A Problem with BioLogos' Approach

@nobodyyouknow

Please, sir, what would that way be? What will convince a “conservative” (by your definition of the word) that doesn’t require undoing their entire approach to reading the Bible?

I’d say undoing their literalist way of reading the Bible is also a major goal, yes. But we obviously disagree on what counts as “liberal.” I don’t consider John Walton, Christopher Wright, N.T. Wright, Mark Strauss, Tremper Longman, Scot McKnight and other people I could list who share this hermeneutic “liberal” at all.

Great question, here are some differences between liberal and conservative hermeneutics as seen from the conservative side (I understand the liberal will seem misrepresented… please don’t take offense, this is just the way it is seen).

1a. Liberal: Compare history with scripture. Interpret scripture within the historical context. Bring what you know about history into your understanding of the Bible.

1b. Conservative: Compare scripture with scripture. Our understanding of history changes. Instead, bring what the BIBLE says about history into the context of the passage you are interpreting.

2a. Liberal: Compare literary genre with scripture. Look at what we understand about literary styles in their day and find out what the genre is, then interpret scripture according to the genre that the best scholarship deems is appropriate. Much that is taken literal will be shown to be metaphor, poetic language, and should not be applied literally.

2b. Conservative: Compare scripture with scripture. Look at what the BIBLE says about the genre and use that as your basis for understanding. When it is unclear, take it literally until it absolutely cannot be taken literally.

3a. Liberal: Compare science with scripture. The people of the Bible did not have our understanding of science so God spoke in terms they could grasp. Bring the latest scientific discovery to the Bible and change what’s necessary to fit our current understanding.

3b. Compare scripture with scripture. If there’s a scientific statement in the Bible you don’t understand, interpret it by other statements in the Bible. If there’s not another to explain it by, feel free to go to science, but throw out the science as being “falsely so called” (1 Tim. 6:20) if it is telling you to change the Bible.

So, George, with that in mind. You will win conservative Christians when you show them from the Bible, using scripture with scripture to prove how there is room for evolution.

@nobodyyouknow

Do you have any inkling as to what part of the Bible that would be? I stand informed about “compare scripture with scripture”.

That was helpful.

But leaving me with my hands empty of a specific text … not so much.

Christy, we have found another important point of disagreement. NT Wright is considered extremely liberal by those Christians who deny evolution and teach the earth is 6000 years old (a huge population of Christianity). From his wikipedia page:

“Wright is associated with the Open Evangelical movement and New Perspective on Paul, both of which are seen as controversial in many conservative evangelical circles.”

Walton is from Wheaton and Moody, both considered liberal. I could go on.

So yes, we obviously disagree on what counts as liberal, but can we agree that most people call someone a liberal when they are simply more liberal than themselves and call them a conservative when they are simply more conservative than themselves. Reminds me of an old joke: What’s a hyper-calvinist? Anyone who accepts more points on the TULIP than you do. :smiley:

I think, then, we may be able to agree that while you do not see these views as liberal, there is a great swath of Christians who do. Those people, whatever you label them, are raising a generation whose faith will be untenable once they reach college. NOT because of a bad hermeneutic. Simply because of a bad interpretation WITHIN that hermeneutic. Fighting the hermeneutic battle is unnecessary to win the evolution and science battle.

3 Likes

Yes, here’s a simple example:

Noah’s Flood: Global or Local? Here’s how BioLogos approaches it: They start with history and science to prove that it can’t be local:

“The scientific and historical evidence is now clear: there has never been a global flood that covered the entire earth, nor do all modern animals and humans descend from the passengers of a single vessel.”

Well I, as a conservative Christian, don’t neccesarily trust historians and scientists over the Bible. So I close the page and write off BioLogos as liberal.

Here’s how you can get to it form a conservative standpoint, using scripture with scripture:

Is the flood local or global? When we read it, we see language that seems global: “the face of the earth,” “the end of all flesh,” “all the high hills were covered.”

But we must look at those phrases in the rest of the Bible to make sure we’re not being too narrow. Take the first phrase, “the face of the earth.” Where else does it occur? In Gen. 4, Cain tells God that he has been driven “from the face of the earth.” Was he driven off the planet? The entire globe? No, he was driven from the local area. So we see that when the Bible says the flood waters covered “the face of the earth” it COULD mean the whole planet, but it also certainly COULD mean the local area.

That’s comparing scripture with scripture. That’s why I’ve been using the phrase “leaving room for evolution.” We don’t need to prove that the Bible teaches evolution. We only need to prove that there is interpretive room for it. In that case, we’d look at the language in Genesis 1, and ask if the words can only be interpreted as 24 hour days, or if there is other scripture where we see the same language applied to long, indefinite periods of time.

The basic rule to remember is this: when the passage is unclear, interpret it by a clear passage. Don’t interpret it by outside sources such as science and history.

1 Like

See how conservatives think? When they see a passage, they say “How does the Author write? What does the Author mean by this phrase? Let’s see how he uses it in other, more clear passages so we can get a baseline for interpreting this unclear passage.”

To interpret by science and history is to bring in other authorities outside the Bible. That’s a huge no-no for conservative Christians.

This brings me to a major point: BioLogos seems fond of the idea that God gives us two books of revelation: the book of the Bible and the book of nature. This is way outside of conservative interpretative method. It rings, to our ears, closely to that of Mormon doctrine. They say there are two books, the Bible and the book of Mormon, and you interpret the Bible by the book of Mormon. They even have a commonly repeated analogy of a nailing a block of wood to a wall. If you only place one nail, the wood will spin with no direction. It’s only when you place the second nail that you can give the wood a certain direction.

Conservative Christians believe the cannon of scripture is closed. Using science as a second book of revelation means that the cannon of revelation is being increased and changed as we discover more about science and history. This smacks, to us, of progressive revelation.

1 Like

By the way, I see this as a tragedy. BioLogos does such amazing work. To make all of the work rely on accepting a more liberal hermeneutic is a shame. It closes the ears of many Christians who are searching for answers that BioLogos is doing an excellent job of providing.

By the way, when I used this approach with 3 conservative, YECs recently, guess what their response was? “Oh, OK, so the Bible isn’t specific as to whether it was local or global? Interesting. What does the science say? It says it must have been local? OK, great then.”

That was it! That’s all it took. Showing them space, according to the Bible, for either interpretation left them open to listen to actual, real science. But you MUST start with the Bible, not with science.

3 Likes

I appreciate your advice here. In the plagues of Egypt we’re also told that locusts “covered the face of the whole earth” (Exodus 10:15) --in the KJV no less! I guess a die-hard interpreter could insist that there was a planetary-wide plague of locusts, but the surrounding text makes it pretty clear it was “merely” Egypt. It’s a plus that it is the sacrosanct KJV that uses this language “whole earth” to help drive the point home to this particular audience. Other more accurate translations since have used more nuance in some of these places, but nuance is a liberal thing I guess.

1 Like

It’s a mystery. I’m content to leave it at that.

Nobody has “unfertilized embryos.” People have gametes (eggs or sperm). Upon fertilization, the egg becomes a zygote, which develops into an embryo, which develops into a fetus. (I don’t have a clue as to how the virginal conception of Jesus came about!)

I think your post nails the heart of the main issue. America is so polarized along conservative/liberal lines, and the lines between politics and theology are so blurred that people only listen to each other long enough to pull out something they can slap with a liberal or conservative label. And the liberal or conservative label equates to a righteous or evil value judgment. (And I am well aware this works both ways - I spend time a lot of time with people who are both far more conservative than I am politically and theologically and I have in-laws and friends that are much more liberal than I am politically and theologically.) People think that they can nail you down and put you on an appropriate team based on where you went to school or whose book you quoted on your blog or what page you liked on Facebook. And once you are assigned to the other team everything you say can be discounted as probably corrupted by your evil liberal/conservative ideas.

I don’t think there is anything a blog post or two can do to change this unfortunate dynamic. And it makes it awfully hard to build on common ground as Christians and have a productive conversation. The fact is not a single person I know of who is firmly planted in the conservative camp wants to be associated with BioLogos. Every single writer we have could be written off as untrustworthy and compromised by some association they have. Just writing for this website has cost several people their jobs or made them unemployable in certain circles. So I guess maybe what I’m saying is that even if we changed our messaging to be more Bible-belt acceptable, we still wouldn’t get a hearing, because BioLogos, and the schools and organizations our writers represent are already on the guilt by association list. I am pretty sure any such attempt would be called out by many influential voices as some kind of dastardly wolf in sheep’s clothing ruse.

2 Likes

@nobodyyouknow

I congratulate you on getting 3 YECs to see Noah’s Flood as a local flood. I just wish you could have convinced them that “local flood” happened 10 million years ago!

But frankly, I would have lost a bet if I had thought they could have never had their minds changed about the nature of the flood. You, Mr. Body, my dear sir, are not without Skills !!!

@beaglelady

Yes, yes… my apologies. Embryos are embryos Because they have a full compliment of chromosomes. My mistake. I will make the correction in my original posting.

Thanks for catching that.

1 Like

No problem! Have a pleasant evening.

@nobodyyouknow Just to reiterate what @Christy and @jpm have already said (very well), thanks so much for your great contributions on this thread. This is exactly the sort of conversation we want to have here.

BioLogos is, in some sense, predicated on the insight by Francis Collins and many others that the entire debate about faith and evolution is built on false premises and unnecessary divides. We aren’t trying to convert YECs into the “liberal” viewpoint. We’re trying to restart the conversation altogether. That’s why we call our position “evolutionary creation” instead of the older term “theistic evolution” used primarily by theological liberals.

Thus, while I agree with some of what you say here, I disagree that we need to play by the existing rules of conservative Christianity—especially as it pertains to biblical interpretation—in order for our message to spread. The existing rules of conservative Christianity are a large part of what has created the problem that BioLogos is trying to fix. We’re trying to cast a new vision of engagement with both Scripture and science, and in the process we’re trying to expose some shortcomings of the existing vision. Now, of course, it’s extremely important that BioLogos be sensitive to our audience’s concerns. That’s why almost every member of the BioLogos staff is a professing Evangelical, and most of us come from conservative backgrounds (YEC, in many cases). But ultimately, we’re trying to change the paradigm, rather than trying to fit into an existing one.

Will that make our message a harder sell among some Christians? Sure. But it’s worth noting that we aren’t aiming to convince all YECs that evolution is true. What we would like is for evolutionary creation to be seen and understood as a “faithful option” that does not qualify Christians as compromisers or worse. Of course, a lot of YECs will never admit this. We’re not naive. But we’ve already made a lot of progress in making EC more visible in the evangelical conversation, and even shifting the conversation toward more understanding on all sides. We’re proud of that.

One last note: Have you ever heard of a book called In the Beginning…We Misunderstood by John Soden? He’s a conservative biblical scholar at a conservative Bible college who came to believe that the “conservative” approach to Genesis, as you outline above, is simply inadequate when dealing with the biblical text. I’ve linked the Amazon page for it. I highly recommend checking it out. This was one of the books that first convinced me that a paradigm shift was desperately needed.

8 Likes

I don’t see the battle as being for evolution, it’s for the faith of the next generation. Do you believe that the rejection of evolution is the heart of the problem with kids leaving the faith in college? I think it is more that a literalist hermeneutic leaves them totally unprepared to deal with the postmodernism and pluralism that will surround them and the questions that will be hurled at them from all sides. Not just in science class, but in literature and history and psychology and political science classes. I honestly don’t think kids would be in some kind of inoculated position if they went to college with an “evolution + biblical literalism” worldview. They are still going to have to wrestle with most of the same worldview challenges as the “Creationism + biblical literalism” kids.

4 Likes

@nobodyyouknow

I have a trivial question for you … just wondering about the “marketplace” of ideas that you and we have been calling “conservative”.

Do you have any thoughts as to which denomination (perhaps not so conservative) that is most open to the idea of the Genesis Flood being Local?

That would be an interesting “diagnostic” for what ideas tend to “travel together” every Sunday morning!

Both authors graduated from DTS, and yet they promote a “liberal” view of Genesis 1?

Go figure.

I’m not Christian and don’t speak for Biologos, I just find these discussions interesting. So you don’t have to listen to me if you don’t want to. :slight_smile:

One thing I’ve come to understand more as an adult than I think I ever could have as a child is that the deeper you get into talking about spiritual truths, the really big complex life lessons of being human, the more you have to talk figuratively, or allegorically, or at least in ways that plain don’t make sense if someone doesn’t already have a clue what you’re talking about. So in that sense, I think an insistence on literalism can blinker people to what’s really there. Taking a book about spiritual truth literally as much as possible is a sure-fire way to miss all the most important truth in it.

Just my two cents, like I said. But I’m frequently baffled by the conservative hermeneutic you describe, so thanks for coming in and providing a perspective on it!

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.