Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Unintelligent Denigration

Every time I just about get to the point where I think that "conservative" philosophy and Christianity can be harmonized, someone from the conservative camp comes along and proves me wrong.

The latest case in point is John Derbyshire at National Review Online. His latest piece on Intelligent Design is just awful.

Where to start? Well, first he gets the very definition of ID wrong...

the theory that life on earth has developed by a series of supernatural miracles performed by the God of the Christian Bible, for which it is pointless to seek any naturalistic explanation

Has he even bothered to read ID material? The sum and substance of ID is to determine by scientific means (statistics, complexity studies) whether naturalistic explanations of the origins and development of life are probable, or the work of an (UNDEFINED) external intelligence. Period. One does not have to be a Christian to be an ID proponent (granted, most are, but there is room for Jewish and even Islamic input). Derbyshire has hopelessly confused the faith of the proponents with the assertions of the theory itself.

The article descends from this point into a series of ad hominem attacks on ID, linking it to everything from ESP to the Victorian/New Age speculations of Atlantis.

His counterproposal is even more outrageous...

What, then, should we teach our kids in high-school science classes? The answer seems to me very obvious. We should teach them consensus science, and we should teach it conservatively. Consensus science is the science that most scientists believe ought to be taught. "Conservatively" means eschewing theories that are speculative, unproven, require higher math, or even just are new, in favor of what is well settled in the consensus. It means teaching science unskeptically, as settled fact.

Anybody with any knowledge of how "science" really works could tell you that this view is as blind and naive as Derbyshire accuses ID proponents of being. The "concensus" of today is the "junk theory" of tomorrow. In many fields, there is NO concensus beyond the most basic of propositions. And the fact that "concensuses" can be (and all too often, have been) more the product of prejudice and politics than acutal scientific research is a known fact of history. (There was surely a "concensus" for eugenics in the first half of this century...)

Derbyshire seems more concerned with maintaining the philosophical status quo than he is in real enquiries as to the truth of Darwinism. That may be a good conservative attitude - but a poor scientific one. And fighting for barring fair hearing for non-naturalistic views of reality is certainly not an attitude for a Christian.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Heart of Darkness

For a long time it will be quite impossible to remove spirituality from his life. Very well, then; we must corrupt it. No doubt you have often practised transforming yourself into an angel of light as a parade-ground exercise. Now is the time to do it in the face of the Enemy. The World and the Flesh have failed us; a third Power remains. And success of this third kind is the most glorious of all. A spoiled saint, a Pharisee, an inquisitor, or a magician, makes better sport in Hell than a mere common tyrant or debauchee."
- Screwtape Letters, #23

I had a brief encounter with legalistic fundamentalism - for two summers in grade school, at a church-run day care while my parents worked. What happened there in even that brief time was bad enough to keep me out of the Church for almost 12 years after that point, and to twist my conceptions of God and Christianity for many years after that.

But James Spurgeon, a friend and acquaintance of Phil Johnson, has *lived* in this heart of darkness. I've been reading through the online version of his autobiography of college life at a fundamentalist "school", and grim reading it is. I think churches like what he describes are the "pet projects" of the Devil - where he has been able to perpetrate the most perverse evils in the name of his Enemy, Christ Himself. That Spurgeon came out of it as well as he did is, as Phil put it, a trophy of God's mercy and power.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Education as Repentance

One of the biggest hurdles facing an intellectually bright theologian is intellectual pride - that once one has a good grasp of your tradition's theological system, you've "got it", and anything that contradicts that or goes beyond it is a distraction at best, incipient (or full-blown) heresy at worst.

Three of the hardest lessons I've had to learn about theology are -

1) I won't know everything, I can't know everyting, and it is folly and pride to assume otherwise.

2) No one Christian tradition has a total lock on the full-blown truth of God. All have their weak points, and all can learn from the others.

3) Sin and depravity apply to intellectual (and yes, theological) pursuits just as much as they do to moral and relational ones. Logic and "common sense" are subordinate to the ego, not the other way around.

I've been forced over the past several years to seriously rethink many of my former theological "certainties" - and the process has been not at all unlike "repentance". So this theme rings home with me in a very special way.

I offer these two web articles on "education as 'repentance'" - well worth bookmarking and coming back to again as needed.

"Repentance" by George Grant (August 23 entry)

JollyBlogger on the same

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Checking back in

Truth to tell, I'm a little apprehensive about coming back to this blog.

I've been gone for two weeks, back home to DC/Hampton visiting friends and family. I could almost wish I hadn't gone. Being back home for two weeks put me behind in my project, and it was very depressing to come back to an empty apartment in a nearly-deserted compound in CA. It just underscores what is obvious to me - I want to finish up here and go home.

The first Sunday back in church here in CA was also rough. I had a copy of the new reader's edition of the Book of Concord waiting for me. I appreciate many facets of Lutheran thought, but the abysmal level of understanding of other traditions in it (Calvinism and moderate Anabaptism in particular) added to my depression. I went to adult Bible class for the first time in awhile (I had my own car, so I didn't have to leave when my usual ride home did), and I participated a little - not very much it seemed to me. But afterwards, as I was walking back to my rental car, the pastor called out to me that I ought to consider going into the ministry or teaching.

Oh, God, if he only knew.

I told him, "I once thought that. Now, unless I get a clear call from God, I have to just wait."

That comment of his really brought things back for me. I was once so *sure* that I was going to be an academic theologian! I had my theology down pat. I was going to prove once and for all that there is NO "head-heart" divide, that Calvinistic credobaptism was the perfect theological system, and that...

Well, needless to say, it all fell apart. Knowing more theology did not make me a better or more obedient Christian. I can't help but see that there are valuable truths and insights in all branches of Christendom, and that every system of theology has its holes. I saw the way theology is most often used (as a weapon in argumentation) and how pedantic academic theology could get. I saw the way God is moving in places like Africa and South America - and how things are generally a mess here in American evangelicalism, and we are mostly blind to it all.

All this, and more (some of which are my own failings, like problems with Greek), wrecked my sense of any sort of "call".

I once told my rector that I thought I was going mad, and I would either end up as an atheist or a monk. He just laughed and said I was in no danger of becoming either. I suppose not. By now "doing theology" is in my bones, and I can't help thinking, reading, and (occasionally) writing about it, even now. But, to use the words put into the mouth of Luther in the recent movie about him, "I've mislaid all (or mostly all) my former certainties."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Post that Isn't what was supposed to be...

Ron at Challies.com has come out with part II of his critique of the Emergent Church.

From the lead-in in the last article, and the way the current article is written, you would think he was talking about McLaren's book A New Kind of Christian. But if you check the footnotes, it turns out he really isn't. He's talking about McLaren from an Andy Couch article about McLaren's book in Christianity Today.

So, IMHO, there's no reason to critique somebody's critique of a person if they haven't even bothered to read their intended target's book!!! If I turned in a term paper in seminary like this, I'd have gotten my head handed to me on a platter - and rightly so.

Note to Ron - if you're going to critique somebody, and expect others to take you seriously, take the time and bother to actually READ what you're supposedly critiquing.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

It's the End of the (Emergent Movement) As We Know It...

...and I feeeel fineeeee.....

Seriously, the lifespan of "fads" is getting shorter by the minute. Up until two years ago, I had never heard of the "Emergent Church". Then it was all over the Web. ModernReformation just devoted a whole issue to it. But now, it seems, the party's over. One of the community bloggers at Challies.com has begun a series proclaiming the death knell of the Emergent Movement.

Actually, don't get your hopes up. It turns out that it is (at least, so far) a rehash of the same TR line of argument - an attack on the "leaders" of the Emergent "movement" for their "waffling" on the subject of Scripture and its interpretation.

I'll quote the last paragraph as a sample of where he's headed...

Crouch's assessment is almost as ludicrous: "The more I talk with the Bells, the more aware I am that they are telling me a conversion narrative-not a story of salvation in the strict sense, but of having been delivered from a small life into a big life."

Okay, this statement is disturbing. Not as sharply Christocentric or Gospelcentric as it ought to be. Point taken. But then Ron goes on to comment...

I know that's in the Bible somewhere, but it's probably my problem that I can't find it because I'm reading the authoritative black and white version.

Which version is that? And whose interpretation? Yes, the Bible is "black and white" on many things. But when people go around using language like this, it starts to raise red flags in my mind. Especially in light of a prior paragraph...

Whatever happened, the Bells did the unthinkable: They "started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself." Uh-oh. This is like playing the Sesame Street game of "What Happens Next?" The Bells began looking at "the Bible as a human product…rather than the product of divine fiat." Surprise! Surprise! Rob explains, "The Bible is still the center for us, but it's a different kind of center." No further explanation? That's it? A different kind of center is like a square circle. It's in the center, but it isn't. Cute. Cutting edge. It's the sound of one hand clapping-in the center that's the center except it isn't the center. Got it? Continuing Rob says, "We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it." I'm guessing that he means the mystery of the Trinity or predestination. Yeah, right.

I can just sense the empathy and charity oozing from his commentary, can't you? Classic ad hominem attack style. But is he listening to what she's saying?

And of course, who's to blame for this disaster? Karl Barth, by way of Brian McLaren. Ron promises to give a review of McLaren's A New Kind of Christian in his next post. I've read it myself, and am interested to see what he does with it. Nothing good, I expect. Now, I'm not in 100% agreement with everything McLaren says in the book, but he raises some very salient issues in it, and the critics too often focus on what he gets wrong as an excuse to ignore what he gets right. But, we shall see...

Meanwhile, for a more reasoned discussion of the question of inerrancy and narrative-vs-propositional hermeneutics, check out the IMonk articles below.

A simple statement about the purpose and inspiration of the Bible
We thought he was such a nice boy...and then we found out he didn't believe in....Inerrancy!!
Magic Books, Grocery Lists and Silent Messiahs: How rightly approaching the Bible shapes the entire Christian Life
A Conversation in God's Kitchen