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This is My Father’s World

In what is becoming a most enjoyable annual tradition, I find myself back at Regent College for their pastors conference during this, the first month of May.  This year, the theme of the conference is the interaction between science and faith and is called “Wonder and Devotion: Bringing Science and Faith Together for the Church.”  We’ve talked about creation and evolution, the immanence and transcendence of God, issues around the interpretation of Genesis 1-3 and a whole host of other very interesting things.  It’s been a great week thus far.

Rather than trying to put together some kind of a unified and coherent reflection regarding what’s been discussed thus far at the conference, I thought I would just post on a couple of the ideas that have piqued my curiosity thus far.

One of the main lecturers is Denis Alexander, who is Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge.  Alexander very helpfully explained some of the reasons behind the difficulty and frustration involved in trying to have fruitful conversations about scientific theories like evolution, whether inside or outside the church.  Here’s how he laid it out:

  1. There is scientific theory x.
  2. There is scientific theory x plus whatever ideological investment (y) this or that person or group wishes to attach to it for their own ends.
  3. There is the public understanding of scientific theory x being equated with ideological theory y.

To take only the example I am most familiar with, this happens with alarming regularity around the evolution/creation debate.  Both ends of the spectrum—militant atheists and militant young earth creationists—have poisoned the well of discourse to the extent that it is very difficult to talk about evolution or belief in God without having first to untangle a complicated web of what you do and do not mean.  For one group of people, Christianity simply is irrational willful ignorance and superstition; for another group of people, acceptance of evolution simply is atheism.  Of course most people live in between these two extremes, but the extremes have so influenced the terms of the conversation that helpful dialogue takes a lot of hard work (more than it should!).

We also touched on the constant temptation of relying on “God-of-the-gaps” type arguments in discussions involving science and faith.  An all-too-common approach is to look for things that science cannot explain as a way of “making room” for God.  This is, of course, the strategy employed by the Intelligent Design movement.  If something in the observable world (the bacterial flagellum was the example used) can be shown to be sufficiently complex—so complex that it is difficult, if not impossible, to see how a gradual series of adaptations could have produced it—then, it is claimed, we have found room for God in the system.  God obviously intervened at some point along the way to produce something that gradual adaptation could not have.

One of the problems here, of course, is that science has a way of closing the gaps over time.  I’m no scientist, but as I understand it there are plausible explanations out there as far as how, say, the bacterial flagellum might have evolved gradually over time (Danielson explained the science behind this, but I’m afraid both my memory and my scientific deficiencies prevent me from relaying his explanation).  And there are many examples throughout history where some feature of the world was thought to be a direct result of the hand of God which was subsequently shown to be explainable via the methods of science.

But the bigger problem, for me, is that this entire approach seems to be at odds with the biblical view of God and creation and how the two are related.  The Bible does not present “nature” as something that God just gets rolling and then tweaks or interferes with from time to time, a little (irreducible?) complexity here, a miracle there, etc.  It is fairly basic to Christian theology that God is both transcendent and immanent in creation (e.g., Colossians 1:15-20, Acts 17:28).  I don’t think the Christian’s job is to go hunting around under rocks and trees for some place where we find something we can’t explain and say, Voila!, God must have done it!  It is no virtue to invest our present ignorance about some feature or other about the created world with theological significance.  This approach to science and faith doesn’t seem to do justice either to the nature of God or to human beings and the role they are called to play in the world.

At one point in today’s proceedings we sang that great old hymn, “This is My Father’s World.”  It seems to me that if we really believed this were the case, we would be freed to adopt a posture toward learning about and living in the world that, rather than being defensive and seeking to protect some imagined space where “God must have done it” is the only admissible response, was characterized by gratitude, humility, and a genuine openness to learning more about this glorious world in which we have been placed.

Looking forward to more tomorrow…

26 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    “Genuine openness to learning more about this glorious world in which we have been placed” is the spirit in which modern science was born. In the contemporary version of it, “in which we have been placed” has been deleted. In some contemporary versions, pantheism and religious naturalism, for example, it has been replaced with “of which we are part.” And, of course, the meaning of the word “glorious” has changed to something like “wonder” and the historical reference to the glory of God is gone. In addition, the idea that science involves “genuine openness” has lost its plausibility since Kuhn.

    May 6, 2010
  2. I was at Regent College yesterday…too bad I didnt know you were going to be there…we prob could’ve met for coffee…Enjoy your time!

    May 6, 2010
  3. miscellaneoussoapbox #

    Debaters A and B hold no hope of persuading one another or even of securing a concession of any significant sort. They only bother with the effort for the rest of the alphabet out in the audience. They may individually be swayed by someone from within their camp or by someone outside their camp privately through their own study. I think this is possible. Kuhn’s theory is a descriptive one and I don’t think it carries any necessity in its descriptions. It also loses much of its force at the micro level.
    I really appreciate your main rumble here, though: it does seem backwards just trying to fit God in.

    May 6, 2010
  4. I like how you counterbalanced creationists and atheists in making waves and problems on this issue. In my part of the church, creationists are subject to more or less constant scorn and derision, while atheists are seldom mentioned. It’s almost as if religious folks who condemn creationism have an affinity for atheism. It’s weird, anyway. Thanks for keeping things in balance.

    May 7, 2010
    • Yes, that is a strange phenomenon—one that I have observed as well. Some seem so desperate to prove that they are not like “them” (whoever “them” might refer to) that they end up fairly transparently trying to ingratiate themselves to those with whom they share some pretty significant philosophical/theological differences. It’s too easy (and too tempting!) to define ourselves by what we are not rather than what we are.

      May 8, 2010
      • Ken #

        When Chris refers to “my part of the church” he is referring I think to the PCUSA and the United Methodists. That is the part of the church in which I once served. It is the heart of liberal protestantism. In that part of the church, the theology is quite similar to atheism. I think their distaste for creationism is similar to yours. But while you also dislike atheism, they read Dawkins.

        For the most part, people in the liberal denominations, including the pastors, don’t have any clear or consistent theology.

        My impression is that you are aligned with liberal evangelicals politically and theologically, although your taste for writers like Brueggeman and Buechner suggest that you are also aligned with an earlier generation of liberal protestants. I don’t really know much about Buechner, but my impression is that Bueggeman is not bothered by atheists. He is tolerated, but not widely admired, by today’s liberal protestant theologians. I think among atheists he is likely considered a fool.

        The lines are very hard to draw. Each of us is full of inconsistencies.

        May 8, 2010
      • You’re probably more or less correct in your assessment, although I usually don’t find the labels we use very helpful. On some matters I am conservative, on others liberal, and on many more I am somewhere in between.

        I wouldn’t say that I “dislike” atheism as much as I disagree with it. I’ve read many atheists and often find myself learning from them and even sharing their views on some things. But I do think atheism is inconsistent on a number of important levels. As you say, we all have our inconsistencies; I guess among the many and varied reasons I am a Christian, one would be that I find the Christian ones easier to live with than the ones I see in atheism.

        May 8, 2010
  5. Yeah…

    I’m wondering if you’ve ever encountered any biblical creationists outside of your own church who are more non-lay people on these issues?

    When you speak about the whole debate, you frame it in terms so that it’s already over.

    “God of the gaps”?

    “Science vs. faith”?

    “science has a way of closing the gaps over time”?

    “I don’t think the Christian’s job is to go hunting around under rocks and trees for some place where we find something we can’t explain and say, Voila!, God must have done it!”

    You are right in saying

    “this entire approach seems to be at odds with the biblical view of God and creation and how the two are related. The Bible does not present “nature” as something that God just gets rolling and then tweaks or interferes with from time to time, a little (irreducible?) complexity here, a miracle there, etc.”

    I’d suggest that the Biblical view of God and creation is synonymous with the scriptural view of God and creation.

    1. The Bible doesn’t present “nature” as something that God just gets rolling and then tweaks…Genesis chapter 1 presents the planet earth and all life thereupon as being made by method of divine fiat, by God, fully mature and operational in both physique and ecosystem, in 6 days composed of 144 solar hours. There are no “gaps” because God made everything, and scripture is utterly clear on that. Genesis is a straightforward Hebrew historical narrative, and the book of Genesis presents mankind as having walked this earth for anywhere from 6,000 to 20,000ish years, depending on concrete the genealogies are. Even self-professed liberals admit that this is how the Bible presents the origin of the earth, life and mankind. Those facts are not debated, even by many liberals.

    2. The debate arises with whether or not people actually believe that the Bible is either true or accurate when it comments on these issues. There is absolutely not a single problem anywhere between the Bible and science. The whole concept of “science”, as some uniform abstract organization or body of knowledge, is utterly nonsense. There’s a problem between the Bible and individuals who promote the theory of evolution, and it’s a problem of belief. The evolutionist who looks at the facts available to them can look at the facts of biology, physics, geology, history, etc. The thing is that they selectively look at the data, rejecting the most relevant data and following secondary streams of data. The origin of the universe is an event with only one eyewitness, and the evolutionist rejects that the first chapter of Genesis is the only eyewitness account that exists, for no defensible reason. Secondly, they reject that it’s a divine eyewitness account told by one for whom lying is actually impossible, again for no defensible reason. Those two points are, by their very nature, commitments of faith. Nobody can go back in history to double-check God’s story and nobody can throw God on a polygraph machine to check his story.

    3. The debate also arises when Christians, due to some form of temporary theological insanity, pretend that men who are sinners can believe God’s word outside of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The scripture is clear that problems of belief are not rational problems at all; they’re moral problems. Secondly, scripture is utterly clear that one cannot believe in the truth of the scripture, including the biblical account of creation, outside the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Christians, by definition, believe in the truth of scripture and the truths contained in scripture. Christians, by definition, believe that the Bible is a book of divine origin and pure, uncompromised truth. No Christian can look at Genesis 1 and say “Yeah, that’s wrong. God’s testimony is a lie.”

    I’m not suggesting that all evolutionists are therefore unbelievers, since most learned evolution as a secondary belief that has limited application in their lives and little rational content. Beyond that, few have faced the full weight of the evidence against their position from the scripture because few pastors actually preach through Genesis with any seriousness. But, Christians will always ultimately believe God’s word because they can do nothing else.

    September 6, 2010
    • So… there is just the one interpretation of the Genesis account of creation, there are no tensions between science and this one way of reading Genesis, to whatever extent anyone interprets scientific evidence as offering a challenge to this one way of reading Genesis they are rejecting “relevant” data and/or accusing God of lying…

      … and anyone who doesn’t accept these utterly obvious facts is either a) immoral; or b) resistant to the work of the Holy Spirit.

      Got it. Thanks for clearing that up.

      September 7, 2010
      • Ha! Uh, yes, yes, yes, and no.

        I’m guessing you’re mis-hearing me a bit.

        People who reject the Biblical testimony on the origin of the earth and mankind are one of three options:

        a. Unregenerate
        b. Regenerate but uninstructed
        c. Regenerate but rebellious and in need of repentance.

        I don’t see any other scriptural category.
        I’m guessing those categories might seem ignorant to you, but I challenge you to show me any other option entertained in the Bible.

        1. Ryan, just because it’s hard to understand ancient propositional statements doesn’t mean there’s more than one intended meaning to a propositional statement. You don’t believe that for a second; you don’t tell your wife you’re “going to polish your shoes” and then expect her to think you’re going to purchase a boat. Nobody, including rank liberals, questions that the Masoretic text of Genesis 1 says what it says. Nobody questions that Genesis 1:3 says:

        וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אֹור וַֽיְהִי־אֹֽור

        Nobody really disagrees on what a surface reading of the text seems to mean.

        People disagree on what the text means on secondary levels (spiritual meaning, numerological meaning etc.), and those disagreements are fueled not by the language or grammar, but instead by either outised philosophical/theological agenda or the implications of the surface reading of the text. I challenge you to go and peruse through 20 or 30 critical commentaries on Genesis 1 like the International Critical Commentary or Berit Olam or the JPS Torah Commentary; the ones that actually interact with the Hebrew Text.

        You’ll notice that they’re quite uniform on the facts of the text. They agree on what the verbs and nouns are, and they generally agree on the surface reading of the text. The various original translations offered are amazingly similar. They disagree on the historical referent of words like “day” and “light” and whatnot, but those discussions always brings in “the hermeneutical challenges of modern science”, which I’ve already suggested is a nonsense abstraction that serves the rhetorical purpose of intimidation more than anything. Nobody takes a surface reading of Genesis 1-11 and comes to the conclusion that humanity has been walking the earth in its current biological form for 100,000+ years and has descended from pre-hominid species over the course of millions of years or more.

        2. Again, the question arises as to why people find tension between the proclamations made by biologists, geologists, geneticists, paleontologists, etc. about origins history and the Hebrew language. I’ve never met a single biologist, geologist, geneticist, paleontologist, etc. who has any concrete and defensible reasons derived from the language and grammar of Genesis 1 for the rejection of Genesis 1 as a historical narrative document, or to challenge the fact that Genesis 1 is eyewitness testimony written by Yahweh; the only existing eyewitness of those historic events.

        They definitely reject those two statements, but I’ve never read or spoken with anyone who can give me reasons arising above the mediocre:

        – God didn’t write the Bible…man did! (demonstrably wrong)

        – Science says…(logic fail – bandwagon fallacy)

        – The Bible has contradictions in it…(again, demonstrably wrong)

        – The Bible is not a science textbook …(not being argued; demonstrably irrelevant)

        – Genesis is poetry…(again, demonstrably wrong)

        – Radiometric dating says that the age of the earth is…(logic fail – begging the question)

        – The word “day” can mean “age” or “epoch”… (exegetical fail – false semantic isolation)

        – The Sun wasn’t made until day 4 and plants cannot grow without light…(theology fail – Rev. 21:23 – God gives life without the sun.)

        The list goes on and on, and remains as mediocre.

        So why do people reject the scripture?

        Well, the Bible is again clear on the nature of divine revelation and the sinful heart of mankind. Christian biologists, geologists, geneticists, paleontologists, etc. who have a biblical doctrine of scripture and a biblical doctrine of history read Genesis 1 and understand that it’s a historical recount of the origin of the earth and mankind. They also hopefully understand what the text does not say (i.e. physiological mechanisms above “divine fiat”) and equally exege the text without eiseging. The only reason that Christian biologists, geologists, geneticists, paleontologists, etc. see Genesis 1 as truthful is the same reason any Christian believes the truthfulness of any other component of scripture. Hebrews 11:3 says “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

        Without faith, which is the gift of God to the spiritually regenerate, no human can believe in the historicity, truthfulness, and divine origin and authority of Genesis 1, or 2, or any other passage of scripture. Unregenerate people who work in the fields of biology and believe in evolution aren’t unregenerate because they believe in evolution or work in the field of biology; they believe in evolution because they’re unregenerate and cannot believe in biblical creation. Hebrews 11:3 says that’s actually impossible. There are unregenerate biologists who don’t believe in evolution, sure, but there is no such thing as an unregenerate person who believes in the biblical account of creation.

        Surely you know that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” – 1 Cor. 2:14

        September 7, 2010
      • James #

        Your tirade, Mennoknight, only convinces me of one thing- you believe “my opinion = the Bible.” That’s a pill no one should try to swallow. I don’t mind trying to track an argument but not one with that as the hidden premise.

        September 7, 2010
      • Wow, that’s quite a response, although I’m not really sure who or what 90% of that was directed to (or why). Based on a brief trip to your blog (and your two comments here) I gather you consider yourself to be some kind of a defender of pure doctrine or the heresy police or something like that. Fine. But while unloading a laundry list of loosely-related statements you happen to be convinced of might be cathartic or something, it’s generally not the best way to engage in a genuine dialogue. Generally, it’s a good way to signal that you are a lot more interested in overwhelming an “opponent” or defeating an “enemy” than you are in an honest exchange of ideas with another human being (however unregenerate, rebellious, uninformed, or in need of repentance you happen to think they might be).

        September 8, 2010
  6. Ken #

    At the university the scholars did believe that Genesis 1 reflects a different cosmology than the one most in the West believe today. They would have basically agreed with MennoKnight’s reading of the cosmology in Genesis 1, even while that was not the cosmology they believed. It is interesting to look at the ways theologians have tried to deal with this problem interpretatively over the centuries, if they did not take the cosmology to be true. They have tried typology, metaphor, allegory and demythologizing. Cosmology is such an unstable thing. The theologians have, for the most part, considered the words of Genesis 1 to be important, even while beating up each other over their differences in reading it. In the history of the church, theology has, it seems, always been a life or death sport played for blood. No mercy.

    September 7, 2010
  7. I’m sorry. I thought that I was clearly responding to you Ryan, hence the narrow sub-text under your post (which admitedly made my interaction seem rather long).

    I’m neither the defender of pure doctrine (whatever in the world that means) nor the heresy police. It’s interesting how you read me. Those of us who think all conservative people are angry or ignorant sure read that into the printed text that they write. Of course, when I read the writings of rank liberals like John Dominic Crossan or Francis Collins, I find it hard not hearing them speak a lot like Robert Price.

    I’m a lot like you, though likely from a different side of the theological pond. I’m a pastor/teacher/theologian who grew up in MB circles and, like you, is still involved in MB circles.

    I know of you vaguely, Ryan. I’ve read your stuff in the MB Herald (PBUH), which told me to come and check out your blog. I always do what the MB Herald (PBUH) tells me, and when I tried to interact with you, I got mocked and rebuked like a child.

    If you are unwilling to dialogue on the issues that compell you to write, just say so. If you think I’m simply some ignorant fundie Mennonite, feel free to actually dismiss me. Hiding behind the chalkboard or Emily Post is silly. Maybe we’ll meet at the next conference meeting and have a coffee. I’m guessing you’ll be surprised.

    September 13, 2010
  8. I’m neither the defender of pure doctrine (whatever in the world that means) nor the heresy police. It’s interesting how you read me. Those of us who think all conservative people are angry or ignorant sure read that into the printed text that they write. Of course, when I read the writings of rank liberals like John Dominic Crossan or Francis Collins, I find it hard not hearing them speak a lot like Robert Price.

    I do not think and did not say that you are ignorant. Angry? Not sure. My “defender of pure doctrine” comment comes from a) the name you have chosen to identify yourself as; and b) the content of many of the posts on your blog and the manner in which you describe those whose views you do not hold (i.e., curious that you would choose the adjective “rank” to modify the noun “liberal”—not to mention that you would put Francis Collins in this apparently distasteful category); and c) the approach you chose to take in response to my post.

    I know of you vaguely, Ryan. I’ve read your stuff in the MB Herald (PBUH), which told me to come and check out your blog. I always do what the MB Herald (PBUH) tells me, and when I tried to interact with you, I got mocked and rebuked like a child.

    I also know of you vaguely, based on observing a couple of threads on the MB Forum a while back. Undoubtedly, these observations influenced how I read and responded to your comments here. As I’ve said before, unloading a laundry list of dogmatic assertions that are only tangentially related to the content of my initial post is not the best way to signal that you are interested in genuine interaction (were you honestly expecting a response to that many bald assertions?). They give the strong impression, rather, that you are looking for a fight—that you are “correcting” someone’s doctrine.

    Interestingly, I made no argument for evolution in my initial post. My primary concerns had to do with the frequent nature of the science/ faith discussion—how too often it is difficult to have productive dialogue on these matters without wading through questions of orthodoxy/spiritual vitality (concerns that have been validated in this thread) and about the general posture we take toward learning about the world. My post affirmed a deep confidence in and love for our Creator God—a confidence and a love that I am sure you share.

    (You’ll have to help me out with what PBUH means and why you’ve linked it to the MB Herald.)

    If you are unwilling to dialogue on the issues that compell you to write, just say so. If you think I’m simply some ignorant fundie Mennonite, feel free to actually dismiss me. Hiding behind the chalkboard or Emily Post is silly. Maybe we’ll meet at the next conference meeting and have a coffee. I’m guessing you’ll be surprised.

    I am very willing to dialogue. I am absolutely uninterested in dealing with accusations of unorthodoxy, rebellion, ignorance, spiritual hardheartedness, etc based on how I choose to interpret Gen 1-3, and slinging essays back and forth for a week and getting precisely nowhere.

    Again, I do not think you are a “some ignorant fundie Mennonite” (I actually think “Mennonite” is a compliment). My issue is with the manner in which you chose to initiate a discussion. It was unnecessarily antagonistic and fundamentally ungenerous. You are certainly free to consider this to be a form of “hiding behind Emily Post,” but when your only three options for why someone might hold a different view than yours on creation are: 1) unregenerate; 2) regenerate but uninstructed; or 3) regenerate but rebellious and in need of repentance, there doesn’t seem to be much point in further “dialogue.” If the possibility that someone might be reasonably well informed, spiritually sensitive and walking with the Holy Spirit, and not in open rebellion and still hold a view that differs from yours isn’t even on the table, the potential for fruitful conversation seems pretty minimal. The matter has already been decided, in your view. Someone who differs from your view on the early chapters of Genesis is simply ignorant, unspiritual, or immoral (or some combination of the three). I quite literally cannot imagine using this as the starting point for conversation with someone whose views I do not share. I can appreciate that you feel strongly about the interpretation of Genesis 1-3, but I think you have to at least be willing to consider a few more than these three options in order to have productive dialogue with anyone.

    I look forward to that coffee, by the way. I don’t doubt that a conversation in that context could certainly surprise us both, and would likely be a lot more fruitful than any exchange that might take place in the manner it has begun here.

    September 14, 2010
    • Sorry about the long dropped response…I lost track of where this was on your blog. I’ll answer as short as I can.

      1. The name “Mennoknight” is simply the only spelling available on Hotmail when I tried to get the name “Mennonite”…sorry. Nothing Arthurian or epic about it.

      2. a “Rank” liberal is someone who would “rank” (associate) themselves with “academic liberalism”; people who know what “liberal” means in a technical, theological sense, and would place themselves within that camp. I don’t mean it slanderously, though I’m guessing is sounds so if you don’t know what I mean (I don’t mean “rank” as in “stinky” or something). As far as I know, Collins would self-associate with properly understood academic liberalism.

      3. You read the MB forum stuff? Like from 2003 or so when I was tangling with Marshall? Yikes. That’s a long time ago for me. I tend to stay away from the MB Forum these days. It does get my hackles up a little too much. I don’t have a dislike of bad ideas. I have a dislike of bad arguments for bad ideas.

      4. PBUH = “Peace Be Upon Him”. Muslims always bless the name of Mohammad with that. I often say “Peace Be Upon Herald” when talking about the Herald. Just a stupid joke.

      5. Yeah, you’re right in taking a defensive posture with my 3 options. I understand that those would sound aggressive and antagonistic, especially if you get your guard up when you see dichotomies or trichotomies (which you suspect are false). I believe I said:

      “People who reject the biblical testimony on the origin of the earth and mankind are one of three options…”

      I wasn’t arguing for my view. I wasn’t saying that “people who disagree with me are one of three options…”. I think that’s where you misread me.

      I was applying a general truism: People who reject the Biblical teaching on something:

      a. Think it’s utterly irrelevant (i.e. John Loftus, Hector Avalos, Dan Barker, etc.)
      b. Don’t know what it is (i.e. Christians who are still in ignorance)
      c. Know what it is but don’t obey (i.e. Christians who are still conforming their lives to scripture…or false believers…).

      I don’t know what the fourth category would be and I don’t think there is one. That being said, I think I left a wide door open for disagreement on issue related to the first 3 (or 11) chapters of Genesis:

      You’d have to simply argue “that’s not the biblical testimony”. The variations of interpretation are regarding what the biblical testimony IS (what the bible actually teaches), not whether or not we should obey it.

      Does that open the box a little for you?

      October 7, 2010
      • 1. Point taken. Sorry about the Arthurian assumptions :).

        2. Usually when the word “rank” is used as an adjective, negative connotations are intended. I’ve never heard the word used as you describe, but I will certainly take your word for it that this is how you intended it. I’m fairly certain that Collins would not self-identify with theological liberalism. He believes that Jesus has literally been raised from the dead which almost instantly disqualifies him from that camp.

        3. I drop in on the MB Forum occasionally. I occasionally contribute, but not very often. Sometimes I find it frustrating, but mostly I just don’t have the time to follow the essay-length responses. Often I have enough to do keeping up with work, family, and this blog. I wasn’t referring to a 2003 discussion on the MB Forum. This is the one I had in mind. Unless you’re a different Lyndon Unger (sheesh, that would be embarrassing…).

        4. I figured that was the reference. Not sure I get the joke, but maybe I’m slow :).

        5. Fine. But you seemed to simply equate “the biblical testimony” (particularly on the matter of creation) with the view you happen to hold (i.e., you describe those who accept some form of evolution as”rejecting” Genesis or the biblical testimony, rather than as interpreting it differently than you). So we’re back to the same three options for those who disagree with you. Unless I’m missing something.

        I’m a big believer in the fact that as human beings we see through a glass darkly—our reading of Scripture is always conditioned by our sin and our limitations and the vested interests we accumulate by virtue of our historical/cultural contexts. History is simply too full of people who believed the “obvious” truth of what the Bible taught which turned out to be at best incomplete or misguided, at worst flat-out incorrect. I think an honest look at the history of biblical interpretation (not to mention a basic understanding and appreciation of the doctrine of human sin and its many effects, including cognitive) ought to colour all of our declarations of what the bible teaches with a bit more humility.

        Having said all that, I appreciate your clarifications and the more conciliatory approach to dialogue.

        October 8, 2010
      • James #

        Interesting use of the word “rank”, Mennoknight. My MS Word Dictionary also defines it as-
        rank2 adj
        1. of the most extreme and obvious kind
        2. foul-smelling or foul-tasting (literary)
        After many years of reading theology text books, I suppose one can forgive you from being a little disconnected from 21st century vernacular, but it can be hazardous to clear communication. How, by the way, do you understand “gay”? 🙂

        October 9, 2010
  9. Ryan –

    1. Cool.

    2. “He believes that Jesus has literally been raised from the dead which almost instantly disqualifies him from that camp.” I love to have an explicit quote, especially seeing the company he keeps. Many accademic, historic Liberals (i.e. Schleiermacher) believered that Jesus “literally” raised from the dead, but they mean something different by the word “literally” than would accademic, historic non-liberals. Are you familiar with Craig Evans or Darrel Bock?

    3. Yeah, I ebelieve that’s me.

    4. No worries. It’s actually an exceedingly stupid joke.

    5. Okay, now we’re talking. I fully understand that you see me as equating my opinion with the actual text of scripture. I get that a lot, especially from people who are not used to humble, yet objective, interpretation of scripture.

    I fully agree with you on the side of hermeneutical humility, and I also have met many a man who threw around the word “obvious” far too freely. Many people who are dogmatic are so out of blind tradition, ignorance, or sin (or some combination of those). I’ve recently had discussions with people who agreed with what I said on a biblical matter but didn’t have a single, defensible reason for their position. Many years ago, I left the MB church reacting to that sort of lobotomized dogmatism.

    In a similar way, most of the time when I talk with accademic liberals, they simply don’t have a lot of patience for careful exegesis. I believe that I’m interpretting the scripture correctly and can atriculately walk through why I come to the positions that I do, as well as interact with objections to my interpretation and overcome them in a consistent manner. I’m not perfect at that, but that’s the clear and definite goal.

    Now the Bible does say that we see through a glass darkly, but 1 Cor. 13:12 isn’t about scriptural hermeneutics and exegesis. I call foul on your analogy, Ryan.

    I also am not a linguistic relativist and I actually believe in plenary verbal inspiration. The gulfs of history and culture can be crossed enough to be able to understand language, which has objective meaning. I can study the language of scripture and understand it enough to be firm on what it’s saying, though this doesn’t mean I can exhaustively plumb it’s depths. As my exegetical and hermeneutical toolbox grows, so does my certainty on the meaning of biblical texts. I’ve read Derrida and McLaren, but I’ve also read Chisolm and Vanhoozer.

    Sadly and honestly, I find that the “hermeneutical humility” card is often played by bible interpreters in the same way that some guitarists play the “I’m about style, not speed” card:

    They usually play it when they’re facing people who reveals how bad they stink at the thing they think they’re awesome at. In reality, they are unable to do what the other guy is doing (or don’t even have a clue how they do it), and are making excuses.

    Finally I’d be interested to know what you think about the noetic effects of sin. That’s another post, or thread. Would be interesting to talk about though.

    James –

    1. MS Word Dictionary?

    Oh.

    I wonder, does your MS Word dictionary have “supersessionism” in it? Hmm…maybe your MS Word dictionary isn’t the authority on language that you think it is.

    I’m sorry you didn’t understand me and chose to give me a lesson on clear communication instead of asking me what I meant. If I had meant “extreme”, I would have used “raging” and not “rank”.

    And I’m disconnected from 21st century vernacular? Hmmm. Should I be writing it in 1337?

    W0ULD 7H@ M4K3 MY (0MM3N7 M0R3 r3L3\/4N7 70 j00Z?

    There. Now I’m totally groovy.

    And “Gay”? It means “A small bundle of sticks” or “cigarette”.

    No wait. I think I screwed up.

    October 15, 2010
    • “He believes that Jesus has literally been raised from the dead which almost instantly disqualifies him from that camp.” I love to have an explicit quote, especially seeing the company he keeps. Many accademic, historic Liberals (i.e. Schleiermacher) believered that Jesus “literally” raised from the dead, but they mean something different by the word “literally” than would accademic, historic non-liberals. Are you familiar with Craig Evans or Darrel Bock?

      Re: Francis Collins, I’m not sure how literal an affirmation of the resurrection would convince you. I know that the organization he founded (Biologos) unambiguously affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus in their statement of faith (see here, for example). The bodily resurrection of Christ seems to be fairly obviously assumed throughout The Language of God, particularly in the chapter on “Truth Seekers.”

      Re: “the company he keeps,” I’m not really interested in the “guilt by association” game. Whether or not Collins or any of those he associates with fall into the (apparently distasteful) category of “liberal” is of little concern to me. I think we have much to learn from people across a broad range of perspectives.

      I am somewhat familiar with both Evans and Bock.

      I fully understand that you see me as equating my opinion with the actual text of scripture. I get that a lot, especially from people who are not used to humble, yet objective, interpretation of scripture.

      I’m not surprised that you get that a lot—especially because, just like everyone else on this planet, your interpretation is not “objective.” Based on what I’ve seen so far, I would say that the word “humble” doesn’t really fit either.

      Now the Bible does say that we see through a glass darkly, but 1 Cor. 13:12 isn’t about scriptural hermeneutics and exegesis. I call foul on your analogy, Ryan.

      I don’t feel bound to use each and every metaphor (biblical or otherwise) in precisely and always the manner it was initially used in. Paul’s statement here conveys a sense of human limitation that I think is quite appropriately extended to areas of hermeneutics and exegesis.

      Sadly and honestly, I find that the “hermeneutical humility” card is often played by bible interpreters in the same way that some guitarists play the “I’m about style, not speed” card:
      They usually play it when they’re facing people who reveals how bad they stink at the thing they think they’re awesome at. In reality, they are unable to do what the other guy is doing (or don’t even have a clue how they do it), and are making excuses.

      Hmm, so we’re back to insults… Well, you are obviously free to think that I “stink” or am unable to match your exegetical prowess or that I’m making excuses or anything else you like. You seem to think that dialogue in Christian circles is a kind of exegetical survival of the fittest where “opponents” must be “defeated” or “overcome.” I couldn’t disagree more strongly. I’ve tried to do some of what I think is some pretty basic and necessary ground-clearing here—a task that I think is important before anything resembling fruitful conversation can take place on some of these matters.

      Finally I’d be interested to know what you think about the noetic effects of sin. That’s another post, or thread. Would be interesting to talk about though.

      Quick version: We are fallen and finite creatures. Sin affects our thinking and reasoning (even our exegesis).

      October 16, 2010
      • 1. Regarding Collins, I would be interested in Collins stating that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was a fact of history, learned from the gospels. I won’t get into historical Jesus studies, but I’d guess that Collins separates the “Christ of faith” from the Christ of history”, ala Craig Evans and Darrell Bock, seeing that he’d consult those guys and their writings (or BioLogos scholars like Peter Enns) on questions regarding historicity. If we’re not on the same page regarding the perspicuity of scripture, I’m not going to start talking about the historicity of scripture.

        “Liberal”, in the proper sense of the term (as I understand it), is the outworking of a philosophical naturalism that:

        a. Considers God’s love as his principle and dominant virtue.
        b. Considers sinners as diseased, not depraved.
        c. Considers Christ as the model of the ideal man.
        d. Denies the penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement.
        e. Considers the “kingdom of God” to be a present social possibility
        f. Considers the Bible to be inspirational, not inspired.
        g. Considers the Bible to be infallible, not inerrant.

        I don’t throw out the term outside of what I understand to be it’s actual, historic, definition.

        2. My interpretation is not objective, but you cannot possibly deny that language transmits objective meaning that can be properly understood. The very fact that we’re dialoguing back and forth shows me how effectively you actually think language can communicate meaning.

        Humble jokes are always awesome! You’re defintiely a googleplex as humble as me…not that you’d ever admit it! I love that about you Ryan!

        3. You can use metaphors however you would like! Feel free to launch into gibberish at will; I’ll try to play along.

        4. As for hermeneutical humility, okay. I disagree with you too.

        “You seem to think that dialogue in Christian circles is a kind of exegetical survival of the fittest where ‘opponents’ must be ‘defeated’ or ‘overcome.'”

        Well, no. I want to understand truth. For example, I don’t have trouble looking at someone who defines biblical terms by stringing together parallels in an English translation, randomly picking 1 of 12 possible definitions out of a semantic domain, and saying “Uh, that’s a weak way of defining biblical terms”. People who try to understand biblical terms in that way are actually doing lexicography wrong, and I don’t have a problem saying that. That doesn’t mean I’m a jerk, but it does mean that there are wise and foolish ways of exeging scripture.

        More so, you do that with me when you disagree with me. You hold to an objective meaning of language (and scripture), and the fact that you’re responding in riposte shows it.

        You just don’t like the fact that you’re playing an electric guitar and I’m playing an accordion. (How’s that for a opaque metaphor? At least I gave you the cool instrument! HA!)

        5. I agree that sin affects my exegesis and I’m fully in loathe to the noetic effects of sin in myself. Does sin change the objective data of language?

        October 16, 2010
      • Re: Francis Collins, there’s probably not much more I can say (nor much of a reason to say it) to convince you of his orthodoxy re: the resurrection. I will leave you to your suspicions.

        My interpretation is not objective, but you cannot possibly deny that language transmits objective meaning that can be properly understood. The very fact that we’re dialoguing back and forth shows me how effectively you actually think language can communicate meaning.

        Of course language can be properly understood. I’ve never denied that language can communicate meaning. I’ve simply said that we need to be careful about too quickly equating our interpretation of Scripture with its objective meaning. We are not objective interpreters of Scripture. The simple fact that there are so many different interpretations ought to give us pause, not because it means that there is no correct one, but because there are an awful lot of incorrect or partially correct ones. That should, at the very least, make us think.

        You can use metaphors however you would like! Feel free to launch into gibberish at will; I’ll try to play along.

        Perhaps I’m a little thick and don’t get your humour, but yet again, I will simply say that if genuine dialogue is what you’re after, using words like “gibberish” and talking about “playing along” when referring to the statements of others isn’t a great way to go about it. You may not agree with my use of a metaphor, but to equate it with “gibberish” seems a little juvenile.

        Well, no. I want to understand truth. For example, I don’t have trouble looking at someone who defines biblical terms by stringing together parallels in an English translation, randomly picking 1 of 12 possible definitions out of a semantic domain, and saying “Uh, that’s a weak way of defining biblical terms”. People who try to understand biblical terms in that way are actually doing lexicography wrong, and I don’t have a problem saying that. That doesn’t mean I’m a jerk, but it does mean that there are wise and foolish ways of exeging scripture.

        Certainly. And there are wise and foolish ways of making known which you think is which.

        You just don’t like the fact that you’re playing an electric guitar and I’m playing an accordion. (How’s that for a opaque metaphor? At least I gave you the cool instrument! HA!)

        Um, I’m afraid I just don’t get the metaphor. I’m going to go out on an interpretive limb and assume that even though the electric guitar is cooler, it’s still wrong?

        October 17, 2010
  10. I guess I haven’t said this yet, but when I say “rank”, it’s short for “rank and file”, i.e. “card-carrying”.

    October 15, 2010
    • James #

      I’ve also engaged you on the Forum, MK. There’s lots I agree with you about- but your sophistic argumentative style diminishes you.

      October 16, 2010
      • Oh. I’m not sure who you are. I use a sohpistic argumentative style?

        What should I do?

        October 16, 2010
      • James #

        Since you asked- you should stop playing word games.

        October 16, 2010

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