Forums
Featuring guests Joel Chopp and Geoffrey Fulkerson

Joel Chopp & Geoffrey Fulkerson | Creation Theology

A discussion about the doctrine of creation and a look at a few theologians and how they have influenced the conversations around faith and science.

Twitter
Facebook
LinkedIn
Print
1 Comments
sunrise over water

A discussion about the doctrine of creation and a look at a few theologians and how they have influenced the conversations around faith and science.

Share  
Twitter
Facebook
LinkedIn
Print
1 Comments

Description

A podcast that shows the harmony between Christian faith and current scientific discoveries by sharing the stories of interesting people who have found a better way of understanding science and Christian faith.
  • Originally aired on April 08, 2021
  • With 
    Jim Stump

Joel Chopp and Geoff Fulkerson are the editors of a new book called Science and the Doctrine of Creation: The Approaches of Ten Modern Theologians (InterVarsity Press, 2021). In the episode Geoff, Joel and Jim talk about the doctrine of creation itself before taking a look at four of the ten theologians in the book to see how they have influenced the conversations around faith and science. 

Additional Resources


Transcript

Chopp:

For a lot of folks, evangelicals in particular, when you say doctrine of creation, their mind immediately jumps to issues of human and universal origins. But while that’s contained within the doctrine of creation, that’s not the whole of the doctrine of creation. 

Fulkerson:

Man, there were some massively influential theologians in the last century who were engaging in issues of the doctrine of creation in the context of modern science but on the one hand, theologians have received them with little attention to their engagement with science, and on the other hand, many of the folks interested in this in the science discussion don’t really know much about the way these prominent theologians have engaged the doctrine of creation in this sort of more integral sense.

Chopp:

My name is Joel Chopp and I am the Project and Communications Manager for the Henry Center.

Fulkerson:

My name is Geoff Fulkerson and I’m the Director of Henry Center.

Stump:

Hi everybody. I’m Jim Stump. For those of you who are new to the podcast, we call it “Language of God” in an obvious allusion to the book by Francis Collins, The Language of God. He got his title from the presidential announcement of the mapping of the human genome, when in June of 2000 Bill Clinton said “today we are learning the language in which God created life.”

I wouldn’t say that science is the language of God, but it’s a powerful metaphor that speaks to the dual reality that God is ultimately behind all that exists, and that we are able to understand at least some of reality through scientific explanations. It is this commitmentment or insight that leads people to be interested in the intersection of these two fields of study: science and religion.

There is quite a range of people involved in science and religion work, and we try to engage with people across that range — from people who accept the findings of modern science, but only vaguely recognize the legitimacy of religious or theological concepts; to people who hold so tightly to their understanding of faith that they have to explain away the findings of modern science. Most of our attention, though, is on the wide middle ground of people who take both their faith and modern science seriously. Not everyone in that category comes to the same conclusions, but the dialogue within that group is important and fruitful.

One of the real advances in this over the past several years has been the Creation Project, hosted at the Henry Center of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. They have gathered influential voices to talk about science and the Christian faith, and BioLogos has had a seat at that table. Again, not everyone there agrees with us, but they do listen to us now, which wasn’t always the case. And as we listen to them, we’ve found more and more common ground and productive conversation.

Geoffrey Fulkerson and Joel Chopp are the editors of a new book that is one of the fruits of the Creation Project. It’s called Science and the Doctrine of Creation. Ten chapters explore the doctrine of creation in the work of an influential theologian of the last century. In our conversation here we talk about a few of these theologians and how their influence has played into the current conversations about science and faith. But we spend a good part of this episode simply talking about the purpose of this kind of work and the doctrine of creation itself.

Let’s get to the conversation

Interview Part One

Stump:

Jeffrey, and Joel, welcome to the podcast.

Chopp:

Thanks, Jim.

Fulkerson:

Thanks for having us, Jim.

Stump:

We have gotten to hang out a bit together at science and faith events that you sponsor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for the last several years. But for the sake of our audience, tell us a bit about yourselves, what you do at the seminary and how you’ve ended up there. Maybe start with Geoffrey.

Fulkerson:

Sure, yeah. This is my first year, actually, as the Director of the Henry’s Center for Theological Understanding. But I served as a Managing and Assistant Director for the past eight years. So came on just a little bit before this big thing called the Creation Project, or the full title is Evangelical Theology and the Doctrine of Creation, and just did my master’s work at Trinity and stuck around for doctoral work and stumbled into this little Center at the University that’s been involved in a range of ministries for about 15 years now, the last five of which have been focused on doctrine of creation, that I’m sure you’ll ask more about, but I’ll stop with that. 

Stump:

And Joel, a little bit of your background and what you do.

Chopp:

Yeah, thanks, Jim. So my name is Joel. I was raised in a Christian home. My father was a Lutheran pastor. And pretty early on, somewhere around the middle of high school, I began discerning a call to ministry of some sort. Around that same time, I left my denominational home and became a Wesleyan. So I attended a small Wesleyan school in Cincinnati, with the aim of preparing for pastoral ministry, actually. But once I got done there, I still had some nagging, theological questions that I didn’t feel quite equipped to answer yet. So I went to TEDs there in Deerfield— 

Stump:

And now you’ve got all those questions sorted out? [laughter]

Chopp: 

They’ve completely been sorted. [laughs]

Stump:

It’s quite a testimony for the seminary there.

Chopp:

No questions whatsoever. Yeah, so well, you know, the MA there did help me get a little further along. I still had a few more questions. So enrolled in a PhD program at University of Toronto at Wycliffe College, where I’m still working on that and studying with Ephraim Radner. But so around the time that I finished my coursework there, I bumped into the former director of the Henry Center, Tom McCall, at a theology conference. And he told me about a position opening up with the Henry Center working on the Creation Project. So yeah, applied to that. Ended up getting the job and came on board there towards the start of the Creation Project as well.

Stump:

Good. Goeffrey, back to you. Tell us a little bit more about how the creation project got started, what some of the goals are of the program?

Fulkerson:

As you know, these conversations have been going on for quite some time and various faculty members of Trinity have been involved in different sorts of ways. I’m sure BioLogos had, you know, Tom and Dick Averbeck and others involved in conversations prior to the Creation Project. But through various circumstances, an opportunity arose where we develop some contacts with Templeton and mutual interest in trying to provide some more theological energy in the doctrine of creation and in conversation with the various scientific organizations involved in these discussions. So we’ve been at it for about five years now. And the main goals that we’ve articulated, and what we’ve been trying to do is, one catalyze a field of study in the doctrine of creation, a more expansive sense of the doctrine of creation, than it’s oftentimes, anemic understanding, that I think captures the attention of so many, increase openness and understanding intellectual humility in our conversations, as well as provide the church with more clear and public guidance on what sets of convictions need to be held on to, where there’s much more room for disagreement, etc. I’m not sure that we’ve arrived on any of those goals, but it’s at least what we aspire to.

Stump:

Well, I will say that I think one of the real virtues of the program is that it’s created this space where people who have different perspectives on particular issues within science and faith can spend time with each other face to face, at least before COVID took over. But this science and faith work on the internet can get pretty snippy sometimes, right? And I’m not sure that discussion boards and comment sections have proven to be very great places for character development. So I often tell the story of BioLogos’ interaction with Reasons To Believe in this regard. We wrote a book with them called Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation, trying to show our commonalities and our differences. And it was really hard sometimes, but ended up working, I think, because of the personal relationships we’d established with them over the course of several years leading up to that, you know, meeting in person not necessarily to debate at least before a public audience, but to genuinely get to know each other to try to understand and that resulted in a noticeable absence of acrimony between us on the internet. So I often say that it’s much harder to be snarky at people online with people whom you’ve eaten with and prayed with. And I think something similar has happened through the meetings of the creation project and wonder if you’ve seen any evidence of increased understanding of different positions or reduced acrimony because of the kind of things that you’ve been able to host to the Creation Project?

Fulkerson:

We certainly survey people, as you know, following engagement with various programs, and we usually receive consistently high scores in terms of change of position. And by change of position, that doesn’t mean changing to the opposite position, it could mean growing in awareness of one’s own position, or nuances needed, etc. But people have consistently indicated, increased understanding of the doctrine of creation. And I think, as you’ve already alluded to, there’s a sense in which humility and openness arises, by the simple fact that you realize that there’s good intended Christians who are wrestling with complicated questions and a range of issues. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve yet been able to provide clear and public guidance and some of the difficult issues, like say, historical Adam, or Providence in miracles, etc. You know, there’s, there’s obviously much work to be done. But I think there is, as you suggest, there is just humility, recognizing that we’re engaged in a common task for the glory of God.

Stump:

Is it one of the intentions of the project to give definitive answers to some of those questions? Or are you merely trying to say, here’s a range of options that we think faithful Christians have come to on these topics?

Fulkerson:

Yea, definitive answer wouldn’t be the right way of, I think, talking about— I mean if such a thing were possible, I suppose it’d be great, you know, if we had our own sort of homoousian sort of moment. But I think making progress is a minimum aim of what we’re looking for. But definitive can mean a range of things too. Homoousian a good example, that doesn’t mean here is the answer. It means definitive is here is sort of the range of—here are the convictions that need to be held, here are the range of positions, etc. Joel, would you want to add more to that?

Chopp:

Yeah, no, no, that’s that’s a great comparison, Geoff. Yeah. Because, you know, so one of the goals, one of the ways that we sometimes put it is the Creation Project wants to clarify the theological stakes involved in the conversation. So what is at stake theologically, in our debates about, say, historical Adam, in our debates about Original Sin, in our debates about the age of the universe? So because oftentimes, in these discussions, these debates, take an assumed amount of importance. As this is absolutely central to the doctrine of creation and Christian understanding of creation. And one of the aims of the project is to clarify whether or not that is, in fact, the case. And so, you know, getting back to what Geoff said, you know, that doesn’t mean that at the end of the project, we’re going to come down with a definitive statement, that, you know, all evangelicals must affirm X. Well, for one thing, if we were going to do that, we better hurry up. We’re running out of time. But I do think that we have gotten—we have made progress in clarifying, you know, just what is at stake in some of these debates in some of these discussions.

Stump:

Well, our main topic of conversation is this new book that the two of you have edited. And I have it right here in my hand, holding it up to the microphone for everyone to hear: Science and the Doctrine of Creation, the Approaches of 10 Modern Theologians. So congratulations, first book for both of you? Is that right?

Fulkerson:

It is indeed.

Chopp:

That’s correct.

Stump: 

Well, give us a quick overview of the doctrine of creation. And this is not just a concern about the age of the Earth, or whether there was an Adam and Eve, right? What are we talking about when we say the doctrine of creation?

Fulkerson:

Yeah, and that is the question of the book, in a sense, Jim. Joel, I’ll go ahead and let you take a first stab at that, if you would like. 

Chopp:

Yeah. So you know, as you rightfully pointed out, for a lot of folks, evangelicals in particular, when you say doctrine of creation, their mind immediately jumps to issues of human and universal origins. But while that’s contained within the doctrine of creation, that’s not the whole of the doctrine of creation. And in fact, one of the original impetuses behind the Creation Project was to expand evangelical understanding of the doctrine of creation beyond the issues related to origins. And in so doing, actually pushing evangelical theology in the direction of the classical Christian doctrine. Because when you look at the history of doctrine, when you look at what Christians have said about what creation is in the past, it’s much broader than just the issue of origins. And so in the introduction of the book, we draw on John Webster’s notion of a distributed doctrine. And basically, what Webster means by that is there are some theological commitments, some doctrines that are distributed across doctrinal loci. In that even when you’re not talking about, say, the doctrine of creation, if you’re talking about anything other than the trinity, in himself, your doctrine of creation is operative, your doctrine of creation is implied. Because everything that’s not God was created. So and that means when you’re doing work on atonement, or you know, soteriology, or redemption, salvation, you know, my personal relationship with Jesus, what you think we are, what our human natures are, it’s all implied. So that’s what we mean by creation, the doctrine of creation in this much broader and thicker sense of the term reading.

Fulkerson:

And so, part of what we were trying to get at in the book then was to just set a handful of theologians open for public—for communal reflections. How what in this fuller sense of the doctrine creation, how was it employed among various influential theologians, one. Two, how did they employ it in relation to various issues that might appear in the natural sciences? And then three, what sets of ancillary theological topics did they employ alongside of it. So you can think of, just to give one example in the book, Schwöbel’s chapter on Pannenberg juxtaposes creation with field theory and eschatology. So eschatology—so the temporality of creation is part of a reflection and it invokes the doctrine of, of eschatology. So this is like, what we’re trying to sort of unearth, just the entanglements that have appeared in the last century-plus, in relation to the doctrine of creation.

Stump:

And I would guess that the same kind of issues you were talking about the difficulties with regard to interdisciplinary conversation in science and theology in general, comes about here then too, even within the discipline of theology, where perhaps there’s a natural tendency to silo off these different aspects of theology, but this is one that cuts across those other doctrines. That’s what you mean by the distributed nature of it, right?

Chopp:

Yeah, exactly. Because it’s really easy to forget, when you’re down in your little atonement silo, for example—or your big atonement silo, I don’t know how big the silo is—to forget that what you’re claiming there, you have to have some sort of doctrine of creation operative in the background. Or, you know, even your doctrine of the Trinity. So, yeah, there’s a temptation within academic theology in particular, to do this sort of specialization that ends up cutting up Christian doctrine in a way that’s really actually unhelpful and deforms the doctrines that you’re working on, unless you’re really deliberate and intentional about thinking through the consistency of what you’re claiming with respect to other Christian doctrinal commitments.

Fulkerson:

Yeah, I think it’s probably also worth adding, you know, that the topics that have our theological attention are always sort of time bound. Right? So there might be a moment where atonement requires our reflection in a way that does not demand our attention to its relationship to the doctrine of creation. I think part of the impetus of this book is to say that, man, there were some massively influential theologians in the last century who were engaging in issues of the doctrine of creation in the context of modern science, but on the one hand, theologians have received them with little attention to their engagement with science. And on the other hand, many of the folks interested in the science discussion don’t really know much about the way these prominent theologians have engaged the doctrine of creation in this sort of more integral sense. So that’s part of what we’re—you know, we’re not trying to critique atonement theology for not engaging the doctrine of creation. What we’re trying to say is look, like, if we want to think about the doctrine of creation in conversation with modern science, let’s like, let’s see how expansive the range of topics that we need to be addressing and can be discussing really is.

Stump:

Okay, good. So, ten modern theologians. Let me quickly run down the list of those who were included. You have William Burt Pope, Abraham Kuyper, B.B. Warfield, Rudolf Bultmann, Karl Barth, Thomas F. Torrance, Jurgen Moltmann, Wolhart Pannenberg, Robert Jenson and Colin Gunton. So how did you narrow down this list of theologians to ten?

Chopp:

Well, we wanted to do 40. But our editor—  So yeah, that’s a good, good question.

Stump:

And what was even the relevant timeframe you’re interested in? Geoff, I think you just mentioned the last century or so is that basically the timeframe you’re looking for people within?

Fulkerson:

Yeah, I think the subtext, or the adjective modern is the key category. So we could go further back in modern. But we were looking for theologians who are engaging with particularly modern scientific questions. So we could certainly go further back, but it doesn’t necessarily prove as helpful for addressing the issues that we were interested in engaging in. So that would be one context to answer. Obviously, we can go further back with you know, Newton and Descarte, and some of the theologians of that time period. So this is by no means a mutually exclusive, comprehensive list

Stump:

Going the other direction, I note that only one of the ten is still living, Jurgen Moltmann, who’s now in his 90’s, I believe, but you didn’t want to go too far into contemporary of what people are talking about today, so that there’s one more more established body of work are people that are treating them in some sense academically?

Fulkerson:

Yeah, I mean, McGrath, actually, who wrote our afterward was one name that we did consider. So we were really grateful to have him write the afterword for us.

Stump:

Good. Well, one more note here, before we actually get talking about some of the content of these chapters. I make a probably uncomfortable observation about the demographics of the people involved in the book, and you probably know where this is going, right? That’s a lot of white men. Ten historical figures, ten author’s writing about them, two editors, one afterward. By my count, that’s 22 white men and one white woman. What is what does that say about the limited scope of the discussion of science and faith and evangelicals or anything else that you can respond to that with?

Chopp:

First obviously, it’s a pretty pale book. It’s a pale book. Yeah, but no, that’s a great question, Jim. And obviously, these are issues that evangelicalism as a whole is wrestling with. How should we think about diversity representation? Obviously, not just in theology, but also in the church. So yeah, and Geoff can jump in as well, but it’s something that we’ve struggled with throughout the Creation Project. There’s, as, I mean I don’t need to tell you, when you start getting into the distinct sorts of questions that arise at the science and theology intersection, that already narrows your audience a fair amount. And so then with that narrower audience and the narrower pool of folks who are interested in engaged in these questions, yeah, diversity of representation is enormously important. And also, you know, something we struggle with and need to work on.

Stump:

So we’re not going to solve this here, us three white guys sitting around talking about this, but one of the things I’m learning—and this, I think, a response to what you just said, Joel—but one of the things I’m learning from women, from people of color, is that at least part of the problem is that it might not be quite the right approach simply to try to bring them into the same topics that arose and developed when white men were the only ones allowed at the table to even ask the questions. So I guess I’m not lamenting that there just aren’t that many women and people of color trying to answer the questions we think are important, but perhaps more fundamentally wondering, what questions have we not even been asking? What have we been missing? By only considering the doctrine of creation, say from our own perspective? 

Chopp:

Yeah. And that’s, that’s really helpful, Jim. And I think your comment really underscores the importance of, like you said, not just setting the terms of the discussion and setting the questions that we engage beforehand. That’s starting on the wrong foot. So yeah, it’s obviously again, very far from having arrived, but just underscoring the importance of listening to what are the questions we’re not even asking? Yeah. 

Fulkerson:

I think just to say I appreciate you raising the conversation, I think, like you, we’re intending to be much more thoughtful and aware as we make strategic decisions going forward. So thanks for raising these concerns.

[musical interlude]

BioLogos:

Hey Language of God listeners. If you enjoy the conversations you hear on the podcast, we just wanted to let you know about our website, biologos.org, which has articles, videos, book reviews, and other resources for pastors, students, and educators. We also have an active online forum. We discuss each podcast episode, but it goes far beyond that, with lots of open discussions on all kinds of topics related to science and faith. Find it all at biologos.org.

Interview Part Two

Stump:  

Okay, so let’s talk about some of the individual chapters and topics in your book. Obviously, we don’t have time to go through each of these ten chapters and talk about them. And I’m not sure that it’s quite fair to put you as the editors on the hot seat to have to answer for what the authors you worked with wrote about these other theologians. So our conversation feels a few steps removed from some of the substance of that, but I think it could be interesting to point to a few of these chapters and talk about some of the ideas that came up there. So if we could, I’d like to start with B.B. Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield. One of you give us a quick overview of him and his work.

Chopp:

Yeah. So B.B. Warfield, he was one of the old Princetonians, very influential for conservative Reformed theology, came from Kentucky and taught at Princeton. He’s probably most known within evangelicalism for his doctrine of inerrancy. Sometimes folks wrongly conclude that he invented it. But yeah, so he was made famous for his champion of that particular view of Scripture.

Stump:

So that’s interesting that he’s upheld for that for being tied to inerrancy in that sense, but he’s also often upheld by theistic evolutionists today, and waved around a little bit as a way of saying we must be theologically orthodox and okay, because Warfield said evolutionary evolution was okay, right? And your author here, Brad Gundlach, even pointed to an article that’s on the BioLogos website that says about that same thing that I just said. So Brad tried to document, I think pretty carefully, that Warfield’s views were more complex than that. So how might you characterize Warfield in the chapter about him in your book, particularly with regard to evolution? 

Chopp:

Yeah, well, great question. So was he an evolutionist? Well, that’s complicated. I mean, obviously, one of the things that I like about the chapter is, you know, Brad lays out these ten theses to which Warfield was committed: a very old earth, the genealogies in Genesis weren’t intended to yield a chronology— But then also, he holds to transmutation of species and common descent, while at the same time he also holds that evolution is incompatible with Christian doctrines of God, sin, Providence, and basically the whole shebang.

Stump:

[laughs] So yeah, terminology seems to play a pretty big role in all of that. And just as you know, language can be pretty tricky in how we define things for ourselves and foist them on others. For instance, and he refers to this in this chapter too, there was a big book a few years ago critiquing theistic evolution by the Discovery Institute. And the definition they gave there of theistic evolution made those of us at BioLogos say, “well, I guess they’re not talking about us, since none of us believe what they say theistic evolutionists believe.” But this is tricky, right? So if he was okay with transmutation of species, which is not the way scientists talk about that today, but at the same time said, evolution is incompatible with some of these doctrines, was he himself just confused? Or did he develop over time? Or should—do we understand what he meant by an evolution ism, that it was more of a philosophical position than just the facts themselves or? 

Chopp:

Right, I think that last point, Jim, is the right way to read and understand Warfield. He saw the term as evolution, as intrinsically an unguided, wholly naturalistic process. So, and he was, from what I understand, pretty committed to understanding the term that way. So that the notion of a providentially guided evolution, evolutionary adaptation, etc, is just a—it’s a contradiction in terms. So and obviously, the majority of Christian evolutionary creationists or theistic evolutionists obviously would probably disagree with them on that. They don’t think that intrinsic to the concept of evolution is in an unguided nature of the process.

Stump:

And this is one of the reasons I guess that BioLogos has tried to use this term evolutionary creation that you just mentioned there as a little narrower definition than theistic evolution, which there’s a whole range of people there. I mean, we’re more than just mere theists. We hold the Trinity to Jesus as the resurrected Son of God, and even to God’s constant involvement in his creation, rather than the deistic understanding of somebody that just started up, started things up and then stepped back. But from you guys’s perspective, does that feel like we’re just trying to dress up the same old theory and fancy new clothes in some sense? Or put new wine in old wine skins?

Chopp:

No, I mean, I’ll let Geoff weigh in as well. But just from my perspective, because again, terminology is important. And getting labels and terms right, particularly with people that you disagree with. It’s a basic Christian act of charity. And it needs to happen. So and I do think that evolutionary creation, you know, that there is something about making that the adjective that communicates something, I think, communicates something meaningful.

Stump: 

We better move on to some other ones. And we’ll— 

Fulkerson:

Jim, can I interject really quickly on Warfield, one of the things that I found really interesting in the book was the comparison between Warfield and Kuyper. And the way in which their assessment of evolution between sort of empirical inquiry and sort of worldview shaping cultural assumptions was really fascinating between the two and their interactions with one another.

Stump:

 How would you characterize that difference for people who have not read the books yet?

Fulkerson:

If you follow the footnotes too, there’s actually a decent body of literature, they were good friends with each other and they interacted. So Warfield was very, from what I understood was reading the science, engaged with conversations in the sciences, whereas Kuyper was much more responding to cultural trends and not as aware, or engaged with or interested in various scientific studies. And so evolution is like the superficial category that they’re both talking about. And there’s sort of a loose association of commonalities, but their motivations for suspicion or sort of cautious affirmation were bound up with wider circumstances. And I found that insightful, the difference insightful.

Stump:

Yeah, that’s interesting, and is further complicated by the fact that the science itself has not stayed the same since when they were engaging with it either. So fairly dramatic developments as you get out of the 19th century into the 20th century and the discovery of genes and the sort of genetic synthesis with the biology and makes you wonder how they may have continued to engage that. That that was another one of the questions I had with the Warfield chapter was wondering, yeah, but if he just knew the science of today, how would he respond? Wouldn’t it be clear? And those are, you know, fun questions to ask that have no answers, I guess, right?

Okay, let’s Next go to Karl Barth. So I’m really interested here in Barth, and how should the fields of science and theology interact? Because the sort of stereotype of Barth is just forget about science, it doesn’t matter. I’m just going to do theology. And I think we have to understand that he’s, in some sense, responding to Schleiermacher. So maybe what we have to do here is to say what’s Schleiermacher saying about how science and theology interact, and how is Barth different in that regard? 

Chopp:

Yeah. So, you know, one of the things that surprised us about the book was the extent to which Barth actually served as a hinge figure, such that— 

Stump:

You can’t escape him, right?

Chopp:

You can’t get away from him. He’s enormous. And to such an extent that essentially everyone downstream of Barth, in our book was—there is clear, discernible influences. And yet, and in particular, by these theologians who are known for actually engaging in the sciences, Torrance and Moltmann and Pannenberg. And yet, you know, the kind of the basic, the standard understanding is, oh, you know, he ignored the sciences. So, you’re right, Jim, that what made Barth this hinge figure was his relation to Schleiermacher. And the break that he had with Schleiermacher, that Sonderegger does, just a really wonderful job of narrating in this chapter. So for Schleiermacher theology is first and foremost anchored in piety, in the feeling of absolute dependence. Though feeling is a bit of a misleading term. The term is best understood as something closer to immediate self consciousness. So it includes the emotional component, but it’s not reducible to it. So, when you anchor, when Schleiermacher says that, you know, theology is grounded in this feeling of absolute dependence, it’s not the warm fuzzies. But nevertheless, so theology is anchored in piety and religious consciousness, and science is anchored in the empirically verifiable external world. And the end result of this breakdown of the relationship between the disciplines is discrete epistemic realms. So Sonderegger, in our chapter calls this the non-aggression pact between science and theology.

Stump:

And sounds a lot like today we talk about Stephen Jay Gould and non overlapping magisteria?

Chopp: 

Yes, exactly. Yeah. So it’s the same sort of noma approach. Not identical, in some ways. I don’t want the Schleiermacherians out there to get after me. But yeah, so. But what Barth does is he breaks the non aggression pact by insisting that the Creator God lays claim to the whole of reality. They’re not entirely separate, non-overlapping domains or magisteria. To use Gould’s term. The Christian doctrine of creation just claims all of it. And so what that does is it opens up the door for science and theology to actually start talking to each other again, and setting their claim side by side.

Stump:

But isn’t it true that Barth himself didn’t do much of that dialogue with the sciences?

Chopp:  

Yeah, no, that’s true as well, he has this—I won’t give it away, because it’s beautiful and everybody should go buy the book and read it—but Kate narrates this, how he actually opens up, I think it’s 3.1 of—Dogmatics 3.1 of doctrine creation, I think, where he kind of makes mention of the fact that he’s not actually going to be engaging in the sciences. He’s just going to set that to the side because he’s gonna be doing other stuff. So yeah, it’s a bit of an irony that, you know, in his actual constructive, dogmatic work he didn’t do a lot of the actual interdisciplinary stuff. But nevertheless, he ushered in this sea change of the way that science and theology are engaged, simply by making that kind of larger meta shift with respect to how the disciplines should actually be understood to relate to the one world that we inhabit.

Fulkerson:

And that doesn’t mean you got it. All right. So when you start reading Torrance, for example, he’s Barthian, but he also has his critiques of Barth. But I think when Joel talks about a sea change, that’s probably a right way of saying it. Like there’s a new trajectory that started that’s going to be much more open to and engaged with. So it’s not inconsequential that Torrance is engaging with physicists and Barthian.

Stump:

Well, let’s say a little bit more about Thomas Torrance and his chapter. I’m interested, they’re really in his critique of natural theology, or theology from below, what’s the difference in theology from above and theology from below?

Chopp:

Yeah, so I mean, so that’s partly his, the Barthian influence actually. Because, you know, Karl Barth had this famous, famous rejection of natural theology.

Stump:  

The nein. 

Chopp:

The nein! Right. And Torrance, enormously influenced by Barth, and so what he picks up kind of methodologically is Barth’s emphasis on the subject of inquiry dictating the method of inquiry, that the subject of inquiry has to tell you the appropriate method. And from Torrance’s perspective, there is a version of natural theology which is inappropriate to its subject because God has revealed himself. And so starting theology from kind of, from below from the datum that we can gather together around here is inappropriate to the subject of a God who reveals. And so that’s really what’s driving him there. But but at the same time, you know, Torrance is not Barth himself. And so he makes his own constructive and creative moves. In terms of, particularly like engaging the sciences, he did a lot more of it than Barth did.

Stump:

Yeah, just describe a little bit how that’s different, of what he did in engaging the sciences and the term theology of nature, as opposed to natural theology. And I think Alister McGrath has been deeply influenced by this aspect of Torrance, sometimes develops it as the difference between seeing as and seeing that where natural theology, at least in some of its guises, thinks that I can just look at the world and conclude, and make theological conclusions based on that, where the theology of nature is more I come to my viewing of nature itself as God’s creation. And that it’s not necessarily just this completely objective sphere in which everybody would come to the same conclusions. Is that a fair way of talking about Torrance and his approach to science and theology?

Fulkerson:

You’re making a christological turn as well here, I think, I mean, this isn’t my area of specialty, but you know, can nature ever reveal to us a triune? God? On the other hand, if God is triune, and has revealed Himself to us, as triune as incarnate, how conversely, does that help us to sort of develop the theology of nature?

Chopp:

Yeah, yeah. And that’s, I think that’s right. And so, yeah, what you’re what you’re saying, Jim, sounds like the right read of Torrance.

Stump:

Finally, for all the time, we have Wolfhart Pannenberg and this is one theologian on your list that I actually met and interacted with briefly. I was part of a science and religion seminar, I think it was in 2003, at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford and Pannenberg was one of the speakers that came and gave a presentation. And I got to ask one of the questions afterward. And he walked straight up to me and looked deeply into my eyes and I don’t remember at all what I asked her how he answered, but it was one of those occasions where you think, hey, that was pretty profound and significant. And I’ll tell the story one day of interacting with Pannenberg. He’s obviously been really important for science and faith dialogue, and there are lots of really profound things about his work. But I’m going to bring up an aspect I find a little bit curious. And that’s what to a lot of people sounds like concordism, and he doesn’t use the word and I’m afraid too many people use that word as an epithet. But it seems like the kind of conversation Pannenberg was looking for between science and theology was one where the lines got really blurred again, between scientific and theological concepts. For example, when he gets talking about the Holy Spirit like a field of force. What do you think of that? Does the pendulum swing too far sometimes in us trying to integrate these two disciplines so far that there aren’t even lines of demarcation between them anymore?

Chopp:

Yeah, yeah. So I think a lot depends on what we see theology to actually be doing, when it makes these sort of interactionary moves. So I think you’re right, that there are versions of what we could call concordism, that make some sort of move along the lines of, look, this particular empirically verifiable scientific insight explains, or somehow grounds, this other particular theological claim, such that you wed the two so closely that when the scientific theory or insider discovery goes, when, you know, newer and better science comes along, well, what happens to what happens to the theology? But, on the other hand—so obviously, you know, that’s problematic, but I think that’s problematic, not because you’re attempting to talk about the one world that both scientists and theologians inhabit, but because you’re trying to ground your doctrine in a scientific theory. And so, ideally—so what I see in terms of like a healthy way forward, is something like—so we actually say, at the conclusion of our introduction, if science and theology both deal with one world, then genuine concord should be possible and expected, but also genuine conflict. And this is really the Barthian insight, you know, it is possible that there is we could come across scientific data that problematizes particular theological or doctrinal claims. And so the job of theology is figuring out, okay, how do these fit together? But what we shouldn’t be doing is grounding the theological and doctrinal claims in these particular discrete scientific concepts or theories. That’s what ends up getting us in trouble.

Stump:

Yeah, it’s that grounding relationship that worries, right?

Chopp:

Right. Exactly. 

Stump:  

That somehow our theology is dependent on science having things right.

Chopp:

Right, exactly. And I actually think Stephen Wright’s chapter on Jenson illustrates this really beautifully, because, you know, he points out that, this approaching science and theology this way—it’s a risky business. Because you’re dealing with reality, and reality pushes back. And so, but that’s just what it means to do Christian theology, to do theology in a way that is faithful to the God who created the world that science explores.

Fulkerson:

I don’t mean to wrap this conversation around prematurely. So by all means, continue it. But there is something fitting about this sort of concluding our discussion in the book as we’ve began the discussion about the Henry Center, and the interdisciplinary projects. You know, Joel’s very much talking about the task of theology right here, in why the Creation Project, in some sense, exists, but we’d be remiss not to say that that that task, particularly in a very sophisticated scientific age, can’t happen without faithful, thoughtful Christians in the sciences, who are helping us understand what the sciences are actually saying, the strength of the convictions, the theories, etc. And so I think that the question of concordism, sort of could be just as a superficial methodological approach that is, kind of ehh, but when we take it seriously and material positions that are at stake in them seriously, I think we have a really active realm of intellectual engagement and a task for the faithfulness of the church that kind of animates all of what we’re doing here, and probably why people are listening to this podcast.

Stump:

Well said, and I don’t think you were wrapping things up prematurely. We’ve been going on for quite a while. And I think that’s a good way to end things. So Science and the Doctrine of Creation, the Approaches of Ten Modern Theologians is the book by Geoffrey Fulkerson and Joel Chopp. I recommend it. And thanks so much Geoff and Joel, for talking to me today.

Fulkerson:

Thanks for having us, Jim.

Chopp:

Thanks, Jim. 

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation and more than 300 individuals who donated to our crowdfunding campaign. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. We are produced out of the remote workspaces and homes of BioLogos staff in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum. Find more episodes of Language of God on your favorite podcast app or at our website, biologos.org, where you will also find tons of great articles and resources on faith and science. Thanks for listening. 


Featured guests

Joel Chopp

Joel Chopp

Joel Chopp is the Project and Communications Manager at the Carl F.H. Henry Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS). He received his MA in systematic theology from TEDS and is currently enrolled at the University of Toronto to pursue a PhD in Systematic Theology. He is the editor with Geoffrey Fulkerson of Science and the Doctrine of Creation: The Approaches of Ten Modern Theologians (IVP Academic, 2021)

Geoffrey Fulkerson

Geoffrey Fulkerson

Geoffrey Fulkerson is theDirector of the Carl F.H. Henry Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS). He completed a masters and PhD of systematic theology at TEDS. His interests lie in the intersection of spatial theory, ecclesiology, doctrine of creation, and cultural engagement. He is the editor with Joel Chopp of Science and the Doctrine of Creation: The Approaches of Ten Modern Theologians (IVP Academic, 2021)


1 posts about this topic

Join the conversation on the BioLogos forum

At BioLogos, “gracious dialogue” means demonstrating the grace of Christ as we dialogue together about the tough issues of science and faith.

Join the Conversation