Two Books + Two Eyes = Four Necessities for Christian Witness, Part 2

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November 13, 2013 Tags: Lives of Faith, Pastoral Voices

Today's entry was written by Richard Dahlstrom. 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.

Two Books + Two Eyes = Four Necessities for Christian Witness, Part 2
Photo credit: Dave Bullock

How does my walk with God relate to modern scientific discoveries? Can I maintain biblical Christian faith even if I change my mind on an issue like evolution? Many Evangelicals today are pondering these questions. Finding the answers will involve more than a mere synthesis of scientific facts. We need to hear stories from others who have wrestled with evolution and Christian faith. What arguments made them change their views on science? How did they hold fast to their relationship with God? The essays in this series will eventually comprise a book, provisionally titled, “Evolving: Evangelicals Reflect on Evolution.”

Yesterday Pastor Richard Dahlstrom stressed the importance of not adding to the Gospel by requiring a particular view of origins. Remembering that God speaks through two books—creation and the Bible—can help us to avoid setting up barriers to faith. Today Richard discusses the importance of “two eyes”—humility and interdependence of God’s two books.

2. Two Eyes: Humility and interdependence are in keeping with Jesus’ character.

As compelling as scientific evidence for evolution might be, questions and objections quickly arise because of apparent contradictions with the Genesis narrative. “Evolution requires death, and there was no death until Adam and Eve died;” “humans were made directly from clay” —these are just two of many reasons people who love God and his Word have a hard time embracing evolutionary creation. Schooled in what’s called the literal, or holistic, interpretive method, they believe that the plain literal meaning of any text is the best choice for interpreting the Bible.

None of us who agree with that method apply it to every word of the Bible. We don’t believe the sun is literally rising, for example, in spite of that plain meaning. Scientific discoveries forced a re-thinking of the plain and literal reading; eventually, the church caught up with the rest of the world and believed that the earth orbits around the sun, not vice versa, and rotates on its own axis.

This is an example of the ongoing challenge we face as readers of both the Bible and book of creation. What’s needed is a sense of humility when reading both books. With respect to the Bible, humility is important because history shows us how easy it is to repeatedly get our interpretations wrong—including the justification of slavery, colonialism, and genocide.

Jesus himself is scathing in his assessment of just how wrong the religious leaders of his day interpreted the Bible. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life,” he says (John 5:39), but goes on to say that they’re unwilling to come to Jesus that they might actually have life. The scriptures had become, for them, a sort of rule book or legal code. Their wooden interpretations of it were so distorted that in the end they conspired to kill the very Messiah who was the object of their longing. It’s easy, in other words, to get things wrong, and it’s for this reason that humility is in order.

Among other things, humility means embracing the reality that we don’t know everything. Here’s what St. Augustine wrote about the dangers of pastors and theologians pontificating beyond the scope of their authority:

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens… and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn… If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?” (St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, book 1; modern translation by J.H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, 1982, volume 41)

The best natural science and the best hermeneutics (the science of interpreting the Bible) are both practiced with humility and interdependence, allowing each to be informed by the other. Where this is present, our mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s disciplines leads to greater clarity in our own disciplines. Where this is lacking, one ends up entrenched in either a spiritless materialism, or a fundamentalism constantly at odds with the findings of the physical sciences. In a world where God has told us that he speaks through both the Bible and the book of creation, neither of these options is palatable.

On a recent flight, I found myself seated next to an astronomy professor. Though I’m not astronomer, I do visit NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” website as a regular part of my morning devotions in order to remind myself of the vastness of our universe. Because of my interest, I had questions for the professor, and we talked for most of the flight about the expansion of the universe, the big bang, and other marvelous mysteries of space. He was gray, older, and still immensely curious, telling me that the more he learned, the more aware he was of how much he didn’t know.

As we began our descent, he asked me what I did for a living. When I told him I was a pastor, his eyes lit up and said, “We need each other, you and I!” He went on to talk about how theology had answers to questions he thought science would never be able to uncover, and vice versa. “Two books,” I said, as I heartily agreed and explained what the Bible had to say about creation pointing to God.

It was a good and hopeful conversation, and we need more of them in our world. For that to happen, we need to believe that the books of creation and the Bible aren’t in contradiction, and allow them to inform each other. Then our curiosity and creativity—which are ours because we’re made in God’s image—can be released to allow people to discover, create, heal, and much more “in Jesus’ name.” Such a paradigm will enable joyful Christ-followers to be wholly engaged in being the presence of hope in our glorious—yet broken—world, instead of retreating into narrow subcultures where the false dichotomy between faith and reason becomes a wall that is, for too many, insurmountable.

 


Richard Dahlstrom is Senior Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, WA. His most recent book, “The Colors of Hope” was selected by Christianity today as one of the best books of 2011. You can follow his musings on the relationship of faith to everything at www.bodysoulspiritlife.com.

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sy - #83520

November 13th 2013

Thank you for this moving and heartfelt essay. My background is the opposite of yours, and yet I agree with and sympathize with every word you wrote. I believe that we are fortunate in this generation, because the Lord has given us a great task to be undertaken by scientists and pastors. That task, exemplified by Biologos, is to find the way of truth using the two books. It isnt easy, but its work that needs to be done. For His glory.

 


Merv - #83525

November 14th 2013

I also appreciate your pastoral perspective, Rev. Dahlstrom, and any more theological implications you may care to delve into.

Your words seem chosen with care, so I will comment on one casual phrase you used that perhaps should have been written differently.

...eventually, the church caught up with the rest of the world and believed that the earth orbits around the sun…

In light of the work of historians (some of which Jon or Ted have given links to recently) we should do our best to deflate the modern (and as it turns out,—false) myth that the church was behind and “catching up to the world”.  It would be much more accurate to say the entire world (science and all) was slow to accept the Copernican view—and for solidly scientific reasons at that.  The church was no more “behind” on anything than nearly everybody else at the time.  But this falsehood is replayed so often by well-meaning science educators that it is worth noting and correcting to help stem the tide of misinformation.

I know this is all peripheral to your main (and very good) points—so I hope you’ll forgive my making much ado over it.  Thanks again for writing, and I look forward to reading more.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #83526

November 14th 2013

It is sad when people react in fear to the new and different instead of trying to understand things better.  I think this is true of both secularists and religionists. 

The world faces a serious ecological crisis, but we spend too much time protecting our material interests and trying to place the blame on others.   


2cortenfour - #83543

November 18th 2013

In this pair of posts it is implied that those who oppose an evolutionary “molecules to man” explanation of origins and hold instead to the description given in Genesis “demand [belief in six-day creation] as a pre-requirement for acceptance by God”.  Any young-earth creationist who teaches this is presenting a false Gospel, and should be lovingly confronted. Most of those I have heard/read make clear that salvation is through faith in Christ and His perfect atoning sacrifice on the Cross alone.
On the author’s assertion that a false dichotomy is being set up between “science and faith” (code for “evolution and six-day creation”) by “religionists”, and this false choice drives people away from Christianity:
First, the “findings of the physical sciences” (“physical” is actually a misnomer - sciences which form theories about origins are actually engaged in an historical, forensic investigation: eg, the origins of life, or the earth or universe cannot be reproduced in a lab) are interpretations of the evidence driven by particular assumptions, for instance, uniformitarianism. (But if God actually did create, the processes He used to do so would be different from those we see today. So this is one example of an assumption which is falsely applied to the study of origins.)
These “findings”, however,  are presented as iron-clad fact, and they actually DO contradict the Genesis account. So there exists a real, not false, dichotomy. And those who recognize it are simply using common sense. Big Bang/Darwinian Evolutionary cosmology does not fit with the Genesis account.
Even if it was conceded that early Genesis could be metaphorical, those metaphors must stand for something in the real world for the narrative to be true AT ALL. Genesis has the earth first, then light, then land and plants, then sun moon and stars. The Big Bang has the singularity, then the expansion. Stars, galaxies, then planets forming randomly as magnetism drew dust together. Nothing fits with Genesis.
Evolution has an unguided (anything GUIDED is not evolution - it’s intelligent design, which is anathema to evolutionists [even theistic ones]) process causing the primordial one-celled life-form to branch off into all the flora and fauna, culminating in Man, who somehow made the evolutionary jump in a group of about 10,000 (says Francis Collins) from an earlier hominid ape-like creature. But the utterly sublime account found in Genesis has all living things reproducing “according to their kinds” and Man made from the dust of the ground in God’s image (“the son of God” (Luke 3), not the son of an ape-man).
The bottom line is that if the commonly held Evolutionary view of origins is true, then Genesis is not even a “true myth”, much less an historically accurate narrative.
The problem is that Christ (Mark 10, Matt 19) affirmed Genesis. So did Paul and Jude. And Peter, in his second letter, alluded to the global Flood, paralleling it with the worldwide destruction by fire which is to come . 
The Holy Spirit “breathed out” His Word through these NT writers.
So, no, six-day Creation is not a salvation issue. But the Holy Spirit led the biblical authors to believe that, for instance, Adam and Eve were real and historical (and made “at the beginning of creation” - Mark 10 - not millions of years later), the Flood was global, there was an actual Fall (and the whole creation groans because of it - Romans 8), etc. People see this. They realize the Scripture claims to be God’s Word, but they are convinced that “scientific truth” has proven it erroneous. So they see a very real choice to be made - sound logic demands it.
I myself am convinced that science confirms the biblical account. I recently talked to a man who was once a staunch atheist. He said he has been a Christian for only six or seven years. I found out he is a professional geologist. So I asked him where he stood - half expecting him to toe the line of mainstream scholarship (old earth, possibly theistic evolution). To my surprise he believes the creation account as literal and historical. I said, “But what about radiometric dating and the fossil record, etc?”  He said he takes God’s Word as true from the first page, by faith. But it’s not a blind faith.  He recognizes that there is a lot of evidence for a young earth and universe. And he is not ignorant of the science. He is saved, and has joined Christ and the apostles in believing the Genesis account. I doubt very much if he will suffer loss at the judgment seat of Christ. I’m not so sure about those who are dogmatic in their zeal to compromise based upon scientific theories about the distant past which might change with new discoveries. Only God Himself was actually there, and He has given us His eyewitness account of His creative work. We would do well to submit our interpretation of the “Book of Creation” (which is fallen, broken, and under the Curse) to the infallible, inerrant Word of God, not vice-versa. After all, if we can’t trust God’s Word about “earthly things”, how can we be sure it is reliable regarding “heavenly things”? (John 3:12)


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