Heaven on Earth? A Postcard from an Important Conference
[callout title=Callout Title]As Regent students have summarized it, they feel a tension between "History vs. Mystery."[/callout]My friend Hans Boersma, J.I. Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, was one of the organizers of an important recent conference there: "Heaven on Earth? The Future of Spiritual Interpretation." Fortunately, for those of us who couldn't be there, Daniel Treier of Wheaton College has provided an excellent report from the conference for Books & Culture. As Treier notes, the consistent theme and question of the conference was "how to navigate apparent conflict between modern biblical scholarship and classic spiritual exegesis." How can we read with Augustine after Harnack? Treier well summarizes the tensions felt by contemporary students of Scripture: Courses in biblical studies and (usually) hermeneutics teach how to exegete the Bible using modern tools of critical scholarship, perhaps with a measure of discernment about the presuppositions involved in the history of those tools. Meanwhile courses in theology and (perhaps) pastoral ministry or spiritual life teach what classic churchly interpreters did with the Bible and suggest (to varying degrees) that we should go and do likewise. The challenge of discernment becomes much more difficult as a result: can the students embrace a modern approach centered on historical reconstruction of the human author's intentions, simply making minor presuppositional adjustments that uphold the Bible's historical value and theological authority? Or must students fundamentally embrace a more classic understanding of spiritual exegesis centered on pursuit of the divine Author's intentions, simply making ad hoc use of modern historical tools when these seem helpful to churchly aims? Or as Regent students have summarized it, they feel a tension between "History vs. Mystery." One would hope this is a false dichotomy--since we worship the Lord of time and history who is at the center of a mysterious Gospel: "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). But we can't just assert that as a way to evade the tension. We need to live into the tension in order to see a way through it. Treier's entire report--and the literature he points to--is worthy of close attention. I highlight it because I think it is precisely this tension that needs to be felt and then addressed by those engaged in the theology/science conversation. Indeed, I'm convinced that we will not make progress on questions of Adam & Eve, a historical fall, and original sin until we have worked through more fundamental issues of hermeneutics and the theological interpretation of Scripture. To date, neither scientists nor theologians at the center of the faith/science discussions seem either interested in or concerned with this conversation. For the sake of the church, I hope that will change.