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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 - #39293

November 10th 2010

Ryan G,  I am not talking about “the majority of BioLogos followers;” I am talking about those responsible for what is published on the BioLogos website.  They have published “approved” articles that deny the Old Testament’s portrayal of God;s character as revealed in the record of His judgments on Sodom and Gomorrah, the Flood, and the conquest of Canaan.  The true God would never do such things, these articles have said.  Such denials raise ‘red flags’ in my mind concerning a writer’s understanding of the gospel.  If he objects to God judging sinners on earth (for example, by sending the Flood, or by raining fire and brimstone on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities known for their great wickedness), what objection would such a writer have to God’s judgment of sinners in hell?  if God never displays His righteous displeasure against sin in terrifying acts of divine judgment, then what do people think the cross was?  The cross was as much a revelation of God’s wrath against sin as it was a revelation of God’s love for sinners.  That affirmation, to my mind, is essential to any website that wants to be regarded as Christian.


unapologetic catholic - #39297

November 10th 2010

You shall have no other gods before Me.
You shall not make for yourself a graven image,
or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above,
or that is in the earth beneath,
or that is in the water under the earth;
you shall not bow down to them or serve them;

Mohler is violating the First Commandment.

He has placed, not Scripture, above the Lord, but hisown personal idiosyncratic interpretation of scriptiure above both Scripture itself and the Lord.

He has installed a graven image.  I chose not to worship that one.


Robert Baty - #39300

November 10th 2010

Ryan,

Thanks for your observation.

One of the utilitarian aspects of my arguments is in the purpose of forcing the would-be young-earth creation-science promoter to recognize his fundamental position is properly and briefly stated as follows, and as you suggest in other words:

> I, a young-earth creatin-science promoter,
> have my interpretation of the text regarding
> the real world and that trumps (see Mohler)
> any real world evidence to the contrary.

For tyros like me, that is very good to know and avoid so much of the quibbling about the scientific details and it explains very well why it is that young-earth creation-science has failed to measure up to its scientific pretensions and legal challenges.


crawfish - #39315

November 10th 2010

Mark,

Great post!  I think we need to listen to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23; to be all things to all people, in this case, is to not put a stumbling block regarding the science of creation.  Biologos serves a role in helping people know the relevancy of the Gospel even with the implications of modern science.  There are simply people that Ham, Mohler, Ross and their ilk cannot reach.


Martin Rizley - #39327

November 10th 2010

crawfish, 
Do you really think that the biggest stumbling block that conservative Christians are placing in the way of people like Richard Dawkins is young earth creationism?  Of course not, since people like Dawkins are fully aware of the fact that Bible-believing Christians hold to diverse viewpoints on science/faith issues.    The real stumbling block for them is the view of God presented in the Bible.  They despise the character of God revealed in the holy Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament, in the accounts of God’s judgment on wicked peoples like Noah’s contemporaries, the inhabitants of Sodom, and the Canaanites.  They despise the character of such a God,  who would judge unrepentant sinners for their sins.  They don’t want anything to do with Him, and young earth creationinism has nothing to do with it.  Are you suggesting that Christians remove the real “stumbling block” that offends people like Dawkins,  by conceding that the Bible presents a false view of God’s character?


Papalinton - #39343

November 10th 2010

Hi Martin
In question to crawfish,  “Are you suggesting that Christians remove the real “stumbling block” that offends people like Dawkins,  by conceding that the Bible presents a false view of God’s character?”

It would be a good start.
The idea of course is not new but logical and reasoned.  Thomas Jefferson accomplished that and I would suggest a growing and refining religion would be demonstrably improved by a little housecleaning.

Cheers


merv - #39347

November 11th 2010

From above:  “Thomas Jefferson accomplished that and I would suggest a growing and refining religion would be demonstrably improved by a little housecleaning.”

... or in his case not so much “housecleaning”, as burning the house down.
Nevertheless, real housecleaning is always needed, and probably painful.  Point well-taken.

—Merv


Martin Rizley - #39350

November 11th 2010

Papalinton,
The problem with what you are suggesting is that, whenever people attempt to ‘update’ the Christian faith by ‘making God over’ in their own image, the resulting product is always an idol.  We may feel more comfortable with that idol than we do with the mysterious, majestic, incomprehensible, and ‘undomesticated’ God of Scripture, but any god who is simply a magnified ‘us’ is as powerless to save as the deaf, blind, dumb wooden totem that a primitive native might bow down to.  God made man in His own image, but sinful men have no right to ‘remake’ God in their image.  Our calling is to receive in humility the implanted Word which is able to save our souls, not to come up with ‘new and improved’ images of God based on our own heart’s fancy and imagination.


Steve Ruble - #39351

November 11th 2010

Martin, most of your claims about God are literally meaningless. When you say that God is “glorified” by the slaughter of children, you are using a definition of “glorified” that I do not understand. When you say that God is “righteous” in his arbitrary choice of people to destroy and save you cannot mean anything sensible by “righteous”. When you say God is “just” in executing vicarious punishment, you deny any meaningful concept of “justice”.

Your writing would be much more honest - and accurate - if you wrote what you really meant, instead of trying to dress it up in positive adjectives. What you really mean - the only thing you can really mean - is that God is powerful enough to do whatever he wants, and you worship that God of power. There’s nothing glorious, righteous, or just about it. In fact, it’s disgusting. I can see why you try to cover it up with pretty words.


Papalinton - #39353

November 11th 2010

Hi Steve Ruble

“God is powerful enough to do whatever he wants, and you worship that God of power.”

Good point, Steve, which leads to the query, “If power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then wouldn’t an all-powerful god be all-corrupt?”

If jesus died for all our sins as we are told, then how come there still is sin?  So in reality a false claim.  I’d say, a job only half done and very poorly at that.  The story simply does not hang together.

Cheers


Papalinton - #39355

November 11th 2010

Hi Martin
You say,  “We may feel more comfortable with that idol than we do with the mysterious, majestic, incomprehensible, and ‘undomesticated’ God of Scripture, but any god who is simply a magnified ‘us’ is as powerless to save as the deaf, blind, dumb wooden totem that a primitive native might bow down to.”

It is interesting you should make the comparison with a primitive and use that as an analogy for powerlessness [in your mind].  Such righteousness.

That ‘deaf, blind, dumb wooden totem that a primitive native might bow down to’  is as real to him as your spectral numen, Martin.  Indeed it has as much if not more potency in his mind that perhaps your imaginings of the supernatural.  And indeed your shared commonality with that primitive is that both belief systems are predicated upon the supernatural, in other words ‘not natural’, or more succinctly, ‘unnatural’.

I might add, christians themselves have built some mighty impressive totems [and out of wood]  of their own over time, the churches, the statues [idols], the saints, the stain-glass windows etc.

Cheers


Martin Rizley - #39381

November 11th 2010

Steve and Papalinton,  You are right when you say that I worship a God who is “powerful enough to do anything He wants.”  How thankful I am that is so!  A God who was truly weak before all the forces that oppose His rule could give no comfort or security to anyone; how would you feel if you lived in a country in which all the criminals carried guns, and all the poicemen carried pea-shooters?  That wouldn’t give you much confidence in your police force, would it?  The Bible says that even God’s apparent ‘weakness,’ displayed in Christ’s voluntary self-offering, was in fact a display of power by which He “crushed the head of the serpent”  according to the prophecy of Genesis 3:15.  The weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.  But the God I worship is MORE than powerful (although He is not less).  His infinite power is joined to infinite compassion, and that is why He is willing to receive every sinner who, conscious of His need of salvation, comes to Him for salvation:  “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”  I see a huge difference between that God and a ‘god’ who would turn a deaf ear to the cry of the needy.


merv - #39434

November 11th 2010

Steve, did Martin say that God was glorified by the “slaughter of children”?  I can’t find where if he did.  If in fact you did, Martin, then could you explain that a bit more?

Steve, so what is your basis from which you can judge whether others have a “meaningful” concept of righteousness or not?

In another thread, I similarly asked Papalinton what his “vision” was, and never got a response.  What do you hope to accomplish for the world or for science if you could have your way and get everybody “enlightened” with theism properly defeated according to your wildest fantasies?

—Merv


Steve Ruble - #39435

November 11th 2010

Martin, I don’t think I was clear in what I wrote.  I’m not saying that the alternative to worshiping a God of Power (as you you do) is worshiping a weaker god - I’m saying that the alternative is to worship a god who is worthy of worship, by being glorious, righteous, just, etc.  (I don’t think such a god exists, but lots of people do.)

Instead, you’ve chosen to worship a god who has, as his one meaningful characteristic, more power than anything else.  You claim that he has “infinite compassion” in the same sentence that you limit the set of people he has compassion for, making the “infinite” pretty pathetic - almost all gods have compassion on someone.  You say that he does not “turn a deaf ear to the cry of the needy” when obviously he does (e.g., ignoring those who cry out for evidence of his existence, doing nothing for those who die in agony every day). 

You (like Al Mohler, to try to stay on topic) have chosen to worship a God of Power who (probably not coincidentally) condemns those you condemn and praises those whom you praise.  In return, you do the same for him, when you justify the brutal whimsy of Yahweh by describing it as “glorious”, “righteous”, and “just”.


Steve Ruble - #39437

November 11th 2010

[con’t]
But the fact that you tack those words (and others) onto every mention of your God doesn’t give them any meaning. 

“Just” already has a meaning - it means something like “impartially delivering deserved consequences for actions”.  Your God of Power is not impartial, and does not deliver deserved consequences for actions.  So when you say that your God is “just”, you must be using a definition that does not include either impartiality or the linking of consequences to actions.  But that eradicates any reasonable interpretation of your claim!


Papalinton - #39439

November 11th 2010

Martin

Infinite power, infinite compassion, yadda-yadda.  Confirmation bias at its pristine and without any form of evidence apart from what you have read and a great deal of ‘wish-listing’  to make it ‘feel’ right in you mind.  And as Steve Ruble notes above:  “You (like Al Mohler, to try to stay on topic) have chosen to worship a God of Power who (probably not coincidentally) condemns those you condemn and praises those whom you praise.”

I would even suggest, you can safely assume that you’ve created god in your own image when it turns out that god hates all the same people you do.

As for Mohler, preaching is heady wine.  It is pleasant to tell people where they get off.

Cheers


Steve Ruble - #39440

November 11th 2010

Martin, if you want to demonstrate that your use of the word “just” is more than an attempt to improve the image of your God of Power, give us an example of something it would be unjust for your God to do.

Your example will need to be something other than:
- punishing the innocent instead of the guilty,
- letting some of the guilty go without punishment,
- punishing some people for the crimes of others,
- choosing favorites in a totally arbitrary way,
- punishing people who were not responsible for their actions, or
- punishing some people to teach other people a lesson.

All of those are things that the God you call “just” has done, as documented by the book you hold to be sacred.  So what do you mean by “just”?


Papalinton - #39441

November 11th 2010

Hi Merv

You say, “In another thread, I similarly asked Papalinton what his “vision” was, and never got a response.”

Sorry Merv must have missed it. 

My vision, exactly like yours minus all the god bits or the attribution to gods. 

Cheers


Martin Rizley - #39551

November 12th 2010

Merv (and Papalinton and Steve),  I don’t remember saying that “God is glorified by the slaughter of children,” and I would not say that, since such a statement makes it sound as if God regularly called for the slaughter of children as a means of ‘glorifying’ Him; that paints an image of Him as a bloodthirsty monster who delights in the screams of children being roasted alive—which was the practice of ancient pagans who offered newborn babies as burnt offerings to their cruel gods.  It was precisely because of such abominable practices, which God detests, that He judged the wicked tribes of Canaan.  The real question, therefore, is, “Was God glorified by the judgment that fell on the Canaanites, even though that judgment necessarily involved the slaying of children and babies?”  The answer to that question is, yes, He was.  Were the Israelites glorifying God when they acted in obedience to His command by waging war on the Canaanites and putting them to the sword—the answer is, yes, they were.  The question that arises from such an affirmation is this, “How could God be glorified by such horrific events, if He is a God of love?”  (contnued)


Martin Rizley - #39553

November 12th 2010

That is a serious question that deserves a serious answer, and it cannot be answered simplistically.  First, it must be remembered that God’s attributes are many and variegated.  The statement, “God is love,” though it is absolutely central to understanding who God is, is not the WHOLE truth about God, as far as the Bible is concerned.  Moreover, different acts of God highlight different aspects of His character, and those aspects of His character most prominently magnified by His judgment on the Canaanites are His truth, righteousness, and justice.  God’s truth was magnified in that event, because it confirmed the truth of God’s warning to sinners that judgment will fall upon them if they refuse to repent of their sins.  It also confirmed the truth that impenitence toward God will result in suffering, not only for ourselves, but for our children, as well.  God has established a moral law which says, “No man is an island; the actions we commit affect those around us—especially those whom we love.”  We cannot spit in God‘s face without our venomous saliva falling back upon us and our children, to our own and their great hurt. (continued)


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