[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:
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:
“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?
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?
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.