Come and See

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November 8, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Mark Sprinkle. You can read more about what we believe here.

Come and See

The 10th Chapter of Acts recounts the events surrounding the conversion of the first gentile Christians—those in the household of the Roman Centurian Cornelius. As an artist and a naturalist, I have always been delighted by Peter’s vision of the sheet with commingled clean and unclean animals. But my reaction to the story as a follower of Christ is somewhat more complex: it has by turns thrilled, comforted and convicted me, for at various times in my life I have been on both sides of what was actually a double-conversion—of Cornelius the pagan turning to Jesus, and of Peter the Jewish Christian also turning towards Jesus, but away from his surety in who was “in” and who was “out” of the Kingdom of God. In the context of the BioLogos project, the image of Peter being led reluctantly along the Lord’s path offers a corrective to the way many—particularly Dr. Al Mohler—have joined the debate over the compatibility of science and faith.

The visions Peter saw of the sheet were, prior to any revelation that he was being sent to a gentile household, offensive to his sense of purity as a devout Jew who respected and loved the Law. Add to this that Cornelius was not just a gentile, but a military commander in the hated occupying forces of Imperial Rome. Though Peter came to understand that the vision meant he was to make no a priori judgments about who could and could not be saved by the grace of Jesus, the command from the Lord to “Get up, Peter. Kill, and eat” was an affront to his identity and was in direct contradiction to what he believed set him and the other Christians apart from the rest of humanity in addition to their confession of Jesus as Lord.

He clearly didn’t like it and proceeded with some reservations, but he was at least open to the leading of the Spirit, and was prepared to set his own prejudices aside to see what God was up to. Soon enough, Peter recognized that God was again upending his understanding of reality as much as of the Scriptures, just as He had with the irrational-seeming idea of a Messiah who died, and then the even more outrageous fact of a resurrected Jesus. In the end, the Lord did more than instruct Peter to share the Gospel of Jesus with Cornelius’s household, He demonstrated that repentance and belief in the Gospel of Jesus were, alone, the prerequisites for belonging to the family of God by pouring out the Holy Spirit upon the men and women gathered under that Roman roof.

As Peter discovered, our theology is descriptive, not prescriptive; it is our collective and halting attempt to describe in coherent terms what we know of God by what we have seen of His acts and what we have read in His Word—and, above all else, by what we have seen in the acts of the Word, Jesus. And though it morphs into rules we try to impose on the divine and our neighbors, it does not in any way constrain the Lord who is constantly calling us in new ways, through new means, and telling new stories with the most unlikely characters. On the contrary, theology is put to the test not just by our logic, but by the witness of what God is doing in our lives and in the lives of others around the world. Evidence of the Spirit at work is the only true measure we have of our theology; all other measures, including whether it fits our carefully-reasoned arguments of who is in and who is out, are vanity.

But, in very public fora of late, Dr. Al Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has been making it known that he regards those associated with the BioLogos project to be, at best “confused Christians,” with the implication being that we may be worse than unbelievers, dangerously leading the gullible to destruction. Despite his focus on the “logic” of our position vis-à-vis the Bible and his very specific definitions of both theology and evolutionary theory, the heart of Mohler’s claim that one cannot be a fully-functioning, authentic Christian and hold that God created using the process of evolution, is not, finally, about the compatibility of science and scripture, but about the power of the Holy Spirit. It is about the limits that Dr. Mohler has put on God’s ability to redeem and transform whomever He so pleases, in whatever manner He so pleases.

It is the same issue Peter faced when confronted with the vision of the sheet lowered out of heaven, which prepared him to meet Cornelius where he (and his family) were. Having seen the Holy Spirit poured out on these gentiles and former servants of Caesar, he had to ask, “Is there any reason why these should not be baptized?” In short, it is not a matter of whether Dr. Mohler (or Ken Ham, or Jerry Coyne, for that matter) find it reasonable or logically consistent or even in conformation with their readings of scripture, it is a matter of whether God has and is doing His redemptive work in the hearts, minds and lives of men and women who understand evolution to be a true material account of God’s creative work that does not in any way constrain God’s agency and sovereignty. And that is not an academic issue, but a very concrete and intensely personal one about the lives of those who hold views Dr. Mohler places outside the realm of truly following Christ.

Particularly coming from the head of the largest Southern Baptist seminary, Dr. Mohler’s repeated implications and suggestions, if not outright pronouncements, that I and anyone else who does not reject evolutionary processes are, therefore, not Christian in any but a nominal or diminished way, not authentic followers of Jesus no matter what we say and despite the evidence of the Holy Spirit both in us and working through us, seems to me to fly directly in the face of one of the central facets of Baptist tradition—that my salvation and relationship with the Father is not a matter for rulers or authorities or institutions to decide. Is there not a danger that 21st century ecclesiastical rulers and authorities might unwittingly oppose the Spirit through their all-too-human decrees, though their intention be to defend doctrines that are good and true and right?

We in the BioLogos community have on more than one occasion failed in our love precisely as Dr. Mohler and writers on all sides of this debate have. Nevertheless, our President, Darrel Falk, has repeatedly called (and been ridiculed from both left and right) for seeking unity among believers. I do not naively believe that we will miraculously come to a common understanding about the means God used in His creation, or how to read (or even translate) every passage in the Bible, or how best to organize our lives as believers together as Baptists, or Presbyterians, or Nazarenes, or Catholics, etc. Though such divisions, such divorces within the church are the surely result of the hardness of our hearts , our different theological and ecclesiastical traditions may also reflect God’s will and his desire to inhabit and work through all the myriad cultural environments in which we live, revealing and highlighting different aspects of His character in each. To the extent that we wrestle with each other over these issues with compassion and love, we demonstrate that even our conflicts may be redeemed by the Lord.

It is no small miracle that the Spirit is uniting a broken, diverse, and far-flung people into one Body, often—if not always—in spite of us, its members. In seeking unity we will see that the diversity within the Body formed by our common claim of being saved by the free, costly gift of God’s grace directs us towards a fuller understanding of the glory of God Himself and a greater humility before our brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, while it is problematic that Dr. Mohler so warmly agrees with Jerry Coyne regarding the ‘logical compatibility’ of evolution and religious belief, more hurtful for the Church is Dr. Coyne’s nearly gleeful account of the lack of charity within the Christian community. Dr. Mohler’s attitude and tone provide what Coyne and others take as another proof that our faith is a foolish and destructive lie.

So, recalling Peter’s conversion along with that of Cornelius, I invite Dr. Mohler to refrain from condemning (even by faint praise) those whom the Spirit has sanctified and is sanctifying, and through whom He is calling more of the lost to Himself. More, I invite him to join me at the table as a brother and to put off the too-common practice of acting as if we know everything we need to know about those on the other sides of these issues from what we read on-line.

As Cornelius asked Peter “to stay with them for a few days” to see what the Lord would be teaching them together, I invite Dr. Mohler to come and see what I see in the hearts and lives of people in the BioLogos community. Come and see what I see in the hearts and lives of specific, real live Christians in my adopted home town of Richmond, Virginia. Come and see what I have seen for years in the hearts and lives of men and women of faith directed towards the Lord by their studies of evolutionary biology, and who see the glory of God in the very process you find ugly and abominable. Come see the Spirit at work in hearts and lives focused and unconfused in their pursuit of Jesus and of His Kingdom.


Mark Sprinkle is an artist and cultural historian, and was formerly Senior Web Editor and Senior Fellow of Arts and Humanities for The BioLogos Foundation. A phi beta kappa graduate of Georgetown University, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, where he studied how artworks embody complex relationships in different cultural contexts. Since 1996 he has been an independent artist and frame-maker, also regularly writing and speaking on the role of creative practices in cultural mediation and renewal, especially in the area of science and Christian faith. Mark and his wife Beth home-schooled their three boys, and are active in the local home-school community in Richmond, Virginia.


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Martin Rizley - #40233

November 16th 2010

Steve,  I never said one cannot move from the indicative ot the imperative, from ‘is’ to ‘ought;’ I said that one cannot move from ‘mindless matter is ultimate the source of everything” to “we ought”    Unless a verb has a subject, you don’t have a coherent statement—only a fragment, and a fragment can be neither true nor false.  So the statement, “_______ is, therefore we ought,” is neither true nor false, because you don’t know what the subject is.  You need both a subject and a predicate to have a falsifiable statement.  An incomplete sentence is neither true nor false.  Consider the statement,  “This tract of land belongs to _____________, therefore you may not build a house on it.”  The truth or falsehood of that statement depends on the object of the preposition “to“.  If you fill in the blank with the word “no one,” the sentence makes no logical sense, for if a tract of land belongs to no one, then why may I not build a house on it, if I wish?  But if you fill in the blank with ‘someone else who claimed the land before you and built a house on it” then the sentence makes perfect sense.  Everyone understands the logic of it. (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40234

November 16th 2010

Prior ownership prohibits me from doing what I please with another person’s property.  I have argued that one cannot logically derive the concept of ‘oughtness’ from the utility of certain behaviors and one cannot logically derive the concept of oughtness from mindless, meaningless matter being the source of all things; but one can logically derive the concept of oughtness from the existence of an eternal Lawgiver, whose existence precedes our own, who created us and sustains us moment by moment, since He is obviously our rightful Owner, Lord, and Master, to whom we owe everything.  The truth of that argument rests, of course, on the acceptance of certain axioms as self-evidently true.  That is why I do not appeal to human reason as the supreme arbiter of truth, because every syllogism rests on first principles that are axiomatic and must be accepted as ‘self-evidently true.’  If a person refuses to acknowledge the truth of those self-evident principles, no argument will suffice.  It is self-evidently true that creation implies ownership and that ownership implies authority (our copyright laws rest on those self-evident principles)  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40236

November 16th 2010

Moreover, in personal relationships, authority implies authority to rule and command (all governmental authority rest on that principle).  On those principles, the internal coherence of the Christian worldview, and the internal incoherence of atheism can be demonstrated.
My argument for Christian worldview is not rationalistic, therefore; I am not appealing to human reason as the supreme arbiter of truth, but acknowledging that the acceptance of any worldview involves an exercise of faith—atheism, as much as Christianity.  Even rationalism accepts by faith as a ’self-evident truth’ the supremacy of human reason as the measure of what is true.  What I am claiming, however, is that the Christian worldview has an internal incoherence that the atheist worldview lacks; for the atheist says, “The origin of all things is mindless, meaningless matter that is irrational, unconscious, and uncaring; therefore, we must live both rationally and morally.”  Come again?  I see no internal coherence in that worldview.  If no one created us, no one owns us, and no one has authority over us to rule and command us.  There can be no moral obligation—period.  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40237

November 16th 2010

On the other hand, the Christian worldview says, “The origin of all things is the personal, all-powerful, infinitely wise and righteous Creator of the universe, who is our Creator.  Since He made us, He owns us, since He owns us, He has authority over us, and that implies authority to rule and command us; therefore, we may and we must live rationally, wisely, righteously, in submission the moral laws that He has established.”  No internal incoherence there.  Why therefore would a person choose to cling to an internally incoherent worldview, rather than embrace an internally coherent one, especially when there is plenty of corroborating evidence to confirm its truth (such as the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection)?


Alex - #40247

November 16th 2010

@Papalinton - 40161

I considered the issue you raised to be a red herring, and indeed you have persisted in ignoring my actual words.  Seeing as you insist on dealing with it now, I’ll try to respond.

I’ve already dealt with the issue in some length here:
http://alex-binz.blogspot.com/2010/03/contemplations-in-theology-13.html

I disagree with your appraisal of the situation: I don’t think it’s a matter of Christianity being 100% correct and all other religions being totally erroneous.  I think it’s a matter of Christianity being true and all other religions have glimpses of that truth, and express portions of it accurately in their concept of God.

I further disagree that only Bible-believing Jesus-preaching Christians will be saved.  I am not a Universalist; I merely hold, with Romans 2, that we will be judged according to the extent of our knowledge of God.  For those that have no knowledge of Jesus (in John’s Gospel, “the Word made flesh”), I hold that belief in and pursuit of “the Word” simplicter will be honored by God.  If you’re pursuing God from whatever small glimpses of Him you possess, God will honor that and recognize your pursuit of the full Truth when you are brought before Him.


Alex - #40248

November 16th 2010

@Papalinton - 40162
Re: “theo-gargle”

Seeing as a dictionary is evidently out of your reach, I’ll define some of those ‘nonsensical’ words for you:

“Benevolent”—defined by willful goodness and virtue
“Personal”—not abstract or ephemeral, not distant; God came to live among us
“Paradise”—come on!  Surely you can recognize what Christians mean by “Heaven” without believing in it.
“Sublime”—“sub” + “limis”—drives us close to God, to the threshold of Heaven
“Perfect”—without fault, without deficiency, complete
“Unconditional”—without condition or qualification
“Love”—duh
“Forgiveness”—to not hold a fault against someone, to forgo judging them for a sin
“Divine”—of or pertaining to God
“Charity”—the highest form of love
“Sacrificial love”—the love that says “I will care for and protect you, regardless of the consequences to myself.”  See also, NYC firefighters on 9/11.

It’s hard enough to maintain a conversation while you are bent on misunderstanding me; can you please cease and desist from calling my words meaningless?  I begin to think you’re not actually interested in a real conversation.


Alex - #40249

November 16th 2010

@Steve Ruble - #40203
I think your post misunderstands both Martin and me.  Martin is saying that an is-ought leap is impossible without some objective source or standard of morality.  There is some merit to this question.  Martin doesn’t say that only Christians can be moral, but he does seem to argue that only Christians (rather, only theists or “Idealists,” Christians being a subset of these) can be intellectually consistent in their source and their statements of morality.

As for me, you missed the part where I state “We agree that our respect for others originates out of their intrinsic worthiness.”  I don’t claim that *any* imputation of intrinsic worth is tautological. I only described your original formulation to be so: “I define person to be A, and thus they are A.” Fortunately, you’ve moved beyond from that, and rooted intrinsic worth in the human capacity for reason and empathy.


Alex - #40250

November 16th 2010

(cont.)

The problem is, as you readily admit, that your concept of the human person is fuzzy, and you’re not entirely sure if even the two qualities you propose are the foundational for that understanding.  Is a person intrinsically worthy of respect is they possess reason but not empathy (see also, sociopath)?  Are they intrinsically worthy of respect is they can empathize, but lack any ability for higher thought?  What about those who possess both in very small quantities?  What about children in whom both faculties are only partly developed?

Both Martin and I are very comfortable with our definition of the human person, and of our basis for intrinsic worth.  I don’t say that our definition is necessarily better than yours, but I haven’t seen a consistent definition among atheists and agnostics that reaches the same level of intellectual consistency.  For that reason I prefer the Christian response in this case.  Does that seem reasonable to you?


Steve Ruble - #40278

November 16th 2010

@Martin,

I see.  You assume that being “owned” by God is what gives humans value, and that “ownership” is a legitimate generator of “ought"s, and that there is a “supreme Lawgiver” who also generates “ought"s.  Again, I don’t share your assumptions.  Why should I?

...for the atheist says, “The origin of all things is mindless, meaningless matter that is irrational, unconscious, and uncaring; therefore, we must live both rationally and morally.”

Come on, Martin. No one says that, and you know it.  Anyway, I wish you would stop pretending that the genetic fallacy and the fallacy of composition are not fallacies.  Your endless repetition of the claim that meaning cannot exist in a universe which has meaningless foundations is absurd.  You might as well claim that a democracy cannot exist because the individual people making it up are not themselves democracies, or that a tree can’t produce fruit because its seed couldn’t.  It’s just silly.

I would urge you to reflect on your position that there cannot be moral obligation without ownership, authority, and command, and consider whether the roots of that opinion may be in your own psyche, rather than reality.


Papalinton - #40279

November 16th 2010

Hi Martin

Your comments #40234, #40236 and #40237 seem very familiar to a book I recall. 
Please cite reference.

Cheers


Papalinton - #40280

November 16th 2010

Hi Alex

You say,  “I think it’s a matter of Christianity being true and all other religions have glimpses of that truth, and express portions of it accurately in their concept of God.”

Of course you would.  Another example of wiggle-room allowance, no?  But ultimately every other religion is completely wrong, because you can only get to heaven through jesus christ.  And who is to say satan did not seed littler snippets of christianity into their religious writings to make them look convincing and truthful, when in fact, it is all a ruse.  It is not unknown for early church fathers to offer exactly that reason for defending the veracity of scripture.  Rather telling, isn’t it?

“For those that have no knowledge of Jesus (in John’s Gospel, “the Word made flesh”), I hold that belief in and pursuit of “the Word” simplicter will be honored by God.  If you’re pursuing God from whatever small glimpses of Him you possess, God will honor that and recognize your pursuit of the full Truth when you are brought before Him.”

I say unintelligible proselytising, the last bastion of defense.

Cheers


Alex - #40293

November 16th 2010

@Papalinton - 40280

Why do you persist in addressing a version of Christianity that is not put forward and, indeed, doesn’t accurately reflect orthodox Christian belief?  St. Thomas Aquinas used Aristotle and Averroes, among other pagans, in his explication of Christian theology.  The idea that non-Christians are able to grasp truth, and have indeed glimpsed portions of the full Gospel, is pretty standard.  C.S. Lewis came to believe in Christianity for this very reason: he saw the same truth glimpsed at in various degrees in almost every system of belief, but saw that Christianity reflected the fruition and fulfillment of that truth.

I notice that when you don’t want to respond to something, you either call it “unintelligible” or simply ignore it.  If you didn’t understand, you could always ask for clarification, or even point out what struck you as confusing.  But you seem to prefer to tilt at windmills.

As a matter of simple courtesy, please address the arguments that are actually made by those who respond to you, as opposed to what you would have liked them to be.


Martin Rizley - #40301

November 16th 2010

Steve,  Surely you would not disagree with the general principle that ownership generates oughts, would you?  If you don’t agree with that principle, then tell me where you park your car, so I can take it off your hands!  If I could plan the theft so carefully as to be sure that I could got away with it, then why shouldn’t I help myself to your car, or anyone else’s,  if ownership does not generate oughts?  That seems to me to be a pretty universal held assumption.  Moreover, surely you would not disagree with the principle that creation implies ownership, for otherwise, what is the basis of our copyright laws?  It is common sense to say that the creator of a song, a poem, a book, etc., has rights of ownership to his own creation, unless he chooses to forfeit those rights by giving them to another.  If I write a book, and you steal it and sell it under your name, that is plagiarism; we all agree that is a reprehensible act, because it violates the universally held principle that creation implies ownership.  Now, assume with me, if you will (for the sake of argument), that God actually exists.  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40302

November 16th 2010

If that is so, then is it not reasonable to conclude that His creation of us gives Him rights of ownership over us?  If we created ourselves, we would belong solely to ourselves, and could choose any course of action we pleased, without acknowledgment of a higher authority.  But if God created us, then it logically follows, on the basis of the universally recognized axiom that creation implies ownership, that we belong to God, and therefore, must take into account His will as the rule of our lives.  Even if you don’t believe God exists, I think you would have to admit there is an internal consistency and logic in that statement.  So the difference between us really boils down to what our basic assumptions are about the nature of ultimate reality.  You are assuming, without argument, that nothing exists whose existence cannot be empirically demonstrated.  I am assuming the existence of God.  But I believe that there is an internal coherence to my beliefs and that they are abundantly corroborated by the evidence.  True, God is not an empirically demonstrable object.  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40303

November 16th 2010

We cannot see Him with our eyes, or detect Him with physical instruments, but we can see the We cannot see Him with our physical eyes or detect Him with physical instruments, but the evidence of His existence is all around us, as well as the evidence of divine authority in the Scriptures.  Your main complaint seems to be that God appears arbitrary and capricious in the Bible, doing things that are the very opposite of His declared character to be righteous and good.  But here, again,  another self-evident principle sheds light on this problem—and that is the fact that a finite being, by definition,  can never exhaustively comprehend an infinite being.  In that sense, it ought not to surprise us if God sometimes does things that may appear to us to be arbitrary or capricious—the very opposite of His revealed character as God.  The problem lies in the incapacity of our finite minds to fully grasp a God who is infinite.  So once again, I see an internal consistency in the Christian position, which seems pretty self-evident.  If it sounds to you like we‘re going in circles, perhaps that means that we have really expressed our positions fully, and have simply failed to convince the other.


Martin Rizley - #40304

November 16th 2010

Papalinton, I have not consciously quoted anyone in my comments, though I may have picked up a turn of phrase or an illustration from some Christian apologist that I have read, like Cornelius Van Til or John Frame or Douglas Wilson.


Papalinton - #40356

November 17th 2010

Thanks Martin;  I take you on your word.  The form of words just sounded quite familiar to something I had read..

Cheers


Papalinton - #40357

November 17th 2010

@ Alex

“Why do you persist in addressing a version of Christianity that is not put forward and, indeed, doesn’t accurately reflect orthodox Christian belief?”

How many versions are there Alex?  I suspect there are two billion versions, right?  As far as I have been able to ascertain, one version is as asinine as the next.  So the question of version is moot.  Christianity as is practiced has all the hallmarks of cultural variation and diversity precisely because it is solely a cultural construct,  developed at a time when our forebears, well before the advent of genuine science investigation, attempted to make sense of their existence, their relationship to the world and to the cosmos.  Why are Hindus predominantly Indian?  Why are Saudi Arabians predominantly Muslim?  Why are Americans predominantly christian?  Because of cultural imperatives.  Not some silly ‘revealed’ universal truth,  an aspect that is derived from Apologetics in the attempt to develop some semblance of authoritative voice. 

Sheesh Alex


nedbrek - #40368

November 17th 2010

Steve (40278) “meaning cannot exist in a universe which has meaningless foundations is absurd”

It is not the foundation which yields meaningless, rather the end point (i.e. entropy).  If everything everywhere dies (and everything which has gone before is forgotten), then there is no purpose or meaning to anything (the end state is unchangeable - that is, it is the same regardless of your actions, so any choice for your actions yield the same result).


Martin Rizley - #40369

November 17th 2010

Steve,  To echo ‘nedbrek’ above, it seems to me that whatever subective ‘meaning’ an ‘accidental fluke of nature’ may create for itself that is not imposed by the reality external to itself, that meaning is nothing but an exercise in self-delusion, equivalent to the ‘meaning’ that a mental patient who believes himself to be Napoleon gives to himself.  Within his own subjective thought world, that ‘meaning’ may be quite meaningful, but it is not rooted in anything objectively true.  Reality robs him of his delusion, by saying to him constantly (though he live in denial of it), “No, you are not Napoleon.”  So, if we believe that the objective reality about mankind is that we are nothing but a fluke of mindless nature, unplanned, unforeseen, a momentary ‘blip on the screen’ of an otherwise unconscious, unreasoning, purposeless cosmos, no matter what deeply meaninful significance we give to ourselves, our relationships, the actions we perform, the things we create, objective reality robs us of our delusion of meaning by saying to us nothing ABOUT us at all; fantasy then becomes a refuge from reality, a mental mind game to keep our sanity, as we cloak our naked nothingness with an illusion of meaning.


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