I do not see any difference in principle between the way Rev. Geering redefined the supernatural miracle of the our Lord’s resurrection and the way many scholars and teachers redefine the supernatural miracle of His miracle of creation. I am 90-years-old and my body will soon be buried. But I still believe in a future bodily resurrection. I therefore see no reason to doubt God’s account of His own work of creation.
I was there to see, to hear and to report on one of the few heresy trials of the 20th Century. It took place in Christchurch New Zealand in 1967. Professor Lloyd Geering, who was then teaching theology at the Seminary of the Presbyterian Church of New Zeland (PCNZ), was charged with “doctrinal error” and “disturbing the peace and unity of the (Presbyterian) church.”
As I recall it the charge was brought by one other minister of the PCNZ, and also a member of the church who was a lawyer. And what was the reason for making this charge? It was the fact that Rev. Geering had denied the literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus. And yet at the same time Rev. Geering loudly proclaimed his faith in the doctrine of the resurrection as he defined it. And what did he mean by that claim? He said the resurrection was not something that took place outside of the disciples, but rather inside of them. The disciples of Jesus seemed, at first, to be discouraged and defeated by His death. But then they began to realize that what Jesus meant by promising His resurrection was not something that was to happen to him, but to something that was to happen to them and in them. They were to be amazingly changed because of the momentous impact that He had made upon them. In other words the only ‘real’ resurrection, according to Rev. Geering, is simply ‘the wonderful change’ that takes place in people because of the witness that Jesus gave in the way he lived and the way he died.
Rev. Geering was well aware of the fact that this was where the most advanced theologians had come in their respectable scientific thinking. He was the man who had the ‘courage’ to openly say that the physical body of Jesus lies somewhere under the dirt in Palestine. You see, Rev. Geering was convinced that the people who wrote the Bible were sincere but ‘pre-scientific’ people. They didn’t realize in those days that dead bodies of people simply do not rise from their graves. But we modern people have the benefit of modern scientific learning. So it is time to be honest with the people in the pews of the church, and to help them to give up that pre-scientific way of thinking.
But of course Rev. Geering wasn’t there when Jesus lived, died and rose again. Neither were any of the other erudite and advanced scientists of our time who believe in the doctrine of evolution. So they are not any more qualified than you or me to deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And the stubborn fact is that the New Testament provides us with the eye-witness testimony by people who were there and who saw that this did actually happen.
What shocked and amazed me, as I sat there at that trial (as an officially recognized reporter for the Reformed Churches of New Zealand) was the combination of two striking things. The first was the impression Rev. Geering made on me in defending himself! He acted as if he was a kind of modern Martin Luther, courageously taking his stand against hopelessly outmoded thinking. The second was the amazing fact that the entire General Assembly stood up to loudly to cheer Rev. Geering after his speech in defense of himself and his views had concluded. What I saw and heard was a shock from which I still haven’t recovered.
Here was the General Assembly of a Church claiming to belong to Jesus Christ, while denying its very foundation (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). I still can’t get over it. I honestly felt a sense of fear at the time that the very earth might open up and swallow up the entire crowd that was there because of such blatant blasphemy.
But now my point! I do not see any difference in principle between what I saw at that trial in 1967 in New Zealand, and what I see today in the prevailing tolerance allowed in even the better Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, where it comes to the doctrine of creation. When creation took place, there was no human being there to observe what happened (not until the sixth day, at least). But God was there.
I am therefore convinced that He, and He alone, is qualified to tell me what happened. I am also convinced that this is exactly what we have in the first two chapters of the Bible. He tells us in plain words that He created everything by His own supernatural power, and that He chose to do so (and actually did do so) in the space of six days. Yet far too many erudite Bible scholars, and college and seminary professors, keep on insisting that we have to be open to views that say creation did not happen as Genesis 1-2 tells us it happened. They keep saying we should not be so naive as to simply believe that what we read is an accurate account of what actually happened in the space of six days.
I do not see any difference in principle between the way Rev. Geering redefined the supernatural miracle of the our Lord’s resurrection and the way many scholars and teachers redefine the supernatural miracle of His miracle of creation. I am 90-years-old and my body will soon be buried. But I still believe in a future bodily resurrection. I therefore see no reason to doubt God’s account of His own work of creation. If God could create everything in six days, then he can also resurrect my body from the grave “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52) at the second coming of Jesus.
I simply cannot see how anyone can believe the one while doubting the other. There is no difference: both are supernatural works of our omnipotent God and He expects us to believe them.
G. I. Williamson is a retired minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, living in the Orange City, Iowa area. He is the author of study guides on the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and the Heidelberg Catechism.