Christ and Creation!

conference_green_final_finalBioLogos is holding its second ever public conference this spring in Houston Texas, a beautiful place to visit in March.

Building on the enthusiastic response to our first-ever public conference in 2015, we are pleased to invite you to our 2017 BioLogos Conference: Christ and Creation. Join us in Houston, TX from March 29-31, 2017, along with internationally recognized speakers and hundreds of fellow Christians in the BioLogos community, as we explore the rich harmony in Christ between modern science and biblical faith.

There will be workshops – including one led by John Walton, plenary speakers (N.T. Wright and Andy Crouch along with others), the option for submitted abstracts from attendees, and (as always) time set aside for worship.

More details can be found at the conference site: BioLogos Christ and Creation.

Join us! I plan to attend, and would love to meet more of you there. The first conference was a resounding success.

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Finding Our Identity

making-sense-of-godThe next section of Tim Keller’s new book Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical looks at identity – the ways in which we define who and what we are. Chapter six focuses on identity in our secular Western culture, while chapter seven digs into Christian definitions of identity. Today we will look at the first, and in the next post, we will discuss what Keller sees as the Christian source of identity.

Identity – sense of self and sense of worth – can be defined in a number of different ways. “Identity formation is a process that every culture pushes on its members so powerfully and pervasively that it is invisible to us.“(p. 118) In most traditional cultures “the self was defined by both internal desires and external social roles and ties.” (p. 119) In contrast, modern Western society tends to define identity and worth by internal measures of success in one realm or another. Personal survival is valued over self-sacrifice, personal success and happiness are paramount.

There is much that is good in the modern view of identity. Individuals are not locked into the status quo. One’s identity and lot is not locked into poverty and servitude for the greater good – as one’s ordained role. “[A] rigid, exploitative social stratification stemmed from the traditional understanding of identity. You were your rung in the socially stratified culture; you related to the world not as an individual but through your family and class. Your mission in life was to “know your place” and fulfill your assigned role. There was no way out; there was no mobility at all.” (p. 122)

I enjoy reading Jane Austin, where this theme is obvious – although she picks at it and sometimes ridicules the rigidity, it clearly formed a framework for society in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century England. The freedom to pursue a variety of career paths and life styles, live in a range of places, interact with a diversity of people is a clear advantage of our twenty first century culture.

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The Christian Origin of Science?

stumpJ.B. (Jim) Stump has a new book, Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues. This book is designed as a college textbook to introduce the reader to various facets of the problem. It is not an apologetic for science or for Christianity. The book is short – 180 pages – and an easy read. It will provide an excellent introduction for Christian leaders at all levels, including (and perhaps most importantly) the local church. I gave a brief introduction in an earlier post (Signposts to God and More).

Science as we know it today originated in the Christian West. There is no debate about this. All cultures are capable of science – and the scientific revolution has traveled the globe, but it originated in Christian Europe. The role Christianity played in the development of science is less clear and debated. Was this an accident of history or are there features of Christianity that allowed scientific thinking to develop?

Other cultures seemed to have been further along the road of scientific development in the ancient world. But their attempts at birthing science were “stillborn” to use the phrase of Stanley Jaki…. The Scientific Revolution occurred in the Christianized Europe of the 16th and 17th centuries. (p. 20)

Some people, those who view the relationship between science and Christianity as dominated by inherent conflict, will claim that science developed in spite of Christianity rather than because of it. Others view the relationship between Christianity and the Scientific Revolution as incidental. There are, however, solid reasons for believing that the Scientific Revolution occurred in the Christianized West because of Christianity. Not because Christianity is true or false, but because it led to an environment ripe for scientific thinking.

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Learning About the Cosmos From Job

¬†how-to-read-job-2The book of Job, as John Walton and Tremper Longman II point out in their recent book How to Read Job, “contains more extensive discussion of the cosmos and God’s role in it than any other book in the Bible with the possible exception of Psalms.” (p. 120) Today we will look specifically at the discussion of the cosmos in the book of Job.

The view of the cosmos presented in Job represents an ancient cosmic geography familiar to the original audience of the book.

From the ancient reader’s perspective the discussions of cosmic geography and the operations of the cosmos do not differ from the opinions affirmed in the rest of the Bible. Furthermore, what we find in Job is basically in line with the thinking of the time throughout the ancient Near East, except with regard to the identity of the controlling deity. (p. 120)

The major distinction between the book of Job and the thinking of the general ancient Near Eastern culture is the role of God’s justice and wisdom in the operations of the cosmos. There is no modern science hidden within the text – although metaphors are used at times “we cannot maintain that those metaphors conceal a view of the cosmos that was actually much like ours.” (p. 121) Walton and Longman go on to make an important point:

We all recognize that scientific understanding changes constantly. If God’s revelation were embedded in a particular scientific view, there would be no room for further investigation. Statements about the operation of the world cannot easily be so general as to fit the current knowledge and understanding of any generation. … After all, science is not simply a compilation of fact; it expresses society’s consensual understanding of how the world works. (p. 121)

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Don’t Tread on Me!

640px-gadsden_flag-svgHuman freedom, constrained only loosely by the caveat “do no harm,” seems the rallying cry of much of Western (especially North American) civilization. Tim Keller, in his new book Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, tackles the issue of freedom. The Western ideal of individual freedom has brought both gain and loss. Keller notes: “the ideal of individual freedom in Western society has done incalculable good. It has led to a far more just and fair society for minorities and women. Indeed, there is a danger that a critique of the ideal of freedom could be used to weaken or roll back these gains.” (pp. 100-101)

I’d go even a step further than Keller, the Western ideal of individual freedom has also done incalculable good for the poor of all races, both male and female. The oppression of the poor for the good of the wealthy has been quite real. The labor movement of the early 20th century was a response to this situation. Voting laws help us track the developments. In 1790 in the US only adult white male property owners of the correct religion (defined at the State level, I believe) had the right to vote. In 1810 the last religious prerequisite was eliminated. By 1850 the elimination of property ownership and tax requirements gave most white males the right to vote. Literacy laws were devised to discriminate against certain immigrant populations. In 1870 the 15th amendment gave most adult males the right to vote regardless of race or creed. Some States responded with poll taxes and literacy tests (often with poor and illiterate whites “grandfathered” because they could vote before the 15th amendment passed). In 1920 women were granted the right to vote and in 1924 Native Americans were granted the rights of citizenship. Threats to voting rights remain, but they are not quite as blatant.

The losses precipitated by emphasis on individual freedom have come from a weakening of connections in families and societies, and from a weakened sense of the divine. This needs more elaboration. Freedom defined as an absence of constraints is “unworkable because it is an impossibility.” (p. 101) We all experience constraints – some are simple facts of biology. Certain behaviors conflict with health.

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Is Suffering Just?

700px-job_rebuked_by_his_friends_butts_setThe retribution principle is simple: the righteous will prosper and the wicked will suffer. The corollary is that prosperity and suffering are always deserved. If someone suffers, it is because they are wicked, while prosperity is evidence of righteousness. Christianity puts another twist on this. Ultimate justice comes, not in this life, but in the age to come.

The book of Job puts the retribution principle on trial. There are three aspects to the trial. (1) The challenger suggests that people are righteous only for the reward, without the reward righteousness (i.e. behavior pleasing to God) would vanish. (2) Job’s friends are convinced that he must have done something to deserve his suffering. (3) Job, on the other hand, knows this isn’t true and challenges God’s justice. Where can this go? And a related question: are Christians righteous only for the reward (heaven)?

In part three of How to Read Job, John Walton and Tremper Longman III dig into the retribution principle. The idea that the world runs on a principle of justice was common in the ancient Near East, and remains common today.

Even among Christians today it is common to encounter the belief that if someone is doing well in life, he or she must be doing something right – pleasing God and gaining his favor. Inversely, people quickly jump to the conclusion that if life takes a bad turn, there must be a reason. (p. 90)

Some Christians will argue that all suffering is deserved because all sin, prosperity comes from undeserved grace (but, whispered, is probably a sign of God’s favor). This isn’t on the table in the book of Job. We know from the get-go that Job is righteous in the eyes of God. Righteousness doesn’t mean sinless perfection, but a life lived to please God.

Also not on the table is a hope for justice in the age to come. The Israelites did not have an expectation of an afterlife in communion with God. Justice, including reward and punishment, was a this-worldly affair. Because this comes as a surprise to many Christians, Walton and Longman devote a chapter to defending this idea. The resurrection is a later idea, still controversial in the New Testament, and, except for the book of Daniel (esp. 12:1-3), absent from the Old Testament.

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Bridges or Walls?

From Buda to PestThere is a well known image often used in evangelism – the bridge diagram. The cross is a bridge spanning the chasm between God and humans. A google search on “bridge diagram” will turn up many examples. The bridge to the right is a very different kind – connecting Buda and Pest.

We, too, are called to build or be bridges. Now, clearly we don’t replace the cross or the one-off work of God through Christ in any way, shape or form … but that doesn’t change the point. Bridges bring connection, walls divide (purportedly to protect). A few I’ve seen include Hadrian’s wall, the Great Wall of China, modern examples include the fences and walls in Israel/Palestine.

great-wallBridge or wall? I have been posting on science, Christian faith, and related topics for more than eight years now, 850+ posts! This, and the conversation with many commenters and many perspectives, has dramatically changed the way I think about and approach controversial issues. The lead question to myself in any post, comment, or conversation is: bridge or wall? Am I building a bridge that brings us to understanding, increased faith, and hopefully some people to faith? or, alternatively: Am I building a wall that identifies and protects us while keeping them out? The building blocks for the wall can be subtle, a turn of phrase, a name, an inside joke that identifies. A bridge takes work, conscious thought, and care. Walls are relatively easy. Walls lead to high-fives and affirmation. (And attacks as well, but who cares what “those people” think.) Bridges tend to be blas√© by comparison. An occasional thank you (I appreciate those), but no adrenaline rush. Walls keep us talking only to ourselves and others who think or live the same way. Bridges require effort, patience, and facing challenges head on.

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Posted in Church, compassion and mission, Problems for Faith