Fibonacci Poetry and Covenantal Streakers
The following are a few thoughts generated by my Old Testament class last week. Naturally, beginning with Genesis, there had to be some discussion of Genesis 1-2 and what the Biblical answer is to Evolution and more generally, modern science.
Dr. Schwab, the Old Testament professor at Erskine, graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He earned his Master of Divinity and his PhD there, doing his dissertation on the Song of Solomon. His presentation was quite good, drawing somewhat (or heavily as the case may be) from Meredith Kline’s Images of the Spirit, Schwab outlined the biblical world as created to be the throne and glory of God. He demonstrated that throughout Scripture, light and fire and clouds are the glory that surround Yahweh, and that the thrones or habitations of this glory (e.g. the tabernacle and temple) were designed to mimic and display that glory. And in a glorious climax, Schwab point out that Genesis 1 is also designed to picture the cosmos as God’s dwelling place, His house and throne.
Unfortunately, for all of Dr. Kline’s insight and scholarship in this, Dr. Kline is also the originator of what is called the “Framework Hypothesis”. On this reading of Genesis 1, the creation narrative is a highly developed poetic device which only intends to picture the world in three tiers, and these tiers are “framed” by the days 1-3 running parallel thematically with days 4-6. The first three “days” are merely the spheres: heaven, earth, seas, and the last three days are the filling of those spheres with their proper rulers: Sun, Moon and Stars, birds and fish, and finally animals and man. In other words, Genesis 1 is not intended to describe the actual sequence or time involved in the work of creation but rather merely an extravagant spatial demonstration.
Now just so I’m being fair, it is quite true that I was a bit taken with this hypothesis a number of years ago. For about a year between my senior year of high school and the first half of my freshman year in college, I found this theory appealing and fascinating. But I repented!
But the real unfortunate thing is that all of Kline’s (and Schwab’s) insights on the tiers, the spheres, and symbolism can stand perfectly good and worthwhile without the conclusion that the “days” aren’t days. Why pit history and poetry against each other? Why undermine the very argument for the reflection of God’s glory by assigning meaning to words foreign to the text and context? Sure, we might point out that Gen. 2:4 uses “day” in a more general sense, but all through Gen. 1 we’re told how long these days are: they consist of one morning and one evening. It’s the context that determines that day means a week in 2:4, and it’s context that determines that a day means 24 hours in 1:2ff.
One of the interesting things about this is the fact that Dr. Schwab pointed out that he came to the text of Genesis 1 with the mind of an engineer. He was an engineer for a number of years before turning to theology, and he explained that he comes to this text with engineer’s questions. And that’s not all bad, but the story is telling. A poet would come to the text of Genesis 1, see the lovely parallelism and symbolism and never doubt for a moment the historicity of the poem, because every real poet knows that poetry is not an escape from the world, but an intensification of reality. Poetry is reveling in the real world with all of its oddness and peculiar ways. But the engineering mind comes to the text notices the poetry and immediately doubts the historicity of the text. And this is a very radical misunderstanding of the nature of symbolism and poetry. The implicit claim is that metaphor is empty. When the Lover says, “My love is like a red, red rose” it will not do for him to explain to his love that when he is speaking poetically he does not mean to be making any claims about whether roses are really red or whether or not there really exits a plant called “rose”. It will not do to say that all the poem is meant to express is the poet’s feelings/intentions of love. Of course that may be the main thrust, but if there is no such thing as red or roses then his metaphor is about as helpful as a glass hammer.
Or take the lines “And miles to go before I sleep/ And miles to go before I sleep” from the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. Surely Frost means to say more than simply the distance he plans to travel before going to bed. But he certainly doesn’t mean less than that. Otherwise his poem is meaningless (or at least the last two lines are).
I have a theory of my own that there is a strain of Gnosticism running through some of the circles of the Reformed world that have embraced the Framework Hypothesis. Just to be clear, I’m not accusing anyone of being 3rd century heretics. Nor am I accusing Kline, Schwab or anyone else of heresy. I would be happy to worship with these and the many other dear saints that hold these views. However, what I am suggesting is that there are some similarities in thought between the Framework guys and some of the Gnostics. First, there is a disparagement of creation, and particularly the creation of time. While the Framework folks are not openly denying the goodness of Created matter, they are devaluing the importance of the creation of time: the day, the week, months and years which is ultimately a disparagement of the sun, moon and stars which is a disparagement of matter. Time is part of the created order. Time measures the movements of the burning, whirling bodies of heaven. And how we organize and spend our time is a direct response to the way God has designed the world. Will we live in conformity to His creative pattern or will we turn His poetry into a quadratic equation and mince words until it’s all a big charade with no actual binding force for anyone?
The other strain of Gnosticism is the prioritizing of thought or sentiment over physical reality. This is what their fibonacci poetry does, confusing words with numbers, as though words are merely meant to demonstrate values and dimensions. They do that of course, but they do more than that as well.
Finally, what I find highly interesting is that often the most ardent supporters of the Framework business are also enamored with a dispensationalism-lite, imagining “intrusions” of grace and law popping up here and there running around through the covenants like a couple of streakers at a baseball game. And to top all the fun off, they are usually quite satisfied with an amillienial eschatology because hey, it’s all gunna burn anyway. All the pieces seem to fit: a timeless creation meant only to reflect a greater reality above and beyond and a story with intrusions from the heavenly realm sputtering along like an old beater, waiting for the Last Day when we can leave it all at the junk yard and get whisked up to Elysium—er—I mean—heaven with the other 3 faithful saints.
And as I said before, I say all this with love for these brothers and sisters: just some thoughts and observations and feedback is welcomed.