According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
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)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Being Human 3

http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/05/17/being-human-3-rjs/

by RJS
May 17, 2011
Chapter 2 of Joel B. Green’s book Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible is entitled “What does it mean to be human?” In this chapter he addresses the title question from two directions. First he discusses the scientific evidence for the connection of human life with the rest of animal life. This includes a consideration of the material features that may, or may not, make us distinctly human. After laying this foundation, Dr. Green then moves on to consider the nature of human uniqueness from a biblical perspective. In the post today I would like to put forth the scientific data and ask how this influences our understanding of what it means for our understanding of the human soul. In the next post I will consider the biblical perspective.

In asking what makes us distinctly human Dr. Green considers three categories or phenomena relating to the material nature of humans: the human genome, consciousness, and mind reading (a fourth category, moral agency, is left for a later chapter).

The development of genome sequencing has led to the discovery that the human genome is smaller than that of many less complex forms of life (common rice has ca. 50,000 genes, a primitive worm, c. elegans, has ca. 20,000 genes, while humans have only ca. 25,000 genes. Clearly the complexity of human life is not reflected by a mere counting of the number of genes coding for proteins. Rather, there is a more intricate, and not fully understood, process of activation effecting the connection between the simple genes and the end result. It is not the number of genes, but when, where, why, and how, the genes are expressed.

Dr. Green also notes that the chimpanzee and human genomes differ in rather small ways (a good summary table can be found in this post). Ignoring insertion and deletion segments the homology is ~98.8%, looking at protein encoding genes the homology is >99% and over all the homology is ca. 95%. The differences between humans and chimpanzees are subtle on this level.

These numbers – either the number of genes or the gene homology between humans and chimpanzees – prove little in terms of human distinctiveness, except to eliminate some possible sources. We are created from “the dust of the earth” as are plants and animals. The features that make us distinctively human arise from something else.

What aspects of our nature make us distinctively human?

Is “humanness” connected to the physical and material form of our bodies? If so, How?

Does “humanness” result from the possession of a soul?

More significant than gene counts and gene homology are considerations of consciousness and the theory of mind.
In discussion of Christian anthropology generally, appeal is often made to baseline human experience that I am more than my body – that is, to my experience of a subjective inner life, the perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and awareness of my experiences, including what it is like to be a cognitive agent. This subjective, first-hand quality of experience goes by the shorthand “consciousness,” and for most of us it is difficult to believe that our first-person experiences of embarrassment or fulfillment, love or hate, smells or color are nothing more than brain states. (p.39)
However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw a sharp line between humans and the other animals in the realm of consciousness. Some animals, especially primates, are more similar to humans than previously imagined. This is a nascent science – and one deserving of skepticism and caution. But it appears that many of the characteristics of human consciousness, including the ability to problem solve, hypothesize, and think about one’s own thinking, can be identified in other nonhuman species. This is evidence, some will say, that consciousness is simply a material, physical phenomenon. It does not separate us from the beasts. In any case it appears that the difference between human and animal consciousness is a matter of gradation or degree rather than a sharp line with the presence of consciousness in humans and the absence of consciousness in animals.

The theory of mind is another characteristic sometimes thought to be uniquely human and nonmaterial. The theory of mind refers to “the cognitive ability to understand others as intentional agents with their own beliefs and desires.” This may seem to be a purely human, abstract concept. Recent research however, has suggested that there are nerve cells that fire when others are observed engaging in an activity. These mirror neurons are not unique to humans, they were first discovered in monkeys, and play a role in language acquisition, music, and more. Again the difference between humans and other animals appears to be a difference of degree rather than kind.

Embodied mind and consciousness. Not only is it difficult to draw a line separating distinctively human traits and characteristics from those of animals, it is also increasingly clear that all of these human characteristics are rooted in our physical, material, bodies. Everything, including thoughts, perceptions, decision making ability, empathy and more, is traceable to biological responses characterized by physics and chemistry. Dr. Green summarizes this embodiment, and asks what it means for the concept of the soul.
If the capacities traditionally allocated to the “soul” – for example, consistency of memory, consciousness, spiritual experience, the capacity to make decisions on the basis of self-deliberation, planning and action on the basis of that decision, and taking responsibility for these decisions and actions – have neural basis, then the concept of “soul,” as traditionally understood in theology as a person’s “authentic self,” seems redundant. (p. 45)
The realization of the material embodiedness of human existence does not mean that humans are nothing but chemistry and physics; a carefully balanced set of reactions. Nor does it mean that scientists are forming a united front intent on reducing human existence to nothing but materialism. Dr. Green summarizes:
This does not mean that neuroscientists ans neurophilosophers are unanimous in their reducing humanity to their brains or bodies; rather, many, in urging that humans are more than their physicality, simply refuse to identify that “something more” with an ontologically distinctive entity such as a “soul” or “spirit.” (p. 46)
In the next post we will look at the biblical material that touches on the nature of what it means to be human and how this relates to the concept of the soul.

If everything we think and do can be traced to physical and chemical processes in biology – the electrical signals of neurons in response to sight, sound, taste, smell, touch – what is the role for, or essence of, the human soul?

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If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net
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The End of Evangelicalism 5

http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/05/16/the-end-of-evangelicalism-5/#more-16772
 
May 16, 2011
by Scot McKnight

David Fitch contends the ideology of evangelicalism is rooted in three major “master-signifiers”: the Inerrant Bible, Decision for personal salvation, and the Christian Nation. But he contends this ideological set of factors is losing ground because the antagonisms in culture no longer support the ideas, and furthermore the last fifty years have gradually eroded the “politic” that is needed for the church to be what God wants it to be in America. Obviously, these are strong and bold claims … we’ve looked at the Inerrant Bible idea, so today we turn to Decision. All of this is from David’s new book, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology (Theopolitical Visions).

Fitch’s big claim is this: the obsession in evangelicalism with making The Decision has cut off Christians from the necessity of personal transformation and from ecclesial robustness. In other words, as long as you’ve had the experience you don’t really have to change and you don’t really have to see your life in the context of a church life.

What happens to evangelism when the gospel message transcends personal transaction and becomes a holistic entrance into the mission of God in this world?

[If you examine evangelistic plans, you will see they are shaped by a theology and a salvation theory and an atonement theory and almost never are they sufficiently robust when it comes to calling people to the kind of life the gospel actually calls us to.]

Here Fitch draws on four scholars: Tom Wright’s understanding that justification is more than personal transfer of sins and righteousness because the theme of justification is also about God’s making things right in the world (and not just with me, but surely including me). Second, he examines Michael Gorman’s idea of theosis and shows that justification entails dying to self and being raised to new life personally and corporately — all of which reforms “desire” (David doesn’t develop this much but it’s at work in this chp). We are living out then the new politic of death and resurrection together.
Then he turns to John Millbank’s idea that “gift” entails a life of reciprocity. We are caught up in the Trinitarian life of reciprocity once we are “in Christ.”

All of this leads to this very important claim by David Fitch:

“The call for conversion, however, is no longer ‘Have you made the decision to receive Christ as your personal Savior?’ It is, ‘Have you entered into the salvation begun in Jesus Christ that God is working for the sake of the whole world?’” (150). So the offer is an invitation to enter into the kingdom vision of Jesus, and I’d like (shamelessly) to mention here my newest book: One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, and I’m encouraged by how many students and campuses are now reading this book.

Finally, he appeals to Dallas Willard’s emphasis on kingdom living that leads to transformation into the mission of God in this world.


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