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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 BioLogos and currently serves as BioLogos' Senior Advisor for Dialog. He is Professor of Biology, Emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University and serves as Senior Fellow at The Colossian Forum. Falk is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #32000

September 25th 2010

Martin,

I se where you are coming from but I do not see where the Bible states that Jesus speaks inerrantly on all things, including science.  Jesus did say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father, but by Me.”  Here that it is clear that Jesus is the Truth, not His words, and the Way is the Way to God, not the Way to Science.

The two passages you cite also point the way to spiritual Truth, not scientific truth.  If Jesus had come to show us the way to scientific truth, He could done so, but He did not.

For me the key passage on this question is found in Hebrew 4:15 where it says that Jesus was tempted in every respect as we are, and yet is without sin.  It does not say that Jesus was tempted every way that we are except He was omniscient and omnipotent, as we are not.  It says Jesus was tempted in every way exactly as we are, and yet is without sin.  Thus His perfection and divinity was in He was without sin, and was spiritually perfect, not that He was without scientific error.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #32001

September 25th 2010

Part 2

We can be like Christ, but we cannot be free from scientific ignorance.  We can know God, in that we know Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, two Persons of the Trinity leading us to the Father and still not be scientific geniuses. 

The Bible does not dis science by not making Jesus a scientific genius, but it does put our priorities straight.  First things first.  Salvation and righteousness must take priority over knowledge.  Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.


Martin Rizley - #32058

September 26th 2010

Roger,  Let me first of all say that I certainly agree with you about the importance of having our priorities in order.  Knowledge does have the natural tendency (because of pride) to puff us up and make us feel self-sufficient, whereas knowledge edifies.  We are not saved by the perfection of our theological understanding, but by our reliance on Christ to save us from our sins.  I also agree that Jesus’ purpose in coming was to speak to us the truth necessary for our salvation and for living a godly life before God, not to instruct us on all the mysteries of science.  However, I would qualify that by saying that, when Jesus made a statement with scientific implications, such as affirming the historical existence of such people as Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matthew 22:32, 23:35, 24:37) or such historical events as God’s institution of marriage in the Garden of Eden (Matthew 19:4-8), then we have every right to accept His the straightforward meaning of His statement as reliable and true, no matter what that means in terms of having to revise fallible human theories about the ancient past based on naturalistic science (continued).


Martin Rizley - #32060

September 26th 2010

The only alternative to that, I believe, is that we must give to science the authority to revise the plain sense of Jesus’ teaching, and thus, we never arrive at a sense of finality regarding our understanding of Jesus’ words (or the Bible’s teaching) because of our willingness to subject the interpretation of Scripture to the ever-changing paradigms of science.  The problem, as I see it, is that it is very hard (if not impossible) to separate spiritual truth from historical truth, by saying that Jesus spoke authoritatively in the former area, but not in the latter.  I have never talked to anyone who believed that Jesus taught historical error who did not end up saying that Jesus’ theology, His view of God, or His ethics, were also to some degree ‘warped’ by the limitations of His Jewish culture.  For example, those who deny that God created a first man and then afterward created the woman from the substance of the man’s body, often have a hard time affirming the man’s headship over the woman in the marriage relationship and male leadership in the church, precisely because they deny the historical truth of male/female origins on which Paul bases His teaching concerning gender roles (continued)


Martin Rizley - #32061

September 26th 2010

Likewise, those who deny that there was a first man, and the organic connection of all mankind to that first man, inevitably start having problems believing in a historic fall in the past, and that leads to futile attempts to revise (or even jettison)  the doctrine of original sin, etc.  So I have come to the conclusion that Jesus teachings, interpreted in a straightforward manner, must take priority in every area of knowledge over the fallible writings of men.  Moreover, I believe that Jesus, being truth incarnate, speaks only truth, and that He prohibits (in John 12:47-50) any distinction we might be tempted to make between the truth of His Person and the truth of His words, for He makes our acceptance of His Person contingent on the acceptance of His words.  Although there were certainly things that He did not know in His human nature, because it was God’s will for Him to remain ignorant of those things, He never based His spoken teachings on ignorance or error.  As He put it, “I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.. . .therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told me, so I speak”


Roger A. Sawtelle - #32092

September 26th 2010

Martin,

I am glad that we agree many things, however I must insist that we make a clear distinction between science and history.  The Bible is a book of history. The Hebrews thought historically, but of course this is not “world history,” but God’s salvation history. 

The Greeks thought in terms of ideas and philosophy.  They tried to understand the nature of reality and the nature of Being.  The Greeks were primarily concerned with the natural, physical world, while the Hebrews were more concerned about the human and spiritual world.  Christianity to a large extent merged these two worlds, but it is a serious mistake to impose a modern, scientific point of view on an ancient Hebrew understanding of reality. 

You say that Jesus makes the acceptance of His Person contingent on the acceptance of His words.  That is not what that passage says.  First of all Jesus says, “The one who rejects Me and does not receive my words….”  The first step is to reject Jesus, and that always means not as a person, but rejects Jesus as the Messiah or Savior.  If one rejects Jesus as the Messiah, the Key to God’s plan of history, then there is no need to accepts His words or commands.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #32096

September 26th 2010

Part 2

The other thing is that the meaning of “words” here does not mean His teachings about Adam and Noah, but His commands, such as to love God and one’s others, to repent, and to be born of the Spirit.  You cannot get science in by the back door with this statement.

If the Bible is primarily history, then we must understand what is history.  History has two aspects, the recording of events and the understanding of the meaning of these events.  There is no way that humans could have recorded the Noahic flood, but Mesopotamian sagas record a world wide flood and the Bible takes this event and interprets it from the correct inspired YHWHist point of view. THe Hebrews made it part of their family history with Shem as the father of their “race.”  It is the source of much good theology and some bad, specifically the “curse of Canaan,” which Jesus was careful to reverse by blessing the Canaanite woman. 

Now you specifically mention the headship of males, which is most commonly based on the false understanding that the woman was only indirectly created in the image of God, when Gen 1:26-27 says that both women and men are created in the Image of God.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #32097

September 26th 2010

Part 3

Also Genesis 2:2 states that God rested on the seventh day, while Jesus said in John 5:17, “My Father is still working, and I also am working,” concerning the topic of the Sabbath.  Exodus 20:11 makes the seven day creation story the basis of the Sabbath, which would seem to mean that it is cosmologically and eternally true.  The other version of the Decalogue found in Deuteronomy has only one variation from Exodus, and that the justification form the Sabbath is found in the Exodus (Deut 5:15,) which seems to be more historically Plausible, because the whole event is based on the Exodus. 

To repeat humans are saved by faith in the Rational Word (LOGOS) of God, the Savior, Jesus Christ, not by faith in the Bible or obedience to the words of the Bible.  The Bible is God’s salvation history, not philosophy nor science, teaching us that Jesus Christ is the Meaning and Purpose of Life.


Martin Rizley - #32222

September 27th 2010

Roger,    I think we simply have a different view of the extent to which Jesus spoke with divine authority.  From my own reading of the gospels, it seems to me that we are invited to place implicit trust in Jesus’ words as completely true, since those words were always directed, as Jesus tells us in John 12;49-50, by His Heavenly Father, who “told” Him what He was to say.  I take this to mean, not simply that He was ’illuminated’ to spiritual realities through close communion with the Father as any spiritually sensitive person might be, but that the Father supernaturally superintended His speech to such a degree that He never uttered any teaching that was erroneous or false.  His every word, being ‘breathed out’ by the Holy Spirit, constituted divine revelation, being 100% in accordance with truth.  You seem to be saying that Jesus’ teaching authority was limited only to the realm of “spiritual” truth.  He spoke authoritatively on how we can be rightly related to God and one another, but in other areas of reality, His words were subject to factual (historical and scientific) error, based on the limitations imposed on Him by His first century Jewish culture, which He was powerless to overcome.


Martin Rizley - #32226

September 27th 2010

Roger (continued from above),  The problem with this ‘proscribed’ view of Jesus’ teaching authority is that I do not see it taught in the gospels.  There, we are invited to trust in Jesus’ words implicitly, not because He is speaking about certain matters that He is competent to address, but simply because IT IS JESUS WHO IS SPEAKING.  Because of who He is, all of His words are reliable and true—not only His words concerning salvation, the character of God, and human relationship, but also His words concerning the afterlife (heaven and hell), and factual truths concerning individuals both alive and dead.  For example, He knew by supernatural revelation that the woman at the well had had five husbands, and that she was living with a man who was not her husband.  He knew that Nathanael had been sitting under a fig tree before Philip called him.  He knew the hopes and expectations that had been in the heart of Abraham, for He said, “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”  With these words, Jesus affirmed with infallible authority that Abraham was a real person who lived in the historical past.  (continued)


Gabriel Powell - #32230

September 27th 2010

The discussion between Martin and DWD exemplify the need for a statement of faith, or at least a description of what a Christian is.

A Christian is not a person who claims to follow Jesus. A Christian is a person who follows the Jesus Christ of Nazareth who is revealed wholly and completely in Scripture. Who was born of a virgin, being fully God and fully man, affirmed His deity through miracles, who accepted worship as God, who said everything Scripture says He said, who did everything Scripture says He did (including talking to the real Satan), who died and rose again as a substitute for man’s sin.

You must have the right Jesus in order to be a Christian. One cannot simply pick and choose creating a heroic Jesus of their liking.

With all due respect to DWD, a person cannot deny the virgin birth and claim to be a Christian in any meaningful way. The deny that is to put oneself outside any kind of historic definition of Christianity.


Martin Rizley - #32237

September 27th 2010

When the Jews asked how he could know what was in the heart of Abraham, since He was not yet fifty years old,  He pointed to His own deity as the source of such knowledge: “Before Abraham was, I AM.“  Being God, He knew all about Abraham; and as the incarnate Savior, He continued to have access to any information about Abraham that the Father wanted Him to have.  So the gospels do not limit Jesus’ teaching authority to the realm of the ‘spiritual.’  When Jesus addresses a matter of history, such as the existence of Abraham, He speaks with infallible authority, because of who He is.  No doubt, this view of Jesus will be labelled ‘docetic’ by some; but it is not, because I believe that in coming to earth, Jesus became fully human; consequently, He did grow in knowledge.  But I don’t think it follows that a necessary aspect of His humanity is that He speak error, any more than it is intrinsic to His humanity that He commit sin.  Since Jesus was not just a “God filled man” but God Himself in human flesh, everything about Him was ‘shot through’ with the supernatural, including His speech.


Gabriel Powell - #32250

September 27th 2010

But I don’t think it follows that a necessary aspect of His humanity is that He speak error

Agreed. To err is to be human. But it is wrong to say “to be human is to err.” Adam did not err prior to the Fall, and he was human. We will not sin when we have glorified bodies, but we will still be human.

The virgin birth was required so that Jesus would not inherit the sinful nature, but he was born as a human nonetheless.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #32258

September 27th 2010

Martin,

You are placing all of your emphasis on the teachings of Jesus.  Jesus was much more than a teacher.  If God wanted to convey teaching to humankind, God would have either airmailed a book or the OT with notations.  Jesus is first and foremost the Savior and the Logos.  We must believe in Jesus as the Messiah and follow Him by faith Him, rather by sight of certain knowldge.  The test of faith is a right spirit, not right knowledge.

Was He tested and tempted as are all human beings yet without sin, not without error?  Yes.  Did Jesus know all there was to know, was He omniscient?  The answer seems to be no.  Did He need to be omniscient to be without sin?  Do we need to be omniscient to be saved and to do right?  The answer to both is No.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #32259

September 27th 2010

Part 2

You are right, Jesus knew what the Father told Him and did what the Father told him to do.  All those things that you mentioned are basically spiritual matters.  Jesus did not have to understand the science of sight to heal the blind man.  He had power of God.  We do have to understand the science of sight to heal the blind because humans do not have the same healing powers.

The references by Jesus to the events in God’s salvation history are real because the salvation history is real.  As has been said, these does not imply any scientific claims, just historical and spiritual.


nedbrek - #32260

September 27th 2010

“Did Jesus know all there was to know, was He omniscient?  The answer seems to be no.”

Roger, God is omniscient, and Jesus is God.  Right?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #32296

September 28th 2010

Nedbrek,

Can God die?  No.  Did Jesus die?  Yes.  Jesus died because He was fully human.  God is defined in the Bible as Love, not as being omniscient.  Jesus is defined as being the Messiah, the Savior, in that He was without sin, filled with the Spirit of Love, not as inerrant or omnisicient.  Human beings are saved because we are redeemed by God’s Love and filled with the Spirit of Love.  Jesus is our Model because He is empowered by God’s Spirit and Love.  “Be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect” by loving the just and the unjust. Mt 5:48 Love is the standard, not knowledge. 

Love trumphs knowledge every time.  Paul clears pointly out that when one makes knowledge the standard of salvation you are on the wrong track.  When you make inerrancy the standard of faith and salvation you are on the wrong track.  1 Cor 13:13 “And now faith, hope, and love abide (last, stand the test), these three (alone) and the greatest of these is love.”


John VanZwieten - #32541

September 29th 2010

Gabriel wrote:

With all due respect to DWD, a person cannot deny the virgin birth and claim to be a Christian in any meaningful way. The deny that is to put oneself outside any kind of historic definition of Christianity.

Just what “due respect” do you think you have given to DWD by this statement?  DWD has completely confounded your statement by stating doubts about the virgin birth while at the same time claiming to be a Christian in the most meaningful way imaginable.  Really, do you even think about the real person at the other end of posts like this?


Trevor K. - #32632

September 30th 2010

A statement of belief is probably more appropriate.
We could start with
1. Biologos believes that the earth is 4.5 billion years old.
2. Biologos and adherents believe in evolution [ as in molecules to man], God not required.
3. Consequently Biologos believes that Genesis 1 is a mythical story since it contradicts belief no. 1.
4. Consequently Biologos believes that Adam is a mythical figment of the authors imagination.
5. Consequently Biologos believes that there is no original sin - this follows from the direct belief in evolution which puts death before “the fall”.
6. Biologos therefore believes that there is no need for repentance from sin.
7. Biologos therefore believes there is no need for someone to pay the price for sin.
8. Hence Biologos does not believe in Jesus the Messiah.
9. Hence Biologos is a place for those who do not believe in God or Jesus.

The logic is inescapable, which is why people do not want to make a faith statement.


John VanZwieten - #32649

September 30th 2010

Classic!

Following a blatant slippery slope logical fallacy argument with “The logic is inescapable.”


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