Protology and Eschatology

Thanks to justsinner, I’m listening to Robert Strimple’s WSCAL course “God’s Created Image,” and it’s fantastic. These quotes are from the second lecture (discs 4&5).


It doesn’t seem at all surprising to me that God might well give us revelation concerning protology — you know what protology would be, the beginnings of things — it doesn’t seem at all surprising to me that God might well give us revelation concerning protology in a figurative rather than a literal account, considering how far beyond our experience the subject matter is. Just as we find his revelation concerning eschatology given in apocalyptic form often. And so we know by now that biblical prophecy is not simply history written beforehand. So many evangelical fundamentalists over the years have said, “Well prophecy is just history written ahead of time.” No, not quite. I mean it’s not written the way most history books read about an event — there’s the highly figurative and sometimes apocalyptic. Nor would I say, by the same token, is protology simply history written after the fact.

What are we dealing with in Genesis 1 after all? The creation of the entire universe! Somehow it doesn’t strike me as surprising that God might have some difficulty revealing that to little old me in just a straightforward, prosaic account. It doesn’t seem at all surprising (to use Calvin’s word about accommodation) that God would accommodate his revelation to his people and to their limits of understanding and to the message he wants to bring them — just as we find in the area of eschatology.

…The OPC has always in its history tolerated differences of interpretation in the area of eschatology. That was one of the two key reasons why the Bible Presbyterian Church came into being in 1937 — you know from the study of Presbyterian history, one year after the founding of the OPC, because the BP people wanted the church to be Premillenialist, and the OPC was tolerant of different interpretations in eschatology. And also the OPC throughout its history has been tolerant with regard to the proper interpretation of Genesis 1. I hope that situation will not change.

But now — again I’m no prophet; if anybody had told me when I was at Westminster Seminary in the late 50’s that in the year 2000 this would be the big issue (certainly in the state of California, in the two OPC presbyteries in our state)I would tell them that they certainly weren’t prophets, because that is ridiculous — but that’s where we are, and we’re now faced with an issue that could tear the OPC apart. Certainly raising big problems in this state. And likewise with regard to the United Reformed Churches.

…To take the position that only the one understanding of Genesis 1 is permissible would certainly be a new position in the OPC, was not the position of Old Princeton, you know, and it’s not the position of Old Westminster, we can now say. If you’re interested in Machen’s [position], you all know how to find what he says on it, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Machen’s book The Christian View of Man, start reading on page 130, it’s about 3 pages, it’s an amazing section. Machen makes statements there that would make — Machen was Old Princeton, and they were open to some possibilities that I myself wouldn’t be open to, but the idea that Machen would favor what’s now being promoted in the OPC of course, that’s impossible. Probably not most, probably all of my presbytery recognize that they would have to vote to not ordain Machen in our Presbytery. But their position is that the OPC has sinned in this regard long enough and it’s time to repent and do the right thing.


This point occurred to me a few years ago, about how the literal vs. poetic view of Gen 1-2 is a false dichotomy; it makes more sense to consider Genesis in the genre of prophecy (which God’s people have a history of misunderstanding, even when the fulfillment becomes visible). As I noted at the time, it is surely not possible that the idea was original to me, and now I know Strimple thought it first. And that’s OK.

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14 Responses to Protology and Eschatology

  1. RubeRad says:

    Exercise to the reader; find a copy of Machen’s Christian View of Man and report back. Possibly in the form of a post on your own blog, linking back to this so I can find it.

  2. RubeRad says:

    differences of interpretation in the area of eschatology. That was one of the two key reasons why the Bible Presbyterian Church came into being in 1937 — you know from the study of Presbyterian history

    For more info, see chapter 28 of Preaching on the Plains.

  3. justsinner99 says:

    Which views have been deemed acceptable in the OPC? I know that in the PCA there are a number of views that are held to be within the bounds of the confession, but /(for example) theistic evolution isn’t one of them..

    I hadn’t thought about likening protology to eschatology. That is an interesting point.

  4. RubeRad says:

    The OPC report on Creation is an excellent resource. The TOC lists sections on Ordinary Day, Day of Unspecified Length, Day-Age, Analogical Day, and Framework views (I can’t say for sure if all of those are therefore allowable), and I’m pretty sure there is no room for theistic evolution. Beyond these quotes, Strimple is quite adamantly against Theistic Evolution.

    But the basic tack of the OPC report is not to simply list allowable/forbidden buzzwords, but to set out a list of ordination exam questions/topics that a candidate must be able to address satisfactorily (although the definition of satisfactory answers is I guess left to the rest of the confessions). See p. 1 of the whole report.

    Another great resource is Poythress’ unfortunately titled Redeeming Science (free online). For a quickest overview, see the concluding section of ch 10 “Looking Back Over The Different Approaches” on pp 146-7.

  5. jedpaschall says:

    Rube,

    Thanks a lot for posting this. More often than not I have found myself baffled over the creation discussions in the Reformed world. The OPC and PCA committee reports, and the Westminster East statement on creation are some shining exceptions to the alarming rigidity in the current conversation. What has bothered me most is the absolute certainty that some place on their interpretations of not only Genesis 1-2, but on the whole question of cosmology and origins.

    This statement couldn’t be said better:

    What are we dealing with in Genesis 1 after all? The creation of the entire universe! Somehow it doesn’t strike me as surprising that God might have some difficulty revealing that to little old me in just a straightforward, prosaic account. It doesn’t seem at all surprising (to use Calvin’s word about accommodation) that God would accommodate his revelation to his people and to their limits of understanding and to the message he wants to bring them — just as we find in the area of eschatology.

    There are so many textual and contextual difficulties in the earliest chapters of Genesis that adding current contextual matters such as prevailing scientific models on origins makes for a daunting task to not only describe what the text meant to its original audience (which is sadly ignored all too often), but to bridge contexts and expound what it means to us in an understandable way. It seems to me that interpretive rigor on the matter needs to be matched with a measure of humility since we do not have the whole picture.

  6. Mike K. says:

    JV Fesko’s “Last Things First” opened my eyes to the viewpoints discussed here. It also covers the protology-eschatology ties so strongly that the book was almost titled “Protology” until his wife reminded him what it could be misread as.

  7. RubeRad says:

    That’s really funny! I really need to finish that book; I have it at home, and have only gotten through the 1st chapter; but there was a quote early on I had planned for a follow-on post!

  8. Pingback: Bad Argument # 4 Against Young Earth Creationism « Janitorial Musings

  9. matt says:

    Zrim: Sorry to bother you but do you remember a post a long time ago that had a picture of Christians being fed to lions or about to being fed to lions? I think it had to do with purpose driven something. I’d really like to get a copy of that picture if possible.
    thanks, matt

  10. Zrim says:

    Matt, sorry but no. Rube?

  11. RubeRad says:

    I don’t remember that either, sorry.

  12. Just in case anyone is still interested in the Machen material and hasn’t found it yet, it is selectively quoted at the end of Appendix 4 in my Appeal to the GA (September 1995) and can be found here: http://www.asa3.org/gray/evolution_trial/evolution_appeal.html

  13. RubeRad says:

    Thanks for dropping that link, that is helpful…

  14. Pingback: Dr. Strange Love; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Animus Impotentis | The Confessional Outhouse

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