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A Plea to My Shepherds

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February 27, 2013 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Stephen Ashley Blake. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

A Plea to My Shepherds

Note: Originally posted January 25, 2010.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m deeply troubled by my fellow conservative evangelicals’ skepticism – even hostility – towards much of modern science, and believe that barring change, this disposition will prove spiritually catastrophic to our children and grandchildren, who are today being taught that assertions of an ancient universe and macro-evolution are unequivocally incompatible with the Cross of Christ, and tomorrow will enroll in universities that powerfully demonstrate the integrity of these scientific claims, thereby setting the stage for devastating crises of faith for countless thousands of young believers.

That said, I genuinely empathize with those who are reluctant to abandon traditional theological concepts for newer, still- developing ones. Given spiritual leaders’ biblical mandate to protect their families and congregations against error, a responsibility for which God will hold them strictly accountable (James 3:1), I respect their refusal to expose their flock to ideologies they regard as conflicting with the Word of God.

I further understand pastors and theologians’ resistance to tethering theology—which is meant to provide a solid epistemological foundation—too closely to that intrinsically dynamic endeavor called science. All humans need ideological stability, perhaps especially so with respect to spiritual matters. Recognizing this, pastors rightly ask why they should abandon or substantially revise an internally-consistent systematic theology that has served the church with relative stability for many hundreds of years. Science, on the other hand, is a realm for adventurers, groundbreakers, and ideological athletes intent on not just polishing or expanding today’s body of knowledge, but shattering it when necessary. Resounding with the jousts and clashes of competing ideas and arguments, and the stunning reversals of ideas once widely held, science often appears to be a messy–even tumultuous–business. Spiritual shepherds are insistent that the epistemological dynamism that necessarily characterizes science never become the mainstay of the Christian experience, which must be fundamentally stable and dependable. They see wisdom in maintaining a safe distance between the Church and the choppy waters of science.

The question, then, is whether the waters of scientific thought, particularly with respect to the age of the earth and evolution, have sufficiently smoothed out to warrant conservative thinkers’ taking a deeper look. Of course, the catch-22 here is that this can’t be answered without actually embarking upon an expedition of exploration and investigation, much as I recently did. Once undertaken, however, the conservative explorer will likely be confronted by a formidable problem:

As I can personally attest, navigating the crowded forum of wildly-differing ideas as to how to resolve the faith-science divide can be terribly daunting. Making this especially disconcerting for the conservative is the sobering reality that amidst the chorus of conflicting theories, one finds very little substantive published input from respected conservative theologians. As a result, the conservative seeker is sure to find herself awash in an ocean of seemingly novel theological “solutions” that are fundamentally antithetical to her evangelical sensibilities. This is likely to result in the impression that there is in fact no way to reconcile the findings of modern science with the key doctrines of orthodox Christianity, and hence the termination of the endeavor. Not only was this dynamic a constant challenge to me, but has proved a stumbling block to many would-be seekers that I personally know.

Whence then change? I believe the breakthrough will begin with a particular subgroup of conservative evangelical pastors, elders, and theologians. I know firsthand that there are many who, truth be told, have not been entirely at peace with their fellow conservatives’ summary rejection of—and apologias against—the findings of mainstream science. They have a gnawing sense that devastation looms for the Church and her children unless detachment yields to engagement, and rhetoric to substance. These have likely admitted to themselves that despite stridently asserting anti-evolution/old-earth views, they actually don’t understand these views in depth (nearly every conservative pastor and elder I’ve spoken with has conceded this). To date, these shepherds and thinkers have remained silent about their misgivings, reluctant to be perceived by their congregations and peers as betraying true Christianity. Given the astonishing fruitfulness of modern science and the comparative barrenness of young-earth creationism, I believe these evangelical leaders may now finally regard themselves as justified in stepping forward and publicly questioning whether the latter is in fact the view that a truth-revealing God would have His people believe.

Indeed, if I may, I would exhort these, my fellow conservative evangelical shepherds and thinkers, to set aside all reticence and fear, emerge from anonymity, and storm the forum of discourse, engaging this most pressing matter with vigor, equanimity, and humility. In doing so, know upfront that there will be few handrails to guide; you will not be building upon an extensive precedence of published conservative thought. Rather, you will be pioneers, with the open prairie of contemplation and consideration before you and the Word of God as a faithful, orienting star. The journey will be at times confounding, often scary, and never without challenge. Yet only through such robust, self-critical analysis will you find yourself in a posture where God can correct and refine all that He would, and only after which will you be able to pass on to your flocks a cogent, truly harmonious portrait of our Lord and His Creation that finds rich consistency between His written and natural revelations. I firmly believe that the fuller, more deeply informed portrait of the Lord and His universe that emerges from this investigation will fill your congregations with an unprecedented new sense of awe at our beloved God as Creator, and profoundly enhance their worship of Him. This has certainly been the result of my own journey.


Stephen Ashley Blake is a filmmaker and President of Realm Entertainment in Los Angeles. After making his mark as a music video Director and independent feature and television Director of Photography, he is now gearing up to produce a slate of motion pictures of a variety of genres that tell powerful stories from a distinctly Christian worldview.

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Gregory Arago - #3889

February 3rd 2010

Sorry to keep on this Steve. There does seem an important point for you to concede that might help Martin take a step to you & toward science, away from a ‘sola scriptura’ (if I interpret his view correctly), i.e. literalistic, YEC position.

You wrote:
“Yes, I hold to the literal description of the Transfiguration, the historicity of Moses as depicted in Scripture, and the historicity of Noah, and don’t see how evolution in any way discredits them.”

It depends on what you mean by ‘evolution’. There are people who speak of ‘evolutionary morality.’ They find the ‘truths’ or ‘guilt’ in ‘moral law’ a mere aspect of natural history (i.e. evolution). See Thompson-Seton’s “Natural History of the 10 Commandments.”

Morality here unfolds without divine intervention or covenant, based on biology and history. Do you not see how ‘moral evolution’ discredits what Moses came down with from Mt. Sinai?

‘It is just socially constructed’ or ‘it was just an illusion,’ etc.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23468364/


Gregory Arago - #3890

February 3rd 2010

cont’d,

“when I’ve mentioned “mainstream science” in this thread and in my blog, I’ve only meant as they pertain to the issues of evolution and the age of the universe.” - Steve

I’m sure you mean biological evolution or natural-physical evolution, since there are several ‘varieties of evolution’ worth *not* believing in, e.g. evolutionary philosophy & cosmology. See RC Pope Benedict XVI’s inaugural address about this as an example.

Please know that my reason for pointing to this again & again is more than simply pedantic; it matters how we communicate about God’s creation & evolutionary theories. There is much lack of precision in the way people communicate, which leads sometimes to needless misunderstanding. Indeed, in some significant ways communication is more important than biological theories or practices.

Do you thus see the importance of including a qualifier for the term ‘evolution’? Some ‘evolutionary theory’ is not ‘science’ at all! & it is worth limiting & in so doing building a more coherent & holistic relationship btw science, philosophy & religion.


Steve - #3920

February 4th 2010

Martin & Gregory,

There’s so very much to comment on, but for now, let me just touch on this, because it has to do with a fundamental difference:

Gregory wrote:

It depends on what you mean by ‘evolution’. There are people who speak of ‘evolutionary morality.’ They find the ‘truths’ or ‘guilt’ in ‘moral law’ a mere aspect of natural history (i.e. evolution). See Thompson-Seton’s “Natural History of the 10 Commandments.”

Morality here unfolds without divine intervention or covenant, based on biology and history. Do you not see how ‘moral evolution’ discredits what Moses came down with from Mt. Sinai?


Steve - #3921

February 4th 2010

My response:

Not at all!  When a scientist speaks to evolution, I regard their science and any metaphysical conclusions they may have also made in two very differently ways.  While I earnestly regard their metaphysical views (as I would those of any fellow believer), I place them in a separate epistemological basket from that which contains their scientific conclusions.  One contains expert testimony (the science); the other merely layman’s opinions.  (Along these same lines I’ve learned firsthand that I likewise typically have to take pastors’ scientific statements cum grano salis.)

So, to cite your example, it doesn’t matter to me at all if a particular scientist’s view (or the view of a group of scientists) is that morality “unfolds without divine intervention or covenant.”  That is neither a scientific statement nor one that a scientist (unlike a theologian) is expertly trained to speak to with any command or authority.  Therefore I regard the views of such non-theologians as personal opinions.  (Let me add that I’ve come across some pretty substantive, compelling theological views by scientists who are believers; however, I’d be foolish to put a priori stock in the views of someone operating out his/her metier.)


Steve - #3922

February 4th 2010

If, however, that scientist were to have extremely compelling scientific reasons to believe that our morality “came upon us” via evolutionary methods, then I would view this this as clearly within the sphere of science, and I would listen very carefully.  (After all, what exactly does it mean to have the law “written” in our hearts (Rom 2:15)?  Where is this inwardly written law located, and how exactly did it get there?  What exactly is God’s methodology for working in our “consciences” and “hearts”?  Is it unreasonable to think that God has done this through wiring/genetic transmission processes, just as he obviously evolves an infant’s sense of morality?  (I don’t know the answer to this, but I think these are valid queries to pursue).


Steve - #3923

February 4th 2010

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about the expedition to see if there is something more to learn about God has created us!  Of course, there is certainly much we will never learn, but does that mean we should not halt all inquiry?  Who would have thought a century ago that we would have mapped the entire human genome and thereby learned profound things about God’s biological methodology?  But beautifully, we now know that God had in fact willed that we uncover major swaths of that which had been for so long hidden!  I thank God that scientists continued to persist in exploring what was so mysterious.  And of course (to be characteristically redundant), what we learned was that God had in fact purposed that this particular mystery - i.e., genetics, which had for eons been hidden from all of humanity - would, in the fullness of time, be revealed.

Now, as the result of this scientific endeavor (genetics), I know my God a little better, and have more to exalt him for and stand in awe of Him about.  And so I say, “Science, proceed!  Continue to reveal to us what Christ has done in His creation.”  And, as I wrote in my blog, even the atheists are, unwittingly, serving God and God’s people by their science.


Steve - #3924

February 4th 2010

But the key to understanding my position, Martin, is that I absolutely do not allow scientists to do my theology, nor should anyone.  When a scientists present a scientific conclusion plus a metaphysical conclusion, I cleanly sunder the two, and regard them separately.  So someone could spend all day citing God-excluding metaphysical statements that one or ten thousand scientists have made - and it won’t matter to me one bit.  I will at the same time gratefully accept their science, and place their metaphysics in the other basket.

I’d love to continue further discussion, but because writing is so much more time-consuming than verbal communication, I propose that should anyone want to continue our chat, that we get in touch with each other by phone…

Best wishes!

Steve


Steve - #3925

February 4th 2010

P.S. Gregory, I would like to know how you’re able to bold your texts!


Gregory Arago - #3931

February 4th 2010

I like your idea, Steve. Perhaps the Moderator will forward you my private e-mail to be in contact. I give him or her my permission to do this.

Wrt bolding texts, just use basic html code (neither am I an expert!):

place a ‘b’ inside square brackets [ ] before the text you wish to bold and a ‘/b’ inside square brackets after the text. likewise ‘i’ and ‘/i’ for italics, etc.

Warm wishes,
Gregory


HornSpiel - #76934

February 27th 2013

Just a tip. You may send private emails to anyone posting here through your Profile Page.

  • Just click the Profile link at the top right corner of this page.
    This should open your personal BioLogos profile.

I am very pleased to see the variety of new voices posting here as well as the thoughtful discussion. Kudos to BioLogos for facilitating this dialog.

—HornSpiel


beaglelady - #76940

February 27th 2013

Surprise! The post (and comments) are  over 3 years old.  They probably just forgot to trim the old comments, even though many folks would prefer to keep them. 


HornSpiel - #76948

February 28th 2013

Boy do I feel silly. I should have noticed the dates on the posts. However I assumed that BL would have mentioned up front that this was a repost. Don’t they usually do that? 


beaglelady - #76949

February 28th 2013

Don’t feel silly, Hornspiel. On the Forum Page where all the posts are listed the date is  Feb 27, 2013.  It’s not until you click on the link to get to this page that it says faintly “Note: Originally posted January 25, 2010.” It would be helpful if they put that in a larger font, red and bold.

 

I always check dates since we’ve been getting so many recycled posts lately, and the author is long gone.   It would also be helpful if, for new posts, they would state up front whether the author has any intention of interacting with the commenters.   I know that people here like to direct questions to the authors, which is an exercise in futility if the author isn’t even reading the comments!   

It seems to me that keeping the commenters at arm’s length is the new modus operandi at this forum.


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