Monday, August 27, 2007

Creationism potentially damaging to Christian faith

C’mon MY SON! You the man, Bishop Huber*!

Creationism weakens faith

"Man darf die Bibel nicht zu pseudowissenschaftlichen Aussagen missbrauchen. Es sei ein Irrtum, den Schöpfungsbericht gegen Darwinismus zu wenden"
*Der Ratsvorsitzende der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland


At 8/28/2007 1:56 AM, Anonymous Scott Bailey said...

I humbly prostrate myself before you and beg forgiveness but I do not understand German. Please don't think less of me.

Can you give a translation or synopsis of this in English?

At 8/28/2007 10:08 AM, Anonymous Philip Sumpter said...

Sorry,that was my translation, not an expression of my opinion.

At 8/28/2007 10:08 AM, Anonymous Philip Sumpter said...

"The Bible mustn't be missused to make pseudo-scientific statements. It is an error to turn the creation account against Darwinism"

At 8/28/2007 2:14 PM, Anonymous Ed Gentry said...

The issue for me is not just the Bible and Darwin but the misuse of the text in general. One would think that a community that reveres the text, calling it inspired, authoritative, (and in some circles inerrant) would approach the text with a bit more humility. It seems that many approach the Bible with very strong preconceptions about what the Bible is and what kind of questions it should be answering.

One would think that those who honor the Bible would approach it first by asking what kinds of questions it is trying to answer.

At 8/28/2007 5:59 PM, Anonymous One of Freedom said...

That is my frustration too Ed. I find it odd that I get told I have a low view of scripture when I personally think I have a high view of scripture. It seems all topsy turvy to me.

At 8/30/2007 10:20 AM, Anonymous Philip Sumpter said...

My experience of creationists is that they too can be humble when reading the text, and that they too can provide rational and exegetical arguments to prove their position. Issues of humility, preconceptions and asking the wrong questions apply across the board, regardless of position. There is no easy way out except to struggle with the text, yourself and your tradition in ongoing obedience to God.

At 8/30/2007 4:15 PM, Anonymous Ed Gentry said...

Philip, I'd be interested in reading something like that. The only 7-literal day positions I have heard all are come under the banner of a (claimed) strict literal interpretation hermeneutic - "the Bible says 7 days so it must so be". (I certainly admit that I've not done an exhaustive search on the subject.)

I've not read anyone taking that position which starts by asking genre questions or by trying to determine the the actual truth claims of the text. What would the early reader's of the text understood the text to be claiming? What were the expectations of other ANE creation stories?

I have a high view of scripture. But, I believe this must start with allowing the text to speak to us about what it is and how to understand it.

I certainly believe that God could have created the universe in seven days about six thousand years ago and made the entire universe look like it was much older. I just don't believe that the text claims this.

At 8/31/2007 10:09 AM, Anonymous Philip Sumpter said...

Dear Ed,

I was more interested in trying to clarify the grounds upon which creationist claims are accepted or rejected, with the aim of highlighting commonalities between us all as weak humans struggling with our faith. I'm not claiming that you don't see that, but I'm not sure that using phrases such as “ many approach the Bible with very strong preconceptions” is so helpful, as we all do that anyway. It doesn't matter how educated or not, how liberal or conservative, we're all stuck in the box, trying to navigate our path according to the criteria that make the most sense to us. On the one hand you're right, fundamentalists are operating with a wrong set of categories and assumptions which colours their reading of the text. The alternative approach which you would propose is no doubt far better in every respect. Nevertheless, the process by which you came to your position is similar in quality to the one that leads others to other opinions. “Allowing the text to speak to us about what it is and how to understand it” is a worthy goal, and humility and patience are necessary virtues to approach it. But these virtues do not lift us into a realm with no preconceptions. A fundamentalist can practice these virtues as much as any other and depending on a complex variety of uncontrollable factors could just as easily come to Creationist conclusions (as for concrete examples of argumentation, all I can think of now is a Systematic Theology by Robert Reymond and comments made by friends citing Josh McDowell, I think. Despite manifold weakness, I don't think they just assert that the Bible should be read literally because it's the Bible. The logic includes a mix of historical/philological analysis combined with systematic theological reasoning).

I hope I'm not being too abstruse. I'm more interested in trying to figure out the process of doing theology per se rather than the question of creationism/evolutionism itself (which is why I didn't like the way Hübner framed his opinion in the article, given his prominent position and pastoral responsibilities).

At 8/31/2007 1:14 PM, Anonymous Ed Gentry said...


What a journey we are on. Especially now in our age were everything set up as an authority is assaulted. What a challenge: Reading an ancient text written by many human authors, in genres that we often no longer completely grasp, written for people and cultures that are foreign and situations that are also not completely well understood, and then making this text speak to use with authority here and now.

I should have been much more careful. You are so right. Readers always bring their presuppositions to the reading of any text.

I've wondered what it is that makes people liberal, moderate, conservative - a classification I actually loathe especially since I don't know which one I am.

For me the first priority is the listen carefully to the text: hearing it in its literary, historical, and canonical contexts. This means bracketing out all theological implications until we are sure we have heard the text. Its the conscious bracketing of theology which I believe both left and right often refuse to do. For example some liberals firmly reject the miraculous hence they can't hear any Biblical testimony to this.

BTW for the record as much as I am very sympathetic to Chris's views I do think he goes a bit far - if I understand him correctly - in his wholesale affirmation of evolution.

At 8/31/2007 3:23 PM, Anonymous Philip Sumpter said...

B.S. Childs has a healthy way of looking at this. He sees the process of going from dogmatic assumptions to text and back again to faith as a dialectic in which each end of the spectrum is constantly corrected in the light of the other. However, one starts from a position of faith while seeking understanding, rather than attempting to empty one's head of theology beforehand (as if we could momentarily suspend belief in the gospel). We believe things anyway, based on more than a “dispassionate” reading of the text (our community, contacts, experiences, the Holy Spirit etc. are just as significant in forming us as scientific reading of the Bible). I'm still trying to figure out where Childs is coming from, but he seems to believe that the tension between exegesis and dogmatics is paralleled by that between Word and Tradition. Good Tradition, as a summa of the contents of the Gospel, provides the framework for exegesis of the very texts that witness in such a diverse way to this one Gospel. Genesis is interpreted as in some way relating to the overall meta narrative of Creation-Incarnation-New Creation, as providing a perspective on it. This meta narrative (brokered to us by tradition, e.g. Irenaeus' “rule-of-faith”), provides the context out of which we read Genesis, the story of which “resonates” differently, as its literal sense extends “through figuration a reality which has only been partially heard” (1992:87). We start with Tradition and go back to it, with the Bible as a vehicle of the Holy Spirit who speaks to us through both Word and Tradition.

These considerations may well nuance how we communicate with our brothers and sisters on either side of the theological spectrum, though I have to confess that I find Childs tough and am still trying to figure out what he's on about

At 8/31/2007 4:41 PM, Anonymous Ed Gentry said...

Yes, I've spent a good deal of time struggling with Childs myself. Looks like you are reading "Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments"?

I don't think we are that far apart. I come from the Biblical Studies world the emphasis is on hearing with fidelity over theological synthesis.

While I was reading Childs I was also reading Brueggemann "Theology of the OT." I really enjoyed the contrast: Childs = theological synthesis, Brueggemann = fidelity.

Brueggemann is very provocative. I don't always agree with the sharpness of his conclusions. But he reads the text to well to be ignored.

At 8/31/2007 9:34 PM, Anonymous Philip Sumpter said...

We're probably not that far off at all. I wonder what Childs would say about your comparison with Brueggeman. I reckon Childs would put it: Childs = theological; Brueggemann = history-of-religions. Childs is pretty stringent in his critique of Brueggemann!

At 8/31/2007 11:16 PM, Anonymous Ed Gentry said...

I know what Childs would say. He would say that Brueggemann is drawing out testimony from the text that canonical process has already had already rendered judgment on. Brueggemann responds to this criticism by arguing that Childs claims to already know the nature of the canonical witness. But, it is the very task of Biblical theology to establish the canonical witness. (SJT 53:2 p230)

BTW Brueggemann in his OT theology is not doing history-of-religions at all. It is a synchronic reading of the text and brackets both history and ontology.

He makes for exilierating and provocative reading. I would never recommend him to beginners or young Christians.

The feelings between Childs and Brueggemann are mutual which is unfortunate. Because they agree on much:
1) Biblical theology should be based on the final form of the text.
2) A primary task of Biblical theology is to express the diverse range of material.
3) Some “thematizing, summarizing, generalizing, and analogizing” is necessary to make the text meaningful.
4) Biblical theology is enhanced by dialog with diverse readers and voices.
5) The results and practice of Biblical theology are always provision.
6) Biblical interpretation will always be contextual.

At 9/01/2007 9:46 AM, Anonymous Philip Sumpter said...

Thanks for your comments Ed. This is an area which interests me so I'll attempt another response.

I have the SJT article in front of me, though I can't find where Brueggemann says “it is the very task of Biblical theology to establish the canonical witness”, and I'm not sure what that means anyway (though Childs says something like that in his Biblical Theology, p. 67). Brueggemann's response is to miss Childs' point by shifting his focus to “church practice”, “the lived reality of the Church”, “the reading among serious believing communities”, the “drama of liturgy” and the “pastoral reality of the Church”. But it is exactly this turn to a phenomenological (?) description of church practice as a starting point which causes Childs to claim that Brueggemann uses secular and history-of-religions categories (The Struggle, p. 315). Consequently, according to Brueggemann's approach, the Bible is a neutral, inert object waiting for human initiative to receive a coherent meaning. Childs, on the other hand, emphasises the theological dimension, namely that Scripture within traditional Christian exegesis has always been seen as a vehicle of God's communication, quickened by the Holy Spirit. The Christological centre of Scripture (something Brueggemann rules out at the outset, at least in any substantive sense) ensures that scripture is able to evoke new and fresh understanding which is commensurate with the promised Spirit to illuminate and guide the church through the Word. Scripture thus has a voice that exerts coercion on its readers. Faithful interpretation involves a response to this theocentric force. Thus the challenge of “wrestling with Scripture” lies in the struggle to acquire the capacity to receive its message. As such, it's necessary for Childs to believe that the text has a “semantic given”, designated by its role of scripture and safeguarded by the canonical shape.

I could go on, as Childs is so holistic that this approach can be buttressed from so many different angles. I love Brueggemann for his eloquent writing and creative, unique insights. However, I would not take his approach as normative for the Church and would not consider it the spiritually healthiest way to read scripture faithfully.

Given this fundamentally different starting point, the similarities you outline remain, as far as I an see, mostly superficial.

At 9/01/2007 1:41 PM, Anonymous Philip Sumpter said...

A great article to compare Childs and Brueggemann, both in terms of their work and their contribution to Christian / Jewish dialogue, is J. D. Levenson's "Is Brueggemann Really a Pluralist?" Harvard Theological Review, 93 no 3 Jl 2000, p 265-294

At 9/03/2007 2:49 AM, Anonymous Ed Gentry said...

Again I'm not sure that we are that far apart. I wouldn't recommend Breuggemann as a normative not is it the healthiest. I just appreciate his creativity, which often enlightens and emphasizes things that might be otherwise overlooked.

BTW w.r.t. the SJT article that I referenced: it was a paraphrase of a comment WB made in his response to Childs.


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