Saturday, May 29, 2010


When I started this blog back in October 2006, my aim was to blog my way through my degree. What started as a briefly-lived team blog with a few friends has become a record of my own reflections whilst (and sometimes about) studying theology; a record of my own advancement (Vorsprung) through theology, both chronologically and, I hope, spiritually and intellectually. Vorsprung durch Theologie also expresses my own conviction that only theology will give the Church its advancement under Christ in the world. Theology is for the Church.

Along the way I have become somewhat sceptical about blogging and have almost abandoned the VdT project at several points. But for my very few readers I hope that something of value has occurred in your occasional encounters with VdT. And I hope that for those contemplating studying theology, VdT has given some kind of insight - and I hope it's encouraged you to consider HTC, which is an outstanding community of faith and scholarship in the Reformed tradition.

Anyhow, the VdT project enters its final stage. All Honours year modules are now complete - my final exam was yesterday. All that remains for me is to post some reflections on those modules, and perhaps a few reflections on my time at HTC as a whole. Then the End Will Come!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Progressive Creation

After Bruce Waltke's words about the evidence for evolutionary process and his subsequent resignation from RTS, some will (of course) adopt the myopic narrative that this is the Church listening to modern, rationalistic science instead of to God (in fact an article on Reformation21 has stated just that, in a disservice to Bruce Waltke).
Unfortunately (or fortunately) this unbelievably simplistic analysis is...well, unbelievably simplistic and wrong. The idea that the six creation days ought not to be taken literally has a long history that goes back to the Fathers (it can be seen in Augustine, Origen, Clement, and others). Here in Scotland, some of the Free Church's own Fathers, men like Hugh Miller and William Cunningham, were happy to embrace an old earth and a progressive creation process moving from simplicity to greater complexity. I'm glad to say that prominent Free Church theologians today are similarly inclined.

To stress the unity and eternity of God; to insist that the whole universe is His work; to emphasise that we live in a world of order, not of chaos; and to put the gods of Egypt and Babylon firmly in their place: these were the intentions of the author of Genesis 1. I suspect that if we had asked him, 'But how long were the days?' he would have looked blank. He was assuming a natural science rather than advocating it.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed would soon lose its effect if we became obsessed with the question, 'But is it really the smallest of all seeds?' And our Lord's encounter with Nicodemus would teach us little if we focused only on the question of reconciling John 3:8 with modern meteorology. I am not sure that our treatment of Genesis 1 has been much more intelligent. (Macleod, A Faith to Live By, 60).

If I am not hostile to the notion of a universe thousands of millions of years old and if I am prepared to accept that life-forms emerged according to a progressive pattern, from the simple to the more complex, does this make me a Darwinist? Not for a moment! I draw a very firm distinction between such a position and the position of consistent evolutionism. (Macleod, AFtLB, 62).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Genesis and Genre

I didn't post when, a few weeks back, Bruce Waltke resigned his post at RTS (announced April 6) after a controversy about the orthodoxy of theistic evolution. From what I have read from the pen of Bruce Waltke, and what I have heard from people who know him, he is a gracious, deeply respected brother. As I've reflected on what's happened to him, and on some of the reaction, I felt I should post by twopenneth. So, what happened? You can read about it at CT here, but basically a video had appeared on BioLogos (which has subsequently been removed at the request of RTS) in which Waltke questioned whether Christianity can seriously ignore scientific data that seem to point to an old earth and to evolutionary theory. Waltke has since re-affirmed his belief in a historical Adam and Eve (you can read Waltke's Statement of Clarification here), but this it seems is insufficient. BioLogos themselves hold that young earth theories are untenable and that the ID movement has reached a 'dead end'. Waltke probably isn't so definite about the latter of these, but perhaps it's another case of the dreaded Guilt By Association. Have we really reached the point where any concept of theistic evolution is viewed as heresy in Reformed thought?

Such a broad concept allows perfectly well for an Adam and an Eve, for the divine fiat, for man as the Imago Dei. In fact, it allows for all of the truths that Reformed Christianity holds to. I might not be a confirmed theistic evolutionist according to one specific model, but I can see that the earth is very old. Evolutionary processes at some level are contributing to biology today and have done so in the past. It seems probable to me that death existed in the animal kingdom even before the fall (from looking at the Genesis narratives, not from ignoring them). However, I still think that teleological arguments for design have got stronger and stronger in recent years, in the realm of microbiology and elsewhere. After all, it is this type of argument that eventually proved persuasive for Anthony Flew. Evolutionary process, the divine fiat and design are not mutually exclusive.

At heart, this problem is (again) centred around the doctrine of Scripture. If Scripture is to be read as a genre-less, ahistorical monolith, then we should all be young earth, six day creationists. However, if we believe in divine accomodation in scripture; if we believe that scripture is a human as well as a divine work, written to make sense to the first readers, as well as to us; if we believe that incarnation is some sense helps us understand the nature of scripture (if you argue with this concept, you are arguing with Warfield, Hodge, Bavinck, Ridderbos as well as with Enns - and you need to read this); if we believe in hermeneutics, then other options are available for the interpretation of the Genesis narratives. Why is it so hard for Reformed theology to recognise its own view that Scripture is human and divine, is itself an accomodation to human understanding? The Genesis creation narrative is expressed in the context of the ancient NE. Its genre reflects the aNE stories of origins. And at the same time it is true; it is the Word of God. The Genesis narratives convey critically important truths about God, about man, about the cosmos, about sin, about redemption. It is my firm opinion that if Christians spent less time trying to defend a literalistic, scientific reading of the Genesis protology, and more time reflecting on its theology, then the Church would better understand not only protology, but also eschatology, and a whole lot of ologies in between.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Covenant and Election (Lillback on Calvin)

In his The Binding of God, Lillback summarises the relationship between Calvin's conceptions of predestination and covenant in the following terms, in agreement with Hoekema as cited in the previous couple of posts.

The doctrine of sovereign election is that which explains why the covenant operates as it does. While Calvin hints at the idea of an eternal covenant in the Godhead, he is very clear that the covenant operates in time in union with the doctrine of election. This is true not only of the Israelites, but of Christians also. The covenant is not the same as secret election that infallibly secures salvation. Rather, the covenant is a general election that offers the promise of the benefits of the covenant. Only secret election ratifies the covenant in the case of any individual. Such is the covenant as viewed from the decree of God.

Nevertheless, the covenant has duties for men to execute. Thus man must not look to the decree for his salvation, but to the promises he finds in the covenant that he embraces by faith. Hence, the covenant creates an intermediate category of persons between those who are the ones rejected by God, and those who are elect. It is from this intermediate category that hypocrites arise, who later break the covenant by unbelief and disobedience. This type of covenant-breaking can even happen in the new covenant, since there are those admitted to the Church by baptism who will not be elect and who will not obey the covenant. Further there are those who come by profession of faith without a genuine working of grace. These too will ultimately show themselves to be non-elect by failing to fulfill the duties of the covenant. Nevertheless, those who enter the covenant sphere by baptism, even if not secretly elected, are really in the covenant.

For Calvin, the covenant is the place of salvation, but not all who are in the covenant will receive that salvation because of the mystery of divine election. Those who do not receive the grace of election are responsible for not fulfilling their covenant duties. They are those who have degenerated from sons of the covenant into illegitimate children. Such is Calvin's view of the hypocrite. Here we corroborate the views of Hoekema, Eenigenburg, Van Der Vegt, and Vanden Bergh vis-a-vis Polman and McClelland.