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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Certainty and Doubt: "Can the two live together?"

 
Theropod Footprint, Perot Museum of Nature and Science

“Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible; and we only interpret the Word of God
by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science.”
 
 - Charles Hodge, Princeton Theological Seminary

An interesting comment made by a very popular theologian in the middle of the 19th Century.
Apparently churches arguing about the validity of science are a little out-of-date (like, say,
170 years). But as my friends like to say, "I believe what I believe what I believe...
my convictions will never change." - re slater


I find the quote above a very interesting comment made by a popular theologian at the end of the 19th Century. A theologian whose life was as conflicted by his own beliefs as we are today. A theologian who consistently studied the Word of God in order to present the Christian faith as an intelligible source of authority, helpfulness, and reliable spiritual guide:
 
*[Wikipedia] Charles Hodge (December 27, 1797 – June 19, 1878) was an important Presbyterian theologian and principal of Princeton Theological Seminary between 1851 and 1878. He was a leading exponent of the Princeton theology, an orthodox Calvinist theological tradition in America during the 19th century. He argued strongly for the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. Many of his ideas were adopted in the 20th century by Fundamentalists and Evangelicals.[1]
 
As a theologian, Hodge was fully informed about his times, and took a hard stand in the middle both for-and-against slavery as a way to preserve (i) national order without anarchy and, (ii) justice in the face of injustice. In the end, even Hodge's own Presbyterian denomination split for-and-against slavery, and with it, any hopes he may of had of repairing a situation that was irreparable without secession from the Union by the South. As a result Hodge did what he could to effect healing the torn disrepair brought about by America's disunion. Others, like the Beechers of Boston fought equally as hard for the freedom of the black slave from their oppressors, and as well as equally as hard for the resolution of the Union back into federal control.
 
* * * 
*[Wikipedia] Slavery
 
As an archconservative and a believer in both the inerrancy and the literal interpretation of the Bible, Hodge supported the institution of slavery in its most abstract sense, as having support from certain passages in the Bible. He held slaves himself, but he condemned their mistreatment, and made a distinction between slavery in the abstract and what he saw as the unjust Southern Slave Laws that deprived slaves of their right to educational instruction, to marital and parental rights, and that "subject them to the insults and oppression of the whites." It was his opinion that the humanitarian reform of these laws would become the necessary prelude to the eventual end of slavery in the United States.[10]
 
The Presbyterian General Assembly of 1818 had affirmed a similar position, that slavery within the United States, while not necessarily sinful, was a regrettable institution that ought to eventually be changed.[10] Like the church, Hodge himself had sympathies with both the abolitionists in the North and the pro-slavery advocates in the South, and he used his considerable influence in an attempt to restore order and find common ground between the two factions, with the eventual hope of abolishing slavery altogether.
 
*[Wikipedia] Civil War
 
Hodge could tolerate slavery but he could never tolerate treason of the sort he saw trying to break up the United States in 1861. Hodge was a strong nationalist and led the fight among Presbyterians to support the Union. In the January 1861 Princeton Review, Hodge laid out his case against secession, in the end calling it unconstitutional. James Henley Thornwell responded in the January 1861 Southern Presbyterian Journal, holding that the election of 1860 had installed a new government, one which the South did not agree with, thus making secession lawful.[11] Despite being a staunch Unionist politically, Hodge voted against the support for the "Spring Resolutions" of the 1861 General Assembly of the Old School Presbyterian Church, thinking it was not the business of the church to involve itself in political matters; because of the resolutions, the denomination then split North and South. When the General Assembly convened in Philadelphia in May 1861, one month after the Civil War began, the resolution stipulated pledging support for the federal government over objections based on concerns about the scope of church jurisdiction and disagreements about its interpretation of the Constitution. In December 1861, the Southern Old School Presbyterian churches severed ties with the denomination.[12]
 
* * * 
 
Likewise, Charles Hodge had strong views about Darwinism:
 
*[Wikipedia] Darwinism
 
In 1874, Hodge published What is Darwinism?, claiming that Darwinism, was, in essence, atheism. To Hodge, Darwinism was contrary to the notion of design and was therefore clearly atheistic. Both in the Review and in What is Darwinism?, (1874) Hodge attacked Darwinism. His views determined the position of the Seminary until his death in 1878. While he didn't consider all evolutionary ideas to be in conflict with his religion, he was concerned with its teaching in colleges. Meanwhile at the college across town (a totally separate institution) President John Maclean also rejected Darwin's theory of evolution. However in 1868, upon Maclean's retirement, James McCosh, a philosopher, became president. McCosh believed that much of Darwinism could and would be proved sound, and so he strove to prepare Christians for this event. Instead of conflict between science and religion, McCosh sought reconciliation. Insisting on the principle of design in nature, McCosh interpreted the Darwinian discoveries as more evidence of the prearrangement, skill, and purpose in the universe. He thus argued that Darwinism was not atheistic nor in irreconcilable hostility to the Bible. The Presbyterians in America thus could choose between two schools of thought on evolution, both based in Princeton. The Seminary held to Hodge's position until his supporters were ousted in 1929, and the college (Princeton University) became a world class center of the new science of evolutionary biology.[13]
 
The debate between Hodge and McCosh exemplified an emerging conflict between science and religion over the question of Darwin's evolution theory. However, the two men showed greater similarities regarding matters of science and religion than popularly appreciated. Both supported the increasing role of scientific inquiry in natural history and resisted its intrusion into philosophy and religion.[14]
 
* * * 
 
Theology, was ever a hot bed of beliefs - even as it was back 170 years ago - and no less today in the 21st Century when thinking through the coloured lenses of our preferred personal philosophies and biblical centrisms. In Hodge's day, he was considered an ultra-conservative with very literalistic views of biblical inerrancy. Today, ultra-conservatism is seen as harshly ideological to the tearing of the political system even as its twin, ultra-liberalism, pulls at the same. Too, the literalistic reading of the Bible preferences a style of reading that creates as much ambiguity in its reading as it seemingly sheds enlightenment. Causing many conservative Christians to rethink what they are saying about the Bible's literalism even as many liberal Christians are rethinking their verities when beholding Jesus' divine footprints in Scripture.
 
It would probably be more correct to say that each side of these ideological debates may wish to cast aside their abject dogmatism on the one side, and abject humanism on the other, should they each wish to meet God somewhere in the middle of His Word. A simplistic statement to be sure, but one that portends doubt over conviction, uncertainty over adamant belief, moderation over intolerance, and the art of listening within the heat of argument.
 
I had earlier opined that "churches arguing about the validity of science are a little out-of-date (like, say, 170 years). But as my friends like to say, 'I believe what I believe what I believe... my convictions will never change.'" My concern is that we, as Christians, do not do very well at listening to one another. Thus Relevancy22's many articles attempting to reopen the debates to conservative Christians too use to not questioning their church, pastor, or even God Himself. Thinking that being out-of-step with society and scholarship is spiritually enlightening rather than spiritually blinding as it really comes off to those of us watching Christians flounder about in the headwinds of Postmodern flux and change. Rather than bearing a relevant gospel, their church and faith have become irrelevant with society and scholarship, theology and change.

And at the last, when conservative Christians come out to meet postmodernism head-on they lapse into either a kind of spiritual despair, or a lost of personal faith. At which time they resort either to some sort of mystical / magical interpretation of God's Word ("no one knows, only God, I just do what He says"), or utilize some kind of heavy subjective reading of the Bible unwarranted by contemporary biblical criticism and commentary ("God's Word means what I think it means to me"). While all along trying to reconcile our street-level philosophies, whimsies, and personal preferences, around a kind of spiritual meaning that cannot even begin to better properly inform us about God and His Word.

However, a good theologian learns to listen and to investigate.... And even abandon ideas that have held him hostage for most of his life. At least that has been mine own experience when finally reversing my biblical convictions and attempting to reach beyond my boundary-leveled thinking and self-absorptions. To see that some ideas are not really biblical but preferences of either myself or my church or my denomination. Preferences that are open to interpretation and perhaps not as fully informed as they once were believed. Preferences that when seen in another light don't really work as well as they had in my youth when life was simpler, my knowledge and experiences more limited, my maturity yet forming. With Paul, there comes a time when we put away "childish things and grow up to become men and women of the Word."

Perhaps it begins by questioning ourselves. Our church. Our denomination. Even our faith. And in the doubt and uncertainty to learn to rest in God's timing in our lives, fully certain that His Spirit has brought us to this place in our lives where we might undressed out of our old theologic garments of rags so that God's newer garments of love and life might become our own displays of God's wisdom and grace. That we no longer reach out for the old wines and stale breads on the dining table of a past theology become dated and useless. But reach instead for the newer wine and broken bread of Jesus laying nearer at hand than we had thought. To not simply give up in thinking that "no one can know anything about God and His Word" and begin believing that perhaps it is our own convictions and beliefs that might have to change so that God and His Word may live again within our hearts and minds, bodies and soul.

Divine revelation is meant to tell us a few things about God but when we learn to read God's revelation through our own coloured lenses it is hoped that those lenses aren't so crooked as to mislead us away from God towards a kind of spiritual despair and lostness. Sometimes the solution is to simply find a new optometrist - one who might fit us with a better pair of glasses than the pair we have been using for too many years as they have become crooked and worn. And one way to begin is by seeking a more reasoned discourse in life that might be a little more discerning - not only of cults and misleading religious endeavors - but of a better informed, more relevant discussion of a Postmodern Christianity that puts the past to bed and rises up on the other side of a Monday morning to do the heavy lifting of relearning God's ways and paths in this uncertain life of ours.

Not all is certain... this is true... but of somethings we may be certain. And especially in how we might ask our questions so that they become open-ended and not closed-ended, nor stifling prophetic speech and apocalyptic vision. A kind of speech and vision that is not spoken from the mouths of angels, but the kind that comes from the hard work of everyday reading, studying and listening to the voices of informed men and women sent as heaven's angels (sic, messengers and prophets) into our barren, broken lives. And not the kinds of messengers and prophets that misleads us from Jesus into mystical Christian cults.... My more recent experience has heard Jesus spoken of as my Rabbi rather than my Redeemer; my Mystery rather than God's Son; my Gnosis rather than my certainty; my Myth rather than my Resurrected God.... Truly men will say all kinds of things, but we only wish to know those who keep to Jesus and to the historic Christian faith. But a faith that learns to transition and change within the orthodoxies that it keeps.

At the last, I originally had asked whether certainty and doubt might be able to live together? For the spiritual Christian - for the follower of Jesus - they must, for if they do not than we either become religious or lost. Religious in our faith. Or, lost within our faith. Consequences that God's Word will not portend - for in either instance we see Jesus driving out the Pharisees from the temple of God, or restoring sight to the blind, and healing to the leper, considered anathema to Jewish society. As God's living Word - the divine Logos who is God's very breath - came to give life and light. Not death and darkness. Even so, we may be confident of these verities of our Christian faith.
 
R.E. Slater
July 31, 2013

 
* * * * * * * * * * *



 
 
Christian Faith Requires Accepting Evolution
Author, 'Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics'

June 18, 2012
emendations are mine own - re slater (res)

 
In the evangelical community, the year 2011 has brought a resurgence of debate over evolution. The current issue of Christianity Today asks if genetic discoveries preclude an historical Adam. While BioLogos, the brainchild of NIH director Francis Collins, is seeking to promote theistic evolution [(my preferred terms is "Evolutionary Creationism" over the older terms of theistic evolution - res)] among evangelicals, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently argued that true Christians should believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old.
 
As someone raised evangelical, I realize anti-evolutionists believe they are defending the Christian tradition. But as a seminary graduate now training to be a medical scientist, I can say that, in reality, they've abandoned it. [(What have they abandoned?? The historic Christian tradition.... - res)]
 
In theory, if not always in practice, past Christian theologians valued science out of the belief that God created the world scientists study. Augustine castigated those who made the Bible teach bad science, John Calvin argued that Genesis reflects a commoner's view of the physical world, and the Belgic confession likened scripture and nature to two books written by the same author.
 
These beliefs encouraged past Christians to accept the best science of their day, and these beliefs persisted even into the evangelical tradition. As Princeton Seminary's Charles Hodge, widely considered the father of modern evangelical theology, put it in 1859: "Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible; and we only interpret the Word of God by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science."
 
In this analysis, Christians must accept sound science - not because they don't believe God created the world, but precisely because they do.
 
Of course, anti-evolutionists claim their rejection of evolution is not a rejection of science. Phillip Johnson, widely considered the leader of the Intelligent Design movement, states that all he's rejecting is the atheistic lens through which evolutionary scientists view the world. Evolution, he argues, is "based not upon any incontrovertible empirical evidence, but upon a highly philosophical presupposition."
 
And to a certain extent, this line of argument makes sense. Science is not a neutral enterprise. Prior beliefs undoubtedly influence interpretation. If one believes God created vertebrates with a similar design plan, one can acknowledge their structural similarities without believing in common descent. No amount of dating evidence will convince someone the Earth is 4.5 billion years old if that person believes God created the world to look old, with the appearance of age.
 
But beyond a certain point, this reasoning breaks down. Because no amount of talk about "worldviews" and "presuppositions" can change a simple fact: "[non-evolutionary]creationism" has failed to provide an alternative explanation for the vast majority of evidence explained by evolution.
 
It has failed to explain why birds still carry genes to make teeth, whales to make legs, and humans to make tails.
 
It has failed to explain why the fossil record proposed by modern scientists can be used to make precise and accurate predictions about the location of transition fossils.
 
It has failed to explain why the fossil record demonstrates a precise order, with simple organisms in the deepest rocks and more complex ones toward the surface.
 
It has failed to explain why today's animals live in the same geographical area as fossils of similar species.
 
It has failed to explain why, if carnivorous dinosaurs lived at the same time as modern animals, we don't find the fossils of modern animals in the stomachs of fossilized dinosaurs.
 
It has failed to explain the broken genes that litter the DNA of humans and apes but are functional in lower vertebrates.
 
It has failed to explain how the genetic diversity we observe among humans could have arisen in a few thousand years from two biological ancestors.
 
Those who believe God created the world scientists study, even while ignoring most of the data compiled by those who study it, might as well rip dozens of pages out of their Bibles. Because if "nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible," it's basically the same thing.
 
Many think the widespread rejection of evolution doesn't really matter. Evolution is about what happened in the past, the argument goes, so rejecting it doesn't have an impact on policies we make today. And aside from school curricula, they may be right.
 
But the belief that scientists can discover truth, and that, once sufficiently debated, challenged and modified, it should be accepted even if it creates tensions for familiar belief systems, has an obvious impact on decisions that are made everyday. And it is that belief Christians reject when they reject evolution.
 
In doing so, they've not only led America astray on questions ranging from the value of stem cell research to the etiology of homosexuality to the causes of global warming. They've also abandoned a central commitment of orthodox Christianity.