Monday, June 21, 2010

BioLogos and the downgrade of Evangelicalism

Over at the Pyromaniacs blog, Phil Johnson has turned our attention to the group that calls itself "BioLogos", best known for its "role" in Bruce Waltke's ouster from RTS. This group supposedly is set up to show how "science" and Evangelicalism can coexist, and thus it tends to promote some form of theistic evolution.

It seems that BioLogos in its bid to become "scientifically respectable" has decided to throw out the doctrine of inerrancy, as we can see in their latest posts here, here and here. The first two posts repeat the same liberal nonsense of contradictions in the Bible, and conveniently make the author's (Kenton Sparks) reasoning the final arbiter of what seems credible. The third post in its focus on historical theology can very much be challenged historically, as we shall do so now with Sparks' terrible misquotation and misrepresentation of the actual teachings of John Calvin.

In the first post, Sparks claimed:

As the great Christian exegete John Calvin said long ago, “it seems impossible and opposed to common sense that there are waters above the heavens.” Calvin admitted, nevertheless, that this is what the text says. He further concluded that this was not correct and probably reflected how ancient, uneducated Israelites understood the structure of the cosmos.

This is repeated again in the third post where Sparks claims:

I have mentioned already that he [John Calvin] understood the Genesis cosmology, with its heavenly waters, as an ancient and errant cosmology. In this case God and Moses merely “accommodated” their writings to the confused viewpoints of the ancient audience.

Let us however look at the original source. What exactly did Calvin teach about the passage cited by Sparks? On the CCEL resource page, we find the whole teaching of Calvin in context:

6 Let there be a firmament. In the next verse he changes the word to “expansio”. “Fecit expansionem.” — “He made an expanse.” The work of the second day is to provide an empty space around the circumference of the earth, that heaven and earth may not be mixed together. For since the proverb, ‘to mingle heaven and earth,’ denotes the extreme of disorder, this distinction ought to be regarded as of great importance. Moreover, the word רקיע (rakia) comprehends not only the whole region of the air, but whatever is open above us: as the word heaven is sometimes understood by the Latins. Thus the arrangement, as well of the heavens as of the lower atmosphere, is called רקיע (rakia) without discrimination between them, but sometimes the word signifies both together sometimes one part only, as will appear more plainly in our progress. I know not why the Greeks have chosen to render the word ςτερέωμα, which the Latins have imitated in the term, firmamentum; for literally it means expanse. And to this David alludes when he says that ‘the heavens are stretched out by God like a curtain,’ (Psalm 104:2.) If any one should inquire whether this vacuity did not previously exist, I answer, however true it may be that all parts of the earth were not overflowed by the waters; yet now, for the first time, a separation was ordained, whereas a confused admixture had previously existed. Moses describes the special use of this expanse, to divide the waters from the waters from which word arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned. The things, therefore, which he relates, serve as the garniture of that theater which he places before our eyes. Whence I conclude, that the waters here meant are such as the rude and unlearned may perceive. The assertion of some, that they embrace by faith what they have read concerning the waters above the heavens, notwithstanding their ignorance respecting them, is not in accordance with the design of Moses. And truly a longer inquiry into a matter open and manifest is superfluous. We see that the clouds suspended in the air, which threaten to fall upon our heads, yet leave us space to breathe. They who deny that this is effected by the wonderful providence of God, are vainly inflated with the folly of their own minds. We know, indeed that the rain is naturally produced; but the deluge sufficiently shows how speedily we might be overwhelmed by the bursting of the clouds, unless the cataracts of heaven were closed by the hand of God. Nor does David rashly recount this among His miracles, that God layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters, (Psalm 104:3;) and he elsewhere calls upon the celestial waters to praise God, (Psalm 148:4.) Since, therefore, God has created the clouds, and assigned them a region above us, it ought not to be forgotten that they are restrained by the power of God, lest, gushing forth with sudden violence, they should swallow us up: and especially since no other barrier is opposed to them than the liquid and yielding, air, which would easily give way unless this word prevailed, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters.’ Yet Moses has not affixed to the work of this day the note that God saw that it was good: perhaps because there was no advantage from it till the terrestrial waters were gathered into their proper place, which was done on the next day, and therefore it is there twice repeated.

The quoted part can be shown in a briefer form as follows:

6 Let there be a firmament. ... Moses describes the special use of this expanse, to divide the waters from the waters from which word arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned. The things, therefore, which he relates, serve as the garniture of that theater which he places before our eyes. Whence I conclude, that the waters here meant are such as the rude and unlearned may perceive. ... We see that the clouds suspended in the air, which threaten to fall upon our heads, yet leave us space to breathe. They who deny that this is effected by the wonderful providence of God, are vainly inflated with the folly of their own minds. We know, indeed that the rain is naturally produced; but the deluge sufficiently shows how speedily we might be overwhelmed by the bursting of the clouds, unless the cataracts of heaven were closed by the hand of God. Nor does David rashly recount this among His miracles, that God layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters, (Psalm 104:3;) and he elsewhere calls upon the celestial waters to praise God, (Psalm 148:4.) Since, therefore, God has created the clouds, and assigned them a region above us, it ought not to be forgotten that they are restrained by the power of God, lest, gushing forth with sudden violence, they should swallow us up: and especially since no other barrier is opposed to them than the liquid and yielding, air, which would easily give way unless this word prevailed, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters.’ Yet Moses has not affixed to the work of this day the note that God saw that it was good: perhaps because there was no advantage from it till the terrestrial waters were gathered into their proper place, which was done on the next day, and therefore it is there twice repeated. (Bold added to highlight phrase quoted by Sparks)

In his exposition of verse 6, Calvin tells us that having a water expense seemed opposed to common sense. He then tells us because it seemed stupid, therefore some people resort to allegorizing to explain it away. He then says that yet to his mind (as opposed to those who engage in allegorizing), he thinks that the teaching of the water expense is "but the visible form of the world", which is to say there really is a physical water expense. We can see this in the rain especially as it came in the Flood of Moses' time (the Deluge). Calvin furthermore quoted Ps. 104:3 and Ps. 148:4 as evidence of the water placed in the heavens.

From this look at the exposition of John Calvin on Gen. 1:6 in context, we can see that Sparks' interpretation turns Calvin's teaching on its head. The phrase highlighted by Sparks is the position that Cain is setting up to demolish. Furthermore, when Calvin states that the book of Creation is the "book of the unlearned" written so that the "rude and unlearned may perceive", he wrote that not in a derogatory manner to say with Sparks that the teaching of the watery expense "was not correct and probably reflected how ancient, uneducated Israelites understood the structure of the cosmos". Rather, Calvin mentioned that in a complimentary manner in saying how this book of creation was written as "the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception", such that even the "rude and unlearned" may truly learn from this book. Instead of denigrating the Israelites as stupid "stone age" folks, Calvin was actually teaching about God's condescension in revealing truth to even simple folks.

Sparks in this case contradicts the teaching of John Calvin. In fact reading Calvin's commentary on Gen. 1 would show that Calvin held to a six-day creation. If this is the best that Theistic Evolution scholarship can come up with, they are clutching at straws.

What I would like to focus on however is not so much on the terrible scholarship that Sparks has come up with in these three posts of his, but rather the downgrade of Evangelicalism that BioLogos represents. While slippery slope arguments are normally hard to establish, things start to get really fishy when we see so-called Evangelicals reject inerrancy after their embrace of evolution. Haven't we learn by now that embracing evolution has always put one on the road to apostasy? For the New Evangelicals both traditional and YRR-type, how much apostasy needs to occur from within the camp before you start to question the ministry philosophy that allows heresy to go unchallenged and not anathemized but merely disagreed on? It truly is sad to see history repeating itself over and over again.

2 comments:

Evangelical books said...

Hi Daniel

I cannot comment on BioLogos, but Calvin did hold a geocentric theory of the cosmos - which will raise the eyebrows of many scientists today. Calvin was, after all, a product of his age.

Thankfully, Calvin did advocate this so-called "accomodation theory" - which has since filtered down to the Puritan age and beyond.

Sincerely,
Jenson

PuritanReformed said...

Hi Jenson,

I think there has been some dispute over the idea that Calvin hold to Geocentrism, though I have not really looked at the matter much.

As for the "accomodation theory", I guess it depends on what you mean by it.