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Ephesians 4:1-6: A Call of Christian Unity, Part 3

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February 11, 2011 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Ross Hastings. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Ephesians 4:1-6: A Call of Christian Unity, Part 3

This series is based on Ross Hastings’ presentation at the Vibrant Dance of Science and Faith Symposium in Austin, TX., October 26, 2010. In part 2, Hastings explored Ephesians 4:1-6, a foundational text for our thinking about Christian unity. Here in part 3, Hastings applies these lessons to the potentially divisive topic of origins, and he explains the importance of emphasizing the core faith that unites all Christians.

The complete essay can be found here.

There are two aspects to this exposition of Ephesians 4:1-6 that are relevant for the science and theology of origins:

United in the faith

We are, I trust, united theologically in the main things that are the plain things—that is, around the essentials of the faith which are developed and more fully expressed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (AD 381), which includes the affirmation “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,” without saying how!

That God created must unite us as we dialogue over how God created.

There is much diversity in the history of the church as to how the world was created. Augustine, for example, believed in fiat creation, but was convinced that Genesis 1 could not be literally interpreted for the simple reason that a twenty-four hour day was too long. Why would God need twenty-four hours to create the animals if they were created ex nihilo or even out of other dust?1

It may come as a shock to many in the Reformed tradition that the theologian best known for his defense of the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures may also have been open to creation by means of divinely supervised evolution.2 I am speaking of B.B. Warfield. To make any viewpoint as to the “how” of creation a matter for determining Christian fellowship is frankly divisive and sectarian or uncatholic.

Whilst we may be convinced we have the best theory of origins at present, and whilst we may be convinced that we are the most intellectually honest or scientifically rigorous, or that we understand the genre and history and authorial intent of Genesis 1 most appropriately—important as these factors are—I venture that the level of certainty due to the nature of the science and the hermeneutics and the theology in this field, is a level of magnitude below that of the creedal assertion that God created and that he in his providence is sovereign over and at work creatively and redemptively in creation.

We Protestants have enough divisions and schisms as it is—we don’t need another one based on the speculative matter of how God created. Rather we must unite on the basis of the fact that the triune God is the Creator. There isn’t a viewpoint represented in the dialogue on origins that doesn’t have some problems associated with it, problems that need to be worked through. Acute curiosity, robust research and careful scholarship in these areas are consonant with the creational or cultural mandate and the command to love God with our minds.

Dialogue between persons of different persuasions is healthy and good—in fact necessary for advancement in the field. But it requires an irenic and peaceful spirit along with an inquiring mind. I feel a particular need to exhort against accusations in the midst of this dialogue that disparage a person’s integrity with regard to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. These “how” discussions between serious minded evangelical believers are not about the authority and inspiration of Scripture, but on appropriate interpretation of Scripture. The Scriptures are authoritative as and only as they are properly interpreted.

Borrowing terminology from Jamie Smith3, another way to say this is that we must distinguish between theology type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is confessional theology, which is pre- and supra-theoretical and which must inform all the disciplines of knowledge, including science. Theology type 2 is more theoretical and speculative.

The first is the rich and unambiguous confession of the church’s faith down through the centuries, expressed in creeds like Ephesians 4 and the ecumenical Creeds rooted in the revelation of God in His Word and affirmed by the historic church. This theology should shape Christian theoretical investigation of the world, including science, and indeed theology type 2. It is when Christians elevate their work in the theology type 2 area to the type 1 category that damage is done to unity and catholicity and therefore the mission of the church. Of course theology type 2 will always be interacting with, shaped by, and subject to theology type 1.

One of the reasons why I devote time to this issue is that it is a very important for missional reasons. First, because our unity in Christ, as the body of Christ around essential issues, is hugely influential for our mission, as Jesus expounds it in his great prayer in John 17, and as I have stated, I feel compelled to call the church to unity on the essential tenet of Christian faith that God is Creator and that he created the universe. There are times when I am tempted to write off others of a persuasion that seems to me unscientific and/or hermeneutically naïve, but I cannot.

The rub here is that commitment to cherished principles comes into conflict when this happens: on the one hand, a commitment to a process of seeking knowledge in this area through the use of fearless reason and research, albeit grounded in faith and tempered by faith and creedal commitments; on the other hand, a commitment to the unity of the body of Christ grounded in the essentials of the historic, orthodox, Trinitarian creeds of the church. This latter principle must win for the serious scientist Christian.

Of course, that immediately distances us from the secular scientific community, who often may not understand that they too have faith commitments that influence reason. It will certainly distance us from evolutionism as an ideology or completely dysteleological (goalless) evolution.

We cannot be one with people of this persuasion in an ecclesial sense, though we will still engage lovingly and humbly with them as image bearers and scientists. We must also see them as people designated by God for the new humanity in Christ. But we are speaking here of an organic and creedal basis for unity that on the one hand includes every Christian devoted to Christ and the essentials of the faith, irrespective of their views on Genesis 1, and that, on the other hand, delimits perspectives outside of this relationship and these commitments.

On these grounds, I would suggest the following very practical exhortations for maintaining the unity and advancing Christ’s mission through his church:

  • Terminating the positions of professors of colleges or seminaries who express perceived problematic views on origins whilst still committed to the authority and inspiration of Scripture and these Creeds, and indeed to the denominational or widely evangelical distinctives of these, is sectarian;

  • Establishing schools where teachers or even students are required to profess one view in this arena is counter to the mission of Christ and therefore sectarian;

  • Accusing opponents of compromising the Deity of Christ publicly on the Internet because they may differ on origins of creation is malicious and a move that grieves the heart of our Great High Priest and his desire for his church to be one, that the world might know him through it. It is after all intended to be the one new humanity, the harbinger of the kingdom of God—the community in which persons can dialogue well and even agree to disagree about non-essential matters.

  • Caricaturing the position of others or falsely representing them is grievous to the Spirit, and inhibits the mission of the church.

  • Uninviting preachers who are committed to evangelical orthodoxy because we discover they hold one of these views in this arena of secondary theology, grieves the Spirit also.

But there is a second concern of a missional kind. It has to do with how we present the gospel. Making literal six-day creationism a condition for saving faith or conversion is adding to the gospel in a way that has possibly been the greatest stumbling block in the way of thinking people for over a century since this viewpoint became popular in American evangelicalism. The Church has all too often buried its head in the sand with respect to scientific reality and we can ill afford a repetition of the crisis that occurred in the wake of the Galileo affair.

Notes

1. St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis (translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J.; 2 vols.; New York: Newman Press, 1982), 1.125-50.
2. In his class lectures, Warfield comments, "I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution. The sole passage which appears to bar the way is the very detailed account of the creation of Eve ... We may as well admit that the account of the creation of Eve is a very serious bar in the way of a doctrine of creation by evolution." Warfield was clear that the origin of the human soul could not be accounted for by evolution. His position in sum seems to be that he did not consider evolutionary theory convincing but stayed open to the possibility that it might be true. "The upshot of the whole matter is that there is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution. To adopt any form that does not permit God freely to work apart from law & wh [??]. does not allow miraculous intervention (in the giving of the soul, in creating Eve, &c) will entail a great reconstruction of Xian doctrine, & a very great lowering of the detailed authority of the Bible. But if we condition the theory by allowing the occasional [crossed out, sic.] constant oversight of God in the whole process, & his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual output of creative force, producing something new ie, something not included even in posse in preceding conditions, -- we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Xians in the ordinary orthodox sense." Warfield, Lectures on Anthropology (Dec. 1888), Speer Library, Princeton University. Quoted in David N. Livingstone, Darwin's Forgotten Defenders (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 118.
3. James K. A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).


Ross Hastings is an associate professor of Pastoral Theology at Regent College, Vancouver British Columbia. Hastings teaches in the areas of the theology and spirituality of mission, pastoral theology and ethics. He has served as a pastor in Kingston, ON, Burnaby, BC, and Montreal, QC, and for eleven years as the senior pastor of Peace Portal Alliance Church in White Rock, BC. He has earned two PhDs, one in organo-metallic chemistry at Queen’s University (ON), and the other in theology at St. Andrew’s University, in his native Scotland. His theological dissertation is a comparative study of the Trinitarian theology of Jonathan Edwards and Karl Barth and is in the publication process.

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GLW Johnson - #50788

February 11th 2011

Dr. Hastings
Like many others you have not read Warfield all that carefully. He did use the term ‘evolution’ but NOT the way Darwinians do. In fact his assessment of Darwinism is very negative. Please see Fred Zaspel’s recently released ‘The Theology of B.B. Warfield’ (Crossway,2010) and the article I wrote ” In Defense of Warfield’ that appeared in ‘The Banner of Truth’ (Aug/Sept 2009).


dopderbeck - #50793

February 11th 2011

GLW—you miss the point by using the loaded phrase “Darwinians.”  Noll and LIvingston’s book on Warfield and evolution seems pretty thorough to me, and Zaspel’s Themelios article strikes me as rather thin, nit-picky, and unconvincing.  This is particularly so since Zaspel seems stuck on the notion that “Darwinism” must mean metaphysically random and “naturalistic” without any God—not a defintion that Noll or Livingston or anyone here on BioLogos would accept, and obviously not one Warfield accepted.  And Zaspel does at least grudingly admit that “What, then, of the Livingstone-Noll thesis that Warfield was a theistic evolutionist? Clearly, Warfield was open to the possibility.”

In any event, at the end of the day, who really cares about the details of what B.B. Warfield thought?  The essential point, with which even Zaspel agrees, is that even a staunch rationalistic inerrantist like Warfield acknowledged that some form of theistic evolution is permissible.  This is in stark contrast to the epistemologically presuppositionalist approach taken by today’s Christian apologists who simply dismiss scientific evidence tout court.  They claim to be Warfield’s heirs, but they are not.


pds - #50796

February 11th 2011

The list is rather one-sided, it seems.  I would add:

Do not label other Christian scientists “highly incompetent” in their profession, merely because they are skeptical of some aspects of evolutionary theory based on the scientific evidence.

See here:

http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/biologos-takes-the-position-that-michael-behe-is-highly-incompetent-in-his-professional-field/

I strongly agree with the point “Caricaturing the position of others or falsely representing them is grievous to the Spirit . . .”  Biologos would do well to heed this, as discussed here:

http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/category/fact-checking-biologos/


pds - #50799

February 11th 2011

Dopderbeck,

Warfield spoke of “evolution” very differently than the folks at Biologos do.  He was highly skeptical in much of his writings.  He sounds closer to ID proponents, but I encourage readers to look at his primary texts and decide for themselves.

Go here or search for “Warfield” on my blog.  I posted the full text of a review he wrote.

http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/b-b-warfields-review-of-james-orrs-book/


dopderbeck - #50801

February 11th 2011

pds—that may or may not be true; I’ve read many of the primary texts recited in Noll and Livingston’s book and the differences do not seem that dramatic to me.  What differences there are seem to me to result primarily from historical context—Warfield was a product of 19th century ways of thinking in theology, culture, science and so on.  Obviously he wouldn’t have thought of things exactly as we might today.  No big surprise there.

But the main point is that even Warfield, the grandfather of the rationalistic approach to scripture that underwrites the “fundamentalist” side of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy (and I use “fundamentalist” here historically and not pejoratively), was open to some notion of “evolution,” which is not the case whatsoever for most of his presumptive heirs.  Most significantly, Warfield and the other Old Princetonians were not hostile to culture.  They were, after all, postmillennialists, who expected “sacred” and “natural” knowledge to come together in a sort of grand progress.  This is without doubt light years from today’s fundamentalism.

And rather than focusing on the minitiae of Warfield historiography, though, maybe we should think more about Dr. Hastings’ main point.


Pete Enns - #50810

February 11th 2011

dopderbeck,

My own research the matter confirms your observations, for what that is worth.

And yes, by all means, lets all try to keep a focus on the heart of what Hastings is trying to say.


pds - #50823

February 11th 2011

Dopderbeck and Pete,

I never said that Warfield’s views matched those of today’s YEC’s.  You seem to be missing my point:

>>>Warfield spoke of “evolution” very differently than the folks at Biologos do.  He was highly skeptical in much of his writings.  He sounds closer to ID proponents, but I encourage readers to look at his primary texts and decide for themselves.<<

<

He was not out to "sell" evolution to the Christian community, which seems to be the mission of Biologos. For example:

“The formal completeness of the logical theory of Darwinism is fairly matched, therefore, by its almost ludicrous actual incompetence for the work asked of it.” -- B.B. Warfield.

http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/b-b-warfield-on-darwinian-evolution-ludicrous-actual-incompetence-for-the-work-asked-of-it/


Pete Enns - #50826

February 11th 2011

pds

I believe David’s point was that Warfield lived at a different historical moment, which is no small factor in the point being raised here re: Warfield.

There is no question that Warfield was more open to the idea of evolution vis-a-vis some who are trying to follow in his footsteps today, whether otr not he was trying to “sell” it

But, once again, BBW is hardly the focal point of Ross’s essay.


Ben Wheaton - #50857

February 11th 2011

Warfield aside, I’m not sure that Hastings’ comments solve the problem of unity around the issue of evolution in the church.  For one thing, there are parts of elemental orthodoxy at stake.  An historical Fall, substitutionary atonement, inspiration of Scripture, and Adam are all issues that are possibly affected by evolution.  It is these issues, and not merely “how God created” that is causing the ruckus.

Of course, Hastings guarded himself against this by saying that so long as credal orthodoxy is held, there should be no action; and I agree.  However, how do we define “orthodoxy?”  To begin with the doctrine of scripture: is Karl Giberson’s notion of “progressive revelation” orthodox?  In my opinion, no.  Neither is dopderdeck’s “dynamic infallibilism.”  So it is all very well to say that we shouldn’t divide over secondary issues like how God created, but there are more important things at stake in this debate than that.


JWF - #50863

February 12th 2011

Ben Wheaton,

You bring up some important aspects of orthodoxy that, I agree, we must consider in light of evolution. An historical Fall, inspiration of Scripture, and the historicity of Adam have all been discussed at length here at BioLogos and elsewhere, so I’ve had some time to thing through these particular aspects.

I’m curious, however, about your thoughts on substitutionary atonement. Could you elaborate a bit more on this particular point? I can see how evolution might affect the other three points, but I’ve never felt that evolution threatened substitutionary atonement.

I’m not disagreeing, but merely trying to understand your concern. Thanks for your thoughts. These are the kind of things we need to wrestle with.


Martin Rizley - #50867

February 12th 2011

Dr. Hastings,
I apprecitate the quote from Warfield in your footnotes, because it shows how very much his views on the subject of evolution differed from that of various writers on the Biologos website.  He believed that one could be theologically orthodox and hold to a ‘modified’ view of evolutionary theory which did not close the door on miraculous divine intervention in nature and which did not deny either the existence of the human soul or the special creation of Eve.  Since he believed in a literal Adam and Eve, he also believed in a literal fall;  and no doubt, he would have regarded any denial of the historic fall of man into sin through Adam as a serious departure from orthodox Christianity.  Would you follow him in placing this definite limit on what constitutes orthodox Christian belief?  Do you believe that a person can deny the historic fall of mankind into sin through Adam and remain within the pale of Christian orthodoxy?  (By historic fall,  I mean a ‘point in time’ fall of the entire human race into sin through the one sin of one man, just as Paul teaches in Romans 5.)


Paul D. - #50886

February 12th 2011

Since when is substitutionary atonement (an abominable doctrine in my opinion) elemental orthodoxy? The Orthodox church doesn’t believe in it, for one thing.


nedbrek - #50894

February 12th 2011

Paul, Orthodox (captial O) and orthodox (lowercase o) are two radically different things.

I was recently given an “Orthodox Study Bible”.  It is a very interesting read - particularly their view of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.  What disappointed me the most was their view that the Reformation was not a step closer to the “truest” church, but rather a step further away from Rome (who had deviated from the true Orthodoxy).


dopderbeck - #50907

February 12th 2011

Ben Wheaton—if you define “orthodoxy” as you seem to do, then you are correct, I’m afraid:  there is probably no way to reconcile that with the contemporary natural sciences.

However—and I think this is Dr. Hastings’ main point—the distinctives you list, particularly as defined coming out of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, are not essential to basic Christian orthodoxy.

These things are not in the Nicene Creed:

the “historicity” of Adam and the Fall

The verbal plenary inspiration and total inerracy of scripture

the “literal-grammatical-historical” hermeneutic

Substitutionary atonement.

Certainly, woven throughout the Nicene Creed, is the basic Biblical truth that all humans are sinful and that Christ uniquely suffered and died for our sins.  And certainly, all the dogmatic loci you mention—sin, scripture, and atonement—are vitally important.  But historically Christians have worked out what these mean in different ways, as the Eastern Orthodox tradition amply demonstrates.

So, Ben, you are effectively insisting that only Protestant Fundamentalists are historically orthodox—a proposition that is ahistorical and that requires YECism, and that thereby doubly falsifies the Christian faith.


Ben Wheaton - #50913

February 12th 2011

I’m not suggesting that only Protestant Fundamentalists are only historically orthodox, dopderdeck.  For one thing, I would then define myself out of Christianity, given that I do not consider myself a Fundamentalist.  I am frankly rather appalled that you think that the points I mentioned, namely the Fall, substitutionary atonement, and the authority of scripture, are secondary to orthodoxy.  I would suggest, as well, that the Nicene Creed is not sufficient to define orthodoxy; we need the Apostle’s creed as well (and this I think Hastings would agree with), and in it we have the statement “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” something which I interpret as implying substitutionary atonement and an historical fall.

You badly misinterpreted me when you claimed that I think that YECism is necessary for orthodoxy.  “Doubly falsifying the Christian faith?”  Get a life, dopderdeck.

JWF, I agree that evolution does not necessarily threaten substitutionary atonement; but there are some who believe that evolution requires the denial of ransom and penal elements of the atonement and the retention of only the moral exemplar and “Christus Victor” elements (there was a problem at Calvin College a while ago about this, I think).


Ben Wheaton - #50914

February 12th 2011

Oh, and dopderdeck, I would suggest you take to heart one of Hastings’ points:

“Caricaturing the position of others or falsely representing them is grievous to the Spirit, and inhibits the mission of the church.”


dopderbeck - #50921

February 12th 2011

Ben—sigh.  Read your own admonition, brother, because you are misrepresenting what I said.  What I said was that precisely how we understand the fall, or the authority of scripture, or the precise nature of the atonement, are secondary to orthodoxy.  And that is entirely correct. 

You mentioned a “historical” fall and “Adam” and the “inspiration of scripture” in your original post.  And you specifically said my approach to the inspiration and authority of scripture is not orthodox.  I don’t know how to read this other than as an assertion that very specific views about the nature of the fall, the inspiration of scripture, and the atonement are essential to orthodoxy.

Is that not what you meant?  If not, then I apologize because I misunderstood you.  But if so, then you are now apparently saying something very different.

Finally, I fail to see who “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” implies all that you say it implies, particularly since that is not necessarily the case for the Eastern Orthodox.

BTW, I personally believe the substitutionary model of the atonement is valid.  But I’m not willing to call all the Eastern Orthodox heretics for how they understand it.  Are you?


Martin Rizley - #50922

February 12th 2011

Doderbeck, 
I would agree with Ben Wheaton that it is not sufficient to limit the essentials of the Christian faith to what is explicitly stated in the Nicene Creed or the Apostle’s Creed.  By that definition, what a person believes about justification is not essential to orthodoxy—even though Paul teaches in Galatians that a wrong view of justification, such as that promoted by the Judaizers,  constitutes ‘a different gospel.’  Moreover, if one defines orthodoxy solely in terms of what is explicitly stated in the Apostle’s Creed, for example,  then on that basis, Mormons might lay claim to being orthodox , since they do not deny that God the Father is the almighty “Maker of heaven and earth.”  They simply believe there are other gods that have created other worlds, a position that the Apostle’s Creed says nothing against explciitly.  To say that the historicity of Adam and the fall is not essential to orthodoxy is to say that one can have a proper view of salvation without a having proper view of sin’s nature or origin, which I seriously doubt.  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #50923

February 12th 2011

For example, if someone said “Mankind did not ‘fall’ into sin but was sinful from the beginning as an aspect of its created humanity, then such an individual cannot have a proper understanding of Christ’s redemptive work, because Jesus did not die to save us from our “created humanity” but from the ethical rebellion and resulting objective guilt before a holy God that became a reality for human beings at a point subsequent to their creation by God.  What Christ saves us from is not simply the daily struggles wih sin and temptation that arise from our created humanity—someone can believe that and not be a Christian at all.  What Christ saves us from is, first and foremost, our condemned status as guilty sinners in Adam, from which we are delivered ‘once for all’ by God’s justifying decree; then sin’s complete dominion over our hearts and lives as ‘slaves of sin;’  then the particular sins that flow out of our fallen condition in Adam.  So the issue of what is essential to the faith is much more complex than simply being able to mouth the words of the Apostle’s Creed.


dopderbeck - #50934

February 12th 2011

Martin—you are wrong on numerous counts.  It seems to me that most of these mistakes reflect an assumption that only a certain variety of Reformed theology is “orthodox.”

Mormons cannot confess the Apostle’s Creed because they do not believe in the Trinity.

A belief that sin is consciously chosen rebellion and not merely a part of our “created humanity” does not require belief in a single historical fall or a literal Adam.

What Christ saves us from is not, “first and foremost, our condemned status as guilty sinners in Adam,” but rather it is rather from our own sins, for which we are each personally responsible, as well as from the condition of humanity resulting from our common humanity (that is, we all inevitably sin and we all inevitably die).  None of this requires belief in a single historical fall or a literal Adam.

Paul’s anathema was not concerning a particular formulation of of justification as a doctrinal matter but against practices that excluded Gentiles from the community by denying the efficacy of Christ.

It seems to me that you would exclude both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics from your definition of “orthodoxy.”  Correct?


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