August 13th, 2012 | 3 Comments
With all due respect to James McGrath, historical skepticism never gets quite this bad.
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With all due respect to James McGrath, historical skepticism never gets quite this bad.
I don’t often link to the big name bloggers: I assume everyone’s either already reading them or consciously ignoring them. But in this case I can’t help but stand up to lodge an “Amen”–and add a few notes of commentary.
First, please read this excerpt from Rachel Held Evans’ blog. I feel I could have written every thought in it.
Frankly, I find the whole conversation a bit depressing. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want either group to “meet its demise” because I love elements of both! In fact, I think there are a lot of progressive, mainline churches that could benefit from a shot of evangelicalism, and a lot of evangelical churches who could benefit from a shot of progressivism. We have so much to learn from one another, but instead we’re like a pair of toddlers fighting over space in the sandbox.
But if the early church could survive—and in fact, thrive amidst persecution—when it included both Jews and Gentiles, zealots and tax collectors, slaves and owners, men and women, those in support of circumcision and those against it, those staunchly opposed to eating food that had been sacrificed to idols and those who felt it necessary, then I think modern American Christianity can survive when it includes democrats and republicans, biblical literalists and biblical non-literalists, Calvinists and Arminians…so long as we’re not rooting for one another’s demise.
With this in mind, maybe being “in between” isn’t so bad. Maybe being “in between” puts those of us who find ourselves torn between conservative Christianity and liberal Christianity in a position to act as peacemakers and bridge-builders between the two groups. Maybe it enables us to help break down these binaries altogether, as we are living proof that you don’t have to choose one or the other.
I’m not exactly sure what this peacemaking process will look like, but I have a few ideas of how we can get started:
Let’s be ourselves.
This may surprise you, seeing as how I’m a blogger with an outspoken opinion on everything, but when I’m a part of a conservative Christian community, I tend to keep my more progressive views quiet, and when I’m a part of a more liberal Christian community, I tend to keep my more liberal views quiet. I don’t want to cause division. I don’t want to be shamed. I don’t want to make Sunday mornings any more difficult than they already are.
And so I essentially fake it through worship and community activities, accepting whatever “package” that particular church has to offer, then feeling distant and removed as I go through the motions before eventually quitting.
But what if I stopped faking it? What if I brought myself—my gifts, my questions, my opinions—to church? What if, instead of conforming to the mold, I refused to accept it?
I’ve certainly been thinking along these lines lately. A couple of weeks ago I toyed with the idea of starting something of a campaign among bloggers of my theological ilk, those of us whom Rachel Held Evans might call the Caught-In-Betweeners. This grassroots movement would be about coming out of the theologically liberal closet. If I judge the enthusiastic response to Evan’s latest post aright, it looks like she’s beaten me to the punch!
In my conservative environment, I’ve recently started being convicted that these conservative Christians really need to know that people like me exist. I guarantee that a preposterous number of people in my church have never even considered the possibility that you could trust in Jesus as Lord of all creation and be an evolutionist, despite the fact that I am aware of a couple people in our congregation beside myself who accept evolutionary theory. No wonder they view us as outsiders: they haven’t ever met us inside!
Like Evans, many of us are playing it safe, being in our conservative environments with our in-between-stolid-conservative-and-flaming-liberal faith incognito. Lord knows it’s not easy to “come out”, is it? I have some things at stake, unfortunately: in particular, I have a side job doing something I really enjoy, but it’s run by an outfit that wouldn’t be happy to know my stances on these contentious issues. I have several friends who have suffered some painful emotional persecution when their beliefs were made known. But in most of these cases, it seems they did not freely divulge themselves: they were “outed” by someone else. And that always looks worse, doesn’t it?
I’m not saying that there wouldn’t be negative repercussions from a decision to “stand up and be counted”. But as long as we act in humility, not as evangelists for our pet causes but as honest people who occasionally find the need to gently correct misconceptions about our beliefs when presented as fact within our churches and faith communities, I think we can weather the inevitable storm better. I know it’d be more healthy for me and my poor wife.
If I felt I were part of a bigger movement, one of many friends taking our shades off, hanging up our trenchcoats, and removing our disguises, I think I could handle it. I predict that it would be good for them as well as for us In-Betweeners. It’s one thing to hear that there are weirdos who believe that God created through evolution; it’s another to know and rub shoulders with those people in intimate social settings like being members of the same church. It’s much harder to dismiss them and their strange beliefs when you know them personally.
So again, I’m toying with the idea of advocating a campaign, or probably better, a resolution to decloak.
Abandoning the most conservative brands of Christianity doesn’t entail either abandoning the faith or, at best, adopting a wishy-washy spirituality. Our hard-won faith and theological perspectives are worth more than that: if we believe our understanding of the faith is true and worth holding onto, then it deserves attention and devotion; it deserves to be understood by our fellow believers; at least it deserves to have its existence acknowledged.
I know what many of you are thinking. “Why rock the boat?“
I want to address one of the better reasons for remaining quiet and not disturbing things. Many of us do so out of a conviction that we don’t need to challenge people’s faith when they’re not ready for it. I hear a couple of my friends saying things like, “Far be it from me to upset them and send them on the sort of precarious journey I’ve been on. They’re happy in their faith, not hurting anyone.”
But they are hurting someone.
To return to the first bullet point above, the biggest reason they need to know this is the biggest reason they fear us: their children. These kids going off to college have been prepared for assaults on their faith by their families and their faith communities, but research shows that whatever they’re doing is just not enough. And as we are now seeing highlighted in the news story prompting Evans’ post, it’s not just conservative forms of Christianity that are losing the battle. Kids who are taught to accept the whole package or throw it all out, who are never told that they must examine the contents and accept what’s good, are leaving the church in droves.
No matter how kind and loving they’re being, no matter how much sin they’re resisting, no matter what lives of holiness they are striving to live, there are factors endemic to mainstream Evangelical theology that disqualify it from being sufficient salt and light in this world. Indeed, in some of the most important ways Christianity is supposed to be ministering to our world, Evangelicals are far behind unbelievers.
For instance, look at the most common Evangelical response to homosexuals or to those in need: first we blame the individual, try to get them to repent from their lifestyles that leave them where they are, demanding that they jump through difficult hoops while offering the hope of communion with God as a carrot. Christians have to be able to minister to and accept those groups, no matter what we think their sin is, be it the sexual deviancy that is allegedly responsible for homosexuality or the laziness and selfishness that supposedly causes people to become parasites on society, rob the upstanding producers through taxation, and vote Democratic. Christians have to dine with those groups as Jesus did with the “tax collectors and sinners” of his day. We have to engage them, love them, and let God deal with the personal holiness of each individual as He sees fit.
Letting conservative Christians be without challenging their assumptions will eventually have the effect of leaving Evangelical faith with a pretty short shelf life. Isolating ourselves and simply letting them soldier on will render them irrelevant. Among those unbelievers who believe conservative Christians when they say, “It’s conservative or nothing,” our non-conservative theology is flushed down the same toilet as conservative theology. Remaining cloaked is a no-win situation.
By all means, be tactful. Know your audience. I’d caution against intentionally rocking the boat at all: that’s not what this is about. But let me make a couple of suggestions about what adopting this decloaking resolution might look like.
When someone in Sunday School waxes eloquent about the evils of godless evolution, swallow your fear and tactfully suggest that however evil godless evolution might be, evolution isn’t necessarily godless. When your Bible study assumes the legitimacy of capital punishment or the divine justice of U.S. foreign policy, be the voice that encourages them to be consistent in their convictions about the sanctity of life.
But whatever you do, remain engaged. Don’t lie, and don’t stay silent. Don’t withdraw to a safe distance. Try to learn what you can from them; share life with them. Don’t zealously divulge all of your heretical beliefs and them expect them to come around to them. Live out your beliefs with fear and trembling, including the belief we liberals think should stand out the most: love one another. Maybe even these conservative Christians will fulfill Jesus’ words and eventually be convinced that we are Jesus’ disciples by our love.
So what do you think? Are you in?
Parchment and Pen has a post up that seeks to classify the different Christian views on origins. C. Michael Patton is usually pretty good at describing different points of view sympathetically, and things were going along pretty uncontroversially as he described different types of special creation, that is, views of creation that envisage miraculous intervention of one sort or another. Then he gets to “Deistic Evolution”, whose advocates, he asserts…
Believe, as Darwinian Evolutionists, that God created the universe over billions of years, using naturalistic evolutionary processes to create humanity without intervention.
Wait…that sounds a lot like “theistic evolution” (or ”evolutionary creation”), doesn’t it?
I call this ”deistic evolution” due to the “hands-off” approach God takes to the development of man in the evolutionary process. Darwinian evolution, through the process of natural selection, is accepted. While there is across the board agreement that God did not/does not intervene in the process of evolution, DEers are divided as to whether God directly caused the first life to begin or whether he let life come into being naturalistically (abiogenisis).
Among those he describes as “Deistic Evolutionists” who apparently believe that God was “hands off” in creation, he cites Pete Enns, who just happens to be a Reformed Christian who has recently posted part 13 of a series that outlines the relationship between evolution and God’s sovereignty from a Calvinistic perspective. For any Calvinist, the notion that God would be laissez faire about such a thing as the creation of the universe is unthinkable; deism is a four-letter word among the Reformed. Patton, a Calvinist, knows this, which I take to be an obvious backhand. It’s not as though that were the only adjective he could possibly find (I would argue that no adjective is needed for “evolutionist”), and that particularly adjective is laden with a view of God’s nature that is eschewed by most Christians, including most who accept the findings of mainstream science. I must say that this choice was unbecoming of him and his reputation as a straight-shooter.
The fact is, God can be at work in and through creation whether or not He feels the need to tweak this or that during its development. My favorite analogy is of a competent software engineer who is able to develop a program that, once executed, will perform her desired goals without requiring her intermittent input. She is no less responsible or “hands on” about how it performs, since she wrote every piece of code responsible for how it operates; in fact, the more of an expert she is, the less of her interference in its execution is necessary. This analogy is of course limited, and I’ve heard others who modified it to say that God in a sense wrote Himself into the code (which I quite like the sound of, even if I don’t fully understand all of its implications).
The last category in Patton’s list is Intelligent Design (ID). He notes that one can be both an ID advocate and a special creationist of any sort: it simply requires acknowledging that the possible influence of miracles must not be excluded from one’s laboratory research. What’s interesting here is that he subcategorizes “Deistic Evolution” and evolution-friendly Intelligent Design alike under a category called “Theistic Evolution” (TE)! Although most ID advocates (at higher levels, not so much in churches) acknowledge significant evolutionary activity, sometimes including universal common descent, the views of TE and ID have usually been placed in contradistinction to one another.
As I said above, I don’t think accepters of mainstream science need a special label, whether they’re believers or not. But for the purposes of lists like this in which the theological component is a criterion for classification, I usually prefer “theistic evolutionist” – with no ID, thankyouverymuch – (not so keen on “evolutionary creationist”).
I would suggest, however, that as long as we’re classifying these origins positions by theological commitment, perhaps my own position is best characterized not specifically by the origins component, but by the hermeneutical component responsible for it. My hermeneutic is characterized by a firm conviction that the Bible is first and foremost a literary work and a product of the times in which its constituent content was written. Further, I am convinced that an examination of the genre of early Genesis will confirm it as a work of ANE literature and that consequently we need bring no expectations of a theological nature to the table when asking questions about origins. Almost incidentally, since I do not expect Genesis to answer the question of how the heavens and the earth and all that are in them originated (its authors seemed to be more interested in why), I look to mainstream science to answer that question — as most Christians do unquestioningly for questions of weather, embryology, etc. regardless of their view on origins. Perhaps this doesn’t give me a neat, tidy two-word descriptor, unless you like (as I confess I do) a term I coined a few years back: literary-genericist.
I would be remiss in not pointing out and appreciating Patton’s fair-minded ecumenicism on the origins issue:
I believe that one can be a legitimate Christian and hold to any one of these views….While I believe that this is an issue that we should continue to discuss with excitement and hope, this is not an issue, in my opinion, that should fracture Christian fellowship.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have long maintained that we cannot hope for a broad acceptance of evolution among evangelicals until the heavy theological questions are acknowledged and a plausible approach to the theological quandaries evolution creates are sketched out — followed by rather than in reaction to an explanation of the science behind it. This is what Denis Lamoureux aspires to do in Evolutionary Creation.
This book bears the name of Lamoureux’s recommended term for exclusively non-interventionist “theistic evolution”. In discussing scientific strengths of evolutionary theory, I especially appreciated how Lamoureux supplements a respectable treatment of genetic evidence for common descent by lending his unique perspective as a dentist to present the considerable paleontological evidence from analysis of teeth and jawbones. His critique of special creationism and intelligent design was clinical and admirably civil, but fervent nonetheless.
Lamoureux spends considerable space presenting a view of the Bible’s authority that doesn’t take its scientific or even all of its historical claims as accurate. In his memorable terminology, he rejects scientific and historical concordism, the beliefs that an authoritative Bible demands full agreement between the authors’ understanding and scientific/historical reality on those matters. This is a good and necessary start, and I found his candor about theological problems and uncertainties commendable. Yet ultimately I found rather weak his basic assumption that a “message of faith”, a divinely guaranteed spiritual message, lay embedded within every passage; I found that he offered no compelling rationale for discarding scientific or historical concordism while retaining what appears to be merely nuanced theological concordism.
One more significant component of the book is its detailed account of Lamoureux’s “evolution” of thought on these matters, beginning with creationism, followed by evolution acceptance and atheism, then back to creationism, and finally to acceptance of evolution. One should not underestimate the potential of testimony for creating empathy and so attracting outsiders.
Due to this book’s impressive attempt at being a comprehensive volume giving at least an overview of all areas touched by “evolutionary creation”, it is not for the casual reader. For someone who wants to delve deep into the theological and scientific issues swirling around the debate, it seems a great introduction, almost textbook-like (indeed, I can see it being used in Christian college environments). Evolutionary Creation will serve as a useful introduction for those wanting a thorough discussion of all these matters.
(Please note: this book review first appeared at Goodreads. I’m just getting into that site and noticed that I could post my review as a blog post; hence this.)
John MacArthur, esteemed Fundamentalist pastor and author, thinks that 2 Peter 3.3-7 was written as a prophecy condemning modern geology and the principle of uniformitarianism.
Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”
They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed.
He’s not alone, of course. We’ve heard this for years, but recently a friend brought to my attention that he’s still spreading this pathetic exegesis to his followers.
Uniformitarianism, or gradualism, is simply the assumption that the laws governing nature in the past are the same as the laws of nature we see today, and thus that the universe’s present configuration is explicable by immutable laws of nature. In geology it is usually juxtaposed against catastrophism, the idea that violent cataclysms (such as earthquakes, usually) are necessary to account for key aspects of modern earth’s geophysical features.
MacArthur (who should make use of some basic training in one of the scientific disciplines) writes in a couple recent blog posts (1, 2) that the basic scientific principle of uniformitarianism is anti-Christian and contradictory of Scripture.
This is patent nonsense. 2 Peter has nothing whatsoever to do with warnings of people who would some two thousand years later believe that the way nature works at its basic levels remains uniform over time. The claim that 2 Peter 3 was written as a long-preemptive attack on the concept of uniformitarianism is an old creationist saw based on clumsy hermeneutics and dispensationalist eschatology, blindly keying off the buzzword “flood”.
Perhaps the worst offense in this interpretation is the assumption that it’s talking to us rather than addressing something meaningful to the original audience. 1 Peter 1.20, Acts 2.17, Hebrews 1.2, and James 5.3 all clearly indicate that these early Christians believed they were already in the “last days” during the time of — probably long before — 2 Peter was written. The point is that 2 Peter, when talking about “the last days”, was actually addressing a specific belief that was occurring at that time and not “prophesying” the rise of modern geology. As always, we must properly contextualize this text in order to recover the author’s intent.
2 Peter was not trying to counteract the denial of a particular past cataclysm (a global flood), but rather a denial of God’s eventual judgment through cataclysm. Conservative and liberal scholars agree that this book was among the last in the NT written. The earliest believers obviously believed they were in the “last days” and were beginning to succumb to the ridicule of the skeptics and the doubts of the disillusioned. 2 Peter 3 is an attack on the conclusion that God would not intervene drawn on the undeniable basis that He hadn’t done so nearly as soon as expected. The author of 2 Peter was doing his level best, from chapter 1 on, to establish that the delay in judgment (3.9) did not indicate the irrelevance of righteous living in anticipation of the eschaton even despite modified expectations of its imminency.
Obviously, this has nothing to do with gradualism or the Flood of Noah. But we should notice that the Flood’s global nature seems to have been assumed. If that is true, the author was clearly misinformed. But then again, we already know his sources weren’t the most reliable: he borrowed from the Epistle of Jude, an obscure text whose author quoted the pseudepigraphical 1 Enoch as an accurate record of prophecy as uttered by the “seventh from Adam”, Enoch.
What if we affirm that Paul’s view of human origins does not settle the matter for us today? Of course, this leaves us with a pressing question: how do we think about Adam today?
This is where the conversation begins for those wishing to maintain a biblical faith in a modern world. And whatever way forward is chosen, we must be clear on one thing: we have all left “Paul’s Adam.” We are all “creating Adam,” as it were, in an effort to reconcile Scripture and the modern understanding of human origins.
[O]nce you move to [the above affirmation], you have left Paul’s Adam and are now working with an Adam that is partially and even largely shaped by your own understanding and worldview. You are in an entirely different discussion.
It sounds bleak, but I have hope that efforts like the BioLogos Foundation, if they continue on their current trajectory, will begin to push through.
Can one be consistent in accepting both the common form of inerrancy as described in the Chicago Statement and universal common descent?
This question is something I struggle with when I observe people try to sell other believers on evolutionary theory without openly acknowledging the ways in which their own rejection of the idea of a single pair of progenitors has resulted in an often subtle yet usually profound modification of how they understand the Bible to work. I, too, have been tempted on numerous occasions to begin the presentation of my case by positing a (purely hypothetical) scenario in which accepting that early Genesis was unhistorical does not result in a revised or nuanced bibliology; if not outright dishonest, I feel that this approach is nonetheless misleading, perhaps even disingenuous, and a setup for problems later.
Rather than giving in to this temptation, I have opted to problematize their assumptions about what the Bible should be or should say. After all, this is the main problem, and one that underlies more misconceptions and naïveté than just their beliefs about origins.
Now, the fact is, there are indeed many Christians who accept mainstream evolutionary theory but are otherwise quite conservative theologically, including in their bibliology, although anecdotally I surmise that the number is far fewer of those who accept evolution and maintain an “inerrant” Scripture as taught by most of our evangelical pastors and teachers. Even when they say they accept inerrancy, they have – futilely, in my opinion – taken up the tack of nuancing “inerrant” to mean something quite different from those who take the term at face value; “inerrancy” implies more than a mysterious theological concordism, but scientific and especially historical concordism as well. But for those in the group, however small, that have (for the moment, anyway) caught their foot on their way down the slope, I understand why they can feel free to try to persuade others that they can go on believing essentially the same things that they’ve been taught they should, at least about the nature of the Bible, mutatis mutandis for the Adam/Eve part of course.
But what about the rest of us? My question is this: how legitimate is it to advertise compatibility between science and “that old time religion” while we know good and well that it’s only compatible after precisely the kind of modification to their bibliology that’s held them to their skepticism of science in the first place? Should we instead put more effort into maturing their bibliology on all fronts, and not just Genesis? I vote for emphasizing the latter and minimizing the “cake-and-eat-it-too” sort of accommodationism that misrepresents what most of my fellow theistic evolutionists have begun to conclude. Until they’re ready for a change in their understanding of what our faith rests upon and for an acknowledgment of the limitations of Scripture, I doubt they’ll go particularly far into acceptance of science no matter how cleverly we present it.
Do you agree?
"In coming to understand anything we are rejecting the facts as they are for us in favour of the facts as they are."
"He who begins by loving Christianity more than Truth will proceed by loving his sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all."
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge