By Louis F. DeBoer
The struggle between faith and reason, that is, between Christianity and rationalism, has been going on ever since Satan tempted Eve in the Garden. Against her faith in the goodness and veracity of God, Satan postulated rational arguments in favor of eating the forbidden fruit. After all it was good fruit, it was pleasant to the eye, it was able to make one wise, and why would a good God deny it to one of his creatures? Eve took the path of “reason,” and forsook her faith in God, and the consequences plunged the human race into such ruin that only the blood of the Son of God was able to undo it. The battle between faith and reason, between theology and science, has been raging ever since.
Does this mean that Christians are opposed to reason? Not at all. The Christian faith is a rational faith. That is, Christianity isn’t an exercise in mysticism or superstition. Christians don’t check their rational faculties at the door before entering church or before opening the Bible. In fact Christians use reason to determine what the Bible says. They use logic to deduce what doctrines the Scriptures teach. And having determined what the Bible says, they accept it as true by faith. The issue isn’t that men use their faculties as rational human beings to study what the Bible says. The problem is that unbelieving men use their rational faculties to determine whether the statements of Scripture are true and whether they are to accept or reject them. The problem is that man is totally depraved in his being, that is, all his faculties are, and all his being is, corrupted by the fall into sin, including his reason. The notion of an objective scholar honestly weighing the credibility of Biblical statements is a myth. As Paul expressed it concerning unregenerate man,
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” (Romans 1:18 NKJV)
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
Man’s reason is untrustworthy and apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, men will use their rational faculties to suppress and resist the clear teachings of Scripture.
At the time of the Great Protestant Reformation the battle lines were clearly drawn on this issue. The Reformers took their stand on the word of God. The Reformers had faith that the Scriptures were the infallible word of God. It was from that basis that they reasoned out the doctrines of the Christian faith and confronted Rome. At the same time there was a parallel movement based on reason called the Enlightenment. It taught that man’s reason was a sufficient tool, that if applied to the world’s problems, such as war, crime, disease, etc., could perfect the race and construct a better world. Western civilization has been witnessing the struggle between the two ever since. In a sinful world populated by the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve this state of affairs is to be expected, and by itself is not a great danger to the Christian faith and the church of Jesus Christ. It is when the two become intertwined that disaster looms.
A good example of this is the development of higher criticism in the rationalistic milieu of nineteenth century Germany. The anti-Christian rationalists that produced the bloody cataclysm of the French Revolution made no attempt to hide their hatred of the Christian faith. They went so far as to institute a ten day week, so as to completely abolish the Biblical Sabbath. This type of rationalism may create martyrs, but does not subvert the faith of the Lord’s people. If anything, it strengthens that faith as the battle lines are clearly drawn. In Germany, however, by contrast, many of the rationalists were professors in theological schools. They discarded faith for reason. They postulated that the Scriptures were like any other book and its contents had to be tested for veracity by the tools of reason. The “higher standards” of science and reason would sit in judgment on God’s word and determine whether it was worthy of being believed. Only when “reason” had declared it to be credible would God’s word be accepted. God was in the dock, and his words were on trial. Man, aided by his reason, would determine what should be believed. Like Eve in the Garden, man would determine for himself what was true. But although these higher critics masqueraded as Christians and posed as teachers of theology, the façade was beginning to wear rather thin. Most Christians were not deceived. The battle lines were swiftly redrawn and higher critics were soon anathema in orthodox Christian circles. The real problems came when persons with impeccable credentials as orthodox Christian scholars began to parrot the “rationalistic” line. One such example is the renowned Princeton theologian, B. B. Warfield.
Warfield studied in Germany and was exposed to the techniques of their rationalistic scholars. The idea was to be current in the latest scholarship. Unfortunately, God does not necessarily bless such rationalizations for sitting at the feet of heretics, and Warfield wound up adopting their methodology. Warfield’s famed defense of the Scriptures was actually an exercise in higher criticism. He postulated that the Bible should be treated like any other book, such as the Koran or the Book of Mormon, or the writings of Aristotle or Shakespeare, and should be tested for veracity by the tools of reason. The only difference was that Warfield concluded that the Bible passed muster and was a credible book. Warfield then further concluded that since the Bible passed the test of reason as a trustworthy book, and since it claimed to be inspired, therefore it must be inspired. Faith had nothing to do with it. The Bible was now propped up by the conclusions of science and reason. The foundations for our belief in the Scriptures were now settled in man’s reason. A century later the doctrine of an inspired, inerrant Bible is in tatters even in evangelical circles. Many evangelical seminaries no longer even teach that position.
By a similar path the heresy of evolution made its entrance into the churches. Originally, evolution was the doctrine of atheists. The original evolutionists were atheists, like Huxley, and Darwin himself, who abandoned his profession of the Christian faith under the weight of his biological conclusions. It was those with the credentials of orthodoxy who imported this heresy into the church of Jesus Christ. Warfield himself came to accept theistic evolution, as not only possible, but probable.
On what does the Christian doctrine of divine creation really rest? Paul tells us. He declares, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” (Hebrews 11:3). Paul says we believe this by faith. No man was an eyewitness to the creation. Neither can we prove the Genesis account by scientific argument. We believe it by faith. We believe it because God, who witnesses to his great work of creation, reveals it to us in his word. Paul didn’t say that he had the Mosaic account checked out and it passed muster. He didn’t say that he ran it by Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates, and they deemed it a credible account compatible with current philosophical and scientific thought. Paul believed it by faith.
But, what happens when people don’t have the faith to believe what God revealed through Moses? For an unbeliever this is no problem. He can exalt his faith in man’s reason and scoff at the Mosaic account as mere superstition. This kind of opposition of “science falsely so called” is not the least bit dangerous. Neither is the next step, when an unbelieving teacher in a theologically liberal institution lacks faith in the Genesis account. He has a lot of leeway in how to assess the Biblical testimony, since he is not expected to uphold the inspiration and inerrancy of the Genesis account. He can pick and choose what he believes and how he interprets the Biblical data. He can go on undaunted with his rationalistic interpretations safely beyond effective challenge. However, it is a different story in theologically conservative circles where the Scriptures are still honored as the inspired, inerrant word of God. What does a scholar who lacks the faith to believe Moses do when he is teaching at an evangelical or conservative institution? He cannot reject the Genesis account out of hand, yet he is unwilling to believe it. His real faith is in reason. His real faith is in Darwin. He has a problem. Somehow, he is compelled to try to reconcile his rationalistic conclusions with the testimony of God’s word. Somehow, he has to make them both say the same thing. He has to subvert the truth of God’s word and corrupt the Lord’s people into believing that God didn’t really say what we think he said, and what the Lord’s people and the Christian church thought he said for the better part of 4000 years. This is the most dangerous form of the battle between faith and reason because it takes place inside the very citadels of orthodoxy.
Let us examine a few of the ploys that unbelieving teachers have resorted to when teaching about the doctrine of creation amongst the orthodox. Let us examine what have they postulated in an attempt to reconcile creation by divine fiat approximately 6000 years ago with “creation”—if we can even use that term—by a naturalistic process over millions or even billions of years.
- First we have the Gap Theory. This postulates an indefinite time interval between the events of Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. This allows for the existence of the interminable geologic ages so indispensable to the apostles of evolution.
- Secondly, we have the Day-Age Theory. This accomplishes the same thing as the above theory, by postulating that the Hebrew word yom doesn’t really mean a solar day as it does everywhere else in the Scriptures. Rather these days are said to refer to an indefinite intervals of time that can conveniently correspond to the geologic ages of the evolutionist.
- Both of these compromises with unbelief pave the way for the third one, Theistic Evolution. This theory directly gives the lie to God, denying that he spake and it was, that he commanded and it came into being. Rejecting God’s own testimony to his power in the work of creation it reduces him to a supervisory role in a naturalistic process that took eons of time to gradually produce the world in which we now live. It totally destroys the testimony that what God wrought was perfect and far removed from this present fallen creation groaning under the effects of his righteous curse on sin, and intimates that it took God a billion years of effort to produce the ruined creation that we now see.
- And finally, we get to the issue before us. They teach something that is termed the Framework Hypothesis. We will deal with the particulars of this specific heresy in a moment. Suffice it to say that it is the latest subterfuge by which heretics in sheep’s clothing pretend to be orthodox while denying the Biblical doctrine of creation.
It is important to note that all these theories have one thing in common. They do not spring from honest attempts to exegete, understand, and teach God’s word. They all approach the text with a theological axe to grind. They all have a problem that they need to resolve. The problem is that they lack the faith to believe the straightforward testimony of scripture and must compel it to say something it doesn’t in order to justify their unbelief and their rationalistic conclusions concerning the origins of the universe. That is, all these theories have to be taught; they do not naturally spring from the text, and people cannot be expected to adopt them without the external influence of a false teacher.
The Framework Hypothesis
What is the framework hypothesis? Unlike some of the other theories that compromise the truth and run interference for the heresy of evolution, this particular error is much harder to define. God is not the author of confusion, but Satan certainly is, and this confusing and nebulous theory undoubtedly has its origins in the “father of lies.” In fact it is so confusing and difficult to understand that even its critics are sometimes baffled as to exactly what it is saying. The best summary of this grotesque theory is provided by Herman Hanko of the Protestant Reformed Church.
The theory goes something like this. The literary framework, by means of which the work of creation is described, is merely a device to give some rather general ideas about the origin of this world without in any way giving us information on the length of time in which God’s work of creation was done, in what order God created the creatures belonging to creation, and the manner in which God created them. The days are not literal days, but are a device used which points us to two groups of three, two triads set over against each other. There is a relationship between the two triads and a correlation can be found between day one and day four, day two and day five, day three and day six. What Genesis 1 is trying to teach us is not how God created the world, not in how much time he created the world, but only that the creation is divided into three separate spheres each with its own rulers. There is the sphere of space, which is ruled by the sun, moon, stars, and planets. There is the sphere of the sea, which is ruled by fish and birds. There is the sphere of dry land which is ruled by animals and man. That is about as much as the creation narrative tells us. We must not look to Genesis 1 to learn how God created things or in how much time He created things.
If one would ask how God created all things, the answer of the Framework Hypothesis is: God created all things by “natural providence.” Although, in the book mentioned above, little more is said about what is meant by natural providence, it becomes clear that the authors mean God’s ordinary way of working in His creation, that is, according to so-called natural laws. Hence, the creation came into being through evolutionary processes, which processes are still in operation today in the creation. Natural development over billions of years explains the origin of the creation.
As if this was not confusing enough, the theory contains even more perplexing elements. Again let us listen to Herman Hanko as he describes the further follies of this theory.
The second aspect of his theory is called two-register cosmogony. Now I have to admit that I read this material a number of times, but was unable to figure out exactly what is meant. It is very complicated. It is very abstract. It is very far removed from the simple statements of Genesis 1. That in itself ought to send up warning signals to anyone who loves God’s Word. What is meant, apparently is this. Genesis 1 is not telling us what happened here upon earth during the creation week, but this chapter in the Bible is telling us what happened in heaven. There is a heavenly register and an earthly register. All Genesis 1 is telling us is that there is some reality of which we know very little, which takes place in heaven where God dwells, but which somehow has some kind of an effect here below which we are able to see and to observe only through the metaphorical language of Genesis 1.
The Refutation of This Theory
It is not the purpose of this article to go into a detailed exposition of this theory. For our purposes the above overview of this theory will suffice. Similarly, it is not my purpose to attempt a detailed, comprehensive, scholarly refutation of this theory. It is not the details and the individual arguments of this theory, as they were worked out successively by Noordzij, Ridderbos, Kline, and their disciples, that concern us. Our concern will be directed at the pernicious effects, and the destructive tendencies, of any compromise with, or acceptance of, this theory. For those who are interested in a concise and helpful refutation of the details of this theory I recommend an article by Rev. Frank Walker of the RCUS (Reformed Church in the United States). It is available on line at http://www.spindleworks.com/library/walker/framework02.htm. I see no point in attempting to duplicate the excellent work of Rev. Walker and am happy to commend the forthright stand of the RCUS in opposing this heresy.
The Dangers of This Theory
There are at least two significant dangers in trifling with this theory or in beginning to lend it any credence. The first is the most obvious, it is a direct attack on the Scriptural doctrine of creation. The second is that it constitutes a comprehensive attack on the doctrine of Scripture. We will deal with them in order, starting with the doctrine of creation.
It is not for nothing that God in his wisdom begins his inscripturated word with the doctrine of creation. This doctrine is the foundation for all that follows and without this foundation many other doctrines are weakened or logically imperiled. The Biblical doctrine of creation teaches us that there was a beginning and there will be, by implication, an end to history. Evolution, with its millions and billions of years obscures the beginning and belies that there will be a definite end. At the beginning man was made in the image of God. Man was made by God, for God’s purposes, and is accountable to his Maker. An evolving species of man is necessarily imperfect, has no special accountability to the process that brought him into being, and need not be concerned about his imperfections, as he is a work in progress that is still evolving to higher planes of being. He is certainly not in need of salvation. Additionally, an obscured beginning destroys the historicity of Adam and Eve, and therefore the reality of the Fall. Man, therefore, not only has no need of salvation, but the very basis of that salvation has been destroyed. The Scriptures teach that Adam was a representative man, a federal head of the race, who stood for us all in a probationary test in the Garden of Eden under what is called the Covenant of Works. When he sinned he plunged not only himself, but all his posterity, the entire human race, into sin and misery. All men, descended from Adam by ordinary generation, inherited his sinful nature and came into this world as those who are born in sin, conceived in iniquity, and under the righteous condemnation of a holy God who is of purer eyes than to behold evil. Christ is set forth as a Second Adam, who represented all his people, his sheep, the elect. In their stead he lived a perfect sinless life, rendering full obedience to the law and fulfilling the Covenant of Works for them. Additionally, by his atoning death he paid the price of their sins and delivered them from the wrath of God to come on sinful men. Without the historical reality of the first Adam and the reality of the fall into sin, there is neither a perceived need for salvation, nor a possibility of logically maintaining the Biblical doctrine of salvation by the finished work of Jesus Christ. The doctrine of creation as set forth at the beginning of the Genesis record is truly foundational for all that follows. And of course, if the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2 can be swept away in a mist of allegory and literary devices and poetic images, then the events of Genesis 3 are also in jeopardy. Without the reality of Genesis 3 and its account of the fall into sin, much of the rest of Scripture has no purpose, indeed the entire New Testament, and particularly the Gospels have become immaterial. Their logical necessity was based on the reality of the fall and the need of our deliverance from that condition and its consequences.
This article is not intended to be a treatise on the doctrine of creation, but one can see how crucial and foundational this doctrine is. Without the Biblical doctrine of creation, setting forth the power and wisdom of God, establishing his sovereignty over the universe, demonstrating the purposes of history to show forth his glory, and setting forth man’s original glorious estate, his present wretched condition and just condemnation, the Bible becomes a meaningless book. That is why liberals have ceased to believe in the Scriptures in any meaningful way. Christ is reduced to a teacher of ethics and a moral example. The great doctrines of sin and salvation, of ruin and recovery, of condemnation and redemption are all absent in the theology of liberalism. Treating the Genesis creation account as myth, has gutted the entire Biblical system of doctrine. This is the evil fruit of all schemes such as the Framework Hypothesis. They emasculate and destroy the Christian faith. This is no innocent error, no scholarly difference of opinion, no mere matter of interpretation. This is a frontal attack on the foundations of Christianity. Where it succeeds the ruin of the faith will be complete.
Secondly, this theory constitutes a comprehensive frontal attack on the doctrine of Scripture. There are three issues here that deal with our view of Scripture. The first question is, “Are the Scriptures reliable?” Secondly, we have the question, “Are the Scriptures authoritative?” And finally the third questions is, “Are the Scriptures understandable?” The third question has to do with what is called the perspicuity of Scripture. We will deal with all three issues in order.
By reliability I mean, “Do the Scriptures say what they mean and mean what they say?” Are the statements of Scripture trustworthy? The religions of the ancient world had many famous shrines with renowned oracles. These oracles were notorious for the duplicity of their sayings. When Croesus, King of Lydia contemplated war with Persia he consulted an oracle. He was told if he went to war a great kingdom would fall. He went to war and was defeated and lost his kingdom, fulfilling the oracle’s prophecy in an unintended way. The oracles were duplicitous. Their statements could be taken more than one way. The myths of the Greek and Roman gods abound in these types of mystical sayings that seemed to mean one thing and ultimately turned out to mean something radically different. The sayings were untrustworthy. Those who followed the apparent meaning could come to ruin. These statements turned out not to be reliable.
The question before us is are the Scriptures more of the same. The question is, can the simple and sincere Christian who accepts the statements of Scripture at face value, have confidence that what he believes is the truth? Or is the Bible a mysterious book, with mystical meanings embedded in it? Is it composed of duplicitous double-entendres, designed to deceive the simple reader and lure him onto a false path? Paul didn’t think so. He said to Timothy, “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15) Paul himself had total confidence in the word of God. He didn’t fear that at the last judgment it would all turn out to have actually meant something totally different than what he had always believed. He said, “…for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12b) The testimony of Scripture is clear. The testimony of Scripture is that it is reliable. The testimony of Scripture is that if we put our confidence in God’s word and believe what it says we will never be ashamed or come to confusion of face. The Scriptures are reliable.
Now contrast the above with the logical ramifications of the Framework Hypothesis. If this theory is true then the Bible is not a reliable and trustworthy book. If this theory is true then the statements of the Bible are no better than the duplicitous and deceptive oracles of the ancient pagans. If this theory is true then the clear statements of Genesis 1 and 2 do not mean what sincere Christians have believed them to mean for the last three and one half millennia. We have all been deceived. Moses wasn’t even talking about what happened here on earth at the beginning of the world. He was actually talking about what was going on in heaven, but didn’t bother to tell us. And furthermore he wasn’t talking about real days, and he didn’t intend for anyone to take his statements at face value. He was only waxing poetic with literary devices. If this theory is true then the Bible has become a meaningless book. It has become a book that can mean anything and everything. It can mean whatever one wants it to mean. This theory is an attack on Scripture because, if it is true, then reading the Bible becomes a waste of time. If the Bible no longer has any fixed meanings and has become so plastic that it can be molded to suit the reader’s fancy, then as an absolute standard of truth, as a guide to our feet and a lamp to our path it is totally useless. This theory can only conclude in the total destruction of the Bible as our only standard of faith and practice. Nobody in their right mind would trust their eternal souls to the words of a book that has to be interpreted according to the tenets of this destructive theory.
Secondly, this theory is an attack on the authority of Scripture. This theory does not proceed from faith in God’s word. It does not ask, “What has God said that we may believe it.” It does not see God’s word as authoritative. Rather it proceeds from the point of view, “What shall God’s word be allowed to say?” And the answer is that it will not be allowed to say anything that is contrary to the conclusions of man’s reason. As the proponents of this theory themselves have stated it, “We must regard any creation account or narrative of human events that clearly contradicts scientific and or historical data as erroneous, mythical, or fictional.” Please note what this is saying! It says that God’s word is not authoritative. Rather man’s reason and scientific conclusions are authoritative. And when they come into conflict it is God’s word that must yield and conform itself to man’s thoughts. God’s word is subject to man’s review. God’s word will only be allowed to speak that which man will permit it. Man’s word is authoritative, and God’s word is on trial. God’s word will be tested for conformity to man’s thinking and if found lacking will be condemned as either “erroneous, mythical, or fictional.” This theory is a frontal attack on the authority of Scripture. If this theory is accepted, no portion of Scripture, no Biblical statement, will be safe from man’s review and correction. In 3500 years of church history since Moses penned the creation account under divine inspiration, no man has ever read it and intuitively discerned the elements of this theory. It is obvious that one has to have drunk deeply of the well of human reason and evolutionary science to begin to discern the elements of this theory in the words of Moses. This theory edits God’s word to make it conform to man’s. This theory is an attack on the authority of Scripture.
And finally, this theory is an attack on the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. The question before us is, “Are the Scriptures understandable?” The question more specifically is, “Can the ordinary person understand the Scriptures?” This question is of great practical importance. Historically it has determined the fate of the Bible. The Roman Catholic church denied the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. They believed that the ordinary person could not, unassisted, properly understand the Scriptures. They believed that the ordinary person reading the Scriptures without the guidance of the church would fall into all manner of grievous errors and heresies. They therefore prohibited the people from reading the Scriptures. They went further and prohibited the distribution of the Scriptures to the laity. And of course they prohibited all translation of the Scriptures into the language of the people, authorizing only Jerome’s Vulgate, which was in the approved ecclesiastical language, Latin.
By contrast the Reformers believed in the perspicuity of Scriptures. They encouraged their followers to read the word of God. Luther translated the Scriptures from the original languages into German. Calvin proclaimed the Scriptures in French. Everywhere Protestant religion was established the Scriptures were translated into the language of the people and distributed as widely as possible. In 1611 the Authorized Version was commissioned in Protestant England. A few years later at the Synod of Dort, the Dutch Calvinists approve the Statenvertaling. The Westminster Confession of Faith approved by an assembly of English and Scotch commissioners, approved of the translation of the Scriptures:
But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God who have right unto and interest in the Scriptures and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope. (WCOF, Chapter 1, Section VIII)
…and announced their belief in the perspicuity of Scripture:
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves nor alike clear unto all, yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other that not only the learned but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (WCOF, Chapter 1, Section VII)
Now the whole Protestant Reformation, based upon the Scriptures is imperiled by this pernicious theory before us. For it is clear, that if this theory is true, then ordinary men are incapable of understanding the Scriptures. This theory invites us to return to Rome. It declares what Rome has always declared. Rome historically held that men were incapable of understanding the Scriptures, that they could only be understood by the highly trained Doctors of Theology of the Church, and that the laity should simply receive the interpretations of Scripture from their mouth. If this theory is allowed to stand then the praiseworthy practice of the Bereans becomes an impossibility. For Luke commended them as the Scriptures say…
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11)
As Paul preached Christ to these Jews of the dispersion, they searched the Old Testament Scriptures to see if what Paul was proclaiming about the Messiah was true. Did Paul rebuke them? Did he tell them they should receive his doctrine because of his apostolic authority? No! He praised them for checking his teachings by the standard of the word of God. Paul was commending them for their commitment to the Scriptures as the only standard of their faith. And he was commending them for exercising what we now call the Protestant right of private judgment.
Let’s imagine Nordzij, Ridderbos, and Kline coming to a modern day Berea and preaching the Framework Hypothesis. The people are confused and perplexed upon hearing this strange theory and respond with Biblical arguments.
Lay Person: But doesn’t Moses say these events happened on successive days?
Framework Theologian: No, no, no! Moses doesn’t even mean a real day. He is merely using the concept of a day as a figurative device.
Lay Person: But God says, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” If the Sabbath days are regular days, why not the six days of creation?
Framework Theologian: You have to understand that literary modes of speaking cannot always be taken literally. Moses may be making a play on words here. The meaning of a day in Genesis 1 and 2 is different from its meaning when used as a Sabbath day. Different literary genres have to be interpreted in their own unique way.
Lay Person: But doesn’t Moses mean a real day? He speaks of morning and evening.
Framework Theologian: No, no, no! You still don’t get it. Moses wasn’t even talking about what was happening on earth. This is all a figurative representation of what was taking place in heaven when the universe was formed.
Lay Person: But where does Moses say that all this is recounting things in heaven? And what is this heavenly register business? I don’t understand it.
Framework Theologian: Trust me, it’s there. I’ve studied this in depth. It’s hard for the untrained interpreter to discern these things. Figurative schemes and literary devices can be confusing and hard to understand, but all three of us are experts in this area and we all have concluded that this is what Moses really meant.
Lay Person: But why do you say that all this took millions and millions of years?
Framework Theologian: Because God works through natural means.
Lay Person: But doesn’t Moses say it all happened instantaneously when God spoke? The Bible says, “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light…” That doesn’t sound like it took ages and ages to happen.
Framework Theologian: No! No! No! You don’t get it. This is a literary device. You can’t deduce chronological data from this kind of language.
Lay Person: But the whole pattern is one of God speaking and it happened. Repeatedly Moses says “And God said let…and it was so.”
Framework Theologian: Again, you’re confusing what God is saying in heaven with what was taking place on earth. Figurative language from the heavenly register can’t be used as a basis for making scientific conclusions with respect to what happened here on earth.
Lay Person: If this is all true, how can we ordinary folks begin to understand what the Bible is really saying?
Framework Theologian: The Bible is a very complex book with many different literary genres that are all subject to various modes of interpretation. This is why we spend so much time studying these passages. You really need the assistance of theological experts to decipher some of these passages. My book is very helpful. It is available on the book table at the back.
And thus, by such “fair words” and deceptive speeches, is the Reformation undone, the word of God taken away from the people, and their right of private judgment replaced with a slavish subjection to the theological experts of the church.
Finally, why is all the above important? Why is it necessary to take a hard line against this and other associated errors? Why do we not deal with it as just another error between brethren, but condemn it as a heresy that must be rooted out and its proponents expelled from the church as false teachers? After all, we are all imperfect. We all have, at best, partial, incomplete, and somewhat erroneous views of the whole system of divine truth that is revealed in the Scriptures. Even the Apostle Paul stated, “We all see through a glass darkly,” and as the Apostle Peter put it, in the Scriptures there are some things “that are hard to be understood.”
What is always needful is to distinguish between error and heresy. Error, even theological error, is part of the human condition. None of us are inspired, and even the Apostles were subject to error; only their writings were inspired and inerrant. Error is serious enough. God’s truth is so valuable that the Psalmist says it is sweeter than the honey and the honeycomb, and more to be desired than much fine gold. For that reason, because faithfulness to Scripture, and adhering to God’s truth is so important, it has resulted in Christians separating from brethren in the Lord because the truth was paramount. If error is serious enough to warrant the existence of many denominations as separate branches of the Church of Jesus Christ, what can we say about heresy? What is heresy? How do we define heresy? Heresy is error of such a degree that its acceptance destroys the Christian faith. Heresy is error elevated to a level where its logical ramifications are totally subversive of the Christian faith. Heresy places its adherents outside the pale of orthodox Christianity. Heresy places its proponents in the classification of false teachers.
Let’s briefly examine a Biblical example of this distinction. The Judaizers were heretics. They were corrupting the very heart of the gospel. They were denying justification by faith and saying that it was necessary to keep the laws of Moses to achieve salvation. This struck at the very sufficiency of the finished work of Jesus Christ. Paul did not mince words. He sternly warned the Galatians saying…
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)
On those who would corrupt the gospel Paul called down God’s curse. Elsewhere he called them things that clearly intimated he did not think of them as fellow Christians, calling them evil workers and dogs.
Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:2-3)
In Deuteronomy Moses used the term “dogs” to refer to homosexual prostitutes. Paul, as I said, did not mince words. Heretics and corrupters of the gospel were under God’s curse and could justly be vilified with the strongest language. They are not fellow believers. He called God’s judgment, even the death penalty, upon them saying…
I would they were even cut off which trouble you. (Galatians 5:12)
Contrast the above with his attitude towards other Christians who were basically doctrinally sound, but rejected Paul and refused to acknowledge his apostolic authority, while he was languishing in a Roman prison for the cause of the gospel. In spite of the fact that they were adding to his afflictions as he put it, he still rejoiced that Christ was preached.
The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:16-18)
These men were envious of Paul and were preaching in a spirit of rivalry. They were hurting Paul. Note the three aspects of his response. First, he points out their error. Paul never overlooks error; truth is paramount. Secondly, he still considers them brethren. He doesn’t consider them as such that must be rejected, placed under God’s condemnation, and cut off. Thirdly, he rejoices in the good aspects of their ministry; Christ is being proclaimed. These men may have been in error, but they were not heretics. They were erring brethren, but still brethren.
And that brings us to our real point. How are we to look at the apostles of this new theory? How are we to receive the teachers of the Framework Hypothesis? As erring brethren or as heretics? Psalm 12 says, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Now the doctrine of creation is the foundation of the whole Biblical system of doctrine. And a correct view of Scripture is the basis for our understanding of all Bible truth. If these things, these foundational things, are destroyed then we might well ask, what are the righteous to do? They are to defend the foundations. And how can they do this? By saying that this theory is an error between brethren? By saying that this is a matter of interpretation of Scripture? No! That would obviously not do. That would be an invitation to let this doctrine breed in the bosom of the church. The only way the foundations can be defended is to identify this theory for what it is, a pernicious and destructive heresy; to identify it as a heresy that must be extirpated from the church; to identify its teachers as false teachers that must be excommunicated from the body of Christ. Anything less is to stand by while the foundations are destroyed.
In conclusion, what more can we say? The Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and responds, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” The purpose of man is to glorify God. Man’s purpose is to live to the honor and glory of God. The Lutheran reformation was centered on the doctrine of salvation. The Calvinist reformation was centered on the doctrine of worship. For Calvinists, God’s glory had precedence over man’s need of salvation, and man’s salvation served a greater end than simply man’s deliverance. It was all to the greater glory of God. And consistently throughout the Scriptures, God’s glory is connected not only to his great work of salvation, but to his great work of creation. When Hezekiah prayed he poured out his heart to the Lord, saying, “O LORD God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth.” When the apostles and disciples of the early church prayed, they “lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is.” The Psalms are filled with references of God as the Creator of heaven and earth, such as, “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” God’s almighty power in the work of creation and the marvelous perfections of what he commanded into being are the basis of his glory therein. And that is all subverted by this theory that intimates that God struggled for millions and millions of years to gradually produce what is actually the cursed remnants of the original glorious creation. This theory robs God of his glory. That alone is a fatal objection to this most “damnable heresy.”
Note: Lest the reader think that this is a tempest in teapot, let us briefly review the present progress of this heresy. In the Reformed Churches it has only been opposed by the RCUS, and the Protestant Reformed to my knowledge, although I would assume it has also been opposed by the Free Reformed, the Netherlands Reformed, and the Heritage Netherlands Reformed. I would expect it has free expression in the Herformde Kerk, the Gereformeerde Kerk, the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church, and sadly also in the United Reformed Congregations. In a recent synod they deemed it a view that could be tolerated and was not worth risking disunity over. The latter really disappointed me as, according to the reports I read, the moderator of that assembly, who guided the synod to that conclusion was an acquaintance of my younger days who had once stood shoulder to shoulder with me in opposing heresy in the Christian Reformed Church. In the Presbyterian world it has been opposed by the American Presbyterian Church, who commissioned me to write this article, and is undoubtedly opposed by most of the smaller and more conservative Presbyterian bodies. It has been taught at Westminster Seminary, both East and West. The only Presbyterian Seminary to condemn this teaching, to the best of my knowledge, is Greenville Presbyterian and possibly also John Knox. Both the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbytery Church have refused to condemn this in their church courts and have thus deemed it an acceptable view. In short, although it is not widely held by the laity, it has been accepted as a legitimate view of the creation account by all the larger Presbyterian and Reformed bodies. This does not bode well for their continuing in the historic Christian faith longer than another generation.