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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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Martin Rizley - #3825

February 2nd 2010

In such a study, you cannot avoid metaphysics as you do in operational science, which limits itself to focusing on secondary causes, because you are not looking at repeatable, observable operations in the natural world, but at unrepeatable, unobservable events in the remote past, events which lie at the frontier between time and eternity.  The rules that apply to nature in its normal operations may not apply to nature in its origin.  Therefore, it makes sense to me that if you undertake the study of origins without taking into account the miracle-working Originator and His self-revelation in Scripture (which is the approach of mainstream science), you may well up devising theories which, while scientifically plausible, give a false picture of what actually happened.


Gregory Arago - #3829

February 2nd 2010

Hi Steve,

I get a feeling near the end of the thread. With Martin’s foray into ‘operational science,’ there are many new directions.

So I’d like to follow-up about this:
“who can argue that God is not undermining - but in fact, by all evidence, endorsing - prospering what is today occurring within mainstream science, at least in its broad strokes?” - S.B.

@ the risk of *appearing* anti-science, many arguments are possible contra the ‘prosperity’ of ‘mainstream science.’ So-called ‘climategate’. WMDs & horrific biological weapons. Anti-human cloning & bioprospecting. It’s not hard to speak of damage ‘science’ has caused & still does cause to humanity & the world.

That said, I support of ‘science’ as a tool of human knowledge. I do not worship scientists. SoS has demystified the ‘scientific priesthood’ & found it less than perfect.

Same goes for art, music, sports & other major social institutions. Humans are imperfect b/c of a ‘non-evolutionary’ event!

I’d encourage you to take up Giberson’s recent challenge; make a movie @ scientist(s)! You seem ably interested. As a filmaker, this could be a noble project, as long as it doesn’t promote scientism.


Gregory Arago - #3830

February 2nd 2010

In case you missed it, here’s the challenge from Karl Giberson:

“There are many grand episodes in the history of science that would make wonderful movies, but they rarely get more than a low budget PBS/BBC treatment. The Galileo Trial, Newton’s tortured youth, Kepler’s rescue of his mother from being burned as a witch, Darwin’s various struggles, the strange story of the quantum, the development of the atomic bomb and other stories from science all seem worthy of Hollywood’s attention. But, probably because scriptwriters are “humanities” types who hated science and math in high school, we never see these stories. Apparently the “madness of King George” is a better story than the brilliant and eccentric Kepler’s extraordinary defense of his mother against charges of witchcraft.

So kudos to the producers who gave us the first big screen look at the most controversial scientist in history.”

Thanks again for your conversation, Stephen!
- Gregory


Steve - #3834

February 2nd 2010

Good afternoon, Martin ~

Your post suggests that there is such a clean epistemological break between primary and secondary causation - or at least a line sufficiently blurred - that conclusions pertaining to the methodology of the former cannot be reliably derived from investigating the latter.  However, in my view, one of the very most compelling arguments for evolution and an ancient earth is the reality of the contrary.

Just as, for example, one can observe skid marks that were left on a road long ago and come to reliable conclusions about that which left them, so is so very much of creation - from our DNA to the fossil record to the constitution of light rays to the cosmic background radiation of the universe - literally embedded with information about their creation.  In other words, God deliberately leaves us “breadcrumbs” and “trails” of data to enable us to apprehend His creative processes.


Steve - #3835

February 2nd 2010

Ken Ham is aware of this reality as he is constrained to dismiss the young-earth “created light” hypothesis due to the “deception” [his word] it would appear to make God guilty of ( The Revised & Expanded Answers Book, but cited in full here: http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c005.html )

So much more to share and discuss, but time rudely forbids…

Best wishes!  (Gregory, a quick note to you follows.)

Steve


Steve - #3836

February 2nd 2010

Gregory,

Thanks for extending Karl Giberson’s challenge to me.  Just a quick word:

You wrote: @ the risk of *appearing* anti-science, many arguments are possible contra the ‘prosperity’ of ‘mainstream science.’ So-called ‘climategate’. WMDs & horrific biological weapons. Anti-human cloning & bioprospecting. It’s not hard to speak of damage ‘science’ has caused & still does cause to humanity & the world.

Just to clarify, 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.

Take care!

~ Steve


Steve - #3839

February 2nd 2010

This exchange has been truly rich, and I’ve been richly edified by it.

Closing thought: God has established one truth, and we are all seeking to apprehend what that truth is.  How has He created our world, and how are we to understand His Word when it speaks to and of creation?  Are things precisely as we’ve historically believed, or is He presently about the business of fine-tuning (or perhaps even creating a sea change in) our views?  Clearly something is going on, and so far, surveying the information from our respective vantage points, we’ve drawn even wildly differing, for the most part mutually exclusive conclusions as to what that something is.  I believe it’s also true that our children are now inheriting this crisis, and are currently very ill-equipped to wisely field it, due largely to the way our generation has engaged it.

Where do we go from here?

I’d very much like to see us - young-earth creationists, progressive creationists, and evolutionary creationists alike - come together (in something like a conference) in a spirit of humility and mutual teachability to begin to really dig into, discuss, and challenge ourselves in these matters in earnest.

May the Lord grant this.

Steve


Martin Rizley - #3846

February 2nd 2010

I agree that two of the “skid marks” you mention—cosmic background radiation and the constitution of light rays—may point to the fact that the universe is very old, in terms of the duration of time involved in God’s creating the world.  I see nothing in a literal interpretation of the Bible to preclude that possibility.  As I said in an earlier post, given the fact that the first three days of creation were not solar days (solar-like, to be sure, but not solar, not ‘ruled by the sun’) it is anybody’s guess how long the creation period lasted, in terms of time’s duration.  Even the AIG organization has a DVD entitled “The Age of the Earth is Not the Issue,” which I have not seen.  The real issue is the history of the history of the earth, and whether the history of mankind set forth in Genesis, Exodus, etc. is reliable.  What I want to know is this—do you believe if the person of Moses literally appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration, as the gospel accounts say that he did?  If so, that proves that biblical history is literally true at least as far back as Moses; and if that far, why would you doubt that Noah and Adam, who are recorded as Moses’ ancestors, also lived?


Martin Rizley - #3850

February 2nd 2010

Steve, Let me say that I think we have to be extremely cautious about accusing God of deception if in fact He has made some features of the earth or cosmos that are appear—according to naturalistic principles—to be older than they actually are.  God does not deceive His people in the sense of tricking them into believing a lie. However, that does not means He always acts in a way that is obviously consistent with what we know of character.  Sometimes, He does things that appear to contradict what we know of His character.  Look at his dealings with Abraham when He commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah.  Had Abraham judged God’s action by his unaided human reason, he might have concluded, “God is being malicious or cruel to me!”  God was in fact giving Abraham the opportunity to demonstrate his faith by putting him in a situation in which, to believe the Word of God, Abraham had to subordinate his own human judgment to the overruling judgment of that Word.  God’s purpose was not to deceive Abraham or to be cruel to him; his purpose was to bless Abraham by giving him the opportunity to believe, even when the evidence suggested that his faith was foolishness unsupported by the evidence.


Gregory Arago - #3851

February 2nd 2010

Sorry to break the calm and careful end with a pithy phrase (since it has come across my thoughts in recent days), but it would be a rather strange expression for anyone to say: “The ten commandments ‘evolved’ into existence.”

Here is indeed a situation where ‘evolutionary theory’ can be unequivocally LIMITED, and ‘science’ given a well-deserved rest.


Steve - #3852

February 2nd 2010

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.  True, there are individuals who would dispute them, but I don’t believe evolution itself has any necessary bearing on these matters.

With respect to the historicity of Adam within the framework of evolution, there are various prominent views.  Let me enumerate some of them as cited in Deborah and Loren Haarsma excellent book, Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution (I’m only citing the evolutionary views; they also reference others):

  *Adam and Eve as Recent Representatives: God created humans around 150,000 years ago via evolution, then, about 10,000 years ago selected a pair of humans, Adam and Eve, as humanity’s representatives.

  *Adam and Eve as a Pair of Ancient Ancestors: God created hominids via evolution.  Then, about 150,000 years ago, He miraculously modified them into the first humans (with spiritual transformation), Adam and Eve.


Steve - #3853

February 2nd 2010

*Group of Ancient Ancestors: Around 150,000 years ago, God revealed Himself to a large group of humans, and they fell into sin.  The Adam and Eve story is symbolic of what happened to this larger group.

  *Adam and Eve as a Group of Ancient Representatives: God created humans around 150,000 years ago through evolutionary creation.  God revealed Himself to a group of humans rather than to a single pair.  Other humans besides this group were alive at the same time, but this group was chosen to represent the rest of humanity, and when they sin, their sinful status was applied to the rest of humanity.

  *Adam and Eve as merely symbolic:  God created humans 150,000 years ago via evolution.  The human race grew into its current moral and spiritual status over time.  Our sinful nature developed at the same time as our moral sense, our ability to reason, and our ability to communicate.

  *Let me add that in his book The End of Christianity, Bill Dembski’s theodicy preserves a literal Adam, a literal Eve, a literal Garden of Eden, and the traditional understanding of all natural evil stemming directly (if not chronologically) from their disobedience.


Steve - #3854

February 2nd 2010

In short, evolution by no means necessarily does away with a literal Adam and Eve, although it does force us to reexamine how we interpret these biblical texts (just as anyone who’s “converted” to an old-earth view has had to do).

Which of these views about Adam and Eve do I personally hold?  I can’t say (yet).  While I would say (as I posted before) that figurative imagery so profusely abounds in Genesis 2 and 3 that I believe that a largely figurative interpretation to these texts might be obviously appropriate, I would quickly add that this is a matter that requires much theological and biological consideration, biblical study, prayer, and challenging discourse (much in the same Nicean setting in which the matter of the Trinity was more or less “hammered out.”).  (By the way, by “figurative” I by no means “inaccurate;” just as Jesus’ parables were extremely accurate though not literal.)


Steve - #3855

February 2nd 2010

What then do I believe?  I absolutely believe that God deliberately and purposefully created humans in His own image and likeness, that we are special and unique, that we bear His image, that He has given us souls, that He “delivered” to this earth its very first humans, that our progenitors yielded to temptation and sinned against God, and that we bear the consequences their guilt.  I don’t believe that evolution can falsify any of this (although it can certainly speak to various details involving our common human ancestors).

Martin, you’ve clearly established that your stand is against macro-evolution, but let me ask you a personal question: Are you absolutely, 100%, no ifs-ands-or-buts settled on this (I don’t mean practically, but inwardly)?  Is there even the tiniest portion of your thinking - perhaps some ember deep down in the obscure recesses of the mind - that might not be quite so absolutely sure that did not create man via evolution?  If I may, I’d just like to a clear snapshot as to what both your primary objections to evolution are (which we’ve certainly fleshed out in these exchanges), as well as what possible counterarguments might be yet linger, even if you aren’t adopting them.

Thanks.

~ Steve


Steve - #3857

February 3rd 2010

Pardon my writing sloppiness in that last post!


Martin Rizley - #3869

February 3rd 2010

Steve, In asking about my personal “uneasiness” over the question of evolution, I suspect you are wondering how I got interested in the Biologos website.    A close friend of mine whom I respect deeply as a dear brother in Christ read The Language of God and told me it had impacted him, especially what Dr. Collins says about pseudogenes as evidence of common ancestry.  Out of curiosity, I began looking into that issue and at the Biologos website to see what the position of Dr. Collins and others who hold his views on evolution believe.  I think every serious student of Scripture ought to be willing to examine his beliefs, to see if they are simply inherited from tradition or whether there is a “rock solid” Scriptural basis for them.  That is especially true if one’s beliefs conflict with the consensus opinon among experts in any field.  Since so many scientists see evolution as a fact, one cannot help but feel ’uneasy’ holding to views that conflict with what the “experts” say is fact.  Yet at the same time, one must give greater respect to the authority of Scripture than to the authority of any fallible human experts (continued).


Martin Rizley - #3870

February 3rd 2010

I have to say that the more I look into this issue, the more convinced I am that it is impossible to reconcile the standard evolutionary view of human origins without the teaching of Scripture.  My objections to the evolutionary view of human origins are not solely biblical, however.  I really believe there are huge scientific problems to this theory, and that evolutionary theory is not the “open and shut case” that many claim that it is.  Among the scientific problems are the fact that most genetic mutations are harmful, rather than beneficial; yet evolution requires a virtually infinite number of beneficial mutations to bring about the biological diversity we see in the world.  Also, the lack of transitional forms and the need for positing “hopeful monsters” to make the theory work is evidence to my mind that evolutionary theory is “a theory in crisis.”  Then, too, there is the fact that to hold this theory as dogma, one must assume on philosophical, not scientific grounds, a strictly naturalistic, mechanistic view of how the physical world works, thereby excluding the possibility of God creating anything at all in a supernatural manner (continued).


Martin Rizley - #3871

February 3rd 2010

My principal objections to evolutionary theory, however, are biblical.  I see a number of biblical doctrines that are compromised or even irreparably damaged by this theory, but four stand out in mind:  the doctrines of divine benevolence, male headship, original sin, and the perspicuity of the Scriptures:  (1) divine benevolence—the Bible says that God, being good Himself, created the world a “very good” place; that is, there was a period of time at the outset of history before man fell into sin (however brief) when the forces of nature exhibited such harmony and equilibrium, that the type of disaster we recently saw in Haiti, burying hundreds of thousands of people alive under rubble, would not have occurred.  The world was at that time a paradise.  But evolutionary theory does not recognize such a time as ever having occurred.  (2)  male headship—our feminized culture sees no difference between men and women and no divinely established order regarding leadership in the home or church; but the New Testament sees things differently and clearly establishes male headship in the home and male leadership in the church, based on the order of creation (continued)


Martin Rizley - #3872

February 3rd 2010

3)  original sin—to posit that God imputed the sin of one existing group of people to another existing group of people actually impugns the character of God, for in that case, he would be imputing sin to people who were previously innocent of sin.  The biblical doctrine, on the other hand, associates the imputation of sin with conception, so that it is not a matter of God turning previously innocent people into sinners, but of all people beginning their existence as sinners by being conceived in Adam.  They have no existence outside of Adam, but derive their existence from Adam.  4)  the perspicuity of Scripture—This to me is the most serious indictment of all against evolutionary theory.  A straightforward reading of Scripture would see Adam as an historical figure based on his lineal connection to other figures who are clearly historical.  Yet it stretches faith to the breaking point to see Adam as living some 150,000 years ago.  At some point, human reason, fallible as it is, must bow to the supreme authority of Scripture in this matter.  Jesus treated the Bible as an essentially clear book; for him, “It is written” was the final Word to settle an issue; and so must it be for us, in the final analysis.


Martin Rizley - #3873

February 3rd 2010

Oops!  In #3870 above, “without the teaching of Scripture” should read “with the teaching of Scripture.” Excuse my sloppiness!


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