Charlotte, North Carolina (September 24-25, 1999)-The Charlotte campus of Reformed Theological Seminary served as the scene for the fall meeting of the Creation Study Committee (CSC). Appointed by the 1998 Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly, the CSC was given the responsibility "to study the exegetical, hermeneutical, and theological interpretations of Genesis 1-3 and the original intent of the Westminster Standards' phrase 'in the space of six days.'"
Chairman of the CSC is Mr. Sam Duncan, Esq., a lawyer from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Moderator of the 1997 General Assembly. Two other former Moderators-the Rev. Dr. Will Barker and Mr. Mark Belz, Esq.-also serve on the eleven man Committee, as does the Rev. Dr. Morton H. Smith, the PCA's original Stated Clerk.
"Where in this report are we going to say that none of the views represented on this Committee would be acceptable to the National Science Foundation or any major university in the country?"-Duncan Rankin.
Three major items of business consumed most of the Committee's time at this meeting. The first was the weight to be given to the resolution which was passed by the General Assembly in June. The second was the consideration of how to present the various views on the days of Genesis 1. The third, and most problematic, was the meaning of the Confessional phrase, "in the space of six days."
One of the first items of discussion was the force and meaning of the resolution, offered by Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, and adopted by the General Assembly this past summer. Those on the Committee sympathetic to the "literal" approach of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where Dr. Pipa is President, tended to favor giving much weight to that action. Others on the CSC tended to ascribe much less significance to the resolution. For example, Dr. Smith maintained: "I think we've got to be guided by that resolution. . . . We now have received some further guidelines."
On the other hand, Dr. Barker was more cautious. He stated that when Dr. Pipa introduced the resolution, "it struck me as a very statesmanlike thing," particularly in that the document seemed to remove the length of the days of creation from the discussion regarding acceptable bounds of orthodoxy. "I probably voted for what got voted out," confessed Will Barker. However, "there are fine points in it that I might have real difficulty with." The term "instantaneous" is "the biggest problem" for him, as he cited Jesus' cursing of the fig tree, the withering of which is described in St. Matthew as having occurred "immediately" while St. Mark records that it didn't wither until the next day. And the Rev. Mr. Bill Smith, pastor of First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, opined that adopting a theological statement via a personal resolution is "just an extremely poor way of doing theology." He also stated: "If we're going to honor our Southern Presbyterian heritage, the statement of an Assembly is just that-the statement of an Assembly," with no binding force. He added: "I think it was ill-advised to adopt such a lengthy statement."
The consensus seemed to be expressed by Dr. Jack Collins, professor at Covenant Theological Seminary, who said that he did not necessarily disagree with Dr. Smith's suggestion that the Committee now has further guidelines. Dr. Collins said "that the Committee ought to respect the statement" rather than take it as providing guidelines, since it touches on issues that are not clearly within the CSC's assigned brief. He also indicated that he told the Bills and Overtures Committee that the resolution as originally cast would be a slam at R. Laird Harris, and that Dr Pipa agreed that he did not want to make that kind of statement. According to Dr. Collins, Dr. Pipa said that he was concerned about what he saw to be Hugh Ross' influence.
The discussion turned to consideration of the Day Age Theory. Presenting that perspective were Dr. Barker and Dr. Mark Wardell, an advisory member of the Committee from St. Louis. In Dr. Barker's mind, the critical question for the "literal" view revolves around the fact that the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day. "Whatever these first days are, they're not solar days. . . . Laird [Harris] makes the point that the days don't necessarily have to be long . . . just that they're indefinite in length."
"'Would you please speak on the two views of creation?' . . . I said, Well, I think we've found twelve views so far, which two would you like me to speak on?"-Duncan Rankin, commenting on a church which had asked him to speak.
Were the lights in the heavens created on the fourth day, or merely revealed then? Was the speed of light exponentially faster than it is today? And is the "apparent" age of the earth a matter of "deception" if God created the earth only a few thousand years ago? These are questions which the churchmen pondered-prompting Dr. John Dishman, a physicist from Dallas, to quip, "I like to bring theorists back to reality." Another scientist, chemist Dr. Stuart Patterson, commented: "We're not going to get experimental data on those days. It's all going to be theoretical. You pays your money and you takes your choice."
Also on the burner was the role played by the alleged findings of science vis a vis Scriptural interpretation. Dr. Duncan Rankin, professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, said: "Whatever the hot science of the day, [churchmen] kind of 'tweak' their system, so they can say that their view is in harmony with general revelation. Which makes them a widow in the next generation." But Mark Wardell countered: "There are difficulties in all of these views. . . . We were concerned that we not be so much trying to justify the view for scientific reasons, as for Scriptural reasons."
Duncan Rankin, speaking of PCA pastor David Hall: "David's been in Geneva and dug up a whole boatload of more stuff." Another Committee member: "He's a real miner, isn't he?" Jack Collins: "Is that 'er' or 'or'?"
The Rev. Mr. Howard Griffith, pastor of All Saints Reformed Presbyterian Church in Richmond, presented the "framework" position, popularized by Meredith Kline. This thesis is that the days of Genesis 1 are not chronological, but are rather a poetic construction. Mr. Griffith conceded that the framework hypothesis depends on an inference from Genesis 2:5-6 (with regard to the fact that "it had not rained on the earth"), and that "if that inference is not properly drawn, then the whole view falls apart."
"Moses . . . didn't have a watch."-Howard Griffith. "But he certainly knew what a day was!"-Stuart Patterson.
Dr. Rankin asked Mr. Griffith if it is possible for someone to hold to the framework view and to evolution. He responded that those in the Reformed faith who had propounded the framework theory do preclude evolution. "They deny evolution because Scripture does, and the determinative principle of the framework interpretation is the analogy of Scripture." Noting that a number of liberals have embraced a framework position, Dr. Rankin commented: "I would want a Presbytery to query someone who holds to a framework hypothesis to see if he holds to evolution."
Presenting the Analogical Days view was Dr. Collins. "The governing principle is that of analogy and not identity" between the days of Genesis 1 and the regular days of a week, "so there are similarities as well as differences." In his opinion, the word "day" in Genesis 1 must mean an ordinary day; but, he believes that the term "day" was used in order to relate analogically to what God was doing in creating the world. From his perspective, the length of the days is a non-issue.
"I appreciate Duncan mentioning my making an original contribution, but in our circles that is almost the kiss of death."-Jack Collins.
Although no one on the Committee holds to the Gap theory, there are some in the PCA who do hold to it. Also, some professors at Biblical Theological Seminary, where some PCA men are trained, believe in a "punctuated activity" theory. The Committee discussed whether and how to report on these views.
But the major discussion revolved around the knotty problem of interpreting the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly. At least three perspectives were represented on the CSC.
One member contended that "we ought to go ahead and conclude that the Westminster divines did mean six literal days of creation. . . . I think this may defuse this-take a strong view, yet a broad view" (in that a person would be allowed to take and perhaps even teach this exception). Another chimed in: "I never thought I'd say that I'd allow someone to teach an exception" to the Standards; but, he is willing to allow that liberty to someone with regard to this particular exceptional view. However, his willingness to grant that measure of freedom is predicated on two things: the church adopting the traditional interpretation of the phrase "in the space of six days"; and requiring those teaching other views to acknowledge that fact and teach the traditional view along with their own.
A second perspective was that of another committeeman, who said, "I have a threshold problem" with allowing a person to take exception to the phrase in the Westminster Standards, "in the space of six days." He stated: "I think the language of the Standards is the language of Scripture. . . . It is an equivalent to Scripture. . . . We don't allow someone to take an exception to the First Commandment." In his view, "The Confession says nothing more nor less than what the Bible says regarding the days of creation," and therefore it would be impossible to allow an ordinand to take exception to the phrase.
A third perspective was offered by yet another, who thinks that using the category of "exception" with regard to the length of the days of creation makes that category too broad and virtually meaningless. Instead, he believes that the whole discussion should be taken out of that category, and should rather be handled under something like a "clarification." This would remove the possibility of judicial action, while also allowing a candidate to say that "if" the Westminster divines meant to prescribe six literal days of creation, then he is out of accord with that statement.
For the one championing the first perspective, "the whole issue is the subscription issue." He and another committeeman emphasized that the phrase, "in the space of six days," is not a direct Scriptural quotation, but rather that it comes from the writings of Calvin and from the Irish Articles (written by Anglican Bishop Ussher), both of whom definitely held to six literal days of creation.
At the 1998 General Assembly, held in St. Louis, Standing Judicial Commission member David Hall offered two "hard-to-get Cardinals tickets" to anyone who could show a Westminster divine who believed in other than six literal days of creation. At the CSC meeting in Charlotte, Morton H. Smith commented: "David's still got his tickets to the baseball game", prompting Jack Collins to remark: "Yeah, but no one wants to see the Cardinals."
But for the member who had a "threshold problem" with regarding the non-affirmation of six "literal" days as an exception, it is a matter of the Confession simply affirming what the Scriptures say, whatever that may be. He proposed a motion, that the CSC adopt as its working thesis that the controverted phrase in the Confession of Faith is "substantially equivalent to and is no more explicit than the record of Scripture itself." After some considerable debate, the motion was postponed until the next meeting of the Committee.
[The CSC met again on December 3-4, 1999, in St. Louis. Chairman Sam Duncan would like to remind our readers that the Committee is in great need of funding. Designated moneys can be sent to: Administrative Committee, 1852 Century Place, Atlanta, Georgia 30345.-Ed.]