4 Ways Pastors can Shepherd their Congregation through Discussions on Faith and Science


(system) #1
Pastors play an important role in shaping their congregations’ attitude toward science, especially as it relates to origins.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/4-ways-pastors-can-shepherd-their-congregation-through-discussions-on-faith-and-science

(Brad Kramer) #2

Thanks to @marusso for sharing his insights on this important issue. Mario is available to respond to thoughtful questions and comments.


#3

I wonder how attributing “shallow and ill-informed interpretations of Scripture” (in #1) to other views fits together with being “gracious in your discussions” (#4). Any thoughts? Those things seem to be at odds.


(Doug B) #4

By “good exegesis” and “reading the Bible properly” I think you mean adoption of a historical/cultural interpretation to ancient texts. Perhaps you also mean an evaluation of current culture and its high regard for explanations of material origins. Your Christian opponents also seek good exegesis and proper Bible reading–grant them that. I am not one of those that disagree with your approach; in fact, I heartily ascribe to it. I’d suggest you be more generous and careful with terms though.
Doug Bodde


(Mervin Bitikofer) #5

That’s a good question, LT, as it seems to involve a slippery slope of its own. I think it is a substantial step in the right direction to criticize a position rather than a person, even if the language about the position is harsh and judgmental. But it is nearly impossible not to take language like that personally. In math class we point out each other’s clear mistakes without worrying overmuch about the language of saying somebody is wrong. It is understood that we are critiquing performance on a particular problem, not the person as a whole. Of course if someone told me “that was a really shallow and ill-informed way to approach that problem”, I would probably be offended. So perhaps it could be: “interpretations of Scripture that do not allow for cultural accommodation …” or something more specific like that which carries more information and less judgment?


(Mario Anthony Russo) #6

Saying that some interpretations are shallow or ill-informed is not ungracious, nor is it an attack on the person. My remarks are in reference to interpretations not interpreters.

In essence, my argument is:

improper exegesis --> shallow/ill-informed interpretations

This is not ungracious. Both evolutionary and young earth creationists can agree on this. If I read Psalm 22 and conclude that the author is not in fact a human, but a worm, then that interpretation is shallow and ill-informed on the basis of improper exegesis.

It’s ok to call an interpretational spade a spade.


(Mario Anthony Russo) #7

Thanks Doug, I’m not going on the offensive in this essay. Im not saying that YE creationists want to do bad exegesis. I’m simply pointing out that proper exegesis leads to a good understanding of the relationship between faith and science.

I understand opponents of an evolutionary creation view seek to do good exegesis. I have no disagreement there. I’m not saying that they are not seeking it, I’m simply saying that proper exegesis leads to a certain conclusion.

But I appreciate your comments.


#8

Thanks, Marusso. I agree with the principle that we should call a spade a spade. I am still not sure it is gracious however to accuse your opponents of “shallow and uninformed” exegesis, particularly given the strength of the exegesis you are calling “shallow and uninformed.” At best, such language launches the issue in a prejudicial way, not to mention one that is unfounded. Your later comments assuming that YEC do not want to do bad exegesis notwithstanding, you seem to have assumed that “proper exegesis” arrives at evolutionary creationism and discounted all else as “shallow and uninformed.” It’s the hermeneutical equivalent of rejecting contrary data. Whatever their merits on science, I have never found BioLogos’ exegesis to be satisfactory.

Here’s the problem that I think the BioLogos types are missing, or at least underestimating. The whole idea of interpreting with cultural accommodation or ancient ways of reading a text is based, ironically, not actually on ancient ways of reading texts but on modern conclusions about ancient ways or reading texts. There seems a situational perspective based on modernity, not antiquity. You have decided how ancients read texts without actually being an ancient or talking to ancients. You decide what ancients would have believed or known without benefit of ancient input. And I think driving that is the need to get to a particular conclusion (an old earth). They say things like “There’s no way an ancient would have read the text of Genesis 1 as 24 hour day cosmology.” But how do they know that? So far as I have seen, they don’t have any actual evidence that ancients would have done that. It is how moderns (not ancients) read the text and then import back onto ancients.

I don’t agree at all that people like young-earth creationists or non-evolutionists are denying ancient ways of reading texts, or denying cultural accommodation. And I don’t think that evolutionary creationists (of whatever particular flavor they might be have a corner on that. None other than Bruce Waltke said, “To be sure, the six days in the Genesis creation account are our twenty-four hour days” (Crux 27 [December 1991]: 8). You would be accusing Waltke of shallow and uninformed exegesis. Waltke’s conclusion is completely inline with the actual grammatical and syntactical analysis of the text. Some other view may be correct but it’s not because the exegesis demands it.

And I don’t think the tension is between faith and science. Those who disagree with you aren’t against science. They do disagree with certain conclusions that some scientists draw on certain issues. That doesn’t make them antiscience.


(Mario Anthony Russo) #9

I think you may be making a claim that I am not. I am not saying that proper exegesis leads to an evolutionary creation view, or improper exegesis leads to YE creation view. I don’t believe proper exegesis will lead to either conclusion because the Bible teaches neither view. I don’t believe a person can properly exegete the Bible and arrive at an evolutionary creation view. It’s not in there (neither is YE creationism, I would argue).

We need to apply good exegesis to my essay to understand what I am saying. If you read my quote in context (a basic rule of good exegesis) I am speaking about rejecting the discoveries of science, and having a proper understanding of the relationship of science and faith. I am not speaking about evolutionary or young-earth creation views.

The entire quote in it’s context states:

Your congregation will be able to exercise better discernment in how to responsibly apply the Scriptures to today’s issues, such as the relationship between science and faith. Rather than reject the findings of science based on shallow and ill-informed interpretations of Scripture, your congregation will understand that science and the Bible have a conversational, rather than confrontational, relationship.

Again, no mention of evolutionary or young-earth creation views. Rule Number 1 of exegesis: context determines meaning. In this context I am speaking of the relationship of science and faith, and the findings of science. Proper exegesis of the Bible will lead a person to understand that they do not need to reject the findings of science, nor imagine a contradiction between science and faith. That is all that paragraph means.


(Jo Helen Cox) #10

No one, even creationists, can say what the author of Gen 1 truly meant by “day.” However, if a 24 hour day could not happen before the 4th day and absolutely nothing in nature builds a case for six 24 hour intervals, then it begs the question. If the text was inspired by the God described in the text, then the nature described in the text is the only source to determine any truth behind the meaning of days or any other detail, including the nature of God. Our exegesis must start there not in some other ancient belief system. Studying those other systems do benefit us though. They can show us where our unbiblical beliefs in creation come from.


#11

I completely agree with that. Thanks.


#12

[quote=“Jo_Helen_Cox, post:10, topic:4217, full:true”]
No one, even creationists, can say what the author of Gen 1 truly meant by “day.”[/quote]Why not? How can we establish any meaning given this statement of yours? I think that is ultimately self-defeating. Authorial intention is axiomatic in communication. It is the only way someone (such as Marusso did above) can say someone is misunderstanding them. The assumption of communication is that the author uses words that communicate his intention. And so we read the words believing that the author used those words intentionally, just as you did. So we can tell an author’s communicative intention by reading what he communicates–the words in their contexts. Otherwise, communication is impossible.

[quote]However, if a 24 hour day could not happen before the 4th day[/quote]How did you conclude this? I don’t know of any reason, apart from modernistic assumptions, to would conclude this. If God said there were evening and morning, a day before the fourth day, on what basis do we disagree? Is God really limited to a sun and moon to have 24 hours? Or might it be that the sun and moon were created for us as humans to mark something that already existed?

[quote]If the text was inspired by the God described in the text, then the nature described in the text is the only source to determine any truth behind the meaning of days or any other detail, including the nature of God. Our exegesis must start there not in some other ancient belief system.
[/quote]What does it mean that our exegesis must start in nature? We don’t even know what we are exegeting if we start in nature. The whole idea of exegesis is to “read out” what is in a text and that requires processing words and their relationship to each other. Nature might shed some light on that, or it might not. But I don’t understand how we can start with nature. Furthermore, given the great degree to which we (as humans) have misinterpreted nature over the years, why do we put a lot of faith in that now?

In short, I am not sure your response here is coherent, much less sustainable. In fact, I am not even sure how we can understand each other if what you have said is true.


(Jo Helen Cox) #13

@LT_15
My comment about not being able to know the Gen 1 authors intent for “day” was in response to the arguments in other posts. If meaning can be debated then the meaning is not blunt. Most biblical statements are not blunt or clear. That is why we have theologians, to work out meaning. We read the text and then add meaning from other authors of the same time to piece out a story. Is that story true, close, or just fabrication? Making dogma on assumptions is foolishness.

I don’t know what the Gen 1 author’s cosmological structure was exactly. We don’t even know who the author was or what century he lived. However, if his text is inspired by God, then the text will speak to the ages, not only of his age. What is communicated is something beyond his understanding, probably something beyond our understanding as the text must be used by future believers. Making an interpretation of meaning based on the understanding of a civilization that had less knowledge on the subject (nature) removes the inspiration and makes the passage a myth, not reality. It no longer has truth to give future generations.

It is a mythological assumption to assert 24 hour days existed before the sun existed as days and hours are counted by using the sun in relationship to the earth. It is a human perception of time not universal. No two planets in our system counts one day the same. That is reality. You assert an assumption to justify a theology.

The Hebrew words translated as evening and morning are not the words for those times of day. They mean end and beginning. Only in association with the word day can they be translated evening and morning. That is why Augustine said they delineated the end of the one command and began the next.

Genesis 1 is a poem about the creation of nature. Without the input of nature all we have is philosophy. This is the problem with most interpretations of this text. We base the interpretation on what people who did not understand nature believed. If Gen 1 describes nature then it must describe nature as it is understood. Each generation must assess their understanding. That is why we should not go back to a medieval European understanding. They rejected nature as evil, not God’s good creation. Even the study of nature was outlawed at times.

How do we do an exegesis (read out) of nature? Ask any scientist. It is their job to “read” the evidence. They just don’t use that religious based word.


#14

[quote=“Jo_Helen_Cox, post:13, topic:4217”]
You assert an assumption to justify a theology.[/quote]It doesn’t seem much of an assumption to conclude that “evening and morning, day one” equal 24 hours. But you do the same in assuming that there can’t be 24 hours without a sun.

[quote]The Hebrew words translated as evening and morning are not the words for those times of day. They mean end and beginning. Only in association with the word day can they be translated evening and morning. That is why Augustine said they delineated the end of the one command and began the next.
[/quote]I don’t know where you picked this up from, but they are the normal words for evening and morning, the times of day. “Evening” ('ereb) is used over 200x of the time of day and “morning” (boqer) is used over 100x of the time of day. They don’t need an association with the word “day” to have that meaning. Any lexicon will confirm this. However, they are in “association with the word day” which means you answered your own objection.

[quote]Genesis 1 is a poem about the creation of nature.[/quote]Grammatically it is historical narrative (a series of waw conjunctives). Hebrew poetry uses different grammatical and syntactical forms.


(GJDS) #15

The discussions on “day” in Gen1 go back many centuries, and Biblically we are told a day may be 1000yrs to God and so on. My feeling is that Gen 1 (as all scripture) is primarily intended to teach us and the Hebrews how to live, and the six days and the Sabbath day are there primarily to show us the importance of the Sabbath to Israel as part of their way of life before God taught by Moses…


(Jo Helen Cox) #16

I will give you the evening morning thing. I did not double check my sources and they were wrong. However, It is the physics of the sun earth relationship that makes hours and days, not something I or anyone else assumed. If your interpretation requires you to insist on a 24 hour day without that relationship then have a talk with God who made the relationship and gave us knowledge to utilize it.

I don’t read Hebrew, but everything about Gen 1 screams poetry not narrative, particularly the structure of days. None of the English translation I’ve looked at gives the feeling of a narrative. That is why this argument persists. I suspect you (and others) are limiting what poetry means.


#17

[quote=“Jo_Helen_Cox, post:16, topic:4217”]
If your interpretation requires you to insist on a 24 hour day without that relationship then have a talk with God who made the relationship and gave us knowledge to utilize it.[/quote]So here’s my question for you: If God said there were 24 hour days before the sun was created, on what basis do you disagree simply because you have never experienced anything else? You say to “have a talk with God,” but God has already spoken on this, hasn’t he? Why are you limiting God to having a sun to have 24 hours?

[quote]I don’t read Hebrew, but everything about Gen 1 screams poetry not narrative, particularly the structure of days. None of the English translation I’ve looked at gives the feeling of a narrative. That is why this argument persists. I suspect you (and others) are limiting what poetry means.
[/quote]I do read Hebrew, and I wonder what English translations you are talking about. I have never read one that “screams poetry” or even whispers it. They all sound just like historical narrative, as in “This happened, and the next day this happened, and the next day this happened, etc.” Poetry is a pretty clear genre in Hebrew texts with some pretty clear indicators such as form and grammar. None of that exists in Genesis 1.


(Jon Garvey) #18

@marusso @LT_15

Proper exegesis of the Bible will lead a person to understand that they do not need to reject the findings of science, nor imagine a contradiction between science and faith.

I’m sympathetic to the idea behind this comment - which is that the truths of nature and the truths of revelation ultimately concur. But as it stands, it seems to assume either:

That there is no connection in principle between science and faith, so that nothing either asserts can affect the other. This of course would be a vote for an a-historical faith, in which it’s a matter of indifference if Moses, or Jesus, or even God actually existed. Somehow I don’t think that’s what either of you have in mind. Or…

That science as it now is is inevitably correct, and therefore will never contradict the propositional content of faith when the latter is properly understood. This would clearly be a supremely arrogant claim, given the provisionality of science and its dependence on the human cultures in which it arises.

A test case, of course, would be to transfer the remark back 200 years, to the Enlightenment’s scientific position that miracles, or any direct divine actions, are rationally impossible because the universe in its entirety is determined by a few fixed, simple laws operating on inert particles. Anyone who believed in the resurrection, or who prayed expectantly for their daily bread, was pinpointing - not imagining - a contradiction between science and faith. And any rationalist would (and did) regard acceptance of biblical miracles as poor exegesis. It took the paradigm shift in science because of relativity, quantum and chaos theory to bring science back into line… or partly so, since positivism is still alive and well in some quarters, even amongst Christians.

One could similarly cite the near universal assumption amongst cosmologists in the first decades of my own life that the universe must be eternal, and so could not have been created in time. It’s true that Aquinas had answers for that centuries before, but the fact remains that to most early 20th century people, science contradicted ex nihilo creation. Then, of course, came the Big Bang.

Both science and theology, remember, are interpretive human activities about sources of truth (God’s creation and God’s infallible word). And if either one or the other interpretive activity is held up as the standard by which the other is done, we can be sure that some “shallow and uninformed” assumptions are in place.

Equally the fact that both science and theology are human activities means that one can’t, in practice, speak of them as they “ought” to be done, for they are not pure entities. The claim, for example, that the processes and outcomes of evolution point away from a divinely ordered creation (because it’s random, because it’s cruel, etc) is not scientific. But it is often claimed as scientific by members of a biological “guild” whose membership is notoriously skewed towards atheism, and it takes great intellectual acumen for the outsider to spot when theological commitments have impinged on science.

Once certainly cannot simply take for granted that specialists are correct within their own fields, because one must judge from outside when they are speaking outside their field.

Likewise, professional theology is led by academic guilds with their own historical biases, not least in methodology. How does one assess a “religious” activity many of whose advocates have, historically, self-consciously opted for “scientific”, rather than religious, presuppositions? If miracles, for example, are excluded a priori by the heirs of Bultmann, then any exegesis of Scripture that takes them as historical (on historical grounds, as well as religious) may be, and frequently has been, regarded as naive. Does an avowed unbeliever like Bart Ehrman have the faith qualifications necessary to exegete the New Testament other than superficially?

The problem is clearest outside the origins arena. The fundamental historical construct of Old Testament theology is the Covenant with Israel. In 3 long passages, Yahweh undertakes to “police” the stipulations of the covenant by providential management of both natural and human “elements”: faithfulness will lead him to provide balmy weather, good crops, freedom from wild animals and diseases, not to mention political peace. Conversely, those same elements will be turned in judgement for faithlessness, finally to the extent of destruction and exile - which was, in the event, the historical outcome for Israel. The former prophets instance many historical examples of God’s fulfilment of these promises and warnings.

Current science, even when invoked by academic theologians, still appears to have problems with God’s providential control of nature - many TEs won’t even grant the likelihood that God determines which species of wild beast exist, let alone whether individual lions stick to the wild places or molest idolatrous Israelites. If that science (or rather, its source in a human culture that excludes God’s providence) is allowed to control the exegesis of Scripture (perhaps via the medium of a theology that equally excludes God’s providence on human grounds), then there is a real conflict, and one not based on superficality, but on fundamental metaphysical commitments.

Whether it’s a conflict between “science” and “faith” is another question - perhaps the wrong (because too superficial) question.


#19

[quote=“GJDS, post:15, topic:4217”]
Biblically we are told a day may be 1000yrs to God and so on.[/quote]I am not sure what “so on” refers to, but the Bible does not say a day “may be 1000 yrs to God.” It says a day is “as” a thousand years, referring to God’s view of time, not the actual passage of time. It’s a comparison, not a statement of reality per se. But even if that were so, that’s only six thousand years, not millions. And the word “day” as used in Genesis 1 is only ever 24 hour days in Scripture. Probably the most well known article on this is Gerhard Hasel’s article. The word “day” can mean long periods of time or parts of a 24 hour day, but as it is used in Genesis 1, it never means anything other than a 24 hour day. Gen 2:4 is often appealed to as evidence, but Gen 2:4 is not the same grammatical usage. This is actually the work of exegesis.

[quote]…the six days and the Sabbath day are there primarily to show us the importance of the Sabbath to Israel as part of their way of life before God taught by Moses…
[/quote]This raises an interesting point. Exod 20 invokes the creation week for this very purpose: “Since God worked six days and rested one, so we should work six days and rest one.” That doesn’t make a lot of sense in a evolutionary creation paradigm. The work week of God is the pattern for ours.


(GJDS) #20

I have referred to previous discussions (…“and so on…”) of what time may mean (and thus day) in passages such as Gen1 - I understand such discussions to mean God is not bound to time and days as we are. It is in this context that I suggest that Biblical passages are given to us for our benefit. God could have chosen to create in 6 days, or 6 seconds - it is nonsensical to claim either of these as things that have bound God to time. However, it is just as sensible to understand God revealing Himself to the Biblical authors as one who is sympathetic to us, and it is His will that we labour creatively for six days, and rest in worship of God on the seventh.

It is wrong to turn these sublime lessons into some materialistic interpretation of what we understand of Nature. God is not bound to a pattern, but He may have done things in a way that would enable us to worship Him in spirit and in deed. The six day working week, and the rest for worship on the Sabbath, is a great gift from Him to us. It is not a statement about any scientific or biological paradigm.