A basic Christian belief is that God is the Creator of all that is. It’s there in the first chapter of the Bible, and those churches which use creeds both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds start by affirming God as creator.
There is frequently conflict among Christians over Creation, which comes out most strongly over the Theory of Evolution. Despite the popular view this is a major issue, apart from the Scopes Trial of 1925, there was little controversy until the 1960s when Young Earth Creationism came to the fore, first in the U.S.A. and then throughout the world. It was scarcely known in Britain before 1968. At the risk of over-simplifying Creationism has split the ever-growing evangelicals down the middle and is almost the default theological position for Evangelicals throughout the world.
In Britain theological colleges have not stressed the teaching of Young Earth Creationism, but some of the more evangelical ones are strongly sympathetic (including one Anglican college) and tend to default to YEC. But now one college has nailed its colours to the mast. Many will see the newly founded and minute Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Newcastle as irrelevant. Being a watcher of all things evangelical and American I would disagree. It is an offshoot of the Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary from South Carolina, which is highly influential among conservative America presbyterians and is strongly creationist. The Newcastle seminary is to serve English Presbyterians, a tiny group with similarities to some of the fissiparious Scottish Presbyterian churches which may have Free in their name!! I can’t follow the realtionship between them, but they are not the same as the main Kirk. I also note how creationism has infiltrated into those churches. You can read their statement on creation here;
It doesn’t explicitly mention Creationism but its motive is clear, which is too teach only a theology which supports a 6 day 24 hour creation, as is expressed here;.
Accordingly, we believe that when God revealed his creation as ex nihilo and by the power of his word, and when he surrounded the six days of creation with such phrases as “the first day . . . the nth day” and “evening” and “morning”–all phrases which would have been understood in their normal sense by Hebrews in the second millennium BC–that God himself intended to convey that the work of his creation spanned six ordinary days, followed by a seventh and non-continuous day which also spanned 24 hours like the other six days.
This is what Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has been appealing for over many years.
Were this confined just to a minute college in Newcastle I would not be moved to comment, but this is a widespread attitude among evangelicals and has spread to mainstream denominations including the Church of England, Methodist, Baptists and Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Not to mention the many in Northern Ireland!
So, first, I will consider the importance of the doctrine of creation to Christians (with the implication that this needs to be taught and preached in all churches) and, secondly, I will consider the WPTS statement on creation and where I consider it to be wrong.
The importance of Creation
There is no question on the importance of Creation, but there is great diversity on how Creation should be understood. For most christians the belief that God created out of nothing is vital, though some do question it. For most it is summed up by William Temple’s quasi-equations in his classic book Nature, Man and God
God – Creation = God
Creation – God = 0
Or we may rhetorically ask the question;
Why is there something, rather than nothing.
For this discussion I will take God as Creator as read as it is more about how Christians actually understand creation, and especially in relation to modern thought. Or I should ask whether one can consider Creation in a vacuum of theology alone and make no reference to modern (or ancient) thought, thus producing a consistent belief which relates only to the bible.
Important as it is, I will not consider the Christian’s responsibility to the environment or Creation Care as it is often called. That is because of lack of space. Here the doctrine of creation moves to a vital ethical question as we need to learn how to treat creation properly and consider pressing issues of pollution, species loss, habitat loss, climate change etc. We need to get our doctrine of creation more or less right so we can deal with environmental issues. That includes knowing the age and history of the planet and the inter-relationship of living creatures. I am not a fan of either the Cornwall alliance or Friends of the Earth!! Here is a brief summary of a Christian’s attitude to the care of creation.
By insisting on creation in a mere week the WPTS simply rejects all of cosmology , geology and biology, although they avoid mentioning it , except for the odd aside “Even the secular confidence in earlier cosmologies is declining in some areas.” Rejecting so much science puts a stumbling block before people, Christian or not, who are quite liable to walk away and reject the Gospel.
It is clear that they have no grasp of the development of science over the 3 thousand years or the ancient adage “science is thinking God’s thoughts after him” . There is no awareness that the Bible reflects the thought forms of when that section was written. Thus Gen 1 and Isaiah 40 indicate a flat earth as they were written before the Greeks worked out the earth’s sphericity in about 500BC. Paul uses a scientifically wrong analogy on seeds in 1 Cor 15 vs 35. His argument is very clear today though if we are gardeners we’ll chuckle at his wrong biology. Both Leviticus and Deuteronomy regard bats as birds. Wise readers of the Bible simply accept that the writers are using contemporary understandings, which have been superceeded. No big deal. Then of course Darwin was clueless about genes and genetics!
There needs to be an awareness that the Bible is not scientific nor anti-scientific but pre-scientific. Hence we don’t accept its “science” to be correct as with the examples given above. The whole principle of accommodation of scripture is simply ignored, despite the fact that one of the finest expositions of accommodation is by John Calvin both in the Institutes and his commentary of Genesis.
He who would learn astrology[i.e astronomy] and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.
All considering the doctrine of creation, whether believer or atheist, should memorise that bit of Calvin.
Now for some history.
If traditional dates for the writing of biblical books is correct most of the Old Testament predates any science, as with a flat earth. Who cares that in the magnificent Isaiah 40, verse 22 speaks of a flat earth.
The historical relation of science and Christianity can be muddled by those trying to claim the church opposed every new finding of science. Briefly they need to consider Augustine
and then the scientists of the Middle ages who were mostly priests. There is much written on this and on the whole it was a positive and constructive interplay of ideas. Books by Hannan, Grant andLindberg are very useful here, as is the recent work on Bishop Robert Grosseteste (d1253) expounded by Tom Mcleish and others.
WPTS should be so pleased that Protestants were far more supporting of Copernicanism than Catholics and under Cromwell clergy astronomers were supported like John Wilkins who married Cromwell’s sister, made master of trinity Cambridge, helped to found the Royal Society and became Bishop of Chester, succeeding Pearson, who accepted 4004 BC as the date of creation!
I think it would be fair to say the Westminster Divines both supported copernicanism and the foundation of the Royal Society. Before long in the 1680s some Fellows eg Edward Lhwyd and Rev John Ray were beginning to suggest Ussher rather underestimated the date of creation and soon many more did.
By the end of the 18th century most educated Christian in Britain and elsewhere accepted those dreaded “millions of years” or else just hundreds of thousands as with de Luc. The Westminster Confession supporting Scots were in the forefront here, though in the early 19th century Anglican clergy were very active geologically. What is often overlooked is that by 1859, when Darwin published most clergy accepted deep geological time. (I cannot find one Anglican priest or minister of the Kirk who followed ~Ussher’s 4004BC date.)
As WPTS is presbyterian we need to note that in Scotland nearly all the clergy from the various Presbyterian Churches including the Free Presbyterians totally accepted geological time with relish. Notable were John Fleming , Thomas Chalmers and the wonderful Hugh Miller. They did not see a problem with the Westminster Confession as in chap 4 section 1
In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit 1 to create the world out of nothing in order to reveal the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness.2 He made everything in the world, visible and invisible, in the space of six days, and it was very good.
So I cannot see why WPTS and their fellow Presbyterians are so worried.
A major weakness in this statement is that it seems to see Scripture as timeless and not written according to the culture at the time of writing. As a result the statement is an echo chamber in a locked room with no windows. It may seem strong and coherent, but it does not relate to the world either today, human and non-human or the past. It ends up as irrelevant.
It makes no explicit reference to science except referring vaguely to a “secular cosmology” as something we should reject. And so students will be encourage to reject so much of modern science and fall prey to Young Earth Creationism.
Now for my comments on the Statement
(Statement in quotation form and my comments in standard form)
Statement on Creation
We the faculty of Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary wish to acknowledge publicly our view on creation so that the churches and individuals supporting the Seminary may know what to expect from classroom instruction and faculty writing. In so doing, we note the following as preliminaries:
- the issue of creation has long been considered a fundamental Christian belief, one that distinguishes Christianity from other religions;
- this particular doctrine has been subject to prolonged attack since the mid-19th century, but continues to be critical for orthodoxy;
- although the history of belief on this subject is clear, some fine and notable theologians from our communions have held differing views on this subject; and
- that as a Seminary we are obligated not to teach contrary to the Westminster Standards. The Westminster Standards may be changed by the church courts, but, in our view, the seminaries ought not to be teaching contrary to those Standards, so that when there are changes they will occur as a result of the church’s mature deliberation and not in a de facto manner.
- yes, I totally agree but Judaism and Islam have a very similar doctrine of Creation.
- The rise of the Conflict Thesis of science and religion has not helped, but here I think they are driving at the general acceptance of evolution, which they wrongly see as attacking creation.
- Their view of the history is clear, but they take a very selective and inaccurate view. The fine theologians dissenting to a young earth are legion and from Scotland , Northern Ireland and the USA. The Princeton School were very wise on the science in creation. Charles Hodge and BB Warfield are worth studying today.
- But why didn’t those in the 19th century see the problem?
Thus, we offer our view on the subject of creation as a school that serves a number of Reformed denominations, especially the EPCEW, PCA and the OPC.
Note EPCEW is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales which has 30 churches. PCA and OPC are from the USA. On the surface they and this statement may seem insignificant but the issues raised and stance taken is significant in Britain
I hear they are in contact with Scottish Wee Frees, and many of their views are shared by the FIEC, Reformed Baptists and other evangelical groups. (Not to mention some Anglicans – say 5% of clergy and a retired Bishop)
- We believe that God’s Word is not only inerrant, but that it is also clear to the learned and unlearned alike; thus, we affirm that when God reveals his mind–on creation or any other matter–he is quite capable of making his thoughts known in ordinary language that does not require extraordinary hermeneutical maneuvers for interpretation.
Inerrancy and geology/evolution was not a problem to the Princeton theologians BB Warfield and the Hodges! Inerrancy takes many forms and has long seen to be compatible with geological time and even evolution.
Inerrancy does not imply literalism of Genesis, despite this being a common misconception
I have to say that many parts of the bible are not clear and especially the Old Testament – even St Peter agrees with me!
See above about accommodation and Calvin’s attitudes!
The language and imagery of the bible is very variable and is open to misinterpretation .
- Accordingly, we believe that when God revealed his creation as ex nihilo and by the power of his word, and when he surrounded the six days of creation with such phrases as “the first day . . . the nth day” and “evening” and “morning”–all phrases which would have been understood in their normal sense by Hebrews in the second millennium BC–that God himself intended to convey that the work of his creation spanned six ordinary days, followed by a seventh and non-continuous day which also spanned 24 hours like the other six days.
Yes creatio ex nihilo is fundamental. But it is difficult to see what creating by “the power of his word ” actually means. Ultimately God creating is a mystery and we cannot get beyond physical explanations to the creative power of God behind what we can see..
“Power of his word” is emotive and explains little. It is simply an affirmation of god’s power.
I have no issue with the days of Genesis being 24 hours but we need to consider what the chapter is telling is. If we insist that creation must have taken no more than 24 hours then from chap1 vs 6-8 we must also insist the earth is flat with a firmament above us. You cannot have one without the other.
Calvin waxes strong on accommodation here.
I will leave the seventh day……………..
- We believe that an accurate study of OT texts does not support the gap theory, the framework hypothesis, the analogical theory, or the day-age view. Indeed, we find the OT creation texts to be interpreted as normal days, and no passage demands that Genesis 1-2 be re-engineered to yield other interpretations. The long history of rabbinical commentary, the very dating of time by the Hebrew calendar, and orthodox Jewish thought so understands these texts to embrace only days of ordinary length.
Perhaps this is so as all attempts to tie Genesis into scientific findings fail at some point. However most made sense in many ways.
Gap Theory was a recasting of the old Chaos-restitution interpretation which was dominant from 1600 to the early 19th century and had roots in the early church – and was an odd rewrite of chaos restitution going back to early church when ideas of chaos from Heisiod were used to show how genesis has a universal application.
The Framework theory derived from Meredith Kline and allows more “flexibility”
The Day Age goes back centuries and became dominant in the 19th century but always suffered from an inability to harmonise days withe geological eras.
One may say that all were good tries but ultimately didn’t work
Far better is to see that Genesis is more a literary representation and not historical in any sense, except that God created in the past!!
- The NT church and Scriptures offered no revisions of this view, and nowhere do those texts themselves advocate framework or day-age views. We certainly believe that if the wording of Genesis 1-2 required clarification or modification away from the normal meaning of the Hebrew terms, God would so indicate in the text itself, as well as in NT treatments of Genesis 1-2.
The NT only gives various references to a few verses and says nothing on insisting on a literal view.
- The earliest post-canonical commentaries either advocated a 24-hour view of the days (e.g., Basil, Ambrose) or followed Augustine in a somewhat platonic scheme. Augustine’s view, however, was that creation occurred instantaneously, and he nowhere enunciated a day-age view or a framework hypothesis.
Yet almost all rejected the Flat Earth views of the Old Testament – due to overwhelming evidence.
There was no evidence for geological time!
- Until the Protestant Reformation, only two views were propagated: (1) the Augustinian view (followed by Anselm and John Colet) and (2) the literal 24-hour view (espoused by Aquinas, Lombard, and others).
- The magisterial Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Beza) adopted a uniform view, that of 24 hours, and overtly repudiated the Augustinian view.
During the 16th century with the recovery of studying old literature – Renaissance – commentators from all churches tended to read the bible more literally than allegorically, so the 6/24 hr view was paramount.
However there was questioning, especially over astronomy.
Back to Calvin on accommodation, which bore fruit in later centuries.
- Prior to the Westminster Assembly, the leading Puritans (Ainsworth, Ames, Perkins) and others repudiated the Augustinian view and taught a sequential, normal day view.
Without any geological evidence for deep time or even a little bit more time that was inevitable.
- The Westminster Assembly divines either felt no need to comment on the length of days–so clearly was it established–or if they commented, they uniformly (either explicitly or implicitly) adopted the 24 hour view. With 60-80 divines normally attending sessions, at least 20 of the divines who did comment in other published writings indicate that they only understood the creation days to be 24-hour days (or ordinary days), and none have been found who espoused a contrary view. Specifically, there were no divines who wrote advocating a day-age view or a framework view. We continue to esteem them not only as confessional authors but also as faithful exegetes. We deny that certain scientific theories are so certain as to compel us to reinterpret Scripture on this matter.
In a sense only relevant to Presbyterians but the questions raised by geology from 1660s affected all churches, though many never got their knickers in a twist over it.
BUT, the evidence for an older earth was unearthed by many who were Christian. It was not a godless attack on Christianity.
- Following the Westminster Assembly, the testimony of the American Reformed tradition (e.g., J. Edwards) followed the tradition of Ussher/Perkins/Ames/The Westminster Divines on this question. No debate about this subject arises until after 1800, as the winds of various European views began to circulate.
This is too closely focussed on the Presbyterian tradition with the Westminster Catechism. Edwards wrote little on science after the 1720s and made no comment on geological time. Further even his radical contemporary Benjamin Franklin accepted a young earth in mid 18th century. (This almanack was written by Franklin.)
In the wider church i.e other Protestant, Anglicans and Catholics, the topic of Genesis and time was frequently discussed from the 1660s with little controversey or sense that geology was undermining the bible
For more details see Genesis 1 & geological time from 1600-1850
- By the mid-nineteenth century, certain leading Presbyterians (C. Hodge, A. A. Hodge, and later Shedd and Warfield) began to conform their exegesis to the ascendant science of the day. We believe that this was a strategic and hermeneutical mistake, as well as a departure from the meaning of terms in the Westminster Standards.
This ignores the fact that most educated Christians throughout Europe and America had accepted geology as this rather anglocentric article shows;
Genesis and geology unearthed
The geological column was essentially worked out in the early 19th century by geologists such as Rev Adam Sedgwick (seen here) who was a major worker on the Cambrian to Devonian, a mere 180 million years worth of strata
The presbyterians cited followed on from geologists like Rev E Hitchcock and British counterparts. In his Systematic Theology Hodge gives a careful discussion of genesis and geology and was helped by the geologist James Dana. Later in his What is Darwinism he looked to Asa Gray a Christian botanist and populariser of Darwin in the USA.
Mention ought to be made of Scottish and Irish presbyterians which are discussed in Livingstone’s Darwin’s Forgotten defenders.
- Leading southern Presbyterians (such as Thornwell, Dabney and Girardeau) however, simultaneously resisted efforts to broaden the church on this point, as is documented in the Woodrow trial and decisions.
These were almost alone in their rejection of geology and evolution and were almost alone in their support of slavery. So much for evolution supporting racism!
- Early in the twentieth century, numerous evangelicals – and some seminaries – became overly concessive to a secular cosmology, departing from the historic view expressed in the Westminster standards on this subject.
This is a very loaded statement.I presume a “secular cosmology” is simply the whole scientific picture from cosmology , geology and biology over 13.4 billion years. It is only secular as it is not overtly Christian, though many of the scientists behind it were Christian themselves. N.B. People were “departing” from the Westminster standards on this with in 25 years
- Some of us, at earlier times, were willing – due to love of the brethren and respect for esteemed teachers – to declare that the meaning of confessional language on this question was vague. We are no longer able in good conscience to do so. Both the normal meaning of the confessional phrases and the original intent as verified by other writings of the divines is now abundantly clear, with no evidence to the contrary.
It was not so much that the language from another era was vague, but that all the evidence pointed to an earth and universe billions of years old. Maybe WPTS should realise that the Westminster Divines writing nearly 400 years ago were simply wrong. It was only shortly after William Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood.
- Even the secular confidence in earlier cosmologies is declining in some areas.
This is such a vague statement. What and who do they mean? There are always some who reject contemporary cosmologies as Fred Hoyle objected to the Big Bang (put forward by a Christian – Georges le Maitre) before his death. He dubbed it Big Bang to ridicule it. And then some question evolution, and a tiny handful the age of the earth
(I dig his sunglasses)
This statement sounds good and may mislead those with no science.
- Therefore, we declare our view shares the exegesis of the Westminster divines that led them to affirm that God created all things “in the space of six days” by the word of his power. We also believe that this clear meaning of confessional language should be taught in our churches and pulpits, and that departures from it should be properly safeguarded.
The Westminster Confession was written by 60-80 clergy in one decade nearly 400 years ago. Why ignore all since who have considered the science.
For me, I prefer to follow the myriads of clergy in the last 400 years, who have understood science and the way it develops.
- Accordingly, we reject the following contemporary notions:
- that John 5:17 teaches a continuing seventh day of creation;
- that violent death entered the cosmos before the fall;
- that ordinary providence was the only way that God governed and sustained the creation during the six days of creation;
- that extraordinary literary sensitivities must be ascribed to pre-1800 audiences; and
- that Scripture is unclear in its use of “evening and morning” attached to the days of creation.
- Not very important
- This is a more serious issue. A major plank of creationism is that there was no death before the Fall. Life started about 4 billion years ago and since then there has been a cycle of life and death. Predation, i.e. violent death occurred among trilobites in the Cambrian some 500 million years ago. To deny this is to say all science is wrong and especially geology with all its half-chewed fossils. I am baffled to understand how the fall affected the structure off far-off galaxies.
- This is neither here not there and will depend on how you define providence. I don’t see why you need to distinguish between ordinary and extraordinary providence.
- In my own historical and theological researches I have read a vast number of works before 1800 in several languages. Many have shown immense erudition, profundity and literary sensitivity. (For those reasons I often go to Calvin on Genesis.) I regard writers like Ussher, Ray, Mersenne, Pantycelyn, Needham and de Luc among many others as having great literary sensitivity. I just accept that some (or many) of their ideas were modified after their time. I think Ussher was a brilliant scholar and theologian, who, among other things, opened the way for a more critical historical method.
- I think the meaning of YOM wa very clear to the writer of Gen 1 – it is 86,400 seconds. But he was also very clear about the earth being flat and a firmament above it with tiny stars tacked on.
The great James Ussher – a great scholar and theologian
We admit that some Christians have been too lax on this subject, and others have been too narrow. Hence, we hope to enunciate in this statement a moderate, historic, and biblical position. Even should other fine men differ with us on this subject, we hereby announce our intent to remain faithful to the teaching of the Westminster Standards and other Reformed confessions of faith on this subject.
To God alone be glory.
I agree that too often Christians have not been concerned been concerned about the relation of science to theology and focussed to much on a personal relationship to Jesus.
But to insist on a literal Genesis is the opposite of moderate and biblical. It is false and creates a ginormous stumbling block for so many Christians and seekers. To do this you have adopt the whole of Young earth Creationism founded by Morris and Whitcomb, which rejects science by misrepresenting it as we see on websites like Answers in Genesis or Creation ministries International.
Far better is to read the various writings from https://biologos.org/about-us and https://faraday-institute.org/index.php
which have excellent material on Christianity and science.
To conclude I will quote the Lord Protector , Oliver Cromwell (who wrote to the general assembly of the Scottish Kirk four years after Westminster
I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.