Chapter 4 of Dr. Howard Van Till’s The Fourth Day is entitled “The Form and Content of Scriptural Talk about Creation.”
Incidentally, unless otherwise indicated, when he speaks of Scripture and quotes from Scripture, he is referring to the Jerusalem Bible. I have not mentioned this previously; neither do I intend to discuss this. I only want to say that’ the use of the Jerusalem Bible ought to be repugnant to any right-thinking, Reformed Christian. But if one analyzes Van Till’s book carefully, he will discover that there are reasons for his using this version. Its language suits his purpose.
If I were to characterize the thrust of this chapter, I would say that in it Dr. Van Till’s purpose is becoming more and more obvious. Instead of carefully listening to Scripture and its clear and unmistakable testimony, he uses it to prepare eventual room for his particular brand of evolutionism and its billions of years.
How does he do this?
In the first place, he continues to pay attention to the many poetic references to God’s mighty works of creation and providence, without paying any attention whatsoever to the historical account of creation as found in Genesis 1 or to other obviously historical references to creation, as, for example, in the Fourth Commandment. There is one exception to this in the chapter. One might say that the rabbit is about to come out of the hat. For on page 65 he writes: “As it is found in the Bible, artistic literature creatively and effectively employs such genres as poetry, parable, allegory, story of origins, and primal history . . . .” And in a footnote he writes: “The terms ‘primal’ history’ and ‘primeval history’ are commonly used to identify the genre of Genesis 1-11. We will discuss this term more thoroughly in Chapter Five.”
In the second place, in discussing the “form” of Scripture’s references to creation, he continues to call attention to various poetic references from the- Psalms and elsewhere to God’s works of creation and providence in such a way as to -attempt to’ destroy the specific testimony of such passages. I shall not go into detail on this score: for I discussed it in my previous editorial. The main point is that Van Till seems to think that somehow the fact that Scripture employs “. . . the form of poetry in which God’s actions are presented in highly figurative and anthropomorphic language” eliminates the possibility that Scripture in doing so speaks very accurate and specific and factual language about our God and His mighty works. In this connection, by the way, he even classifies terms such as “wisdom,” “discernment,” “knowledge,” and “power,” when applied to God, as “figures of speech” (p. 59). It is in this way that Van Till tries to do away with the clear testimony of Scripture. I challenge anyone to make clear exegetically and on Scriptural grounds how the testimony, for example, of Psalm 33:6, 9can be understood by anyone—adult or child—in such a way that it leaves room for billions of years of evolutionary development of the universe. Does God speak? Or is that an empty figure? Does His speech have the immediate effect of producing what it says? Does He command? Or is that, too, a mere empty figure? Is His command effectual, so that it establishes what He commands? Were the heavens indeed made by His “Word” and all the host of the heavens actually produced by the Spirit of His mouth? Figurative, and anthropomorphic language has meaning, specific meaning. Never forget this!
In the third place—and this is undoubtedly the main item in this chapter—Dr. Van Till expands the meaning of the divine work of creating and fails to maintain the distinction (a Biblical and confessional one) between God’s work of creation and His work of providence. He professes to believe that creation is creation ex nihilo(“out of nothing”), but he wants to add to this. I quote from page 65:
Now let’s put these four categories of God’s creative activity together to form the complete picture. God is the Creator; as Creator, God is the Originator, Preserver, Governor, and Provider of the Creation. God’s multidimensional activity as Creator, therefore, is not confined to some instant of “exnihilation” in either the recent or remote past. God’s activity is just as necessary for our daily life in the present as it was at any time in the past. Each moment of each day, for example, we experience his action as our Preserver, Governor, and Provider. This experience provides a reservoir of illustrations of God’s covenant faithfulness in the same way that the experiences of the biblical historians, prophets, and poets provided the occasions for their witness and testimony to God’s faithful acts in history and in the lives of his people of centuries past.
Again, on page 66 he writes:
We have a tendency to summarize the biblical doctrine of creation by saying, “The cosmos was created by God.” That is altogether correct, of course, but the past-tense verb indicates our inclination to think of creation solely in terms of the act of exnihilation. It strikes me that the statement “The cosmos is God’s Creation” constitutes a better summary of biblical teaching about creation. It includes the idea of ex nihilo origination, but goes beyond that, lending itself to a balanced consideration of the multiple categories of divine creativity. It has the form of a statement that clearly identifies the status of the material world—a status that in essence entails a relationship of dynamic dependency . . . .
Now I have no particular love for the phrase “ex nihilo.” For it is not totally accurate to say that creation is to “make something out of nothing.” It is more accurate to describe the work of creation as being that God calls those things which be not as though they were. But this is not the point now. The point is that Van Till wants to expand the definition of creation so as to include what is included in the doctrine of providence. In this way he can get away from the Biblical idea of instantaneous creation of all things in six days, limited by morning and evening, but still maintain that he believes in some kind of creative work of God, and, thus at the same time prepare room for his billions of years and for the “big bang.”
Dr. Van Till does not listen to Scripture. Neither does he adhere to the teaching of our Confessions.
He wants evolutionism, not the Biblical doctrine of creation. And he must not say that he believes the doctrine of creation.