Results tagged “creation” from Reformation21 Blog

Evangelical Evolution?


Given what World Magazine once called a "major, well-funded push" to promote the acceptance of evolution among evangelical Christians, the case must be persuasively made against the compatibility of evolution and the Bible. In answer to a pro-evolutionary stance, I am one of those Bible teachers who believe that the implications of evolution involve sweeping changes to the Christian faith and life.  

While I appreciate the moderate spirit of many who want to find a way to accept evolution alongside the Bible, I find that the more radical voices are here more helpful.  For instance, I share the view of Peter Enns in the conclusion to his book The Evolution of Adam, writing that "evolution... cannot simply be grafted onto evangelical Christian faith as an add-on," but requires a fundamental rethinking of doctrines pertaining to creation, humanity, sin, death, and salvation.  But Christian ethics must also be revised.  Enns writes that under evolution "some characteristics that Christians have thought of as sinful," including "sexual promiscuity to perpetuate one's gene pool," should now be thought of as beneficial.  Even so foundational an issue as the Christian view of death must be remolded by evolution.  An evolution-embracing Christian faith must now see death as an ally: "the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet." 

I am not a qualified scientist and have virtually nothing to contribute to the science involved in evolution.  As a Bible teacher and theologian, my concern is the necessary beliefs that flow from the Word of God.  For the ultimate issue involved with evolution is biblical authority: must the Bible submit to the superior authority of secularist dogma? Or may the believer still confess together with Paul: "Let God be true though everyone were a liar" (Rom. 3:4).  From this perspective, I plan a short series of articles arguing against the idea that evolution is biblically acceptable.  

Evolution vs. Genesis 1

The first topic to consider is our reading of Genesis 1.  It is frankly admitted by evolution supporters that anything like a literal reading of Genesis 1 rules out evolutionary theory.  As Tim Keller wrote for Biologos: "To account for evolution we must see at least Genesis 1 as non-literal."  I would alter that somewhat, since the issue really is not the absolute literalness of everything we read in Genesis.  Rather the question is whether or not Genesis 1 is a historical narrative that intends to set forth a sequence of events.  Evolution requires that Genesis 1 is teaching theology but not teaching history.  But is this an acceptable categorization of Genesis 1?

First, though, does an historical Genesis 1 rule out evolution?  The answer is Yes.  Consider Genesis 1:21, which records that God created species by means of direct, special creation: "God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind."  These "kinds" are species, which did not evolve from lower forms but were specially created by God.  This special creation is highlighted in the case of the highest creature, man: "God created man in his own image; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27).  If these verses are presenting a record of history, it is a history radically at odds with the history posed by evolutionary theory.

This raises the question as to the genre of Genesis 1.  Literary scholars teach the widely accepted view that different kinds of literature cue different reading expectations.  So what is the genre of Genesis 1?  According to those who support evolution, Genesis 1 functions as a poetic rather than historical genre.  The argument is that Genesis 1 employs highly stylized language and a repetitive structure.  Keller's white paper argues that Genesis 1 is like the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15 or the Song of Deborah in Judges 5.  It corresponds to more historical chapters by presenting a poetic rendition that must not be taken as the history itself.  Just as Exodus 14 tells the history of the Red Sea crossing, followed by the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15, so does Genesis 1 relate to the more historically acceptable version of Genesis 2 (a subject that will be treated in a later article).  Given this poetic form, Genesis 1 may be ruled out as teaching historical events.

The problem with this view is this: 1) there is a recognizable form to Old Testament poetry and; 2) Genesis 1 is not written in this form.  You can see this by reading Genesis 1 and then reading the Song of Deborah.  

Genesis 1:1-2 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Judges 5:1-3 Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day: "That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!  "Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the Lord I will sing; I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel.

These passages are not written in the same genre.  I would point out in passing, however, that while Judges 5 certainly is a poem, the history it presents is nonetheless true.  This observation challenges the idea that to label a chapter as poetry serves immediately to remove its historical value.  Judges 5:26 celebrates Jael slaying Sisera: "she struck Sisera; she crushed his head; she shattered and pierced his temple."  That is pretty much what Judges 4:21 says happened.

While defending the historical potential of poetry, that subject is not germane to Genesis 1.  The reason for this is that the Bible's first chapter has a different genre, namely, historical prose narrative.  Old Testament poetry is shaped by parallelism and repetition.  Consider Psalm 27:1: "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid."  Hebrew poetic parallelism involves the second line interpreting or expanding the meaning of the first.  This is not what we see in the narrative of Genesis 1.

It takes great effort to deny that Genesis 1 fits the genre of historical narrative.  Here, we see a structure consisting of a series of waw consecutive verbs.  The waw is the Hebrew letter V, which means "and" when attached to the front of a verb.  When attached to a noun it is disjunctive  -- it stops the narrative flow.  When it is consecutive, before a verb, the waw advances the narrative flow.  "This happened and then this happened and then this happened."  This is what we find in Genesis 1: "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.  And God separated the light from the darkness" (Gen. 1:3-4). Given this construction, literary guides to the Bible commonly identify Genesis as "an anthology, or collection, of stories" in which "narrative is the primary form." Therefore, just like so many other chapters in the Bible which contain divine wonders that the unbeliever will reject, Genesis sets itself forth as recording events from history. Christians are expected to read accounts like this and believe that what is recorded actually happened, however contrary to secularist expectations.

A challenge to this view comes from Jack Collins' description of Genesis 1 as "exalted prose narrative."  On the one hand, he admits "that we are dealing with prose narrative... [and] the making of truth claims about the world in which we live." On the other hand, he says the chapter presents an "exalted" form of writing.  The reason for this is because of "the unique events described and the lack of other actors besides God" and also because of "the highly patterned way of telling it all." By this latter point he means the structure of successive days and the morning/evening pattern.  Because of these features, Collins assets that "we must not impose a 'literalistic' hermeneutic on the text." By this, he means believing that the events happened as the text says they did.  But why the exalted features overthrow the normal way of reading the text is not made evident.  Might the exalted nature of the narrative be a function of the event itself: God's unique creation of all things?  Wouldn't we expect an account of this to be "exalted" simply by virtue of the stupendous events?  And what other actors than God might there be in such an account?  

The reality is that the genre of Genesis 1 is the same as the genre of Genesis 2 through 50: historical narrative.  Therefore the arguments used to remove the historicity of Genesis 1 must inevitably apply equally to the whole of Genesis, with all its teaching about God and man that is opposed to secularist dogma, including the Fall of Adam, Noah's Flood, the Tower of Babel, and God's covenant of salvation with Abraham.  All of these narratives are highly stylized accounts involving exalted and unusual themes, at least from our perspective.  

There is a reason, of course, for isolating Genesis 1 from the rest of the book.  Admittedly, it is more "exalted" a narrative than others - it is the creation account!  But Genesis 1 is also the chapter that most stands in the way of the theory of evolution, for which scholars are determined to find room by warning against "highly literalistic" readings - i.e. ones that take the narrative seriously as history.  And when Genesis 1 has been neutralized, the same approach can be applied to other pesky narratives like Genesis 3 and the Fall of Adam.  After all, there can be no Adam when evolution has been accommodated accepted by our reading of Genesis 1.  So now the danger of a "highly literalistic" reading has advanced to chapter 3.  But, wait, the flood narrative cannot be taken seriously in light of today's science and that narrative is highly structured, too.  It will not take too long before the entire book of Genesis is reduced to historical rubbish.

One of the grand motives, I believe, for accommodating evolution in Genesis 1 is so that evangelicals can stop arguing about science and start teaching about Jesus.  But do we fail to note that Jesus' story begins in Genesis 1?  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God..." (Jn. 1:1).  In fact, when the interpretive approach used to neutralize Genesis 1 as history is necessarily extended by evolution, then the reason for Jesus' coming is lost?  After all, without a biblical Adam as the first man and covenant head of the human race, then what is the problem for which the Son of God came?  Here we see just how right Peter Enns is: evolution is not an add-on to the Bible, it is a replacement.

Dr. Richard D. Phillips is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC and the chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology

This post was originally published at Reformation21 in December 2014. 

Created vs. Creative Identity


The problem (so to speak) with Christianity is that it places creaturely identity in the hands of the Creator rather than the creature. In other words, it holds that the identity of every human being--and, for that matter, every created thing--is fundamentally established by God, not constructed by the creature. Christianity and contemporary culture necessarily exist on a collision course on this matter since one of the defining features of our cultural moment is the perception that every individual has not only the ability but also the inalienable right to play a constructive part in determining his or her (or zir?) identity.

As Christians we acknowledge layers to the identity that we as individuals have been given by God. We are, in that sense (and hopefully few others), like onions. There is a creational layer to my God-given identity. That layer comprises, for example, my ethnicity, my age, and my gender. DNA testing might turn up surprises about my pedigree, but nothing, in the final analysis, can change the biological identity of my parents, the doctor's verdict ("It's a boy") upon my birth, or the precise time and date of my birth. There is, however, also a redemptive layer to my (and every believer's) God-given identity. On the basis of Christ's life, death, resurrection, and continuing intercession for me at his Father's right hand, I am a justified, sanctified, and adopted child of God, sealed by God's own Spirit, enjoying the rich benefits of my redemption and awaiting the full inheritance that belongs to me and my spiritual siblings.

Neither of the identity layers I have just noted lies within my own control. God is the author of both. Which is not, of course, to deny that there are aspects of my identity over which I do have creative control. The identity that I project to myself and others includes not only the created and redemptive realities just observed, but also a vocation (teaching), political convictions (I plead the fifth), a concrete nexus of relationships (wife, children, dog, etc.), specific tastes in food (Indian or Mexican), music (Americana), and film (anything by Wes Anderson or Pixar), and so on. Nevertheless, the creative and redemptive layers to my identity remain considerably more fundamental than those aspects of my identity that I myself engineer.

More to my present point, while the world may happily dismiss the redemptive layer to my identity as wishful (or needful) thinking on my part, it grows increasingly insistent on putting the created layer into my own creative control (and so effectively making me the Creator). Thus I might, if so inclined, self-identify (with this world's blessing) as a seventeen year-old Native American girl, and force others to relate to me accordingly. How dare you tell me my bathroom is over there? How dare you tell me my application for financial aid on the basis of my Native American heritage has been denied? How dare you tell me I'm actually a balding, middle-aged, white man? That's not how I self-identify. That's not, in other words, the identity that I have freely constructed for myself.

As Christians, we need not deny, nor should we trivialize, the event of individuals experiencing dissonance between their self-perception and their created (i.e., God-given) identity (whether measured in gender, ethnicity, age, or any other created facet of one's person). We must, however, insist that the world's answer to that event is, in the words of the BFG, a catasterous disastrophe. Rather than lovingly helping individuals reconcile self-perception with reality (i.e., helping individuals move towards their God-given identity), the world increasingly insists that reality conform to every individual's self-perception, thus amplifying the dissonance felt by certain individuals between self-perception and the reality of who they are (which reality invariably informs others-perception). Soaring depression and suicide rates among youth is but one fruit of such amplified dissonance. Human beings were quite clearly never meant to bear the psychological burden of establishing their own identity at the fundamental levels of gender, age, and ethnicity. The "freedom" to do so is an intolerable weight that, to all appearances, is crushing individual psyches.

As Christians, we would also do well to equip ourselves with resources for helping us and our own children understand and appreciate those aspects of identity that are God-given rather than self-engineered. A resource I've found most helpful in this regard, both in my home and in my work with middle-schoolers (where, given the age of my pupils, defense against certain cultural assumptions and agendas often takes the form of a good offense; i.e, intentional, constructive, theological training) is the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The tenth question of the shorter catechism, at least to my thinking, has particular purchase in our cultural moment. How did God create man? God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures. Quite a few assumptions and agendas of our age are, I think, undermined by that very simple description of how God made us. Thus, it constitutes exactly the kind of thinking with which I hope to arm my children/students as they step towards a mature presence in this world.

Catechesis, then, might play an important role in preparing a Christian generation to engage assumptions and agendas in this world that, quite frankly, previous generations didn't face (or, at least, didn't face so pointedly). Who knew a catechism crafted in the 1640s could have so much contemporary relevance? Catechesis can also, in my experience, be quite fun (in a way the Westminster divines, to be fair, probably didn't anticipate). In my home and school my children/students sing the Westminster catechism. There have been various efforts to put the WSC (and other catechisms) to song. The effort I like best is that by Bruce Benedict. In addition to several CDs covering large portions of the WSC, Benedict also has on offer a songbook that will allow a fairly amateurish guitar play (like me) to accompany the catechized in their singing. If the present-day relevance of a seventeenth-century catechism never ceases to amaze, neither does the pedagogical value of a beat-up guitar and the knowledge of a handful of guitar chords. Regardless, in my experience, amateurish guitar playing coupled with the proclivity of children to create motions for songs you teach them is a formula for enjoyable education and, best case scenario, robust theological understanding.

Catechesis forms a critical component both in the Bible classes I teach and in my family's worship time. In fact, it's the component that neither my students nor my children ever complain about. And it's rewarding to me. Every time my own children and my students sing, for instance, the truth that God has created us "male and female," I take satisfaction in the knowledge that they are singing, unbeknownst to them, themselves into a binary understanding of gender, and so a notion of identity as created, that will very likely set them sharply at odds with the world they encounter in a few short years. God willing, that understanding will equally equip them to speak words of genuine hope into this world, hope discovered in learning to move towards rather than away from one's created identity and, better yet, towards the identity that God offers every human being on the basis of his Son's person and work.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 12, Race/Ethnicity


[Editorial Note: This is the twelfth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Statement 12: 


WE AFFIRM God made all people from one man. Though people often can be distinguished by different ethnicities and nationalities, they are ontological equals before God in both creation and redemption. "Race" is not a biblical category, but rather a social construct that often has been used to classify groups of people in terms of inferiority and superiority. All that is good, honest, just, and beautiful in various ethnic backgrounds and experiences can be celebrated as the fruit of God's grace. All sinful actions and their results (including evils perpetrated between and upon ethnic groups by others) are to be confessed as sinful, repented of, and repudiated.

WE DENY that Christians should segregate themselves into racial groups or regard racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity in Christ. We deny that any divisions between people groups (from an unstated attitude of superiority to an overt spirit of resentment) have any legitimate place in the fellowship of the redeemed. We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression. While we are to weep with those who weep, we deny that a person's feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.


In 1 Samuel 16:6-7, we read, "When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, 'Surely the Lord's anointed is before him.' But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.'"

This section of scripture explains the problem too many of us have. We look at the outward appearance of others and pre-judge them. We will use appearance, or height, or wealth or any of the wrong things with which to evaluate others. And this is not surprising when you consider that Samuel made the same mistake with Saul and was about to do so again with Eliab, the son of Jesse.

Because of the institution of slavery in America, race and ethnicity have been the focus of many tensions in our society. What are race and ethnicity? Are these important concepts, or should we focus our attention on other things? How should we as followers of Jesus Christ view these things? Many believers will point to Genesis 10 as if this is the origin of race and ethnicity. Nonetheless, the Bible does not explicitly state this to be the case. Rather, this is something that many read into the text.

So what is race? This is a question that many people just take for granted. They assume that race is color and differentiation of the human species. Merriam Webster defines race as "A: a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock. Or B: a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits or characteristics."1 These definitions are all fine, well and good, but most people assume that there is something more to the subject.

In any case, numerous scientists will tell you that the whole idea of race is a myth. According to Megan Gannon, a writer for Scientific American, "Racial categories are weak proxies for genetic diversity and need to be phased out."2 Michael Yudell, a professor of public health at Drexel University explains,

"It's a concept we think is too crude to provide useful information, it's a concept that has social meaning that interferes in the scientific understanding of human genetic diversity and it's a concept that we are not the first to call upon moving away from."3

This point is made even stronger by Svante Paabo, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany,

What the study of complete genomes from different parts of the world has shown is that even between Africa and Europe, for example, there is not a single absolute genetic difference, meaning no single variant where all Africans have one variant and all Europeans another one, even when recent migration is disregarded."4

Elizabeth Kolbert reports in the Race Issue of National Geographic:

Over the past few decades, genetic research has revealed two truths about people. The first is that all humans are closely related- more closely related than all chimps, even though there are many more humans around today. Everyone has the same collection of genes, but with the exception of identical twins, everyone has slightly different versions of some of them. Studies of this genetic diversity have allowed Scientists to reconstruct a kind of family tree of human populations. That has revealed the second deep truth: In a very real sense, all people alive today are Africans.5

The science of race is getting louder and clearer all of the time. Race is at best an overblown social construct that has been harmful to our society. It is a concept that is best forgotten.

On the other hand, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word ethnic as "of or relating to large groups of people classed around common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background."6 Unfortunately, we find the use of that pesky term "race," once again. The term "race" can muddy up the concept of ethnicity. While race might not be a thing, ethnicity definitely is.

Regardless of what these terms mean, we as followers of Jesus Christ have to remember that all people are made after the image of God. As such, regardless of what their ethnicity might be, we should treat all equally. All too often, we forget what Galatians 3: 27-28 tells us "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." In other words, ethnicities should not matter to the Christ follower. James 2:1 reminds us to "show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul also taught us to "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves."7 If we did these things, there would be a lot fewer problems in the Church and perhaps society at large.

Still, we fail to treat others as we should. Why? Because, sin makes us weak and even worse, it makes us stupid. Consequently, we show favoritism or we show contempt for people, based on their ethnicity. With the concept of race comes the concept of racism and the belief that some are better than others. The Social Justice Movement among Evangelicals today places a great deal of attention on race and have created the concept of "wokeness" to emphasize that all should be cognizant of the problems of race. To be sure, there are disparities in this fallen world that we live in. Until Christ returns and does away with sin, we will continue to struggle with scarcity and racism and the other effects of the "Fall." We need to remember that "God has chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those that love him."8 Perhaps, rather than bring others to "wokeness," we should remind everyone that we are all made after the image of God. When pastors fully teach what this means, their church members should strive for justice and righteousness everywhere they serve.

1. Merriam- November 29, 2018.

2. Gannon, Megan. "Race is a Social Construct, Scientists Argue." Scientific (February 5, 2016).

3. Ibid,.

4. Ibid,.

5. Kolbert, Elizabeth National Geographic "That there is No Scientific Basis for Race- it's a Made up Label." (November 29, 2018.

6. November 29, 2018.

7. Phillipians 2:3.

8. James 2: 5.

Craig Vincent Mitchell is the assistant professor of Christian Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Charts of Philosophy and Philosophers and Charts of Christian Ethics.

Reigning Omnipotent in Every Place


When--in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1.15.1)--John Calvin turned his attention to the creation of mankind, he did so with a view to further elaborate his assertion that we cannot have a clear and complete knowledge God unless we have a corresponding knowledge of ourselves. Calvin did not have in view here some sort of an introspective, therapeutic journey of self-discovery. He meant knowing humanity as created and fallen. We can't properly appreciate man as created without understanding man as fallen, and we need to understand man as fallen in light of what he was when originally created.

One reason this is important is because we have a tendency to blame God for our own evil - excusing our sin with "I'm only human" or "To err is human." But this is to place our sin at God's feet. So, Calvin said: "Since, then, we see the flesh panting for every subterfuge by which it thinks that the blame for its own evils may in any way be diverted from itself to another, we must diligently oppose this evil intent. Therefore we must so deal with the calamity of mankind that we may cut off every shift, and may vindicate God's justice from every accusation" (1.15.1, Battles trans.)

Calvin (1.15.2) flatly asserted the obviousness of man as body and soul (theologians call this view of humanity "dichotomy," as opposed to "trichotomy" which holds that we are made up of "body, soul and spirit" differentiating the latter two). He then proceeded to argue for the immortality of the soul from 1. Our conscience's perception of right and wrong, dread of guilt and fear of punishment for evil. 2. The "many pre-eminent gifts of the human mind, superior to that of animals. 3. Our ability to conceive of God and the supernatural, and to discern what is right, just and honorable. 4. Our mental activity when asleep, in which we sometimes conceive of things that have never happened, or that will happen in the future. 5. Copious arguments from specific texts of Scripture.

Finally, in 1.15.3, he appealed to man's creation in the image of God as the strongest proof of the immortality of the soul. Calvin says: "although God's glory shines forth in the outer man, yet there is no doubt that the proper seat of his image is in the soul" (Battles).

Having introduced the subject of our creation in the image of God in 1.15.3, Calvin went on to argue that we learn what the image of God entails not only by studying man as originally created (Genesis 1-2), but by studying what Scripture says about the image of God as it is renewed in Christ. Calvin wrote: "a full definition of 'image'...can be nowhere better recognized than from the restoration of his corrupted nature" (1.15.4, Battles).

It should be noted that Calvin used the terms regeneration and renewal here a little more broadly than do modern Reformed systematics. The Shorter Catechism, however, perfectly mirrors Calvin's statements in 1.15.4 on the image (Q. 10. How did God create man? A. God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, with dominion over the creatures).

Calvin proceded to hammer on Andreas Osiander (1.15.4), a Germn Lutheran theologian, who was also criticized by Calvin's Lutheran friend Philip Melanchthon. Calvin also rejected Augustine's speculation on the soul's reflection of the trinity, then takes aim at the Manichaeans (1.15.5, their idea that the soul is derived from God's substance), Servetus (his resurrection of the old Manichaean error), and "the philosophers" (1.15.6, praising only Plato) in their views on the powers and faculties of the soul. While conceding that the philosophers may indeed say some true and helpful things about the soul, the main thing that Calvin wants to assert is that "the human soul consists of two faculties, understanding and will" (1.15.7).

Institutes 1.15.8 is a "rock your world" important passage in the Institutes. In it, Calvin explained a fundamental source of confusion in the quest for "free will.""The Philosophers," says Calvin, by discussing the question of free will apart from understanding the consequences of the fall "were seeking in a ruin for a building, and in scattered fragments for a well-knit structure." Christians who follow the philosophers in failing to take into account the gravity of the fall when discussing human free choice are  "playing the fool." This section shows how crucial the doctrine of the fall is to Calvin's understanding of humanity.

Those interested in Calvin's apologetic views will be fascinated by two comments in 1.16.1 - "the minds of the impious too are compelled by merely looking upon earth and heaven to rise up to the Creator..." and "the wisdom, power, and goodness" of God revealed in creation "are self-evident, and even force themselves upon the unwilling." But the main thing Calvin wants to assert in this section is that creation and providence are inseparably connected, and that by his providence God "sustains, nourishes, and cares for, everything he has made."Consequently, there is no such thing a luck, fortune or chance (1.16.2).

Asserting again God's universal providence in 1.16.3, Calvin puts the truth to pastoral use immediately: "they may safely rest in the protection of him to whose will are subject all the harmful things which, whatever their source, we may fear; whose authority curbs Satan with all his furies and his whole equipage; and upon whose nod depends whatever opposes our welfare."

For Calvin, providence meant God governing, not merely watching, his creation (1.16.4). Calvin sought to emphasize that providence entails more than "bare foreknowledge." It involves God's will, and his acts. Nor is it merely a general control, but a specific direction. Indeed, Calvin asserted that God "directs everything by his incomprehensible wisdom and disposes it to his own end."

In 1.16.5, Calvin adduced biblical evidence for God's general providence. Calvin says: "not one drop of rain falls without God's sure command." In 1.16.6, Calvin considers God's more particular governance over mankind. Again he complies biblical testimony to show that "Scripture, to express more plainly that nothing at all in the world is undertaken without his determination, shows that things seemingly most fortuitous are subject to him." In 1.16.7 he considers what might be called God's providence over "natural" occurrences (things that seem to be part of what is just the normal course of event - the wind blowing, women having babies, etc.) and even here Calvin says that "particular events are generally testimonies of the character of God's singular providence."

In 1.16.8, Calvin both rejected the accusation that his doctrine of providence is a Stoic doctrine of fate (determinism or fatalism), and at the same time repudiated the ideas of fortune and chance (approving Basil the Great's [AD 330-379, one of the Cappadocian fathers] strictures against and Augustine's retractions of his earlier use of this terminology).

Calvin reminded in 1.16.9 that though all things are ordained by God's plan yet the events of our lives and world often look to us as if they are random and fortuitous. As Calvin says "the order, reason, end, and necessity of those things which happen for the most part lie hidden in God's purpose." This is a hugely important pastoral point. Consequently, the believer must realize that events will happen in this life that are simultaneously seemingly senseless and fortuitous and yet also part of God's perfect plan. Thus, in our hearts, we must be fixed on the truth that nothing happens that the Lord has not decreed and foreseen.

Calvin began a sustained application of this truth in 1.17.1. He first announced four things (though he says he's going to give three!) that we need to remember when we are considering God's providence: "Three things, indeed, are to be noted. First, God's providence must be considered with regard to the future as well as the past. Secondly, it is the determinative principle of all things in such a way that sometimes it works through an intermediary, sometimes without an intermediary, sometimes contrary to every intermediary. Finally, it strives to the end that God may reveal his concern for the whole human race, but especially his vigilance in ruling the church, which he deigns to watch more closely. Now this, also, ought to be added, [fourthly!] that although either fatherly favor and beneficence or severity of judgment often shine forth in the whole course of providence, nevertheless sometimes the causes of the events are hidden." The echoes of this in the Westminster Confession, chapter 5, are not difficult to hear.

Consequently, no mature believer will weigh the matter of God's providence without assuming a posture of reverence, awe and humility (1.17.2). This is important, Calvin says, because "it happens that today so many dogs assail this doctrine with their venomous bitings, or at least with barking: for they wish nothing to be lawful for God beyond what their own reason prescribes for themselves."

*This post originally ran as a number of posts in the "Blogging the Institutes" series, published in February of 2009. You can find the original posts here

It Pleased Create


The words "it pleased create," in Westminster Confession of Faith 4.1, refer to divine willing, to the decree of God. Creation is due to the will of God. It is not necessary to the divine essence, however. The Triune God is God without creatures and in no absolute sense (or necessary to the divine nature as such) must make creatures. Richard Muller states that both the Lutheran and Reformed of the post-Reformation era agreed on the gratuitous nature of creation. He says:

"The Lutheran and Reformed agree in calling the entire work of creation a free act of God resting solely on the goodness of the divine will. That God created is therefore neither an absolute necessity...resting on an antecedent cause nor a necessity of nature...since God was not bound by his nature to create the world but could have existed without the creation. The Reformed add that creation is a necessity of the consequence...since the divine act of creation does result from the eternal and immutable decree of God..."1

This entails that creation is entirely gratuitous, and this fact ought to enhance our worship as we contemplate it. To be is of the essence of God, or necessary to God, but not to creatures. Creatures do not necessarily exist; their existence is contingent, or by "necessity of the consequence." God willed to create, to bring into contingent existence that which did not exist necessarily, which is everything other than God. Creation did not appear due to absolute divine necessity. In other words, there is nothing in God that makes creation absolutely necessary. Louis Berkhof's words are helpful at this juncture. He wrote:

"The only works of God that are...necessary with a necessity resulting from the very nature of God are the opera ad intra, the works of the separate persons within the Divine Being: generation, filiation, and procession. To say that creation is a necessary act of God, is also to declare that it is just as eternal as those immanent works of God. Whatever necessity may be ascribed to God's opera ad extra, is a necessity conditioned by the divine decree and the resulting constitution of things. It is necessity dependent on the sovereign will of God, and therefore no necessity in the absolute sense of the word. The Bible teaches us that God created all things, according to the counsel of His will, Eph. 1:11; Rev. 4:11; and that He is self-sufficient and is not dependent on His creatures in any way, Job 22:2,3; Acts 17:25."2

The creation is predicated upon the divine pleasure, or will, to create, as mysterious as that is to us. Though some have argued (I think rightly) that creation is fitting to the divine essence, this does not entail that creation is absolutely necessary to the divine essence. Creation, we must affirm, is utterly gratuitous and mysterious. Before considering an eloquent statement by John Webster, let us remember that theology is an intellectual act, a creaturely reflection, the goal of which is worship. We are attempting to grasp what God has revealed to us, a great privilege, and creaturely theology's goal is communion with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and all its entailments. Webster put it in the following way:

"God requires nothing other than himself. Yet his unoriginate love also originates. Why this should be so, we are incapable of telling, for, though with much consternation we can begin to grasp that it is fitting that God should so act, created intelligence remains stunned by the fact that God has indeed done so. What stuns us - what our intelligence can't get behind or reduce any further - is the outward movement of God's love, God's love under its special aspect of absolute creativity. God's creative love is not the recognition, alteration or ennoblement of an antecedent object beside itself, but the bringing of an object into being, ex nihilo generosity by which life is given. By divine love, the 'infinite distance' which 'cannot be crossed' [quoting Aquinas] - the distance between being and nothing - has been crossed. The love of God, therefore, has its term primarily in itself but secondarily in the existence of what is other than God, determined by that love for fellowship with him.

Creation is, again, not necessary for God. God's creative love is not 'a love which is needy and in want' and so 'loves in such a way that it is subjected to the things it loves'; God loves not 'out of compulsion of his needs' but 'out of the abundance of his generosity' [quoting Augustine]."3

If creation were necessary to the divine essence, it would be the divine essence, for that which is necessary to the divine essence is necessary for the divine to be.

It makes sense to us (kind of) that God created, since we know it is His will to do so, due to divine love and goodness. But the divine will is not arbitrary, as in capricious or unreasonable. It is not, as Webster says, to be thought of "as a mere spasmodic exercise of divine power..."4 Divine willing "signifies determination to act according to nature."5 God does not have to create in order to be God or in order to be enhanced by that which He created, but create He did, and when He does it reflects who He is. This should astound us and promote worship in us. Hear the words of the Psalmist: 

"By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deep in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast" (Psalm 33:6-9).

God is happily God without creatures. Creation is an utterly gratuitous divine effect, indicating to us the "supreme generosity in accord with and on the basis of God's eternal love of himself in the processions of Son and Spirit from the Father."6 God acts for the love of God. Creation makes sense to us (kind of), but only as we contemplate the divine processions behind creation and meditate upon the divine self-sufficiency and love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Though God is happily God without creatures, creatures exist, and they exit "out of the abundance of his generosity."

1. Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1985, 2017), 83-84.

2. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (1939, 1941; reprint, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 130.

3. John Webster, God without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, Volume I, God and the Works of God (London, Oxford, New York, New Delhi, Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2016), 1:92-93.

4. Webster, God without Measure, 1:93.

5. Webster, God without Measure, 1:93.

6. Webster, God without Measure, 1:93


Richard C. Barcellos, is pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA and Associate Professor of Exegetical Theology at IRBS Theological Seminary. He is the author of Getting the Garden Right: Adam's Work and God's Rest in Light of Christ and The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis.


Defining Creation


What is creation? Quite often, when asked that question, everyday Christians would immediately direct attention to what has been made. One might say, "Look at the vast sky above, with its moon and stars, its sun and clouds which give rain from heaven." We might point to the ocean and all its deep mysteries or the Grand Canyon's majestic scenery. This is not a wrong answer to the question. Theologians of the Christian theological tradition, however, give a more theocentric answer to that question. But if we ponder the question a bit more, contemplating how the Bible presents to us the account of creation in Genesis 1, our answer would start with God and go out from there. 

When defining the doctrine of creation, Herman Bavinck says, "[Creation is] that act of God through which, by his sovereign will, he brought the entire world out of nonbeing into being that is distinct from his own being."1 Bavinck started his definition from the theocentric standpoint. Creation is an act of God. This definition is important for it clearly upholds a Creator/creature distinction. 

Creation is of another order of being than that of divine being. Divine being is; created being is brought into existence by God. There are two orders of being: created being and non-created, or divine, being. The former is finite (i.e., having bounds or limits according to its created capacities); the latter infinite (i.e., having no bounds or limits according to its uncreated essence and is thus incomprehensible to the creature). The former is temporal (i.e., it began-to-be with time and exists in relation to it); the latter eternal (i.e., ever existing, "without beginning or end and apart from all succession and change")2. The former is dependent; the latter independent. Creatures are contingent; God is not. As John of Damascus said long ago, "All things are distant from nature."3 Created nature and divine nature are both distinct and different in kind.

Bringing things into being distinct from himself makes God the efficient cause of creation. That is, God, and God alone, the triune God, brought creation into existence without any change in God the Trinity. Since he is pure act, or not becoming or able to become in any sense, God alone is able to bring about the existence of things without change in himself. In fact, change in God is impossible. Divine existence is not one of "incomplete realization," as Richard Muller puts it.4 God is "the fully actualized being, the only being not in potency..."5 Muller continues:

"...God in himself, considered essentially or personally, is not in potentia because the divine essence and persons are eternally perfect, and the inward life of the Godhead is eternally complete and fully realized."6

God does not possess some sort of potency, some latent potential, to become what he is not. Nothing can change God; not creation nor even God himself. The execution of divine power, then, does not make God what he is not; it reveals or manifests who he is.

Creation is a work of God, bringing being into being "distinct from his own being," as Bavinck says. The Creator is of a different order of being from the creation; God is not like us. This distinction is crucial to maintain. As Thomas Weinandy says, "As Creator, not one of the things created, and is thus completely other than all else that exists."7 John Webster's penetrating words are to the point:

The difference between creator and creature is infinite, not just 'very great'; 'creator' does not merely refer to the supreme causal power by which the world is explained, for God would then be simply a 'principle superior to the world,' or 'the biggest thing around.' Such conceptions falter by making God one term in a relation, and so only comparatively, not absolutely, different. . . . God the creator is not simply the most excellent of beings, because the distinction between uncreated and created being is not a distinction within created being but one between orders of being; God is not one item in a totality, even the most eminently powerful item in the set of all things.

The simple, infinite, eternal, immutable, and impassible triune God brings into existence a vast array of diverse creatures out of the fullness of his being. He brings creatures into being, sustains them, and mysteriously moves them in their ever-changing existence with no change in him.

Confessing divine simplicity, eternity, infinity, immutability, and impassibility means that God cannot change from within or from without because of what he is and what he is not. He is God, the simple and immutable Creator. He is not in any sense a mutable creature, nor does he become one, in the sense of changing divine being. He is, according to Muller, "free from all mutation of being, attributes, place, or will..."9 God can and does reveal who he is to creatures, but he does not refashion himself or add attributes, or perfections, to do so. By creating, God does not become something he was not in order to reveal who he is; he simply reveals who he is by creation, conservation, re-creation, and consummation indicating to creatures that he is, that he is present, and that he is worthy of our praise.

Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. (Psalm 33:8-9)

1. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, gen. ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 2:416.

2. Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, Second Edition (Grand 3. As quoted in Ian A. McFarland, From Nothing: A Theology of Creation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 59.

4. Muller Dictionary, 11.

5. Muller Dictionary, 11.

6. Muller, Dictionary, 11. Muller goes on to state the following: "This view of God as fully actualized being lies at the heart of the scholastic exposition of the doctrine of divine immutability . . . Immutability does not indicate inactivity or unrelatedness, but the fulfillment of being."

7. Thomas Weinandy, "Human Suffering and the Impassibility of God," Testamentum Imperium Volume 2, 2009: 1. This can be found on-line at ( Accessed 9 February 2015.

8. John Webster, God without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, Volume I, God and the Works of God (London, Oxford, New York, New Delhi, Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2016), 1:91.

9. Muller Dictionary, 162.

Richard C. Barcellos, is pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA and Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at IRBS Theological Seminary. He is the author of Getting the Garden Right: Adam's Work and God's Rest in Light of Christ and The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis.

Starting with a crazy question, Danielle Spencer taught her children about God's sovereign provision. Here is a brief part of their discussion: 

"Do you know what would happen if the world suddenly stopped spinning?" I asked my kids during our morning Bible time. My 12-year-old consulted one of her favorite books What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.1 If the earth and all terrestrial objects stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity, almost everyone would die immediately. If you weren't swept away by the thousand-mile-per-hour winds, you'd certainly be pulverized by the thousand-mile-per-hour impact of all the debris flying about. You would be safe for a time if you were deep underground or in a polar research station (since the strongest winds would be nearest the equator), but not for long. The wind would eventually stop by way of friction with the earth's surface, but that would heat the air and atomize the surface of the ocean, resulting, among many other phenomena, in massive global thunderstorms. After that, for 6 months one side of the earth would bake in the heat of the sun and the other would freeze since the sun would no longer rise and set once per day, but only once a year. Eventually, the moon would get us spinning again, but "us" would be long gone.

Now that I had their attention, we read Psalm 104--in which we have 35 verses praising the Lord for his power, control, and care over his creation...

Read more over at The Christward Collective

Creation Calls For Wonder

"The work of creation is, God's making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good." Thus the Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes the Christian doctrine of creation (WSC 9). What response should this doctrine elicit from us?

Too often, I think, the doctrine of creation ex nihilo elicits from us a posture of war. We immediately raise our defenses, or take the offensive, against perspectives that trace the origin of all things to something other than our Triune God. We arm ourselves with biblical references to, or summary statements of, or supposed scientific proofs reinforcing the truth that God made all things, and we stand ready to do battle with alternative (presumably naturalistic) accounts of how this world we inhabit came to be. Or perhaps we aim closer to home, preparing ourselves to do battle with any who question our understanding of creation "days." Regardless, an immediate posture of war when confronted with the doctrine of creation speaks, in my judgment, to fundamental boredom with the truth we are so eager to defend. We've taken the doctrine of creation ex nihilo for granted, it has become commonplace to us, if our first instinct when confronted with it is some apologetic strategy or another.

Of course, apologetics have their place. Naturalistic accounts of how this world we inhabit came to be can and should be discredited. Those who disagree with my understanding of creation days should be made to conform to my superior insight. But only after we have let ourselves be washed anew with wonder at the astonishing fact that once there was nothing but God, and then God spoke all things into existence. Creation calls, first and foremost, for a posture of wonder, not war. The right response to the reality that "God said" and thus "there was" (Gen. 1:3) is fundamentally, well, this.

We see this in Psalm 33: 8-9. Note the reaction of this world's inhabitants at God's work of creation demanded by the psalmist: 

"Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm" (emphasis mine).

One implication, I think, of a right sense of wonder at what God has done (namely, made everything) -- one "tell," if you wish, that this truth has properly gripped you -- is a humble and proper sense of the distinct likelihood of unlikelihoods in this world, the distinct probability of improbabilities. All bets for what might happen are off in a world spoken into existence by an eternally Triune God. Pretty much anything can be -- from seas parting to asses speaking to men rising from the dead. The doctrine of creation, in other words, primes us to appreciate the fundamentally enchanted (magical, if you will) character of the world we inhabit. Expectation of the unexpected is wonder's closest kin.

Jared C. Wilson evidenced his sense of this world's enchantment, an expectation for the unexpected rooted in the reality of creation ex nihilo, in what was easily my favorite blog post from 2016 (except, of course, for all the ones I wrote): 'His Eye is On the Sasquatch'. Check it out if you've not already read it. It's well worth your time.

And ponder, at some point today, God's work of creation. Let the reality of that work fill you with wonder. Let it inform your understanding of the world in which you live. "Live your life filled with joy and wonder." So suggested Michael Stipe in the lyrics to the song "Sweetness follows" on one of my favorite cassette tapes from high school, R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People. R.E.M.'s music gave me much pleasure in my teenage years, even perhaps the occasional chill running down my spine (in a good sense). Unfortunately, it (and most other things I devoted myself to in high school) never gave me the resources to actually live a life persistently filled with joy and wonder. Careful attention to the doctrine of creation, however, does just that.

No Adam, No Christ!

Preaching through Genesis over the past year and a half has encouraged me to re-open quite a number of significant theological subjects--not least of which is the historical character of the foundational portions of God's revelation. Over the past 150 years, biblical scholars have spilled ink ad nauseam over the question of the historicity of the opening chapters of Genesis (as well as other parts of the Old Testament). Denying the historicity of various portions of Scripture was the backbone of theological liberalism at the turn of the 20th Century. Today, in the biblical studies world, scholars are far more nuanced and sophisticated in the ways in which they deny the historicity of Genesis 1-3. With the rise of studies in Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature and complex scientific theories of origins, there is no end to the ways in which its historicity is explained away. 

Today, quasi-evangelical scholars have concocted an amalgamated hermenuetical approach made up of various aspects of Higher Criticism, ANE mythopoetic categories and scientific theories of origin. One can find this amalgamated hermenuetic most notably (or perhaps most notoriously!) in the work of Peter Enns (who continues to spend inordinate time and energy seeking to overthrow the inerrancy and historicity of the foundational portions of biblical revelation). 

Nevertheless, the connection between the creation account and the subsequent redemptive revelation form the internal witness of Scripture to the idea that the historicity and theology of the creation narrative is inseparably linked to the historicity and theology of the redemptive (i.e. new creation) revelation. 

In his Reformed Dogmatics, Geerhardus Vos helpfully illustrated the principle of connecting history and redemptive revelation when he said, "within the narrative of Scripture the creation narrative is interwoven like a link in the chain of God's saving acts. God does not make a chain of solid gold, in which the first link is a floral wreath." Vos developed this thought in the following way: 

If the creation history is an allegory, then the narrative concerning the fall and everything further that follows can also be allegory. The writer of the Pentateuch presents his work entirely as history. Against those that believe in the results of higher criticism, it can perhaps be useful to note that according to the critics who carve the Pentateuch into pieces, Genesis 1 belongs to the Priestly Codex, that is, to the more sober, non-poetic part of the Torah. The same writer who describes the layout of the tabernacle and the clothing of the priests gives us the narrative of creation, and he connects both. Further, elsewhere in Scripture Genesis 1 and 2 are treated as history (Exod 20:11; 31:17; Ps. 8; 104; Matt 19:4; 2 Pet 3:5).1

John Murray, in his Principles of Conduct, also defended the historicity of Genesis 1-3 as over against a supposed mythological or mythopoetic interpretation. He explained: 

That Genesis 2 and 3, for example, is story, but does not represent history, the present writer does not believe. An express attempt to refute such an interpretation had not been undertaken...The historical character of the revelation deposited in the Bible does not comport with a non-historical view of that which supplies the foundation and starting point of that history. It is surely apparent how far-reaching must be the reconstruction of the Bible's representation respecting the history of revelation if we are to reject the historicity of the fall of Adam as the first man. It is the conviction of the present writer that a mythological interpretation is not compatible with the total perspective which the biblical witness furnishes.2

Murray, like Vos before him, proceeded to root his argument in the fact that the rest of biblical revelation adopts a historical approach to Genesis 1-3. 

To state the case positively, the concreteness of Genesis 2 and 3, as historically interpreted, is thoroughly consonant with the concreteness which characterizes the subsequent history of Old Testament revelation. It should be noted that of supreme importance is the fact that Jesus and the Apostles assumed the historical character of the Old Testament, and frequently referred to the historicity of the creation narrative, Adam, Noah, a world-wide flood and the Exodus. In Mark 10:6, Jesus affirmed the historicity of the creation account of Genesis 1 when He said, "from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.'" When he came to predict the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, Jesus again affirmed the historical nature of the creation account of Genesis when He said, "in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be."3

Appeal to how the writers of Scripture viewed the historical character of the creation/fall account of Genesis is, without doubt, the strongest internal-witness argument of Scripture. This point of paramount significance is seen by a brief survey of how both the Old and New Testament human authors of Scripture viewed the creation account:

  • Moses tells us how Adam was created (Gen. 1:26; 2:5-8) and how many years he lived (Gen. 5:5). 
  • The writer of 1 Chronicles traced humanity from Adam to David (1 Chronicles 1 and 2) by means of historical genealogy. If Adam was not a historical being then neither were all the people from Adam to David. 
  • Job likened the hiding of his sin to Adam's covering his sin (Job 31:33). 
  • Luke traced Jesus' genealogy (from Mary) back to Adam (Luke 3:38). If Adam was not a historical being then neither were all the people from Adam to Jesus. Jesus declared that "He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' (Matthew 19:4). 
  • Paul explained that the reason for death and condemnation was the representative, imputed guilt of Adam's sin (Rom. 5:12-21). Paul also explained that the external giving of the law was first with Adam and then with Moses. Those who were not given external law from Adam to Moses still had the sentence of death in them because of Adam's sin. Paul explains, "death reigned from Adam to Moses" (Rom. 5:13). If Adam was not a historical being then neither was Moses.
  • Paul explained the solution to our deserved condemnation in the obedience of the second Adam, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:12-21). He explicitly declared that the first Adam was a "type" of the second Adam. If Adam was not a historical being then neither was Jesus. 
  • The apostle defended the role relation of men and women in the church by the order in which Adam and Eve were created and were tempted (1 Timothy 2:13-14). Eden was the prototype of every subsequent culture. No one can say Paul's teaching was culturally bound because he takes it back to the Garden. He viewed the Genesis account as an accurate historical record of Eden. 
  • The apostle urged the NT church to defend the Gospel by reminding them of the way in which Satan--in time and space--had deceived Eve: "I fear, lest, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3)."

Some have responded to the statement "If Adam didn't exit then neither did Christ" by appeal to the continuum fallacy. Ironically, such an appeal is itself a fallacious appeal to logical fallacy. If in historical narratives/genealogies we have explicit statements of generational descent then we have to conclude that it is either A) true (based on the authority of Scripture) or B) untrue. Because of the trustworthiness of Scripture--the variable of variables, in this case--we cannot conclude that part of the genealogy is true and part is untrue. Hence there is no continuum fallacy as there might be with that sort of reasoning where the "inerrancy/authority" variable is not present. 

While some conservative biblical scholars may, in fact, play the "slippery slope" argument too quickly (and even, at times, inappropriately), when the authority of Scripture is brought into the mix, our reasoning is affected in a way that it is otherwise not affected by those things that are not distinctly biblical. For example Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, makes a number of logical arguments about Christ's resurrection and the subsequent impact it has on our preaching, faith and personal resurrection (1 Cor. 15:14-18). As is true of the connection between the historicity and theology of the resurrection of Christ so too of the historicity and theology of the creation and fall account of Genesis 1-3. 

1. Geerhardus Vos. Reformed Dogmatics. R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, & A. Janssen, Trans (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012-12014) vol. 1, p. 161. 

2. John Murray Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's, 1957) p. 9

3. Ibid.

A Christmas Reflection

If the dank earth forming marrow and flesh does not entice your wonder, then neither will the Incarnation. 

This Christmas season, I have been thinking of how integrally related Adam and Christ are in redemptive history, as made plain in Romans 5:12-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:42-49. The Trinitarian God spoke Adam into being and formed him from the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7). The Father uttered; the Son manifested; the Spirit gave life (cf. Job 33:4). Out of soil came a son.

In the Incarnation, the same Trinitarian God spoke, but this time in the tongue of redemption. The Father sent (Gal 4:4; 1 John 4:10); the Son complied (cf. John 5:19-20); and Mary conceived by the Spirit (Matt 1:18; Luke 1:35). Out of a womb came the Word (John 1:1).
At Christmas we are ever reminded that the Son of God took on flesh and dwelt among us. 

This, we are told, should bring us to well up with joy--a glorious joy fit for proclamation by an angelic host (Luke 2:13-14). And it should! But reminding ourselves that Adam lies in Christ's shadow may serve to deepen that joy. Here are a few thoughts to remind us of how the beauty and wonder of the Incarnation builds upon the beauty and wonder of creation.

Just as God did not have to redeem, God did not have to create.[1] "Creation was not required, not mandatory, not extracted from God, neither by any necessity imposed from outside nor by any deficit lurking within the life of God."[2]  Creation is the result of a voluntary, gracious, and loving decision. All that we see around us "is a work of God's grace, flowing from God's love."[3]

The creation of Adam, seen in this light, is not ordinary or expected in the sense of being the product of some mechanical law of evolution. Adam was not simply bound to be there in the beginning. Adam was there only because God chose to speak him, and nothing can thwart the sovereign choice and holy speech of an almighty God. Creation was voluntary, not compulsory.

In this sense, Adam's life can be seen as a gift from the Trinitarian Giver. Creation, not Christmas, is the origin of gift-giving. That, perhaps, is part of the wonder of humanity's genesis. Ours is a beginning wrapped and tagged by the Trinity: Adam and his progeny are the gifts God gave to himself--not in divine greed but in divine grace. 

Now, juxtapose this with the Christmas story in the New Testament. If the wonder of Genesis is that God gave humanity the gift of life, then the joy of Christmas is that God gave us new life. And the packaging of both gifts resembled one another. The temporal son took on flesh and bone, as did the eternal Son. The "man of dust" (1 Cor 15:47) had no biological father, and neither did the "man of heaven." 

But there are also stark differences: the temporal son failed where the eternal Son succeeded; the man of dust could offer no salvation, but the man of heaven had salvation in his bloodstream. The first Adam exchanged the words of God for the words of a creature; the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45) crushed the words of a creature with the words of the triune God (Matt 4). 

Given this redemptive-historical relationship between Adam and Christ, we would do well to remember them both at Christmas, with greater emphasis, of course, on the Incarnation. Adam, we said at the outset, is in Christ's shadow, not the other way around. And yet, our appreciation for the utter uniqueness of the Incarnation is deepened when we contrast it with that ancient incarnation of sonship in Adam. What a wonder it was for God to breathe life into the dust and form a person! Such wonder is outweighed only when we reflect on the miracle of God breathing the second person of the Trinity into flesh and blood! We should be awed by Adam, but overwhelmed by Christ. The former brought death through life; the latter, life through death. 

This Christmas, as you focus on the glory of the Incarnation and the gift of the Son of God, remember that this Son cast a long shadow in which a lesser son was born. The world began with a gift; we might not be so surprised, then, to see it restored through one--a far greater and more costly gift: God himself. Such a gift is worth more than gratitude. It is worth our adoration.

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!
O come, let us adore Him, 
Christ the Lord. 

- John Francis Wade


[1]  Herman Bavinck, in my opinion, has one of the best treatments of the Triune God as creator. See God and Creation, vol. 2 of Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), pp.420-26. God created not simply to have something isolated from him, but to dwell in relationship with his creation. That is why redemption is so frequently spoken of as a restoration or reconciliation with God. Or, for Bavinck, it can be described as a return to God. "Creation thus proceeds from the Father through the Son in the Spirit in order that, in the Spirit and through the Son, it may return to the Father" (p.426).

[2] Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), pp.64-65.

[3] Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), p.47.

This is the second (and final) part to the report. One can read the first part here ~ the editor

...The 'nothingness' that enters into human experience through acts of sin is something of which Augustine was acutely aware when he meditated upon his own life in his Confessions. John Cavadini, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame, tied the narrative of Augustine's life to his account of the seven days of creation in his paper "Where do Stories Come from? Augustine on Creatio ex nihilo". Ultimately, since it is something we have never experienced, CEN is a mystery dependent upon God's revelation. Recognizing the primacy of revelation, in the creation account itself we see in miniature a narrative of the Christian's life. At least this is how Augustine understood his own life. Take the moment right after creation (Gen 1:2): the world was "without form and void". According to Augustine, this is where sin takes us: to the brink of nothingness, to the place where we have no story or identity except that we are created beings. This formless, meaningless place - this 'neighbor of nothing' - is where the famous pear tree incident took Augustine in Book 2 of the Confessions. But where sin brings a formless chaos into our lives, God's redeeming hand shapes our lives into a story that 'ends' resting in God's eternal presence where there is no longer "evening and morning". The cosmos itself has a story God narrates in creation that ends in timeless rest on the seventh day. In telling his own 'creation story' whereby he sets up a model of Christian discipleship, Augustine teaches us that the meaning of life is learning to give thanks to God for taking us out of our disordered sin and progressively shaping our lives into something that is "very good". 

While uncontroversial, the conclusions reached in these two historical papers are important for articulating the distinct shape CEN took as it was emerging in the early Church. The 'work' CEN did within Athanasius and Augustine's writings holds promise for any coherent evangelical theology in highlighting how this doctrine supports an account of God's freedom, his goodness, and his ability to immediately meet us in his grace. It is hard to ignore the apologetical force of CEN within this historical period when many alternative accounts put 'something in the way' of the divine and creation. CEN 'cleared the air', as it were, in both clearly separating humanity from God (the 'Creator/creature distinction') while also putting human beings in a full and immediate relationship with their Creator. One gains a picture for how this happens in the life of and self-understanding of Augustine. Where the philosophical and cosmological accounts of the relationship between God and the world have shifted since the time of the early Church, certainly CEN continues to provide an arsenal of tools that enable compelling explanations for not only who God is but how he continues to act in the world. To understand our own spiritual lives as a 'mini-story' of creation where God is shaping us to spend eternity with him rightly places the Christian life within the highest register - as an act of God himself - while also tempering any measure of pride, since all we can do is give thanks for the beautiful narrative God's creates for each of his saints. 

And with that the lack of controversy ends. The last paper I will comment upon was delivered by the indefatigably brilliant David Bentley Hart. In "God, Creation, and Evil" Hart both pledged his theological troth to the universalistic legacy of Origen of Alexandria and Gregory of Nyssa and mounted a highly sophisticated screed against the God most Christians have believed in, that is, One who sends some to hell either based on predestination or free-choice. In brief, while Hart claims Scriptural warrant for his position - after all, he asks, has the church known a more careful reader of the Bible than Origen? - his argument carries an overwhelming concern for philosophical coherence. In its simplest form it is this: the good God who freely created all things will safely return all those things to Christ. Hart's overall point is that when we talk about beginnings (protology) we are, at the same time, talking about ends (eschatology)--the end matches the beginning. If at the beginning a good God creates all things then in the end, by necessity of the character of the God who created them, all things must return to him. To posit an eternal place where things remain separated from God produces, in Hart's consideration, a logical hairball that must be heaved out. CEN cannot withstand in the future a total antithesis such as an eternal place of separation from God. The existence of evil in the world, in Hart's considered opinion, is ultimately an arrangement of God's goodness the purpose of which will only be revealed at the end of all things. 

This was just the beginning of Hart's talk. He went on to thrust his sword at all comers within the non-universalist Western Church, taking on original sin, traditional evangelism, and - most vociferously - the Reformed faith. Now, let me repeat, Hart is a brilliant intellect. He's also a very entertaining rhetorician. If he's written an essay out there, I've most likely read it and thoroughly enjoyed the brandishing of his theological and philosophical sword against the untrammeled nonsense of our day. But despite his commitment to Eastern Orthodoxy, he's too good of an intellect to fall prey to the polemics he engaged in within this talk. For a brief second he commended the Reformed tradition for taking the sovereignty of God to its logical conclusions. But then he took up the mantle of the old preacher who had written in the margins of his sermon, "Weak point...Yell louder!!!". The result for Hart was thinly veiled disgust informed by a simple inaccuracy. He started by claiming that John Calvin doesn't affirm love as an attribute of God, repeating twice "I'm not making this up!" Well, actually, he was. As E. J. Hutchinson over at The Calvinist International has demonstrated, this repeated canard is indeed a Hartian fabrication, one made all the more bewildering because Hart claims to be such a close reader of original texts. Hart went on to up the ante and claim not only Calvin but the entire Reformed tradition as not holding love as an attribute of God. To be honest, such a reckless and dishonest characterization could cause one to question all his judgments. Again, I say, Hart is too good for this. If he doesn't have the patience to give Calvin, Turretin, Bavinck, the Westminster divines, or Edwards (to name a few) an honest and nuanced read, at least he could 'pass over' the Reformed and leave us in our sins instead of actively damning us to his theological inferno. In the end, during the time for feedback, Hart was firmly interrogated both for his sweeping asides that seemed to simplify the teachings of those he opposed and for how his 'brief' for universalism matches up with the words of Jesus found in Matthew 25:31-46. 

This conference was very helpful. Even Hart's misguided paper was helpful in thinking through the internal logic of universalistic claims. Its greatest benefit for me, an evangelical and Reformed Protestant, was in considering the doctrine of creation within a proper theological context. In recent decades the theological and ecclesiastical world I inhabit has been consumed with questions attending the 'how' of creation. As important as these are, just as important are the questions of how a doctrine like CEN upholds a whole web of theological affirmations and practices--from God's presence in grace to the spiritual reality of prayer. We would do well to explore more deeply CEN's connections within our theological and spiritual architecture, for the result would be a richer and more confident confession of our faith. 

Rev. D. Blair Smith is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a doctoral student in early christian history and theology at Durham University. He's currently a research visitor at the University of Notre Dame. Follow him on twitter @dblairsmith

Scarcity and Abundance

In recent decades, Western culture has developed what the business analysts might call a 'scarcity mindset'. 

There are good reasons for this of course. For a long time, we've been behaving like a teenager in a bedroom, consuming non-renewable energy sources, polluting the planet, and degrading the soil from which we then expect another bumper crop. Now we notice that the Chinese and the Indian economies are industrializing, too, and that they see the privilege of prosperity as being able to be as reckless as the West always has been. 

There has been an assumption that growth would always come, that nature would always bounce back, and that the future would take care of itself.

Despite readily available contraception and abortion on demand in many countries, the human race is breeding very successfully, and population growth is rising at an exponential rate. With growth in population has come, not unsurprisingly, a series of wars in which ideology and religion have provided the rhetoric for what is in many ways a struggle for the finite resources of the earth. This has meant, as we have seen in recent weeks, the catastrophic uprooting of millions of people who now seek shelter, food, and security. 

The national anthem of my country, Australia, has a rarely sung second verse which says 'for those who come across the seas, we've boundless plains to share'. But we don't have them, and we won't share them. Those plains are dry as dust. And successive governments have made it clear, we are defending our limited resources of water and our harbor views and our great weather to the hilt, against all comers. 

A scarcity mindset is what you must have if you believe that nature is a closed system, with a renewing power of course, but only a limited one. 

However, a theistic worldview, and in particular the Christian one, has at the heart of reality the three-personed God of Love, whose creative energy made everything from nothing at all by his Word, and who makes a great nation out of the fruitless loins of Abraham, and who gives life even to the dead. His grace abounds; his abundance overflows. He enters into, blesses, and renews the earth. The Old Testament testifies again and again to the renewing power of the divine breath upon the earth. 

The emblematic episode was the Exodus: a feeding in the wilderness, in which God reminded Israel of the title that Abraham had given him when he provided a ram to substitute for Isaac: yhwh yrh, the God who provides. The manna from heaven was not a natural co-incidence. It was miraculous. It wasn't supposed to be there - it exceeded nature's fruitfulness, and enabled survival in the wilderness, where nature was in fact barren. 

The feeding of the five thousand is the New Testament counterpart to the feeding in the Exodus. The 5000 who gathered in the desert ate from two fish and five loaves, and were satisfied. And, in excess of the Exodus miracle, there were twelve baskets of left overs! The miracle was a provision beyond necessity, to excess. 

Of course, as with all the miracles, it's an object lesson. This is a great extraordinary picture of what the world, when God rules it once for all, will look like. And it isn't a world in which things will run out. It's a world in which things overflow, because that's the character of the God who made it. This is the God who made everything from nothing, not with any strain, but by a word; and the God who gives life to dead. This is the God whose artistry fills the heavens at night, and who has filled the earth with so many creatures that we haven't counted them all yet. And this is the God, who, despite our willingness to believe that he has our good in mind, gives us even his own Son to supply what we need. 

There is then, an abundance mentality rather than a scarcity mindset with the God of Jesus Christ. And yet, this is different to the abundance mentality that has got us into this mess. That was a faith not in the God who supplies our need but in the endless bounty of nature. That was not the right response to the gracious abundance of God in the overflow and beauty of the natural order. It was a squandering of the gift, like the prodigal son, being prodigal with the inheritance he demanded from the Father. We now choke on the fumes of that prodigality.

Rather, as the sacrament of the Lord's Supper teaches us, the right human response to the divine graciousness displayed in creation is gratitude - as we hear in Romans 1:18ff, it is lack of gratitude that marred humanity, and set us on our self-destructive path.

A former politician and public commentator who attends my parish, queried me as to whether this mentality of abundance could have any real world application. Could it help a government make policies? Surely the scarcity mindset is at least a sensible one? 

But if we understand the humanizing possibilities of gratitude, then we can see how a Christian witness to governments and policy makers in the face of diminishing resources, and growing populations, might proceed. Thanksgiving honors the gift, and the giver. It cannot be destructive or reckless. It does not presume on more, but it knows that the world as we see it is open to the creative and transformative power of the Lord God. And we know that that includes the hope for the New Heaven and the New Earth, in which God's abundance will flow.

Michael P Jensen is the rector of St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, Sydney, and the author of Martyrdom and Identity: the Self on Trial and Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology

In early July the University of Notre Dame's "Institute for Church Life" held a comprehensive, high-octane - and free - conference on the doctrine "Creation out of Nothing" (one of the rare doctrines that might be better known by its Latin appellation: Creatio ex nihilo). Comprehensive because, over the course of four days, the conference's theme was examined from four different perspectives: biblical, historical/theological, philosophical, and scientific. High-octane because it gathered over twenty leading scholars, from Gary Anderson to David Bentley Hart, who presented papers with opportunity for attendee feedback. In this post and the next, I draw out highlights from select papers, interspersed with thoughts on the proper place of this doctrine within evangelical and Reformed theology. 

Unlike many academic biblical scholars of the previous generation, Gary Anderson (Hesburgh Professor of Catholic Theology, University of Notre Dame) approaches the text of the Old Testament with an overarching theological concern. Rather than slicing and dicing books and chapters to reveal mind-numbing minutiae severed from the larger biblical narrative, Anderson asks questions that connect passages to broad biblical and theological themes. In the opening address on "Is Creatio ex nihilo Biblical?" he clearly demonstrates this concern by first examining creation ex nihilo (hereafter CEN) in Genesis 1-2 before moving on to the theological import of this doctrine. 

In his illuminating examination of the creation week in Genesis, Anderson highlights the need to coordinate our reading of the beginning of the creation story (1:1-3) with the end (2:1-3). Conspicuously absent from the seventh day is the refrain of the previous six days ("there was evening and there was morning"). The lack of 'limit' to the Sabbath points back to 1:1-3 where God is not 'limited' by the darkness and formlessness described in 1:2. Whereas other Scriptural passages may carry a stronger theological implication of CEN, the clear 'creation without opposition' found in Genesis's creation account informs the theological concern of God's transcendence. Indeed, the theological heart of CEN, according to Anderson, is upholding both God's transcendence and his immanence. The freedom of God's transcendence demonstrated in creation actually grounds his engagement with his creatures. Because of his eternal and transcendent freedom, God is 'able' to be within those who are spiritual - that is, those creatures who possess the Spirit - giving them eyes to see the world as He sees it. As those 'spiritual eyes' move from the world to the Bible, through the doctrine of CEN they are equipped with the theological tools to, in Anderson's words, "read the Bible better".  From a Reformed perspective, I'm not sure this Roman Catholic scholar could have put it any better. 

Janet Soskice's paper further set the doctrine of CEN in a theological context. Soskice is Professor of Philosophical Theology at the University of Cambridge and highly respected for her wide-ranging work on everything from metaphor in religious language to, recently, a gripping account of two Presbyterian sisters in the 19th century who travelled to the Middle East in order to discover the earliest known Gospels in ancient Syriac. Soskice's erudition was on full display as she spoke on "Why Creatio ex nihilo for Theology Today?". 

The first matter she addressed was carried forward from Anderson's theological concerns: CEN is primarily about God and not the cosmos. That is to say, while asking the 'how' question of creation is important to consider, that is not what CEN is primarily about--it speaks to the God we worship. Soskice stated CEN is a 'first order' teaching that grounds Christian teaching across the board. Quietly in the background, it upholds such matters as miracles, prayer, and the work of God's grace. In the early history of the Church CEN was an emergent doctrine, finding its stride especially in apologetic contexts. As the debates of the early Church marched on, the question of how God comes to us in a time of need sharpened the contours of CEN. For while CEN teaches that God is transcendent, he is not a domineering or distant tyrant as presented by some forms of contemporary feminist theology. God is transcendent and present. Looking to the Psalms, Soskice observed how both God's power and his lovingkindness are at the heart of who he is. All that is is dependent on God. Yet, for all those who are his he is near to them in lovingkindness. The 'immediacy' of God's grace, therefore, is upheld by the reality that everything relies upon God for its existence. The transcendent power that created the universe is what also enables the loving nearness that God demonstrates when he pours grace into the lives of his loved ones. Again, I found a Roman Catholic scholar elucidating the high points of the teaching of CEN in a vein very much compatible with Reformed thought. Of course, there are going to be disagreements over how grace is administered to and appropriated by believers. Nonetheless, a theology robustly informed by CEN cannot help but stress our radical dependency upon God, both in our very existence and in our experience of intimate fellowship with him seen in such realities of our faith as a vibrant prayer life. 

The theological relevance of CEN outlined by Soskice highlights just how dependent our understanding of this doctrine is upon the writings of Athanasius. The great fourth-century father had no small role in the full-fledged emergence of CEN within the early church, especially the doctrine's import for the divine-human relation. Khaled Anatolios (who will be moving as Professor of Theology from Boston College to Notre Dame this Fall), took up in his paper, "Creatio ex nihilo, Divine Goodness, and Creaturely Giftedness in Athanasius of Alexandria", Athansius's early twin work, Against the Heathen and On the Incarnation. There he discerns a shift in the latter chapters of Against the Heathen where Athanasius is awakened to the import of CEN and thereafter a difference is evident in his theology. The difference is especially seen in that human giftedness is no longer primarily colored in with the platonic hues of our intellectual powers transcending physical reality (such as in Against the Heathen 7). Rather, informed by Genesis 1:1 and Hebrews 11:3 in On the Incarnation, the great divide to 'overcome' is between created and uncreated reality. That is to say, humanity is fully dependent upon God - in body and soul - because our whole being finds its source in his creative act. The doctrine of CEN enabled Athanasius to gain a firmer grip on the reality that we, as human beings, are always 'from nothing'. Because created reality is 'from nothing' human beings would have nothing to hold their existence if it were not for God's continued gift of being experienced through participating in the logos of God. Without this gift of participation in God's being we would continually slip back to nothingness. In fact, sin, according to Athanasius, is an ungrateful rejection of God's gift of protection and so the result is a form of de-creation. 

Part 2 to follow shortly...

Rev. D. Blair Smith is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a doctoral student in early christian history and theology at Durham University. He's currently a research visitor at the University of Notre Dame. Follow him on twitter @dblairsmith 


Calvin's commentary on the creation narrative of Genesis 1.1-2.3 is dominated by one particular metaphor--that of God as the builder and decorator of a luxurious house.  The creation days, in Calvin's perspective, mark successive stages in God's construction project. In the first triad of creation days, God performs the role of a proper builder, directing his energies to the foundation and fabric of his cosmic domicile. In the second triad of creation days, he performs the role of interior designer, supplying his house with both "furniture" and "garniture" (ornamenta).

God, in Calvin's estimation, is no minimalist when it comes to interior design. "The heaven without the sun, and moon, and stars," and the "earth... destitute of animals, trees, and plants" would, indeed, make for a "poor and deserted house," a "dismantled palace." The presence of heavenly bodies and earthly flora and fauna make for a "house well supplied and filled."

This "wealthy house, well supplied with every kind of provision in abundance and variety," was built with a specific tenant in mind, even if that tenant didn't yet exist during the designing, building, and decorating process. "In the very order of the creation the paternal solicitude of God for man is conspicuous, because he furnished the world with all things needful, and even with an immense profusion of wealth, before he formed man. Thus man was rich before he was born."

Calvin's attention to the "paternal solicitude" apparent in God's act of creation evokes images of wealthy parents-to-be preparing their home for their anticipated first child, eager to provide for that child's well-being and enjoyment. Socket covers and safety latches for cabinets and drawers are installed, potentially dangerous items are locked away or placed out of reach, the pantry is stocked with formula milk and baby food. Particular attention is given to the nursery: a baby cot fitted with musical mobile is secured, the walls are painted pleasant colors and covered with vibrant images, stuffed animals are placed in the cot and on shelves in anticipation of the baby's arrival. In sum, these soon-to-be parents, brimming with expectation, secure everything they can think of to provide both nourishment and delight to their future child.

Similarly, the "house" which God prepared as man's "happy and pleasant habitation" was tailored both to man's well-being and his enjoyment; it was, indeed, a "variety of delights." Calvin's description of the newly-created world drips with references to "abundance," "affluence," "profusion," and "sweetness," particularly so with regard to Eden--the nursery, as it were, in this house prepared for man. 

Of course, anyone with a reasonable grasp of child psychology knows that the most important thing in any home for a child's flourishing is no thing at all, but the parents themselves. No amount of stuffed animals or toys can fill the void created in a child's heart from absent or indifferent parents. 

Similarly, the principal necessity and delight in God's cosmic house is God himself. God no more built his house with any intention to hand over the keys to his human creatures and take his leave, wishing them all happiness in their new residence, than parents purpose to suddenly vacate their home after bringing a child into it. God built his house with every intention of living there with his children--of fostering relationship and intimacy with them in that place. (Calvin anticipates, on this score, recent studies which identify Eden as the prototypical sanctuary, a place for man to enjoy fellowship with and worship God.) As Calvin reflects, then, upon the gifts which God has prepared for and bestowed upon his image-bearers in this "house well supplied and filled," he notes the proper, relational response these should trigger in their recipients; namely, reliance upon God, gratitude for his plentiful provision, and "wonder" (literally stupor) at the sheer immensity of his generosity.

Our first parents failed, of course, to sustain such attitudes towards God. Their rebellion against their benefactor impacted the entire world--God's "house"--in addition to themselves. "The earth," which as a whole "would have remained the fairest scene both of fruitfulness and of delight," has become "that scene of deformity which we now behold." Yet much good remains; indeed, "thorns and thistles" are, in the final analysis, parasitic upon the fundamental goodness and beauty irrevocably invested in humankind's primal residence.

There is a temptation among those living on this side of the fall to turn blind eyes to the "abundance," "sweetness," and "variety" which persists in this world, and either focus only on the thorns and thistles, or look entirely to the world to come, with (proper) expectation of its surpassing goodness. Calvin has significant advice for us on this score: "Since the eternal inheritance of man is in heaven, it is truly right that we should tend thither; nevertheless, we ought to fix our foot on earth long enough to consider this house (hospitium), which God wishes man to use for a time."  The meditation on this world which Calvin encourages should evoke, in addition to sorrow for the obvious fruits of humankind's rebellion, those very same responses which God's house in its original splendor was calculated to excite: reliance, gratitude, wonder.

Calvin invites us, in sum, to pause from our busy lives and take time to "consider this abode," still bearing evident traces of its original "abundance" and "sweetness." Study a tree. Smell a flower. Savor the taste of some choice fruit. Pet a dog. Look at the stars. But be careful as you do so. Any appreciation for the goodness and beauty of this created world without acknowledgement of the Creator is a serious crime. "Those who perceive by the moon the splendor of night are convicted, by their enjoyment of it, of perverse ingratitude if they do not acknowledge the beneficence of God." So as we contemplate the goodness of this world, let us turn our thoughts very intentionally to the "wonderful Artificer, who has so beautifully arranged all things," and may the peculiar utility and beauty of all that we encounter "constrain us to wonder."

William Evans and the Days of Creation

Prof. William Evans of Erskine College has taken on Al Mohler on the days of creation, among other things. Steve Hays at Triablogue has offered a thorough response here

HT: The Aquila Report

"We must take it all"

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the unity of Scripture:
Higher criticism is man picking and choosing out of the Scriptures, believing what he likes and rejecting, or ignoring, the rest. It is man failing to submit himself completely and utterly to the whole of the Scriptures. And I believe that this is one of the most urgent problems confronting us today. There are even evangelical people who no longer believe the first three chapters of the book of Genesis. They are not believing all the Scriptures. But until we come back to a belief in all the Scriptures we shall be in trouble because we are setting ourselves up as authorities, and we are not competent to deal with the problems that face us. If we pick and choose, and believe this and reject that, we will ultimately have no authority whatsoever. We are so anxious to please the modern scientists, the modern educated people, that we have lost our gospel.

The Bible is a unity. We must take it all. It not only teaches us salvation, but it teaches us creation. It tells us now God made the world and how he is eventually going to restore the whole cosmos. If you begin to pick and choose from the Scriptures, you will soon end in a state of dejection. This is what the Christian church has been doing for so long, and it is not surprising that things are as they are. Here is our Lord telling these men [on the road to Emmaus], and I believe he is saying it to us today, that we must submit to the Scriptures completely, entirely, whether we understand them or not. Whether we can reconcile everything or not, we must submit to it. We must say that we believe this is the Word of God and we believe everything it says. It is history. It is an account of the creation and the fall. All these events that are presented as facts we must accept as facts; otherwise we shall soon be doubting the fact of Christ himself and even the very being of God. Here is our Lord's own analysis. There is a unity in the Scripture that must never be broken. There is a wholeness and a completeness, and it is only as we submit to this that we can look to the real solution to our problems.
Setting Our Affections Upon Glory: Nine Sermons on the Gospel and the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 81. []

"In Eden's sinless garden"

7 6. 7 6 (St. Alphege)
In Eden's sinless garden
A man and woman stood,
Each crafted in God's image,
And both entirely good.

The serpent entered Eden,
And entered both their hearts;
And neither did resist him,
Fell to his fiery darts.

So Adam's abdication
Was punished by the Lord;
Eve's insubordination
Jehovah much abhorred.

Then came the Second Adam
Into the wilderness.
Where Adam fell, he conquered,
Both to restore and bless.

He raises from the ruins
Of Eden's shattered bliss,
And by his saving power
Does Satan's blight dismiss.

True men, pursue with courage
Loving nobility;
True women, with true beauty,
Submissive dignity.

You sons of Adam, glory
That Jesus sets you free.
Eve's daughters, bow before him,
Embrace your liberty.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

Evans/VanDoodewaard Exchange on Creation

Interested readers may follow the continuing exchange between Drs. William Evans and William VanDoodewaard over at the Aquilla Report.

Here is the link to Evans's response to Dr. VanDoodewaard's piece, which was originally posted here at reformation21.

Here is Dr. VanDoodewaard's rejoinder to Dr. Evans.

Guest Post: Response to William Evans

Editors' Note: The following is a response to William Evans's recent reformation 21 article by Dr. William VanDoodewaard, who is associate professor of church history at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in the ARP.

William Evans's latest piece on the ARP Synod via his links in the creation section and use of titles states:
there apparently are some in the ARP who believe that those who do not hold to literal six-day young-earth creationism should "change, acquiesce, or depart honorably in conviction" (see my response here)
The apparently some, is apparently me, as I wrote the article in the first link, which was titled "Hermeneutics and Awkward Science." Evans insinuates in his response "Unhappy Politics" (I hoped misunderstood, but private correspondence between us eliminated that possibility) this as an effort to remove from Presbyterian denominations ministers who do not hold to literal six-day young-earth creationism (accusing me of playing crass power politics), a drum he continues to beat in his most recent Ref21 article.

Evans and I had a long behind the scenes discussion during the original exchange where I noted that my primary concern was the problem of evolutionary origins of Adam and Eve, and the theological implications of this, and pleading for him to work together on this -- a call I also made publicly. This was also clearly evident in my final reply to his posts in my "Defining Adam and Eve". Evans meanwhile stated that the theistic evolution of Adam and Eve, pre/co-hominds/part of a tribe was a legitimate position in the life of the church, a non-issue, so long as there was an Adam and an Eve. How the ARP Synod will respond to the Mississippi Valley memorial remains to be seen, but to me it is clearly worded, says what needs to be said, and is something that as stated pretty much everyone should be able to in good conscience agree upon. I trust the Lord will give wisdom, love and faithfulness, in this important discussion and decision.

Results tagged “creation” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 4.2, Part Two

ii. After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it; and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change.  Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.

As we conclude our study of the Confession's teaching on creation, we should note how focused the divines were on the redemptive message of the Bible. We rightly distinguish between the Bible's teaching on creation and redemption, but the Confession reminds us how they are related.  

In this respect, the Confession first reminds us of Adam's spiritual and moral ability prior to the Fall. He was "endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness." What a fitting covenant head Adam was for the human race! Adam and Eve had "the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it." Our first parents were able to obey God and to live without sin. Reading these words, we are reminded of all that we have lost through the calamity of sin! The Fall was possible because Adam and Eve had "a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change." 

Reformed theology strongly rejects the Arminian doctrine of free will, except when it comes to Adam. Prior to the Fall, Adam was created with a truly free will, since he had the ability both to honor God through obedience and to rebel against God in transgression. After the Fall, man in sin possesses only the latter (see Eph. 2:1-3). In Adam, we also see the relationship between righteousness and happiness. While Adam and Eve kept God's law, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures." So it is for God's people today, that having been restored to spiritual ability by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we now find happiness through lifestyles that are obedient to God's Word and experience at least a partial restoration of the dominion which Adam lost (see 2 Cor. 3:18).

The Confession particularly wants to emphasize that Adam was not in covenant with God only in a general sense but also in a specific covenant. While God's Covenant with Man falls under the heading of chapter 7, it is impossible fully to treat man's created state without noting the Covenant of Works: "Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (see Gen. 2:16-17)  All of history was shaped by Adam's disobedience of this command, with the subsequent Fall of the human race into the condemnation and corruption of sin. Between mankind today and the blessings Adam and Eve once enjoyed in the Garden stands the historical reality of the Fall.  

All the rest of the Bible presents God's grand redemptive plan to overcome the Fall into sin and its consequences. To undo what Adam did in sin, mankind will need a new covenant head, the Lord Jesus Christ, who did not break God's commands and who perfectly fulfilled God's covenant of works, so that through union with Christ in faith believers may be saved from Adam's sin and our own (see Rom. 5:18-19). In this life, believers in Christ receive a righteousness gained by Christ and a partial, though increasing, restoration of our natures in knowledge and true holiness. When Christ's covenant of grace has fully achieved its harvest work, Adam's offspring will experience in Christ the fullness of the blessing that God intended through Creation as we enjoy the new heavens and the new earth in the return of the Second Adam, the Lord Jesus.  

As we consider all that Adam lost through sin - "knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness" after God's own image - we are reminded of the glorious restoration that we are now experiencing through faith, and we are motivated to enter more fully now into the blessings appointed by God for those who are in Christ.

Chapter 4.2

ii. After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it; and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change.  Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.

The Westminster Confession's second paragraph on Creation fittingly centers on mankind. An important emphasis is on the distinctiveness of mankind versus the other creatures. One of the great problems with the evolutionary dogma so dominant in our culture today is that it strips mankind of the special dignity that comes with being made in God's image. It is interesting that the Confession itself does not deal directly with the details of Genesis 2:7, "the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."  The Larger Catechism is very clear, however, that "God formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man" (WLC 17), which clearly rules out any theory of evolutionary processes involved in the creation of Adam and Eve.

Whereas the secular humanist would have mankind look downward to the beasts for his identity, the Bible would have man look upwards to God. Psalm 8:5-8, for instance, places Adam in a mediating position between the angels and the lower created order: "you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea." Notice that while Adam is placed between the heavenly beings and the earthly beasts, his identity is found above rather than below. He was made "a little lower than the heavenly beings" rather than a little above the beasts. Moreover, Adam was invested with authority on God's behalf to rule the creatures of the earth. This doctrine makes a world of difference in how we think about ourselves. We are special among all the other beings of the earth, "crowned with glory and honor," and have special obligations to God as his vicegerents in the world.

The Bible's teaching on creation further assails the secularist mindset in the clear ordering of the beings that God made. Neo-pagan culture is determined to eradicate all biblical distinctions: the distinction between God and man, male and female, humankind and the beasts, good and evil, etc.  But the Bible's teaching establishes a clear order. What a mistake it is, therefore, when Christians think it helps our witness by downplaying the Bible's distinctions, especially when it comes to gender. Instead, we bear testimony to God the Creator by wholesomely emphasizing the gender pattern which is essential to God's good design in Creation. Christians should therefore not accommodate the cultural demand that men and women be treated as if they are the same. At the same time, the Bible does clearly show the fundamental unity and shared dignity of men and women within humanity. Similarly, the Confession emphasizes that man was made with a God-given awareness of moral truth. There is good and evil and mankind was made to know them, "having the law of God written in their hearts."

The Confession presents a strong doctrine of mankind as bearing the image of God. By stating that men and women were created "with reasonable and immortal souls," the divines point out that mankind was made to understand and know God.  We were created to worship and were obliged by our creation to obey and glorify God.  

CHapter 4.1, Part Three

i. It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.

In considering the What of Creation, the Confession states that God was pleased "to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible." It is false to say that Creation came from nothing, since the Bible teaches that the Creation came from God.  Rather, God made the universe out of nothing, ex nihilo. The Bible says that God created simply by means of his speech, saying, "Let there be" (Gen. 1:3, 6, 14). Jesus wielded this same power of the Creator when he stood before the stormy seas and raging winds, crying out, "Peace!  Be still!" (Mk. 4:39). Peter tells us that God's same mighty Word goes forth in the recreating act of salvation: "you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God" (1 Pet. 1:23; see also 2 Cor. 4:6).    

When we read that God created "the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible," the Confession rules out any doctrine of macroevolution. Some Christians affirm that God got creation started, but then ordained that the process of evolution would actually bring the various species into being. To the contrary, however, the Bible teaches that God directly created all the various kinds of creatures. "And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds - livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds'" (Gen. 1:24). Some Christians will urge that God's approach in doing this may still have been evolutionary. This approach is intended to remove the conflict between Bible-believing Christians and the secular dogma of evolution. 

There are a great many problems with this mistaken compromise, however, some of which will come up in the Confession's teaching regarding Adam. But notice that there is an irreconcilable conflict between evolution - a random process taking place incrementally over many aeons - and the biblical teaching of Creation - which presents not random mutations but sovereign fiat according to the will of God. Included in the variety in God's creation are the invisible spirits known as angels. The Confession concludes that the entire creation was "all very good." The evolutionary worldview explains sin and other defects as part of a process that is continually perfecting itself. For the secularist, the world was created with major defects which evolution is slowly ironing out. The Bible, however, teaches that all evil and error resulted from an historical Fall. The world itself was made completely good, reflecting the heart and design of its glorious Creator.

Lastly, we consider the When of Creation. The Confession makes two statements. First, God created the world "in the beginning." This not only follows the language of Genesis 1:1, the Bible's first words, but it also shows that unlike God himself, the world has a beginning.  Second, the Confession states that God created "in the span of six days." There has been a great deal of controversy in recent years as to whether the Confession intends to limit its teaching to the view that God created all things in six literal twenty-four hour days. Most Reformed denominations do not require this view, but allow a range of alternatives. There can be little doubt, however, that virtually all of the Westminster divines believed in a literal six day creation. They urged this view because they believed in the truthfulness of the Bible not only in its redemptive message, but also in its teaching on the history of Creation. The Westminster Confession knows nothing of contemporary views that deny the historical value of Genesis one for the chronology of God's creation work. Indeed, here as elsewhere the Confession uses language that closely follows the Bible, showing their belief that the Bible speaks sufficiently for God's people when it comes to understanding the creation of the world.

Chapter 4.1, Part Two

i. It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.

After yesterday considering the Why of Creation, we now turn to the Who. Who made all this?  The Confession's answer is that God did. This is the only realistic answer when it comes to the data of the universe. Does the secular humanist seriously expect us to believe that all things came from nothing? "Well, then," the unbeliever asks, "where did it all come from?" The Christian answers that all things must have come from someone able to create them, which can only be God. The same argument holds for the vaunted Big-Bang Theory, which says that the universe exploded into being. Did the universe explode into existence by its own power or by something else's power? Was it non-being that created being? How is that reasonable? If it was being that created being, what was this being? The poor secularist cannot even talk about the Creation without having to face the glorious Creator he is trying so hard to avoid. For the universe was created by God so that "invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature... are clearly perceived... in the things that have been made" (Rom. 1:20). The universe was created to bear testimony to the glory of God, so even questions asked about the origin of Creation can only be answered by reference to God.

The truth that God created all things prompts some important denials that strike at the heart of postmodern unbelief. If God created the world, then the world is not self-existent. Everything created is dependent on God for its original being and its present sustenance. The world and the things in it also are not eternal, since they were willed into existence by God at a certain time.  Mankind is therefore not divine, so that narcissistic self-worship in condemned. Moreover, the world is not autonomous.  That is, Creation - including men and women - is not subject only to its own laws and decisions but is subject to a higher power, namely, its Creator. All Creation is thus answerable to God for his approval and judgment.  For this reason, writes Johannes Vos, "all attempts of men or nations to live independently of God are foolish, wicked, and doomed to failure in the end."  We see what a subversive statement it is for Christians today to read the first verse of the Bible: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1)!

It is not incidental that the God who created all things is the Trinity: "the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."  We should ascribe all of God's works to the Trinity, since the three divine Persons co-operate in all that God does. Not only does the Bible describe the one God as three Persons, but it includes many statements directly ascribing creation to the Trinity. First Corinthians 8:6 join Father and Son in creating: "there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist."  Ps. 104:30 speaks of God sending his Spirit in order to create. Christians are well warranted in comparing the cooperation of the Trinity in creation to their work in salvation: the Father ordains, the Son accomplishes, and the Spirit applies. Hebrews 1:2 says that it was through his Son that God created the world, and John 1:3 agrees that "All things were made through him." Genesis 1:2 shows "the Spirit of God... hovering over the face of the waters." All things are according to the will of the Father, through the work of the Son, and by the power of the Spirit. Therefore everything in all Creation resounds to the praise of the same Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit into whose name believers in Christ are baptized for salvation (Mt. 28:19).

Chapter 4.1

i. It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.

When we turn to the Westminster Confession's treatment of Creation, in chapter four, the first and most important is Why?  This spurs some of the most important questions in all of Holy Scripture: Why is there a creation?  What is the purpose to all that is?  What is the meaning of the universe and all that takes place in it?  

The first answer given is, "It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." The purpose of Creation, like its very existence, is determined by the will and pleasure of the Triune God. This reminds us that mankind does not determine the meaning of existence by his own will or choosing. We do not even choose the proper purpose for our own lives. God, who made all things and who thus possesses them by right as Lord, has determined the purpose of all creation.  

This purpose is given by the Confession: "for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, [and] goodness."  Think about the implications of this statement and its militant theism.  Most of us have lived our lives as humanists. Therefore we have thought that the world was made for the highest utility of human beings (and especially of ourselves!). This is why we can be frustrated by the idea that God might will something that would not choose. Why would God will something that frustrates our will - perhaps a deadly disease or a friend who dies in unbelief?  

The answer is for the manifestation of the glory of who God is. Why is there disease? At least in part, the answer is for the manifestation of the holiness and justice of God against sin. Why is there a hell? For the manifestation of God's wrath. More positively, why did God create marriage? To display the glory of his love. The Confession is right in saying that God created everything according to his own pleasure, to manifest his glory through the display of the perfections of all his attributes. When we realize that God is not a humanist, but he made and willed all things for his glory, we are better able to handle what the Bible teaches not only about Creation but also about the Fall and about Redemption.

The Confession highlights three of God's attributes that are supremely glorified in the Creation: his "eternal power, wisdom, and goodness." We look at the stars and marvel at the power of the God who created crashing galaxies and nebuli! We peer into the structure of a cell or contemplate the mystery of love between a man and woman and the wisdom of God is overwhelming.  We watch the grass growing, rejoice at the dazzling colors of a field of corn or wheat, and we delight at the hummingbird's song and are persuaded of the goodness of the God who made it all. How should we respond to the purpose of Creation, given for the pleasure of the Triune God? Surely the answer is by giving him the glory of all that he is, in response to the witness of the world he has made! The hymnodist Folliott S. Pierpont, writing in 1864, summarized this well:
For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth over and around us lies,
Lords of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.