On Adopting a BioLogos Faith Statement

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September 20, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity

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

On Adopting a BioLogos Faith Statement

Note: Since the publishing of these posts, BioLogos has adopted a “We Believe” statement. You can find it here.

We frequently are asked why BioLogos doesn’t post a faith statement. People want to know: “Just what do you believe, anyway?”

This is not an easy thing to do given that BioLogos is a place for conversation among people of diverse viewpoints and traditions. The BioLogos staff members represent assorted backgrounds in the protestant evangelical tradition. Our current church affiliations include for example, fellowships which are Calvinistic, Baptist, Anabaptist, and Wesleyan. Furthermore, the BioLogos community as a whole is even broader than that. BioLogos is a place for conversation among Christians—a very broad umbrella for a wide set of theological perspectives.

So even though the task, given our diversity, is somewhat challenging let’s see if we can start on the journey to a faith statement. For example, what about our view of Scripture?

My own personal view of Scripture, is consistent with the Articles of Faith derived from the Manual of my own evangelical denomination:

We understand [that] the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, [are] given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation.

This is similar to that found in the Statement of Fundamental Truths of another much larger evangelical fellowship:

The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct.

I wonder if a statement like one of these would serve us well?

Alternatively, I am sometimes asked whether BioLogos subscribes to the The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy signed by over 300 leading evangelicals in 1978. In the way this question gets posed to me, it has almost seemed that the questioner considers it to be a litmus test for my orthodoxy.

Article XII of the statement includes the following:

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

So can “scientific hypotheses about earth history…overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood?” I suppose how we answer the question depends upon who is doing the teaching about creation and the flood. If it is incorrect teaching, then science does help point us to what God really did and how God really did it. There is no question in my mind that there is considerable well-meaning, but nonetheless highly erroneous teaching being carried out by some of evangelicalism’s leaders. Science does help to expose those who are teaching untruths about what God wants to convey through Scripture. So I almost agree with this statement. Scientific hypotheses (if accurate) will not overturn correct teaching of Scripture.

Perhaps we should adopt the Chicago statement with the proviso that we add one word: “we deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the correct teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.” I think I could be comfortable with that.

What about the first part? Is the Bible infallible in the assertions it makes about science? When it comes to God’s purposes and what God wants to say through Scripture, the Bible is inerrant. However, put simply, it doesn’t make any scientific assertions, and if we think it does it is because we’re not interpreting it correctly. So the biblical assertions about science are indeed infallible, a point which is moot because the Bible, properly understood, makes none. Wow! It seems that I am getting close to accepting the Chicago statement!

Still I wonder why Billy Graham didn’t sign the statement? And I wonder why leaders of my denomination (and the other denomination referred to above) didn’t either? Weren’t they evangelicals also? Let’s be careful about attaching too much significance to statements and let’s not make them litmus tests for orthodoxy.

What about original sin? Did it arise through the sin of a specific historical couple, Adam and Eve, or does it represent the human condition in some general sense—humankind’s own sinfulness which alienates us from God and is in need of redemption? We at BioLogos believe that God created human beings through the evolutionary process, and, based on unambiguous scientific data; we also believe that Adam and Eve were not the sole biological progenitors of the human race. This does not rule out the possibility of two unique historical human beings named Adam and Eve who were singled out by God for special relationship. So, many in the BioLogos community including BioLogos staff members would view Adam and Eve as literal historical persons. Others would take the more generic position that the story of Adam and Eve is the story of the human condition which is in need of redemption.

So, how about this for a faith statement regarding original sin?

We believe that sin came into the world through the disobedience of our first parents, and death by sin. We believe that sin is of two kinds: original sin or depravity, and actual or personal sin.

Most automatically picture “Adam and Eve” when they think “first parents.” However, if evolution is true, then “first parents” goes way back and their separation from God becomes our separation— part of human nature. This statement also, of course, could refer very specifically to Adam and Eve, real historical persons who, although not the biological progenitors of all humankind, were the first to have the potential to enter into relationship with God—and thereby the first to disobey. Still others will think of this statement about Adam and Eve as not just our first spiritual parents, but our first biological parents as well.

The problem with faith statements is that they can take on a life of their own. This one happens to be a direct quote from the Articles of Faith of my own denomination, and I have little doubt that the use of this vague wording was done on purpose so that the specific mechanism of creation did not become a centerpiece. The centerpiece is our own sinful nature and our need for restoration.

So we could develop a faith statement and we may, but it needs to be inclusive; it needs to reflect the fact that we are a broad collection of Christ followers who only will one thing—to follow him wherever He leads. We can work long and hard on a faith statement. But let’s be careful. Let’s ensure first of all that together we share the same vision. It is that which matters most of all. Here’s a vision statement which is worth infinitely more to us than trying to come up with the perfect faith statement. It comes from a 1200 year old hymn. My hope and prayer is that we won’t have to finagle about the precise wording of this statement. Let’s just adopt it. My hope and prayer for all of us in the BioLogos community is that this statement will become the heart of what we’re about both personally and corporately.

BioLogos is a place for conversation, but if Christ is not our vision, we have nothing to talk about. If Christ is not our vision then we will only be a resounding gong and a clanging cymbal.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

We may not have a faith statement, but we do have a vision statement, even if it is not an official one. Hold us accountable. If we fail to keep this vision in front of us, all else is futile. Philippians 3:8-10 summarizes this especially well and, in the biblical quotation below, I have taken the liberty of substituting Paul’s “I,” with our collective first person plural

We consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, for whose sake we have lost all things. We consider them rubbish, that we may gain Christ and be found in him, not a righteousness of our own…we want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings becoming like him in his death so, somehow, to attain the resurrection of the dead.

O that we will never lose sight of this vision as God continues to help us define where the BioLogos conversation ought to go.


Darrel Falk is former president of The BioLogos Foundation. He transitioned into Christian higher education 25 years ago and has given numerous talks about the relationship between science and faith at many universities and seminaries. He is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.

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Martn Rizley - #31318

September 22nd 2010

John,  What I am saying is that words means nothing without content.  The question is, what does someone mean by what they say?  For example, when someone says that they believe God raised Jesus from the dead, do they simply mean that they believe Jesus’ ‘spirit’ lives on in the lives of those who follow Him, or do they mean that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead on Easter morning and left the tomb empty?    If they don’t believe the latter,  then they don’t really believe the apostolic gospel, despite the formal agreement of their words with the words of the apostles.  Francis Schaeffer was right—biblical terminology can be used to undermine the apostolic faith and promote heresy.  We must always look deeper and ask what people mean by the words they use; and if a person stumbles over belief in the virgin birth, I have no doubt that they would stumble over other articles in the Apostle’s Creed, as well, according to their intended meaning.  After all, which is harder to believe, that a child was conceived without a human father, or that a dead man whose heart had burst came to life again and walked out of a tomb?  Aren’t both events equally ‘impossible’ from a naturalistic standpoint?


John VanZwieten - #31324

September 22nd 2010

Martin,

I agree with you that trusting in the risen Christ as Lord must have content behind the words.

I also know that people who really are trusting the “empty tomb” risen Christ as Lord often continue to hold many beliefs that you and I would agree are “heretical.”  This often depends on their background and their stage of growth in the faith.

Would I invite them to teach a group in my church?  No.  But neither do I place myself as judge over whether or not they are truly a brother in Christ.

if a person stumbles over belief in the virgin birth, I have no doubt that they would stumble over other articles in the Apostle’s Creed, as well, according to their intended meaning.

Fortunately for them, your doubts about them have no impact on their righteous standing before God based on Christ’s righteousness.  As someone who takes scripture so literally in other cases, I’m surprised you so readily dismiss Paul’s clear delination of what is required for salvation.


Martin Rizley - #31336

September 22nd 2010

John,  Well, I really am not making a final judgment about anyone and their standing before God.  I agree with you that we are saved through trusting Christ alone, and that true Christians may question some very basic Christian beliefs, owing to their background or insidious influences around them.  Some of the Corinthian Christians questioned the future resurrection of all believers, for which Paul rebuked them.  What I am saying is that church membership and recognition by one’s fellow believers as being truly ‘in the faith’ does require one to uphold certain doctrinal beliefs that are foundational to the faith.  If one of the Corinthians who questioned the resurrection rejected Paul’s loving admonition and began vociferously to deny the resurrection, it would be grounds for church discipline and ultimately, for excommunication from the church.  I am saying that I believe the doctrine of Christ’s virgin birth is like that.  If someone denies it and starts promoting that denial through teaching, they justly merit being labelled a “false teacher” by orthodox Christians, regardlessness of what their personal standing might be before God.  God alone makes FINAL judgments; but the church must make PRACTICAL judgments.


John VanZwieten - #31351

September 22nd 2010

Martin,

It is interesting that Paul rebuked the Corinthians about such a fundamental tenent of the faith after writing this to them:

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

So even confusion or disbelief about an issue contained within the Apostle’s Creed did not lead Paul to reject those Corinthians as brothers in Christ.  Yes he rebuked them in order to correct them, not to cut them off.  That’s not to say he never would have cut them off, if as you say they persisted in promoting false teaching “vociferously.”  But I think Paul’s motivation would have been to protect others from the harmful teaching, not to build walls due to incorrect personal belief.

Count me in with DWM on this one: What really matters is our commitment to follow Jesus. Give me a doctrinal agnostic (on fringe issues) who lives a Christlike life over a person who makes strict orthodoxy his life motivation any day!


Martin Rizley - #31362

September 22nd 2010

John,  When Paul told the Corinthian church to put out a sinning brother from their midst in chapter 5, he did so, not only to protect the church itself from being corrupted, but also, to recover the sinning brother from the path of error.  The church has a solemn responsibility to make such practical judgments regarding its own members when someone persists in the path of error, as Paul makes clear in 5:12-13.  To do so, does not imply a lack of love.  I agree that our first response to someone who is embracing serious doctrinal or moral error should be to seek their recovery by patient instruction.  But seminary professors who deny things like the virgin birth do not do so generally because they are new, untaught Christians who are ignorant of the Bible’s teaching.  As a general rule, they make those denials in the face of great light and knowledge.  That’s why they merit a much sterner rebuke than the newcomer to the faith.  That doctrinal error is a serious matter is clear from what Paul says to the Corinthians about their denial of the resurrection: “Awake to righteousness and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God.”  Thankfully, we don’t have to choose between being Christlike or agnostics!


Martin Rizley - #31365

September 22nd 2010

correction:  that last sentence should read, “Thankfully, we don’t have to choose between being Christlike in character or orthodox in faith.”  In other words, Christlikeness does not require us to remain doctrinal agnostics.  Ideally, orthodoxy and orthopractice should go together!


RBH - #31373

September 22nd 2010

Writing as a bystander, I’d suggest that commenters distinguish between “scientific” claims and “fact” claims.

“Scientific” claims are of the form ‘this phenomenon that is to be explained is a member of that class of phenomena, and our research and corroborated theory say that the phenomenon is explained by the action of those natural causal variables.’

“Fact” claims are of the form “This phenomenon occurred at thus and such a time and place.”

So the sun standing still for Joshua’s benefit is a fact claim, and the explanation of that fact claim that invokes a geocentric solar system with a fixed earth and God acting to stop the sun is an attempt to provide a partly (but obviously not wholly) scientific explanation of that occurrence.

This paper, however, considers what scripture regards as a fact claim which is explained in the Bible by a supernatural cause and attempts to explain it in terms of purely naturalistic processes, making it a proposed scientific explanation for a scriptural fact claim.  (See also PZ Myers’ commentary on it.)


Bilbo - #31381

September 22nd 2010

Darrel: “We believe that sin came into the world through the disobedience of our first parents, and death by sin. We believe that sin is of two kinds: original sin or depravity, and actual or personal sin.”

I’ll ask a second time, is this a statement that all the members of Biologos agree with?


RG - #31384

September 22nd 2010

The link to Justin Taylor’s blog was garbled.
SCAN:

Sufficiency of Scripture
Grudem: “The idea that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at stage of redemptive history and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.” [I’m not happy with the “perfectly”. I think the Spirit has a role!]

Clarity of Scripture
Grudem: “The idea that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who read it seeking God’s help and are willing to follow it”

Authority of Scripture
Grudem: “The idea that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.” [This assumes perfect interpretation on the part of the reader, of course. Fortunately, most teachings affecting faith and daily living are not unclear]

Necessity of Scripture
Grudem: “The idea that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about his character and moral laws.”


RG - #31387

September 22nd 2010

(cont)
“Inerrancy”, in the strictest sense, noticeably absent.


Gabriel Powell - #31635

September 23rd 2010

Here is why BioLogos needs a some kind of statement of affirmations and denials. BioLogos has put itself out there as a group of intellectuals pushing an agenda, namely, the propagation of Evolution among Christians. Though BioLogos sometimes says it is only interested in discussion, those statements are betrayed by other clear statements on the website that explicitly state a clear agenda.

Therefore, when BioLogos posts articles, the reader must assume, unless there is reason not to, that the content is supported by BioLogos and contributes to their agenda. Last I checked, there aren’t any Young Earth articles, or any that defend a literal Adam and Eve created by dust at some point in time.

If BioLogos wants to post material that it does not agree with, then there must be a way to know whether they agree with it; either by a disclaimer at the top, or a statement somewhere on the website. Otherwise BioLogos themselves open the door to criticism and attributions of what they believe.

If discussion is the desire, then why not have YEC contributors? Or even OEC that don’t believe in Evolution?


Gabriel Powell - #31636

September 23rd 2010

BioLogos needs to define itself either as a moderated chat room with no responsibility for the content posted, or as a group with an agenda. It seems to want to do both, but it can’t.


Darrel Falk - #31649

September 23rd 2010

#31635 “Though BioLogos sometimes says it is only interested in discussion, those statements are betrayed by other clear statements on the website that explicitly state a clear agenda.”

Gabriel,

We welcome discussion, but I hope we’ve never said we are ‘only interested in discussion.’  We do have an agenda.  BioLogos exists to show that mainstream science and Christianity can exist in harmony.  Young earth creationism and old earth creationism (no common descent) are in no way consistent with mainstream science.  Although we all know many very fine people in each of these categories, we exist to lovingly show that the ideas they hold are highly misguided.

Darrel


Mairnéalach - #31692

September 24th 2010

Dear Frank Turk

1. You accuse Christians of doing things “for the sake of watering down the faith”. Ascribing motives.

2. You accuse Christians of “abandoning secondary issues” when these ones have not abandoned them at all. They are tackling them voraciously.

3. You accuse Christians of cowardice or laziness “when the going gets tough intellectually or professionally.” By this you mean to accuse certain Christians of caving in to general secular learning because they are afraid of the opinions of men, of losing their job, or afraid of doing hard intellectual work. In fact, some of these Christians suffer mock and ridicule in their professional environments. Some of them are doing very difficult intellectual work, no laziness. Some are not afraid at all of men’s opinions. Some have stated their opinions because they come by them honestly. You also know full well that the exact danger exists in your chosen sphere—men will lose their jobs if they accept much modern science. Therefore, the exact same pressures exist for you and your cronies. By accusing only your opponents of being subject to such pressures, you demonstrate an astonishing lack of awareness of the capacity for professional cowardice in your own heart.


Martin Rizley - #31712

September 24th 2010

Darrel, 
Gabriel has a point.  Why should evangelicals who believe in the complete truthfulness of Scripture be interested in taking advice on how the evangelical faith should be modified from an organization that refuses even to take a clear stand on what it means to be a Christian?  Biologos has no difficulty being dogmatic on what people should believe about science; why can’t it take the a similarly firm stance on what people must believe to be considered Christian? To expect evangelicals to take advice from Mr. Mystery on how their faith should be revised is sort of like expecting Muslims to take advice from non-Muslims on how their Muslim faith should be revised.  Most Muslims understand that attempts by non-Muslims to ‘expurgate’ the Koran of offensive teachings is really an attack on Islam itself—and they are right!  Honest Christians do not urge Muslims to modify their faith by lowering their view of the Koran’s authority;  they urge them to abandon Islam altogether by turning from Mohammed to Christ!  If Biologos were truly ‘up front’ about its agenda (continued)


Martin Rizley - #31714

September 24th 2010

it would not ask evangelicals to make a few minor adjustments in their theology by modifying their understanding of the first eleven chapters of the Bible only; they would ask them to abandon historic evangelicalism altogether by turning from the inerrant Christ of evangelicalism to the errant Christ of the Biologos religion.  Ultimately, what we are really being confronted with on this website is a choice between two different ‘Christs’—the biblical Christ, who teaches truth without error whenever He opens His mouth (John 3:12, 12:47-50), and the Biologos Christ, who manages to say much that is true while simultaneously giving voice to the prejudices, superstitions and erroneous beliefs of His culture.  It is we fallen human creatures who must separate the wheat from the chaff among the sayings of Christ.  You may object to that by saying that many of the staff at the Biologos Foundation have evangelical convictions.  As long as the Biologos Foundation itself refuses to adopt any statement of faith, however, there is no reason to regard it as an ‘evangelical’ organization, or this website as anything other than a forum of discussion for religionists of all stripes.


DWD - #31766

September 24th 2010

Martin, thanks for responding seriously. I appreciate your comments on the necessity, in your view, of accepting all apostolic doctrines, and a very certain interpretation of those doctrines, in order to be accepted into the Christian community.  I do not agree, as I believe that Christian faith is all about Jesus Christ and our actual ongoing relationship with Him, our living God, that ultimately matters. The Bible reveals Jesus, the God-man, to me, and the Church exists as His body, to promote His work on earth and not to legislate who is or is not admitted to an elite fellowship. I think the virgin birth stories, so typical of mythology in that age, MAY be an add-on to add hero quality to the stories of Jesus. I think that the developing character of Satan MAY be a personification of the very real force of evil in our world. I remain comfortably agnostic on these doctrines while being totally awed and challenged by the person of Jesus. I think biblical writers expressed their experiences based on their own cultural understandings - yet God HAS given us intellectual tools and inspiration to discern universal truth from the Bible as well as from his ongoing revelation. continued


DWD - #31769

September 24th 2010

No matter how hard I try, I cannot honestly and deeply accept some doctrines as true, not because of intellectual pride but simply because the evidence points a different way. After long struggling, I came to realize that dedicating my life to follow the example of Jesus and letting Him be Lord in my life is what matters. To be like Jesus - that is God’s intent for humankind, and I know you agree. My walk has been one of working through complexity to simplicity and I now have an authentic faith in which I do not have to give lip service to something I don’t really really believe or find to be essential.
  We need the church, we need theologians, we need the Bible to keep us centered and to keep discussion open, as Christianity does require constant re-interpretation as culture evolves. It always has.


Martin Rizley - #31777

September 25th 2010

DWD,  Thanks for your response.  One final thought about the virgin birth of Christ.  You suggest this element in early Christian teaching may have originated as an “add on,” to give hero quality to the character of Jesus, since this was typical theme of ancient mythologies.  Let me just ask you to read once again the prologue of Luke’s gospel, in which he claims to be writing his gospel as the fruit of historical investigation, presumably through consulting people who were in a position to know the facts of Jesus’ life (the ‘eyewitnesses’ he mentions in 1:2).  Now, it is precisely this gospel that tells us so much about the circumstances surrounding Jesus birth.  Clearly, Luke was claiming to write the actual history of how Jesus came into the world; so it would be difficult to interpret the virgin birth narrative as anything other than a sober historical account of Jesus birth.  So while ancient mythologies may have contained stories of virgin births, it seems hard to place Luke’s writing in the same category by saying that his intention was not to give us historical facts but to ‘elevate’ Jesus’ status through an invented story, parable, or myth.


Martin Rizley - #31869

September 25th 2010

DWD,  One reason I believe the virgin birth is important is because it points to the discontinuity between Jesus and ourselves in terms of His ontological status.  If Jesus, in His origin, was a mere man like ourselves who subsequently was ‘adopted’ by God as His Son and so became a ‘window’ through which we can see the character of God (which was the view of the Ebionites, an early sect that denied Jesus’ eternal deity), then one would expect Him to be bon in the ‘normal way.’  But if Jesus is ontologically different from us from the beginning, in that He existed eternally as God before coming to earth, and was sent into this world by the Father on a mission of mercy by taking to Himself a human nature, then a virginal birth would point to the discontinuity between His ‘assumed’ humanity and our ‘innate’ humanity.  To affirm that Jesus was and is “fully” human is not to suggest that He ever was “merely” human.  The virgin birth underscores the supernatural character of His Person from the beginning, the fact that He was fully God and fully man from the moment of His conception.  It is such a Savior we need, who is able to save us by the same divinely sovereign grace and power by which He made the universe.


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