Book Review (continued): In the Beginning God, Chapter 1
Reformed Free Publishing Association
Hoeksema's thoughts regarding the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture are well-stated and solid points. I think that they ring true with regards to defending the truth of Scripture against secular atheist attempts to overthrow the Bible's authority with regards to interpreting the creation record. However, for the most part, proponents of theistic evolution would agree with what Hoeksema is saying; that is, they do not deny the infallibility of Scripture. Instead, the major issue of controversy is how to interpret what is meant in Scripture, particularly when it is clear that the authors were ignorant of the science behind their macroscopic understanding of creation. The theistic evolutionists' central argument is not about inspiration, but about authorial intent. They would say, for instance, that Moses could not possibly have intended Genesis 1 to be a literal explanation of creation because he lacked the scientific knowledge to explain the physics, chemistry and molecular biology of God’s creative act. Rather, his version of the creation account in Genesis 1-2 was simply pointing to the sovereignty of God in the act of creation, not the mechanisms by which he carried it out. As such, I’m not sure that Hoeksema’s arguments would convince one who is tempted to believe the teaching of theistic evolutionists.
More to the point on this latter issue, Hoeksema is attempting to close the door on theistic evolutionism by defining a right understanding of inspiration. I appreciated the detail he takes in this section, but am not sure that the position he takes can be easily defended. The distinctions of graphic, plenary and verbal inspiration discussed from pg.12-14 are important, for instance, but bring up the issue of how we should understand what appear to be archaic concepts in Scripture. The expressions of the Psalmists regarding human physiology and the heavenly bodies, for example, express archaic understandings of science. We understand what is meant by a "gut feeling" (i.e. “my reins [literally, kidneys] also instruct me in the night seasons”, Psalm 16:7), but the concept is based on a scientifically incorrect understanding of the seat of emotional feelings. By Hoeksema's definition of "verbal inspiration" (pg 14) we may be left trying to explain how God doesn't understand human physiology or how the earth orbits the sun, which is clearly problematic.
Furthermore, the fourth point that Hoeksema makes about "organic inspiration" seems to contradict his definition of "verbal inspiration". If men wrote Scripture according to their "peculiar personalities, styles, circumstances, experiences and times" we can understand why the Psalmist explains concepts in terms of archaic physiology (eg. "my reins instruct me"). If, however, this is verbally the precise set of words that God used (verbal inspiration) then the text is problematic regarding the omniscience of God.
While I understand what Hoeksema is trying to say in his defense of the sufficiency of Scripture (pg. 34), I am concerned that he is overstating his point. To say that issues of creation and evolution must be solely determined by Scripture fails to deal with the fact that Scripture is largely silent about many of the observations we make in science. I would unconditionally agree that all of our scientific findings must be interpreted "in the light of" Scripture and be consistent with its teachings. But to say that our understanding of the creation must be "decided solely on the basis of" Scripture is perhaps too strong. What I would prefer to say is that we hold to both special and general revelation, and that these two means of revelation are both God-ordained and therefore must be consistent with each other. What is fallible and errant is our interpretation of these revelations, not the revelations themselves. I would argue that sometimes we have to reevaluate our interpretation of both sources, though our understanding of Scripture (special revelation) is far more advanced than our understanding of the creation (general revelation). As such, I am inclined to reevaluate my understanding and interpretation of scientific observations much more quickly than the orthodox understanding of Scripture. Nonetheless, we cannot be so rigid as to believe that we understand and interpret what the Bible is saying perfectly—today or ever. The Copernican controversy in the late medieval church is instructive in this matter. (http://thinkingmatters.org.nz/2009/11/conflict-for-the-copernican-controversy/)
Another issue that Hoeksema might have discussed with a bit more detail is his reference to theistic evolution as "heresy" in and of itself. My understanding of the word "heresy" is that it is a teaching that contradicts the orthodox understanding of the Christian faith that is circumscribed by an official, written decision of the church at some point in time. It should be noted that Reformed persons who teach theistic evolution often point out that no Reformed creed precisely distinguishes six, twenty-four hour periods of time as the days of creation (though the Westminster confession does so). As such, they will argue that the teachings of theistic evolution are not heretical in the orthodox—or even Reformed—Christian faith.
What has become increasingly clear of late is that consistent explanation of the implications of theistic evolution very easily leads to explicit heresy regarding the origins of man and his original sin (see below). If these aspects of theistic evolution are taught, then the theory does undoubtedly become heresy in the technical sense. But if the issue of six, twenty-four hour periods is questioned with regard to the creation account, I am less sure that the term heresy can be applied without distinction.