Is 6-Day Creation the Only Long-term Viable Option? A Response to Tim Challies

[Update: Just to be clear, the Tim Challies quote just below is an excerpt from Thomas Purifoy’s article, not Tim’s own language. Please read this response with that in mind.]


I like Tim Challies, and benefit from his blog regularly. Recently he promoted the film Is Genesis History? on Facebook, linking to an article by the film’s director Thomas Purifoy, which includes this assertion:

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I wanted to offer a few brief thoughts in response, because many of those who read this statement may not be aware of other perspectives on this issue. My comments here come in a larger context of admiration for, and solidarity with, Tim’s ministry.

What Did Lloyd-Jones Actually Say?

First, to the Lloyd-Jones quote. In context, he is dealing specifically with Genesis 3:

41yyGwvsrUL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg“This is not allegory. I have no gospel unless this is history. In addition, I have been pointing out that as well as being a literal historical record of something that actually happened, Genesis 3 is also, in the most amazing way, an account and a description of the very thing that happens to us one by one. For the astounding fact is that every one of us repeats the action of Adam and Eve” (Crossway, 2009, p. 80).

The fuller context reveals that Lloyd-Jones is not contrasting a 24-hour day view of Genesis 1 with, say, a day age, analogical day, intermittent day, gap theory, cosmic temple, or framework view. Rather, he is contrasting a historical view of the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 with an allegorical view that denies the fall’s historicity. (In passing, it is interesting that Lloyd-Jones does not regard a historical fall as the sole meaning of the text—rather, he combines this with a kind of “every person an Adam/Eve” emphasis.)

Isolating this one sentence of the Lloyd-Jones quote in relation to the Is Genesis History? movie is rhetorically powerful, but also misleading. Lloyd-Jones did not say, in fact, “I have no gospel unless Genesis is history.” Rather, he said, “I have no gospel unless this is history”—and the deleted word “this” in this sentence refers to the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Many outside the young-earth camp, of course, readily agree with Lloyd-Jones’ point.

My understanding is that Lloyd-Jones affirmed a 24-hour day view of Genesis 1, but I am not aware that he ever said or implied that if you don’t have 24-hour days in Genesis 1, you lose the gospel. In the writings I can find, Lloyd-Jones did not emphasize the length of the days in Genesis 1 as much as, more broadly, the historicity of Genesis 1-3, and his opposition to evolution (for example, see the quoted section here).

It’s Not Just Whether Genesis 1 Narrates History, But How It Does So

My broader concern here is that we not amalgamate “historical” with “24-hour days,” a point I addressed in my review of the film. The Bible employs a lavish variety of literary styles and genres to describe historical events—you cannot navigate very well through the wisdom and prophetical literature, for instance, without developing a sensitivity toward poetic and apocalyptic mediums of historical narration.

To attempt to gain sympathy for this point: when Exodus 31:17 says that “on the seventh day the Lord rested and was refreshed,” is this verse referring to a “historical” event? Suppose your friend is advocating for some particular species of process theology on the basis of a “historical” reading of this verse, which they take to require that God gets tired. ‘It’s what the text literally says,” they insist. How do you respond?

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It is one thing to simply disagree with your friend about whether Exodus 31:17 contains analogical and/or figurative language. It is another when your friend asserts that, on the basis of your differing interpretations, you have denied the text’s historicity.

Similarly, the debate about Genesis 1 is not merely whether it is history, but how it is history. Many Christians believe that Genesis 1 is recounting historical events, but not in a literalistic way. This typically does not entail the view that Genesis 1 is poetry—personally, I regard it as a kind of stylized prose. But the point is, it is unhelpful to equate one particular literary style of historical narration with historicity itself.

The Only Long-term Viable Option?

Tim quotes the article’s assertion that it is the author’s (Purifoy’s) “strongest conviction as a Reformed theologian that 6-day creation is the only longterm viable option for Reformed theology.” A few queries about this:

First, what does this assertion entail for Reformed stalwarts such as J. Gresham Machen, Charles Spurgeon, John Stott, B.B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, or Herman Bavinck? Are their Reformed credentials jeopardized for holding a different view? Is their theology not viable? We could add many more names to this list, of course, including a huge swath of the “Reformed resurgence” alive today.

Secondly, in the phrase, “strongest conviction as a Reformed theologian,” in what sense is this superlative adjective “strongest” being used? I worry what conclusions will be drawn from this language by readers not previously familiar with this topic.

Finally, what does Reformed theology have to do with this? If we lose the gospel without a 6-day view of Genesis 1 (the conclusion that many unstudied readers will likely derive from the Lloyd-Jones quote, as it is stated), shouldn’t maintaining this particular interpretation be equally important to, for instance, our Arminian brothers and sisters?

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I’m thinking hard these days at how to weigh various topics within the doctrine of creation, because I’m working on a project on Augustine’s view of creation. Augustine agonized over textual details such as the nature and sequence of light, the different meanings of day (Hebrew yom) throughout the passage (especially in Genesis 2:4-6), and the analogical description of divine activity such as rest. Ultimately, Augustine claimed that 24-hour days are “not at all like (the creation days), but very, very dissimilar,” and that “when we reflect upon the first establishment of creatures in the works of God from which he rested on the seventh day, we should not think of those days as being like these ones governed by the sun.”

If we have narrowed the bandwidth so much that not even St. Augustine of Hippo is acceptable, perhaps we should reconsider our criteria?

A Concluding Appeal

I am happy to peacefully co-exist within Christianity, and within the Reformed tradition, and within the Reformed resurgence, amidst our differences about the creation days. I think we can have unity in the gospel, worship around the gospel, and witness to the gospel, disagreements about this issue notwithstanding.

I would like to see us put our focus on what classical Christianity regarded as the central matters within the doctrine of creation: for example, creation ex nihilo, the goodness of creation, and the imago Dei. These issues distinguished Christianity from its rival alternatives, properly ordered the Creator/creation relation, and substantively contributed to Christian theology and worship.

The nature of the days in Genesis 1 is important, but it does not wield this level of significance. I respectfully ask my young-earth friends to consider whether it is helpful to make this a wedge issue among us. Such a posture functions to exclude many godly and orthodox Christians—not only leaders in the early church like Augustine, and leaders of the neo-evangelical movement like Carl Henry, and leaders in the Reformed resurgence like Tim Keller, but many, many people in the pews today, particularly in my (younger) generation.

I would appeal, for the sake of our partnership in the gospel, that we refrain from singling out any one particular view of the days of Genesis 1 as “the only long-term viable option” for faithful Christians, Reformed or otherwise.

13 Comments

  1. Another consideration is if God created the earth in maturity, it certainly means different age tests become very suspect. Then again, our wisdom is foolishness to God.

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  2. As an Arminian type, I can’t comment on the direction of reformed theology on this issue. But weren’t all theologians ‘young earth’ before 19c geology? Exegetically, a young earth is a much better fit. The problem has always been the very different timescales coming out of geology and evolutionary biology. I made the jump several years ago, but the more I learn about the different technical aspects the more satisfied I am with the move, though admittedly there is a lot of literature and lectures to wade through.

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    1. Hey Pete, pre-modern Christians had no reason to believe in an ancient universe, but many did not read the days of Genesis 1 as 24-hour periods of time. I talk about Augustine’s views on this here a bit: http://henrycenter.tiu.edu/2017/09/did-augustine-read-genesis-1-literally/

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      1. Agreed, though Augustine believed in instantaneous creation so it doesn’t help old earth explanations much by making creation week even faster. My personal take is not to be too dogmatic about 24 hours, since the text in Genesis 1 defines a ‘day’ as an evening/morning cycle, so as we are now a day length by that definition on the north pole would be 365*24 hours.

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  3. Thanks for the thoughtful words. Rhetoric such as Purifoy’s here bothers me as well, for several reasons. One, by using the phrase “6-day creation” to describe the calendar day view, he is almost preëmpting debate, since “six days” is the phraseology used in the Bible itself. It is thus the meaning of these words that is the very thing under consideration. Everyone from John Lennox to Jack Collins to Hugh Ross believes in six-day creation; to insinuate that they believe in anything else is unfair. Second, his statement that it is his strongest conviction as a Reformed Christian that this interpretation is the only viable option for Reformed theology must be (I hope) an exaggeration for effect. Is this conviction stronger even than his conviction that the calendar day view is true? Is it a stronger conviction than his conviction (which I assume he has) that penal substitutionary atonement is the only viable option for Reformed theology? If so, we are seeing the effects of tunnel vision, which is far to easy to fall into when very passionate about one particular point of theology.

    The truth is that even from a purely hermeneutical standpoint, the calendar day view presents problems. These need to be acknowledged and the strengths of other interpretations should likewise be acknowledged. The important thing as we approach Genesis 1 and 2 is to continually uphold its unerring accuracy and infallible trustworthiness.

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  4. I agree with you completely. Tim is a friend of mine, and a really solid guy, so I hemmed and hawed over writing something myself. You’ve hit the nail on the head, so thankfully I don’t have to add anything! Some time back I did a series of posts at my old blog detailing why there really is no consensus in the Reformed tradition on the issue. This was a key post with piles of quotations that you might find useful: https://ianhughclary.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/the-consensus-an-interlude/ I did others around this time speaking about Spurgeon, Pink, and the Puritans.
    Blessings!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Love to read your posts, brother.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hey Gavin, can you please recommend a couple books on the creation debate that you believe the most faithful to the text, but that is not too overtly scholarly.

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    1. Hey Chris, this is a great one on Adam and Eve: https://www.amazon.com/Did-Adam-Eve-Really-Exist/dp/1433524252

      Here is a good one on creation days: https://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Case-Old-Earth/dp/0801066190/

      Hope this helps.

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  7. […] it into the limelight as a dividing line. Gavin Ortland posted a wonderful review of that article here. He does an excellent job of explaining why he disagrees and why the issue of the age of the earth, […]

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  8. Gavin, Thank you for your post. As a scientist and a believer I have been ‘grieved’ in the past over Tim’s dogmatism over the age of the earth and related matters. One needn’t look far to find modern adherents of “progressive creationism” in addition to the reformed heavyweights you cited in your fine blog. I know you are aware of the recent popular publications that bring humility while seeking agreement and reconciliation within the church. Those like Tim who insist upon their view of creation erect an enormous and unnecessary roadblock to the Christian witness. I thank God that so many are open to the Gospel today while having understood that theology and science can be harmonized and that God has left not one but two sources of His revelation which have always been in agreement.

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  9. […] Is 6-Day Creation the Only Long-term Viable Option? […]

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  10. Heard you on The Ride Home with John and Kathy yesterday. Thanks for the reasonable response.

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