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Vibrant Dance 2: Duncan: Six 24-Hour Days, A Reformed View

{RJW Note: The final plenary position paper was given by J. Ligon Duncan, the Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson Mississippi, and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. For whatever reason, I didn’t ask him at the conference for his notes. I emailed him a couple of days ago, and have not yet heard back, so tonight’s summary will be exclusively from the notes I took during the talk. I apologize for not getting the something from him at the time. Starting tomorrow, coverage will be over the breakout sessions and panel discussions.}

All Christians must be committed to some form of realism—correspondence and coherence and revelation are all important. Inerrancy is also important. We do have different ways of knowing things, and it is important to be aware of them and their reliability. We need to recognize that ontology precedes epistemology. {The fact that we exist takes precedence over how we know it.} For example, “I know my wife knows me” but sometimes it is hard to explain why I know.

It is impossible not to admit the presence of supernaturalism in Genesis 1, but it doesn’t mean the functions of this world are not capable of study by human activity. In other words, just because I say God sent a thunderstorm, doesn’t mean it is wrong to study meteorology. The fact of God’s action in the world as either an ultimate cause or even a specific one doesn’t preclude the fact of the orderly laws of nature, which we are able to study and have a responsibility to study.

Duncan holds to a literal 24 hour day of creation, a literal Adam, the Fall, and so on. There are important truth claims held therefore in these passages. People have speculated about the days of creation for centuries, but speculation rising to the level of debate only started up as late as the 16th century, and debate between day-age and calendar day camps only have arisen since the 19th century. {Duncan gave a very concise history of this in just a couple of sentences, but I was unable to get it down here.} He argues that it is more of a hermeneutical issue than exegetical. Interestingly and embarrassingly, secular theologians view our efforts at defending inerrancy as indicative that we view Biblical text as having errors in the authors’ understanding. He proceeded to discount the day-age views, but likes the framework views.

He argues in more detail than Walton did that cosmogony is not Moses’ concern in Genesis 1, but rather countering the pagan worldview of the day and gave some arguments. He appreciates the framework hypothesists’ views but the presence of an apologetic does not preclude the presence of a cosmogony and in fact the cosmogony may be part of the apologetic. God revealed a real cosmogony so Moses can wage war against the pagan viewpoint.

It was a revolutionary concept that God created the world and is completely separate from it. Thus, Genesis is about how God shaped His original creation from chaos into order, and light from darkness—crafted and given to us by a good God. The cosmogony aspect of the Moses’ Creation apologetic also shows that the world was originally good, pre fall—we messed up and that’s why the world is messed up. Furthermore, God’s character is revealed by His response to three low points:  the Fall, Abel’s murder, the world’s wickedness resulting in the Flood. {wouldn’t His bringing order out of chaos initially be a fourth point?}

Therefore, it is not an accident that God is prominent in the first sentence of the first verse of the Bible. Duncan argued that the Big Bang is not a cosmogony; therefore, we still don’t have one {today? As Christians? The question is due to holes in the notes.} Moses shows the effect of God's work which gives us the basis of teleology and comprehensiveness of God’s creation.

Duncan said that movement from the impersonal to the personal in a strictly material manner is an insurmountable philosophical hurdle. In other words, to try to get a relational existence from a purely naturalistic mechanism is impossible philosophically. {Is this a possible god-of-the-gaps argument? He sort of threw it out there without explanation/justification, so it is hard to evaluate.}

He then explained the framework model—form then progresses to fulfillment {I wonder if this is an example of dual fulfillment—there is the obvious immediate symbolic fulfillment, but is it layered with a material fulfillment as described by some informed modern scientific fulfillment?) He and many others at the symposium insist that most of the views of Genesis’ days held over 2000 years of Church and even Jewish history have viewed it as literal 24 hour days.

Being a good Presbyterian, he referenced Calvin’s view to inform his own. Calvin insisted the creation was not merely a didactic work (i.e. a morality, just-so tale to express certain spiritual truths), but out of love for His people, God did actually create in 6 days—i.e. He didn’t just accommodate us in His explanation, but in His actions also.

Augustine’s view was that God did it instantaneously then described it over six days.

Duncan then warned that as we approach Genesis 1 & 2, we need to be careful about:
1)      Defending against harmonizing with current views of science
2)      Resist tendency anything that undercuts historicity of Scripture
3)      Remember we are looking back at Creation through 3 imposing barriers
                                The Flood
                                The Fall
                                The 6 days of Creation, so all we know of creation is through revelation
{It seems he ignores the possibility that science can make accurate inferences about the early universe/world. Why?}

He argued we should take the most straightforward reading of the text, and thus the take home messages from Genesis 1 are:
1)      The repeated evening/morning refrain confirms a more literal 24 hour day interpretation, as does Exodus 20.
2)      God’s power is expressed by his fiat action.
3)      God is not tied down by ‘natural’ means, though He can use them, but is not required to.
4)      God uses differentiation, division, and distinction in His Creative actions.
5)      Then after day 3, He starts filling what He formed.
6)      The sun, moon and stars were gods to ancient peoples so Moses shows that God didn’t even get around to creating them until halfway through the Creation. Furthermore, the text describes the creation of stars in an offhand manner, almost an afterthought “Oh yeah, I made the stars too.”
7)      Day 5 is an anti Babylonian apologetic against myth of oceans and sea monsters, which were representations of chaos and disorder. Therefore, if God is their Creator, then they also are subject to Him.
8)      Day 7 is the origin of Hebrew freedom—to slaves the idea of a day of rest was astoundingly freeing.

Day 9 Praise:  Praise to the Triune God who is relational and thus created us to be relational with Him and each other, resulting in the blessings of friendship, and family.


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