Further discussion on General Assembly

The last couple of weeks there have been a number of articles written on various aspects of the events at General Assembly. For a basic overview of events, please see this article at the Aquila Report or this one by Stated Clerk Roy Taylor.

No Court of Appeals for the PCA?
The PCA GA has no mechanism in place for dealing with SJC decisions after they have been announced

These overtures were doomed from the beginning, although they do draw attention to the presence of major dissatisfaction within the PCA with how the case was handled. Many would like for this case to be retried for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the prosecutor, by his own admission, was persuaded of the truth claims of the Roman Catholic Church while trying this case.

Post-Mortem on the 41st General Assembly of the PCA

I was also heartened by the fact that the Committee of Commissioners for the Interchurch Relations Committee (ICR) pressed the issue regarding membership in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). The NAE is a seriously flawed organization. The ICR Permanent Committee will have to be more diligent in the coming year in reporting on what the NAE does. Perhaps when all those actions are put together in list form, it will become apparent to the PCA that we as a denomination have no business being part of that association.

The Insider Movement and the Word-Concept Fallacy
The love of God in Christ is a far more effective evangelism tool.

Why tell a Muslim something that we are just going to have to retract later on? … I do not believe it is helpful to start out by saying something that is grossly misleading at best, and heretical at worst. It is far better to tell them of the love of Jesus Christ, and to keep on directing them there. The love of God and the grace that Christianity offers in the Gospel is a far more effective evangelism tool.

Action on the PCA Insider Movement Report: Mutually Assured Destruction
An assessment of the PCA General Assembly’s consideration of the Insider Movement report

It is hard to see how the minority report can change unless it becomes even more indistinct and misleading. Perhaps it can apply more camouflage to hide the fact that it thinks that Muslims can remain Muslims and not leave the mosque. No amount of assurance that syncretism is avoided or that doctrinal standards required by the Bible are maintained can alter the fact that, at the end of the day, Islam remains but Christianity is not needed.

Debate Squashing at General Assembly– a PCUS Déjà Vu?
It looks more and more like our polity has devolved into nothing more than crass politics.

Wasn’t one of the reasons for leaving the PCUS (UPC, PCUSA for some of us) because the other side had secured all the political (committee) power – and then used that to squash the ability of “our” side to even debate matters!? I can’t help but wonder, how was the behavior at this GA from the one side any different than that which drove our fathers all out to form the PCA in the first place? One side, rather clumsily, tried to follow the procedures to at least be heard. The other side, much more effectively (think pro-football team playing against a beer-belly team), used the same procedures to squash any reasonable discussion whatsoever.

“What’s Happening to the PCA?”
Is the PCA on a similar path as the PCUSA?

And consider also the continuing discussion over women deacons. And what after that? The example of so many churches that have “gone liberal” charts a clear path. Women elders, then women teaching elders, then non-practicing homosexuals, then practicing homosexuals, then John Shelby Spong.

The PCA General Assembly, Cul De Sacs, and False Dilemmas
Certain facets of the PCA’s polity can create procedural cul de sacs that are making issues impossible to resolve

I also came away convinced we need to make some allowances at GA for our family system of suspicion. We can regret that all we want but it seems pointless to ignore it. One way is to consider a policy the Southern Baptist Convention has adopted. At their annual meetings the SBC use a trained, certified parliamentarian from outside their denomination to ensure full confidence in rulings from the chair.

My Thoughts on the 2013 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America
What struck me as unique about this GA was the party spirit of those in control of things

There was little mood for unity evidenced by anybody at this GA. The mood was set by the opening sermon by the outgoing moderator, Mike Ross. It was a provocative sermon on the sin of conservatism. Rev. Ross has always been one of those whose style from the pulpit is confrontational; in any other context the sermon theme might be considered a healthy challenge to self examination. But sermons are not preached in a vacuum. Considering the obvious anxiety many conservatives had over the direction of the PCA coming into this year’s GA and the strained relationship the theme had to the text, it could not help but be heard as a direct attack. And it was.

Unjust Weights and the 41st PCA General Assembly
The principle of the use of unjust weights destroys trust in the church as it does in an economic system

Taking away PCA commissioners’ ability to debate and vote on issues in accordance with our RAO procedures destroys their trust in the underlying ecclesiastical system. Attempting to fix a vote’s outcome by changing voting order on the fly similarly erodes that same trust. Like unjust weights and balances, unjust political maneuvering should not be named amongst God’s people. Supporting and voting within established rules must be accepted and supported by all officers of God’s church.

The PCA Insider Movement Report: Times Are Changing, and Staying Exactly the Same
What most of them didn’t know at that small, somewhat shocking moment, is that this is just the beginning of a much larger seismic event that will shape the character and course of the PCA for a generation.

The recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America featured a brief, but heated argument about the seemingly inconsequential … issue of foreign missions. Particularly, whether to receive and approve the Majority Report of the Committee on Insider Movements or whether to receive, as well, the Minority Report, written by a single committee member. Having just been subjected to incredibly dull debates over coin-flips for committee appointments, I understand why the commissioners would have been asleep.

When Denominations Disappoint: Setting Priorities
The answer to denominational disappointment is to begin setting one’s house in order

There are other priorities that must be set too. Confession trumps church order. The latter is nothing but a tool to allow the church to do its proper work before the Lord. If a church order becomes so cumbersome and complex as to require canon lawyers, then we have lost a major Reformation battle. Remember, the Reformation inherited a highly complex canon law (the medieval Book of Church Order, if you will). Calvin addressed the problem of the authority of these documents in Institutes 4.10 in several sections (e.g., 1–5). He argued for the priority of the Word over church order.

Paedocommunion, Leithart and Meyers, SJC nominations, Insider Movement, Overtures, and a report on Child Abuse

The report from the Review of Presbytery Records committee began on Wednesday. There was debate over Pacific Northwest Presbytery’s allowing paedocommunion as an exception. The minority report was not adopted, and unlike the previous two years, Pacific Northwest Presbytery’s reasons for granting the exception in question were accepted by the General Assembly.

Central Florida Presbytery also had approved a candidate’s views on paedocommunion as an allowable exception. The action of the GA was to adopt the minority report and ask the Presbytery for an explanation regarding the reasons for granted the exception. The difference between this GA action and the one regarding Pacific Northwest Presbytery was due to the fact that this was the first time that RPR cited Central Florida regarding this action recorded in their minutes.  The ruling on Pacific Northwest was based on their response to concerns raised by recent assemblies.

The Assembly discussed a part of the report of the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) regarding what it was to report to the General Assembly on actions of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Last year’s GA had instructed the committee to report these actions to the GA. However, IRC construed the directive of the 40th General Assembly more narrowly than was intended. The Committee of Commissioners took exception to the more narrow interpretation presented by IRC and moved the original directive, “That the General Assembly further direct the permanent committee of Interchurch Relations to be alert for and report to the General Assembly any action or position taken of the NAE,” and the GA adopted this language.

The study committee on the Insider Movement presented Part 2 of its report; Part 1 was presented at last year’s GA. Part 1 dealt with principles for biblical interpretation and on divine familial names, and the second part was on the theology, gospel missions, and Insider Movements. There was also a minority report written by one member of the Ad Interim Committee. The majority report made three recommendations:

  1. That “A Call to Faithful Witness, Part Two: Theology, Gospel Missions, and Insider Movements” serve as a Partial Report (Part Two of Two Parts).
  2. That the 41st General Assembly make available and recommend for study “A Call to Faithful Witness, Part Two: Theology, Gospel Missions, and Insider Movements” to its presbyteries, sessions, and missions committees.
  3. That the 41st General Assembly dismiss the ad interim Study Committee on Insider Movements with thanks.

The Minority report added the following recommendation: “That the 41st General Assembly make available and recommend for study the paper in the Minority Report entitled “Addressing Realities on the Ground” to its presbyteries, sessions, and missions committees.” The Assembly passed the recommendation of the minority report and appended this report to the Majority Report.

Following this, there was a prolonged discussion of the meaning of one sentence in the paper the Minority Report that appeared to say that the God of the Bible and of Islam were the same:

Are Allah of Muslims and Yahweh the same God? Yes, when the veil is lifted from their eyes and Muslims see Him as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fine-tuning to see Yahweh as He truly is takes place through Christ (Colossians 1:15).

The Assembly resolved this by voting to recommit the whole report to the Ad Interim Committee to give it an opportunity to clarify language and concepts in the report.

The Nominating Committee gave its report. After debate on the order in which to vote on the nominations, the Assembly voted for the customary order, to vote on the TE side of the ballot first. The Assembly then elected by omnibus all nominees who were unopposed. TE Fred Greco was re-elected to the SJC Class of 2017. TE Grover Gunn was elected to fill an unexpired term. TE Dominic Aquila lost re-election to TE Ray Cannata to the SJC Class of 2017, and RE EJ Nusbaum was also elected to the same class.

The Overtures Committee (OC) recommended that the moderator rule both Overture 19 and Overture 23, out of order because Standing Judicial Commission rulings are final. The Moderator ruled as recommended and was sustained. Overture 19 requested the GA to remand the complaint arising from Pacific Northwest Presbytery alleging that it erred in the conduct and its judgments in the trial of TE Peter Leithart. Overture 23 requested that the GA find the complaint in order arising from Missouri Presbytery on the conduct and judgments in the trial of TE Jeffrey Meyers and direct the SJC to adjudicate the case. The Assembly approved the recommendations of the OC on the remaining Overtures. The OC recommendations are available here.

Overtures 20, 21, and 22 were referred to the Standing Judicial Commission. These overtures all requested that the General Assembly assume original jurisdiction over TE Peter Leithart per Book of Church Order 34-1. The SJC will consider this request at its October 2013 meeting.

As a part of the Mission to the World (MTW) Committee report, TE Paul Koostra, MTW Coordinator, reported that a committee has been set up to search for a new MTW Coordinator. He said that the process could take up to eighteen months.

Earlier in the week, TE Mike Sloan presented a resolution on Child Abuse and the appropriate response and action that pastors and churches should take. The resolution was committed to the Overtures Committee to consider during the Assembly and report back. The final wording of the resolution as presented to the Assembly was changed substantially from the original resolution, particularly as related to the need for mandatory reporting by churches and pastors to the civil authorities. The Assembly voted to recommit the resolution to committee.

The General Assembly adjourned on Thursday late evening, June 20. It was announced that the 42nd PCA General Assembly will be held in Houston, Texas, June 17-20, 2014

Dr. Jason Lisle of the Institute for Creation Research to give a seminar today

The 41st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America begins today in Greenville, South Carolina. Already several of the committees have been meeting. The assembly officially opens tonight with a worship service and then the election of the moderator. Last year’s moderator, Dr. Mike Ross will speak tonight at the worship service.

There are also a number of seminars starting today.

Last year, Dr. Gregg Davidson gave a seminar on the age of the earth from an old earth perspective:

Dr. Davidson explained that his purpose in the seminar was to equip the pastors and elders so that they can better minister to their congregations. According to Dr. Davidson, there are many in the church who are taught that the evidence for an old earth is weak and that to be faithful to Christ one must hold to a young earth. This can become a stumbling block to the faith for many, especially young believers, who grow up and are then challenged when they discover that the evidence for an old earth is very strong. The evidence that Dr. Davidson presented in the seminar is designed to help prevent this potential crisis of faith.

This year, Dr. Jason Lisle, Director of Research at the Institute for Creation Research, will give a seminar on Astronomy and creation from a young earth perspective:

Critics of the Bible have often attempted to use the methods of science to persuade others that the Bible is not trustworthy. We are told that the universe is a cosmic accident—a “big bang” followed by billions of years of evolutionary processes. However, these attempts to discredit biblical creation do not stand up to rational scrutiny. The science of astronomy confirms that the Bible is true. In this highly visual presentation, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle shows powerful scientific evidence that confirms that our universe is not an accident, but has been designed and created by God as the Bible teaches in Genesis. The Christian can be encouraged that the Word of God is absolutely trustworthy on all matters. This includes not only matters of theology and morality, but matters of science and history as well.

I’m sure Dr. Lisle’s seminar will be worth attending. I encourage you, if you’re in Greenville, to stop by the ICR booth in the exhibit hall. A full list of the seminars and their descriptions is available here. A printable schedule is available here.

The Grown-up Solution

Yesterday, I posted an article by Pastor Matthew Kingsbury about the PCA’s vote not to make a new statement on the origins of Adam and Eve. Pastor Kingsbury wrote that the “grown-ups” in the PCA had prevailed.

Tim Phillips, pastor of an ARP church in Louisville, KY, has written a response to Pastor Kingsbury’s article. The week before the PCA’s General Assembly, the ARP had their annual meeting. At this meeting, they overwhelmingly passed an overture affirming the non-evolutionary origins of Adam and Eve. Pastor Phillips’ church was the one to submit the overture.

In his article in response to Pastor Kingsbury, Pastor Phillips takes issue with the “somewhat offensive” title of “Grown-ups Prevail at the PCA General Assembly. While he agrees with the basic premise that the Westminster Standards “are comprehensive and clear and have full authority,” he believes that the Standards could not anticipate all potential heresies:

However, there is one major deficiency in the Standards: they do not have the ability to travel through time into the future. Thus, various movements and challenges and heresies will arise over time that will seek to undermine what the Standards teach — things the Standards might teach about, but don’t directly address.

He also points out that even with the clarity of the Standards, heresies, such as the Federal Vision, have arisen and have needed to be dealt with:

Yet, as clear as this statement [on justification] is, the errors of Federal Visionism have arisen within the very churches which claim to hold to the Westminster Standards. Therefore, in order to address such concerns, sometimes church courts will make official statements. Sometimes these come through committees, sometimes they are made on the floor of the assembly, sometimes they come through memorials/overtures sent up by the presbyteries. There is nothing unusual about this.

And,

Once again, the Westminster Standards are not a time machine. They were written two centuries before Darwinism and natural selection and 19th century attacks on Scripture. Should they be sufficient to address these issues? Yes, but we all know perfectly well that the history of Presbyterianism is littered with ministers and elders who took took vows to affirm the Standards and yet openly taught against them. To say, “we don’t need statements, we already have the Confession” is almost along the lines of “We don’t need creeds, we have the Bible!” It fails to realize that there are those who might interpret statements differently from others, even if they claim to be biblical and/or confessional. There might be a “baptistic” sentiment here, but I think the pastor is mistaken where it is coming from.

Pastor Phillips also believes that while we should use the judicial processes available to us, pastors need to be careful to protect the sheep:

Sometimes issues arise that require strong statements from Presbyterian bodies. There is nothing childish or baptistic in that approach. God’s people should be guarded by their leaders. If a product is potentially harmful to my child, I expect to see a warning label. It is not exactly comforting for someone to tell me that I first need to wait on a lawsuit to settle the matter.

He gives, as an example, two potential pastoral scenarios that I thought really helped illustrate the issue:

First Scenario

Visitor: Pastor, I’m interested in church membership, but I first want to know where the denomination stands on the issue of creation.

Pastor: Well, we have the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, even though they predate theistic evolution. We tried to have a statement declaring the special creation of Adam passed at the national level of the denomination, but that failed. Now we’ll have to wait to see if anyone teaches theistic evolution and then wait for a judicial case to be decided for there to be anything definitive.

Second Scenario

Visitor: Pastor, I’m interested in church membership, but I first want to know where the denomination stands on the issue of creation.

Pastor: I’m glad you asked. Our General Synod recently passed a memorial that affirms the special creation of Adam. As a matter of fact, it was our church that wrote the memorial and our presbytery that sent it along to the General Synod, where it was passed overwhelmingly.

I highly recommend that you read the full article.

Apparently I’m Not Much of a Grown-up

Last week, Matthew Kingsbury, pastor of an OPC church in Denver, CO, wrote about the PCA’s vote not to make an in thesi statement regarding the origins of Adam and Eve. His opinion was that the “grown-ups” had prevailed:

The Westminster Standards cover a great deal of doctrinal ground, and I (for one) think it unlikely a committee-penned statement on, say, justification will be any more clear than the Confession, Larger Catechism, and Shorter Catechism.

Thus, the cockles of my curmudgeonly heart (if, in fact, a curmudgeon can be said to have a heart) were warmed when the 40th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in American rejected an overture that it make an in thesi declaration against theistic evolution on the ground that Scripture and the Westminster Standards do so with sufficient clarity.

This is important for two reasons: first, the Assembly has taken the very grown-up position that presbyterians need not restate what they’ve already stated, no matter how many people insist it is VERY IMPORTANT that they do so. Let the Baptists issue statements; we’ve subscribed to a confession.

Pastor Kingsbury believes that a declaration like the Rocky Mountain Presbytery overture would not help preserve orthodoxy:

The practical impotence of in thesi declarations is why I think them corrosive to the Church’s well-being. Church officers are free to agree or disagree with them with whatever degree of openness they prefer; disagreement brings with it no automatic sanctions. This creates the impression that the Church’s highest judicatory has spoken in a final way on a matter, and can be freely ignored by any and all of the Church’s members; this simply cannot be healthy for any ecclesiastical body.

Far better, I think, to read our confessional standards and be content with the very grown-up statements they provide.

I guess I’m not much of a grown-up, because I couldn’t disagree more. (Tomorrow, I’ll post a response written by a pastor in the ARP.)

Declaration on Special Creation of Adam and Eve

The Session of Midway Presbyterian (PCA) of Powder Springs, GA met this week and voted to adopt a “Declaration on the Special Creation of Adam and Eve for Session/Presbytery.” The session gave their reason for making a declaration at this time:

Since in our present time there are attempts to redefine the teaching on the miraculous and direct creation of Adam and Eve, which would lead us back to a spirit of slavery instead of urging us to stand in the liberty that Christ brings (Gal. 5:1), we wish to joyfully reaffirm the biblical, historical, and confessional teaching, and also warn about the erroneous nature of this teaching which will be injurious to the peace, purity, and progress of the church—even to the gospel itself (1 Cor. 15:1, 20-22, 45-50).

Here is an excerpt from their declaration:

1. Affirms and preaches that the Scriptures (cf. Genesis 1-3; Romans 5:12-19; and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22) teach that Adam and Eve are as historical individuals as any of us, were immediately created by God through his direct and miraculous intervention, that God formed Adam, the first man, from the dust of the ground, and made Eve directly from Adam without the need of lengthy time nor a naturalistic process to create Adam and Eve in original righteousness and holiness (cf. also the actions of the 28th PCA GA [2000], 184, 200-201).

2. Denies that Genesis 2:7 or other Scriptures teach that Adam and Eve are the products of evolution from lower forms of life or previous species, or that God acted upon a group of humans or hominids from which he set apart the first couple (cf. Mt. 19:4).

They conclude by inviting other sessions or presbyteries to adopt the declaration. I hope that many other sessions and presbyteries will follow Midway’s example. It may seem like a small step, but it is an important one.

You can read the full declaration at the Aquila Report.

PCA General Assembly Votes NOT to Make a Statement on Adam and Eve

Today at the 40th General Assembly of the PCA, the majority of the commissioners voted not to make any statements regarding the historicity of Adam and Eve. Don Clements at The Aquila Report wrote a summary of the day’s actions:

Three Presbyteries had submitted overtures concerned with the topic of Theistic Evolution and the historicity of Adam and Eve.

Overture 10 from Rocky Mountain Presbytery asked that the General Assembly go on record (known as making an ‘in thesi’ statement that would reject all evolutionary views of Adam’s origins. Overture 29 from Savannah River Presbytery asked for a similar statement.

But Overture 26 from Potomac Presbytery asked for something different. They felt that the PCA had clearly stated their position on these topics, most especially in Larger Catechism Question 17, and anyone who wanted to know what the PCA’s position was could simply read the following statement from that answer:

“After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal soul; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall”

A minority of the committee brought to the floor their position defending the adopting of an ‘in thesi’ statement, staying that is was needed since there were a number of people and/or institutions that were claiming to uphold the Westminster Standards (i.e. LCQ 17) yet, at the same time, were claiming that Theistic Evolution or views that Adam and Eve were not truly newly created was within the bounds of understanding of the Standards.

When the votes were taken, the assembly voted by a 60-40% margin to approve the Potomac Overture and not make a statement.

While I appreciate the sentiment of the majority report that the PCA already has statements affirming the historicity of Adam, those who believe that there is not a significant group of theistic evolutionists within the PCA are kidding themselves. It was particularly telling that despite the many assurances by those in favor of the majority report one man spoke to say that he believed the minority report went beyond the Scriptures in what it affirmed about Adam. He said that Genesis 2:7 states that God created Adam from the dust, but not how. He thought there should be more latitude in interpretation there.

That is exactly why we need to address the issue of Adam and evolutionary origins.

PCA Seminar Speaker: No Difference Between Adam Specially Created from the Dust and a Hominid Adopted by God and Given a Soul

This morning at the 40th General Assembly of the PCA, Dr. Gregg Davidson gave a seminar on the age of the earth. Thanks to a couple of my friends who were able to be there, I have had the opportunity to listen to what Dr. Davidson had to say. According to some who were there, the seminar was full, and Dr. Davidson seemed a little nervous.

Dr. Ligon Duncan opened the session by discussing the Creation Study Report and the boundaries that were set in that report. While the report allows for a diversity of opinions on the meaning of the creation days, some issues, like the special and direct creation of Adam, are considered of “vital importance to our Reformed testimony.”

After this introduction, Dr. Davidson began by explaining that Dr. Ken Wolgemuth was not able to attend because he had been called away by his job to Saudi Arabia. Dr. Davidson laughed and said that Dr. Wolgemuth’s schedule changed before the issue of the seminar “went nuclear” on the blogosphere. He went on to promise that nothing that he said would be outside the boundaries set by the Creation Study Report. He also reminded everyone that the scope of the seminar was the age of the earth and not evolution. Anyone who was interested in his views on evolution were directed to his book, When Faith and Science Collide.

Before Dr. Davidson got into explaining the scientific evidence for an old earth, he took a few minutes to lay out his own Christian beliefs, including the inerrancy of Scripture and the death and resurrection of Christ. He was careful to emphasize his belief in an historical Adam and Eve and the doctrine of original sin.

The majority of his presentation was very similar to the material that he lays out in his book. He stated his belief that science can be useful in deciding between two plausible interpretations of Scripture. He gave the example of Galileo and whether the sun orbits the earth or the earth orbits the sun. This was an example of a time that the increasing evidence of science helped to show which interpretation of Scripture was best.

Dr. Davidson explained that his purpose in the seminar was to equip the pastors and elders so that they can better minister to their congregations. According to Dr. Davidson, there are many in the church who are taught that the evidence for an old earth is weak and that to be faithful to Christ one must hold to a young earth. This can become a stumbling block to the faith for many, especially young believers, who grow up and are then challenged when they discover that the evidence for an old earth is very strong. The evidence that Dr. Davidson presented in the seminar is designed to help prevent this potential crisis of faith.

In the same way as he does in his book, Dr. Davidson then addressed the problems that he sees in reading Genesis 1 and 2 in a straight-forward, literal way. These problems include the apparent differences in the two chapters on the order of creation and the problems with having light before the sun. Dr. Davidson used the parable of the mustard seed to give an example of a passage of Scripture that is completely true even though the statements about nature are not. Jesus says that the mustard seed is the smallest seed and that seeds have to die. According to Dr. Davidson, this is not technically accurate as there are many seeds smaller than the mustard seed and that seeds don’t actually die when they germinate. Using this passage, Dr. Davidson explained that Genesis 1 and 2 are best understood as completely true, but not as scientifically accurate statements.

Dr. Davidson then explained a handful of scientific evidences for an old earth. All were pretty straight forward and clearly outlined. He also explained why the most common Young Earth Creationist interpretations do not fit the evidence. In closing, he explained that his intention was not to change Young Earth Creationists into Old Earth Creationists. His desire was to have those who hold to a young earth at least understand that those who hold to an old earth do so for plausible reasons. He repeated his desire to remove a stumbling block to the faith that requires a belief in a young earth.

The audience was allowed to submit questions for Dr. Davidson to answer. The questions were challenging ones both scientifically and theologically. The most interesting questions were the last two. First, Dr. Davidson was asked about his belief in an historical Adam. The question asked if he believed Adam was specially and directly created by God from the dust or if Adam was a hominid adopted by God. Before answering, Dr. Davidson said that he hoped his answer to this question would not cause people to write off the evidence he had given in the seminar. His answer was that he doesn’t see a difference between Adam specially created by God from the dust and Adam as a hominid adopted by God and given a soul. Either way, according to him, Adam is the first human and the father of mankind. He pointed out that the wording of Genesis is that Adam was created by God from the dust of the earth and that science would say that Adam was created from the dust of the earth.

The last question asked was whether or not the session at Dr. Davidson’s church allows him to teach old earth. Dr. Davidson said that he is not currently under discipline and that he has never asked or been asked to teach on the subject.

PCA Committee Prefers Not to Take a Stand on Historical Adam

The 40th General Assembly of the PCA has begun today. While the main business of the GA won’t get started until tomorrow evening, some of the committees have started meeting. One of the committees, the Overtures Committee, voted today on the various overtures submitted by different presbyteries on the issue of Adam and evolutionary origins of man.

Two presbyteries, Rocky Mountain and Savannah River, sent overtures asking the GA to reaffirm the old PC(US) statement on the historicity of Adam. That statement says:

That Adam and Eve were created, body and soul, by immediate acts of Almighty power, thereby preserving a perfect race unity;

That Adam’s body was directly fashioned by Almighty God, without any natural animal parentage of any kind, out of matter previously created from nothing.

Potomac Presbytery also sent an overture on the issue of the origins of Adam. Their overture asked the GA not to make any statement on Adam and evolution.

In a rather discouraging turn of events, the Overture Committee voted today to reject the overtures from Rocky Mountain and Savannah River. If I understand the process correctly, the GA will have the opportunity to vote to accept or reject the recommendation by the Overture Committee. Please join me in praying that the elders of our denomination will stand for the truth and vote to reject this recommendation.

When Faith and Science Collide: A Review of Dr. Gregg Davidson’s Book

At the PCA’s upcoming General Assembly, Dr. Gregg Davidson and Dr. Ken Wolgemuth of Solid Rock Lectures will be giving a seminar on what the science has to say on the age of the earth, “The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?” Dr. Davidson and Dr. Wolgemuth are particularly concerned that relying on Young Earth Creationism has led to the acceptance of bad science and bad theology in our denomination. They are especially concerned about the negative impact denying the scientific consensus will have on our witness.

Questions were raised about whether or not Dr. Davidson and Dr. Wolgemuth were just interested in the age of the earth, or if they are also proponents of evolution. Some quotes from the Solid Rock Lectures seem to indicate that this is likely, but many were hesitant to be to quick to judge. In doing some research, I discovered that Dr. Davidson, a member and teacher of a PCA church in Mississippi, has written a book on how to reconcile evolutionary science and Christianity.

Dr. Davidson’s book, When Faith and Science Collide: A Biblical Approach to Evaluating Evolution and the Age of the Earth (Oxford, MS: Malius Press, 2009)Q, was written to give “a simple three-step approach for examining scripture and science any time the two appear to clash” (back cover). According to the back cover:

The approach honors scripture first, and addresses the strength of scientific evidence only after satisfying scriptural constraints. When applied to evolution and the age of the earth, the result reveals far more harmony than discord (back cover).

So from the cover of the book, it appears that Dr. Davidson sees “far more harmony than discord” between evolution and Christianity.

Dr. Davidson opens the book with the story of Carl the Scientist. Carl is not a believer but is curious about the Bible and faith. In the course of his research into the Bible he talks with Doug the Young Earth Creationist (YEC). Doug tells him that Genesis must be a literal account of creation and shares a YEC book with him that refutes evolution. Carl is dismayed by the bad science utilized by the YEC proponents. He decides that the god of Christianity must not be a god of truth (11-12).

Dr. Davidson goes on to explain the core thesis of his book:

It is my conviction that much of the clash between the Bible and modern science is not only unnecessary, but harmful to the cause of Christ (13).

As for his own beliefs, Dr. Davidson professes a belief in the Bible as the inspired, inerrant, authoritative word of God and also in a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, and original sin (14). He also believes that:

The study of God’s natural creation, by virtue of its reflection of its Creator, will occasionally prove useful in discerning the best interpretation of scripture when more than one interpretation is plausible (14).

So, in the most obvious example, science can help us determine which interpretation of Genesis and the creation week is the most plausible. Dr. Davidson gives a hint here as to which interpretation he prefers:

It is my conviction that good science and good theology will never rest permanently at odds with one another. Apparent contradictions may arise, but ultimately God’s natural revelation (the material universe) will be found in agreement with his special revelation (scripture). There is a growing body of people who share this conviction who have been convinced that the scientific evidence for evolution and an old earth is unassailable (14).

Dr. Davidson next lays out his framework for evaluating science and Scripture. Each apparent conflict should be examined using three basic questions:

Question 1: Does the infallibility of scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question?
Question 2: Does the science conflict with the intended message of the scripture?
Question 3: Is the science credible? (22-23)

He spends some time, then, considering whether or not Genesis 1 and 2 must be taken literally. His answer is “no,” based on several problems he sees in the text itself (40-41). For example, Genesis 1 says that God created in six days, but Genesis 2:4 says “in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” So, if we read Genesis literally we must believe simultaneously that God created everything in six days and also in just one day (40).

He also mentions some apparent inconsistencies in the order of creation given in Genesis 1 and 2: Genesis 1 says animals were created before man, but Genesis 2 seems to say that man was created before the animals. And, how can there be light on Day 1 before the sun is created on Day 4?

For those that suggest that God was the source of the light before the sun, Dr. Davidson says:

This is not a defensible argument, however, for it requires that God was dark prior to Day 1, and not omnipresent thereafter. Morning and evening without a sun would only be possible if God first turned himself on, and then fixed his position on one side of the earth(42).

Dr. Davidson seems to be unaware of the Biblical scholars who have written on these issues since well before Darwin and evolution appeared on the scene. John Calvin addresses the issue of light before the sun in his commentary on Genesis:

It did not, however, happen from inconsideration or by accident, that the light preceded the sun and the moon. To nothing are we more prone than to tie down the power of God to those instruments the agency of which he employs. The sun and moon supply us with light. And, according to our notions we so include this power to give light in them, that if they were taken away from the world, it would seem impossible for any light to remain. Therefore the Lord, by the very first order of creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon.

Dr. Davidson also suggests that to hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 is to believe that since God finished creating on Day 6, then God cannot be the one who causes the Himalayas to grow or babies to grow in their mothers’ wombs:

Adherence to a literal interpretation of Genesis 2:2 requires that God is not the author of these events [land formed by lava spills in Hawaii and growth in height of Himalayas] since he has rested from his creative efforts. Indeed, even you and I are not to be considered his creative handiwork (43).

If God finished creating on Day 6, then he also can’t be the one who made thorns and thistles appear after the Fall, by Dr. Davidson’s reasoning. Although, he offers a possible solution to this problem. Thorns and thistles must have existed outside of the Garden of Eden:

The Garden was a place of protection from an apparently less desirable existence outside. This is evident from the fact that the Garden had boundaries (why boundaries if all the earth was perfect for human habitation?), and an angel was placed at the entrance after the curse to ensure they would not reenter (Gen 3:24). If thorns and thistles already existed outside the Garden, man was blessed with their absence until cast out. The curse was not the creation of thorns, but the exposure to thorns (44-45).

Dr. Davidson concludes by answering his first question: Does the infallibility of scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question?

[O]ne cannot reasonably maintain a strict literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 and hold to an infallible view of scripture. The use of seven days in the creation account must be interpreted in a manner similar to the interpretation of the three sets of 14 generations in Matthew. A central message is conveyed through the identification of real people or events, and is illustrated with a memory tool where creation is divided into six days of work and ending in rest (46).

Having concluded that the infallibility of scripture is best supported by a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, Dr. Davidson moves on to address his second question: Does the science conflict with the intended message of the scripture? This is not about the credibility of the scientific claims, but rather whether “current scientific understanding fits or clashes with scripture’s intended meaning” (51).

Each scientific claim is compared with relevant Scripture verses and then a synthesis is suggested. Dr. Davidson starts with the origin of the universe. The Bible teaches that God created everything from nothing. Standard cosmology, the study of the origins of the universe, teaches that before the “Big Bang,” the pre-universe condition was a void. The synthesis, according to Dr. Davidson, is that standard cosmology is “remarkably Biblical” (53). There was nothing, and then there was something.

What about the origin of life? According to Dr. Davidson, the Bible teaches that God commanded the earth to bring forth life (Gen 1:12, 24). Science teaches that “life began on earth roughly 3.5 billion years ago” (54). While scientists aren’t sure exactly how this happened, they are certain that the non-living material on the earth gave rise to life in process that took billions of years and gradually moved from single cell organisms to humans (56). Dr. Davidson believes that there is an easy synthesis here:

According to Genesis, God commanded the earth to give rise to life. According to science, the earth gave rise to life. The parallel statements of creation are remarkable … (57).

Moving on to the origin of man, it might seem more difficult to achieve a reasonable synthesis between Scripture and evolutionary scientific claims, but Dr. Davidson sees no material conflict:

Materially, the Biblical account of man’s creation is no different from the creation of other life on earth. To create all life prior to man, God “commanded the earth to bring forth.” To create Adam, God “formed man from the dust of the ground.” According to scientific accounts, man was formed from the same earth-dust as all other creatures (61).

To those who find a conflict in the evolutionary scientific claim that man evolved from the apes, Dr. Davidson suggests first, that maybe we have an “inflated sense of self-worth:

Our first reaction may be that man is not like the animals. Man is unique and must have been specially created even if nothing else was. The concept that man might share a common origin with other life forms is an affront to our dignity and sense of value. One must ask, however, if the indignation comes from an understanding of Biblical truth, or simply from an inflated sense of self worth (62).

And second, that maybe we don’t understand God’s character:

But would God really create in such a prolonged manner, making small changes from one generation to the next and spinning off myriads of life forms, many destined for extinction? Is this consistent with God’s character? … If our creative nature is truly a reflection of God’s nature, then it is entirely consistent that God would start with a lump of clay (earth materials), and begin to form and shape life through myriad generations until he arrived at what he was ultimately after. This in no way suggests that all forms prior to man were mistakes or castoffs (62-63).

Referencing God’s selection of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, Dr. Davidson sees no problem with the theory that Adam was simply one hominid out of many that God selected to be the first human:

The idea of God choosing one individual out of many is also consistent with what scripture tells us of God’s character. … It is thus at least within God’s character to chose one hominid from among many to endow with a soul and initiate the human race. …

[I]t is conceivable that the Eve and Adam of scripture are genuinely mitochondrial Eve and her mate, selected by God from a population of hominids and endowed with a soul (63-64,65).

Dr. Davidson next considers death and the Fall. Evolutionary science teaches that death and decay must have existed from the very beginning of time. What does the Bible teach? According to Dr. Davidson, the Bible teaches that spiritual death came as a result of Adam’s fall (68), but that physical death could have existed from the start outside of the Garden:

It makes more sense that material death existed from the start, but initially outside of man’s experience. … [T]he description of Adam and Eve’s stay and eviction from the Garden of Eden suggests that life outside the Garden had always been more harsh than life inside. … Thorns, thistles, and material death may have always existed beyond the Garden’s borders (70).

He also believes that creation was not necessarily without death and pain from the start:

Romans 8 does not say that the creation was subjected to futility by sin, but by God, perhaps from the very start of creation. The implication is not that God created the world flawed, but that it was created, from the very start, with a yearning to see the Messiah (emphasis original, 68).

And,

The idea that heaven is a return to creation as it was prior to sin is a human concept, not an undisputed scriptural concept. If Isaiah says the wolf and lion will eat grass and straw in heaven, it does not necessarily follow that they did so at the start of creation (69).

And he warns that:

It is presumptuous to dismiss material death before sin with the claim that God would not call such a world “good.” God’s ways are not our ways (71).

One of the common objections to a literal interpretation of Genesis comes when considering Cain. Who was Cain afraid of if there were only a few people around? According to Dr. Davidson, the Bible teaches that Cain was only one of three humans in existence after the death of Abel (76). Science teaches that there were other non-human hominids, Neanderthals, around during the first days of mankind (76). Dr. Davidson speculates that Neanderthals might be what Cain was afraid of, and that Neanderthals might also be the “sons of God” who intermarried with the “daughters of men” and gave rise to the Nephilim (79):

If it is unsettling to think of God choosing one hominid from among a population to endow with a soul, it will likely be more so to consider that the children of Adam and Eve may have interacted with a species that looked and behaved in ways we would consider human, but were not human. The only response that can be offered is that God often operates in ways that mystify us. When we think we have God figured out, we will inevitably find we have been presumptuous (76).

For those who would suggest that Cain was afraid of his own family, Dr. Davidson does not believe that answer to be in sync with what the Bible teaches:

At the time of Cain’s banishment, he was the second [sic] child of the first humans in existence. Who else was there to fear? The most common explanation is that Adam and Eve had other children that populated the area into which Cain was to wander. … Indeed, Genesis 5:4 does say that Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters, but there is a serious timing problem. The first three sons of Adam and Eve are explicitly named. Cain and Abel were the first two, followed by Seth after the murder of Abel (77).

Dr. Davidson also believes Noah’s flood to have been local or regional, but not global:

In the Flood story of Genesis, the literal occurrence of an immense flood and the rescue of Noah and his family are not in question. The question is whether the description of the flood covering the whole earth must literally mean the entire planet, or if it can mean the entire area of human habitation and experience: the known earth (82).

And why does Dr. Davidson believe that the flood was not global? Because he believes there is no “convincing evidence” that the flood was global:

Though much evidence exists for floods of immense proportions in different places around the globe at different times during the history of the earth, no convincing evidence has been found that the entire world was immersed at one particular time (82).

Finally, Dr. Davidson addresses the age of the earth. Science teaches that the earth is billions of years old. Dr. Davidson believes that the Bible is mostly silent on the age of the earth. He believes that the genealogies in Genesis do not give an approximate age of 6,000 years because there are gaps:

The likelihood that names were skipped in the lineage from Adam to Moses means that the ages included can only be used to set a minimum age on the creation (emphasis original, 85).

According to Dr. Davidson, the Bible only teaches that the earth is at least 6,000 years old (85).

Dr. Davidson’s answer to his question, “Does the science conflict with the intended message of the scripture?” is “No.”

Before he moves on to his third question, Dr. Davidson pauses to explain that there is no reason for a Christian to deny evolution. Some may be tempted to argue that evolution gives a different answer than the Bible as to “how” and “in what order” God created, but Dr. Davidson does not believe that this is the case:

Many argue that God has already answered the question of “how” and “in what order,” therefore any attempt to find natural explanations is evidence of a commitment to materialism, a direct denial of God. If the only plausible interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis was a literal one, this might be a fair claim. If the message of the creation days is authorship rather than process, however, then the search for natural explanations is nothing worse than an effort to see the details of God’s handiwork (88).

Since evolution, then, is just “an effort to see the details of God’s handiwork”, then there is no conflict between evolutionary science and Christianity:

As a science, evolution is merely the name given to a study seeking to fit pieces of the life-history puzzle together in the most sensible way. … Rather than defining evolution as Darwinism, evolution should be defined as the name man has given to the study of what God’s creativity looks like. God does not guide, mimic, prod, or adjust evolution as if it is an independent force that God must rein in. God creates. Evolution is merely the physical, chemical, and biological description of what that creation looks like (90-91).

In the next section, Dr. Davidson addresses his final question: Is the science credible? His objective in this chapter is to:

provide simple, concise overviews of both the development and current evidence for scientific claims most relevant to Creation in language that non-scientists can grasp (97).

In order to be brief, here are some of the scientific claims that Dr. Davidson believes are credible: the “Big Bang” theory (99), the age of the earth is roughly 13.7 billion years old (107), the fossil record shows the obvious progression of life forms from simple to more complex (132), the Flood cannot explain the fossil record (132), and the common descent of man from animals (142).

Dr. Davidson explains that despite common misperceptions that transitional fossils are rare or even non-existent many transitional fossils are now accepted by science:

Transitional forms are now recognized for a large number of evolutionary pathways representing both large scale changes (e.g. amphibian to reptile; land mammal to marine mammal) and small scale changes (e.g. leaf eating mammal to grass eating mammal) (148).

And,

The general evolutionary pathway leading from reptiles to mammals, however, comes through clearly (151).

These transitional fossils also prove the common descent of man from apes:

It may come as surprise even to those who accept human evolution that there are now fossil remains from over 5000 different individual creatures that exhibit features intermediate between modern humans and ancient apes. … Well over a dozen different hominid species have now been identified that represent a broad spectrum of transitional forms (156-157).

Dr. Davidson is careful to explain, though, that his belief in the evolutionary development of life does not come from a belief in materialism, that all that exists is what is seen, but from the scientific evidence:

The belief that life originated from non-living materials is not derived exclusively from a commitment to materialism (recall that scripture tells us that the earth brought forth life at God’s command). Rather, the belief rises from the observation that the earth contains a distinct record of life forms through time that starts with very simple single-celled organisms that did not even have a cell nucleus. Give this record, it is logical that there may have been some natural, God-instituted processes at work that could have produced these first cells (152).

Having answered all three of his initial questions and determined that there is no conflict between evolutionary science and Christianity that he can see, Dr. Davidson moves on to why Young Earth Creationism is both bad science and bad theology:

Young earth proponents start with the presupposed truth that the days in Genesis 1 were intended as a literal rendering of the creation events. As such, evolution must be false and the earth must be young. All examination of evidence must demonstrate this position. Two types of people emerge from this starting point. One type honestly argues scriptural or scientific evidence, though in my opinion make mistakes based on a faulty understanding of both scripture and science. … There is a second type that is more disturbing. To this group, the truth of special creation is of such importance that the truthfulness of arguments used in its support can be justifiably twisted if it leads toward belief in the ultimate truth of creation. The loose affiliation shared by these people make up the membership of a creationist cult, where the God of creation has been replaced by worship of creation events rather than the Creator. All is done in the name of Christ, but employing methods grossly inconsistent with Christian character (emphasis original, 165).

Dr. Davidson then lays out the ways in which Young Earth Creationists (YEC) employ misleading arguments:

The purpose is to demonstrate the different ways in which information is presented to make something true sound ridiculous, or something false sound quite plausible (166).

First, he argues that YEC proponents misuse terms in order to make evolution “appear weak or indefensible” (166). For example, when creationists confuse evolution with Darwinism, they wrongly suggest, according to Dr. Davidson, that evolution denies the existence of God:

This example promulgates the false assertion that creation and evolution are inherently opposite worldviews between which one must choose. … If God created through a series of generations, evolution is simply the name scientists have given to the study of God’s workmanship (167).

Dr. Davidson believes that it is also misleading for creationists to say that evolution can’t be proven by science since we can’t test what happened in the past (167). He explains that there are many hypotheses related to evolution that are testable by scientific study, including the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees:

Hypothesis: Humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, human and chimpanzees share a more distant common ancestor with gorillas, and all apes and humans share an even more distant common ancestor with monkeys. If true, DNA markers consistent with common ancestry should be more prevalent between humans and chimps than between chimps and monkeys (171).

After explaining the advances in the study and comparison of human and chimpanzee DNA, Dr. Davidson concludes:

Result: The greatest similarity (number of similar disabled sequences located in the same positions) is found between humans and chimps, less between humans/chimps and gorillas, and least between apes and monkeys. … The result of this test offers strong support for shared biological ancestry with the rest of God’s creation (172).

Other ways in which Dr. Davidson believes YEC proponents twist the truth include: misapplication of scientific laws or principles (175), use of half truths (180), misuse of probability calculations (194), and playing games with fossils (198). According to Dr. Davidson:

Life obviously changed in a step-wise fashion over time, but the complexity of the developmental pathway and the incomplete nature of the fossil record means it will not always be possible to firmly establish exact lineages between ancient and modern organisms (emphasis original, 199).

If life didn’t begin this way, then God must have deceived evolutionary scientists:

If God truly created as young-earth proponents insist, we are left with the conclusion that God must have intentionally created in such a way that the story told in the earth’s layers would appear different than what actually happened. Yet God assures us in Romans 1 that his character is evident in his creation (206).

Dr. Davidson concludes his book with what he believes the consequences will be if the church doesn’t accept evolution:

If the best interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 is consistent with what modern science now tells us about the age of the universe and the adaptive development of life over time, what could be the consequence of rejecting it? At the very least, there are three (233).

One consequence will be a failure to recognize and be awed by the magnificence of God’s creativity when we see it. With each new fossil discovery, we should be captivated by and enjoy the incredible artistry manifest in the ability to bring life from non-life, and to create new creatures from old. … Instead, each new find is met with reactions that may range from disinterest to disdain (233-234).

As each new scientific discovery is revealed that fits the evolutionary model, there will be a growing sense that God’s creation does not adequately reflect his authorship. God appears to be allowing his natural creation to tell a very convincing story that is entirely wrong. This cannot help but influence our view of God’s character. We will be forced to rationalize the the righteousness of a God who designed his natural creation to intentionally lead astray all but those willing to deny the story it yields (234).

The third consequence is the most sobering. When talking with questioning materialists, we will unwittingly become an obstacle to their path to faith. They will be looking at God’s workmanship while denying the Creator, and we will insist that to acknowledge the Creator they must deny his workmanship! Can there be a more ineffectual witness? How much better to simply open the door to show how the very work they see carries the signature of its author (234).

In conclusion, Dr. Davidson sees no conflict between evolutionary science and Christianity. He accepts the scientific claims for the origin of the universe, the age of the universe, the evolutionary origins and development of life, and the common descent of man from animals. He believes very strongly that YEC represents both bad science and bad theology. According to him, it is not merely another equally valid way to interpret the Scripture and the scientific evidence, but rather a “stumbling block to the faith” and a “failure to recognize and be awed by the magnificence of God’s creativity.” The logical conclusion of Dr. Davidson’s arguments is that there is no room for YEC in evangelical churches.