Thursday, August 19, 2010

God forms and fills

All standard English versions translate the Genesis 1:2, “Now the earth was formless and empty” (Gen 1:2). But proponents of the so-called gap theory[1] still insist on interpreting as if it read, “and it became void and empty.” It’s theology not grammar that drives that drives that translation. They speak of an original creation (v. 1), followed by an indeterminate gap in time when everything fell into formless, black chaos (v. 2).

They reject the idea that God would have created an imperfect world then worked for six days to get it in shape. But this approach makes the “gap” between verses one and two the richest non-text on the Bible. Into this gap, they shovel dinosaurs, saber-toothed tigers, and Neaderthals. They find enough room in this gap for eons of development of the geological strata. And they even manage to fit in the rebellion of Satan and his followers. Indeed, Dake claims that the earth collapsed into dark chaos “because of Lucifer’s rebellion.”[2]

But I can’t see that God-ordained progress from dark and empty chaos to a well-lit and fully formed earth does anything to diminish God’s power or goodness. He put on a week-long show of creative genius. Hebrew grammar insists on it. And all standard Bible translations agree: “The earth was formless and empty,” then God began to do something about it.

The initial description of the universe as “formless” and “empty” shapes the narration of the six creation days. The first three days of creation form the universe, the final three days fill it.


1. Gap theory, also known as  gap creationism, ruin-restoration creationism, or restoration creationism. This view proposes a gap in time between two distinct creations in the first and second verses of Genesis.

2. Finis Jennings Dake, Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible: The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments of the Authorized or King James Version (Lawrenceville, Ga.: Dake Bible Sales, 1963), n. Gen 1:1.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Calvinism vs. Arminianism

Steve Wulf asked for my views on this. Although my own theology leans in the Reformed direction, I'm not a Calvinist. And I spend almost no time thinking about the speculative formulation of doctrine, such as "limited atonement" and the like. Indeed, I think that speculation is what makes me part way with both Arminians and Calvinists. I sympathize with the biblical concerns of both Calvinists and Arminians. I just can't follow the trajectory of their arguments when they begin to trample on other equally biblical concerns.

Arminians begin with the holy love
of God. That's a great biblical starting point. But then speculative arguments of the "if... then" sort come up against texts that impinge on their concept of how that could play out, so they become problem texts. The strong Pauline language of Paul in Romans gets problematic for Arminians. Indeed, I somethings think that the opponents Paul was arguing with were Arminians. They apparently keep saying things to which Paul has to respond, "God forbid!" (KJV). If a Calvinist argued like Paul did in Romans 5, an Arminian would likely object, "That would mean would should go on sinning so that grace would increase" (cf. Rom 6:1-2). If the Calvinist argued like Paul does in Romans 6:3-14), the Arminian would likely say, "Well then we might as well sin, with that understanding of grace" (cf. Rom 6:15). If a Calvinist argues for election like Paul does in Romans 9, the Arminian is likely to respond, "That's not just," to which Paul responds, "Not at all.... Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?" And then Paul gets really "Calvinistic" (Rom 9:10ff). Any theology that feels compelled to treat Romans 9 as a problem text--or to water it down until it no longer means what it plainly says--is problematic. "'If...' God did that 'then...' that's fatalism, or it would be my fault." So I tend to find Arminian commentary on Romans either nonsensical or insubstantial. Or maybe it even quits just before Romans 9 and draws its own conclusions from Romans 1-8 rather than the canonical conclusions.

Calvinists begin with the sovereign justice of God. That's great biblical starting point. But then speculative arguments of the "if... then" sort come up against texts that impinge on their concept of how that could play, so they become problem texts. Texts that describe salvation as conditional on our confession, repentance, and continuation in faith become problems, instead of key texts in understanding the relationship between sovereign election and human responsibility. The book of Hebrews warning against apostasy becomes a nonsense warning against something that could never happen, because of the eternal security of the elect. And so forth.

I prefer to worry Arminians with my Reformed tendencies to talk much about the sovereign grace of God. And then I like to worry Calvinists about my dangerous incipient Arminian tendencies to lean heavily on human accountability before GodSteve Wulf asked about my thoughts on this.