Science as Our Priestly Vocation
Today's video is courtesy of filmmaker Ryan Pettey, director/editor of Satellite Pictures.
In this video, Lincoln Harvey, Tutor in Theology at St Mellitus College in London, explores the intended role of humans in God’s creation as seen in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. It is significant, he notes, that in the beginning humankind is placed in a garden. The Biblical narrative, however, does not remain here, but journeys from this garden to the city in the book of Revelation where culture—whether the sciences or the arts—reflects God’s intention for his creatures to “grow into the fullness of its stature.” As a demonstration of this point, Harvey examines the Eucharist, the center of Christian worship in which grain and grape are transformed into bread and wine as an offering to God from the goodness of his creation. Therefore, the exploration of creation can be understood as a priestly vocation to tend to and engage with the world around us. Ultimately, the science and religion debates seem to indicate a failure on the creature’s part to appreciate the generosity of God and prevent one from seeing the consistency of science and theology.
With lots of due considerations in place, if we take the Christian scriptures and consider it in what Saint Athanasius called its “scopic whole” rather than telescoping in to particular verses and chapters, but actually take a step back and a deep breath and begin to consider the shape, the scopic whole of the Scriptures, then it perhaps has theological significance that the journey begins in a garden, that the human creature is placed within a garden, not necessarily a static state of paradise but something that needs to be tended and kept and something in which there is rhythms and seasons and something in which the creature participates and engages and shares in being with as God’s representative. And having been placed in a garden and needing to engage with the creation in nature, it’s perhaps fruitful for the Church to take that overarching shape on board and to see culture broadly considered within God’s purpose for the creature to grow into the fullness of its stature.
And therefore, culture—be it the arts or the sciences, be it human endeavor—is part of the creature journeying from a garden to a city, accompanied by God, enabled by God to offer back through Christ and the Spirit the goodness of creation perfected. At the center of the Church’s worship, we find the Eucharist, and it’s probably again fruitful to consider the way in which the Eucharist as the pivotal event of Christian worship does not offer back to God nature unrefined, it doesn’t offer grain and grape, but instead the Church offers through the Son and the Spirit bread and wine, which Colin Gunton, an important theologian in these areas, has called “nature manufactured.” But the human creature in its liturgy offers the work of human hands: the grain* and the grape manufactured. If you like, at the center of Christian worship is technology, and therefore, for the Church to step back from the debates about science and faith, science and religion is somehow to see the scientific exploration of the creation as part of that priestly vocation of being placed in the world, engaging with that world, and then through the Son and the Spirit, offering back that world as God’s representative.
I imagine or I wonder whether or not the growing dualism or growing conflict between science and religion is actually a rebellion of the creature, failure of us to see the generosity of God and the way in which the theology and the science are more intimately and beautifully related than we would dare to imagine. So, it is almost a natural inkling of the fallen creature to create these conflicts that absolutely prevent us from seeing the systematic coherence and beauty of God’s generosity to us.
Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.
Lincoln Harvey is Tutor in Theology at St Mellitus College. He studied Systematic Theology at King's College London under the supervision of Colin E. Gunton, on whose theology he has edited a collection of essays with T&T Clark. He was previously Tutor for Christian Doctrine at The South East Institute for Theological Education (SEITE), and has also taught on the MA programmes at King's College, London. He has contributed to a number of books and journals, and is currently working on a theology of sport. Lincoln is Associate Priest at St Andrew's Fulham Fields, having served his curacy at St John-at-Hackney in East London.