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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Papalinton - #40522

November 18th 2010

@ Martin

You say,  “I know that Steve and Papalinton may be upset with me for saying that, but I am simply affirming what Paul affirms in Romans 1.  He says that God has revealed Himself clearly to every person through the things that are made, and that revelation ‘gets through’ to our human understanding—so that people are without excuse when they deny God’s existence and refuse to give Him thanks for His gifts (Romans 1:18-21)”

I say,  Over 80% of the world’s population today has never heard of Paul, let alone jesus, ever, in their whole lives.  And if they did, as a profane infidel peddling a false claim, unworthy of thought.  Over 5 billion people wouldn’t even know what you were talking about.

Martin,  just a little rationality and common sense added through providing a wider perspective demonstrating the claim of universal nature of christianity as somewhat tenuous.

Cheers


Papalinton - #40523

November 18th 2010

An interesting news story recently on ABC TV:

“Priests scuffle at Holy Sepulchre
By Middle East correspondent Mark Willacy


Dozens of people have been injured in a fist fight between feuding priests at one of Christianity’s holiest shrines.
The fist fight between Greek Orthodox and Franciscan priests took place on the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been crucified.
It began when a Greek Orthodox procession passed a Roman Catholic chapel and the priests started arguing over whether a door to the chapel should be open or closed.
Jerusalem police say four priests were detained after the brawl.
Custody of the church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by several Christian denominations and each jealously guards its territory.”

Christian love and charity.

Cheers


Papalinton - #40524

November 18th 2010

Just a couple of examples of christian love and peace:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjogvDivTRM

http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2010/s3069599.htm

Cheers


Papalinton - #40526

November 18th 2010

Steve Ruble - #40527

November 18th 2010

@Alex,

I don’t think you’ve responded to my point. While some Christians (such as yourself) may be able to persuade themselves that the revelations of other religions contain things which are true or helpful, even you do not believe that the revelations count as evidence for what they claim to count as evidence for: the truth of those religions. You reserve that priviledge for the one revelation in which you already believe.

That’s normal behavior for believers in any religion, but I find it difficult to see how it can be justified. It certainly seems as if each religious believe has an ad hoc epistemology which is continually tweaked to ensure that any challenges to their pre-existing ontology are evaluated as false. But that seems less like a respectable epistemology than like a cognitive defense mechanism.


Steve Ruble - #40529

November 18th 2010

@Martin,

Your reasoning is just as irrational as Proog’s. How could meaning worth the name be imposed or created outside the person who is meaning something, or for whom something is meaningful? To say, “That may seems meaningful to you, but actually it’s not,” is to speak nonsense.

As for your insistence that rationality cannot exist without a Great Reasoner: I recommend that you do some reading about emergent propeties, free-floating rationales, and the evolution of intensionality.  The fact that you are ignorant of the available explanations does not mean they don’t exist.

As for your other claims about what I do or do not believe: you’re wrong. To quote Hitchens, “Assertions made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”


Martin Rizley - #40532

November 18th 2010

Papalinton and Steve,  Are you both suggesting that truth is determined by a show of hands?  Whatever most people in the world acknowledge to be true can must be true, but any matter about which there is strong disagreement only shows that, in regard to that matter, there is no such thing as ‘objective truth’?  Well, tell that to Galileo!  How many people in his day believed in a heliocentric universe?  How arrogant of him to think that so many people could be wrong and that he was right!  You say, well, that’s different, because Galileo was basing his ideas on sound scientific methodology.  He had the proper methodology and instruments to know what he was talking about, whereas those who believed in a geocentric universe were basing their ideas on an invalid methodology; they were simply echoing long-standing tradition and ignorance.  Guess what?  Our forefathers—the framers of Western culture—regarded theology as the ‘queen of the sciences’ which gives as true a knowledge of the spiritual realm as astronomy gives us a true knowledge of the heavens, biology a true knowledge of living organisms, etc.  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40536

November 18th 2010

As with any science, however, accurate investigation in the field of theology depends on using the proper method and having the proper tools of investigation.  If you reject those, you may make a lot of assertions, but those assertion will be based on mere tradition and ignorance.  Without the proper tools and methodology, error is unavoidable.  Now, if our forefathers were correct about the nature of theology (and I think they were), then it is not surprising that so many wrong ideas about God, the afterlife, salvation, etc., abound on our planet, because so many people are approaching the science of theology without the proper tools and methodology.  They are basing what they say on superstition, ignorance, and tradition, rather than on the teaching of God’s inspired and self-authenticating Word, the Bible.  Calvin said concerning the Scriptures, “The Word of the Lord is the sole way that can lead us in our search for all that is lawful for us to know concerning Him, and is the sole light to illumine our vision of all that we can see of him. . .the moment we exceed the bounds of the Wrod, our course is outside the pathway and is in darkness, and. . .there we must repeatedly wander, slip, and stumble.”  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40537

November 18th 2010

Does that mean only a few will be saved?  Someone asked Jesus that question one time, and this was His reply:  “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not be able to.”  In other words, Jesus refused to answer the question directly, but let the questioner know that his question was self-serving and designed to justify his own personal lack of commitment to Christ.  Perhaps he noted that, in spite of the large crowds Jesus drew, few were His committed followers, so he was trying to see if Jesus really believed such commitment was necessary, in light of the relative fewness of committed disciples.  Surely not only a few will be saved?  Jesus answer:  “Many will be lost—that is what you need to know.  Each person will be judged according to how they responded to the ‘light’ available to them, and when people, by the grace of God, respond to the light they have, they (like Cornelius) will be given more light and led by degrees to the knowledge of Christ.  Therefore, the real question you need to ask is this—“Am I responding to the light that God has given ME to lead me to Himself, or am I preferring to live in darkness.”


Steve Ruble - #40539

November 18th 2010

Sorry, that should be “the evolution of intentionality”, with a “t”.

Martin, I’m curious about how you reconcile your claim that the ignorance of those who “close their eyes to God” is “blameworthy” with the claim you’ve made elsewhere that only God (not man) can bring someone tinto a relationship with Himself. Do you think it is reasonable to blame a person for not doing something they cannot do?


nedbrek - #40555

November 18th 2010

Steve (40414) “I just don’t understand what you are trying to tell me about where meaning comes from.  Here’s I dialog I wrote… P:‘Because then it would have true meaning. Actions are only truly meaningful if every single person in the world knows about them and cares about them.’”

Not everyone, _anyone_.  If there is no one who knows or remembers, if there is no effect, then there is no meaning.

Meaning is connected with choice.  A strategy for choosing among different causes to effect some end.  If the end is the same, regardless of choice, then there is no meaning.


Papalinton - #40561

November 18th 2010

Martin
How is it if christianity was the very truth and light and self-evidently the only true religion, which once filled every country of the Eastern Mediterranean, such as Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, all along the top of North Africa no longer self-evidently that true religion revealed by God?  Is it because an equally true and ’ god-given’ religion, Islam,  kicked serious butt and left all but a rump of christianity, a rump just sufficient to bully around at will when the occasion warrants it, pretty much as is happening in Iraq at the moment?

How does history record the ‘revealed’ truth of christianity other than to say that the self-evident claim is bunkum, revealed or not by the christian deity?  Allah [and muslims] obviously thinks christianity is worth fighting against as a false message, not from god, and not to be taken seriously.

As for the Jews, they never acquiesced to a notion of jesus being god or even a decent prophet,  but a scurrilous turd, right from the very beginning 2000 years ago.

The only lesson to be learned here is the paucity of fact and evidence and the allegorical nature of the material.


Papalinton - #40564

November 18th 2010

Martin

You say,  “because so many people are approaching the science of theology without the proper tools and methodology. “


The ’ ... science of theology ...’

I am gobsmacked. 

Dr Giberson, Dr Falk, Dr Collins, if you are reading, please give your take on this ‘revealed truth’.

I would be interested

Cheers


Alex - #40574

November 18th 2010

@Steve Ruble - #40527

Let me clarify.  I don’t necessarily reject—and I don’t think Christianity necessarily rejects—the non-empirical evidence cited by other religions.  I haven’t evaluated all of the evidence they cite, and therefore will not judge sight unseen, but I’m convinced by the few pieces I have seen that God can and has used parts of their religious traditions to communicate His truth.

I don’t deny the evidence—I deny the conclusion they draw from it.  There is a difference, the same difference between denying empirical evidence and deny Ptolemy’s model of the solar system.

Incidentally, my reasons for trusting in Christianity is the same as yours in rejecting all others: I don’t know of a single other religious tradition that can accept the partial veracity of other systems while staunchly defending a single unitary truth, let alone one that can integrate the insights of others into a complete and cohesive system of the world.


Alex - #40575

November 18th 2010

Martin (40469-71), I think I would respectfully disagree with your concept of apologetics. There is a distinction between ignorance and immorality, between error and sin.  I’m not sure what I think of your interpretation of that passage from Romans, but I know that Steve and Papalinton will certainly disagree, both with your interpretation and with the authority of the passage in the first place.  Moreover, I think accusing others of actively sinning because they do not agree on a philosophical question is not constructive in dialogue. 

Argumentation is the process of working from shared premises to not-shared conclusions.  You have to agree on A (definitions of terms, acceptable evidence, etc.) before you can move to B (the conclusions you seek to draw). Your arguments rely on premises that Steve and Papalinton simply don’t share—the authority of Scripture, the self-evidence of God, etc.—and therefore you have effectively nil chance of persuading them to your conclusions.

Be ready to give an account for the hope that is within you—be an effective defender of your Christian faith—meet them where they are and ground yourself in the evidences that you and they can all accept.


Martin Rizley - #40599

November 18th 2010

Alex, 
I agree with you that error and sin are not identical, but I disagree that a person who denies in his heart the existence of God is simply committing an error of judgment by failing to reason correctly.  The Bible is clear that all those who aggressively deny in their hearts the existence of God are in rebellion against Him and are pursuing the path of folly instead of wisdom.  Or what do you think Psalm 14:1 is saying?  “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is NO ONE who does good.”  The atheist says in his heart, “I am no fool, but wise; I am not corrupt, but pure; my deeds are not vile, but perfectly acceptable,” so he directly contradicts at every turn what God says about the condition of men ‘by nature.’  I personally believe that, when talking to a committed atheist, nothing is gained by ‘pretending’ that believers and unbelievers can come together on the “common ground” of shared beliefs about the nature of ultimate reality.  Such ‘common ground’ is an illusion, because there is no such thing as a ‘neutral’ rationality—not in practice.  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40600

November 18th 2010

Unbelievers and believers see everything differently; consequently, they reason from different starting assumptions, arising out of two presuppositional frameworks that are ‘in collision.’  The believer presupposes his total epistemological dependence on God, and is therefore committed to thinking God‘s thoughts after him by allowing the Word of God to exercise veto power over his own thoughts and judgment.  Does that mean he doesn’t reason about matters of faith?  Of course he reasons about his faith, but he does so from a position of intellectual dependence on God and His revealed Word, not human reason, as the supreme judge of truth.  The unbeliever, on the other hand, reasons from a position of unquestioning confidence in the autonomy and absolute sufficiency of human reason to arrive at truth without the need for divine enlightenment.  His most fundamental assumption is, “Man is the measure of all things; that which cannot be thoroughly comprehended, analyzed and proven on rationalistic principles, must be regarded as false or uncertain.”  These differing assumptions about ultimate authority lead to a very different ways of looking at and evaluating evidence.  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40602

November 18th 2010

The Bible warns us against embracing the unbeliever’s assumption of intellectual autonomy and self-sufficiency and reasoning with him from there.  “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself ” (Proverbs 26:4).  Don’t get me wrong.  We are to give a reason for the hope that lies within us, but nowhere are we told to give a reason that will be intellectually satisfying or acceptable to the rationalist according to his rationalistic principles.  We are to give a reason for our faith by doing three things—- (1)  by acknowledging our firm rejection of rationalism as a parting assumption; that is, we openly acknowledge our refusal to bow to finite human reason as our supreme authority and admit our intellectual dependence on God and His Word as our ‘overruling authority’ in all our reasoning;  (2) by demonstrating the internal incoherence of atheism and rationalism, the former leading to the total loss of meaning, value, and rationality, the latter leading to total skepticism about truth; (3)  by demonstrating the internal coherence and reasonableness of the Christian world view, its agreement with the facts of history, fulfilled prophecy, human experience, and human logic.


Martin Rizley - #40603

November 18th 2010

Alex,  You ask, “I’m curious about how you reconcile your claim that the ignorance of those who “close their eyes to God” is “blameworthy” with the claim you’ve made elsewhere that only God (not man) can bring someone tinto a relationship with Himself. Do you think it is reasonable to blame a person for not doing something they cannot do?”  Just because man’s will, by nature, is so strongly bound by sin that it cannot move toward good by its own unaided strength or power does not mean that people sin unwillingly, like a person forced to walk a plank or drink poison ‘against their will.’  Whenever people commit sin, they do so with the full consent of their will, and for that reason, may be held accountable for what they do.  There is a difference between necessity and compulsion.  As Calvin points out, “It is the nature of God that He of necessity is good. His own infinite goodness makes it impossible for him to do evil.  Yet God retains the freedom of his will in exercising goodness.  In the same way, although the natural man is under a necessity to commit sin, he is not compelled to sin.  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40604

November 18th 2010

People sin willingly.  The mind of man turns eagerly toward sin, not because he is violently forced, but because of his own desire.  God alone can heal the corruption of nature. . .the way grace works is not to take away a man’s will, but to change it from a bad will to a good will, and then afterwards to assist it by changing the man’s impulses so that he obeys from the heart.”  Is God therefore to blame for holidng people accountable for sin when their wills are in bondage to sin?  Not at all, says Calvin, for man ‘sins willingly so it does not matter whether he sins with a free mind or enslaved.’  I agree with Calvin’s assessment of human inability and culpability..


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