whytheology

For the Intersection of the Everyday and the Sacred

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

Repentance part 3 (Foundational Doctrines)

So over the past two weeks I’ve been talking about repentance and what that actually means. In the first week, I took great pains to note that repentance is more than being “sorry” for something and requires, among other things, an admission of guilt; that is, we need to admit that we have done something we shouldn’t (or didn’t do something we should) and that we cannot change that fact.

Last week, I talked about the first mention in the bible of the word “repentance” given in the context of the temple dedication, there we are assured that God will respond to genuine repentance with forgiveness. I also noted that the issue of repentance was given in the context of a future exile, which I’ll come back to this week. This week, I’d like to begin by looking at the first New Testament use of “repentance.”

In each of the synoptic gospels, very early on we see John the Baptist calling out to the people to repent. Mark’s gospel (probably the earliest): opens (after telling you this is a Gospel) with a quote from Isaiah about the servant of the LORD, and then the picture of John the Baptist:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”[c]
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”[d]

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

–Mark 1:1-4 (NIV)

Likewise, Matthew, after the genealogy and early instances in the childhood of Jesus, cuts to John, whose first words are “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). There, he is also identified with the same quotation from Isaiah. Even John’s Gospel has John the Baptist identifying as the voice. (see John 1:23).

Why am I making this point? Well, I could go on and talk about the relationship between baptism and repentance (though I think I’ll save that until I get to baptism), instead, I want to talk about the relationship between exile and repentance.

The passage from Isaiah is related to what we call the “servant songs” of that book. As a very brief overview of the book, the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are primarily geared toward the judgment of Judah. God has remained faithful to his covenant, and the people have ignored their obligations frequently. Thus, rather than outright abandon the covenant (which God could have done), God chose to hold the people to the covenant, which can only mean exile. The people have not followed the law in the land, they have not allowed the land to have its Sabbath rest, and thus God will ensure that it happens.

Then in chapter 40 of Isaiah, a shift occurs. The book moves from progressively harsher language of judgment and punishment to open chapter 40 with the word: “Comfort.” “Comfort ye, Comfort ye, my people” (forgive my King James rendering). So assured is the exile by the end of Isaiah 39, that Isaiah is given a message of hope for a people in exile. Yes you are in exile, Yahweh (the personal name for God) through Isaiah tells the people, but that exile is not the end. There is hope. The “servant songs” are poetic pieces in this latter half that speak of the servant of Yahweh (the LORD) who will bring the people out of their exile and return them to the land. The land, if you recall from the Old Testament, was the covenant promise first given to Abram/Abraham and that Moses was leading the Israelites into, and out of Egypt. The theme of the land can even be traced back to Genesis 1:1, which could be translated “In the beginning God created the universe” (which would include the earth) “and the land.” So the people are told they will be brought back to the land, which is to say they will restored in their covenant relationship with God, the relationship which was intended from the very foundations of the world.

There are a few ways to interpret the identity of the servant. The first is in the immediate historical context of the seventh century BC exile of Judah, in which case the servant is the historical figure Cyrus (see Isaiah 44:28). Second, one can understand the servant as the faithful of Israel. Third, one can take the servant to be Jesus Christ. I suggest that, really, two and three can be combined, but that’s another story altogether (where the Gospels generally, and Matthew in particular, demonstrate that Jesus embodies faithful Israel, in a way that the historical nation of Israel never could), and I won’t get too involved in that today.

At any rate, this particular passage from Isaiah 40 that is quoted about John the Baptist acts as a prelude, of sorts, to the servant songs. The servant is mentioned, yet in the context of the book, it is clear that the preparations that are being made are being made for the servant (if Jesus is that servant, then it really fits that John the Baptist is making the preparations). But why is there all this reference to exile? I thought that Judah was released from exile in the Old Testament?

Yes, on the historical face of it, Judah was released form exile to return to Jerusalem and build the temple. While in the intertestamental period they were briefly a conquered people again, they achieved a rather long period of relative independence prior to the Roman general Pompey marching in and taking the territory (almost completely unopposed). So why this talk about preparation to return from exile still, when the return already occurred? It is perhaps because “the land” or promise was never, genuinely, a geographic location. God had taken the presence of his glory away from Judah (Ezekiel 10), and this absence was deeply and intimately felt. The exile was over, but the people still felt the exile.

Thus the people still awaited the end to their exile. It became clear that the land of promise was not a geographical location, but an intimate covenant relationship, though it would one day encompass the whole heavens and new earth, once they were refined and made new. It is in this context that the people wait, hoping for the return of the Glory of God, that is his unique and overwhelming presence, and it was coming in the person of Jesus (see John 1:14, where the language is very carefully chosen). In order for this exile to end, though, preparation must be made.

Thus the message of John was a call to get the pathway ready. Making the desert highway straight. It is not geographic, but in the hearts of people that the path must be made straight. I’ll pick up there next week.

What do you think? What might it mean to think of repentance as the first step to ending exile? What does it mean to encounter the glory of God?

 

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You think you’ve got it bad, don’t talk to Athanasius

Today’s church history minute is about Athanasius

Who was he? Athanasius was a fourth century bishop in Alexandria. He is famous for his opposition to the Arians. Arianism revolved around a controversy with respect to who Christ was. It amounts to a denial of the full Trinity. While Arius said Jesus was divine, he claimed Jesus had been created (not eternal) and was not of equal status with God the Father. Athanasius, a fairly young bishop, was a leaders (or possibly the leader) at the First Council of Nicaea, an ecumenical (all the churches) council to decide the issue. The Nicene creed became the standard of orthodoxy, affirming the Trinity, including the full divinity and humanity of Christ, and still the final document accepted by East and West

There’s Athanasius, clearly having been able to escape earlier attempts on his life. Fear the Beard. (image public domain, obtained via Wikicommons)

(although the introduction of “Filioque” (and the Son) was the last straw in the divide between the two). After the council, though, Athanasius returned to his home in Alexandria to find a less-than-welcoming welcome. He spent the majority of the next few years on the run from supporters of Arius and political opponents, often fearing for his life. More than once he made daring “Hollywood-type” escapes. On one occasion, he came to preach at a church and, knowing his enemies were waiting for him, he held the prayer a bit longer and turned the service over to a fellow priest while he slipped out the back and hopped on a boat in the nick of time.

Why was he important? Eventually Nicene Christianity (that is, the Christianity you know) prevailed. This is in thanks, in no small part, to Athanasius. In case you are wondering whether your orthodox belief was just an accident of history, it certainly was not. Athanasius, who was instrumental but not final in the formation of canon as well, was able to provide something of an objective criteria for the biblical books. While the core of the New Testament (the 4 gospels) was never genuinely challenged, the other books were frequently debated about (see my series on where our bible came from). Athanasius was able to provide criteria that included books which made sense with the gospels and the Old Testament (unlike competing criteria). It is doubtful Christianity would have survived had it taken another form (one that contradicted itself openly), and personally I think it struck the truth of the matter.

Fun Fact: Because he was so frequently on the run, he was given the nickname “Athanasius contra mundum” or “Athanasius against the world.” Doesn’t he sound fun?

Where might I have heard of him? Aside from the Athanasian Creed (which he didn’t write), he is known for writing many important works. The most well known and frequently read probably being On the Incarnation, which was a personal favorite of C. S. Lewis (who wrote the introduction for most English translations).

Mini-reflection on light

Today is a rather dark and gloomy day, with a high chance of rain, here in Houston. It’s the kind of day that is almost reminiscent of London. “Almost” because it’s a little hard to be reminded of London when it’s the end of January and the high is 78 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s about 26 Celsius for my non-American friends) and has my son was wearing shorts this morning (yes I do think I prefer Houston “winters”). Anyway. The absence of light, along with the little light on my desk breaking through reminded me of some things.

Jesus said “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12)

Yet Jesus also said “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14).

The link, I think, is found at the end of John 8:12: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

So let your light shine before men.

Take this light of the world and shine it out to a world living in darkness that was never meant to be.

Diving into Revelation (Part 1): Difficult Passages

Alright, so this was suggested a while back, and I’ve avoided it until now, but I’m going to go ahead and dive into the book of Revelation, one of the most confusing, argued about, misunderstood, misread, questioned books of the bible. Today I’m going to offer something of an introduction to what I intend to do with the series (which I suspect will be long running), and, if this doesn’t get too long, a brief introduction to the book.

First, the disclaimer. It seems pretty arrogant at the outset to give what is the interpretation of the book of Revelation. John Calvin was so bothered by the possibility of grossly divergent readings of the book that he thought that while it is good for Christians to read the entire bible, it might be better if they read everything except the book of Revelation, leaving that for trained scholars and elders to teach them (incidentally, he wrote a full commentary on every biblical book except revelation). So let me get one thing out there. I am not purporting to give the possible reading. Instead, what I will hope and try to do is give some of the general possibilities for looking at Revelation before following my own guide.

I should also note that I am not a New Testament Scholar. While I am familiar with the bible and have taken a lot of Greek, my graduate studies have not focused on Greek nor on the New Testament in the same way that a degree in “Bible” or “New Testament” would. Instead, I am trained as a theologian. Therefore, when I do get to my own commentary, it will be a (biblically informed and grounded) theological commentary on Revelation.

Let me also list some other disclaimers:

  1. I really don’t like Tim LaHay’s Revelation: Illustrated and Made Plain (Published in the mid-70s). I’ll try to hold my bias in check, but LaHay assumes quite a bit of superior knowledge about the book that he has no place to assume. The bible

    Hagee at Christians United for Israel [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons (Where are the giant posters?)

    should always, and Revelation in particular, be approached with a certain level of humility and a genuine acknowledgment that not only could I be wrong, but on some non-essential points, I probably am wrong (or at least have failed to grasp the full meaning).
  2. I will not be doing any John Hagee style Midrash. I’m not one for giant billboards or TV cameras. Plus see point 1). If youwant John Hagee, go find John Hagee, I’m sure there’s something online right now.
  3. When I talk about the variety of views that one can take for reading the book of Revelation, I will certainly give and try to explain some views I do not hold nor agree with in any sense. Still, I want to be fair to those with whom I disagree and so I will try to remain impartial when I explain those views. If I fail to do so in future posts, please call me out on it.
  4. There is a lot of Old Testament imagery and references in Revelation. I will go back into the Old Testament in an effort to see how the images are being used in the book of Revelation.
  5. If you comment (and please feel free to comment), please don’t call it “Revelations”. There is no “s” on the end of the book. I know it’s silly, but it’s a pet peeve of mine. This is the record of a single vision of John, it was one revelation by one person. (I realize I may have just invited lots of comments composed entirely of “Revelations”, but oh well).
  6. Let me preface this point by saying I don’t have a vendetta against Christian fiction (at least not all Christian fiction). I think C. S. Lewis has some great stuff (Space Trilogy anyone?). I think Francine Rivers is an exceptionally gifted writer (I’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit reading some of her books). Max Lucado’s children’s books are great. But, forgive me, I cannot stand the Left Behind series. I know it’s one of the best selling fictions books of my lifetime, and yes I read the first three, but I just don’t like it. I even saw the Kirk Cameron movies on it (yes that’s movies, plural), but didn’t like them. So, if you are wanting Christian apocalyptic fiction to feature in this blog. I’m

    Sorry Hal Lindsey, you’re playing second fiddle now in the hot Christian-Apocalyptic-but-what-happens-to-those-still-on-earth-after-the-rapture sub-sub-sub genre of books

    sorry to disappoint you. Maybe I’ll change my mind once the Nicholas Cage remakes come out (yes that’s really a thing).

  7. Let’s always keep in mind that, regardless of your view of Revelations ( ;D ), it is independent of your status before God. Unless you get really crazy (like saying Jesus is actually one of the beasts), having differing views of Revelation does not make you a heretic. This a book whose interpretation is one of the most disagreed things that there is. So let’s have a conversation about it (seriously in the comments), but let’s keep it a civil one.
  8. If you join the conversation (which, really, please do), remember the words of Martin Luther: “Sin boldly!”
  9. As will often be the case, and is here, I will likely go on for too long with one section. If the pace gets too plodding, I may leave the series for a while and do something else before coming back, but I’m only posting things in this series on Mondays, so I don’t think variety will be an issue.

Why NOMA is inadequate

It’s Science and Religion Friday again. Last week I talked about moving beyond the “conflict” model of science and religion (but especially Christianity) interaction. This week I talk about the concept of NOMA (and why it fails). Next week, I’ll go to Ian Barbour’s scheme of different models of interaction, and why it may be helpful on one level, but grossly inaccurate on another.

First, a definition. NOMA is an acronym to describe a particular way of thinking about Science and Religion interaction. It stands for Non-overlapping magisteria. The concept was first put forth, at least in these terms, by Stephen Jay Gould. Drawing on the use of the term “magisteria” in Roman Catholic thought, he argued, in his initial essay and later in his book Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, that a magisteria is “a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for

Photo of Stephen Jay Gould by Kathy Chapman via wikicommons (Click picture for full information on the photo)

meaningful discourse and resolution.” He went on to argue that the domain of science is with the realm of empirical observation, what he calls “fact” and the realm of religion is in non-empirical areas, what he calls “meaning” or is sometimes referred to as “the big questions.” The two are entirely distinct according to Gould.

On the one hand, that solves the problem of any apparent conflict very neatly. There is no conflict because the two are talking about fundamentally different things, and thus the two can’t even be in dialogue, much less disagreement. No fuss. Gould calls his solution “elegant” and “simple.” So compelling is it that most scientists (and arguably theologians) ascribe to it. There’s just one problem. It’s built on entirely false presuppositions and erroneous claims.

First, let’s address the problems from scientific perspectives. The claim is that science only ever makes statements of fact, that is not to say it only makes claims that are true, but that it is only concerned with physical material existence, which would include mathematical claims as well as claims of observation. The problem is that this just isn’t the case. Scientific claims regularly extend beyond the observable. Claims about events that are strictly non-observable are, by their very nature, more than empirical claims. By claiming that historical events occurred in such a way, one is making a claim that they did not occur in a different way (a tautology I know, but bear with me). One excludes all other claims to how something could have occurred. Now, if it is vital for a religious belief that, rather than the universe progressing toward absolute thermodynamic entropy (a cold, dark universe), it is actually progressing towards some greater fulfillment (as virtually all religions claim), then there is a conflict here. Simply put, scientific claims about the distant past (i.e. where there is no record of observation) or distant future (where no one alive now can observe it) can never be value neutral claims. They have implicit meaning. While this certainly doesn’t exclude all religious interpretations of events, it does impose certain limits on what those interpretations can be.

Let’s look at something more contemporary, though. Take cognitive psychology. Rather than the “soft-science” that people might exclude from NOMA, I’m referring to the biological study of the brain. There, many mental disorders are attributed to purely physical/material phenomena, such as chemical imbalances in the brain. The treatment may often involve a series of drugs. However, this clearly overlaps into the religious claim by certain branches of charismatic and pentecostal churches that mental disorders are caused by demon possession and require an exorcism of some sort. Now, again, religion is not entirely excluded from these discussions, but to accept the scientific claim, it does certainly place certain parameters on the religious interpretation of the world.

Let’s also look at the actual claims made by scientists. Rarely are they value-neutral or value-independent claims. Probably the most notorious example is that of certain neo-Darwinians. The point where they go beyond mere “statements of fact” occurs when they shift from describing an historical process to describing the means by which occurs. Specifically, when the claim is made that evolution occurs as a “purposeless” or “random” process, there is a pretty significant value claim being made there, one that seems very much at odds with virtually all forms of theistic belief.

Finally, from the scientific point of view, one must consider that even if empirical claims were value neutral (which I doubt), the presumption of empiricism is not. Empiricism cannot be shown to be a valid method from empiricism (that’s circular). Instead, all empirical investigation (such as scientific investigation), must make the value claim that empiricism, and even a particular type of empiricism, is a valid means of accurately describing the universe. That is a value claim and not a “statement of fact.” Let’s look at the religious point of view.

For Gould’s NOMA to make sense, it must also be the case that religion only makes value claims and makes no claims regarding “statements of fact.” Again, this is not the case generally. While it may be true of certain existentialist interpretations of Christianity (where the historical accuracy of the bible is irrelevant, all that matters is what it means to you right now), and certain forms of Eastern religious philosophies (most, but not all, forms of Buddhism and some forms of Hinduism), for most religions this is not the case. It is certainly not the case for what I consider genuine Christianity. Christianity makes claims about the physical world. They include: a) God made it good and directs its purposes; b) God interacts (and has interacted) with material creation, particularly but not exclusively people, in an empirically observable way; c) God became a real and genuine historical person in Jesus; d) this Jesus really lived and was really executed on a cross; e) this Jesus really was raised from the dead (not spiritually, but physically in history); d) God is not done interacting with this world; and e) God will again come to this world in visible form to change the course of its history forever. Now all of these claims make value claims as well, but they are primarily claims about the observable universe and thus very much overlap with the “magisteria” of science. To state that they don’t actually make any kind of claim to “statements of fact” is the very definition of “begging the question” (to presume the answer to an argument or proof before one has been provided or explored). Such a thing is invalid and thus not a “solution” at all.

Now, as I said last week, I don’t believe that science and religion are in conflict. So if they aren’t in conflict, yet they do genuinely interact, contra Gould, then where does that leave us? I’ll start on that point next week.

Foundational Doctrines: Repentance part 2

Last week I went back to the foundational doctrines series with more discussion about repentance (see part 1). There, I talked about how repentance is more than being sorry or wishing something hadn’t happened. It is first admitting that sin has occurred and then taking action about it. One of the earliest uses of the word translated “repent” occurs in King Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple (1 Kings 8:46-51):

46 “When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to their enemies, who take them captive to their own lands, far away or near; 47 and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly’; 48 and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their ancestors, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; 49 then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. 50 And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their captors to show them mercy; 51 for they are your people and your inheritance, whom you brought out of Egypt, out of that iron-smelting furnace.

The context of the prayer includes multiple requests for God to hear the prayers of his people, generally asking for forgiveness in certain situations. There are a few key factors to pick up from repentance.

  1. Everyone sins. We know this. We know it from the bible and we know it from experience. People are flawed and we don’t pretend otherwise. Because everyone sins, everyone needs to repent.
  2. The lack of acknowledgment of sin, the lack of repentance, leads to punishment and isolation.
  3. Repentance requires a “change of heart.” This is not just a change in desire, as we in the 21st century West tend to think of it, but is instead a determined and concerted effort to realign the things most important in your life. A “change of heart” involves a determination to radically change your life and the things you pursue.
  4. Repentance involves a pleading. There is no obligation on God’s part to forgive you. That’s why we need to repent in the first place. It is manifestly unjust to seek forgiveness and thus it is entirely at the will of the one who forgives.
  5. God does respond to forgiveness. And we’ll talk about this next week.

At this point, I’d just like to finish by noting that repentance is mentioned in the context of exile, and next week I’ll also talk about why this is important.

Think about this. Have you ever completely changed your attitude to something or someone? Why? Was it a decision you made or the actions of someone else, or just happenstance? Share your story below.

 

 

The Bible used in the Bible

Today’s Church history minute is all about The Septuagint (or LXX).

A portion from a copy of the Septuagint

What is it? The Septuagint was the first comprehensively translated AND widely used translations of a religious text from a source language into a cultural language. It was a translation of what we know as the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) into Koine (or Hellenistic) Greek, and included additional works that likely only ever existed in Greek, much of which makes of the deutero-canon or apocrypha of the Roman Catholic Church and various Eastern Orthodox churches. It was not the first translation from Hebrew to Greek, but may have been the most comprehensive and was certainly the most pervasive of the pre-Christian translations. The legend is that it took seventy scribes seventy days to translate the Torah (the first five books), and that they each worked independently producing identical translations, demonstrating that the translation was divinely inspired. In truth, this is very unlikely, and the only evidence for it is a letter written centuries after the appearance of the work. (Considering that there is variation within copies of the Septuagint, it only compounds the unlikely-ness of the story). Nevertheless, from that story the version takes its name.

Why is it important? Well, for starters, it was the bible that was primarily read during the time of Jesus. Most Jewish people (and gentiles, realistically) did not read or speak Hebrew. Instead the common language was Greek (not Latin, despite their Roman rule). When the New Testament was being written down, it is now clear that when they decided to quote the Old Testament, they usually used the Septuagint, similar to how we would quote an English translation rather than providing our own. Now on occasion Paul would not do this, but provide his own translation or, somewhat less likely, use a competing translation that is now lost. Yet its significance is also in aiding us getting to a more original Hebrew Manuscript. While the Masoretic Text (the primary Hebrew text used) is excellent, it does, on occasion, differ decidedly and strangely from the Septuagint. After the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in particular, scholars have been able to approximate what the original text likely was.

Fun Fact: Most Eastern Orthodox churches prefer to use the Septuagint (or translations from it) rather than the Hebrew Bible, which is more common in Western churches. While this rarely makes a difference, it may on occasion color the interpretation offered of a passage.

Where might I have heard of it? Unless you know someone who is either a) a member of an Eastern Orthodox church or b) a bible nerd, you have probably only heard about it in passing. If you are not a seminarian, pastor or scholar and heard about it in more depth before today, congratulations, you’re probably a bible nerd (it’s ok, really. Nerds are cool now).

Rediscovering the Scandal of the Cross

This is somewhat an update to the Louie Giglio “drama”, about which I posted last week.

The ceremonial inauguration of President Obama’s second term occurred yesterday (the official one being on Sunday) without much in the way of scandal (sure the standard politicking occurred, but nothing major). A different pastor spoke, one more familiar personally with the President who actually does regularly attend church and, as best I can tell, hold a genuine, deep, and heart felt Christian faith despite any contrary opinions we

2013 Inauguration Ceremony. Photo by Farragutful via Wikimedia Commons

may or may not have politically (personally, I’m a bit more wary of the

increase in drone strikes, which have a much higher civilian casualty rate, than I am other issues, but yes, there are other disagreements).

But this is not intended as a political post. If you harbor ill will toward him, you should pray for him and yourself, that God change your heart and his. If you really like him, you should pray for him and yourself, that you not hold him in too high esteem (he is a human, and thus will make mistakes) and that he not believe all his own press (for the same reasons). But this is less about the president and our attitude toward him and not even really about Louie Giglio.

Yesterday, at Christianity Today’s website, they posted a piece on the state of Christian Preaching in America, though it could easily be applied to most other contexts. The substance of the article is that we have given up the scandal of the cross by focusing on the wrong things or pitching the gospel message in what we perceive to be a culturally palatable manner. In doing so, we have turned these other scandals into political fodder and not what they should be. As Christians we need to rediscover the scandal that is the cross.

Forgiveness offered unconditionally is scandalous to a culture that says we are all inherently good.

The cross is a scandal to a world where we are constantly trying to extend and improve our lifespan

The dead Christ who is therefore a king a scandal to a world that wants to cling onto the things of this world

The resurrected Christ is a scandal to people who fail to recognize they are dead already, but must die more truly.

If you have some time, I encourage to read the article in full (click the link at the end) and possibly leave your comments there and back over here.

Today we celebrate the second inauguration of President Obama, but we do so without the benediction of pastor Louie Giglio. In the controversy that erupted after his selection to and withdrawal from that honor, it became clear again how much the gospel has been sidelined, not in the culture, but in the church.

Continue Reading…

 

Martin Luther King, JR day

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Also, it being a Monday, I have in the past addressed “difficult passages” in the bible. Today, in light of the day it is, I offer a passage that we likely understand in thought, but fail to put in practice.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (KJV)

How do we as Christians reconcile this with the quote often attributed to the Rev Martin Luther King, JR:

The most segregated hour in America is eleven o’clock, Sunday morning.

It was true then and its true now. The two should not be. Think on this and how we, the Church, should be one as Christ is one with the Father.

By Phil Stanziola, NYWT&S staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Moving beyond a conflict model

Hey it’s science and religion Friday! NPR ain’t got nuthin’ on me (and if I continue to write like that, they never will, nor care to)

Anyway, most of my posts in this category thus far have been discussing the relationship between science and religion, though really science and Christianity, from the perspective of conflict. That is, I have been attempted to demonstrate that, despite the claims of many, primarily the so-called “new atheists”, there is no genuine conflict between honest scientific inquiry and Christian faith.

Since at least the time of Origen, there has been an idea that there are two ways of understanding God, from the natural world and from the revelation found in Scripture (arguably this has roots in Paul’s opening of Romans, or even earlier with some of the psalms). However Augustine was the first to use the term “The book of nature” to refer to knowledge that comes about through observing the natural world, which is often set alongside the “book of Scripture.” This is, at least in Augustine, affirming of the validity of such knowledge, even in a fallen world.

The terminology (of two books of knowledge) has been used by Christians for centuries since then, including Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin (though most in the Dortian Calvinist tradition seem to find the metaphor too strained to be of use), and others. One of the primary arguments is that both books have the same author, God, who has not changed his mind or opinion since writing them. Therefore, if there is an apparent conflict between the two, it is not the case that one is right and the other wrong, rather it is our interpretation of one or the other that is right or wrong. There is no conflict between the book of nature and the book of scripture, thus we should attempt to adjust our interpretation of one or the other (or both) in an effort to arrive at true meaning.

One of the more well-known examples of this was by the German (pre-reformation) theologian, Konrad von Megenberg, who spent considerable time detailing what he considered to be the book of nature in an important precursor to scientific literature. His book, entitled The Book of Nature, was profoundly influential, having been reprinted multiple times before the arrival of the Guttenberg printing press. My point, though, with all of this is that theologians have never seen a conflict between the two. Perhaps its time we move beyond models of conflict and start talking about something else entirely. What do you think? Can we move past a conflict between the two?

Megenberg’s work, in reprinted form (via Wikicommons)

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