Book Review: In the Beginning God

As the guest blogger here for the RFPA it is my privilege to welcome another guest, Dr. Brendan Looyenga.  Dr. Looyenga is an associate professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department of Calvin College.  He is also a member of the congregation I have the privilege of pastoring, Faith PRC in Jenison, MI.  Over the course of probably four installments we will be posting Dr. Looyenga’s comments on In The Beginning, God by Rev. Homer C. Hoeksema.  The reader should know that the review, while complementary at times, takes issue with Rev. Hoeksema’s argumentation in many instances.  We welcome the frank discussion of all the important issues regarding the doctrine of creation from Dr. Looyenga and hope to see your comments below. 

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In The Beginning, God. by Homer C. Hoeksema. RFPA (2015), Second Edition (First - 1966). 

As is made clear in the preface, “In the Beginning, God” is essentially an edited compilation of three speeches given by Professor Homer Hoeksema (b.1923 - d.1989) from the point of view of a pastor and theologian who lived in the mid-to-late twentieth century. Given that the speeches were directed at a largely non-scientific audience of like-minded believers, their content is fairly cursory in scientific depth and sophistication, which is to be expected. For better or worse, the book reflects this tone and does not address from a scientific point of view any of the pertinent issues at hand regarding evolution and creation. Instead, this book represents Hoeksema’s theological understanding of how an evolutionary worldview is incompatible with Scripture, and how science and scientists should be viewed as such.

Hoeksema’s clear and strong defense of the primacy of Scripture in the debate over creation v. evolution is certainly the correct starting point from which a Christian should strive to gain understanding of the issues at hand.  As he states early in the book, “essentially all of these discussions involve the inspiration, infallibility and authority of holy Scripture" (pg. 5).  Hoeksema rightly points out that these issues are matters of faith, not logic, and as such the believer ought to use the utmost caution in approaching science from an intellectual or rationalistic point of view.  Such an approach removes the greatest asset we have, which is the inspired Word of God presented in the Bible. 

Although Hoeksema’s emphasis on biblical integrity is the great strength of this book, I also appreciated his discussion of the compatibility of Scripture and science, though it unfortunately failed to show up until the third chapter.  He contends that “Scripture and science, properly conceived, are compatible” because “there are not two different, unconnected revelations of God, but one two-fold revelation” (pgs. 82, 90).  In the context of the creation v. evolution debate, Hoeksema suggests that apparent conflicts between the Bible and science are rather the result of improper or speculative interpretations of scientific findings, a contention with which I thoroughly agree.  Practically speaking, this means that Christians can be profitably involved in science, providing they keep the importance of God’s inspired Word foremost and limit their interpretation of science to theories that harmonize with Scripture.

Despite the strong points noted above, I think it would be a mistake to view “In the Beginning, God” book as a definitive apology for creationism, particularly given the span of time that separates the origin of this book from today.  It will be clear to many readers who have followed the creation v. evolution debate since 1966 that many of the arguments and objections Hoeksema raises against evolution are dated, and have been long ago discarded by more recent proponents of Biblical creationism.  This weakness parallels his tendency to set up “straw man” arguments that are easily destroyed, but only represent caricatures of the position that secular or theistic evolutionists actually take.  There is also a notable lack of precision in Hoeksema’s use of various terms, such “evolution” and “evolutionism.”  Though he is very clear with his definitions in some places, this is not consistently true throughout the book, which can be confusing to readers. Equally unsettling is Hoeksema’s tendency to set up a contrast between orthodox Christianity and “science” as a whole.  Though he does in some sense counter this tendency in the third chapter (as noted above), I found myself—as a conservative Christian scientist—somewhat taken aback by the broad (and inaccurate) strokes with which Hoeksema paints science and scientists earlier in the book.

While the liabilities noted above may perhaps be excused by the fact that this book was originally published a half-century ago, there are other problems that also make me hesitant to endorse this book unequivocally.  The most troubling of these is Hoeksema’s tendency to make very strong assertions without clear demonstration of why these statements are Biblically or logically true.  The simple defense of “because I said so” will satisfy individuals who know and appreciate Hoeksema as a Protestant Reformed theologian, but will not likely satisfy others who remain uncertain in their understanding of biblical creationism.  If the intent of republishing this book in the early twenty-first century is at all evangelistic—as seems to be the case—I think it falls short. 

In the following—admittedly extensive—set of notes, I have provided a more extensive critique of each chapter.  As you will see, I found much of the book very profitable and helpful, so please understand that my hesitation in endorsing it is not at all absolute.  As a historical document, it is most useful.

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