Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Recovering the Reformed Confessions and 6 Day Creation

R. Scott Clark’s book Recovering the Reformed Confessions is a good book, but I do have to take issue with something he said in his second chapter: the chapter about the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty. Basically, Clark’s argument is that where the Confessions are silent it is a point of liberty and those who wish to add (specifically in this case) 6/24 creation as a test of religious orthodoxy are illegitimate. The chapter briefly covers to other things that are extra confessional or anti-confessional: Theonomy and basically the Federal Vision/Shepherdism. The largest section is directed at 6/24 hour day creation proponents. It seems clear to me that the RCUS in particular is in view and indeed we are specifically cited as the only NAPARC denomination to not grant liberty on this point and we appear in a footnote. I will be addressing why Clark is wrong on this point.

Full disclosure moment. Dr. Clark was formerly in the RCUS and left on mostly amicable terms. Dr. Clark now teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary California which is no longer supported by the RCUS mostly for their non-6/24 hour stance on creation.

Points of disagreement

1. Clark starts by stating that proponents of the 6/24 hour day view of creation have always been unable to show a theological reason for holding to this view. He also claims that this stance has "little to do with the Reformed Confessions" (pg. 48). I could not disagree more. This has a lot to do with the Reformed Confessions and theological reasons abound. Creation in 6 days with rest on the 7th day is the foundation of the 4th Commandment. The 4th Commandment is covered in Confessions. What on earth does the Heidelberg mean in Question 92 when it is reciting the law including the basis that "in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth." Surely then the meaning of the word "day" has confessional implications, and is not restricted to Genesis 1 as an extra-confessional debate. What about Question 103 where the catechism states in its explication of the 4th commandment "especially on the day of rest, diligently attend church . . ." Again the troubling word "day" appears. The Westminister also states "within the space of six days". Surely then it is considered a confessional matter. Yet, Clark waves this off as a simple rejection of Augustine’s instantaneous creation, not a pronouncement upon the days. Yet there is more confessional situations at stake here. The articles of the nature of Scripture are at stake. Article 7 of the Belgic Confession requires us to "reject with all our hearts whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule [Scripture]". Is that arguably what is going on with the statement about creation? Article 7 also speaks of not respecting the writings of men above Scripture no matter how holy they are, which presumably ought to include the writing of scientists as well as theologians. And it states we ought to believe all that it is in the Scripture. What about the Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7 that states Scripture is clear and even the unlearned can understand it. Is that true of the GapTheory or Framework? Or is the clear teaching of Scripture 6/24 hour days. And what of WCF 1.9 that says Scripture ought to interpret Scripture and the meaning is one. Can the meaning be one but the message from the ministers be four fold as the PCA would have it on creation? Or WCF 1.10 that says Scripture is the supreme judge of all things. Does that not put it over science? Should I not believe the words of God even if science is against me?
2. Clark dismisses the argument of David Hall and others that point to WCF 4.1 and the "in the space of six days" statement as addressing a different question. That was to keep out Instantaneous Creation and thus has no bearing upon Day-Age or Framework theories of the day. Yet, does not this argument work against Clark as well? The divines simply did not say "God did not create instantly." Rather they stated it was six days. A confessional marker. Also, if what question they were answering is important then is the Confession not applicable to any questions that come after them? Evolution is a challenge to the gospel that is well after the confessions. Does it mean we are all at liberty? Or does it meant that it was not specifically rejected in the Confessions because those views are not yet invented? It seems to me this argument could cut either way, Clark just makes it cut his way and ignores the rest.
3. Clark has a long excursus on heliocentric versus geocentric universe discussions in the past. He is clearly attempting to draw a parallel between the two. Clark wants to argue that using Scriptrue as a text book for science is bad theology and science. First, no one is saying Scripture is a science book. Second, all people are saying is that where the Bible does speak it must be obeyed. Comparing Genesis 1’s repetition of a 6/24 hour formula for creation to the geocentric world debates is a long stretch. It is more an attempt to smear than a real argument.
4. Clark claims these men came to their views "exegetically" and thus it is an extraconfessional and exegetical disagreement (pg.50). If the requirement for things to be considered confessional is that they are exegetically based then we ought to apologize for the Canons of Dort as the Arminians were exegetical. They were just really really bad exegetes of Scripture. And thus they were condemned. Framework and Day Age and Gap Theory are also really really bad exegetical examples. And they are also clearly examples of letting science control the exegesis, which does run into some confessional problems as noted above in point 1.
5. Clark states this is not a debate between "two religions . . . not even between two different hermeneutical principles, but rather a debate over the application of those principles and specific exegetical applications" (pg.61). Clark here makes a good point that it is not two different religions. But does the RCUS say that if you believe in Theistic Evolution or Old Earth that you are not Reformed? No. Is this chapter supposed to be about who is Reformed and who is not? No. The chapter was about Illegitimate Religious Certainity. The question then is can we be certain about 6/24 hour day creation. And to that the RCUS has answered yes. Clark has changed the question a little to make the RCUS seem to be saying something we are not. We are not disagreeing with the theology, piety, and practice of prior men in history who may have held to an Old Earth. We are simply saying that one can understand God’s word and what it teaches in Genesis 1. Science does not have the ability to change the words. I do want to point out that I disagree with Clark that it is not about differing hermenuetical principles. How one can use a Grammatical-Historical approach and come away with anything other than 6/24 hour days is beyond me. I do believe then it is about different hermeutical approaches.

Now I believe what is really motivating Dr. Clark here to try and smack down the RCUS and any other Creationists who stand with us is about protecting men like B.B. Warfield, Machen, and A.A. Hodge as Reformed and true. They would fail this test about 6/24 hour day creation. And fairly clearly Clark thinks any marker that allows in Seventh Day Adventists and keeps out Warfield is Illegitimate (pg.49). Of course no one is trying to let Adventists in as if the Confessions do not exist. It is for Warfield and Princeton that Clark strives. That is why Clark devotes 14 pages to the extra-confessional liberty he believes ought to exist and only 4 to the anti-confessional position of Theonomy and 4 to the Covenant Moralism which he also thinks contradicts the Confessions. I will address this issue in a separate post.


R. Scott Clark said...


I hope you'll go back and re-read the chapter. My goal is not to "smack down" anyone, let alone the my brothers and sisters RCUS. Your comment does not accurately represent either the tone or intent of the chapter.

I'm most grateful for all I learned in the RCUS and for their patience with me for 18 years. Indeed, I left on good terms. I don't understand at all the qualifier "mostly." That might imply something that isn't true. I'm particularly grateful for the instruction I received at St John's RCUS Lincoln, from Bill Stephens and Warren Embree and Vern Pollema. I remain deeply indebted to all the brothers and sisters there--I can't name there all here but I also think of Ewald and Elsie among others.

My point in the book was not to dispute the exegetical merits of the case but to show that the 6/24 view is poor boundary marker for Reformed orthodoxy. By that standard E J Young (who held, in his later years that the last three days were solar but the first three could not have been thus he could not have agreed with the RCUS' language - 6 normal days), B B Warfield, and J Gresham Machen are not orthodox. I doubt that any reasonable person could say that they're not orthodox.

The historical argument I made, which didn't seem to interest you much, was intended to illustrate the problem of setting up a particular view of astronomy or geology as a test of orthodoxy. The historical facts are that virtually no one today is a geocentrist. We're all heliocentrists and not one of us came to that conclusion on the basis of biblical exegesis. That's fact with which we all have to wrestle.

You use the word "dismiss." This verb is misleading. I didn't dismiss anyone's argument. Disagreeing is not dismissing. David Hall is a friend and a good scholar from whom I've learned much. His book on confessional subscription is a must read for every Reformed person but we disagree about the correct understanding of the circumstances and intent of the Westminster Confession.

The main point of the QIRC discussion is to try to help Reformed folk focus on the things that make us Reformed and those things are confessed in our catechisms and confessions. We've spent a lot of time in the modern period on cul-de-sacs and we've lost track of important doctrines in the mean time.

Today, as a result of the QIRC we have folks who know exactly how old the earth is and how long it took God to make the earth who, nevertheless, don't live as if we are creatures -- who defy the creational order by ignoring the Sabbath. If we live and die for 6-day creation but miss the great point of the creation narrative (the Sabbath as creational institution) we've strained at gnats and swallowed camels.

Finally, nowhere did I argue or imply that simply because a view is exegetically based that therefore it has to be accepted. I was simply responding to the oft-made assertion that the non-six-day views in NAPARC circles today are merely accommodations to modern science. Indeed, if you'll keep reading you'll see that I spend some time arguing with the sort of biblicism you seem to impute to me.

Lee said...
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Lee said...
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Lee said...

Rev. Clark,
Thanks for your interaction. I admit "smack down" is a poor choice of words. It is not reflective of the tone of the chapter. Although as you point out in your chapter we are the only NAPARC denomination this section applies to, so it is a little hard not to feel targeted. I am sure there are individuals in the NAPARC denominations who would like to hold to 6/24 hour only that the section applies to as well.

I put the words "mostly" with regards to your departure because I heard a complaint once. No one I know now has any sort of ill feelings and in fact the utmost respect is often spoken of with regards to you, especially by your friends here in St. John’s. However, since I did meet one guy once, I felt compelled to qualify the statement.

I do not think that the RCUS report is saying that Machen or Warfield is unorthodox. Nor do I think that is the goal of people in places like the PCA who argue for 6/24 hour days of creation. The repot was not attempt to say "anyone who disagrees is unreformed", but rather more of a pastoral attempt to say "we believe the bible teachings are clear about creation" and followed by our reasoning in an attempt to guide the flocks in a world where the Bible is surely under attack.

The question is about whether or not a Christian or a denomination can be certain about the days of creation legitimately. Does not a denomination have the right to say "we believe it is important theologically and exegetically to understand the creation days in this way"? We are still in fraternal relations with the OPC who do not share our position on creation. We have in no way cast out of reformdom (if I can make up a word) those who hold to a non-6 day view. But we have said, "not in this denomination".

I did enjoy your historical discussion about geocentrism, but I disagree that it is really parallel to the creation debate. Is the amount of Biblical material on geocentrism and 6 day creation the same? Is the centrality and importance of creation in the Bible as the same as the importance it lays to geocentrism? Is the exegetical argument for geocentrism as strong as it is for 6 days? I don't think so, and I think that is vital to the discussion of QIRC. And just because there is a glaring example of Reformed men missing the mark on geocentrism does not mean that we can never again be certain when science is the subject.

As I said at the beginning of the post, I think your book is very good. I have actually already recommended it to many friends. I am sure there are many who have strained at gnats and ate a camel or two, but I think allowing the idea of 4 views on Genesis 1 or saying that it is impossible to be certain what is meant is an overreaction to those gnat strainers.

Again, I apologize for my poor word choices, especially of "smack down". Thank you for the interaction and corrective. Also Warren says hello.

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Andrew Duggan said...


Thank you for this. The Creation issue is in my opinion the most serious defect in Dr. Clark's book. What I find most troubling in the argumentation other than the less than rigorous discussion of the science, is the idea that one must receive all the teaching of men like Warfield and Machen as orthodox, because they were generally orthodox and confessional. Warfield and Machen could be unorthodox on creation and still be otherwise confessional.

FWIW, it is as absurd today to be a heliocentrist as it is to be a geocentrist. Even in the early 20th century virtually no real scientist thought our sun or solar system was anywhere near the center of anything.

We all have our blind spots on what scripture teaches, but trying to pass our heroes' blindness off as orthodoxy or as a matter of liberty by claiming there is no certain scriptural teaching on the subject is unhelpful. Machen was wrong on an number of things in his life; his doctrine of creation is a small error, by comparison with the fact that Machen for the bulk of his life and career rejected the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. While he did finally come to an orthodox understanding of the IAOC, late in his life, I wonder because Machen for so long did not hold to it, that, the idea of requiring IAO is also a QIRC?

The fact that Warfield and Machen were not orthodox on creation does not in anyway diminish their service to the church on the other doctrines on which they taught. I can value their teaching on a great many things while rejecting their heterodox teaching on creation.

In Clark's response in bringing up E.J. Young, I guess I would have to ask if the language of the RCUS actually requires the idea of "solar". E.J. Young dismissed the idea of the first three days being solar because the sun did not yet exist.

I think you also were spot on with respect to science controlling their exegesis. It is very ironic that Clark decries the intrusion of science into the church's doctrines in pages 52ff, but then engages in hagiography with respect to Warfield and Machen with the idea that their exegesis is above all that. FWIW, the entire discussion of geocentricism vs. heliocentrism is little more than a red herring considering that Scripture doesn't really teach on the subject as to the placement of the Sun, Moon and stars in the context of the work of creation other than they are in heavens distinct from the earth.

Finally it seems to me that Clark fails to grasp the even what the nature of the discipline of science is. Science can only study those things that are subject to at least the design of an experiment to test a particular hypothesis. Science by definition is not capable of studying God's work of creation, or the origin of the universe.

It is a real shame that he spends so much time trying to make the reformed churches safe for those who deny the Scripture's teaching on creation.

SinnerSavedByChrist said...

Thank you for this article. It is just really disappointing Scott Clark has to constantly push false positions other than 6-day creation. Really, YHWH of hosts would say "in the beginning God created them male and female" - but really I didn't mean the beginning!! Since all you humans didn't realise that there were millions of years between day 1 and day 6!!!!! Oh poor Jews.

Are we then saying that the Lord Jesus had an erroneous understanding of the days of creation? He quoted Genesis 1 + 2 as "in the beginning". How long must the beginning be?

My head hurts from reading such writings from brother Clark.