Christ, Trinity, and Creation, Part 2

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June 18, 2014 Tags: Christ & New Creation, Creation & Origins

Today's entry was written by Mark Harris. 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.

Christ, Trinity, and Creation, Part 2
Photo credit: Eugenio Hansen, OFS [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In my last post I focussed on the work of God’s Spirit in creation, exploring the point made by my book, The Nature of Creation, that modern science can get along well with the Bible if the conversation is explicitly theological and openly Trinitarian. Now we turn to the work of Christ. Remarkably, we find that the natural sciences are part of his divine portfolio. To see this, we need to return to the Spirit.

Last time I suggested that modern evolutionary science, with its emphasis on complexity and novelty in nature, shares a common perspective with the Holy Spirit on the making of things. It’s particularly clear in the New Testament (where Christ is in view), that the Spirit works to bring all things into newness. It would be too much though, to associate this newness with a specific scientific model like Darwinism (or at least not a model from our current sciences), for the newness is altogether new. No doubt inspired by the important text in Joel 2 which predicts that God’s Spirit will be poured out in the last days (vv.28-32), the New Testament describes how the Spirit works in the Church (Acts 2:17-21), in individuals (Gal.6:15), and fundamentally in the whole cosmos (Rom.8:23), to bring about a new birth. And if we ask what is this new birth, we find that it is beyond our current biological sciences, and even beyond our current physics and mathematics, because it describes a new cosmos, the seeds of which were born in that tomb in Jerusalem, just a few days after the crucifixion of Jesus. In other words, the work of the Spirit is concerned with this creation, but fundamentally drawing it into a new creation about which we know almost nothing at present, except to say that its essence is resurrection.

Resurrection is also the key to understanding the mysterious statements made about Christ and creation in the New Testament. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, written in the early 50s (just a matter of some twenty years after Jesus’ ministry), is especially significant in making this link. Because of his resurrection, Christ is the new Adam – the first human of a new creation – and the sign that “all will be made alive” again one day (1 Cor. 15:20-23). But Jesus is more than just a rerun of the first Adam. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Christ is at the center of this creation as well as the next, and startling claims are made about his divinity, his pre-existence, his role in the making of this creation, and the obligation to worship him in a way that’s reserved for God alone in the Old Testament (e.g. Phil. 2:5-11). This reveals something of deep importance. Quite simply, nature is always “creation” when Christ is in view, because he’s the pattern around which it was made. And so we find the breathtakingly audacious claim made by the early Christians that the humble carpenter from Nazareth was with God “in the beginning” (Jn 1:1). There has been much scholarly ink spilled over how this paradoxical turn of logic must have come about in those crucial early decades of Christianity after the crucifixion of Jesus. By the early 50s Paul could make the astounding statement (again in 1 Corinthians) that “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for him, and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we exist through him” (1 Cor. 8:6). At some point in these twenty or so years then, the penny must have dropped that the Redeemer must also be the Creator. Hence, written a little later in the first century, John’s Gospel points out that “all things came into being through him [the Word]” (1:3), while the letter to the Colossians tells us that “in him [the Son] all things in heaven and on earth were created…and in him all things hold together” (1:16-17).

The phenomenal events around the first Easter were clearly decisive in inspiring the early Christians to make this link between Jesus and creation, as was the insight that the venerable Wisdom tradition of the Old Testament allowed for a ready connection between Christ and the personification of Wisdom, present with God “at the beginning” (Prov.8:22). In this way, Jesus could be seen to embody the divine principles of organization and law in Scripture (i.e. Torah). Indeed, Matthew’s Jesus makes this very point: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil” (Mt.5:17). It’s then a small step from saying that Jesus embodies scriptural law and prophecy to saying that he embodies all divine Wisdom, including that which we discern in the natural world, i.e. the “laws of nature”. Putting this in contemporary terms, Christ is the reason the natural sciences work: he is the source of the laws of nature, and he contains and underpins the natural sciences. As I put it in my first post, Christ is the pattern for all created things, while the Spirit – his presence in the created world – breathes the divine fire into the equations.

Put in these terms, the paradox underlying the idea of “incarnation” – so familiar that many of us in modern-day Christianity rarely give it a second thought – gains a new lease of life. If it’s true to say that Christ saved the world, then by the inexorable logic above it’s also true to say that he embodies and provides the scientific explanation for the world, in his very human flesh and bones. (And we’re not just talking here of a scientific explanation in terms of human biology, but also the fields of geology, chemistry, particle physics, and mathematics too). If all this appears absurd and nonsensical, then congratulations! – for you have just apprehended the “scandal” of the incarnation.

We have come a long way from Genesis 1. But by considering the creative work of Son and Spirit in biblical texts we’ve started to form the basis for a theology of science within the Christian idea of God as Trinity. It’s often been wondered by the philosophically-minded just why it is that the natural sciences are so successful in describing the physical world. Humanly speaking, this success is something of a mystery; the world need not be so amenable to our rationality, unless there is deep reason behind it all, and that “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). The Bible’s creation texts throughout both Old and New Testaments therefore supply us with an explanation for the miracle of modern science, namely its unstoppable success in understanding the physical world: it’s because science taps directly into the mind which made it all.


Mark Harris, PhD, is Lecturer in Science and Religion at the University of Edinburgh. His first academic career was in Physics, but after studying Theology as preparation for ministry in the Church of England, he became enthralled with Biblical Studies. He is interested in the ways that modern science has affected biblical interpretation, especially in understandings of creation and of miracle. He is the author of The Nature of Creation: Examining the Bible and Science (Acumen, 2013).

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #85809

June 18th 2014

Mark,

I agree with the basic thrust of your essay, but not with your statement that this does not apply to Darwinism and evolution.  The issue which Darwin adressed was the issue of change.  The problem really is not does nature change, but how does it change.

However the ideological critics and supporters of Darwinism have taken sides over the Perfection of God.  Supporters of Darwinism say that change indicates that God is not Absolote and Perfect based on a philosophical understanding of God, while the critics of Darwinism say that God is Absolute and Perfect. 

Believers who want to believe that God is both Absolute and Perfect, but Darwinian change is real are caught in the middle.

Interestingly the OT book of Ecclesiastes proclaims that “nothing is new under the sun” and therefore “All is Vain” or empty of meaning.  The book supports a cyclical view of time, which is counter to a linear covenantal historical understanding of time.

Stanley Jaki has pointed to the fact that the cyclical view of time supported by philosophy and the “science” of astrology discouraged the development of science in the West.  Finally Copernicus and Galileo demystified the heavens which resulted in the change of attitudes toward cyclical time and astrology. 

Real change does happen in nature and human life.  God is real cause of this change which could not happen without God’s Trinitarian structure.  The Trinity is absolutely required to have a basic understanding of Who God is and how God works. 

It is in turn necessary to understanding how God made the universe and humanity in God’s own image.  This is the great contradiction and dilemna of our world.              


Mark Harris - #85811

June 18th 2014

Thanks for this. All fine, but I’m not sure you followed my point (perhaps because I had to be so brief), which is that it’s too much to associate the eschatological newness worked by the Holy Spirit with a specific scientific theory (e.g. Darwinism), as some theologians have done. This is argued in detail in my book.


Tony - #85817

June 18th 2014

Hi…

Blessed are you amongst men, Mark, for the LORD God has revealed unto you the [Mystery] of the [Holy Scriptures].  For most it is difficult to obtain this insight because God only reveals this [Mystery] unto those who are humble enough to accept that they may be wrong.  Through knowledge and understanding one gains wisdom and insight - that is the formula.  However, the knowledge to be accuired, again, comes only through sincere humility and supplication unto God.

I very much appreciate your writing style and enjoyed your post!  If you haven’t already, I invite you to read my posts with GJDS from - Ted Davis’ Getting Some-thing From No-thing.  I believe you will find interesting what I have to say.


Tony - #85818

June 18th 2014

The third line should read, “those who are humble enough to accept that they may be wrong in what they believe.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #85819

June 19th 2014

Mark,

Reading through your essay again, I do understand it better.  I understand that your world view is Christ centered and I quite agree.

It is on this basis that make your distinction between Deism and Theism, with which I basically agree.  However if you are going this route, you have to go all the way. 

If the Theistic Personal God is Trinitarian, then Islam is not a theistic religion.  The same with Judaism as it is has been historically defined.  This issue is primarily why I have avoided this distinction although I think it can be supported.

Now your main point I think is that science does flow from the Trinitarian understanding of God found in Christainity.  I would be more precise and say that it flows from the Augustinian “Egalitarian” Model of the Trinity.  See my book The GOD Who RELATES.   

If the Christ-centered Logos, Trinitarian worldview is the key to understanding God and God’s world, we need to apply ourselves to understanding this worldview found in the Bible, and applying it to evolution and everything else.

This is what I have endeavored to do in my book, Darwin’s Myth: Malthus, Ecology, and the Meaning of Life.     


Mark Harris - #85825

June 19th 2014

Hi Roger

If I’ve understood you correctly, you understand the Christian Trinitarian God as “theistic” (with which I agree), and *only* the Christian Trinitarian God as theistic (with which I can’t agree). Sorry, you won’t get me to “go all the way” on that.

Mark


Roger A. Sawtelle - #85826

June 19th 2014

Mark,

I am trying to point out a problem with your argument at least as I understand it.  You make a distinction between Deism and Theism and then you say that the Holy Spirit or the Trinity allows God to be more than an impersonal Deity, but a personal God. 

Now from a theological and spiritual point of view I know that Jesus Christ is God with Us, which means that the Christian Triune God is a lot more personal than YHWH Whom no one has seen and Allah Who is beyond understanding.

On the other hand Judaism and Islam have considered God to be personal, perhaps despite their different theologies.  However this issue should detract from your basic point, except you need to make it in a different way.

The Trinity, God is both Three and One, means that God is both Diverse and Unified, or both the Agent of change and continuity.  Science tends to favor change, while Faith tends to favor continuity.  God in the form of the Creator, the Logos, and the Spirit embody both.  

Western thought is dualistic, either/or.  God is One or God is Many.  Christianity in the form of the Trinity confounds dualism by saying God is both One and Many.  It does not say that God is primarily One and secondarily Many as we expect God to be, but equally Many and One.

This is why Judaism and Islam are incorrect not only spiritually, but also scientifically, because physical reality is both one and many.             


Mark Harris - #85827

June 19th 2014

Roger

I am going to make this my last reply. For one thing, I cannot join you in your repeated insistence that the Christian God is more personal than Jewish or Muslim understandings of God. And I think you are reading that into what I wrote. I didn’t for instance, say that it is the Holy Spirit or the Trinity that allows God to be more personal. I also can’t agree with you that the Christian Trinitarian God is more personal than Yahweh. From a traditional Christian perspective they are one and the same God. Just because the Son became incarnate as a human being and was born on Christmas Day does not thereby make God in his godliness more personal from that point on. 

But more seriously, I worry about the explicit supersessionism in this conversation, and I definitely can’t join you in denigrating Judaism and Islam as “incorrect”. I don’t know what the BioLogos policy is on respect for other faiths, but this has gone way beyond my own comfort zones. 

Mark


Roger A. Sawtelle - #85828

June 19th 2014

Mark,

It is clear that we disagree.

I do not think that I denigrate Judaism and Islam by saying they are incorrect in their understanding of God.  They have their right to their opinion and so do I.

I would hope that if they thought that their religion was not right, they would change their religion.  I think that Christianity is right, which is the reason I am a Christian.  I believe that my denomination is the best one, at least for me, and that is why I am a member and minister. 

I present my views on theology and science because I have researched them and found them to be right.  I am willing to change them when anyone can give me convincing evidence that other views are better.

The understanding of Who Allah is is found in the Quran and the understanding of Who the Triune Christian God is is found in the New Testament.  

They are very different, even though the Quran was written after the New Testment.  There is no way they could be describing the same Being.  I using my God given mind have chosen Christianity.  Certainly I do not believe that Jesus endorse the sectarian killing today in the Middle East, which does not mean that Christians are without sin either.

Honestly if my faith is open to criticism by non-believers and other Christians, why should other faiths be closed to criticism?  


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