Book Review (continued): In the Beginning God, Chapter 3

Chapter Three

This chapter was probably the one I most liked and resonated with throughout the book.  My sense is that Hoeksema’s own understanding and study of the topic shifted as he prepared for his speeches, but perhaps it also reflects a shift in my own opinion or expectation that made me increasingly favorable to Hoeksema's views and ways of expressing them.  In any case, I had expected a lot of outdated arguments and poor apology for creationism, as well as a general skepticism of science, in this chapter.  However, in most of the key points I am very much in agreement with Hoeksema.

A particular strength of this chapter, in my opinion, is Hoeksema's distinction of creationists, secular/unbelieving evolutionists and theistic evolutionists.  I am very glad he does not simply lump the latter two groups together into one reprobate mass of ungodly scientists, which the PRCA is prone to do, to our shame.  Rather, he points out that the mistake of theistic evolutionists is an inconsistent capitulation to secular scientists that blindly accepts the interpretations of those who hate and deny God.  That is, they are not the same, but have given in to aspects that deny the authority and authenticity of Scripture.

On this note, Hoeksema makes a great point about secular scientists on pg 95: "Because he is spiritually darkness, the ungodly scientist does not want God, and because he does not want God, he rules God out of his own book." What I would add here is that the doctrine of common grace is very much to blame for the death of antithetical science.  If one teaches that there is redeeming value in the works of reprobate man, and that God can actually reveal truth through such persons' efforts, it is very easy to capitulate to claims that science contradicts the Genesis account.  Who are we, after all, to doubt the work of such knowledgeable people?  God can use them to show us the way....right?  An antithetical view of unbelieving mankind's prior commitments here would make us think twice and be very discerning about what he or she has to say with regard to interpreting scientific data about origins, anthropology or cosmological timelines.

There are naturally a few things that I would either disagree with or want to clarify.  For example, on pg. 119 Hoeksema is clearly articulating some of the outdated arguments that evolutionary theory disregards the fundamental laws of thermodynamics.  These arguments have long ago been debunked, and I would cringe a bit to unequivocally recommend this chapter because of this.  But thankfully, he admits very early on that he is not a scientist, and doesn't try (too much) to argue against evolutionism on the field of scientific theory. 

I am also somewhat uncomfortable with Hoeksema’s personification of science.  He has a rather bad tendency of saying "science does this or that," which again tends to set up the false dichotomy of science-vs-religion.  That being said, he thankfully balances this careless use of the word “science with some very clear definitions, and a great deal of effort to make clear that there are Christian scientists, and that this is a realm that is not only open to, but honorable for the Christian to engage.  Likewise, he makes a clear point that Scripture and science are not (cannot be!) at odds since they are a two-fold revelation from and about God.  We can quibble about whether the distinctions of special and general revelation are appropriate terms, but whatever the case, I very much agree with Hoeksema's points regarding the primacy of scripture.

I would add one note of cautionary nuance to Hoeksema's insistence that scripture interprets itself, and that the findings of science may never be used to inform our understanding of the Word.  There are very clear cases of a misunderstanding of scripture that has been corrected by scientific findings, which have provided us with a better understanding of the original text.  The first case, to which I referred earlier, is the Copernican controversy in the medieval church.  Another is a more recent example, in which the term "species" and the biblical "kind" were equated.  With a proper understanding of science, one sees that this cannot be the case, though for many years conservative Christians (at least in the PRC for sure) insisted it was so in the face of very clear evidence to the contrary.  Perhaps a third example we could point to is the concept that God created different ethnicities/races at Babel.  Nowhere in the text is this a required interpretation; rather, a proper understanding of human genetics makes clear that this is unnecessary.  All of these are examples of places where science helps to clarify understanding of scripture, but all within the bounds of the timeline that is also established by scripture in Genesis.

My concern here is two-fold.  The first is that we not make supernatural miracles out of what is simply a providential mechanism in the creation order.  Why does this matter?  Not because I want to deny miracles in any way, but because it is important to see the explicit purpose of miracles, which always point to Christ.  Miracles point to him directly and inescapably.  When something in scripture is not easily explained, let us not quickly jump to the conclusion that some divine intervention in the normal order of providence is required.  This tends to diminish the significance and impact of true miracles, making them mundane. 

My second concern with regard to this issue is a counterpoint to what Hoeksema warns about on pg. 96: "The practical significance of this is that as Christians we must not gullibly accept all that is presented in the name of science in this scientific age.  We must evaluate critically and with spiritual discernment."  At the same time, we must also not foolishly contradict every finding or claim of scientists as wrong just because the man was not a believer.  Each and every point should be evaluated critically and with spiritual discernment in the light of scripture.  If it is compatible, then it may be integrated into our understanding of the creation.  It not, then it may be discarded.  Such are the findings of evolution.  We may accept many of the findings that show very real change in creation, so-called microevolution.  But inferences from these findings that suggest a very different narrative than that of Genesis 1-2 are clearly wrong, and to be discarded.  Throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater is foolish and destructive to the witness of Christians in this world.

Comments

Book Review (continued): In the Beginning God, Chapter 2

Chapter Two

I am somewhat concerned that Hoeksema is setting up false dichotomy when he speaks of "the relation between creation and science's claims" (pg. 42).  Strictly speaking, science does not make claims—people make claims.  Unbelieving secular scientists make claims from many of the same pieces of data that believing scientists analyze.  The difference is all about interpretation, not the science per se.  By using this wording, a certain view of scientists becomes apparent.  That is, "they" are something other than "us."  I think that this is a dangerous path to start going down, because it makes scientists people we need to distrust and dislike rather than engage.  My sense is that Hoeksema primarily intends to distinguish between "false science" and "true science" (pg. 79), by which he is trying to say bad and good interpretations of scientific data. But the wording could make some conservative Christians worry about whether it's even possible for a Christian to be a scientist.

During the various speeches that Nate Lanning and I have given, one of our suggestions that met a bit of resistance was distinguishing between “evolution” and “evolutionism.”  I find it interesting that Hoeksema himself uses the latter term and implicitly makes this distinction, though perhaps not as consistently or clearly as we have suggested. In any case, he makes clear that evolutionism is a worldview that extends far beyond origins and cannot comport with orthodox Christianity.  On this we agree entirely!

Hoeksema shows remarkable insight into the real problem with theistic evolution, which is that it comes with a significant risk of much greater departure from the historic Christian faith.  For a long time, people in relatively conservative Christian denominations (including Reformed ones) have been comfortable holding to both theistic evolution and the orthodox understanding of Scripture as given in the creeds because they just don't see an issue that relates to salvation in Jesus Christ.  I think the developing history in the Reformed community bears this issue out pretty well.  But in being entirely consistent with the tenants of exegesis that come from reading Genesis 1-2 in a non-literal sense, it becomes impossible to hold onto a non-literal Genesis 1-2 and draw a sharp line at Genesis 3 as the beginning of literal exegesis.  Knowledge of this fact isn't new at all, but the consequences of consistency are only recently beginning to bear fruit in what were once conservative denominations.  This is a warning that we all should take very seriously. (https://www.calvin.edu/admin/provost/seminars/human-origins.html)

The real issue with theistic evolution emerges when exegetical license is extended further to the origins of man and sin, which is the logical result of capitulation to secular, atheistic scientists' view of scientific data in the first place.  If some Christians are concerned that the traditional Christian view of cosmology doesn't match the interpretations of secular scientists (and therefore accept theistic evolution as a synthesis), they will likely also have quite a bit of trouble with newer secular interpretations of human origins based on genetic data.  Synthesis in this area is a lot more difficult than simply allowing for a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2, which Christian scientists, theologians, philosophers and anthropologists are finding out.  This is because synthesis (or perhaps more accurately, accommodation) beyond Genesis 1-2 very quickly gets into trouble with the orthodox doctrines of anthropology and original sin, and therefore the doctrines of Christology as well.  When these doctrines come into question, the reality and foundation of the Christian faith crumbles—entirely! 

That really leaves only three viable options: 1) accept the Bible's account of creation as literal and as a consistent rule for the book of Genesis; 2) live with exegetical inconsistency while accepting the narrative and authority of Scripture contained in the orthodox Christian faith; 3) deny the literal account of creation consistently, along with the authority of Scripture altogether.  I believe that there are true Christians who fall into the second group, choosing to live in that frame of reference while holding to the orthodox Christian faith.  One cannot hold to the third option and maintain that he or she is an orthodox Christian.  Unfortunately there often times seems to be only a hair's breadth of difference between options 2 and 3.  This is the reason why I place myself in the camp of option 1.

Comments

Book Review (continued): In the Beginning God, Chapter 1

Chapter One

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.

Comments

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. 

__________________________

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.

Comments

Post Tags

On Twitter

Follow @reformedfreepub