Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Smaller Than a Mustard Seed
Maybe I refuse to go there because of the heaviness of relativism in postmodern Christianity. It is not nearly as shocking as the idea that God actually used earthly, historical (I don’t mean natural) events to work unearthly wonders. Unbelievers, well…what are you to think? “Saved by His blood! Jesus shed His blood for you!” I am so surprised writers/theologians don’t approach this more often—it is a huge stumbling block. Some would rather and do move away from it, take it out of the doctrine even. Am I going to make it easier for us here? Not real likely. But I won’t back down…the blood of Jesus Christ, the very source of life, His life, was drained. And because it was, and because Jesus lived again victoriously bringing life back to His Body, death…sin’s penalty…was destroyed. Physically, supernaturally destroyed.
"For me the Christian doctrines which are ‘metaphorical’…mean something which is just as ‘supernatural’ or shocking after we have removed the ancient imagery as
it was before." ~C.S.Lewis
"And that is precisely the point, I believe. It does not invalidate the inerrancy of Scripture to allow for the possibility that some passages are allegorical.”
It may seem like I said all the same old stuff. “He died on the cross for your sins!!” What I’m trying to say, there is something about the blood. Get the demonic, satanic coven pictures out of your head. The Deceiver puts effort in it too, knowing full well it will minimize God’s pictures to us. Replace “sacrifice” with giving, pouring out, spilling. Jesus’ Life source—His blood was spilt. Life is sacred so what does that make blood? What does that make the blood of the perfect Lamb, God’s Son? Now think on all this in terms of a Supernatural God who, in all Holiness and Love, created His people and creatures from nothing, with blood in their veins and hearts to move it. Sacred Life. Do I dare ask if life is as sacred when it is evolved from protoplasm?
We have forgotten God is the Giver and Sustainer of all things, including nature…nature is not the sustainer, much less the giver. When stock is put in evolution, exclusively, you can actually get away with removing God from reality with little harm done. Does anyone out there consider mutation a supernatural process? Could it have started and continued without God? Some say yes, others no; it’s arbitrary. Sure sounds absurd to tack God on after the fact. “Nature mutates, oh, and by the way, God makes that happen.” Can anyone hear the sameness? It just doesn’t matter whether God is in the picture or not! The statement is powerless! When science and nature dictate the source of life, God is one hundred percent dispensable. Natural processes are empowered by the laws of nature. That is a fact I do not dispute. We Christians could sit here till doomsday, yelling about God’s Natural Laws, the inerrancy of Scripture, which happens to be allegorical, and we will always end up excluding the fourth possibility because it is expendable. As Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees, “You judge according to the flesh…” John 8:15
We dare not forget the unseen’s impact on our world or we will find ourselves with a faith smaller than a mustard seed.
Totally agree with you on most of this, CWV :-) (Although I don't think that you need to be as scared of postmodernism as you seem to be. Both modernism and postmodernism are idolatrous if taken too far; both are valuable if taken in moderation.)
"Do I dare ask if life is as sacred when it is evolved from protoplasm?"
Well, I believe that it is. "Sacred" doesn't talk about origins but about choosing (the divine choice, the human choice), and nothing in this world is truly sacred apart from God's choosing.
"When stock is put in evolution, exclusively, you can actually get away with removing God from reality with little harm done"
Well, when stock is put in evolution exclusively then God is already out of the picture. The real question, I think, is whether we have more faith in human categories (such as the unchangeability of species) or in God's creativity.
"We dare not forget the unseen’s impact on our world or we will find ourselves with a faith smaller than a mustard seed."
I totally agree. The danger isn't, though, in looking at the world and seeing natural laws, otherwise the fall of an apple, the shining of the sun, the orbits of the planets, the birth of a child or the discovery of a fossil would cause us to lose our faith. Rather, the danger is being blind to the creativity of a God who truly created this universe in all its glory, complication and simplicity, and who continues to sustain and guide it in every part.
pax et bonum
Absolutely, as long as we take God as He has revealed Himself to us. The only way we know, after all, that '...God...truly created this universe in all its glory, complication and simplicity, and...continues to sustain and guide it in every part...' is because God has decided to communicate to us by inspiring certain men to write down certain messages which are true. Some of these messages have to do with how God created the universe and all living things. Perhaps the biggest danger is in being blind to the message God has given us in His word.
If we understand this, then there is no problem. Of course God created the natural laws, matter, motion, energy, etc., and these continue to function as His means of getting His will done. In fact, science as we know it would be meaningless if we did not assume that there were laws undergirding the structure of the universe, and that we could investigate some aspects of these laws. If, for instance, we worshiped the spirits of trees, rocks, birds, etc., then there would be no sense in trying to do case-controlled double blind research, since the spirits of the test tube might choose to screw up the results. Reproducible research depends on divinely instituted physical laws.
But if, as I have said before, the Creator claims to have formed all life in a specified, short period of time, it seems senseless to assume instead that it took umpty-billions of years. I'm not saying that I know that we are not supposed to take Genesis allegorically; I just want to know why someone would think that we should. Simply claiming that the findings of 'science' (as if 'science' were some monolithic entity without controversy) show that we must take Genesis as allegory won't wash; there are enough scientists who would say otherwise.
And, not being a scholar of antiquities, I know of no reason why I should not take Genesis as a straightforward account of the facts, even if it were not written by a nineteenth century modernist. Again, there are Biblical scholars who will say that it ought to be taken in a straightforward manner. It looks to me like it ought to be, and the presumed experts differ about it. Why ought I not to take it in a straightforward manner, under such circumstances?
Some presumed experts in the book of nature say that it looks like the earth has been around for billions of years, and life for millions or billions. Others disagree, and say that there is no conflict between the book of nature and a straightforward reading of Genesis. Why ought I not to take it in a straightforward manner?
Philosophically speaking,...what Doc said.
I had written a long reply but decided that, basically, we simply have completely different ways of viewing the world. You seem to want to privilege the Bible above everything else, including its own cultural context and style. I want to privilege the Bible but for it to be read properly, in context and in genre.
I also believe that God reveals Godself outside the Bible - in our personal experience, in the corporate life of the church, in history outside that recorded in Scripture, in Creation itself, and in the exercise of human reason. Thus, we must take account of these extra-Biblical revelations when interpreting Scripture. However, take careful note, I'm not a liberal theologically. I'm evangelical in my roots and much of my approach. I simply believe that taking the Bible seriously requires that we engage with it on its own terms, not to impose on it categories that were unknown until a couple of hundred years ago.
pax et bonum
I totally agree that we should take the Bible as the authors intended that it be taken, and be aware of ural context, etc. The question I have is, why should I take your word for it that Genesis shouldn't be taken in a straightforward manner? If you are a scholar of antiquities, and claim that your research supports taking it in a mythical/allegorical/something-other-than-straightforward manner, fine; there are other scholars who would disagree with you. 'When experts differ, fools can decide', and this fool sees no reason not to take Genesis in a straightforward manner. And if you are a scholar of antiquities, what makes you so certain that Genesis shouldn't be taken in a straightforward manner?
As for the creation of the world, I would note that holding steadfast to a solely literal interpretation could be dangerous to one's faith. What if it is proven inconclusively that the earth is in fact billions of years old? That would have no bearing on my Christian belief. However, for someone who holds strictly to a completely literal interpretation, this could absolutely devastate his/her faith. (Remember hundreds of years ago, it was considered heresy by traditional believers to suggest that the earth was NOT the center of the universe.)
God is infinitely bigger and more knowing than we are and as such we may need to have a little humility in interpreting enormous ideas.
In keeping with the literal interpretation topic, I am curious as to whether you believe that heaven is an actual place with harps and golden streets and thrones and such?
Thanks for the update on what you believe. I didn't apply your quote to any more than Genesis but others might have. If someone does manage to prove the billions of years thing, I trust many literal Genesis believers could adjust because we are all holding to the life of Christ, as you are. The hitch would be some confusion on man's manishness and meaning. In the meantime, I'll risk it. Have scribbled down some thoughts but will wait on posting anything more on Genesis. Taking Christians to task on the subject is different from the atheist argument, duh. Harder is what it is.
About Heaven, so happy you asked since I am literally on fire about it! : ) Read Randy Alcorn's Heaven. Yep, there will be streets (why not gold ones), a throne, rivers, trees, and musical instruments, so yeah, harps, all shining bright in the Glory of God's presence. The most exciting part is that we won't all be in the choir! We will have things to do according to our gifts. Maybe we will all be bloggers!!!
"why should I take your word for it that Genesis shouldn't be taken in a straightforward manner?"
I'm not asking you to take my word for it - I'm trying to point out that such a "straightforward" reading is in reality nothing of the sort. It's imposing an external worldview on the text that it was never intended to support. To impose Modernist categories (such as an opposition between history and myth, or between science and religion) on the Genesis story (or anything else in the Bible) is to suppress the true meaning. Genesis is authoritative, reliable and divinely inspired; it's just not a science book.
If, as you said, you accept that Genesis must be read in context in terms of culture and genre then I don't see why you expect to be able to read it like a science textbook. Just as Calvin's Institutes contains much deep teaching on his thought and the Reformed tradition but is not a science textbook, so Genesis contains much deep and authoritative teaching about the relationships between God, Creation and humanity but isn't a science textbook.
So, my basic answer to why you shouldn't read it in a "straightforward" manner is that it was manifestly not written in a "straightforward" manner - not for a 21st century person, because we have been brought up with mental categories and expectations that are utterly different to those of the original hearers.
pax et bonum
The categories are killin me here. Are people so different age to age? Science is the observation of the world, right? History is the observation of world, right? Our religion, based on Old and New Testaments, is the observation of the world, according to God....right? If i knew how, I'd put that last "right?" in tiny little squeaky letters cause i seriously wonder at what your answer might be. Myth, the final category, would be the one that isn't true reflection. So D, Myth, my final answer.
Well, I'd say it more like this. Science is the observation of repeatable physical events in the world and the deduction of general natural laws from those events. History is the recording of events from the human past and the deduction of motives from them. Our religion is based on revelations from God of God's nature and promises from God about how we can relate.
All that means that none maps onto any of the others - they talk about different but overlapping and mutually dependent things. So a mistake in one can cause us to make mistakes in the others.
Myth belongs between history and religion - it depends far more on interpretation and narration, and talks far more about divine nature and the human place in the world.
pax et bonum
Science, history, and our religion DO ‘map onto’ each other. Science concerns itself, among other things, with the origin of the universe and the species. So does God’s revelation. The resurrection of Jesus is both history and a part of our religion. Ours is a faith based on historical fact. I see no reason to separate them.
They don't map precisely onto one another - history and religion aren't the same. History talks about Julius Caesar as an important figure but Christianity doesn't, for example.
However, as I said, they do overlap and are mutually dependent. It's impossible to talk about religion without also talking about history. However, this is precisely because they are different - they are different ways of looking at the same things.
pax et bonum
You can put it that way if you like. I would simply state that there are parts of Scripture that simply are history. They are also part of the foundation of the religion of Christianity. There are also parts of Scripture that directly address, and answer, questions that those who are considered to be scientists seek to answer by different means. They would be wise to assume Scripture to be true on the subject and proceed from that point.
In fact, without knowing it or acknowledging it, they all ready have done so. Only the theistic worldview supports the very notion of 'science' as we know it, in terms of elucidating natural laws that mechanistically determine the behavior of the material world. Those who worship spirits in trees would not see this as a sensible enterprise. The Christian worldview, holding as it does that the Creator has graciously ameliorated the effects of the Fall by allowing humans the ability to discover and manipulate these natural laws, has been the prime motivator behind what we now call 'science'. How ironic it is that those who claim to be scientists now so frequently seek to discredit the very Scriptures that once drove their ancestors' research. Someone (Calvin, perhaps?) wrote something about man having to 'climb on God's lap to slap His face'. Too true!