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

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design of God and the Cosmos

As an aside, I am currently re-reading Stephen Hawkings book, The Grand Design (2010), wherein he affirms the mechanistic, reductionist view of the form and frame of science. As a Christian, especially as one understanding the entanglement of the Godhead in our created world (sic relational/process theology: How Should We Read the Bible?), this type of assertion rings hollow for me. But one that I will allow from a non-Christian viewpoint because, in the case of natural scientific law, natural phenomena does run with a regularity unnecessary for a supernatural intervention as noted by the mathematician LaPlace to Napoleon when asking of God's necessity if physical laws run themselves (scientific determinism). Quipped LaPlace, "Sire, I have not needed that hypothesis." (pg 30, Hawkings).... And this on the heels of Sir Isaac Newton's earlier discoveries of the foundational classic laws of physics yet believing that God was somehow in the machine that He had built and now maintains.

Yet, this is the very method by which God had chosen to create in order to maintain His creation. In essence, God lies "behind" the process. And when these processes are looked into further, we see a "lively dance of chaotic, complex structure dynamically interacting with itself." That is, "there is an intrinsic openness in nature - seen in quantum phenomena, chaos, even [biological] epigenetics" to loosely quote from Poe and Davis. It is this very "freedom" within nature's inherent structure that testifies to God's imprint and interaction (sic, God's Role in Creation).

"If we were somehow able to fully explain the operation of the physical universe,
we would not have explained God out of the picture. Rather, we would have
explained the regular and repeatable sustaining activity of God." - Biologos

A "freedom" bent towards death and destruction (because of sin) that God has likewise enlivened (or re-invigorated) with a bent towards creative renewal and rebirth unto life and light. But a type of "freedom" that is a necessary consequence of creation's mystery that can allow for reconstruction from chaos (or, for that matter, evolutionary natural selection) by the intent and will of a God intimately involved in this re-creative process as Sovereign-Redeemer-Creator (sic, Evolution: Is God Just Playing Dice?).

Not only did God create, but even now creates, as He ever will - and always will - create until creation becomes one with His mind and will. Enmeshing the trinity of the cosmos, earth and world to the trinity of the Godhead (Father, Son, Spirit, three-in-one) till all becomes a rhombian fellowship in singular eternality (to put it in Hawking paradigm).

Consequently, though I have a very high respect towards Stephen Hawkings and his labor within the quantum physics world (besides being a favorite read of mine), a simple atheistic, reductionist/dualistic view towards science and the world is not satisfactory for a Christian holding a theology that is non-reductionistic/non-dualistic on the very same interpretive basis as the same science used. Nor can it be a helpful theology for biblical discovery and teaching, when thinking through God's interaction with man cosmically, ecologically, anthropologically, and spiritually.

R.E. Slater

by RJS
April 26, 2012

I was recently sent by the publisher a copy of the new book by Harry Lee Poe and Jimmy H. Davis God and the Cosmos: Divine Activity in Space, Time and History. Harry Lee Poe (Ph.D., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University in Jacksonville TN, Jimmy H. Davis (Ph.D. University of Illinois) is University Professor of Chemistry at Union University. This book should prove to be something a bit different from our usual fare of late.

There are a number of different questions at play in the discussion of the interaction between science and the Christian faith. For some people the controversy over creation and evolution is driven by a desire to be faithful to scripture, and explicitly to a favored interpretation of scripture. Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis fall into this category. For others there is an appreciation for the sciences, but also a conviction that if the science is true traces of it will be found in scripture. Hugh Ross and Reasons to Believe fall into this category. But there is another set of question at play, especially within the Intelligent Design movement. Science and scientists are finding a natural explanation for all manner of phenomena formerly attributed to the work of God. This appears to squeeze God into an increasingly small corner of the universe – and many argue it removes God from the picture all together. As Laplace famously replied to Napoleon … we have “no need of that hypothesis.” Poe and Davis are addressing these latter kinds of questions in their book. Can a transcendent and personal God really act in the universe? and Can science help us answer this question?

The introduction to the book begins with reflections by Davis and Poe. Davis begins by posing the question – where is God in, for example, a chemical reaction? The reaction is the same and the explanation is the same whatever the worldview or presupposition of the person who brings together the reactants and starts the process.
Modern science assumes that all physical events have physical causes. In order to find these causes, modern science breaks down the event into parts and looks for some mechanism (pattern of connections) that give rise to the event being studied. Modern science explains natural phenomena in terms of natural events and does not invoke supernatural invention. (p. 15)
There is an assumption of methodological naturalism inherent in the processwe are quickly left with a deist view of God. He got things started, set the laws, and now steps back and lets it go.

Davis suggests that the error in this approach lies in the mechanical view of the cosmos. The models we construct are closed machines. But there is an intrinsic openness in nature – seen in quantum phenomena, chaos, and epigenetics.
This openness is an internal part of nature, not a God-of-the-Gaps ignorance that will one day be removed. We suggest in this monograph that God is there not only in the working of the “machine” but in the underlying software that tells the “machine” how to behave in a particular situation. It is an open universe providing an open vista on which the master Artist can craft what he wills. (p. 23)
Do you think explanations for observed phenomena are a zero-sum game – either there is a natural explanation or there is divine action?

Is this either-or attitude a problem in the church or in our society at large?

Harry Lee Poe provides a theological response to begin to address the question of how God relates to the world.
Answers to the question of how God acts on the universe have tended to be reductionist. As such, they have tended to be unhelpful. More complicated answers seldom gain a hearing because people prefer simple, black-and-white, either-or explanations. Politicians learned this trait of human nature long ago; thus the trait has charm both for fundamentalism and for unbelief. (p. 25)
The black-and-white, either-or explanations are intrinsically unsatisfactory. They simply cannot account for the world we see. Poe relates this to the complexity of the world and to the progression or hierarchies of complexity introduced by Arthur Peacocke. He suggests that different kinds of rules apply at different levels of existence. There is, it seems, a fundamental distinction between the laws that describe the simplicity of the atom and the laws that describe the complexity of a living cell.
Neither reductionist science nor reductionist theology help us understand this universe where one kind of rule applies at the level of human experience and another kind of rule applies at the quantum level of subatomic particles. (p. 26)
Poe sketches briefly in this introduction four theological ideas that may help to move us forward:
Freedom of the triune God. God is not just creator who says and it is, not just incarnate Son, not just Holy Spirit who animates but with no plan or goal. He is not deist, self-limiting, or undirected.
Only a truly trinitarian model of one God can help us move to a clearer understanding of how God might relate to such a complex structure as the universe in appropriate ways for different levels of physical complexity. (p. 28)
Directional universe: Simplicity to complexity. The universe is dynamic with a linear direction from energy to matter to life to consciousness. [More rather, from complexity to complexity. - res]
Progress: A value-based goal. Here Harry Lee Poe quotes Edgar Allen Poe (an indirect ancestor of his, about whom he has written a biography Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe):
In Eureka (1848), Edgar Allen Poe’s original proposal of a big bang theory and the origin of life, Poe described the interaction of the elements and life forms in adaptation in terms of a grand narrative. He said, “The plots of God are perfect. The Universe is a plot of God.” (p. 29)
Open universe. Here Poe returns to the idea introduced by Davis. There is an openness in the universe at each level of complexity. A personal mind – a human mind or the mind of God – can interact with and change the course of nature without violating the laws of nature. “Rather than hiding in the gaps, God is involved in the big observables that science describes.

The remainder of God and the Cosmos is divided into two parts – first looking at theology and asking what kind of God interacts with the world and then looking at the universe and asking what kind of world allows God to interact. It looks like this will lead to some interesting questions and, I hope, some interesting posts over the next few weeks.

Where would you look for evidence of the action or purpose of God in the universe?

How should Christians respond to the “mechanical” view of the universe that removes God from the picture?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]
If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

The Failure of Christianity is a Modern Myth

by Scot McKnight
April 26, 2012

If you are, say, Voltaire, or a postmodern journalist, then the failure of Christianity is the way to tell the story of the course of history. Of course Christianity gets muddled, but there’s far more in that story about love and creativity and beauty and justice and healing and education and hope. So N.T. Wright, in How God Became King (p. 162-163). The world without the gospel of Jesus, Wright claims, would be “the cultural and ideological equivalent of those horrible 1960s buildings that were structures without spirit, boxes without beauty, all function and no flourish” (163).

The Enlightenment had to tell that story because it had to tell history with itself as the goal and the center, while Christianity had an entirely different eschatology — so the Enlightenment pushed religion into the private world and told it stay put. The storytellers may say otherwise, but the Christian story is good and goes on because it has an anchor in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, because Jesus is the reigning king, and because the kingdom will come.

How do you differ Wright’s kingdom theocracy with the four views below? How and why have the cross and the kingdom been separated?

But too much of Christianity bought the Enlightenment’s story and it led to dualities: cross Christians with saving-for-heaven agendas and religion vs. kingdom Christians with social justice agendas and politics. Tom Wright’s thesis — of all his writings mind you — is that kingdom and cross belong together and that the kingdom vision is simultaneously social and spiritual.

Which just shows one more time how important eschatology is: the NT eschatology is one in which the kingdom has already begun to appear but still will happen completely in the future. But what has happened is not just the internal, religiousness or spirituality but instead the kingdom has been inaugurated holistically — social, cultural, political, cosmic and spiritual.

Wright steps up his critique of how the church has read the Gospels, though there are exceptions: Wilberforce, Tutu, William Temple, Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. [I wonder what N.T. Wright thinks of Wesley, of Edwards, of Kuyper, of Finney.]

Wright finds four reactions to what has happened in modernity:

1. “This” [world, kingdom, etc] doesn’t matter; we’re going to heaven when we die; we’ll leave this old world behind us. Wright accurately observes this gets too close to gnosticism.

2. Neo-Anabaptists: get the church in order, live as a beacon of light, “but without actually engaging with the world.” Well, that is precisely not what the Neo-Anabaptists argue or do; instead Tom is here speaking of some forms, perhaps most, of Anabaptism. The original Anabaptists — we’re speaking here of Grebel, Blaurock, Hubmaier — were social protesters fighting Catholic taxes. Anabaptism did go through a quietist and sectarian, separatistic period, but the modern “Neo-” Anabaptists are anything but quietist and uninvolved. Think Sider and Yoder or Claiborne and McKenna… very involved.

3. Right-wing Christian activism. Those who exulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden; FoxNews.

4. Left-wing Christian activism. Those often fighting for the poor and pushing a new sexual ethic are often aping liberal modernism (166). The UK Christians are grumpy pragmatists, Tom says. He parrots them with a caricature: “What do we want? Gradual change! When do we want it? In due course!” [LOL]

5. And there are the Reformers (who assumed by justification what late medieval theologians meant and were discussing) and the modern proponents of empire criticism (who assume when Paul spoke into empire that he meant by that term what we mean today).

So we need to read the New Testament afresh.

The Jewish vision was a theocracy — an on-earth, creational theocracy, ruled by image-bearers (Eikons of God). This is not what left-wingers today perceive. He sees a temptation toward anarchy in the left-wing. [Well, yes, but also strong centralization.] Nor is the right-winger small government the solution. So, in spite of the Anabaptists who gnarl at Tom on this one, creational monotheism works best with humans ruling as wise stewards under God.

Power isn’t the problem; the problem is who does what with that power. In other words, the biblical approach is not a fear of rule or power or leaders; it is a fear of bad rule. Neither anarchy nor small government is the way forward; the way is good government. Theocracy, then, is the right word.

And the right theocracy is messianic rule by the Messiah/King.