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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.
Science, Virtue, and the Future of Humanity
January 11, 2012 | James K.A. Smith
Science, Virtue, and the Future of Humanity
When we speak about "faith and science," it is often too quickly assumed that we're only concerned about issues of "origins"--the knotty challenges at the intersection of the Christian doctrine of creation and the rise of evolutionary paradigms across the sciences. However, while those questions are important, they certainly don't represent the totality of issues and questions at the intersection of faith and science.  There are important conversations to be had about genetics, sustainability, the responsible use of technology, and much, much more. For an excellent taste of what that conversation might look like, I commend to you the thoughtful pieces that regularly appear in The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society.  In particular, I would highlight an outstanding symposium they've just published on "Science, Virtue, and the Future of Humanity."  You'll find there respectful disagreements, and perhaps matters to disagree with.  But you'll also find a very helpful history of virtue and an introduction to the basic principles of virtue ethics as they might impact science and technology. I would especially commend to you two of the contributions to the symposium: Patrick Deneen, with his usual masterful analysis and irenic prose, critically considers the intertwining of liberalism and science as an explanation for the absence of virtue in contemporary discussions.  As they summarize: Patrick J. Deneen argues that the birth of liberalism was brought about by two transformations in our understanding of science: the move away from the contemplative study of nature to the project to harness and manipulate it for desired ends, and the new belief that human behavior is itself subject to predictable material laws. Liberalism thus arose as an effort to systematically and scientifically improve society. Along the way, modern society has replaced the virtue of Aristotle’s self-governing social animals with the new virtue of the unimpeded will to mastery. Such a world has little respect for what human beings have been given by nature. As Deneen presents it, the modern view is that we are not really stuck with virtue; actually, we are not stuck with much of anything. Rather, all limitations — including even tradition and culture — are recast as forms of repression that we can eventually overcome. Robert Kraynak then points out the borrowed capital that many atheists work with, pointing our their inconsistency. Robert P. Kraynak argues that modern philosophy and modern science cannot explain why appeals to equality and dignity ought to be taken seriously. Thinkers like Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker deny that human dignity has any natural foundation while simultaneously affirming well-respected common liberal pieties about the moral demands of justice and autonomy. They are, in the words of the late philosopher Richard Rorty, “free-loading atheists”: they embrace Christianity’s view of virtue even as they vehemently reject its account of who we are as human beings. The Christian Kraynak agrees with the atheist Nietzsche that it is intellectually dishonest and even tyrannical to assert the teachings of Christian morality while dogmatically rejecting the creedal formulations on which those very teachings are based. Kraynak concludes by defending the need to take seriously the Bible’s theological claims if we are to begin to understand who we really are. The whole symposium is worth your time.  And you might want to add The New Atlantis to your reading habits.
Heaven on Earth? A Postcard from an Important Conference
January 6, 2012 | James K.A. Smith
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.