Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity.
We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity. An Age of Religious Pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - Anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - Anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Has Science Made Philosophy and Theology Obsolete?

Has Science Made Philosophy and Theology Obsolete?

For those readers interested in the Christian side of this discussion I might suggest substituting the word "theologian or theology" for the word "philosopher or philosophy." Generally it is the observation of how to fit the academic discipline of science in-and-around the contrary disciplines of philosophy and theology.

For myself, I believe both disciplines need the other and that neither has a hold of the truth in themselves alone. Without science, philosophy and theology cannot think new thoughts beyond their own reasonings. And without philosophy and theology, science cannot examine what it has uncovered as fully as it might. Moreover, to argue for a "philosophy of metaphysics" alone as cosmologists generally do cannot inform humanity as to the philosophical or theological question of ethics, aesthetics, politics, or epistemology. It is a disservice to think that either can do an adequate job without the other.

And so, both disciplines require the other - however technical either discipline can be in their own realms of understanding. It behooves both scientists and philosopher/theologians to be fully invested in each other's knowledge-realms. To work with one another and to challenge one another when either side becomes too complacent or intellectually lazy to do the hard work of examination. I have especially observed this among Christians who argue over the evolution of man in Genesis. Its meaning for Adam's "historicity" and the theological idea of "original sin," and whether a symbolic or mythological narrative may carry any currency in Christian theology. The simple answer is it can.

As such, the reader will find a "bible vs. science" debate written by Peter Enns at the end of this article to focus the Christian reader on the foolishness of thinking that "special revelation is alone to itself in the world of knowledge of the theologian." Certainly this cannot be true. Science will demand from the Christian theologian a re-examination of his or her's understanding of the interpretative tradition of Scripture they cling to. That its challenge neither lessens God's claim to the world nor removes it but may re-arrange one's older interpretations of God's relationship to His creation for newer interpretations that are more congruent with scientific discovery. To pretend otherwise is to persevere in hermeneutical traditions that can no longer be true for more conversant readers familiar with scientific inquiry and discovery.

R.E. Slater
May 26, 2015

The ongoing feud between physicists and philosophers cuts to the
heart  of what science can tell us about the nature of reality.

Physicists Are Philosophers, Too
In his final essay the late physicist Victor Stenger argues for the validity of philosophy in the context of modern theoretical physics
Editor’s Note: Shortly before his death last August at the age of 79, the noted physicist and public intellectual Victor Stenger worked with two co-authors to pen an article for Scientific American. In it Stenger and co-authors address the latest eruption of a long-standing historic feud, an argument between physicists and philosophers about the nature of their disciplines and the limits of science. Can instruments and experiments (or pure reason and theoretical models) ever reveal the ultimate nature of reality? Does the modern triumph of physics make philosophy obsolete? What philosophy, if any, could modern theoretical physicists be said to possess? Stenger and his co-authors introduce and address all these profound questions in this thoughtful essay and seek to mend the growing schism between these two great schools of thought. When physicists make claims about the universe, Stenger writes, they are also engaging in a grand philosophical tradition that dates back thousands of years. Inescapably, physicists are philosophers, too. This article, Stenger’s last, appears in full below.
In April 2012 theoretical physicist, cosmologist and best-selling author Lawrence Krauss was pressed hard in an interview with Ross Andersen for The Atlantic titled “Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?” Krauss's response to this question dismayed philosophers because he remarked, “philosophy used to be a field that had content,” to which he later added,
“Philosophy is a field that, unfortunately, reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke, “those that can't do, teach, and those that can't teach, teach gym.” And the worst part of philosophy is the philosophy of science; the only people, as far as I can tell, that read [essays]/works/[treatises] by philosophers of science are other philosophers of science. It has no impact on physics whatsoever, and I doubt that other philosophers read it because it's fairly technical. And so it's really hard to understand what justifies it. And so I'd say that this tension occurs because people in philosophy feel threatened—and they have every right to feel threatened, because science progresses and philosophy doesn't.
Later that year Krauss had a friendly discussion with philosopher Julian Baggini in The Observer, an online magazine from The Guardian. Although showing great respect for science and agreeing with Krauss and most other physicists and cosmologists that there isn’t “more stuff in the universe than the stuff of physical science,” Baggini complained that Krauss seems to share “some of science’s imperialist ambitions.” Baggini voices the common opinion that “there are some issues of human existence that just aren’t scientific. I cannot see how mere facts could ever settle the issue of what is morally right or wrong, for example.”

Lawrence Krauss, author of "A Universe From Nothing:
Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing"
Krauss does not see it quite that way. Rather he distinguishes between “questions that are answerable and those that are not,” and the answerable ones mostly fall into the “domain of empirical knowledge, aka science.” As for moral questions, Krauss claims that they only be answered by “reason...based on empirical evidence.” Baggini cannot see how any “factual discovery could ever settle a question of right and wrong.”
Nevertheless, Krauss expresses sympathy with Baggini’s position, saying, “I do think philosophical discussion can inform decision-making in many important ways—by allowing reflections on facts, but that ultimately the only source of facts is via empirical exploration.”
Noted philosophers were upset with The Atlantic interview, including Daniel Dennett of Tufts University who wrote to Krauss. As a result, Krauss penned a more careful explication of his position that was published in Scientific American in 2014 under the title “The Consolation of Philosophy.” There he was more generous to philosophy's contribution to the enrichment of his own thinking, although he conceded little of his basic position:
“As a practicing physicist...I, and most of the colleagues with whom I have discussed this matter, have found that philosophical speculations about physics and the nature of science are not particularly useful, and have had little or no impact upon progress in my field. Even in several areas associated with what one can rightfully call the philosophy of science I have found the reflections of physicists to be more useful.”

Krauss is not alone among physicists in his disdain for philosophy. In September 2010 physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow published a shot heard round the world—and not just the academic world. On the first page of their book, The Grand Design, they wrote: “Philosophy is dead” because “philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”
The questions that philosophy is no longer capable of handling (if it ever was) include: How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? According to Hawking and Mlodinow, only scientists—not philosophers—can provide the answers.

Famous astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson has joined the debate. In an interview on the Nerdist podcast in May 2014 Tyson remarked, “My concern here is that the philosophers believe they are actually asking deep questions about nature. And to the scientist it's, ‘What are you doing? Why are you concerning yourself with the meaning of meaning?’” His overall message was clear: science moves on; philosophy stays mired, useless and effectively dead.
Needless to say, Tyson also has been heavily criticized for his views. His position can be greatly clarified by viewing the video of his appearance in a forum at Howard University in 2010, where he was on the stage with biologist Richard Dawkins. Tyson's argument is straightforward and is the same as expressed by Krauss: Philosophers from the time of Plato and Aristotle have claimed that knowledge about the world can be obtained by pure thought alone. As Tyson explained, such knowledge cannot be obtained by someone sitting back in an armchair. It can only be gained by observation and experiment. Richard Feynman had once expressed a similar opinion about “armchair philosophers.” Dawkins agreed with Tyson, pointing out that natural selection was discovered by two naturalists, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, who worked in the field gathering data.
What we are seeing here is not a recent phenomenon. In his 1992 book Dreams of a Final Theory, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg has a whole chapter entitled “Against Philosophy.” Referring to the famous observation of Nobel laureate physicist Eugene Wigner about “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics,” Weinberg puzzles about “the unreasonable ineffectiveness of philosophy.”
Weinberg does not dismiss all of philosophy, just the philosophy of science, noting that its arcane discussions interest few scientists. He points out the problems with the philosophy of positivism, although he agrees that it played a role in the early development of both relativity and quantum mechanics. He argues that positivism did more harm than good, however, writing, “The positivist concentration on observables like particle positions and momenta has stood in the way of a ‘realist’ interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which the wave function is the representative of physical reality.”
Perhaps the most influential positivist was late 19th-century philosopher and physicist Ernst Mach, who refused to accept the atomic model of matter because he could not see atoms. Today we can see atoms with a scanning tunneling microscope but our models still contain unseen objects such as quarks. Philosophers as well as physicists no longer take positivism seriously, and so it has no remaining influence on physics, good or bad.
Nevertheless, most physicists would agree with Krauss and Tyson that observation is the only reliable source of knowledge about the natural world. Some, but not all, incline toward instrumentalism, in which theories are merely conceptual tools for classifying, systematizing and predicting observational statements. Those conceptual tools may include nonobservable objects such as quarks.
Until very recently in history no distinction was made between physics and natural philosophy. Thales of Miletus (circa 624–546 B.C.) is generally regarded as the first physicist as well as the first philosopher of the Western tradition. He sought natural explanations for phenomena that made no reference to mythology. For example, he explained earthquakes to be the result of Earth resting on water and being rocked by waves. He reasoned this from observation, not pure thought: Land is surrounded by water and boats on water are seen to rock. Although Thales’ explanation for earthquakes was not correct, it was still an improvement over the mythology that they are caused by the god Poseidon striking the ground with his trident.
Thales is famous for predicting an eclipse of the sun that modern astronomers calculate occurred over Asia Minor on May 28, 585 B.C. Most historians today, however, doubt the truth of this tale. Thales’ most significant contribution was to propose that all material substances are composed of a single elementary constituent—namely, water. Whereas he was (not unreasonably) wrong about water being elementary, Thales’ proposal represents the first recorded attempt, at least in the West, to explain the nature of matter without the invocation of invisible spirits.
Thales and other Ionian philosophers who followed espoused a view of reality now called material monism in which everything is matter and nothing else. Today this remains the prevailing view of physicists, who find no need to introduce supernatural elements into their models, which successfully describe all their observations to date.
The rift to which Tyson was referring formed when physics and natural philosophy began to diverge into separate disciplines in the 17th century after Galileo and Newton introduced the principles that describe the motion of bodies. Newton was able to derive from first principles the laws of planetary motion that had been discovered earlier by Kepler. The successful prediction of the return of Halley’s Comet in 1759 demonstrated the great power of the new science for all to see.
The success of Newtonian physics opened up the prospect for a philosophical stance that became known as the clockwork universe, or alternatively, the Newtonian world machine. According to this scheme, the laws of mechanics determine everything that happens in the material world. In particular, there is no place for a god who plays an active role in the universe. As shown by the French mathematician, astronomer and physicist Pierre-Simon Laplace, Newton's laws were in themselves sufficient to explain the movement of the planets throughout previous history. This led him to propose a radical notion that Newton had rejected: Nothing besides physics is needed to understand the physical universe.
Whereas the clockwork universe has been invalidated by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, quantum mechanics remains devilishly hard to interpret philosophically. Rather than say physics “understands” the universe, it is more accurate to say that the models of physics remain sufficient to describe the material world as we observe it to be with our eyes and instruments.
In the early part of the 20th century almost all the famous physicists of the era—Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, among others—considered the philosophical ramifications of their revolutionary discoveries in relativity and quantum mechanics. After World War II, however, the new generation of prominent figures in physics—Richard Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann, Steven Weinberg, Sheldon Glashow and others—found such musings unproductive, and most physicists (there were exceptions in both eras) followed their lead. But the new generation still went ahead and adopted philosophical doctrines, or at least spoke in philosophical terms, without admitting it to themselves.
For example, when Weinberg promotes a “realist” interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which “the wave function is the representative of physical reality,” he is implying that the artifacts theorists include in their models, such as quantum fields, are the ultimate ingredients of reality. In a 2012 Scientific American article theoretical physicist David Tong goes even further than Weinberg in arguing that the particles we actually observe in experiments are illusions and those physicists who say they are fundamental are disingenuous:
“Physicists routinely teach that the building blocks of nature are discrete particles such as the electron or quark. That is a lie. The building blocks of our theories are not particles but fields: continuous, fluidlike objects spread throughout space.”
This view is explicitly philosophical, and accepting it uncritically makes for bad philosophical thinking. Weinberg and Tong, in fact, are expressing a platonic view of reality commonly held by many theoretical physicists and mathematicians. They are taking their equations and model as existing on one-to-one correspondence with the ultimate nature of reality.
In the reputable online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Mark Balaguer definesplatonism as follows:
“Platonism is the view that there exist [in ultimate reality] such things as abstract objects—where an abstract object is an object that does not exist in space or time and which is therefore entirely nonphysical and nonmental. Platonism in this sense is a contemporary view. It is obviously related to the views of Plato in important ways but it is not entirely clear that Plato endorsed this view as it is defined here. In order to remain neutral on this question, the term ‘platonism’ is spelled with a lower-case ‘p.’”
We will use platonism with a lower-case “p” here to refer to the belief that the objects within the models of theoretical physics constitute elements of reality, but these models are not based on pure thought, which is Platonism with a capital “P,” but fashioned to describe and predict observations.
Many physicists have uncritically adopted platonic realism as their personal interpretation of the meaning of physics. This not inconsequential because it associates a reality that lies beyond the senses with the cognitive tools humans use to describe observations.
In order to test their models all physicists assume that the elements of these models correspond in some way to reality. But those models are compared with the data that flow from particle detectors on the floors of accelerator labs or at the foci of telescopes (photons are particles, too). It is data—not theory—that decides if a particular model corresponds in some way to reality. If the model fails to fit the data, then it certainly has no connection with reality. If it fits the data, then it likely has some connection. But what is that connection? Models are squiggles on the whiteboards in the theory section of the physics building. Those squiggles are easily erased; the data can’t be.
In his Scientific American article Krauss reveals traces of platonic thinking in his personal philosophy of physics, writing:
“There is a class of philosophers, some theologically inspired, who object to the very fact that scientists might presume to address any version of this fundamental ontological issue. Recently one review of my book [A Universe from Nothing] by such a philosopher.... This author claimed with apparent authority (surprising because the author apparently has some background in physics) something that is simply wrong: that the laws of physics can never dynamically determine which particles and fields exist and whether space itself exists or more generally what the nature of existence might be. But that is precisely what is possible in the context of modern quantum field theory in curved spacetime.”
The direct, platonic, correspondence of physical theories to the nature of reality, as Weinberg, Tong and possibly Krauss have done, is fraught with problems: First, theories are notoriously temporary. We can never know if quantum field theory will not someday be replaced with another more powerful model that makes no mention of fields (or particles, for that matter). Second, as with all physical theories, quantum field theory is a model—a human contrivance. We test our models to find out if they work; but we can never be sure, even for highly predictive models like quantum electrodynamics, to what degree they correspond to “reality.” To claim they do is metaphysics. If there were an empirical way to determine ultimate reality, it would be physics, not metaphysics; but it seems there isn't.
In the instrumentalist view we have no way of knowing what constitutes the elements of ultimate reality. In that view reality just constrains what we observe; it need not exist in one-to-one correspondence with the mathematical models theorists invent to describe those observations. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter. All these models have to do is describe observations, and they don’t need metaphysics to do that. The explanatory salience of our models may be the core of the romance of science but it plays second chair to its descriptive and predictive capacity. Quantum mechanics is a prime example of this because of its unambiguous usefulness despite lacking an agreed-on philosophical interpretation.
Thus, those who hold to a platonic view of reality are being disingenuous when they disparage philosophy. They are adopting the doctrine of one of the most influential philosophers of all time. That makes them philosophers, too.
Now, not all physicists who criticize philosophers are full-fledged platonists, although many skirt close to it when they talk about the mathematical elements of their models and the laws they invent as if they are built into the structure of the universe. Indeed, the objections of Weinberg, Hawking, Mlodinow, Krauss, and Tyson are better addressed to metaphysics and fail to show sufficient appreciation, in our view, for the vital contributions to human thought that persist in fields like ethics, aesthetics, politics and, perhaps most important, epistemology. Krauss pays these important topics some lip service, but not very enthusiastically.
Of course, Hawking and Mlodinow write mostly with cosmological concerns in mind—and where metaphysical attempts to grapple with the question of ultimate origins trespass on them, they are absolutely correct. Metaphysics and its proto-cosmological speculations, construed as philosophy, were in medieval times considered the handmaiden of theology. Hawking and Mlodinow are saying that metaphysicians who want to deal with cosmological issues are not scientifically savvy enough to contribute usefully. For cosmological purposes, armchair metaphysics is dead, supplanted by the more informed philosophy of physics, and few but theologians would disagree.
Krauss leveled his most scathing criticisms at the philosophy of science, and we suggest that it would have been more constructive had he targeted certain aspects of metaphysics. Andersen, for The Atlantic, interviewed him on whether physics has made philosophy and religion obsolete. And although it hasn't done so for philosophy, it has for cosmological metaphysics (and the religious claims that depend on it, such as the defunct Kalām cosmological argument begging the necessity of a creator). Surely Krauss had metaphysical attempts to speculate about the universe at least partially in mind, given that the interview addressed his book on cosmology.
Whatever may be the branches of philosophy that deserve the esteem of academics and the public, metaphysics is not among them. The problem is straightforward. Metaphysics professes to be able to hook itself to reality—to legitimately describe reality—but there's no way to know if it does.
So, although the prominent physicists we have mentioned, and the others who inhabit the same camp, are right to disparage cosmological metaphysics, we feel they are dead wrong if they think they have completely divorced themselves from philosophy. First, as already emphasized, those who promote the reality of the mathematical objects of their models are dabbling in platonic metaphysics whether they know it or not. Second, those who have not adopted platonism outright still apply epistemological thinking in their pronouncements when they assert that observation is our only source of knowledge.
Hawking and Mlodinow clearly reject platonism when they say, “There is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality.” Instead, they endorse a philosophical doctrine they call model-dependent realism, which is “the idea that a physical theory or world picture is a model (generally of a mathematical nature) and a set of rules that connect the elements of the model to observations.” But they make it clear that “it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observations.”
We are not sure how model-dependent realism differs from instrumentalism. In both cases physicists concern themselves only with observations and, although they do not deny that they are the consequence of some ultimate reality, they do not insist that the models describing those observations correspond exactly to that reality. In any case, Hawking and Mlodinow are acting as philosophers—epistemologists at the minimum—by discussing what we can know about ultimate reality, even if their answer is “nothing.”
All of the prominent critics of philosophy whose views we have discussed think very deeply about the source of human knowledge. That is, they are all epistemologists. The best they can say is they know more about science than (most) professional philosophers and rely on observation and experiment rather than pure thought—not that they aren’t philosophizing. Certainly, then, philosophy is not dead. That designation is more aptly applied to pure-thought variants like those that comprise cosmological metaphysics.
Thanks to Don McGee, Brent Meeker, Chris Savage, Jim Wyman and Bob Zannelli for their helpful comments.
Victor J. Stenger (1935–2014) was emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii and adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. He is author of The New York Times bestseller, God:The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. His latest book is God and the Multiverse: Humanity’s Expanding View of the Cosmos.
James A. Lindsay has a PhD in mathematics and is author of God Doesn't; We Do: Only Humans Can Solve Human Challenges and Dot, Dot, Dot: Infinity Plus God Equals Folly.
Peter Boghossian is an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University and an affiliate faculty member at Oregon Health & Science University in the Division of General Internal Medicine. He is author of the bestseller, A Manual for Creating Atheists.

* * * * * * * * * * *

What I think about NOMA
(not the ex-Red Sox shortstop but the evolution thing)

by Peter Enns
April 13, 2015

So, I’ve been thinking of NOMA this past week. Probably because the Yankees have been hitting like a high school team (until last night, let’s hope it lasts) and I need to take my mind somewhere else.

And so my mind wound up at NOMA.

NOMA is part of the lingo of the science/religion discussion (argument, debate, controversy, smack talk, etc.), a term coined by famous evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould and it stands for “non-overlapping magisteria.”

And that means that science and religion are separate “domains” of knowledge where each operates by different rules of inquiry. These “magisteria” do not “overlap” and so the rules of one cannot determine the findings of the other.

In other words, religion can’t tell science what to do and vice-versa.

The idea is debated when you get to details. I have also know Christians to bristle when they see the term, in part, perhaps because Gould was a avowed atheist.

Still, in the Christianity/evolution discussion, Christians are generally happy with half of NOMA: science can’t tell us what to believe. But they are less happy about the other half: the Bible can’t tell science where it is wrong.

From where I sit at the present moment, I think both halves of NOMA are right. I never use the term in The Evolution of Adam, but in retrospect the idea sits pretty comfortably in the background of the whole book.

The various branches of modern science have made tremendous advances in our understanding of cosmic, geological, and biological evolution. We know a lot. Far from everything, as any good scientist will readily admit, but a lot.

But when scientists conclude from their work that a higher power does not exist, or that this or that religious tradition is not “true,” they have overstepped their bounds, because spiritual reality is not subject to the rules of scientific inquiry.

Faith is a different kind of “knowing.” People are free to reject faith, of course, but to do so on the basis of the lack of scientific corroboration for God is precisely the problem NOMA speaks against.

And zeroing in on the Bible and saying that science has “disproven” Genesis displays ignorance of nature of biblical literature, assuming that it can and should be evaluated by the rules of scientific inquiry.

Christians mirroring these missteps when they dismiss evolution on the basis of its alleged incompatibility with “biblical teaching.”

By pitting the Bible against science, they are–ironically–making the same mistaken assumption of pitting science against the Bible. They assume that the two are alternate means of describing origins (they are) and therefore both are subject to the same rules of evaluation (they aren’t).

Pitting one against the other like this is what I call COMA, “completely overlapping magisteria.” Both sides insist that these two alternate “narratives” of origins can be evaluated by the rules that operate for their own field–scientists imposing scientific expectations onto the Bible and biblicistic Christians imposing the Bible onto science.

But Christians have understood, since at least the days of Augustine (354-430 CE), that the Bible simply isn’t set up to address scientific matters, and to think that it does betrays an unfortunate ignorance about the nature of the Bible.

It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these [cosmological] topics, and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. (Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 1:42-43).

That “disgraceful” treatment of Genesis is even less excusable today than in Augustine’s day. The Bible and science have grown further apart.

We don’t know everything, but we certainly know a lot more about (1) how the universe works, and (2) how ancient stories of origins work, and none of those we read outside of the Bible are in any way “historical” by any commonly accepted sense of the term.

To think that the Bible is somehow immune from its ancient cultural influence is more a blind assertion that a reasoned argument, and it contributes directly to the persistent mess which is the unfortunate, ongoing debate over evolution among more literally minded Christian readers of the Bible.

Back to NOMA. It makes sense to me. For me to think differently, I would need to see either (1) where the Bible has contributed to a scientific knowledge of origins, or (2) where scientific inquiry has been able to bring to light evidence for or against the numinous.

And I think, by definition, neither of those things can happen. Biblical literature doesn’t contribute to scientific knowledge; scientific inquiry cannot evaluate spiritual experience. They don’t overlap.

If you think differently, please feel free to chime in. But be nice about it. This issue tends to generate a lot of heat. Mean, abrasive, combative comments will be blocked.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Criteria for Recognizing a Religious Sect as a “Cult”

Criteria for Recognizing a Religious Sect as a “Cult”

by Roger Olson
May 21, 2015

*Note: If you are pressed for time and cannot read the whole essay below, feel free to skip to the end where I list 10 criteria. The essay describes my own history of interest in and research about “cults” and new/alternative religious groups.


Many religious scholars eschew the word “cult” or, if they use it at all, relegate it to extreme cases of religious groups that practice or threaten to practice violence. “Extreme tension with the surrounding culture” is one way sociologists of religion identify a religious group as a cult. By that definition there are few cults in America. No doubt they still exist, but when one narrows the category “cult” so severely it tends to empty the category.

In the past, “cult” was used by theologians (professional or otherwise) to describe groups that considered themselves either Christian or compatible with Christianity but held as central tenets beliefs radically contrary to Christian orthodoxy as defined by the early Christian creeds (and for some the Reformation statements of faith). Given the diversity of Protestantism, of course, that was problematic because it opened the Pandora’s Box of deciding what is “orthodoxy.”

A Supreme Court justice once said that he couldn’t define “pornography” but he knew it when he saw it. Many evangelical Christian writers of the 1950s and 1960s, for example, couldn’t quite define a “cult” but clearly thought they knew one when they saw (or read about) one. One evangelical radio preacher published a book on the “marks of a cult.” He was not the only one, however, to attempt to help people, in his case evangelical Christians, identify groups that deserve the label “cult.” Many have made the attempt. In the 1950s and 1960s (and no doubt for a long time afterwards) “cult” tended to mean any heretical sect—judged so by some standard of orthodoxy. That standard often seemed to be little more than a perceived “evangelical tradition.” Some anti-cult writers called the Roman Catholic Church a “cult.” Many labeled the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints a cult. One controversy erupted among fundamentalists and evangelicals when a noted evangelical anti-cult writer published an article arguing that Seventh Day Adventists are not a cult. Most Protestants had long considered Adventism a cult—theologically. (Just to be clear: I do not.)

Still today, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, a difference exists about the word “cult.” It is used in many different ways. Following the trend among sociologists of religion most journalists tend to use the label only of groups they consider potentially dangerous to the peace of community. Theology rarely enters that discussion. Still today, many fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals use the label “cult” to warn fellow believers away from religious (and some non-religious) groups that espouse doctrines they consider heretical—even if the groups pose no danger to the peace of the communities in which they exist.

Psychologists often regard any group as a cult insofar as it uses so-called “mind control techniques” to recruit and keep members. Sociologists of religion quickly point out that most religious groups could be accused of that depending on how thin one wishes to stretch the category of “mind control.” Would any religious group that claims members who leave are automatically destined for hell using “mind control?” Some psychologists have said yes to that question. Sociologists of religion point out that would make many peace-loving groups cults.

The debate over the meaning of “cult” has gone on in scholarly societies for a long time. Now it has settled into an uneasy acknowledgement that there is no universally applicable, standard definition. But there is a general agreement among scholars, anyway, that “cult” is a problematic word to be used with great caution. Calling a religious group a “cult” can mean putting a target on it and inviting discrimination if not violence against it. For that reason many religious scholars prefer the label “alternative religion” for all non-mainstream religious groups. My own opinion is that has its merits, especially where there is no agreed upon prescriptive standards or criteria for determining religious validity, where no idea of normal or orthodox is workable—as in a diverse context such as a scholarly society. Even that label, however, assumes a kind of norm—“mainstream.” If postmodernity means anything it means there is no “mainstream” anymore. But religion scholars cannot seem to abandon that concept.


I have more than a scholarly interest in the concept “cult.” For me it is personal as well as professional. It’s professional because, over the thirty-plus years of my career as a theologian and religion scholar I have taught numerous classes on “cults and new religions” in universities and churches. I’ve spoken on the subject to radio interviewers—especially back when “cults” were all the rage in the media (after the “Jonestown” and “Branch Davidian” and similar events happened). I’ve published articles about certain “alternative religious movements” in scholarly magazines and books. While rejecting so-called “deprogramming” practices, I have engaged in sustained discussions with members of groups about their participation, even membership, in groups their families and friends considered cults—to help them discern whether their participation was helpful to them as Christians and as persons.

It’s personal because I grew up in a religious form of life many others considered a cult. And I had close relatives who belonged to religious groups my own family considered cults.

The professional and the personal came together recently—again. I became acquainted with a man who grew up in (but has left) a religious group to which one of my uncle’s belonged. My uncle’s religious affiliation was always a bit of a sore spot in my large and mostly evangelical family. (I say large because when they were all alive I had sixty-five first cousins. That’s a large family by most standards. I remember family reunions where over a hundred people attended and they were all fairly closely related. And that was only one side of my family!) Among my close relatives (aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins) were members and ministers of many relatively non-mainstream religious groups. But my uncle stood out as especially curious to me and to my parents (and, no doubt, many of his siblings).

At family reunions, when prayer was said over the meal, he would get up and walk away and turn his back on us. My father explained that his brother believed praying with unbelievers was wrong. So I set out to discover more about my uncle’s and cousins’ religion. My uncle would not talk about his religious affiliation with anyone in our family, so he was not a source of information about it. (My father knew some about it because he was “there” when his brother converted to the group.) Over a period of years I discovered some fairly reliable information about the group even though it is somewhat secretive. The group exists “off the radar” of most people including many religion scholars, but researchers have labeled it the largest house church movement in America and possibly the world. Some have called it the “church without a name” because its adherents and leaders give it no name but only call themselves “Christians,” “the Truth,” and “the Brethren.” (It has some similarities and possible historical connections with the Plymouth Brethren but is not part of that movement.) They have no buildings, no schools, no publisher, no headquarters. They believe they are the only true Christians, but they live peacefully among us and pose no physical threat to anyone. They do not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ or the Trinity, but they use the King James Version of the Bible only.

My acquaintance who grew up in the group asked me if he grew up in a cult. (His parents still belong to it.) I found that difficult to answer because of the many definitions of “cult.” Which definition should I pull out of my religion scholar’s/theologian’s grab bag of labels? I couldn’t give him a clear answer. “It depends on how one defines ‘cult’” is pretty much all I could say. I don’t think that satisfied him. It doesn’t satisfy me.

Certainly my family thought my uncle belonged to a cult, but that started me thinking, even as a teenager, what “cult” meant. At school I had been told by friends who were fundamentalist Baptists that my church was a cult. I began to conduct what research I could into the concept of “cult” and found two radically different but contemporary treatments of the concept. One was Marcus Bach, a well-known and highly respected scholar of religion who taught religious studies for many years at the University of Iowa. (I think he founded the university’s School of Religion.) I read every book by him I could get my hands on and they were many. Eventually I had the privilege of meeting him in person and having a brief conversation with him.

Bach grew up Reformed, became Pentecostal, and eventually ended up in the Unity movement. His book The Inner Ecstasy tells about his religious pilgrimage in vivid detail. He wrote many books especially about what scholars now call “alternative religions” in America and it was from him that I first learned about most of them—everything from New Mexico “Penitentes” to The Church of Christ, Scientist. I was especially fascinated by his descriptions of Spiritualism—the religion focused on séances as the central sacrament. He claimed that at one séance he did actually have a conversation with his deceased sister and asked the medium questions that only his sister would be able to answer—from their childhood. The apparition answered his questions correctly. He drew no metaphysical conclusions about that, which was typical of Bach. He was interested in, fascinated by, alternative religious movements and groups but held back from prescriptive judgments of any kind.

The opposite book was by a Lutheran pastor named Casper Nervig and the title tells much about his approach to this subject: Christian Truth and Religious Delusions. In it I discovered that the Evangelical Lutheran Church was the “church of truth” and that both my uncle’s religion and my family’s were “religious delusions”—tantamount to “cults.”

This launched me on a lifelong search to understand so-called “cults” and “alternative religious movements.” Had I grown up in a cult? Was the faith of my childhood and youth an alternative to some mainstream religion of America? We considered ourselves evangelical Protestants, but I discovered many religion scholars (including Bach) considered us “alternative” and even some evangelicals (to say nothing of mainline Protestants and Catholics) considered us a cult. As a passionate Pentecostal Christian in junior high school and high school I was relentless teased, even sometimes bullied, by schoolmates who belonged to many different religious traditions. I was called a “holy roller” and “fanatic.”

So my acquaintance’s question has often been my own: Did I grow up in a cult? Apparently it depends on what “cult” means.

When I taught courses on cults and new religions in universities and churches I often began by telling my students and listeners that “nobody thinks they belong to a cult.” I also pointed out that if the concept “cult” (in our modern sense) had existed in the second century Roman Empire Christians would have been called “cultists.” (Of course the word “cultus” did exist but simply meant “worship.”) We should be very careful not to label a group a “cult” just because it’s different from what we consider “normal.”

My preference has become to not speak of “cults” but of “cultic characteristics.” In other words, religious groups are, in my taxonomy, either “more or less cultic.” I reserve the word “cult” as a label (especially in public) for those few groups that are clearly a threat to their adherents’ and/or public physical safety. In other words, given the evolution of the term “cult” in public discourse, I only label a religious group a cult publicly insofar as I am convinced it poses a danger to people—beyond their spiritual well-being from my own religious-spiritual-theological perspective. To label a religious group (or any group) a “cult” is to put a target on its back; many anti-cult apologists still do not get that.

On the other hand, at least privately and in classroom settings (whether in the university or the church) I still use the label “cult” for religious groups that display a critical mass of “cultic characteristics.” Of many non-traditional groups, however, I prefer simply to say they have certain “cultic characteristics” rather than label them cults. And, in any case, I make abundantly clear to my listeners that if I call a group a cult, I am not advocating discrimination, let alone violence, against them. In the case of those groups I label cults publicly I am advocating vigilance toward them.

So what are my “cultic characteristics”—beyond the obvious ones almost everyone would agree about (viz., stockpiling weapons with intent to use them against members or outsiders in some kind of eschatological conflict, physically preventing members from leaving, harassing or threatening critics or members who leave the group, etc.)? Based on my own long-term study of “alternative religious groups,” here are some of the key characteristics which, when known, point toward the “cultic character” (more or less) of some of them:

1. Belief that only members of the group are true Christians to the exclusion of all others, or (in the case of non-Christian religious groups) that their spiritual technology (whatever that may be) is the singular path to spiritual fulfillment to the exclusion of all others.

2. Aggressive proselytizing of people from other religious traditions and groups implying that those other traditions and groups are totally false if not evil.

3. Teaching as core “truths” necessary for salvation (however defined) doctrines radically contrary to their host religion’s orthodoxy as broadly defined (be it Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.).

4. Use of conscious, intentional deception toward adherents and/or outsiders about the group’s history, doctrines, leadership, etc.

5. Authoritarian, controlling leadership above question or challenge to the degree that adherents who question or challenge are subjected to harsh discipline if not expulsion.

6. Esoteric beliefs known only to core members; levels of initiation and membership with new members required to go through initiations in order to know the higher-order beliefs. [A secret society of worshippers].

7. Extreme boundaries between the group and the “outside world” to the extent that adherents are required to sever ties with non-adherent family members and stay within the group most of the time.

8. Teaching that adherents who leave the group automatically thereby become outcasts with all fraternal ties with members of the group severed and enter a state of spiritual destruction.

9. High demand on adherents’ time and resources such that they have little or no “free time” for self-enrichment (to say nothing of entertainment), relaxation or amusement [or, even external criticism].

10. Details of life controlled by the group’s leaders in order to demonstrate the leaders’ authority.

By these criteria I suspect that I have been involved in religious organizations with cultic characteristics in the past. The college I attended displayed some of them some of the time (depending on who was president which changed often). The first university where I taught displayed some of the characteristics. I remember a faculty meeting where the founder-president (after whom the school was named) called on individual faculty members by name to come forward to the microphone and confess “disloyalty” to him. I would not say, however, that the religious form of life of my childhood and youth was or is a cult or overall has cultic characteristics. There are specific organizations within it that do. My recommendation to people caught in such abusive religious environments is to leave as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Foundations for a Radical Christianity, Part 5 - A Theology for the End of Modernity

A Theology for the End of Modernity

Apparently great minds think alike and when they do they appear as alter-egos to one another. Or so I would like to think as a theological layman who has exerted a lot of effort into envisioning what a postmodern theology might look like over these past several years of research and writing. And lately, what a Radical Christianity might look like as it emerges from the shadowlands of crisis to become a postmodern tribute to things we have attested, acclaimed, embraced, and vouchsafed, as a worthy theology for the end of modernity.

But all kidding aside, my theological radar has now locked onto a fellow theological twin who has spent a lot of time writing of a theology at the end of modernity. Someone who was onto this gig a lot earlier than I was but whom I had no personal knowledge of until today. "Oh!" I thought, "How those years of feeling so alone might have been gathered up into the hopes and dreams of encouragement had I known there were fellow exegetes similarly burdened and seeking a theology for the end!" How grand this might have been! But in hindsight I doubt I would have been so greatly moved by the Spirit in my labours of research to envision a new kind of theology. One that was postmodern, radical, relational, and contemporary with science and technology. A theology both mysterious and personal, wonderful and meaningful, in every possible way that it could be. And so, by the Spirit of God, I laid down my visions through digital pen and paper to describe what a postmodern theology might look like and never looked back to the fatherlands of my faith. A faith that had come into crisis and required a rewrite if it were to be relevant once again.

And so, it seems that in the not so distant past (or, in a galaxy far, far away) there was a Professor by the name of Gordon Kaufman who dwelt in the lands of Harvard of Boston who also was gripped in his imaginations to express the great mystery of God in light of science and technology. Who wished to re-fit his Christian faith into the larger plan of the Divine than currently presented within the chambered halls of Christian modernity.

For Kaufman, part of that conception was to envision God as an act of Being (or, more simply, God as a creating process) which he described by the phrase "God as creativity." In this way he might focus on not defining the mystery of God ontologically (or personally) but through the evidences of His Being. Or by the fingerprints of His Soul left behind on the foundations of creation's firmament. Whose Divine imprint is evidenced by the evolutionary processes spanning creation cosmologically, geologically, and biological. Processes which we have focused on here at Relevancy22.

But I would also add the relational components of spirituality (Godwards), sociologically (outwards), psychologically / psychoanalytically (inwards), and ecologically (cosmologically). So that in every part, whether by the process of serendipitous creation (meaning, an evolution that was massaged by our Creator towards a furthering ends of presenting humanity with the opportunity for spiritual life with the Creator-God). Or within its divine components of Godly mystery, mankind (and all creation by extension) might be brought into a fully rounded and beautiful relationship with all that is God. Both to His Being and well as to His activity of creativity (or, in my line of thinking, "activity of re-creation"). So that in every way, and in every possible manner, we are presented with the opportunity to meet both the holy Personage and the Art of our Creator-Redeemer.

A Theology Not of the Dark Side but Full of Light and Grace

So where do we begin? As good fortune would have it you may begin with me and many others as we join into a series of studies produced by Homebrewed Christianity's Summer School of 2015 where Gordon Kaufman's theology will be investigated over a period of six-weeks (holidays excluded, of course). The cost is $30 through the links provided. Please consider joining this weekly forum with many other like-minded brethren wishing to envision a theology come to the end of itself in modernity and what it might look like on the other side of its modernal chasm of crisis. For myself, it has never been a theology of the dark side (in homage to the newest Star Wars film soon to be released) but a theology full of light and grace.


RE Slater
May 19, 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Official Teaser Trailer #2 (2015) - Star Wars Movie HD

* * * * * * * * * *

Summer School – Living Options in Christian Theology
May 17, 2015

JOIN the Homebrewed Community as an Elder or Bishop, and you’ll be enrolled for FREE – OR, you can register for the class by itself here – Sign up – order your book – and get ready for the goodness!
High Gravity
Bo and Tripp are excited to announce a new High Gravity class for this Summer! We are interested in a vibrant approach to a contemporary theological framework that doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your already existing faith.

  • Is Process too big of a leap?
  • Does Radical Theology provide too little substance?
  • Is Practical Theology just too darn practical?
Looking for a robust, thoroughly-Christian theological framework for the 21st century? Then we have a conversation for you!
As I have taken some time off these past several months, I have noticed a couple of trends:
  1. Process is just too big of a conversion for some. They like the ideas and enjoy that Tripp is so jazzed about it … but it is a major commitment to learn that vocabulary and overhaul nearly every aspect of what they have been taught was Christianity.
  2. Radical Theology is interesting and challenging … but at the end of the day just doesn’t provide very much to go on. It is deconstructive in helpful ways but doesn’t leave you with much for constructing a faith worth even having.
  3. Practical Theology asks some helpful questions and people get why I am into it … but it is a second order discourse and people want to ask some ‘first order’ questions about some primary issues.
This June and July we want to engage is a conversation about science, technology, other religions and the limits of language – while constructing a fully up-to-date version of Christian belief! Don’t worry about Heidegger, Hegel or Kant – plenty has already been said about them – this is an intelligent conversation about the here-and-now of Christian thought.
Living Options in Christian Theology

June 12 – Intro: Theology for a Nuclear Age
June 18 – Week 1: Theology, Science & Nature
June 25 – Week 2: Theology and Public Discourse
July 4 – Half-Time Break
July 9 – Week 3: Theology, Historicity and Solidarity
July 16 – Week 4: Theology and Corporate/Corporeal Identity
July 23 – Week 5: Theology and the Prospects for God-Talk

Our main text will be Theology at the End of Modernity: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Kaufman – Sheila Greeve Davaney (Editor)

Each of the 5 sections of the book has 3 essays. Each week we will focus on 2 of those essays with Tripp taking one to explore and Bo concentrating on another. We will also supply supplemental material each week on the course website. PDFs of course material will begin going out May. 

JOIN the Homebrewed Community as an Elder or Bishop, and you’ll be enrolled for FREE – OR, you can register for the class by itself here – Sign up – order your book – and get ready for the goodness!

Gordon D. Kaufman

Gordon Kaufman
Newton, Kansas
BornJune 22, 1925
Newton, Kansas
DiedJuly 22, 2011 (aged 86)
Main interests
Progressive Christianity, Modern theology
Major works
In Face of Mystery: A Constructive Theology
Gordon D. Kaufman (22 June 1925 – 22 July 2011) was the Mallinckrodt Professor of Divinity (Emeritus) at Harvard Divinity School, where he taught since 1963.[1] He also taught at Pomona College and Vanderbilt University, and lectured in India, Japan, South Africa, England, and Hong Kong. Kaufman was an ordained minister in the Mennonite Church for 50 years. He was the subject of two Festschriften. He was a past president of the American Academy of Religion(1982)[2] and of the American Theological Society, as well as a member of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies. Kaufman was the author of 13 books, which influenced how many mainline Christians have considered God language and religious naturalism. Among these are An Essay on Theological Method, God The ProblemTheology for a Nuclear Age, and In the Face of Mystery. This work earned him the 1995 American Academy of Religion Award for excellence among constructive books in religion. [1]
He participated for many years in the discussions on religious naturalism at the The Highlands Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought and the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (Lecturer 2006) [3]

Views on God

In a review of Kaufman’s In The Beginning…Creativity[4] –
For religious people a challenge is to bridge their belief in God with scientific explanations of the world. There is a huge need for a new understanding of God that bridges these viewpoints(…) His book is the first that makes a big step forward on this issue. Starting with the notion offered in the Bible of God as Creator he offers a proposal of God as "creativity". Creativity as a mystery that somehow was involved in the initial coming into being of the universe, in evolutionary processes, and in human symbolic creativity(…)This framework is a scholarly step forward towards resolving the faith-science debate. It provides a framework where God is not Protestant, Jew or Muslim. And it plants protection of the environment as a foundation of moral life (…) He is following the same theme Albert Einstein described in his writings on religion. And Kaufman's proposal complements the religious naturalist proposals of Ursula Goodenough
In a second review of In the beginning …Creativity .[5]
One must wonder what would bring about this radical shift, and Kaufman is very honest with readers about why he believes the traditional understandings of God are inadequate. First, he discusses today's ecological crisis, and asserts that the situation of our world today and the threat of global disaster and decay through human actions is unlike anything Christianity has ever faced before. He not only concludes that this is a bigger issue than Christianity has ever faced (it is before been preoccupied with existential questions of guilt, sin, happiness, and so on), but he further concludes that Christianity may be in the way. 
The second major development that in his view stands in the way of traditional faith in a personal God is the developments of science (specifically evolutionary cosmology and biology) have shown us a much bigger universe than was once thought to exist. A personal God is not an idea that is comprehensible in this type of setting
Kaufman in his Prairie View lectures says –[6]
I suggested that what we today should regard as "God" is "the ongoing creativity in the universe" - the bringing (or coming) into being of what is genuinely new, something transformative;(…) In some respects and some degrees this creativity is apparently happening continuously, in and through the processes or activities or events around us and within us(…) is a profound mystery to us humans(…) But on the whole, as we look back on the long and often painful developments that slowly brought human life and our complex human worlds into being, we cannot but regard this creativity as serendipitous(…) I want to stress that this serendipitous creativity - God! - to which we should be responsive is not the private possession of any of the many particular religious faiths or systems(…)This profound mystery of creativity is manifest in and through the overall human bio-historical evolution and development everywhere on the planet; and it continues to show itself throughout the entire human project, no matter what may be the particular religious and or cultural beliefs
A Zygon abstract on a Kaufman article states –.[7]
Thinking of God today as creativity (instead of as The Creator) enables us to bring theological values and meanings into significant connection with modern cosmological and evolutionary thinking. This conception connects our understanding of God with today's ideas of the Big Bang; cosmic and biological evolution; the evolutionary emergence of novel complex realities from simpler realities, and the irreducibility of these complex realities to their simpler origins; and so on. It eliminates anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism from the conception of God(…) 
This mystery of creativity—God—manifest throughout the universe is quite awe-inspiring, calling forth emotions of gratitude, love, peace, fear, and hope, and a sense of the profound meaningfulness of human existence in the world—issues with which faith in God usually has been associated. It is appropriate, therefore, to think of God today as precisely this magnificent panorama of creativity with which our universe and our lives confront us

God as Mystery

For Kaufman, the only “available referent” for the word “God” is the construct we hold in our minds, a construct that has developed over the centuries. There may be a “real referent,” but even if there is, it remains “a transcendent unknown.”[8] Thus, Kaufman thinks of God as “ultimate mystery.” He does not speculate whether there is an “extra-human reality” called God.” Thus, as a theologian, he views his work as dealing with “profound, ultimately unfathomable, mystery.”[9]
The “ultimate mystery” called “God” serves as a living symbol in our culture. For many people, it functions as the primary point for “orientation and devotion.” Being oriented on the “ultimate mystery in things” is an awareness of one’s “bafflement of mind” over the mystery “that there is something and not nothing.” When the mystery is thought of as God, it evokes not only bafflement but trust and confidence.[10]


  • In Face of Mystery - Harvard University Press (October 7, 2006), ISBN 0-674-44576-7
  • Jesus and Creativity - Fortress Press (July 30, 2006), ISBN 0-8006-3798-4
  • In the Beginning-- Creativity - Augsburg Fortress Publishers (July 2004), ISBN 0-8006-6093-5
  • God, Mystery, Diversity: Christian Theology In A Pluralistic World - Augsburg Fortress Publishers (March 1, 1996), ISBN 0-8006-2959-0
  • An Essay on Theological Method, An American Academy of Religion Book; 3rd edition (January 2, 1995), ISBN 0-7885-0135-6
  • Theology for a Nuclear Age - Westminster John Knox Press (May 1985), ISBN 0-664-24628-1
  • Theology an Imaginative Construction - Edwards Brothers (1982), ASIN: B0016JFF9A
  • The Theological Imagination - Westminster John Knox Press; 1st edition (January 1, 1981), ISBN 0-664-24393-2
  • Nonresistance and Responsibility, and Other Mennonite Essays - Faith & Life Press (June 1979), ISBN 0-87303-024-9
  • God the Problem - Harvard University Press (December 12, 1972), ISBN 0-674-35526-1
  • Systematic Theology - Scribner's (1968), ASIN: B001OXJ7DS
  • The Context of Decision;: A Theological Analysis - Abingdon Press; 1st edition (1961), ASIN: B0007EB8QY
  • Relativism, Knowledge, and Faith - University of Chicago Press (1960), ASIN: B001P5RABQ
  • Theology at the End of Modernity: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Kaufman - Co-editors Sheila Greeve Davaney & Gordon D. Kaufman, Trinity Pr Intl (October 1991), ISBN 1-56338-017-X
  • Mennonite Theology in Face of Modernity: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Kaufman - Cornelius H. Wedel Historical Series 9, co-editors Gordon D. Kaufman & Alain Epp Weaver - Bethel College (July 1996) - ISBN 0-9630160-7-5

Christianity caught in the wastelands of Modernity

Faith in Crisis: Cycles of Challenge Presented to God's faithful