11 October 2012

fear and trembling, reverence and awe

Over the past number of months I have been getting acquainted with the work being done on science and faith by the good folks at Biologos, most notably watching their recently published film, From the Dust.  I have been challenged and affirmed - mostly challenged on my understanding and belief of things scientific, and mostly affirmed on my understanding and belief of things hermeneutic.  There is much to be said regarding this ongoing discussion, but a recent experience will give me the occasion to add a few thoughts from my own perspective.

Since watching the film, From the Dust, I have encountered one particular young-earth-anti-evolution-answersingenesis-fundamentalist presentation.  (I am not sure how best to categorize some of these folks without making unfair sweeping generalizations of others who are not necessarily in view here, so bear with me as I make my effort.)  I sat through a twenty minute overview of how the days of creation can only be read as six twenty-four hour periods, how the fossils and geological phenomena can be explained by an appeal to The Bible, and the like.  As a biblical theologian, my skin crawled as I watched irresponsible hermeneutic, lacking epistemological methodology, and a general inability to stay on any given topic for more than five minutes before finding the need to hit anything which might smell like evolution with another verbal zinger (usually of the name-calling variety).

After some time of reflection I have come to think that perhaps the culture war which needs to happen for the truth of the gospel to prevail might need to happen within the evangelical subculture first.  In other words, the first line of converts is going to need to be the church before any dent can be made in the world.  This is not because there is no room for diversity of thought within the people of God but, oddly enough, because there is a necessity for such diversity within the unity of Christ.  Truth does not have variation, but there are variations which can exist upon the foundation of truth - especially when we consider that humanity is far from a complete knowledge and understanding of either this world or its creator.  When we arrive at either extremism or fundamentalism then we have lost the vibrancy of thought and scholarship that the creative splendor of this world ought to ignite.

One of the elements which seems to be constantly missing in the more fundamentalist view of creationism is a reverence for creation that leads to humility before the creator.  I am certain that on a statement-of-faith level of understanding this is there, but often fails to be conveyed in the discussions that are had.  Instead, a casual observance - quite anecdotal for sure - leaves one with the impression that Genesis 1-2 is more about proving culture wrong than it is conveying the brilliance and majesty of this world's creator.  By contrast, when you hear someone like John Walton or N. T. Wright speak of the theological account of the creation narratives (as in From the Dust) you see that there is a deeper level at which the text is engaging (and make no mistake about it, the Genesis text is there to interact with its popular culture about competing worldviews probably more so than we seek to do today).  Grasping this deeper level allows the biblical text to be taken seriously . . . and read 'literally' to their intended meaning.

When Scripture is reduced to the level of fighting perceived culture wars - for I am no longer convinced, as I once was, that the fundamentalist creationists are engaged in a legitimate intellectual battle with any group of significance in our larger community - then we damage our overall ability to think and reason and process.  Often what I found in the presentation through which I sat was a general inability to stay focused on a given topic, instead acting as though every piece of every evolutionary theory had to be dismantled in his given twenty minutes.  This meant that instead of rational argument and actual logic, we were treated to pot-shots and bumper-sticker slogans which were strung together, often non sequitur, filled-in with simple straw man arguments of any other positions (if at all).

The willingness of modern evangelicals to stick their heads in the sand and ignore the scientific evidence and discussion that fills the world around them has not created more biblically-sound believers.  We have seen, on large scale, that our anti-intellectualism on this front is part of an overall anti-intellectualism that has produced a generation of churchgoers without the slightest hint of how to explain their faith, except to define faith as believing in something that you can't prove.  (Actually, I once heard a Christian define faith as believing in things that probably aren't true.)  Somehow the context has been established that the truth of the Christian message is shaky at best and that any push on any level will definitely knock it from its place.  Rather than being tenacious for truth we have become scared of it, we have divorced from areas of thought such as science, and we have become irrelevant on this and so many other levels.

Creation, science and faith are important issues.  They are, however, not the primary issues with which the church must deal.  Instead, they are going to serve as both a catalyst for reversing the overall anti-intellectualism of the church, as well as a means of renewing the church's participation in the academic table which should lead to greater knowledge of the creator.  It begins, not by thinking that we can ignore science in leu of having a Bible that we casually read, but by approaching creator and his handiwork with fear and trembling.  Spiritually and intellectually this will mean a renewed humility among those who will choose to teach - another piece which many people who hot-shot the creationism debate ought to consider - and those who enter into interaction with the world.

One of the points made in From the Dust is that it is a sad and pathetic irony (my words) that we have perhaps taken the method and handiwork of the creator - that which the biblical text is trying to explain to us - and thrown it out for other, more quickly and easily satisfactory answers.  May God help us to see our failure to find him, our constructions which have shut his ways apart from ourselves, and our repeated sin of thinking more of ourselves than our maker.

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