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, May 28, 2015

Foundations for a Radical Christianity, Part 6 - Theology, Philosophy, & Science



Even as we explore postmodern science and philosophy here at Relevancy22 we must be reminded that science and philosophy has its place within theology even as theology must learn to converse with the same. That is to say, science and philosophy are useful as external critiques to the Christian lexicon of understanding biblical truth. That without this societal context theology is imperiled by its own version of revelation creating an incubus that would isolate its traditions and dogmas from introspection.

However, this does not mean that theology becomes subservient to science and philosophy but that it learns to relate as equals in unparalleled relationship with postmodern science and philosophy to that of an orthodox system inhabiting special revelation as its basis of truth. And yet, this theistic foundation is not a protection from the fallibility of imperfect human interpretation. That the Christian reading of the Bible cannot be immune to what the world discovers and continues to discover about ourselves and God's creation. But that Christian theology must utilize outside commentaries, ideas, and discoveries to continually improve its reading of the Bible so that its continually reflects the Redeeming God who is at all times at work within humanity and His creation.

To be aware that our own cocoons of "wisdom and thought" may mislead when designed to protect its faithful. And to know that "looking without to look within" is at all times more helpful than sealing the doors, throwing up ecclesiastical boundaries, and forestaying the "wolf outside" our communal structures. These actions are not helpful but harmful to the church's study of God's Word. Did not Jesus come to teach and disturb His people? And if the church does not do the same is it not doing a disservice to its peoples?

Even as theology is about God so science and philosophy are about how we perceive ourselves with one another and are connected to our world. These latter do not necessarily deny God so much as to rigorously study the world of objects that can be tested and verified through experiments and studies. Even as the Platonist believes he knows all by knowing the One, so the Aristotelian pupil believes nothing can be known without first studying the particular in order to create a more holistic philosophy. Each system is in antagonism to the another but only if the philosopher allows them to be. And yet, in another light, each system can be a help to the other with wisdom and discernment.

So too with Christianity. We come as theists to any human discipline. But this does not mean that we may throw out those academics that dispute our beliefs. It would be to our peril and poorer understanding of God's universe and even ourselves within His greater plan. A Radical Christianity would willingly converse with the world while at all times inspecting itself within the light of that conversation. In some points there will be agreement. In others not at all. And in many a correlation can be found that may be enlightening to a Christian culture at an impasse with its understanding of God's Word.

So we have found in the science of evolution that has shown quite plainly that the popular Christian reading of the Genesis 1-11 is in serious conflict with what we know both scientifically and from historical-source criticism. Hence, somewhere within this reading we must adapt our biblical interpretations (or hermeneutics) to allow for these truths without losing sight of the theology behind the ancient symbolic or historical mythological texts of Genesis 1-11. As example, God is our Creator, sin is a present reality that has somehow entered the world (this author claims through the sublime act of God granting freedom to His creation), and redemption must now ensue.

We also better understand postmodernism's rejection of modernity's secularism that has been embraced by the (evangelical / denominational) 19th-20th century church. That it's formalistic or syllogistic reduction of theology into its separate systematic theologies does not better explain God to us except from a Greek (Hellenistic) and Medieval / Enlightened mindset. That those theologies must now learn how to absorb the newer philosophies out there lest the Christian church no longer  be progressive in its witness but regressive, sectarian, if not possibly cultic (as can be readily seen in the various pockets of the church's culture).

For example, the church does no longer crusade against other nations even as medieval churches once did. But what about our nation's one-time policies of colonialism affected by the church, or now, in its national policies in a post-colonial world? Or, as another example, should the church associate Jesus' love and openness with militaristic images of sword and shield as some Americans would think of their church's patriotism? It would be in err to think of the Gospel of Jesus as a "truth-and-justice" weapon to the world.

As such, God is not in need of being defended. But He is in need of our willingness to see new truths where we believed none existed. To grow beyond our "enslavement" ages of the church, and its "discriminatory" phases now being bashed about as "Christian" when it is neither Jesus-ordained nor rightful on the human plane of civil equalities and rights. In all instances God has not changed in His love to mankind but His fallible church does harm to the gospel of Jesus when bantering cultural prerogatives about in the name of Christ.

If this is not the Christianity we wish we must admit that it is not the Christianity of the God of the Bible whom we so highly elevate and value. In truth, it is we ourselves who must change along with the charters of our fearful churches confusing pride for penance. Sin is still sin but its form is in how we relate to one another, what we do towards one another, and what we deny to one another. Sin is not dismissed. Nor is it absent from the church itself. The Kingdom of God demands another ethic. A heavenly one. And not a human morality that would make us feel comfortable, assured, or at peace with ourselves while refusing the rights of other human beings these same affects and conditions.

The Kingdom of God is not of man but of God. It is of a God who rules and not us. And of His choice to rule through Jesus by the tools and tradecraft of love and peace. And if it were to be one of condemnation than let it be directed to His own people. And especially to those templed priests and theologians then, as now, who deny God by their words, and doctrines, and dogmas, and harden beliefs. For these so-called "believers" who claim they know God hell awaits. But for the penitent man and woman heaven's bounties are opened wide and deep both in this life by witness and life blood to the gospel of Jesus. So be it with the church in this world this day. Let us rethink what we think we know. Let us relearn what we must. And at all times let us serve others the gospel of love and peace by our hands and feet and tongues.

Peace,

[Below are two articles and how they each are dealing with the subjects of Christian theology in juxtaposition with philosophy and science. I deem each as useful as you will soon see.]

R.E. Slater
May 28, 2015









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Resisting De-Personalizing the Biblical God
into the Philosophical Category of "Being Itself"


Is God “A Being” Or “Being Itself?”

by Roger Olson
May 16, 2015

Introduction

I grew up thinking of God, the God of the Bible, the “Christian God,” as “a being”–at the top of a great chain of beings but with a clear gulf fixed between him and everything else down the chain. The gulf was crossable only from God’s side and had to do with the fact that only God is eternal and uncreated. Everything else in the chain was below God and created by God. The gulf was widened by the fall of angels and humans.

This picture of God and everything seemed self-evident in Scripture. I never thought to question it until I got well into my theological studies when I encountered Origen, Augustine, Dionysius (the Pseudo-Areopagite), Anselm, Thomas Aquinas and (skipping far ahead) Paul Tillich. Then I learned that, as a thinking Christian wishing to avoid idolatry, I was supposed to think of God not as “a being” but as Being Itself–not as one, even the supreme and self-existent one, among many but as the Power of Being, the One OF the many.  [RES - (sic, NOT "One of many" = polytheism NOR demiurges of God, that is, greater or lesser instances of God re Christian gnostic belief as versus the Trinity of God, one Being in three essences or Persons as established the Councils of Calcedon).]

If God is really God, so the argument goes, and not like us, limited, finite, conditioned, he must be Absolute. Anything less than “the Absolute,” the Unconditioned, cannot really be God. If the God of the Bible is a being and not Being Itself, the Absolute, the Unconditioned, the One behind the many, then, so the argument goes, then he does not really deserve to be thought of as God because, to borrow Anselm’s term, the mind can think of a great being than him.

Well, that’s obviously a whirlwind explanation that doesn’t come close to doing justice to the argument for God as Being Itself.

I have often felt pressured to rise above my “simple Biblicism” and primitive picture of God as a personal being, even if the greatest of all beings, transcendently surpassing in greatness and glory all creatures, and confess God as Being Itself–not the Supreme Being at the top of a great chain of being but something entirely different–perhaps more like the infrastructure of a city that makes it “work.” (All analogies become problematic, of course, when attempting to depict Being Itself.) I have even been told that my childhood picture of God borders on idolatry.

The assumption underlying much of that thinking (of God as Being Itself) was expressed by Alfred North Whitehead who said that while Buddhism is a metaphysic in search of a religion, Christianity is a religion in search of a metaphysic. That is, the underlying assumption is that the biblical narrative does not give us an adequate, or any, metaphysical world picture, account of reality-itself, but expresses especially transcendent reality in myths, symbols and images which must be interpreted through the lens of some ontology borrowed from outside the Bible. One obvious candidate in early church history was Middle or Neo-Platonism (see also Neo-Platonism, and Neo-Platonism and Christianity). Another, especially in the Middle Ages, was Aristotelianism. (cf. also Aristotle's teachings) Whitehead’s, of course, was his own organic philosophy of process (or, process thought).

What do all those attempts to bring Athens to Jerusalem have in common?

All assume that the biblical portrait of God cannot be taken seriously; it must be supplement if not replaced by a philosophical picture of God which is then interpreted as “what the Bible really means.” Practically speaking, then, all biblical references to God as personal are relegated to the realm of anthropomorphisms–figures of speech that depict God in human terms whereas God is not really much like humans at all.

Over the years I’ve kept an eye open for (non-fundamentalist) theologians who pushed back speaking of God as Being Itself (as opposed to a personal being among others even if the “others” are created). I encountered especially, of course, Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, but even they seemed to me inconsistent at times–wanting to affirm God’s “holy otherness” in ways that seemed to make God float off into inaccessible transcendence. I know that was not their intentions, but I came to believe they, like most serious, academic, “world class” theologians, were still infected with the idea that God’s transcendence must mean he is somehow absolute, unconditioned, etc. Brunner, in my opinion, came closest to taking the biblical portrayal of God seriously, resisting ontological ideas of God as Being Itself. Brunner sometimes spoke of God in brutally personal terms–pushing back against the whole Christian theological tradition of negative (apophatic) theology (e.g., attempts to explain what God is not as versus what God is.)

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[r.e. slater (RES) - This line of thought is sometimes associated with mysticism and the desire of the personal to transcend to the spiritual beyond ordinary perception - Wikipedia. It has also been used somewhat helpfully in postmodern attempts to deconstruct religion of its anthropomorphic-centeredness. In sum, "While negative theology is used in Christianity as a means of dispelling misconceptions about God, and of approaching Him beyond the limits of human reasoning, most commonly Christian doctrine is taken to involve positive claims: "that God exists and has certain positive attributes, even if those attributes are only partially comprehensible to us." )]

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Every once in a while throughout my theological career (and even as a student of theology) I have run across a theologian that really appealed to me but is not widely known, read or discussed. Recently I’ve been reading articles published in the 1950s in theological journals by an American Protestant theologian named Edmond La B. Cherbonnier (b. 1918). Cherbonnier, who taught at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, pushed back very hard against ontological ideas of God as Being Itself and insisted that there is a “biblical metaphysic” in which God is “a being,” neither unconditioned nor absolute (as in “The Absolute,” the Being Greater Than Which None Can Be Conceived drawing on Greek philosophical ideas of “greatness” as metaphysical perfection).

Cherbonnier attempted to work out what he called “the biblical metaphysic” as a “third way”–alternative to Platonism and Aristotelianism (and certainly also alternative to Whitehead’s ontology). According to Cherbonnier, this biblical metaphysic differs from others than have been imposed on Scripture, or through which Scripture has been interpreted, because it is embedded in, implied by, Scripture itself. According to him, the biblical narrative contains an implied metaphysic and all attempts to interpret Scripture through the “lens” of extra-biblical, philosophical metaphysics or ontologies end up failing to do justice to the biblical revelation of God and reality.

For those interested, I recommend these two articles by Cherbonnier (whose death year I cannot find so I’m hoping he’s still alive so I can correspond with him): “Biblical Metaphysic and Christian Philosophy” (Theology Today 9:3 [October, 1952]: 360-375) and “Is There A Biblical Metaphysic?” (Theology Today 15:4 [January, 1959]: 454-469).

One reason I resist thinking of God as Being Itself as opposed to a personal being is that it tends to undermine prayer except as meditation. It lends itself easily to the idea that “Prayer doesn’t change things; it [only can] change me.” That is, it undermines petitionary prayer which Schleiermacher, understandably [noted] because of his philosophical influences, called “immature prayer.” If God is Being Itself, the Absolute, the Unconditioned, then it would seem prayer cannot affect God. In fact, it would seem God cannot be affected by anything outside himself. My early Christian faith, which I have not entirely discarded (!), focused much on a “personal relationship with God.” God is someone, a being, who is other than I, and we stand vis-a-vis one another in what Buber and Brunner called an “I-Thou relationship.” Regarding God as Being Itself tends to lead away from relating to God as “Thou” with whom one can have a real, personal relationship.

Cherbonnier was on the right track, I believe; we need to retrieve from the biblical narrative its own metaphysic and not borrow ontology from elsewhere and interpret Scripture through that as a lens overlaying it. This would be an exercise in “the Bible absorbing the world” (Hans Frei) and therefore might be called a “narrative metaphysic”–an oxymoron to many philosophical theologians.

Postliberal Protestant theology has been mostly resistant to metaphysics, but if Cherbonnier is right, that could be because most Protestant theologians tend to think of “metaphysics” as synonymous with extra-biblical, rational ontologies that function as natural theologies. But if Cherbonnier is right, there is a biblical metaphysic that is embedded in biblical revelation itself. That is, the Bible itself strongly implies a reality picture that is deeper than doctrines but equally, if not more, important - it is an alternative to philosophical ontologies that usually conflict with God as person or as omnipotent power (as in process thought).

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[RES - thus, some of my conflict with process thought even as other parts of it are embraced as capturing important salient images of God and the Bible. So too with Radical Theology's usage of postmodern philosophy to uncover what today's evangelical Christianity blatantly discards, discourages, or outright misses beginning with its (Reformed) hermeneutical interpretations which are self-fulfilling and circular in argument (the latest being its 1980's emphasis upon "the inerrancy of Scripture" disallowing for external criticism). These radical disciplines are meant to recover modernal Christianity back to its orthodox charters and teachings and not to dismiss Christianity out of hand by irrelevancy to humanity. By using epistemological frameworks outside of the evangelical frameworks we've become unquestioningly comfortable with it is possible to "negate" popular (but unbiblical) folklores and arguments by re-instating God's presence through Jesus within a postmodern framework making relevant revelation's truth and handiwork to the souls of men. It should also be noted here that throughout the body of Relevancy22 there as been a strong resistance to "disembodying God" as "mere Presence" and always a strong identity of God as a Redemptive Being in relationship to His creation.]

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I have never been able to become comfortable with calling God “Being Itself” or thinking of God as “absolute” or “unconditioned.” These ideas of God seem to me unbiblical. In this case, as Pascal famously said, “The God of the philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” But there is a philosophy of God revealed through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul. It’s just not what most people think of as “philosophy.” To hint at it: It does reveal reality as a “great chain of beings” (plural) with God at its top as creator and governor of all below him with a fixed gulf between him and the rest marked by the difference between being uncreated, self-existent, and being created and dependent (to say nothing of fallen).


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This is Why We Need Christians Engaged in Science!
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/05/28/why-we-need-christians-engaged-in-science-rjs/

by RJS
May 28, 2015

Ed Stetzer had an interesting post on his blog last week -  3 reasons for Christians to Engage in Science. This post is a reprint of an essay he wrote for a small booklet recently released by the National Association of Evangelicals: When God and Science Meet and available for free download. The booklet includes essays by John Ortberg, Mark Noll, Christopher Wright and more.

Stetzer’s three reasons (read his essay on his blog or in the booklet for his elaboration of these points, bold added):

First, creation speaks to a creator. Because we know there is a creator, we should be the ones most concerned about his creation.…

In Romans 1; Paul points out that attributes of God are made clear in creation. We can know his eternal power and divine nature, because they have been clearly seen since the creation of the world.
If Scripture says creation, and therefore the sciences that explore it, point to God, why would we run away from that? We, above all others, should love, study, explore, examine and care for the creation that provides evidence of God and his character.

Second, dismissing science undermines our witness. But many evangelicals are backing away from science. In a society driven by scientific achievement, it is unwise and counterproductive to our mission for Christians to embrace an anti-science label.

Third, science can better society. … The fact is, as we find better ways to farm, powerful new medicines to heal and more effective ways to power our society, the poor benefit, societies are transformed for the better and the world looks and is more of what God intended it to be.

Christians are to champion the good of their city and society as a whole. Leveraging scientific study and achievement for the betterment of people is an entirely Christian thing to do.

All three of these are great reasons for Christians to engage in science. The pursuit of science brings a sense of wonder, beauty, and awe to many scientists, religious or not. For a Christian in the sciences there is an added wonder and beauty. When we, as scientists, study the “natural” phenomena of the universe, whether in physics, chemistry, paleontology, geology, biology or some other science, we are studying the nature of God’s creation. This can make the pursuit of scientific understanding a form of worship as Dorothy Chappell, Dean of Natural and Social Sciences at Wheaton College, says in her essay:

Scientists can discover, study and contemplate the complexities of the created order while apprehending God’s glory, which remains resplendent throughout the creation; in other words, they can worship and interact with God as they do their own professional work. This represents a profound discipline: doing good science and practicing vibrant faith. A natural outcome that results when scientists explore the mysteries of creation from a biblical worldview is a greater capacity for wonder, awe and humility. These, after all, are the traits of effective scientists and devout Christians. (p. 36, When God and Science Meet)

Stetzer’s third reason is also highlighted in a number of the essays in When God and Science Meet. The pursuit of science is transforming the world for the better. This isn’t to embrace the myth of human moral progress where human effort will produce a perfect society or bring the Kingdom of God. It is simply to state a fact – vaccinations, sanitation, clean water, efficient transportation, medicines, instrumentation for imaging and diagnosis, all of these and many more developments, have made life for many longer, healthier, and safer. “Leveraging scientific study and achievement for the betterment of people is an entirely Christian thing to do.”

Finally his second reason, which is undervalued or misinterpreted by many:  Dismissing science, or worse yet distorting and misrepresenting science, undermines our witness as Christians in profound ways.  The church needs Christians engaged in science to hold fellow Christians to a high standard and to provide the needed expertise and review. John Ortberg notes in his essay:

I have seen too many young people in too many churches exposed to bad science in the misguided idea that someone was defending the Bible; then they go off to college and find out they were misinformed and they think they have to choose between the Bible and truth. (p. 28)

Bad science does no one any good.  Not Christians adults or youth, and certainly not non-Christians who find bad science a reason to dismiss any need to dig deeper and understand Christian faith. We need to pursue the truth.

Christian faith and the study of science are not mutually exclusive pursuits. Taking the Bible seriously does not mean holding to positions clearly contradicted by modern science. The Bible is not a science book.  Taking the Bible seriously does call us to stand against the metaphysical conclusions that some draw from science, just as it calls us to stand against the “wisdom of the world” driven by the pursuit of money, sex, and power.

The pursuit of scientific understanding has unearthed a wealth of new information. Information that our predecessors had no knowledge of and did not need to wrestle with … the vastness of the universe, the age of the earth, evolution. The church today does need to wrestle with this data.  In order to do this we need people who are conversant in science, who will take the time to explain the data and explore the relationship between the new insights from science and Christian theology. One of the reasons we need Christians to engage in science is to lead the church faithfully into the future.

Lucas Cranach Man and Woman and this leads to Adam. If that seems like a sharp left turn, changing the subject, it shouldn’t. Every discussion of science and Christian faith these days seems to return to the question of Adam, human evolution, and common descent. This is an overstatement, but not by much. Many of my posts over the last several years have turned around the discussion of Adam. In general I’ve focused on the biblical and theological issues because, quite frankly, I am convinced by the evidence of common descent. As a result I am deeply interested in the ramifications this has on our understanding of life from a Christian perspective.

Many readers, however, remain unconvinced that a unique couple is disproved by the scientific data. We need Christian scientists with the expertise and patience to explain the scientific data and consensus on a level accessible to non-scientists and to point out both the strengths and the weaknesses of the data and interpretation. I haven’t the patience (or the ready expertise in genetics) to offer a coherent and accessible explanation on common descent and human genetics. Fortunately Dennis Venema, professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, has the patience, expertise and ability. Dennis is in the middle of a long series of excellent posts at Biologos exploring Adam, Eve, and human population genetics.

The last few installments of Adam, Eve, and human population genetics have looked at the arguments Dr. Vern Poythress advanced in his recent short book Did Adam Exist?. Dr. Poythress’s scientific argument leaves much to be desired. He misinterprets the scientific papers he uses to defend his position that common descent is unsupported by the genetic data and that science cannot rule out a bottleneck consisting of one unique human couple as progenitor of the entire human race.  Dennis does an nice job of pointing out the problems with Dr. Poythress’s scientific argument.  Bad scientific arguments are far too common and do devastating damage to the faith of far too many. (See John Ortberg’s quote again.)

We need Christians like Dennis, engaged in science and with a heart for the church.


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