Category Archives: Science and faith

Words Can Be Slippery Things

Charles Finney

It’s happened many times in church history.  The theologian says that he believes in the resurrection.  But eventually it comes out that he believes that Jesus truly rose from the dead in the hearts of his disciples, but not actually in history.  Another theologian insists that he believes in election.  But eventually we discover that he believes that God chooses believers, not out of his sovereign good pleasure, but on the basis of foreseen faith.

I’ve been reading Iain Murray’s Revival and Revivalism this week.  He discusses Charles Finney at length because of his role in the Second Great Awakening.  Murray notes on page 262 that Charles Finney spoke of a “vicarious atonement,” which is usually another way of speaking about penal substitutionary atonement, i.e. that Christ took our place on the cross, bearing the wrath of God in our place.  But Finney believed nothing of the sort.  His language was deceptive.  He used the right words, but he meant something completely different.

This strategy gets employed in the debates over origins too.  People will insist that they believe that Adam and Eve were real historical people, that they were the first human beings, created in the image of God.  It sounds orthodox on the surface.  But we need to dig deeper:  what do you mean by human being?  Was Adam ever a baby nestled at his mother’s breast?  Was Eve a toddler at some point in her life?  Did she have grandparents?  What do you mean “created in the image of God”?  What does “created” mean in that sentence?  You say that you believe God created man from the dust of the earth.  Great!  But what do you mean when you say that?  Asking these sorts of questions will usually reveal whether things really are what they seem.  In theology, we need to be precise — and transparent — with our definitions.  It’s not enough just to use the right words, you also have to be holding to the correct understanding of those words.  Without that, the true gospel itself is soon lost.

The Case That Went Nowhere: Willis De Boer in the CRC

Dr. Willis De Boer

Dr. Willis De Boer

Dr. Willis De Boer was a professor of religion and theology at Calvin College from 1962-1988.  He was also a minister in the Christian Reformed Church; retired now since 1988.  Nearly a decade into his time at Calvin, questions began to arise in the CRC over De Boer’s views on Genesis 1-11.  These questions came particularly from the Central Avenue CRC in Holland, Michigan.  Rev. Thomas Vanden Heuvel and the rest of the Central Avenue consistory were concerned that Dr. De Boer was fudging on the historicity of the first chapters of the Bible.

In 1970, the Central Avenue consistory began correspondence with Dr. De Boer about their concerns.  On July 30, 1970 they sent a letter to De Boer with a series of questions.  They submitted them to the professor with the hope that he would answer them in writing and then visit with the consistory to discuss the answers given.

Dr. De Boer sent a response on September 18, 1970 and then a meeting was held on September 21.  Some of the questions and answers are worth sharing.  In the answers, one must pay special attention not only to what is said, but also to what is left unsaid or unanswered.

Central Avenue CRC:  2.  Was the first man created as a unique man from the dust of the earth and not from a primordial being?

Dr. De Boer:  Scripture uses the phrase ‘dust of the earth.’  The question is what does it mean to say by this phrase.  Is it scientifically and literally describing the material God used in His forming of man and the condition of that material before God went to work on it?  Isn’t the truth here being conveyed not some clue as to the form of the stuff from which man was made, but rather the fact that man shares with the rest of creation the same basic stuff?  Notice that even as a living man he is still dust (Genesis 3:19).

Central Avenue CRC:  3.  Was the first man the Adam of Genesis?

Dr. De Boer:  Yes.

Central Avenue CRC:  5.  In the account of the fall, we read the Satan came to Eve in the form of a serpent.  Does this mean a literal serpent?

Dr. De Boer:  Technically, I don’t read about Satan in the account of the fall.  All I read about is the most subtle of all beasts.  Here it seems that it is helpful to note how ancient near-eastern literature was repeatedly using the serpent symbol to personify the forces of evil.  In Genesis 3 we once again have a picture most exquisitely drawn.  It is a picture of a fact — man’s fall.  But I do not think we must press for a literal serpent speaking human language.  Rather I would propose the serpent can recognized by all of us who have had strange, sinister, shocking thoughts arising within us from nowhere — thoughts that have a pull to them; we toy with them, tease ourselves with them, and sometimes even make rash quick actions on the basis of them.  It strikes me that puzzling over the literalness of the snake is not a helpful way to placing oneself open to the powerful word of God at work in this account.  It’s an eye-opener on what man is — and on what I am.  It’s a painting of a fall that once happened and affected us all.  But it also keeps happening over again in each one of us.

Central Avenue CRC:  14.  How do you interpret Paul’s usage of Adam and Eve in 1 Timothy 2:13,14, ‘For Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.’  Did Paul consider Adam and Eve to be historical in every sense of that term?

Dr. De Boer:  I find it hard to understand just how Paul is using Scripture here and how his use of this Scripture really makes the point that women ought to be in subjection to men and not speak in public gatherings.  I suspect Paul is here making use of some rabbinic exegetical method in which he was trained in his earlier life.  I confess I don’t understand the passage very well.  Paul views Adam and Eve as the first man and the first woman.  He appears to view the details of the temptation story as giving some kind of information on basic relationships between men and women.  I do not detect that Paul was aware of the modern observations regarding the nature of this early Genesis material, or that he gives us much help on this score.  He is using Genesis material in a way that was acceptable and effective in making his point in the Jewish community of his day.

Central Avenue CRC:  What is the relationship between general and special revelation?

Dr. De Boer:  These two revelations are basically one revelation, for they both reveal the same God.  Hence ultimately they must agree.  Where they don’t appear to us to agree, we must be misreading either or both of them.

In this and other correspondence, Dr. De Boer insisted that he accepted the Bible as the inspired Word of God.  But answers like the above didn’t exactly inspire confidence with the Central Avenue consistory.  Dr. De Boer had evaded the second question about Adam having ancestors.  Despite Scripture’s clear teaching elsewhere about the serpent in Genesis 3 (Rev. 20:2, 2 Cor. 11:3), and despite the assertions of the Reformed confessions (BC 14, CD 3/4.1, HC QA 9), De Boer did not want to insist on a literal snake.  It turned out that De Boer believed Paul was lacking important “modern observations” about Genesis when he made his statements in 1 Timothy 2.  Here De Boer betrayed his imbalanced view of Scripture — he affirms it as the Word of God, but in practice the human aspect dominates.  In the last question, he was given an opportunity to affirm that special revelation is the means by which we properly understand general revelation, but instead he put them on the same level.

The concerns of the Central Avenue consistory were not allayed.  They continued correspondence with Dr. De Boer and became more concerned about his views.  In the meeting following the letter, for instance, he acknowledged that his views opened the way to a denial of the virgin birth.  Central Avenue submitted an appeal to CRC Synod 1972 to investigate Dr. De Boer.  The material in the appeal was withheld from the full body of the Synod, despite the request of the Central Avenue CRC to the contrary.   Instead, an advisory committee looked at the matter and made a recommendation to the Synod to clear Dr. De Boer of the charges since he “indicates his belief in the trustworthiness of Scripture” and the Central Avenue CRC had failed to show that he was in conflict with the confessions.  This recommendation was adopted merely on the say-so of the advisory committee.

In 1975 an attempt was made to reopen the matter.  Baldwin Street CRC of Jenison, Michigan submitted an overture to CRC Synod 1975 to have another look at the case.  They argued that the full body of the Synod should have the opportunity to hear both sides of the matter.  The case had never really been heard.  The decision of 1972 was made blindly.  However, Synod 1975 denied this overture as well.  Dr. Willis De Boer went on to complete his teaching career at Calvin College.  This episode was another nail in the coffin of orthodoxy in the CRC.

Book Review: In Six Days God Created

In Six Days God Created

In Six Days God Created:  Refuting the Framework and Figurative Views of the Days of Creation, Paulin Bédard, Maitland: Xulon Press, 2013.

In the last number of years, the Canadian Reformed Churches have been troubled by some academics proposing more open-mindedness about creation and its relationship to evolution.  Prior to this development, concern was officially expressed about the openness of the United Reformed Churches to the framework hypothesis proposed by Meredith Kline and others.  There’s no question that the interpretation of Genesis is a living issue in our churches and others.  Therefore, we can be thankful when studious and faithful pastors take up the pen to address these issues and provide sound leadership.

The name of Paulin Bédard will be familiar to many Canadian Reformed readers because so many of us support his missionary efforts in Quebec.  Rev. Bédard is a minister of the Reformed Church of Quebec (L’Église Réformée du Québec) living and working in St-Georges de Beauce.  He does this work with the assistance of the Owen Sound Canadian Reformed Church and many other CanRCs across the country.

In this book, written in impeccable English, Bédard addresses the troublesome trend towards toleration of anything less than a plain reading of the first chapters of the Bible.  In particular, he addresses the framework hypothesis.  For those new to the discussion, the framework hypothesis proposes to see the first chapters of Genesis as a theological statement in a literary structure.  This structure was not intended to be taken literally, although there may be some historical substance to it.  It’s this view that Bédard spends most of his time critiquing.  However, he also gives some attention to other figurative interpretations along the same lines as the framework hypothesis.

The author spends the first part of his book answering criticisms of the traditional, literal view of Genesis 1-2.  In the second part, he demonstrates how and why the framework hypothesis is problematic.  He concludes with a powerful section explaining why this newer interpretation should be regarded as dangerous and not something to be tolerated.

In Six Days God Created needs to get out there into the hands of as many people as possible.  This is a powerful and well-argued book on a timely subject.  The author grounds his arguments strictly on the Word of God, using biblical and time-honoured methods of interpretation.  It is necessary for a book of this nature to venture into the technical side of things from time to time, but I think most adult readers should be able to grasp the points the author is making.  Though the book reflects careful scholarship, the main point is clear:  we simply need to humbly accept what the Bible plainly and clearly teaches about origins.  Such humility and clarity leads me to commend this book most highly.  Get it for your home, for your school, and for your church library.

In Six Days God Created can be purchased here and at many other on-line retailers.

De apologetische method van Tim Keller

Tim Keller

[Note: an English version of this article will appear in an upcoming issue of Reformed Perspective]

In de afgelopen jaren zijn er veel atheïstische boeken op de markt gebracht. Schrijvers als Christopher Hitchens en Richard Dawkins hebben hun best gedaan hun publiek ervan te overtuigen dat het geloof in God niet alleen misleidend is of verkeerd, maar zelfs gevaarlijk en slecht. Deze pogingen hadden tot gevolg dat christenen zich opnieuw gingen uitspreken over hun geloofsovertuigingen en die gingen verdedigen.

Het boek van Tim Keller uit 2008, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, is zo’n verdediging in een wat populaire vorm. Het heeft zelfs de lijst van bestsellers van de New York Times gehaald.

Tim Keller is niet alleen in de Verenigde Staten, maar over de hele wereld bekend. Toen ik onlangs op de Filippijnen was in Cagayan de Oro, en op mijn hotelkamer een tv-kanaal zocht, kwam ik Tim Keller tegen die een preek of een toespraak hield. Zijn boeken zijn vaak vertaald: The Reason for God bijvoorbeeld in het Portugees, Nederlands (met als titel: In alle redelijkheid), Chinees en Koreaans. Keller is in de christelijke wereld heel beroemd, daarover bestaat weinig twijfel.

Veel gereformeerde christenen voelen zich ook door hem aangesproken. Hij is immers de dominee van de Redeemer PCA in New York City. De PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) kent een verband van plaatselijke kerken die variëren van breed-evangelisch tot streng-confessioneel, maar de meeste mensen plaatsen de PCA onder de gereformeerde kerken. Het is ook zeker waar dat de PCA lid is van de North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), een organisatie waarbij ook de Canadian Reformed Churches en de United Reformed Churches zijn aangesloten. En dan redeneren sommigen als volgt: als Tim Keller dominee is in de PCA, moet hij wel gereformeerd zijn. Maar zo’n redenering is niet feilloos en noemen we een non sequitur.

Het is niet mijn bedoeling hier de vraag of Tim Keller al of niet gereformeerd is, breed aan de orde te stellen. In plaats daarvan wil ik mij richten op zijn apologetische methode en kijken of die gereformeerd is. Wanneer hij probeert het christelijk geloof te verdedigen en te promoten, gebruikt hij dan een methode die de gereformeerde grondslagen en principes van de apologetiek weerspiegelt?

Nu hebben we wel een probleem. Voor zover ik weet, heeft Tim Keller daarover nooit rechtstreeks uitgebreid en systematisch geschreven. Maar wij hebben In alle redelijkheid en in dat boek richt hij zich in de eerste plaats tot de ongelovigen. Het is primair een illustratie van zijn methode, geen beschrijving of uitleg van de methode op zich. Wat zijn methode in het boek is, geeft hij kort aan, zodat we die kunnen onderzoeken. Maar ik zal meer aandacht geven aan wat zijn methode uitwerkt.

Lees meer hier…

[Dutch translation by Marja Zwikstra-de Weger with the assistance of Freek Vogelzang and Henk Drost]

The Titus 2:1 Award

Titus 2_1 AwardRyan Smith over at One Christian Dad has awarded Yinkahdinay the Titus 2:1 Award.  Thanks, brother!  He asks me to answer the following questions:

1.  If you could have dinner with any historical theologian/preacher, who would it be and why?

There are lots of choices that spring to mind, but my top one would be Guy de Brès (Cornelius Van Til would be a closer runner-up).  I’ve done a lot of research on him.  I’m impressed not only with his intellectual grasp of the Reformed faith and the gospel, but also the way it gripped his heart.  I think dinner with de Brès would be enlightening and encouraging.

2.  What 1 burning question would you ask?
Who wrote out all the transcripts of your debates while you were in prison?
3.  What would you eat?
His favourite Belgian dish, whatever that might be.  We’d definitely drink a Belgian trappist ale — something good that the Roman Catholics have produced.  They might not do great theology, but they make great beer.
4.  What was the last Bible verse you read?
“Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Psalm 118:5-6
Now I’m supposed to nominate another blog for this award.  I use Google Reader and I follow many different blogs.  Some are updated daily and others on a less regular basis.  Dr. John Byl’s blog Bylogos falls into the latter category.  Considering the challenges the Canadian Reformed Churches are facing on issues relating to creation and evolution, I think this is one of the most important blogs at the moment.  According to Dr. Byl, “The purpose of this blog is to promote a Christian worldview, based on the Bible as God’s inerrant and fully authoritative Word, in accordance with the Reformed Confessions.”  I appreciate his biblical, presuppositional perspective on these issues.


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