Won’t We Leave Behind the Litmus Test of Wooden Literalism?

Nothing tickles me like Hank Hanegraaff’s affinity for alliteration! You remember Hank–he’s the host of The Bible Answer Man (BAM) radio show. I like Hank because he believes that “Truth Matters,” even if he disagrees with the doctrines of grace and is an evidentialist apologist. Some of my more hard core Reformed brethren may think that because of these two issues alone, I shouldn’t waste any more time listening to his show.

Despite occasional disagreements, there are many strengths to BAM and the Christian Research Institute that keep me coming back for more. Hank isn’t politically (or is that “religiously”?) correct–back in 1999, he suffered the slings and arrows of the Evangelical community who were capitalizing on what Hank in his inimitable way called “sensationalism and selling” as they geared up for Y2K for denying it was a danger; much more recently, he broke many hearts by refusing to bow to the golden idol of dispensational premillennialism expounding what he calls “Exegetical Eschatology.

Well, now he’s cast his lot against the populist view again–this time the issue is the Genesis creation days. I found Hank’s remarks from his introduction to the Friday Bible Answer Man broadcast especially helpful in encouraging us to remember that not everything is a fundamental over which Bible believing Christians must divide. How to interpret Genesis chapter one is one such, in Hank’s words, “in house debate which Christians can debate vigorously without dividing over.”

A couple of comments and then right to our callers. I’ve been getting a lot of questions at the CRI, through social media, through the Bible Answer Man broadcast and otherwise regarding the Genesis creation days. Are they literal? Are they long? Or, are they literary? Of course, there are three dominant schools of thought within Evangelical Christianity regarding the Genesis days of creation.

First, the popular 24 hour view that posits that God created the heavens and the earth in 6 sequential literal days. Therefore a majority of young earth creationists view the earth to be approximately 6,000 years old and consider all death, including animal death, to be a direct function of Adam’s Fall.

Furthermore, there’s a day-age perspective. That perspective posits that God created the heavens and the earth in 6 long sequential day-ages which total billions of years. So, in contrast to the 24 hour perspective, the day-age perspective posits that “nature, red in tooth and claw” is the result of God’s very good creation prior to Adam’s Fall to a life perpetuated by sin and terminated by death.

And then there’s a very noteworthy framework perspective, which holds the seven days of creation are non-literal, non-sequential but nonetheless historical. In concert with the day-age perspective, they view animal death as consistent with the goodness of God’s creation and believe that the age question is settled by natural revelation, in other words, by reading God’s Book of Nature, as opposed to settling it by reading special revelation, in other words, the Bible.

All three perspectives hold to essential Christian doctrine, thus they commonly debate non-essential differences without dividing over them. And I want to park on that for just a second. There are essentials, and as Christians we stand shoulder to shoulder with respect to essential Christian doctrine. The problem is, I think, that a divisiveness has crept into the Body of Christ whereby this age issue has become an acid test for orthodoxy. Therein lies, I think, a substantial problem.

Better that we adhere to the maxim: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” And then learn—“Iron sharpens iron.”I’ve learned a great deal by reading the presuppositions of the framework hypothesis. I’ve learned a great deal by reading the literature of old earth creationists; I’ve learned a great deal, in fact, my own conversion was radically affected by, the literature of young earth creationism.

Now I have disagreements with old earth creationism, because of the concordism that is apparent there, where you try to take science–modern cosmology, as an example–and fit it into the biblical text such that “he stretches out the heavens” becomes a pretext for Big Bang cosmology. I may agree with Big Bang cosmology, but I certainly don’t think the texts that are used as pretexts should be used in that sense.

I think the same thing is going on by a lot of the texts used by young earth creationism. But at the end of the day this is still an issue that involves debate, not division, so let’s not make it an acid test for orthodoxy, and divide unnecessarily, when, no matter how much time modern cosmologies posit for the age of the earth, or the universe, we don’t have enough time to form a simple protein molecule by random processes much less a living cell. So the real enemy is the evolutionary paradigm which is not only not tenable in an age of scientific enlightenment, but flies in the face of common sense—nothing cannot produce everything. The only logical thing we can say in an age of scientific enlightenment, is “In the beginning God”—an uncaused First Cause is the reason we have the effect of a universe finely tuned for human life.

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21 responses

  1. So now you’re a liberal.

    1. Only if you want to read the Bible like Harold Camping, like a text book on some scientific field or other. Camping’s is engineering–6/24hr day creationists use it as a geology text. It’s amazing how the Creation Science movement has trained their students–most of American evangelicalism–to assume anyone who differs with their interpretation of Genesis 1 is an evolutionist. Democrats could learn a thing or two from propagandists like these 😉

  2. Yea- that’s what all “day agers” and “framework” theistic evolutionists say. Let’s just call it “intelligent design” and let our “science book” determine what “the good book” should say. Welcome to the enlightenment Cap’n!

  3. Oh by the way- it’s off topic but how is the J Frank book?
    Now feel free to be defensive about your liberal slide into the mainline! (;

    1. Funny! Tell it to Galileo…

      Ironically, I just picked up my first ever copy of all four volumes of The Fundamentals (about a hundred years late) for $15.00 at Half-Price Books! Later, I’ll probably be posting about the passage that treats the first chapters of Genesis, but oddly says nothing about 24 hour days being a fundamental of the faith. In fact, the language seemed to imply quite otherwise.

      As for the Norris book, it hasn’t hit the shelves yet. I haven’t even gotten the advance copy I was promised by the author yet either. It comes out July 14th.

      I won’t get defensive until I am given a serious argument.

  4. Okay, here we go. The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, vols. 1-4 (1917, Bible Institute of Los Angeles; 1998, Baker Books) was edited by eminent conservative scholars to combat the encroachment of liberal theology at the turn of the twentieth century.

    Here’s one contributor’s treatment of why science does not really contradict Genesis 1:

    “Does science, then, really contradict Genesis I? Not surely if what has been above said of the essentially popular character of the allusions to natural things in the Bible be remembered. Here certainly is no detailed description of the process of the formation of the earth in terms anticipative of modern science–terms which would have been unintelligible to the original readers–but a sublime picture, true to the order of nature, as it is to the broad facts even of geological succession. If it tells how God called heaven and earth into being, separated light from darkness, sea from land, clothed the world with vegetation, gave sun and moon their appointed rule of day and night, made fowl to fly, and sea-monsters to plow the deep, created the cattle and beasts of the field, and finally made man, male and female, in His own image, and established him as ruler over all God’ creation, this orderly rise of created forms, man crowning the whole, these deep ideas of the narrative, setting the world at the very beginning in its right relation to God, and laying the foundations of an enduring philosophy of religion, are truths which science does nothing to subvert, but in myriad ways confirms. The ‘six days’ may remain as a difficulty to some, but, if this is not part of the symbolic setting of the picture–a great divine ‘week’ of work–one may well ask, as was done by Augustine long before geology was thought of, what kind of ‘days’ these were which rolled their course before the sun, with its twenty-four hours of diurnal measurement, was appointed to that end? There is no vilence done to the narrative in substituting in thought ‘aeonic’ days–vast cosmic periods–for ‘days’ on our narrower, sun-measured scale. Then the last trace of apparent ‘conflict’ disappears.”

    Chapter 18: “Science and Christian Faith” By Rev. Prof. James Orr, D. D., United Free Church College, Glasgow, Scotland. p. 344.

    At the end of this passage, it looks like Orr prefers some form of the literary framework view, but would allow for the possibility of a day-age view. Thus, the wooden literalistic six calendar day view is not the only valid interpretation of the days in Genesis chapter one for theological conservatives.

    What, me be defensive? 🙂

  5. Had to go to Glasgow to get someone to support your theory huh? Your wood is made of straw! (;

    1. You really know how to leave a guy wanting more. I’m frankly not sure whether you agree and are just funnin’ me, or if you really think I’m crossing the line into liberalism. A little brotherly straight talk would send a more intelligible signal.

      For the record, you’ll notice that the point of the post is not the absolute incorrectness of the popular calendar day view, but the incorrectness of making it the litmus test of orthodoxy.

      I personally favor the framework view, mostly because I don’t trust the scientific scholarship of the YEC movement, and the hermeneutic of their main advocates is on a par with Dispensationalism (because that’s what most of them are) in terms of their emphasis on “literalism.”

      Ever heard of George McReady Price? He is a Seventh-Day Adventist who decided to dabble as an amateur in geology because his cult’s prophetess had these visions about the creation week involving calendar days and Noah’s flood explaining the fossil record. His amateur attempt at geology was rejected upon review by actual geologists, and his work sat on a shelf until it was brought out for the Scope’s Monkey Trial, reshelved, then Morris discovered it and repackaged it for Evangelicals (without giving credit where it’s due–to a cultist) under the title of “The Genesis Flood.”

      I personally believe it is the Dispensationalist version of literalism (“non-figurative as much as you can get away with it”–applied quite inconsistently), combined with this mishandling of science at the hands of a cultist, enforced with a rather fundamentalistic separatism that is at the heart of the present controversy over the 20th century American Evangelical interpretation of the Genesis 1 creation days.

  6. Nope- just funnin! I would admonish though brother to not let the YEC steal the argument. There are plenty of good arguments literarily to do the job.

    1. So, you’re saying that there are Reformed expositors (and others) who teach that the days are 24 hour solar days without also insisting that the earth is 6-10 thousand years old and that a global flood explains the fossil record? I’ve rarely seen any who don’t also buy into the dominant YEC dogma in one way or other. Can you give me some names, and details?

  7. No…what I’m saying is there are some exegetes out there who say the text says, “24”, exegetically, who stress that the literature demands the 24 hour reading and then they stop there when it comes to science. I personally subscribe to a young earth view and tend to think that the consequence of the flood is hard to gauge. We’ll never know this side of heaven what the consequences were on the earth when it succombed to the fall’s consequences. But you don’t have to try to square one form of scientific theory to the text. It should be the other way around.

    Don’t forget- just because we don’t use or don’t want to use any YEC’s science, doesn’t mean we can’t come to the conclusion that there is 24 hour days in Gen.

    Chapter Four, article one of the Westminster Confession of Faith says,

    “It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.”

    So my argument is textual. I know some regard “days” different than I, but imop, you have to monkey with the text to get anything esle out of it. “yom” means day. The early jews thought nothing of any other day in their reading of “yom”. Now as Bavinck explains, it could be the first three days, were really long, and the last three days were normal days or it could be 6 days expresses merely the order of creation. I don’t actually care but the point I’m making is the need is to view our science through the lense of our Bible, instead of viewing our Bible, through the lense of our science.
    I don’t want to thrash those who hold a different view, (Although they are wrong) but the view can be substantiated without using a science book. You may want to square your science with your Bible, but sometimes, a “wonder” is a “wonder” and is unsquareable. I’m rambling now.

  8. Oh…and yea…you are a liberal!!!!!!!! Have you given up the confession yet Cap’n? I’m sorry…this comes so easy for me? ;D

    1. Regarding the confession, to confess God created “in six days” is to confess the language of Scripture–I believe Genesis 1 uses days in reference to solar days, but in Genesis 2 you have man created (who was created on day six in Gen. 1) before plant life emerges from the ground (which was created on day three in Gen. 1). Therefore, the days may be literary devices to accommodate our finite capacities, rather than a scientific treatment of the process in real time. To interpret them this way is not to deny that Genesis 1 along with the rest of the book is ultimately historical narrative–it may be history presented via literary device in this chapter. To confess he created “in six days” and understand those days as literary devices is not to deny that God created “in six days.” The question is not did he create in six days, the question is what does Scripture mean by six days in this particular context, considering the fact that the chronology of the first chapter seems to be contradicted by the second chapter (Gen. 2:5). Solar day interpreters generally reconcile this by saying the vegetation in Genesis 2:5 is limited to the piece of land that would later become the Garden of Eden, but others differ. I see that the ESV Study Bible sides with the Eden interpretation of the translation of “land” instead of “earth,” however, and I’m not equipped to correct them. I am still open to the solar day interpretation, but I’m still working through the issues.

      As for seeking to interpret the Bible in terms of science, do you not agree that it was the scientist Galileo who helped the church come to terms with phenomenological language about the sun rising, moving across the sky and setting? Did not natural revelation help us figure out in this case the proper way to interpret special revelation? I understand that the Scriptures are unchanging and the theories of science are ever-changing, but our interpretation of Scripture is fallible, and we must not only pray for illumination, but allow the Holy Spirit to use the means of natural revelation to aid our understanding of Scripture when it can. It won’t always be able to, but it has in the past, and we have to be open to the possibility that a challenging issue like this one may benefit from input derived from natural revelation. That’s not science usurping the authority of Scripture.

      If we misunderstand the Bible because we are poor readers, would we be “viewing the Bible through the lens of [the] science” of English, Hebrew or Greek grammar if we seek further instruction in those languages in order to better understand what we’re reading in Scripture? Is the authority of Scripture undermined if my interpretation of Scripture changes when I learn more about the Hebrew language, or in this case, Hebrew literary genres? Those who think so have invested their particular interpretation with the very authority of Scripture, so that any dissent is viewed as a threat. That’s what the majority of YEC has done with the 6 24 hr day interpretation of Genesis one, and that’s what this post is ultimately about–the need to grant liberty to disagree on how to interpret things among brethren who confess the inspiration, inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, and who likewise confess that God created “in six days” while understanding what that means in different ways.

  9. An OPC guy by the name of Ken Gentry has a pretty fair treatment, confessionally and textually. http://www.the-highway.com/creation_Gentry.html. and here:
    http://www.banneroftruth.co.uk/pages/articles/article_detail.php?473

    Doug Kelly wrote a book – http://www.amazon.com/Creation-Change-Changing-Scientific-Paradigms/dp/1857922832, that apparently was instrumental in changing RC’s mind from the Framework hypothesis to a 6 day guy.

    Just some of the ones I knew off the top of my head.

    1. Thanks for the list. Immediately ordered Kelly’s book.

  10. I was apparently too hasty in ordering Kelly’s book. I just read the critical review of it on Amazon which points out that Kelly relies too much on Henry Morris’ scientific info, and that is not going to help me. His is the sloppy thinking that makes the literary framework view so appealing to me. Henry Morris even wrote a favorable review of New Age Bible Version by Gail Riplinger, for crying out loud! That alone makes any of his scholarship questionable. Guess I’ll have to keep shopping to find a resource that promotes a solar day view while dissenting from Morris and Ken Ham’s sub-par science.

  11. Too much to cover from your previous comment. On the book- read it with discernment, take good leave bad. I’m reading some Roman Catholic stuff on Trinity and nature of Christ _ good on that topic, terrible on others for example.

    1. David Jacks at Theological Pursuits dot com recommended to me John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.” Jacks called it the “Contextual View” of Genesis 1. From the reviews and summaries it appears to be trying to rise above the fray and focus on the fact that this is an ancient Near Eastern origins story about God preparing his Temple, so it’s not about material origins in the first place. I’ll probably blog about it later whenever I get around to spending money on it. In the meantime I’ll be reading pdf sample pages and searching for mp3 lectures about it to download.

  12. Maybe we should have some coffee or diet coke in a couple of weeks. Email me when you get a chance. It would be nice to catch up and of course set you back on the course of Calvin, the Reformation and the Confession!

    I’m having sooo much fun!

  13. If only Hank could be this generous to Calvinists.

    1. You’re right, Frank, that Hank is less than generous on the Calvinistic interpretation of predestination–to him, it’s as if we’re no more than philosophical determinists–but I find that his respect for Calvinists in every other way is very high. As you are probably aware, he was raised in the Dutch Reformed tradition as the son of a minister for whom he has a great deal of respect, and I can see the influence of Calvinistic scholarship in many of his positions, which indicates to me his respect for Calvinists as exegetes on many other issues.

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