However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philisophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God. – Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 175
Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. – Sam Harris, “An Atheist Manifesto”
[Creationist Ray] Bohlin managed to recruit state board members to join in his quest, even going so far as to claim that removing any mention of creationist opinions in science would somehow prevent students from being able to ask questions in classes. (A false claim). He further claimed the majority of the committee was engaged in “a quick and concerted effort by the majority of the committee to remove the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).”
“I don’t advocate for any kind of creationism to be taught in the school. That does not belong in the TEKS. I’m simply concerned about the fair representation of the evidence for evolution,” said Bohlin. – Sarah K. Burris, “Creationists attack Texas education board for trying to eliminate junk science from school textbooks”, Raw Story, October 5, 2016
The theological principle which I accept without a rival has made it almost compulsory that I should first present the doctrine of the work of the Creator as such in the old-fashioned form of a radical exposition of the contents of the first two chapters of the Bible. This exposition is the kernel of the present book. I realise that it is in many ways strange, for I had not myself expected that this would be the result of a closer consideration of these passages and the problems involved. It will perhaps be asked in criticism why I have not tackled the obvious scientific question posed in this context. It was my original belief that this would be necessary, but I later saw that there can be no scientific problems, objections or aids in relation to what Holy Scripture and the Christian Church understand by the divine work of creation. Hence in the central portion of this book a good deal will be said about “naive” Hebrew “saga”, but nothing at all about apologetics and polemics, as might have been expected. The relevant task of dogmatics at this point has been found exclusively in repeating the “saga”, and I have found this task far finer and far more rewarding than all the dilettante entanglements in which I might otherwise have found myself. There is free scope for natural science beyond what theology describes as the work of the Creator. And theology can and must move freely where science which really is science, and not secretly a pagan Gnosis or religion, has its appointed limit. I am of the opinion, however, that future workers in the field of the Christian doctrine of creation will find many problems worth pondering in defining the point and manner of this twofold boundary. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine Of Creation, Part 1, pp. ix-x
The central faith-claim of the Christian Church is the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. This particular claim is perhaps the most radical statement ever made: It says everything there is to know about God, who God is, what kind of God this God of Jesus Christ is, the state of humanity in its relationship to God and its mutual interrelationships, how best to live one’s life, and whether or not death is to be feared or considered part of our broken yet healing creation. The claims of the Christian Church are, quite literally, life and death for those who make them. Far too comfortable in our middle-class “religion” of reassurance, we forget that, in the words of the late Rev. Dr. William Homes, “to live is to risk”.
The bulk of the Christian proclamation should remain focused upon this particular point. It must stress the grace and love that is the beating heart of that proclamation. That this is both confessional and pastoral should be obvious; it is confessional because this is the God to whom we give testimony, and it is pastoral because this beating heart gives new life to those who hear it and believe. The whole liturgy of the Church focuses upon grace and love, and we who go forth from worship have this new heart beating within us.
And yet . . .
Buried within the central proclamation is the confession that this “world” – really everything from quasars to elementary particles, gas giants circling other stars and your pet cat – is the product of the creative act of love of our prodigal God. This faith statement – God created the heavens and the earth – seems both pretty simple and straightforward. Alas, as the natural sciences have pushed further and further what is theorized concerning both the beginnings of our Universe and its constituent properties, that simple faith claim sounds as if it is in direct conflict with our best theories concerning cosmology and the origin and development of life here on Earth.
And yet . . .,
Here in the United States (of all places) scientific knowledge is under attack on an unprecedented scale. Everything from medical science, genetics and food science, through the physics and chemistry of the earth’s atmosphere and climate, to those perennial arguments over the theory of evolution is questioned, has groups organized to protest both the reality of scientific understanding and the growth both of that understanding and various technological benefits from genetically engineered foods and vaccines to the teaching of evolution in public schools. The nation that has both pioneered and benefited from scientific research and the application of that research to technologies that benefit us routinely ridicules basic research, denies scientific theories that have yet to be disproved even in some small detail, and now even has an anti-science advocate – “Dr.” Jill Stein – running for President. These attacks upon the most successful method we humans have yet developed for figuring out how the world works and helping us live better, healthier lives should be of concern to anyone who continues to benefit from all that science and technology has offered us as a species.
We in the Christian churches should be as concerned as the rest. One of the first things we should acknowledge is that the ability to figure out our world and how best not just to survive but thrive on it is indeed a very good gift from a loving God. Just as we recognize the entirety of Christian Doctrine exists within the central proclamation of the churches, we should also acknowledge that “good gift” of understanding is part and parcel of the particular Universe in which we find ourselves. A Universe capable of the kind of relatively stable biochemistry capable of becoming alive would, it should be obvious, endow that life with the ability to understand that Universe and so survive within it. Our rationality, that particular habit of considering evidence in order to grasp particularly important information regarding our world, is a direct result of the kind of Universe in which we live.
For there to be some kind of conflict between science and Christian faith, one would have first to deny that we are creatures endowed with the ability not just to understand but to act upon an understanding of the world so that we can thrive and grow in it. To deny scientific theories, whether it’s about global climate change, the Big Bang, the chemical theories regarding mental illness that have produced successful drug treatments, or the theory of evolution, is to deny that God has made us as we are – as creatures able to learn stuff and use that learning. A denial of science at any level is, at heart, a denial of faith in the God of Jesus Christ.
And yet . . .
Science’s success has led some scientists (and non-scientists) to come to accept it not just as the best method yet of figuring out our world and how best to live in it; they believe the very existence of science both as a method and as a body of knowledge excludes other ways of understanding. Not just religion in general and the Christian faith in particular (because both Christianity and science are European phenomena what points of contention exist between the sciences and “religion”, by and large, involve Christianity), but a kind of scientific reductionism across all sorts of human activity from patriotism through individual behaviors and deviance to romantic love can be encountered. Which isn’t to say that science doesn’t have something to say about why it is we human beings prefer the company of those more like us than not, say, or why it is we not only fall in love but some cultures persist in enforcing life-long pair-bonding over and against what seems a far more likely serial mating among the best candidates available. It does have things to say, and should say them.
The problem is, they aren’t the only things that can and should be said about these and other phenomena. When it comes to religion in general, and the claims of any particular faith, science should recognize, first and foremost, that the claims of believers are not and by their nature cannot be addressed as science addresses such matters. This isn’t just a question of “falsifiability”, as only those questions to which a negative answer is at least potentially possible were the only questions worth asking. It is precisely because science and religion, in fact, do not inhabit the same sphere at all. They do not address the same specific questions; they do not attempt to answer them using the same tools; they do not offer answers that can be stated interchangeably in the vocabularies of science and religious faith. At heart, the efforts of some scientists and some people of faith to fan the flames of conflict is fundamentally to misunderstand that we are dealing with two distinct vocabularies developed to address distinct issues and problems and offer solutions to those problems in terms that exist wholly within the distinct vocabularies used.
The Christian faith has nothing much to say at all about “the reality” of the Big Bang, biochemistry, or the evolution and development of life. Science has nothing much to say about the revelation of the God revealed to the world in Jesus Christ, the salvation of our broken Creation, and the promise of New Life and New Creation to come. In the first case, the only thing Christian theology should do is give thanks to God both for a Universe in which scientific knowledge is possible and that we are creatures so endowed in order to grow and thrive. The only thing science should say about Christian proclamation regarding Creation is that it answers questions that have nothing at all to do with what science teaches us. To do other than this is, in the end, to devolve into arguments that are, for all intents and purposes, like one German speaker and one Danish speaker arguing with one another in their own languages over which language is better.
So is a “theology of science” even possible? I’m not so sure it’s as much a question of its possibility – for surely we humans are ingenious enough to come up with all sorts of things that sound convincing – as a question of its scope and place within the larger concerns of Christian proclamation. At best it is and should always be considered a peripheral matter, sitting at the edge of the proclamation of creation. Recognizing both that science both as a body of knowledge and a way of coming to that body of knowledge exist should be yet more reasons for praising our good and loving God. Beyond that, however, I guess I’m not sure what more can or should be said.
Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ – John 18:37-38
I’m taking a break from my Lenten Journey today. See, Sunday’s don’t count as part of the season of Lent, because centuries ago the Church realized that Sundays are, in and for themselves, little Easters, during which we celebrate the Eucharist, and recall the death and resurrection of Jesus. How is it possible to maintain a discipline rooted in following Jesus to the Cross if on Sunday we declare Him already raised? That’s why Lent is actually longer than the 40 days advertised. We don’t count Sundays.
It probably won’t come as a shock to some of you there is actually a group calling themselves “United Methodist Scholars For Christian Orthodoxy”. They even have a website (who doesn’t these days?) in which various Seminary professors extol the multiple virtues of adherence to orthodox doctrine. Pretending, of course, that we do not have Doctrinal Standards or Articles of Religion that are clear, orthodox, and that make clear that to which we United Methodists hold fast in faith, in love, and in hope. Wedded to an individualistic idea that the faith of the Church is only as strong as the declarations of any particular one of its members, these “Scholars” don’t quite get that they are both unnecessary and redundant. The United Methodist Church in and for itself is Orthodox in its profession of faith and practice of ministry, as set out in The Book of Discipline. That individuals across a denomination counting over nine million members in multiple countries, speaking multiple languages, coming from multiple ethnic, cultural, social, and political contexts might well be a bit different in their approach, apprehension, and use of our Orthodoxy is to be expected. It just isn’t a big deal.
Except to this group of mostly white, mostly men, all North Americans who seem to insist that our quadrennial proclamation of faith just isn’t enough; they live in fear and smoldering anger that someone, somewhere, believes differently than they do, and it must be stopped at all costs.
Actually, I exaggerate. Their sole reason for existence is to demand adherence to a particular interpretation of doctrine in order to prevent full inclusion of sexual minorities in the life of the church, and ministry to them including presiding at their legal weddings. You see, this is what it’s come to in the United Methodist Church. “Scholars” are using “doctrine” as a weapon to build up forces against full inclusion. Is it any wonder I, for one, have little to no interest in adherence to doctrine, particularly in the way they insist it is to be done?
Let’s take a ferinstance. The latest post, dated February 23 (apparently the situation isn’t nearly as dire as they would want us to think), concerns “Jesus Christ in United Methodist Doctrine: Exploring the Biblical and Creedal Basis”. It is written by Rev. Dr. Kenneth Loyer, Senior Pastor of Otterbein United Methodist Church of Spy, York, PA. If the title isn’t enough to make your jaws creak with a yawn, let’s venture forward and see what the good Rev. Dr. has to say.
At the very center of Christian faith and practice stands Jesus Christ. Christians throughout history and around the world today, regardless of their ecclesial traditions, hold that basic claim in common. For those of us in the United Methodist tradition, and for other interested parties, several questions then emerge. What specifically does United Methodist doctrine teach about Jesus Christ? To what extent does United Methodist Christology represent the teaching of Scripture and early Christian creeds, and why does that matter? Guided by such questions, this post will explore, albeit initially, the biblical and creedal basis of United Methodist Christology as set forth in the Articles of Religion (abbreviated as AR followed by the article number) and the Confession of Faith (CF).
I will focus on two articles in particular, AR 2 and CF 2, which can be found here:http://umorthodoxy.org/documents/. These articles present a number of key themes that not only express the essence of Christology in United Methodist doctrine but also illuminate the biblical and creedal basis for confessing Jesus Christ in the United Methodist tradition.
Which could have been shortened to: “Let’s see what United Methodists say about Jesus.” Because, of course, part of being a scholar is using a whole bunch of words, when a few will suffice. I think it comes from having to pad all those 25 and 30 page papers we get assigned in Seminary. Anyway, I want to skip through and highlight a particular part of this post.
Full divinity and humanity. The two articles cited above also affirm the two natures of Christ, fully divine and fully human. The unity of these two natures in one person is described in ways similar to the Definition of Chalcedon and its balanced statement of the two natures of Christ united without confusion, change, division, or separation: the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus Christ are “never to be divided” (AR 2) and are “perfectly and inseparably united” (CF 2). Furthermore, both articles mention the Virgin Birth (cf. Matthew 1:20-25) as part of the explanation of the hypostatic union.
Why is it important to believe that Jesus is fully divine and fully human? Actually, our very salvation stands or falls on this question. If Jesus were not fully divine, could he redeem us (that is, would he still have the power to redeem us)? If he were not fully human, could he redeem us (that is, could his saving power be applied to us mere mortals)? As nothing less than true God in human flesh, Jesus identifies fully with us and is like us in every way except that he is without sin—precisely in order to save us from our sins. (emphases added)
Now, doctrine is all about words. Repeating words without defining them or understanding them is a bit like being told to make an omelet with hollow eggs. No matter how hard you try to tell the person insisting you make that damn omelet that the eggs are empty, all you get as a response is, “I don’t care! You’re supposed to make an omelet! Now get cooking!”
There are a couple things I want to note about what Rev. Dr. Loyer wrote above before I get to the main point. First of all, he is not “doing” doctrine here. Nor is he really doing theology. He is, rather, telling people why using particular words and phrases is necessary – our salvation, our redemption, the person and work of Jesus stands or falls on whether or not these particular words and not others are used – without taking a single moment, a phrase here, a sentence there, to tell us what any of these words mean. Hypostatic Union? What the hell is that? Definition of Chalcedon? Who is Chalcedon and why is it necessary that whatever it is defined as be held up as the cornerstone of our faith?
I’m joking of course. I know what the Hypostatic Union is. The Definition of Chalcedon, which we in our churches recite as “The Nicene Creed”, is about who Jesus is: Son of God, Begotten of the Father, Begotten Not Made, Very Light from Very Light. All that good stuff. I will also state, up front before I go any further that I believe all this stuff, as weird as it is. Not that my adherence to this or any other Doctrinal formula is actually a matter of concern either to God or to anyone else (except the church ladies in United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy).
Here’s my real question. It’s simple, actually: What is “divinity”? What does it mean to be “divine”? I mean after all, this is Divine:
Yet, there are other images that capture, at least in part, the Christian idea of the Divine.
And there are, of course, non-Christian notions of divinity that can be captured in an image:
With all these images and understandings of “Divine” that float around our world, none of which can or should take precedence over any of the others without looking and sounding like an uptight, imperialistic douchebag, I guess I’m confused about what, exactly, the word “divine” means, or is supposed to mean, to us United Methodists. Which, I suppose, leads to a bit of a challenge, should any of my “Orthodox” brethren and sisters feel up to it.
Define divine and divinity for me. Three things, though: You can’t reference centuries-dead metaphysics that are even more confusing than the vocabulary of so much of our Christian faith; and you can’t rely on tautology, e.g., “God is Divine, therefore whatever is Divine is of God.” This isn’t a definition. It’s a concession that you have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. Finally, don’t go quoting someone else’s book. You can start with the Scriptures, of course – that kind of goes without saying – but please don’t rely on some other scholar or author. Since you’re so concerned about what each of us United Methodists say and believe, I’m sincerely interested if it’s possible for any of you to give a coherent understanding of “the divine” and “divinity” in your own words, words than express something meaningful about your life and faith.
I’m trying to make a point. We in the United Methodist Church not only hold up our Doctrinal Standards and our Articles of Religion. We also hold up our Theological Task as a necessary part of the faith and life of the Church. Without performing our theological task, those “Scholars for Orthodoxy” would have us recite empty words, meaningless phrases, without any clue they actually mean something, something vital, something life-affirming, life-changing, world-changing.
So, who’s up to the task? And remember, don’t turn it around on me, because I asked first: What is “Divine”? You don’t have to link to me. After all, I read you folks far more than you read me.
As I noted at Reflections On, I’m reading the long introductory essay to a new edition of Theodor Adorno’s essays on music. A key feature of Adorno’s criticism of late capitalism is the limitations placed on such a criticism precisely because of the totalitarian nature of capitalist ideology. Because it pervades and insinuates itself in to all aspects of human life, one cannot stand outside, above, or beyond it in order to get what Hegel might have called “an angel’s eye view”. Adorno did not exclude his own criticism, remarking that it was just as flawed and limited as all others for the same reasons. Adorno insisted the effort was necessary, however, precisely because of the demands of justice, heard in the voices of the suffering, voices history (as viewed through the lens of Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History) insists of quieting in the name of progress.
Culture, or as Adorno called it “the Culture Industry”, is no different. The possible transcendent beauty of Michaelangelo, say, or a piece of music is always compromised because of the demands of late capitalism, the commodification of all objects in the pursuit of exchange, what Adorno referred to as the demands of the bottom line. The distinction between what some analysts insisted was “high” and “low” culture was false precisely because it was a function of the market demanding distinctions to drive sales and profit. Something as beautiful and significant as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel becomes little more than a thing valued only for the price reproductions can achieve in the market. So, too, a piece of music, even something as inventive and new as Gru’s “Djent”- inspired guitar instrumentals, can only take one so far precisely because it is nothing more than a product, created by an Industry to fill a particular market niche for the profit not of those who produce it but who market and sell it.
I believe this same limit applies no less to our churches than to anything else. After all, consider how too many of our fellow Americans (to use one national example among many) consider it perfectly appropriate to “shop around” for a church that “fits” them, that “fulfills their needs”. It is nothing for many people to hop from a Baptist Church to a Lutheran Church to a United Methodist Church, perhaps even then to a Roman Catholic church, never once considering the vast differences among them, the doctrinal and theological divisions – some of which have resulted in wars and death and terror in the past – meaning little to those for whom “religion” is a market no different from any other: something to fill a need, to satisfy an individual need.
So much of the discussion within denominations these days revolve around these very issues. How do we “market” our churches to get the word out to the people to “choose” ours over another? As individuals consider churches as something to fill a need (often artificial, created by the larger religion-culture-industry), churches too often neglect the reality that they are there for God, to bring people together before God, to do God’s work in the world. Whether or not that fills any individual or even collective need is irrelevant. Yet, this transcendent position is limited even its truth-value precisely because it is no less embedded within the society of late capitalism, with its totalitarian demands. Like Adorno, the churches cannot not continue their appeal to the Gospel, to the transformative possibilities of a life lived with Christ, in the Spirit, for the Father, even thought understanding and lived out this will never be fully what it we claim it could or would be. Thus the struggles in the emerging post-Christian America for an identity among denominations that strikes the balance between our mission and ministry and appealing to the needs of people for whom religion is just another product to be purchased in order to fill a need.
Part of the current struggle within the United Methodist Church over the status of sexual minorities is a result of precisely this: the extremes both claim absolute, transcendent truth is on their side. The middle, represented by the Hamilton-Slaughter “Way Forward” proposal is a market-driven solution to what is essentially a theological problem that cannot be resolved within theological language. Thus, we are at a standstill unless we take Adorno’s position: the plight of the suffering of those history demands we forget in the name of profit and progress should be our guide to be as clear as possible, even though we know we can never be as clear as we should be. Our work in the world is for God, a God of justice, a God for full human life, a God whose love for creation demanded Divine self-sacrifice to the injustice that pervades our world in order to overcome it. We cannot escape the pervasive dehumanization and commodification of capitalism. We can, however, work hard to offer hope that, like all totalizing ideologies, it too will be seen through for the lie that it is. It creates the conditions in which understanding takes place; it creates the vocabularies through which language becomes intelligible. Through these means, it sets the limits, including the absolute limits, on any claims to transcendence.
The best we can ever hope for is to point this out, and repeat the Gospel message the we serve the God who is a God of grace, a God of justice, and the God for whom the lie of the whole is part of the sin of this world that we can at least partially overcome in this life. We must never forget, however, thanks to Adorno, that we are compromised, and our claims to transcendence limited no matter how hard we try.
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. -Ephesians 1:5-10
Thus, Jesus’ unity with God – and thus the truth of the incarnation – is also decided only retroactively from the perspective of Jesus’ resurrection for the whole of Jesus’ human exsitence on the one hand (as we have already seen) and thus also for God’s eternity, on the other. – Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God And Man, p. 321.
One of the most difficult concepts to grasp in relation to what the Christ-event means for us is “time”. That is why Jeremy Begbie’s book on music is so important, for me at least, as he is focused on how the revelation of the Father in the Son through the Spirit (and Begbie is nothing if not a thorough-going Trinitarian) demonstrates the fundamental reality and created goodness of our temporal existence.
And, yet, as the Scriptures tell us, the resurrection fundamentally changed Creation, including time. Paul speaks in a couple places of “the fullness of time”, as in the epigram above. God’s time is often misconstrued, whether through lack of thought or confusion or some confusion of the two, as coinciding with our temporal existence; thus we often read of those who, say, decry “the delay of the parousia”, or wonder why evil and injustice continue to exist, if God is loving, just, and powerful enough to alter reality.
Pannenberg used the idea of “the fullness of time” to explicate, first and foremost, the dogma of the Two Natures – that is, that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. This is a reality for God in God’s time, which we often call eternity, yet it is hidden there until its temporal revealing at the resurrection. Pannenberg goes so far as to declare this hiddenness included being hidden from Jesus the man. While I’m not sure I’ll go that far, Pannenberg’s singular move here presages a larger understanding of God’s time that, perhaps not ironically, can best be understood musically.
When we listen to music, we never hear the whole piece all at once. We listen as it unfolds in time, our expectations rising and falling, feeling tension rise then be released, and finally a conclusion – perhaps a revisit of the beginning understood in a new way; perhaps ending in a place we never would have expected – that brings the whole to a close. We cannot grasp the whole, as greater than the parts to which we’ve been listening, until it is over. In essence, music pulls us toward its end, at which point all that has gone before makes sense as parts of that whole.
In much the same way, God’s time, which is not “eternity” as generally understood as being “no time”, but the time both demonstrated and fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, not only make sense of all that has gone before. It also is God’s future toward which all creation is being moved by the power of the Event itself. Temporality itself is reshaped in this moment; what’s past is not dead and gone, but caught up in the New Life revealed in the risen Christ. The present is our momentary passage forward to the future that is God’s future, which we proclaim when we declare our faith if Jesus crucified, dead, and buried, and raised on the third day.
To speak of the fullness of time is to speak of God’s time, fulfilled once for all yet still unfolding here and now, in which we participate as faithful actors of God’s Divine future waiting for us. This is one of the deepest, most mysterious parts of faith: to trust that God’s time is enough to bring us through all the horrors and joys of existence, including death itself, to the end God has said awaits us all, as revealed in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.