Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Clarion and Young-Earth Creationism

Clarion, “The Canadian Reformed Magazine,” has apparently chosen for young-earth creationism. Although for years it had published work on both old- and young-earth creationism, in recent months the magazine has refused publication of old-earth articles and devoted itself single-mindedly to attacks on both old-earth creationism and theistic evolution. It began with an article by five Canadian Reformed pastors in the issue of 1 January 2010, entitled “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil.” In addition, four editorials were published in the space of a few months, all of them rejecting theistic evolution and/or old-earth creationism. Since the attacks were obviously directed against Reformed Academic, we posted a series of answers to the “Ten Reasons.” Subsequently we submitted a more general response to Clarion, but the editorial committee, in accordance with its recently adopted policy, vetoed publication. We therefore now post it on the blog. (See “Collected Papers” in the sidebar for J. van der Meer et al. (2010) “Reformed Academic Responds to ‘Ten Reasons’”; direct link here.)

We do this in an attempt not only to respond to erroneous accusations at our address, but also to calm the waters. A good deal of alarm has recently been raised both at home and abroad about the dire threats posed to the CanRC by theistic evolutionists and old-earth creationists. We consider that alarmism unnecessary and regrettable, but realize how it could happen. While leading Reformed theologians have in the past generally accepted old-earth creationism as worthy of defence, and while even the possibility of some sort of theistic evolution appears to have been considered without raising alarm (let alone censorship), times have changed. During the past few decades scientific creationism, an American import, has slain its millions. (On this topic see the essay “Young-Earth Creationism: A History” on this blog, posted on 27 June 2009.)

This scientific creationism spread from North America to other areas, including the Netherlands. There, however, the much older Reformed (or “continental”) tradition on the issue survived. That tradition had of course been inherited by the Canadian Reformed Churches. In the past it was not uncommon for Canadian Reformed professors of theology to admit that they had no problems with old-earth creationism, and as mentioned, Clarion was allowed to write about it as well. Lately, however, American-evangelical influences have been growing among us, and by now it looks as if that position is to replace Reformed-continentalism. Not only Clarion, but the magazine Reformed Perspective also promotes it as the only biblical position, most schools, as well as the Theological College, appear to teach it, and neither pastors nor teachers publicly admit to a different position, no matter what their private opinion.

In short, the Canadian Reformed community is in this respect in tune with what is often called the fundamentalist wing of evangelicalism. As such they differ not only from the Reformed churches in the Netherlands but also from orthodox Presbyterianism in North America – both PCA and OPC. In these churches the issues, although considered sensitive, are openly discussed. We regret that this is no longer possible in the CanRC. In fact, it was this development – and specifically the censorship instituted by Clarion – that led to the establishment of Reformed Academic. In view of the measures taken by the powers that be, our work will have to continue.

Answers to the question why we believe we must address the question of the history of the earth and of life have been given in various entries on our blog. For the benefit of our readers, we will recapitulate them here:

1. We ask for a restoration of a balance in this area that was only recently disturbed. That is, we ask for the freedom of interpretation in the matter of Genesis 1 that has existed in the Reformed churches for well over a 100 years, and that had in both the Netherlands and Canada given little rise to controversy until the inrush and acceptance of American young-earth creationism. The traditional position implied the defence of old-earth creationism, as well as the idea of a regional Flood, the questioning of flood geology, and related issues.

2. We ask for an honest discussion of the effects scientific findings may have (and in the past indeed have had) on biblical exegesis. As one example out of several, we ask the reader to remember the acceptance of the Copernican-Galilean theory of a moving earth. While we realize the difficulties evolutionary theory raises for the understanding of Genesis 1, we are convinced that ostrich policies won’t help, just as they did not help in the past. They tend to be counter-productive. Although we have questions about evolution, we are all convinced that the matter must be discussed. The reasons why, and the manner in which, are outlined in our “Response to ‘Ten Reasons’” (Reformed Academic, 1-6 April 2010) and in other posts on our blog.

3. We ask for an awareness of the predicament in which the official proclamation of scientific creationism as the only acceptable position places many believers, and especially Christian scientists and students. Whatever the theological, philosophical, and even scientific problems associated with evolution, the scientific evidence for such matters as common descent is strong. Teaching that this evidence must be ignored, and even that it is spurious (inspired by the devil, as some believe) is not convincing.

4. We ask that our churches cease distancing themselves from the orthodox Reformed ecumene by their association with evangelical fundamentalism. In this respect we draw attention to the need to engage our culture and to stop raising stumbling stones for outsiders. A literalistic hermeneutic constitutes such a stumbling block. Realizing this, an increasing number of orthodox Christians (theologians and others) who take their cultural and evangelistic tasks seriously have, even in “creationist” America, publicly declared to have accepted either old-earth creationism or theistic evolution. We do not ask our churches to follow the latter example. We do, however, believe that it is high time to devote a serious discussion to the issue. To forbid such a discussion, as is presently done in our churches, and to present an interpretation of Genesis 1 that differs from the young-earth creationist one as unbiblical, is erroneous and dangerous.

We invite your careful reading of, and comments upon, our concluding response to “Ten Reasons” (direct link here).

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