Reflections on Christ and Creation

I had the opportunity to speak on Sunday at a local church. The pastor is a friend I’ve known for years – since our kids were toddlers. The topic for the day was science and Christian faith. What does it mean to be a believing scientist, and to stay a believing scientist? After all, there is a common idea in our culture that science and Christian faith are locked in conflict. We can embrace one or the other, not both. Coming off three marvelous days at the BioLogos Christ and Creation Conference there was plenty of material running through my head ready to share.

To look at this question I’d like to start where we as Christians should always start – with Scripture.

In the Gospel of Mark we read: (Mark 12:28-34)

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, understanding and strength. This is an important part of our calling as Christians. It means that being a Christian and a scholar, whether in science or social science or humanities should not be a matter of compartmentalizing … weekday scientist, weekend Christian and never the twain shall meet. But this can be easier said than done.

There was a time in graduate school when I wasn’t sure it was possible to be or stay a believing scientist and scholar; the questions loomed large and answers were few and far between. Often it wasn’t even clear where answers might be found. Quite frankly, most of the resources from a Christian perspective did not take science or scientists seriously, with respect. Rather they were strangers to be ridiculed and dismissed. I distinctly remember one Sunday, back from graduate school at Berkeley. A movie from an apologetics group was shown in the evening service (back in the day when Sunday evening services were common). Rather than dealing with the very real questions raised by modern science – geology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, even Chemistry – the film used a rather funny sequence with hapless scientists in white lab coats performing meaningless tasks with mice and drawing ridiculous conclusions. This was not helpful.

Today there are many resources available to work through the issues at the intersection of science and Christian faith. I have been lucky enough to be involved in some of these discussions. I’d like to share five reflections on science and Christian faith.

The first is that there is a wonderful harmony between science and Christian faith. There are no unavoidable conflicts, places where this harmony can’t be found. There are questions for which we do not, today, have answers – but this is nothing new. Continue reading

Posted in Science and Faith

Christ and Creation

I have the opportunity this week to be at the BioLogos conference Christ and Creation in Houston. I’ve escaped the chilly north, but more importantly have the opportunity for excellent company and thought-provoking conversation. It is great to connect with old friends, meet new people and finally meet a few I’ve interacted with through this blog for years. Last night Tom Wright and Francis Collins spoke at the plenary and provided a musical interpretation of Genesis as well. Tomorrow morning Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight will speak on their new book Adam and The Genome. Live Streaming of the plenaries is available, with the opportunity to submit questions and watch the videos later as well. It may still be possible to purchase a ticket for virtual attendance here: Christ and Creation.

Collins made the point that science and faith do not betray an unavoidable conflict, that there is a wondrous coherence between the two. Because he came to faith in medical school (read Language of God for his story), he never experienced the conflict that so many Christians experience. Such past thinkers as Augustine, Bacon and Lewis can help point us forward. The ethos of conflict is unfortunate for three reasons: (1) Far too many Christians, both young and old, lose their faith over this issue, failing to see a way forward. (2) Far too many scientists (and non-scientists as well) either can’t or won’t consider faith as a viable option when the consensus is unavoidable conflict, and (3) Modern science raises many significant ethical questions. We need the voice of the church in these conversations – not to undermine science, but to speak to the ethical and moral questions.

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Jesus as Redeemer of Israel

I have been reading through, leading a discussion class, and occasionally posting on Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels by Richard Hays. I am sure that no one will agree with every connection and echo of the Old Testament Hays finds in the Gospels (he often indicates that some are “faint” and possibly not in the intent of the author). Yet, the insights that come from these references and echoes can (and should) transform the way we approach the Gospels. The description of the identity and mission of Jesus is far deeper and richer than a surface reading reveals … layers of meaning. Biography, even ancient biography, as a genre, doesn’t do justice to the nature of these books. We have, for our benefit, sophisticated depictions of the life and mission of Jesus, grounded in the Old Testament story.

The Gospel of Luke sandwiches the story of Jesus between the infancy narrative (Ch. 1-3) that sets the stage and the final scenes with the two on the road to Emmaus and then with the disciples in Jerusalem. To understand the importance of the declaration of Jesus’ identity in the first few chapters of Luke it is helpful to start at the end.

In Luke 24, Cleopas and his companion note of Jesus “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. … but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Jesus, unknown to them at the time, proceeds to explain, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Later, to the eleven and those with them (including the two from the road), he explained again all that was said concerning himself.

Cleopas and his companion had it right – but in an unanticipated and revolutionary manner they did not yet understand. Luke is closing circle on the theme with which he started the Gospel. The introduction in Luke 1-3 make it clear that Jesus is the one who redeems Israel. Mary is told “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.” Zechariah prophesies “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” Simeon praises God saying “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.

These events frame Luke’s depiction of the identity and mission of Jesus as the redeemer of Israel and should guide our reading of his Gospel. In Echoes Richard Hays outlines a number of aspects of the way in which Luke portrays the identity of Jesus as the redeemer of Israel.

Jesus is the agent of liberation. Hays picks up three main themes. Jesus is the Spirit anointed servant, the Davidic royal Messiah, and a prophet powerful in word and deed. The theme of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah is prominent in Luke 1-3 as the quotes above indicate, but minor in the rest of the Gospel. It resurfaces as an important theme in the book of Acts.

Spirit anointed liberator. Jesus role as the Spirit anointed servant frames the opening of his ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

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Adam According to Jesus

If it was good enough for Jesus it is good enough for us!

This is sentiment I have heard repeatedly in the discussion of Adam, Eve, science and Christian faith. It seems clear (some will claim) that Jesus regarded Adam and Eve as historical figures. He taught that Adam and Eve were historical figures. But is this actually what the available evidence in the Gospels demonstrates? What follows is an edited repost examining the topic.

Jesus is the Center. Jesus is the center of our faith. We need a hermeneutic that reads scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ and through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and future hope. We believe in the bible because we believe in God, not vice versa. Yes, it is something of a spiral not cleanly separated. We know God and of his mission largely through revelation in scripture, but not solely through scripture. The emphasis of primacy is important though. God (and Jesus) first and foremost.

Jesus alludes to Adam and Eve only indirectly. In the major reference found in the gospels Jesus takes Genesis 1:27 (So God created mankind … male and female he created them) and the institution of marriage in Genesis 2:24 (That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh) and then describes divorce as a concession to the hardness of the “your hearts”.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mt 19:4-6)

Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mk 10:6-9)

One need not believe in a historical Adam and Eve to believe that God ordained marriage between a man and a woman, or that this was part of his plan for creation from the beginning. One also need not believe in a historical Adam and Eve to use Genesis to teach about marriage.

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The Wisdom of this World

Oftentimes when discussing issues of science and faith, or other issues that challenge the conventional thinking of the Christian faith, someone will up and quote or paraphrase Paul from his letters to the Corinthians.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? … For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor. 1:18-20, 25)

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” … (1 Cor. 3:18-20)

The implication when this is brought into the conversation is, implicitly or explicitly, that we should forsake the wisdom of this world – the questions raised by philosophy, psychology, science, archaeology – and have faith in the wisdom of God and in his Holy Word, the “plain” reading of scripture. To accept an old earth and evolution or to question the historicity of Adam, Noah, Babel, Job, or Jonah and suggest that the genre of these passages carries truth in a different form, is to succumb to the wisdom of the world, forsaking the wisdom of God (it is usually fine to turn the Song of Songs into an allegory though).

In the 1 Cor. 23 Paul notes that Christ crucified is “a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks” (1. Cor. 1:23). I have at times heard people claim that this view of Christ crucified as “foolishness” explains the resistance to so-called “biblical” views of creation be they young earth, old earth progressive creation, or intelligent design.

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The Assured Results of Modern Science?

I have begun reading the new book Adam and the Genome by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight. This book provides an important and novel contribution to the discussion of science and Christian faith. The book joins a number of other excellent books combining scientific and theological expertise. Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins by Richard Carlson and Tremper Longman III combines the expertise of a physicist (Carlson) and an Old Testament scholar (Longman) to address questions of origins. Longman contribution to the book sheds important light on the genre and context of the Old Testament texts on origins. God and the Cosmos: Divine Activity in Space, Time and History by theologian Harry Lee Poe and chemist Jimmy H. Davis looks at God’s interaction with this world, and the influence of science on the ways we think about God’s action. I’ve read, reviewed and recommend both of these books.

For many Christians, however, the question of divine action, important as it is to the theologian, does not impact day-to-day faith. The age of the earth is a non-question, although many books, including Science, Creation and the Bible, provide important new insights. The real sticking point of evolution (and even the age of the earth) comes down to the nature of human kind as the image of God, followed by Adam and the fall. The important scientific questions revolve around evolution and human evolution in particular and on the New Testament importance of Adam as the first man and the original sinner. Adam and the Genome targets these important questions. Dennis is a professor of biology at Trinity Western University. He is an evolutionary biologist and a Christian. Scot McKnight (known, of course, to this audience) is a New Testament scholar and theologian. Together they have given us a thought-provoking book to start a journey through the question. I will be digging into the book and highlighting important points and questions over the next … however long it takes. If interested, pick up a copy, read along, and join the conversation.

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Revisiting the Fall

J. Richard Middleton has thought-provoking post at BioLogos that deals Evolution and the Historical Fall (now a couple of weeks old, but I only read it in the last few days). This short essay is well worth reading, and worth some comment here.

(1) A historical Fall. Richard, like many of the rest of us, finds the biblical and empirical case for a Fall of some sort compelling. He points out that the the Scriptures clearly teach a fallen humanity. But it goes a little deeper than this:

It has always been important to me that the Bible claimed that the world God created was good (indeed, “very good”; Gen. 1:31), and that evil was later introduced into this world by human disobedience. This notion of a historical Fall, which denies a pre-existing principle of evil and lays the origin of evil clearly at the feet of humanity, distinguishes the biblical version of creation from other accounts of origins. Yet it has become de rigueur among many Christian proponents of evolutionary creation to deny the classical doctrine of a historical Fall and to claim that Homo sapiens emerged in a sinful state. However, I don’t think this is a necessary move for those who want to affirm the truth of the Bible and an evolutionary account of human origins.

It isn’t completely clear from the essay, but I think that Richard is looking at human evil, an inclination to disobedience, violence, and oppression, rather than the origin of every phenomenon that might be called “evil.” We were not created sinful, we were created to be the image of God and in communion with God, but we are undeniably sinful and have been throughout all of remembered or recorded history. He suggests that the narrative of Genesis 3 and following depicts a progression of temptation and disobedience. Among other things God assumes that Cain can do what is right, and tells him that he must master the sin that crouches at his door. Sin develops and grows in the opening chapters of Genesis, but it is not a “quasi-genetic” transmission. More likely it is a cultural communal transmission. “Rather than an immediate change in human nature, the narrative of Genesis portrays a process by which humans come more and more under the sway of sin.”

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