Archive for March, 2011

“The Ministry Theorem”: Resources for Pastors

The Ministry Theorem is  joint effort between Calvin Theological Seminary’s “Center for Excellence in Preaching” and the Calvin College Science Division.   Together, these two groups have developed an impressive collection of resources to help pastors better engage with science from the pulpit.  Check it out here.

Dr. Ross Hastings: A Call for Christian Unity (Part IV): Parameters and Nodes for gracious and fruitful dialogue – the foundations and the forward motion of pilgrims in unity … an exposition of Ephesians 4:1-16.

Note: This article reflects the substance of a plenary address delivered at the Vibrant Dance of Science and Faith Symposium in Austin, TX., October 26, 2010. Its intent is to provide a biblical and theological basis for healthy and fruitful dialogue on the theology and science of origins for pilgrims destined for the same heaven-on-earth celestial city. This content has also appeared on the Biologos forum here.

2. United specifically around the tenets of a theology of creation:

We are all bound by the essentialist creeds as we develop our specific thinking about creation. Here are five tenets to which I think we will all adhere, and which will keep us together as we debate the finer points of the “how” of creation.

(i) We can together affirm the goodness of God’s creation and that it reflects his glory now and that its chief end is the revelation of that glory, accomplished in the Son, through the Spirit, and from and to the Father. That goodness includes the human body. We can affirm that God has acted in Christ to reconcile and redeem creation, not to destroy it, and that human beings are reconciled not to be saved from creation and from their humanity, but in Christ to become human beings fully human and fully alive (Irenaeus).

(ii) We can all affirm the distinction between God and creation and the avoidance of monism or pantheism. Athanasius helpfully stated that God created out of his will not out of his essence. This provides a necessary distinction between the eternal begetting of the Son from the Father and the creation of matter in time. We can thus all affirm the necessity of ex nihilo creation of at least some matter, whether it be of just one atom or one species or all creation all at once.

(ii) We can all affirm a theology of providence over the process of creation. Dysteleological evolution seems to fly in the face of the Christian view of the providence of God, for example, whereas teleological evolution more easily seems to accord with the notion of providence, as do ID or progressive creationism or literal seven-day creationism.

(iii) Alongside of the doctrine of providence, we must all presumably affirm some kind of a theology of the contingency of creation. The dependency of creation on the God of creation must be held in tension with the createdness and the contingency, or the ontological differentiation between God and creation. What this means for (a) the mechanism of creation (b) a theodicy is less certain and is for me one of the front edges of ongoing dialogue with respect to origins to which I will refer later.

(iv) A theology of the imago Dei for created humans, which involves the following:

Reason and moral conscience (structural) and rule, which includes work (functional), but both of which were designed to be exercised in relationship with God. Allow me to explain.

This past summer I listened to the leader of the humanist organization in the UK in conversation with a Catholic bishop over the validity of the Pope making a state visit to UK. He had some good points to make, but his fundamental assumption was the people don’t need God or religion in order to have morals and ethics–the good of their fellow human was the only criterion necessary.

Regrettably one has to point out that this is sheer nonsense. Morality cannot exist in this environ, but rather nihilism. This is to suggest that any morality touted on the basis of humanism alone is based on borrowed capital – the heritage of Christian faith which is the only true humanism- for it gives value to humans based on their createdness by a common God and in His image. The concept of a neutral secular moral arena devoid of religious influence is also nonsense–there is no such thing, as Jamie Smith has stressed–if not Christianity or Islam then some form of religious idolatry fills the public square, including idolatry of the human being or human intellect.

Related to the matter of the image of God is the whole discussion about human culture. It is a product of two influences: the image of God, which is retained in fallen humans, and the fallenness of humans. It takes great discernment to inculturate the gospel and truth without enculturation. It is our task as scientists who are Christian to think Christianly about science, which is to think humanly about science in the highest sense.

This requires awareness that we can never be acultural and that we are inevitable incarnated within the particularity of our own Western post-Enlightenment culture and influenced by it. This is what may be termed inculturation or contextualization. Part of our task is to discern with heightened sensitivity, our own enculturations, by which I mean our undiscerning taking on of cultural values that are contra to God and his kingdom.

Modernity, for example, has potently influenced how even evangelicals have done “reason” and theology.(6) How culture has been influential on the theologies of the “how” of creation is a necessary study. For example, how it has influenced the methodology of literalistic interpretation and the theology of seven-day creationism. Is this a result of literal hermeneutics and sincere study of the plain sense of Scripture or is it the product of a crass literalistic hermeneutic that has been influenced by rationalist Modernity? The desire for certainty by fundamentalists is just the other side of the Enlightenment disconnection between faith and reason

Yet, on the other hand, there is also the danger that we have as evangelicals all too readily accepted the tenets of science, without regard for its enculturation and domination by the dogma of the Enlightenment. Gadamer’s true postmodern (much that passes for postmodernity is simply hypermodernity) critique of the Enlightenment’s “prejudice against prejudice” is well taken.

It is possible to go overboard in critiquing Modernity also, however. Not all that was of the Enlightenment was negative, and as with all cultures there is evidence of that which is of the image of God. No one can deny the blessings and benefits that science and technology and medicine have brought to society. One can in fact argue that the freedom to study creation in its own right, which the Enlightenment prospered, was consonant with and had its roots in a Christian doctrine of creation with roots as far back as the medieval church. I will expand on this below.

Summing up this point, it would seem impossible to find unity unless we share a common epistemological commitment to the fearless pursuit of truth no matter its source, in an empirical fashion, and with acknowledgement that knowledge is gained by more than mere abstract reasoning. This not only validates science, but theology also.

6. For a critique see Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, 74-75.

Regent Summer School: Science & Christianity: Retrospect & Prospect

For all scientists, theologian scientists, scientist theologians and people interested in the science-faith dialogue, let me highly recommend the following exciting course coming up this summer (July 11-22) at Regent College. It will be co-taught by David Livingstone, professor of geography at Queen’s University, Belfast, and noted historian Mark Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame. Below is the course description and dates. :

Science and Christianity: Retrospect and Prospect
This course examines critical historical episodes in the interaction between Christianity and science from the sixteenth century to the present. A major goal is to show how deeply embedded in specific cultural situations are all “encounters” between Christianity and science. A second goal is to subvert the notion that talking about any religion-science issue (including “creation” and “evolution”) is a simple matter. A third goal is to suggest Christian strategies for a more fruitful interchange between science and faith. From this course, students should take away both enriched historical understanding and better theological balance for approaching critical questions relating science and Christianity.

For registration details and a complete list of Summer School 2011 courses, see http://summer.regent-college.edu