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

Monday, July 22, 2013

How Postmodern Hermeneutics Helps in Reading The Bible




Today's article rehearses once again a subject we have spoken to in earlier discussions (please refer to the sidebars under "Science," "Creation," and "Genesis"). To rehearse, today's discoveries states that "ex nihilo creation" is probably untrue according to quantum physics. This means that matter had to be present in order for it to be "re-purposed, re-arranged, and re-ordered" (in the thermodynamic sense of energy conservation).

What it doesn't mean is that God cannot create matter from nothing (as most infer when jettisoning the idea of "ex nihilo creation) but is simply a testament that God re-created, re-formed, or re-fashioned, the matter present in the early universe into the universe we know today. Since this idea is usually misunderstood by the traditional Christian reading of Genesis we may leave the possibility open at both ends dependent upon our ideas of "God being God" (simplistically put: Is God "above/beyond the universe?" per classic doctrine. Or, is God "beside/alongside the universe?" per process theology and various perambulations of panentheism). Again, we have addressed both concepts in previous posts under the sidebars by the same name and shall defer to those ideas without rehearsing them here.

In earlier eras - and without the practical help of science - biblical theologians and church philosophers subjugated their answers within previously formed philosophical opinions (e.g., Greek Platonism or Greek Aristotelianism). As such, Justin Martyr argued for Platonism while Tertullian argued for Aristotelianism. Many years later, and with the advantage of many years of church discussion, thinking, and evaluation, we find ourselves with a few more options than just those of Plato and Aristotle. Especially so since the science of biblical hermeneutics has rapidly developed beyond these classic dualistic Greek approaches to the study of the universe and man, God and the bible.
 
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Platonism - noun (philosophy)
 
The philosophy of Plato (428 - 348 BC) or his followers that taught the belief that physical objects are impermanent representations of unchanging Ideas. And that the Ideas alone give true knowledge as they are known by the mind.
 
Aristotelianismnoun (philosophy)

The philosophy of Aristotle (384-322 BC) speaks to logic, metaphysics, ethics, poetics, politics, and natural science; "Aristotelianism profoundly influenced Western thought." As a philosophy it placed emphasis upon deduction and logic upon the investigation of concrete and particular things and situations.
 
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Events like our singular universe's birth at the "Big Bang" - or the birth of Multi-verses in similar, simultaneous events - demonstrate the idea mathematically that "ex nihilo creation" is untrue contra ancient ideas. This means that it would be wrong to approach Gen 1-3 scientifically and to read our 21st Century ideas into the Hebraic text's ancient cosmological myths and observations (I like to refer to the bible's ancient accounts as historic(al) theological narratives rather than so crudely as myths).

... As an aside, I should note that the Genesis text was written in the 7th or 6th century BC from an Ancient Near-Eastern perspective that would fall into the category of comparative mythology to the other ancient societies around it (Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Egypt, etc).

What this means then is that the later Greek philosophers deduced their philosophies upon what they then knew (even as we do today). Which may have been considerably more material than what the early church theologians had to work with later after so many long years of devastating world war by the kingdoms of Persia, Greece/Mesopotamia, Rome in their lootings and burnings of the treasuries of the surrounding nations and one another. By inference the ancients - like the Greek philosophers and historians - probably had demonstrably more resources at hand than perhaps the latter day theologians of the early church like Justin Martyr and Tertullian who were working off the remaining Greek ideas of their day, along with what they could find of surviving ancient Near-Eastern documents lost within the ancient libraries of Alexandria, Athens, and Rome. Even now this is our problem today as we rely on surviving archaeological resources and archived documents over the many long eons of chaotic world history.

That said, Greek philosophy (Hellenism) was captured by the church and drawn into itself as its resident-cobbled-dogmas of the day. To this perceived knowledge was added regionally formed opinions that either survived, or did not, as the church's theology developed through early and late Medievalism until theologians like Thomas Aquinas came along to restore some order to Christian thinking and philosophy along the lines of Scholasticism. As a 12th Century Catholic monk and scholar Aquinas "was the foremost classical proponent of natural theology, and the father of Thomism. His influence on Western thought is considerable, and much of modern philosophy was conceived in development or refutation of his ideas, particularly in the areas of ethics, natural law, metaphysics, and political theory. The works for which he is best known are the Summa Theologica and the Summa contra Gentiles." Scholasticism is "not so much a philosophy or a theology as a method of learning. Scholasticism places a strong emphasis on dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference, and to resolve contradictions."

... But I digress and only mention this abbreviated history of Christian Thought to show how the church's received tradition of classical Christianity is being re-applied under today's postmodernistic biblical studies that must de-construct and re-interpret past historical contexts within the evolving fluidity of contemporary language and its linguistic ambiguity from one era to the next, from one culture to the next. To so simply state with assurance that one believes in "ex nihilo creation" or not is to carry with these phrases many unqualified assumptions. Assumptions that don't get us anywhere except into ad naseum discussions round-and-round-and-round without accomplishing anything.

For me, I am interested in the logic, the deductions, and the context of these statements. Practically this means that a simplistic literal reading would weigh out each word without regard to cultural and historical development of this statement's background (including us today as modern interpretive redactionists). Whereas a non-literal reading would weigh out the content of what is being said, why its being said, who is saying it, and explore the reason for such observations. In my estimation, "ex nihilo" discussions then cannot be formed from a literal reading and should be politely put to bed as uninformative, unhelpful, and passé. They only serve to show our short-sightedness about God, His paradoxical Creatorship, and His Sovereign rule, as He moves heaven-and-earth towards redemption completion.

To debate the Creed, as one had said, is to debate its philosophical and theological orientations only. For Justin Martyr, he adopted Platonic ideas, while Tertullian on the other hand moved towards a straightforward deductionism about the one eternal God. To me, this is all well and good, but it seems more helpful to rely on today's postmodern sciences, philosophical ideas, and their gathering theological import for biblical studies, while resisting overtly reading our religious preferences backwards into the creation texts of Genesis as interpretive (classic) redactionists. This means that from today's scientific discoveries it seems very apparent that God created from the material than extant in our pre-existent universe. This doesn't mean that He didn't create that material, simply that He used that material, thus voiding the early church's arguments for one view over the other. Such arguments limited our expanding knowledge of God, the cosmos, ourselves, and globally responsible communities.

Under a postmodern frame of theological development we may do this, and not be so dependent upon ancient church observations for our contemporary derivations today. And this would include even that of the biblical writers viewpoints couched within their ancient cosmologies! What is more important is to try to determine why those biblical writers wrote their observations. And why God chose to utilize their observations and understanding towards a formed biblical revelation. This then frees the postmodern theolog to focus on the biblical content using all that we know (against what we have lost and have failed to recover through death, time, war and prejudicial bias) in the ancient world of biblical cultural and sentiment. And to not treat the bible so naively. Nor our heritage as so emphatic. Nor language as so propositional and definitive. Nor even time itself as without its dithering effects and affects upon God's Word and our accumulating understanding of it.

Consequently, a postmodernistic hermeneutic gives back to us God's Word in an amazing array of complexity and spiritual import more so than if we were to relax and fall back upon the church's classical doctrines, beliefs, and arguments. Arguments too often deemed more important than God's Word itself. For me and my house, I would chose the postmodern route of narrative and anthropologic hermeneutic (among others).

I leave you with these thoughts:

Genre (Genesis 1-2 as myth, history and science)
See also: Literary genre, Myth (disambiguation), and Narrative

The genre of a piece of writing is the literary "type" to which it belongs.[79] The meaning to be derived from the Genesis creation narrative will depend on the reader's understanding of its genre: "it makes an enormous difference whether the first chapters of Genesis are read as scientific cosmology, creation myth, or historical saga".[80] Misunderstanding of the genre of the text - meaning the intention of the author/s and the culture within which they wrote - will result in a misreading.[81] Bruce Waltke cautions against one such misreading, the "woodenly literal" approach which leads to "creation science" and such "implausible interpretations" as the "gap theory", the presumption of a "young earth", and the denial of evolution.[82] Another scholar, Conrad Hyers, sums up the same thought in these words: "A literalist interpretation of the Genesis accounts is inappropriate, misleading, and unworkable [because] it presupposes and insists upon a kind of literature and intention that is not there."[83]

Genesis 1-2 can be seen as ancient science: in the words of E.A. Speiser, "on the subject of creation biblical tradition aligned itself with the traditional tenets of Babylonian science."[84] It can also be regarded as ancient history, "part of a broader spectrum of originally anonymous, history-like ancient Near Eastern narratives."[85] It is frequently called myth in scholarly writings, but there is no agreement on how "myth" is to be defined, and so while one scholar can say that Genesis 1-11 is free from myth, another can say it is entirely mythical.[86] (Brevard Childs famously suggested that the author of Genesis 1-11 "demythologised" his narrative, meaning that he removed from his sources (the Babylonian myths) those elements which did not fit with his own faith.)[87]

Whatever else it may be, Genesis 1 is "story" [or "narrative" - res], since it features character and characterisation, a narrator, and dramatic tension expressed through a series of incidents arranged in time.[88] The Priestly author of Genesis 1 had to confront two major difficulties. First, there is the fact that since only God exists at this point, no-one was available to be the narrator; the storyteller solved this by introducing an unobtrusive "third person narrator".[89] Second, there was the problem of conflict: conflict is necessary to arouse the reader's interest in the story, yet with nothing else existing, neither a chaos-monster nor another god, there cannot be any conflict. This was solved by creating a very minimal tension: God is opposed by nothingness itself, the blank of the world "without form and void."[89] Telling the story in this way was a deliberate choice: there are a number of creation stories in the Bible, but they tend to be told in the first person, by Wisdom, the instrument by which God created the world; the choice of omniscient first-person narrator in the Genesis narrative allows the storyteller to create the impression that everything is being told and nothing held back.[90]"

- Ibid, Wikipedia
 
R.E. Slater
July 22, 2013 
 
* * * * * * * * * *
 
 
Creation Debates Are Not New
 
by Scot McKnight
July 22, 2013
 

The first two centuries of the Christian church included serious debates between major theologians — like Justin Martyr and Tertullian — and they debated one essential idea: Did God create out of nothing or, did God create from pre-existing material? A problem actually arises from the translation of Genesis 1:1-2.

KJV: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

NRSV: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.


Notice how this works: in the KJV, after God created the heaven and the earth, there was “without form, and void” while in the NRSV God’s creation turned things from formlessness and voidness into created order. The KJV, in some sense, has a problem setting up the possibility of a two-stage creation: first matter, then order out of matter. The NRSV’s translation could well imply the same, but perhaps not. Both translations are legit.

We talk about creation and science often on this blog, mostly through the posts of RJS (who is a professional scientist), but creation is not just a debate. It is an affirmation about God, that God is Life and that God is responsible for creation. Do you see any prospects for a resolution among Christians of a traditional bent to see legitimacy in theistic evolution or evolutionary creation or creationary evolution? Or is this a make or break issue?

All of this is discussed in Ronald Heine, Classical Christian Doctrine, because the first lines of the Nicene Creed says:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, 
of all that is, seen and unseen.
At the time of Jesus and the apostle Paul, and a set of ideas still central by the end of 2d Century AD, there were two basic views: the Platonic view was that God “created” out of pre-existing materials while the Aristotelian view was that matter existed eternally.

Christians differed, too. Justin Martyr was like Plato in thinking God created out of existing materials while Tertullian argued — and his view captured the church — that God created out of nothing (ex nihilo). Tatian said God created matter and then out of matter created the order we see.

The fundamental issue comes down to the doctrine of God: if God alone is the origin of life, matter depends on and comes from God, and therefore the Aristotelian and pre-existing theories are defined off the map. If God alone is Life and if God is creator, then at some point in time matter did not exist and came to exist. Thus, creation is ex nihilo in orthodox thinking.

Of course, this says absolutely nothing about how God chose to create. A creationary evolution that affirms all comes from God coheres with orthodoxy as much as the creationist’s view.