According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, 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
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An Emergent Review: "What Galileo's Telescope Can't See"

"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."
 
Yup, Christianity Today (CT) doesn't get it. In fact, they disregard it with a whisk of their evangelical hand still clinging to the arguments of fear and uncertainty while with the other hand they whisk away those Christians admitting to the fact that such age-worn arguments just don't add up anymore. On the one side we are given all the old reasons why Genesis and the Bible don't add up to today's newer scientific discoveries in quantum mechanics, biology, anthropology, genetics, geology, fossil records and archaeology (to mention a few!). Nope. For the "well-informed" Christian s/he must be properly skeptical. Critical. Even downright rejecting of all things scientific to evidence a more acceptable form of a faithful Christianity. And for those of us who chose to think differently, than it is we who are regarded as the hasty ones. The ones that really don't understand the Bible. Nor God. Nor our historical Christian faith. Its precious creeds and confessions. Nor even much else it seems.

Yep. CT completely adds to the fountain of Evangelical knowledge with this well written piece of disinformation. A piece I can't even begin to agree with, nor find anything helpful within, to those of us searching for answers in the areas of biblical statement, beliefs, creeds and theology. Unless, however, we are to act like the proverbial ostrich and simply stick our self-righteous heads into the biblical sands of gnarly avoidance and retributive statement. But to begin the storyline by decrying the usage of analogies because of their double-edged power of persuasion and condemnation while not recognizing that this magazine journal has committed that same error, smacks of an air of exclusivity. Heightened only by their verbose and Socratic statements of non-commitment (and/or outright rejection) by saying "We can't know for sure! Who can say?"
 
And so, it is left to the reader just how to handle this quandary when really what we are talking about is one's philosophical commitment to a particular frame of reference. Either evolutionary creation is true. Or it is not true. Either immediate creation is true. Or it is not. And if immediate creation is true, then how did this spontaneous process become intermixed with evolutionary progression, as evidenced throughout every area of scientific study? But here, at Relevancy22, I've been careful to set forth a straightforward evolutionary understanding of origins while also showing how this impacts the reading of Scriptures, our thoughts about God, and even ourselves. I've tried to be fair and forthcoming with questions and potential answers. But when reading articles like the one posted below, the thought "buyer beware" can only come to mind. If this is the type of theology that gives one comfort at night than who am I to argue otherwise? So be it. Feel quite at home tucked snugly into your theological bed of cotton and wool, and snore away at the world beyond your fanciful dreams. But for those of us attempting to re-orientate our minds and hearts to a better understanding of the Scriptures, of God and man, and the cosmos, please feel right at home here to continue to investigate, ask questions, and search for answers.
 
In fact, the articles written or posted to date should quite comfortably serve as guide and counselor without so much as another article needed. Why? Because the tone and direction has already been set and can only be further augmented by newer discoveries distilling what already has been written here in tenor and speech. True, more can be said. And will be as has been demonstrated across-the-board in areas of hermeneutics, biblical theism, emergent faith, biblicism, theology, church doctrines and creeds. Because this endeavor does not simply affect science and faith, but many, many other Christian thoughts and teachings as well. Which is why you are encouraged to read. To discover. To test. To think through all the many topics and issues that have been presented here. Relevancy22 is not a daily blog and should not be taken as such. No. It is biblical index containing important issues and topics that is being compiled and compounded as I have time to work through each one similar to a wikipedia-like resource for directive theology and faith.
 
Consequently there is a lot here to read and discover. And if you haven't been reading along than its simple enough to pick an area of interest and begin reading through each past article in whatever order you think can be helpful to you (my latest article may help set the tone - Thinking Through an Emergent Christianity). Because what we're talking about here doesn't simply involved just one or two issues but many, many issues, each one as inter-related to the other as the last. Which I think is yet another reason why the old-line faith of yesteryear is hesitant to embrace further development. There is just too much at stake and the artless simplicities and naivete's must drop away if one is to begin again on this new Christian journey of discovery and biblical encounter. But when you do you will be pleasantly surprised to find that there are a of host of other frustrated, perplexed, unsure Christians doing the same thing. And if not here than on other emergent blog sites (listed in the right hand column here) so that you will not be alone in this demanding task to live and enact the faith of Jesus.
 
So strap yourself in and please forgive me for my forthrightness here. It is seldom done with as much fervor as was given to it in the wee hours of this very late night. But the solution isn't to hold onto the past and wait. Time, language and culture do not wait. Rather they demand your attention. Now. Dithering simply shows indecision. Perhaps cowardice. Perhaps the lack of trust in a God bigger than ourselves. Jesus once said, "This day have I come." Let us make our Lord and Creator-God welcome in a much larger house of faith. A faith that is generous and trusts God enough to be bigger than we can imagine. I think you will be pleasantly surprised and glad that you did. However difficult it may be to re-frame your philosophical picture of the world you once thought you understood.
 
R.E. Slater
October 15, 2012
 
 
What Galileo's Telescope Can't See

 

What Galileo's Telescope Can't See

 
There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in contemporary understandings of science and faith.
 
by James K. A. Smith
poarws September 28, 2012
 
Analogies have persuasive power, a suggestive force that operates on an almost unconscious level. To say that A is "like" B is to suggest that everything we associate with A should also be associated with B—whether good, bad, or ugly.
 
So, for example, if I describe American soldiers as "crusaders," I have just painted them with an analogical brush that colors them as religiously motivated warriors guilty of the worst bigotries of the West. The analogy is loaded with a moral depiction that exceeds what's actually said. So all the disdain we have towards our (usually caricatured) understanding of the Crusades is now overlaid on our perception of military operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.
 
Conversely, if I describe the proponents of my cause as "prophets" or "martyrs," I have loaded the perceptual deck with images of heroism and purity. Just by the analogy, we get to don our white hats and claim the moral high ground. Or if we describe our regime as "Camelot," we associate ourselves with romance and royal privilege. Never underestimate the power of an analogy. And never simply accept it.
 
 
We are all Galileans now
 
There is a particular analogy often invoked in current discussions about the relationship between Christian faith and science. Ours, we are told, is a "Galilean" moment: a critical time in history when new findings in the natural sciences threaten to topple fundamental Christian beliefs, just as Galileo's proposed heliocentrism rocked the ecclesiastical establishment of his day. This parallel is usually invoked in the context of genetic, evolutionary, and archaeological evidence about human origins that challenges traditional Christian understandings.
 
Historical analogies like this are often particularly loaded because our age is characterized by chronological snobbery and a self-congratulatory sense of our maturity and progress. Since we now tend to look at the church's response to Galileo as misguided, reactionary, and backward, this "Galilean" framing of contemporary discussions does two things—before any "evidence" is ever put on the table.
 
First, it casts scientists—and those Christian scholars who champion such science—as heroes and martyrs willing to embrace progress and enlightenment. Second, and as a result, this framing of the debate depicts those concerned with preserving Christian orthodoxy as backward, timid, and fundamentalist. With heads in flat-earth sand, any who voice hesitation or skepticism about the "assured/obvious" implications of evolutionary evidence are cast in the villainous role of Galileo's putative persecutor, Cardinal Bellarmine.
 
Seeing Beyond Science: A 'Galilean' framing of conversations on faith and science stacks the deck against the claims of faith.
 
It bears mention, of course, that the conventional Galileo narrative—pitting narrow-minded, inquisitorial clerics against a courageous champion of open scientific inquiry—partakes in large part of historical myth. Careful scholars of science and religion have come to reject this simplistic picture of church dogma stifling what today we might call "academic freedom."
 
But even if the Galileo myth was factually accurate, it should hardly supply the symbolism that governs all subsequent dialogue between theology and science. The "Galilean" framing of these conversations assumes a paradigm in which science is taken to be a neutral "describer" of "the way things are." Consequently, it treats theology as a kind of bias—an inherently conservative take on the world that has to face up to the cold, hard realities disclosed by the natural sciences and historical research. Christian scholars and theologians who (perhaps unwittingly) buy into this paradigm are often characterized by deference to "what science says." They become increasingly embarrassed by both the theological tradition and the community of believers who are not so eager to embrace scientific "progress" and an updated faith.
 
Such "Galileans" are not looking to reject the Christian faith tout court; indeed, they will often emphasize their commitment to the "essentials." In fact, they take it upon themselves to help us sift through what is, and is not, "essential." Sure, Galileo challenged our geocentric picture of the universe—which required re-reading passages of Scripture that seemed to suggest the sun revolved around the earth. But geocentrism was not "essential" to Christian faith. This is precisely why the church of Galileo's day looks so foolish now. Who among us would deny that the earth revolves around the sun?
 
You can see where this goes: Just as Galileo's telescope taught us to give up on what wrongly seemed "essential" to the faith, so today's fossil record and genetic evidences press us to give up clinging to a historical couple [sic, (Adam and Eve) - res] or a historical Fall. Apart from any assessment of the evidence or consideration of alternatives, the analogy does its own persuasive work. Do you really want to be the Cardinal Bellarmine of the future? Does anyone really want to be that guy—the one who committed himself to an "orthodoxy" that not a single Christian would later believe?
 
 
Part of the Solution
 
Christians today feel what Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls a "cross-pressure" on our faith: The scriptural witness seems to tell us one story about the world while evolutionary science seems to tell another.
 
But the Galileo analogy doesn't help us work through that tension because it says too much too fast. To invoke the Galileo analogy is to have already made up our minds. When we construe current debates about human origins in "Galilean" terms, we rhetorically position ourselves as if the implications of common descent were "as obvious" as the earth revolving around the sun. The Galileo analogy is a conversation stopper. It effectively suggests that resistance is futile.
 
Underneath the analogy is a more serious problem. These "Galileans" exhibit an essentially "whiggish" stance toward the theological tradition—an underlying confidence in progress and the unquestioned assumption that "newer is better." At work here is a sense that faith needs "updating," and that clinging to historic concerns and formulations is merely "conservative," as if seeking to preserve historic doctrines were just a matter of fearing change.
 
The result is that the Christian theological tradition is seen to be a burden rather than a gift that enables the Christian community to think through such challenges. The Galileans never entertain the possibility that some of our ancient theological and confessional traditions might actually be a resource in contemporary debates—a wellspring of theological imagination to help us grapple with difficult questions. Instead, they suppose that the cross-pressure between theological tradition and contemporary science can only be alleviated by "updating" the tradition. On this account, our orthodox theological heritage—including the creeds and confessions—is part of the problem rather than a valued resource for articulating a solution.
 
 
The Chalcedonian Breakthrough
 
Perhaps most glaringly, this "Galilean" framing of the conversation barely references Jesus the Galilean. Even Christian scholars operating within this paradigm tend rarely to see any implication for central Christological affirmations. Instead we get discussions of "creation" with little or no reference to Christ—as if his role in creating and sustaining the world (Col. 1:16-18) were irrelevant to conversations about "nature." But as Mark Noll argues in Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Christian scholarship should not be rooted in a functional deism. Rather, the proper place for Christians to begin serious intellectual labor "is the same place where we begin all other serious human enterprises. That place is the heart of our religion, which is the revelation of God in Christ."
 
This is why Noll points to the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) as one of the first encounters between the church's faith and (then) contemporary science. When Christians wrestled with questions about the Incarnation and Christ's divinity, they were grappling with the "science" of their day—paradigms of personhood and nature. In this task, the "Chalcedonian definition" of Christ's identity, which affirmed at once his full humanity and full divinity, represented a major breakthrough. By awakening imaginations to an awareness of what Noll calls "doubleness"—the possibility of apparent contradictions masking deeper harmonies—Chalcedon promoted a creative response to the conflicting testimonies of science and revelation.
 
There is a model to follow here: Early Christians mined the mysteries of the faith to grapple with the challenge of the day rather than whittling down what's scandalous to fit the expectations of the day. Guided by the Chalcedonian consensus, church leaders did not have to settle for a merely defensive or conciliatory posture. They were not reduced to looking for nooks and crannies in the reigning scientific paradigms that left room to make religious claims. Instead, their central conviction of the lordship of Christ over all creation gave them a courage and confidence to theorize imaginatively and creatively. They didn't look for ways to blunt or downplay the particularities of the gospel. Animated by the conviction that all things hold together in Christ, early Christian theologians forged new models and paradigms which we now receive as magisterial statements of the faith—the heart and soul of the "Great Tradition."
 
We 21st-century Christians have a lot to learn from our 4th-century forebears. Unfortunately, the Galilean story coddles our contemporary smugness and encourages us to look down our nose at those unenlightened generations that preceded us.
 
But unless—and until—we are willing to recognize the creative wisdom of Chalcedon, or generate any kind of sympathy for Cardinal Bellarmine, we can't have much hope for authentic Christian witness in these contested areas. Instead, contemporary conversations between faith and science will continue to be dichotomous bartering games that simply try to "update" the faith ("I'll give up original sin if you let me keep the Resurrection," etc.).
 
Chalcedon shows us otherwise. We can boldly, imaginatively, faithfully, creatively tackle the most challenging issues, secure in the conviction that all things hold together in Christ. "Thick" theological orthodoxy and serious engagement with contemporary science are not mutually exclusive. We just need to foster the Christian imagination to underwrite more creative approaches.
 
That would require, first, remembering and appreciating that the Christian intellectual tradition is uniquely "carried" in the practices of Christian liturgy, worship, and prayer. It is in the prayers and worship of the church that we are immersed in the Word and our imaginations are located in God's story. It is in worship that we are constantly invited to inhabit the conviction that all things hold together in Christ. Intentional liturgical formation must be the foundation for rigorous, imaginative, and faithful Christian scholarship.
 
Second, and relatedly, we need to approach the Christian theological heritage—rooted in the Word and articulated in the creeds and confessions of the church—as a gift, not a liability. After all, the church was wrestling with faith-science tensions well before Galileo.
 
Our sensibility (following the late Robert Webber) should be an "ancient-future" one: The church will find gifts to help it think through postmodern challenges by retrieving the wisdom of ancient Christians. The goal is not to simply repeat ancient formulations while sticking our heads in the sand; rather, the contemporary church—and contemporary Christian scholars—can learn much from the habits of mind that characterized church fathers like Athanasius and Augustine.
 
Guided by these convictions and practices, we might be less inclined to congratulate ourselves for following Galileo and more concerned with following the Galilean in whom God has reconciled all things to himself.
 
 
James K. A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College and senior fellow of the Colossian Forum on Faith, Science, and Culture (colossianforum.org). His new book, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Baker Academic), will be published in February 2013.
 
 
 

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