I gave a presentation to a Sunday School class this summer. It was on the six-day creation and attacks on it from inside conservative Presbyterian seminaries. I attended one of them.
The theory is called the framework hypothesis. It dismisses the six days of creation as literary devices. God never wanted anyone to imagine that He created the world in a sequence, let alone a six-day sequence. Sadly, they tell us, Christians up to about 1924 did not understand God’s point. They thought six days meant — can you believe it? — six days. They did not see that the six days were a literary device: 1-4, 2-5, 3-6. See? Simple. Therefore, the age of the universe is whatever Wikipedia says, give or take a billion years.
The frameworkers proclaim that God took 13.7 billion years to get to His theological point.
This view, which goes back to the Netherlands in the 1920’s, was introduced to American Presbyterians in the Westminster Theological Journal in 1958 by a very young Meredith Kline, a new faculty member at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. In 1961 and 1962, it was answered, point by point, in three articles by Edward J. Young, one of the premier Old Testament scholars in the 20th century, who was also on the Westminster faculty. In 1964, these articles were published as a book, Studies in Genesis 1.
Kline prudently refused to respond for over three decades. Then he wrote a brief follow-up article in 1996. It did not respond specifically to Young’s line-by-line refutation. It mentioned Young’s book only once: in a one-sentence footnote. It was even less exegetically rigorous than his 1958 article. Kline waited for a generation for the church to forget Young’s critique, and then he reappeared with his framework hypothesis, as if nothing had challenged it. His students at Westminster West (Escondido theology) were not born when Young’s articles and book first appeared. The book was long out of print. The articles had not been read even at the time. Kline’s academic tactic was highly successful. I review this academically embarrassing story here.
Relying on Kline’s two brief articles, and refusing to respond to Young’s — as Kline also refused — men who refuse to discard the chronology of their year in a geology course in college can pretend to appear faithful to the text in Genesis. Of course, they cannot be faithful to the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), to which they must swear allegiance in order to be ordained. Chapter 4:1 reads:
It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create or make of nothing the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good.
But what did those theologians know? They never took a geology course at an accredited university or college.
Isn’t the Westminster Confession enforced? Not on an agreed-upon “peripheral issue” like creationism and the meaning of Genesis 1 and 2. I wrote a book on this, which you can download for free: Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church (1996). It’s 1,000 pages — great for a year of Sunday afternoons. The crossed fingers strategy is over 150 years old. Why drop it now? It is part of the American Presbyterian tradition.
Because the Bible’s chronology places the universal flood within three years of 2359 B.C., this frameworking of the text of Genesis 1 and 2 does them no good. When you are forced by the text to declare that the races of mankind are less than 5,000 years old, you will be laughed out of humanism’s court anyway.
(On the dating of the flood, see chapter 17 of my commentary on the historical books.)
The framework hypothesis offers seminary graduates a way to wiggle out of the textual trap of Genesis 1. But there is no wiggle room in the chronology of Genesis 11. If Presbyterian ruling elders wanted to screen out the frameworkers, they could use the chronology of the flood to serve as a substitute for Genesis 1. They could grill them in their presbytery examinations. Those candidates who see what Genesis 11 will do to their academic self-image could then become Methodists or Episcopalians.
SEMINARY: RIVAL APPROACHES
It is time for presbyteries to set up their own online seminaries, give the training away for free on YouTube and WordPress.com, and bring candidates under real care of regional presbyteries. Young men would not have to go into debt. Older men could do this on a part-time basis after work. There would be far more candidates for the ministry. The range of talents would be wider.
In 1811, American presbyteries began to surrender to the newly invented theological seminary (Princeton) the spiritual authority to monitor the progress of candidates for the ministry. The Calvinist Congregationalists had invented the first seminary in 1808 — Andover — because Harvard had publicly gone Unitarian in 1805. But they still required their young men to graduate from Harvard or Yale, and then study three more years. This dramatically reduced the supply of Calvinists for Congregational pulpits, and by 1860, the Unitarians had taken over Congregationalism. They had the votes.
This was replicated by Presbyterianism. The liberals took over all but Princeton Seminary by 1900, and by 1926 were in control of the Presbyterian Church, USA. In 1936, they de-frocked nine Calvinist pastors for resisting — out of 10,000 ministers.
Lesson: the faction that sets policy for the seminaries will take over the denomination within 50 years. It has to do with screening.
It is time for presbyteries to reassert their authority to train pastors — where Presbyterian law has always officially lodged this authority. Internet technology makes this possible. Cheap.
If Salman Khan can teach 10,000,000 students every month for free, then a presbytery can do the same for maybe 10 to 15 students. Trust me. It really can. The presbyteries can farm out some courses across presbyterial boundaries. The Internet is in the cloud. It’s great for heavenly material.
Who knows? Maybe foreign students for the ministry will take courses. Khan’s students are all over the world.
I tell the story of the framework hypothesis in a video. I think you will be amazed that anything this lightweight, exegetically speaking, could capture conservative seminaries. But it has.
Presbyterian pastors have known about the framework hypothesis for over 50 years. But laymen have never heard of it. Yet laymen write checks to seminaries. Better that the checks go to a local presbytery to set up an online seminary, where donors can see on YouTube what is being done with their money. (Now there’s a terrifying thought for seminary fundraisers!)
Donors can henceforth donate to a presbytery’s seminary fund. This money is used to pay pastors to produce a one-semester or one-year course: half the money in advance, half upon completion. It needs to be paid only once per course. A seminary’s curriculum should be funded one course at a time, and only once. This would end the need for annual donations until the Second Coming.
Donors give away money that is then used to trap young men in massive debt. There are better uses for this money.
The presbytery-run seminaries could hire trusted professors at existing seminaries to produce courses over the summer. They could make this offer: “In five years, you will be out of a job. How about it?” OK, they could at least make the offer to trusted retired professors.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
It should not cost $35,000 to $50,000 to graduate from seminary. But it does. Students should not take federal loans to go to seminary, but they do. The seminaries encourage this. Here is an example from my alma mater. Read it and weep.
To get access to federal funds, a seminary must be accredited. This is the key. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary — which long employed Meredith Kline — explains this quite well.
Theological seminaries and divinity schools provide graduate level education, offering degrees such as Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Religion, Master of Christian Counseling and many more. A bachelor’s degree is required for admission. Divinity and theological schools are typically accredited by a federal agency, and are eligible for federally-funded student loans.
“What’s that?” ask terminally naive laymen. “You mean federal money comes with strings attached?” Will wonders never cease?
Therefore, desperate for students, who in turn need federal loans to afford bricks-and-mortar seminary education, conservative Presbyterian seminaries have applied for accreditation, and have received it . . . for as long as the accrediting associations allow them to keep it.
Who controls accreditation? The liberals who control the mainline denominations, which the conservatives long ago abandoned out of principle, or else were tossed out. Today, the conservative denominations’ seminaries have reapplied for acceptance. Let me describe this relationship, in 10 seconds.
What is the theological justification for this subservience, according to the seminaries? “Education is theologically neutral.” Of course! Neutral education! With neutral standards! If Machen had only understood this! What trouble he could have avoided!
So, young men spend three years writing term papers. They preach maybe three practice sermons. In round numbers, that is $15,000 per sermon.
Does this make sense? Most Presbyterian pastors think it does. They have the votes to change it, but they don’t.
According to Gordon-Conwell, here is an alternative approach.
A relatively recent trend is the development of seminaries by churches. Still rare in the U.S., these schools may offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees that prepare students to understand and apply the Bible and theology in vocational ministry. Typically, they are not accredited.
One of the best-known church based theological schools is Bethlehem College and Seminary developed by Minneapolis Bethlehem Baptist Church.
The key words are “not accredited” and “Baptist.”
If most Presbyterian pastors did not have lifelong academic inferiority complexes, presbyteries would start free online seminaries. But the pastors suffer greatly. They can preach, but they don’t like to write heavily footnoted term papers. So, they defer to federally accredited theological seminaries. They let footnoting screen the next generation of pastors.
They have done this for 200 years.
A dozen pastors — active or retired — could produce the entire curriculum in three years: one pastor per course per year. They could post their courses online. Presbyteries anywhere could adopt them. Each presbytery does not have to produce all of the curriculum. It can sanction courses from anywhere. There is no geography in the cloud.
Why don’t they do it? Tradition!
If you want to annoy a Presbyterian pastor, send him a copy of this article. Ask him: “Is this really true? You guys really consent to this, when you could change it? Why?”
Here is the answer, of course: “Because we aren’t Baptists.” He won’t say it, but he will think it.
My lecture is posted on YouTube. Any pastor can do this. The technology is cheap: under $150. A smartphone on a $25 tripod, a $35 lapel microphone, a $25 cable to convert the smartphone’s earphones jack into a microphone jack, a $50 video editing program, and he’s ready to go.
For each seminary course (other than Greek and Hebrew), produce ten 12-lesson Sunday School courses: introduction, 10 lessons, and a conclusion. Make them practical. Explain why biblical theology is practical: applied theology. Seminary students are busy. Don’t make them study theology that is impractical. Seminary students need to be trained for trench warfare, not academic diplomacy. They really don’t need to study the writings of dead Germans — not at age 23. They need to understand C. I. Scofield and Hal Lindsey a lot more than they need to understand Barth and Bultmann. Then provide a reading list in a PDF. Produce some exams that a local pastor can administer. That’s all that a student needs from any classroom. It’s also all that a well-trained layman needs, with or without the exams.
I have another suggestion. It is admittedly radical. Tie the entire curriculum to the Bible and Calvin’s writings, including his 200 sermons on Deuteronomy. I can hear the cries of despair. “What’s this? A Calvinist seminary based on Calvin? This has never been attempted!” Why not give it a try?
“But,” pastors will say, “I’m just too busy.”
Meredith Kline was not too busy.
For three more videos on creation, click here.