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Praying The Scriptures with The Colossian Forum
June 29, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Praying The Scriptures with The Colossian Forum
Here at The Colossian Forum we believe that the unity of Christians bears witness to the glory of God. And what greater unity is there than praying with the communion of saints and with the church? We invite you to participate in praying the Divine Office with us, and Michael Gulker, our executive director, reflects on why this form of prayer is so important for the life of the church and for the mission of The Colossian Forum. Take a look.
Return to the Sources!
June 25, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Return to the Sources!
If you’ve spent any time on our main website, you know that we've said a lot about the theological interpretation of Scripture. This view desires that Christians are able to read Scripture together as a church community, wrestling with the text for answers to normative questions. After all, the theological interpretation of scripture is normative, not merely descriptive. The concern is often that if we reduce our method of scripture-reading to historical criticism, we will come away with only a view of the world “behind” the text, but as James K.A. Smith has pointed out (utilizing the insights of Paul Ricoeur) in his review of Pete Enns’ recent book, “the meaning of Scripture is also generated in front of the text.” We should not eschew the benefits of the historical-critical model; the theological interpretation of Scripture is just one method that implies that what’s “behind the text” – the historical context, the authors’ original intent, etc. – will likely not fully account for the political, social, and intellectual contexts that change drastically with time. The theological interpretation of Scripture implies that we utilize a hermeneutics that can apply the Scriptures for us today. Of course, we will inevitably come to the Scriptures with the presuppositions that reflect our cultural situatedness, which is why Dr. Graham Cole says we should be good phenomenologists of the text. How we receive the phenomena of the Scriptures – how we see in front of the text – generates meaning in the Scriptures that could not possibly have been inherent to the authors’ original intentions or contexts. This does not imply that we are the sole infusers of meaning, or that we have the right to “update” the Scriptures according to our times. Rather, it simply acknowledges the vibrancy and vastness of Scripture, a text that we both “live into” and generate meaning “in front of.” And the meaning we generate is inspired by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Since the theological interpretation of Scripture seeks to account for the background knowledge we inherit from the church’s two-thousand year history, it requires us to return to the sources. In the mid-twentieth century a number of Roman Catholic theologians proposed that the Catholic Church must return to the sources of Scripture and the ancient church. That is, they proposed that the life of the church today depends on its participation with the ancient sources (the movement is known as the Catholic ressourcement (“return to the sources”)). Recently, a number of evangelical Christians have proposed a ressourcement of their own, seeking to recover the insights of Christianity’s Great Tradition. A few days ago, James K.A. Smith posted about David Dockery and Timothy George’s recent engagements with these ancient theological sources. I would like to direct you to other related books, specifically the Evangelical Ressourcement series, published by Baker and edited by D.H. Williams. By returning to the ancient sources for the sake of the church’s future, this series encourages a theological interpretation of Scripture, and the evangelical authors encourage their evangelical readers to cultivate tradition rather than being overly suspicious of it. Here’s a brief description of the aim of the series, found on Baker’s website: “The Evangelical Ressourcement series is grounded in the belief that there is a wealth of theological, exegetical, and spiritual resources from the patristic era that is relevant for the Christian church today and into the future. Amid the current resurgence of interest in the early church, this series aims to help church thinkers and leaders reappropriate these ancient understandings of Christian belief and practice and apply them to ministry in the twenty-first century.” One might wonder what these sources have to do with the “faith and science” conversation. But for that I’ll leave you with Dr. Graham Cole’s remarks on how the theological interpretation of Scripture intersects with this conversation: part one can be found here, followed by part two here.
Whose Politics? Which Conversation?
June 22, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Whose Politics? Which Conversation?
Does the tenor of the conversation on the intersection of faith and science reflect the current (American) political climate? Christina Van Dyke, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, thinks so. In this video, she posits that the willingness of American Christians to divide over issues of faith and science is related to the polarization of various factions in American politics. We hope Christians can recognize the sense in which our rigid identification with positions in partisan politics often encourages a rather divisive and offensively acerbic tone. And we, along with Dr. Van Dyke, want us to recognize the way in which this carries over into our conversations on faith, science, and culture. Perhaps we should not become so identified with our political “positions” that we automatically consider alternative accounts as threats. When our positions urge us to become fearful of otherness and difference, we become closed off to the gifts of others’ insights, differences of opinion, or disagreements. And given this fear, we even become militant. Does that sound like any campaign ads you’ve seen lately? Why all the vitriol if not for fear? The common American political paradigm is such that we’re expected to dogmatically identify with options that, by nature, are militantly opposed to others. And if the identification with these options is dogmatic, the militant opposition that goes along with it is also dogmatic. As followers of Jesus, we are not called to be dogmatically militant, especially to those whom we call our brothers and sisters in Christ. Furthermore, we must question whether Christians are called to stake their identities in the system of partisan politics. That’s not to say that Christians should not participate in politics, but rather that our identities are bound up in the resurrected Lord and his body, the church. It is there that we cultivate the virtues of charity and hospitality, virtues that enable us to extend ourselves across our differences amidst this conversation on faith, science, and culture. If Christina Van Dyke is correct in saying that the conversation on faith, science, and culture divides the church due to its recourse to the rhetoric of U.S. politics, we might say that the church is the alternative space in which to cultivate a different kind of rhetoric, one of peace, charity, and the communal pursuit of truth. This rhetoric is tethered to the biblical proclamation that all things hold together in Christ (Col. 1:17), including science and the Christian faith (two things that Dr. Van Dyke says were never separated until the modern era).
David Dockery on the Riches of the Christian Intellectual Tradition
June 20, 2012 | James K.A. Smith
David Dockery on the Riches of the Christian Intellectual Tradition
We at The Colossian Forum are excited to see evangelicals rediscovering the riches of "the Great Tradition" of Christian faith--the orthodox legacy bequeathed to us in the rich theological resources of Nicea and Chalcedon, as well as the wise teaching of ancient and medieval doctors of the church.  One can see signs of this in the collection edited by Timothy George, Evangelicals and Nicene Faith: Recovering the Apostolic Witness. George has now partnered with David Dockery, the president of Union University, to co-edit a new book series, Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition, which will mine the riches of this tradition for thinking across the disciplines.  (We'll be particularly interested to see the forthcoming volume on the sciences.)  The first volume, The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: A Student's Guide, is something of a manifesto for this project and this sensibility that finds wisdom in the past. You can read an interview with David Dockery that explains the rationale of the series and their vision for the project.
Others Weigh in on Smith's Review of Enns' Book
June 19, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Others Weigh in on Smith's Review of Enns' Book
James K.A. Smith, a senior research fellow here at The Colossian Forum, has recently reviewed Pete Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, prompting a lot of attention from those invested in the conversation on Christianity, evolution, and human origins. Smith’s review focuses primarily on Enns’ methodology rather than his position: "If one wants to disagree with Enns’ conclusions, it is crucial to first attend to the whole framework within which he pursues his project. In fact, even if one were inclined to agree with his conclusions, it is important to consider whether one also wants to accept the way he gets there. More importantly, if evangelicals are going to debate these matters well, we need to consider more foundational issues and not rush ahead to nailing down a 'position.'" Smith critically approaches the paradigm of the biblical studies guild, claiming that Enns is caught between the limits of this paradigm and his “sincere desire to aid and equip the church to be faithful in the modern world.” One significant shortcoming of this paradigm, according to Smith, is the reduction of interpretation to authorial intent, focusing mainly on the intention of the authors of Genesis. Smith refers to this account as one “from below.” Furthermore, Smith says that this account concedes Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria), an idea that Smith believes we should not assent to. What’s more, he calls into question Enns’ assumptions by proposing the following: "First of all, the Christian church is not a recipient of the book of Genesis as a discrete unit; we receive the book of Genesis within the Bible and the Bible is received as a whole – as a 'canon' of Scripture. Second, internal to the canon is the conviction that meanings God intends are not constrained by what human authors intended." With the mission of The Colossian Forum in mind, Smith posits that the “location” from which we read the Bible should be the practices of Christian worship. We therefore receive Scripture from the particular place of the church, and this place exhibits particular practices that influence our interpretive frameworks. Authorial intent or “original meaning,” therefore, cannot be the determinative factor in our interpretation of Genesis: "Worship is the primary 'home' of the Bible and it is in worship that we cultivate those habits and virtues we need to read Scripture holistically. That will certainly generate meanings of Old Testament books that could never have been intended by their human authors; but that doesn’t mean they were not intended as meanings to be unfolded 'in front of the text' by the divine Author." The review closes with Smith's investigation of Enns’ view of original sin, claiming that Enns’ account fails to recognize what’s at stake: the goodness of God. If our acceptance of evolution leads us to eschew the issue of the origin of sin and the causal claims made by original sin, according to Smith, we are likely to make God the author of sin: "If God uses evolutionary processes to create the world and sin is inherent in those processes, then creation is synonymous with the fall and God is made the author of sin – which compromises the goodness of God." Since Smith’s review, others have weighed in, including Fuller Seminary professor J.R. Daniel Kirk, whose critical assessment of Smith's review prompted correspondance between the two of them in the comment section of Kirk's post. Even Enns himself briefly remarked on Smith's review, planning to contribute to the conversation in more depth at a later date. This has not happened yet, but it would promise to be an exciting exchange. The review was also highlighted by the people over at Near Emmaus and the Gospel Coalition, and a positive nod was given to the review by the folks at the City of God blog. In his own review of Enns' book, Professor Ken Schenck briefly mentions that Smith might be right about needing to address a more fundamental question before moving on to the issues raised by Enns. Last, Richard Beck relates his own reflections on the problem of evil to Smith's concern that Enns' account renders God the author of evil. Smith's original review was posted nearly two months ago, but the conversation is worth re-surfacing here on the blog. There's still a lot of ground to be covered.
The Colossian Blog: An Invitation to a New Kind of Conversation
June 16, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
The Colossian Blog: An Invitation to a New Kind of Conversation
Greetings, and welcome to The Colossian Blog! We are glad you are here, and it is our prayer that you are enriched and blessed by the content posted in the coming weeks, months, and years. Our mission at The Colossian Forum is to unite Christian believers in the shared confession and embodied practice that all things hold together in Christ (Col. 1:17). As many of us have observed, the tone of the conversation regarding the intersection of faith, science, and culture is often vitriolic and divisive. Rather than accepting the differences among believers as gifts, we often stake our hope in our individual “positions” at the expense of Christian unity. At The Colossian Forum, however, we strive to foster a new kind of conversation guided by the truth that all things, including our differences, are held together in Jesus Christ. When we confess that all things hold together in Christ, we confess that the core of the world is peaceful communion, not competition that breeds fear and division. But we understand the fear. Science and cultural research often lead us into the realm of unknowing, where we are out of our comfort zones and beyond familiar territory. We believe, however, that we are free to investigate the realm of unknowing because, once again, Christ holds together the things we know with the things we do not know. We should thus have confidence in where our investigations lead us, not because we have faith in science or cultural research, but because we have faith in the Lord Jesus, who holds together the truth of our investigations. Our hope is that this shared confession at least reduces the fear, and that it eventually teaches us that fear is not necessary in our pursuit of truth. Okay, so all things hold together in Christ. We can start the conversation now, right? Well, we don’t believe it’s that easy. A lot of people believe that merely having the right information enables them to have productive conversations on, say, the intersection of faith and science. But we believe it’s important to ask if we’re even the kinds of people who can have this conversation. In other words, we believe there are requisite virtues that enable us to remain unified throughout a dialogue that is likely to reveal many differences of opinion and serious disagreements. While information and ideas are important, they are not sufficient to sustain the unity of believers who choose to enter this conversation. Rather, there must also be the formation of believers within the context of our worship together (Col. 3:15-17). After all, the shared confession that all things hold together in Christ is also an embodied practice – we actually act out the truth that Christ holds all things together by being charitable and hospitable to each other. Charity is the primary virtue of The Colossian Forum, and hospitality is charity put into practice. On The Colossian Blog, we encourage all featured writers and visitors to exhibit the Christian charity and hospitality that is cultivated in our churches. We desire that all visitors use this virtual space as a location in which to practice and exercise wisdom, charity, patience, and compassion for the sake of Christian unity, discipleship, and reconciliation. Without the formation of these virtues, we cannot be unified in the pursuit of the Spirit’s wisdom. This is true because the inverse is true: without the Spirit’s wisdom, we cannot be formed into virtuous people. We hope that you seek the Spirit’s wisdom for the purpose of cultivating the virtues that will bless your conversation partners, even if there are significant disagreements or differences of opinion. The communion you have with your Christian brothers and sisters on this blog is far more important than your individual positions. After all, Christian unity bears witness to the glory of God; at a time when the internet is a primary source of communication, research, and information, you can be sure that the world is watching how we treat each other in the blogosphere.  What’s more, when we seek communion with believers, we are able to pursue truth the right way: together. As we invite you to grapple with the issues at the intersection of faith, science, and culture, we ask that you be mindful of our Writers’ Guidelines and Forum Etiquette. The former explains the mission and goals we want shared by our writers and visitors, and the latter explains how we generally expect our visitors to conduct themselves on our blog. We think it would benefit all visitors to read over these links before diving in to the comment sections. Again, we are glad you are here, and we look forward to the insights you have to offer. In the next post I will highlight some of the points raised by James K.A. Smith in his recent review of Peter Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins. Stay tuned.