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 - #40605

November 18th 2010

Correction:  #40603 is to Steve, not Alex


Martin Rizley - #40621

November 19th 2010

Alex,  Two more questions for your consideration. You say,  “I think accusing others of actively sinning because they do not agree on a philosophical question is not constructive in dialogue.”  Are you suggesting that belief in God or rejection of Him is simply a ‘philosophical question’ allowing for a range of ‘respectable’ views among reasonable people?  Is it not a moral act to believe in God, and an immoral act to deny His existence, since such a denial can only be made and persisted in through people hardening their hearts and deadening their conscience to the voice of God?  Presumably, an atheist is someone who never gives thanks for a meal—because he doesn’t believe there is any Sovereign Lord who has provided that meal, to whom he owes gratitude.  Is it not an immoral act to eat day after day like an unreasoning brute, without lifting your heart in praise and thanksgiving to God?  It is a denial of our humanity to deny our Creator.  It is immoral to deny Him.  Love does not require us to deny the immoral character of the unbeliever’s lifestyle.  When Christ spoke to the woman at the well, he pointed out to her (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40623

November 19th 2010

the immoral character of her lifestyle (John 4:18).  He didn’t condemn her for that—He came not to condemn, but to save the world—but He did expect her to recognize her sin and repent of it.  We should always talk with atheists in the same loving, but straightforward manner by letting them know that their constant denial of God and their unthankfulness to Him, while they continue to eat His food, breathe His air, enjoy His sunshine and rain, is heinous sin.  They need to repent of it, while they have the opportunity to do so.  At the same time, however, we can assure them that faith in God is not an unreasonable leap, by giving them good reasons to believe—never appealing to human reason, however, as the final authority, but simply as a ‘corroborating witness’ that supports the truth of what God has revealed with infallible authority in Scripture.


Alex - #40640

November 19th 2010

Martin, you quote Romans 1 to demonstrate the immorality of atheism, to demonstrate that those who disbelieve are responsible for hardening their own hearts.  You’ve forgotten the next verse:

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

Paul pointed out the sins of others (chapter 1) so that he can turn the accusing finger on those Christians who so blithely agreed and condemned the same sins that they were committing (chapter 2).  Did the moral of Jesus’ dealing with the adulterer pass you by?  “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.”  You think, because you recognize God’s existence, that you are saved.  “But there are many who cry ‘Lord, Lord”... but I will tell them “I never knew you.’”  Only the Holy Spirit can work on the heart, and bring a man to repentance.  If you think your words are enough on their own to change others’ attitudes, you are in the throes of a greater and worse pride than what you accuse Steve of.


Alex - #40641

November 19th 2010

(cont.)
Intellectual arguments in themselves can never change the heart; they may touch the mind if the attitude of a listener permits, but they themselves cannot work a revolution in that attitude.  It is not their purpose.  If you would reach their hearts, humble yourself.  Make yourself nothing, that Christ might strengthen you and work through you, in your humility.

You misunderstand me greatly when it comes to the intellectual discussions.  I don’t dispute that there is a very fundamental difference in beliefs.  But you’ve already conceded that you share some common ground; many of your posts in this thread have appealed to their notions of morality, of objective truth and rationality, etc., in an effort to call their attention to God.  Keep this up—this was the right approach—but do not overstate your case at any point lest they find your reasoning deficient.


Alex - #40642

November 19th 2010

(cont.)

As Christians, we may judge others’ actions, but I do not think it wise to judge their hearts. There are many agnostics, and indeed more than a few atheists, who reject in the notion of God because the evidences have not been brought to their attention, or because their presuppositions or cultural biases might prevent them from acknowledging our reasons for faith.

God is a far better judge than you or I can ever be.  In the interest of dialogue, in the interest of reaching out to those who disagree with us and presenting the Gospel in its sum total, presenting a God bigger than the caricatured version they think we worship, we must present our case with humility.  Whether they argue in good faith, or whether their hearts are hardened to hearing the truth, should not change our approach. I think, as Christians, we are called to ascribe to others better attitudes and motivations than we’re inclined to credit them with.

“For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when the Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves.” (Romans 2:13-14)


Papalinton - #40689

November 19th 2010

Hi Martin

You say,  “People sin willingly. “

Christ died for our sins.  Dare we make his martyrdom meaningless by not committing them?

As Thomas Jefferson recounted, “Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man .... perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind .... a mere contrivance [for the clergy] to filch wealth and power to themselves.”


How modern was this man?

Cheers


Alex - #40717

November 19th 2010

Papalinton,

You can’t be serious.  Your reply to the Christian understanding of sin and the doctrine of salvation by grace… is to advocate antinomianism?

Christ died to redeem us from our past sins (justification), and to give us freedom from sin (sanctification).  Christ is there to build us up—it is not necessary that we stumble and fall in order for Him to do so.

In your own words, sheesh.


Alex - #40724

November 19th 2010

Incidentally, Papalinton, where is that Jefferson quote from?  The monticello.org website states that your quote is in fact a paraphrase of Jefferson’s letter to Joseph Priestley (21 March 1801), which reads in full:

“Those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy,—the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man,—endeavored to crush your well-earnt & well-deserved fame.”

It doesn’t appear he’s criticizing Christianity per se, but rather those charlatans who pervert it.  I think in this light I must agree with you that Christianity is the most perverted, for it is itself so good and pure, but has been used by sinful humans to cover and excuse their sins, that the difference between the two (the degree of perversion) is greater than that of other religions.

Plus, it’s got to gall you that Jefferson thought of Christianity as “the most sublime and benevolent” of all religions.  Sorry about that.


Martin Rizley - #40788

November 19th 2010

Alex,
I wrote what I did because your words seemed to imply that you consider the denial of God’s existence an act of intellectual error or judgment merely, not an act of act of immorality. If atheism produces a life of prayerlessness, however, as men ‘drink up’ God’s blessings daily while refusing to offer Him a single word of thanks for them, is that not immoral? You are assuming that I judge myself to be better than the professing atheist, simply because I point out the immorality of denying God’s existence. Were the OT prophets self-righteous when they denounced the sins of Israel and the surrounding nations? Did the believe themselves to be better than others?  Absolutely not. They knew themselves to be unworthy sinners—but that didn’t keep them from speaking out against sin. I lament daily the ‘practical’ atheism I see in my own heart and life when I fail to trust God as I ought, and pray as I should, but does that mean I mustn’t breathe a word to unbelievers concerning their need to repent of the sins they are practicing, whether the sin of adultery or idolatry or the sin of denying God’s existence?  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40789

November 19th 2010

I think you are trying to separate apologetics from evangelistic witness. I believe they cannot be separated, but must go hand in hand. That is, we must give people reasons to believe, while at the same time, we expose the nature of sin for what it is by denouncing every expression of irreligion and unbelief, and calling sinners to repentance and holding forth to them the precious promise of forgiveness in Christ.. Is that not what Paul did with the Athenians? He didn’t simply hold forth proof of the gospel by speaking to them of Christ’s resurrection (apologetics); he denounced their idolatry in no uncertain terms and called for repentance—Acts 17:29-30 (evangelistic witness). Likewise, it is incumbent for us to tell the atheist, “Your denial of God’s existence is not just an ’intellectual position’ that you can hold without suffering any consequences for it; it is a sin against God, for you are denying your Creator the praise and thanksgiving He deserves for having made you and having poured out on you innumerable blessings.  It is also quite irrational to ignore the evidence that God has given you in abundance that makes His existence a self-evident truth. (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40791

November 19th 2010

You quoted Roman 2, which Paul wrote to rebuke the Jews for their self-righteousness; well,  was Paul self-righteous in rebuking them? No, because he knew himself to be a sinner, and did not consider himself to be better than they. Of course we are told not to point out the speck in another’s eye while we have a plank in our own eye; but Jesus did not say, remove the plank from our own eye, then be silent.  Rather, He said, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck for your brother’s eye.” You are assuming, because I have pointed out to Steve and Papalinton the fact that denial of God’s existence always involves suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, I must consider myself to be more righteous than they are. On what basis are you assuming that? I am only echoing the teaching of Scripture, which refuses to accept that there is such a thing as an ’honest atheist’ (that is, someone who denies God’s existence because he honestly doesn’t know whether or not God exists; the Bible says that such ’ignorance of God’ can only be the result of self-deception that is itself the fruit of hardening one’s heart against the voice of conscience. (continued)


Martin Rizley - #40792

November 19th 2010

We can deaden our conscience by ignoring it, thus deceiving ourselves into believing a lie,  against our better knowledge.  We are called to ‘expose’ the works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11) and to plead with men not to harden their hearts against God’s voice (Hebrews 4:7-15), lest they perish eternally in unbelief. If they are offended by our straightforwardness man, we move on. We don’t apologize for speaking the truth in love, and we certainly don’t seek to avoid offense by leaving out the call to repentance and faith (which includes ‘intellectual repentance’ from the sin of ‘rationalizing away’ God’s existence—something anyone can do, if they want to).


jeff martin - #41119

November 22nd 2010

Mark,

I enjoyed your post greatly. It reminds me of some books I have been reading on the theological interpretation of Scripture. Though this kind of post could of used a bit of refinement.  For instance, when you said,

“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.”

I believe the word “only” is too strong. After all, if it was not for the actual historical event of Jesus’ death and resurrection nothing else would have mattered. I might have used the word “best” instead of “only”.  Paul states this in so many words when he says that love, a fruit of the Spirit, is the most important attribute, otherwise one is just a clanging cymbal, even if its the right cymbal.

To add to this I would like to add something from Donald Juel -  “Living with the Scriptures is more like sailing than building a cathedral, you don’t have control over the elements,  but just enough to navigate in rough waters” ….BUT again I think this could still be more precise, SO I would add this - You are always navigating with Christ as true north.


Dewey - #41251

November 23rd 2010

Have been following the posts with great interest, but the entire discussion “atheism contra theism” and “evolution contra creation” seems to be misplaced on a BioLogos forum. Mark Sprinkle and Al Mohler (remember those guys?) are both decidedly theistic in their orientation and, as far as our “methodological-materialist” scientific community is concerned, NEITHER one believes in evolution as postulated by senior members of this community (Coyne, Dawkins, Pinker et al). In fact what Sprinkle and BioLogos believe about evolutíon doesnt matter in the least; they have completely marginalized themselves from mainstream science simply by speaking of God as though He really exists; any further statements they may make about origins are consequently “irrational”.


Its as Rizley says above.. there are no athiests in the world, only those with more or lesss success at


Dewey - #41252

November 23rd 2010

contd
....... suppressing what they know to be true about God.

Best regards


Dewey - #41253

November 23rd 2010

An afterthought…

I think Sprinkle should ask his fellow evolutionists Coyne and Dawkins what they think the essential difference between Mohler’s and BioLogos’ position is. Chances are, he wouldn’t find their answer very flattering.


marsha brockman - #43503

December 12th 2010

Excellent food for thought. The huge disconnect between faith and science gets a bit more of a bridge through this article.  We can be people of faith as well as people of reality in the realm of science. Sadly, some churches still shun those who embrace the spirit of scripture, and the reality of evolutionary processes.


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