture and Confession. I should add that no one played a bigger role in the formation of my theological views than Dr. Smith.  (5) After never having had my views regarding the creation days regarded in any Presbytery as an exception to the the Standards of my church, my views were recorded as an exception in 2005 by Mississippi Valley Presbtery (of which I had previously been a member twice), and I was instructed not to teach or inculcate any view that deviates from the 6-24 postion which is regarded as the only view not an exception to the Standards. Therefore, I note that what follows (a) is a record of something I wrote in 1997 and (b) in any case only describes three views and asks for brotherly discussion. (6) I believe that the great divide is, or ought to be, between those who can and those who cannot confess with the Nicene Creed: "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen." As the Creed divides those who believe the true Faith from those who do not with regard to the Person of Christ, so it divides those who believe in creation from those who do not. 

"The question of the antiquity of man has of itself no theological significance. It is to theology, as such, a matter of entire indifference how long man has existed on the earth...The question of the antiquity of man is accordingly a purely scientific one in which the theologian as such has no concern."

Who said that? The latest evangelical to capitulate to the pressures of unbelieving science? No, it was the greatest defender of biblical inerrancy in the history of the American church, Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield, who also wrote: "The church is bound to confess all that God has lovingly revealed to her as his truth. What the Bible teaches, not what is convenient, undisputed, or likely to put us to the trouble of defending, is the proper measure of the contents of our credo."

At least since the days of Augustine the church has wrestled with how to interpret Genesis 1 and 2. To be sure, the question has become more acute and the debate more intense since Darwin, as is evident in the writings not only of Warfield but of his fellow Princetonians Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, and J. Gresham Machen. But the difficulty has faced the church always.

There are three approaches to Genesis 1 and 2 among evangelicals:

The "literal" view, which takes the days to be six consecutive 24-hour days. Suppose you took a seven-day vacation and reported it in a book of seven chapters, each devoted to a single day. Your report makes it clear that your vacation lasted exactly seven ordinary days and that, while you may not have reported every detail, you did follow a strictly chronological  sequence both from day to day, and within each day. This is the "literal" approach.

Its strength is its reading of the creation account in a way that strikes many Christians as the natural way to read it - as a straightforward historical account of how the world was created.

The "day-age" view, which takes the days to be equivalent to successive ages of undetermined length. Suppose you took a long vacation reported in a book of seven chapters, each devoted to a phase of your vacation. Your concern is to report your vacation in an orderly fashion.

Thus, the chapters are in roughly chronological order, but the chapters do not necessarily record periods of equal length. Nor can any more be said of the material in each chapter than that it belongs to the period reported. This is the "day-age" approach.

The strength of this view is that it records creation as a chronologically ordered account while allowing for the earth to be as old as it appears to be to most scientists.

The "literary" view, or "framework hypothesis", which takes the days to be "snapshots" of God's multi-faceted creative work. Suppose you took a long vacation and reported it in seven chapters. Your theme is "a good time was had by all" but the chapters are organized around beach experiences, mountain experiences  amusement park experiences. So the "literary" approach reads Genesis as a polemic against polytheistic paganism organized around the theme "the Lord God made them all" but unconcerned about sequence or chronology.

The strength of this view is that it reads these two chapters of Genesis in a way that to many Hebrew scholars as well as ordinary readers seems to fit Moses' purpose and style and removes Genesis from certain aspects of the alleged "Bible-science-conflict" as not having been written to settle those questions.

The point of this brief review of the views is to say that all are held by theologians and Christians who believe that the Bible is the Word of God, infallible and inerrant in all it teaches. We need an ongoing, open discussion of three questions: What does the text teach? What does science seem to show? How are theological and scientific insights to be integrated? My theology professor of 25 years ago has written regarding the days of the creation: "Though we may have strong convictions regarding this question...we do not have enough information to settle it definitively. We should refrain from judging fellow Christians who differ with us on this particular question." 

What we need, to turn the words of a country song, is "a lot more talk and a little less action." More discussion, less defensiveness. More debate, less denouncement.


The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Some may be interested in this book summary by Rachel Miller:

mozart said...

I was required to take an exception as well. On the other hand, a fellow ruling elder who works on the Lord's Day (as a farmer) was not required to take an exception to the Standards. Go figure.