Dear Dr. Smith,
I want to take exception to your editorial comment in the Summer 1998 issue of Presbyterian and Reformed News concerning the PCA Creation Study Committee. Your comment in part was "It is our hope and expectation that that committee will bring in a solid report next year, affirming that anything other than creation in six literal days is an exception to our Standards;".
I have written a paper entitled "A Perspective for Resolving the Creation Issue" and recently forwarded it to the study committee for their consideration. I have enclosed a copy of the paper in the hope that you will publish it and present your readers with a different type of hope and consideration.
My personal expectation is that the committee will not be able to reach a consensus this year and will submit a majority/minority type report or as a compromise, will adopt a neutral position allowing for either a literal or non-literal creation day view. In any event, my hope is that the PCA will continue a study of creation with an emphasis placed on scientific investigations of General Revelation.
I appreciate your publication and look forward to each issue. Keep up the good work.
RE Ray Williams
Christ Presbyterian Church
by Ray Williams, October 1998
[Editor’s Note: We have some profound disagreements with Mr. Williams’s perspective. However, as has been our custom in the past, we publish “Open Forum” pieces, even the views expressed therein may vary from ours.]
For the Christian Church, the search for truth and a deeper understanding of God’s creation, in many ways, has been an arduous journey. And yet, within the church, there still are a number of unresolved questions. As we continue to search for the truth, we are in need of God’s sovereign guidance because the road ahead appears to be strewn with difficulties. The achievement of a church-wide consensus, in all probability, will not be quick nor easy. At its 26th General Assembly in St. Louis, the PCA took a step on this journey by formally establishing a creation study committee. The initial proposal was for the committee “to study the exegetical, hermeneutical, and theological interpretations of Genesis 1-3.” To this was added the charge of examining “the original intent of the Westminster Standards’ phrase ‘in the space of six days’”. However, because of an unfortunate parliamentary procedure, those who were not in favor of the original proposal were not permitted to offer amendments to perfect the final resolution. As a result, a vital aspect of the creation issue was left unstated, viz., a scientific study of the created universe and the interpretation of the facts of nature relating to the age of the universe. This General Revelation of God, which is completely consistent with His Special Revelation, holds the key to resolving the dilemma that confronts the church. Hopefully, the Study Committee will recognize this oversight and include in their work an objective study of the entire corpus of God’s revelation. If this is not done, closure on the subject is not possible.
In regard to the initial charge for the committee to study Genesis 1-3, it ought to be obvious at this point, that after many, many years of study, by countless theologians, the Genesis 1 creation account, taken by itself, is not absolutely clear as to the length of the creation day. Although the ordinary day view seems to be a natural interpretation and is held by many, quite a legitimate argument can be made for creation days of longer duration. Over the years, many respected theologians have held to such an interpretation. It follows then, that continued exegesis of Genesis 1, over this same ground, does not hold much promise of providing a conclusive answer that will be universally accepted.
Concerning the committee’s added charge of examining the intent of the Westminster Divines, research has revealed that it was Calvin who first used the phrase ‘in the space of six days’. He was refuting those who claimed that God created all things instantaneously. Bishop James Ussher, who was a staunch Calvinist, incorporate this same phrase into the Irish Articles of 1615. The Irish Articles served as a prototype for the development of the Westminster Confession and it is not surprising at all that this same phrase was used again. An argument can be made that the phrase was solely intended to exclude the notion of instantaneous creation and not be definitive as to the length of each day. Calvin and Ussher both believed in a ‘young earth’ and they, at least, undoubtedly believed in an ordinary 24-hour day. Other paleo-orthodoxy studies have been made on the writings of the divines in an attempt to assess their beliefs and therefore their intent. But, this polling type approach cannot be conclusive as to the intent of the entire Westminster Assembly. Instead, what is required, is a simple objective analysis of the precise wording of the adopted Standards. Such an analysis shows convincingly that the length of the creation day, in reality, is not specified. By way of illustration, let us assume for the sake of argument, that the narrative of Genesis 1 explicitly stated that each day of creation was 1,000 years in duration. A logical question would be, what impact would that have on the Westminster Standards? The answer is none, because, the length of day is not dealt with there. Only that six of them were involved! From this example, it ought to be clear that we can err if we bring to either the Scriptures or the Standards an incorrect presupposition as to the meaning of the word “yom” or “day”. Therefore, if a teaching elder is convinced that the days of creation are long periods of time, as opposed to being 24-hours, his view is entirely consistent with the wording of the Westminster Confession and cannot be classified as an exception.
The Creation Study Committee can be of great service to the PCA by helping to clarify what beliefs are within the church’s fundamental system of doctrine and what ones are considered to be exceptions. There is not much doubt that the committee will affirm that the Genesis account describes a chronological sequence of fiat miracles performed by God over a series of historical days. And, although it is not a precise scientific explanation, Calvin comments that Moses wrote “in a popular style things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand”. Genesis 1 therefore, describes real events that God directed in a creation process that occurred over a period of six days. Therefore, the so called “framework hypothesis”, that considers Genesis 1 a “poetic” narrative, misinterprets the text and is an erroneous theory that should be declared an exception which is not to be taught.
How can the church resolved the outstanding questions regarding creation? The answer, as indicated previously, must come from a study of God’s General Revelation. But alas, within the Christian community, there are conflicting voices regarding scientific truth. This is a major challenge facing the church. Therefore, a high priority task is the determination of what scientific resources can be relied upon to provide credible information and what evidence ought to be embraced as the truth. Also, a fact that needs enunciation, is that the antiquity of the earth is an independent matter that is separate from the issue of biological evolution for which there is clear biblical teaching that man was specially created by God and not the result of naturalistic nor theistic evolution. As the investigation goes forward, the church must avoid the type of mistake, that was made in the past, of reading into scripture presuppositional ideas that caused it to cling to a geocentric theory of the solar system until it was forced to acknowledge the weight and truthfulness of information generated from scientific studies of General Revolution.
In summary, at this time in the life of the church, for a study of creation to be productive and beneficial, it must emphasize the scientific study of the created universe and develop a model of how it was created and brought into existence by God. This means bringing scientific expertise to bear on the subject. The knowledge thus gained can be used to perfect the theological interpretation of Genesis 1.