Thursday, May 28, 2015

What I Teach About Creation

So I have a confession to make: I used to totally be into the Creation vs. evolution debate. Growing up, that was my jam. In my mind, if I could prove that creation was made by an intelligent being, I had essentially proven Christianity true (which, I recognize now, was a HUGE leap in logic).

Over time my zeal for that particular theological topic wore off. I went into Bible college bored and, maybe even worse, with an aversion to the entire topic of creation. I thought it was too scientific and I was just interested in the theology of creation. In my mind, I wanted to let the scientist wrestle over Genesis 1. I was content with looking at the theology of the rest of the Bible.

This aversion stayed with me a long time. Even after I graduated from seminary, I was largely disinterested in the entire conversation. It isn't that I didn't read in the area of creation--it was just that I didn't care.

That has changed over the past three to four years, however. I think when I started putting together the biblical narrative, I realized that the discussion over Genesis 1 was not primarily a scientific conversation as much as it was a theological conversation. Over the past several years I have refined my thinking (and am still refining) on creation. However, as it stands now, if you were to walk into my 9th grade biblical redemption class or my apologetics class, I teach the following three points concerning Genesis 1.

1) The creation account in Genesis (as well as the other accounts in Psalms) are polemical.

What I mean by this point is that Genesis 1 and 2 clearly use language and ideas drawn from other creation narratives in the Ancient Near East (like the Enuma Elish and some Egyptian creation myths), but the Genesis account draws radically different conclusions. Where gods battle it out and make mankind by mistake (or in vengeance), Genesis shows that Yahweh creates by the divine word. There is no cosmic battle where God struggles to maintain order. Rather, God is shown as totally and completely sovereign. In other words, Genesis functions as a polemic against the false gods of the Ancient Near East. Further, I would say that any parallels that do exist (specifically I am thinking of Gilgamesh and Genesis) are superficial at best. Thus, I don't think the author of Genesis was borrowing these pagan thoughts and simply making them more palatable to Jewish monotheism.

I would also argue here something that (I think) is fairly radical and probably rejected by most mainline scholars: it is not altogether clear that the pagan mythologies are actually incorrect in some of the more general details of creation. Here is my point: it is altogether possible (and in my mind likely) that the reason we find any sort of parallel language at all in Genesis and pagan myths is because they all flow from historical fact. We can disregard some of the more fantastical elements of the pagan myths and what I think you find is that there is historical legitimacy to the creation account.

2) The creation account in Genesis is primarily theological.
My point here isn't really radical (or new) and is essentially in agreement with what most Old Testament scholars know: Creation is pictured as a cosmic, ever-expanding, temple to God. This can be see in the numerous parallels in language between the temple construction and the Garden of Eden. In other words, the creation of the cosmos is framed as a temple for God. For more on this you can consult The Temple and the Church's Mission by G.K. Beale, The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton and The King in His Beauty by Thomas Schreiner, The Biblical Cosmos by Robin Parry (and basically every major OT theology written in the past twenty years).

This should remind us that before we start trying to dig for scientific evidence to support our particular view of creation, we need to look for what the original author was trying to convey. His point was that all of creation was in some way sacred and devoted to God prior to the fall. Mankind's vocation was to serve as holy priests to the Lord within this cosmic temple. 

3) The creation account in Genesis is historical.

WHOOP! There it is. This is the point that basically isolates me from liberal scholarship. Up to this point many mainline protestants would be saying "Right on, Pandolph!" Here is where we part ways. I believe that, regardless of  your view of the age of the earth, the Genesis account provides a factually accurate account of creation. This means I hold to a literal Adam and Eve and a literal fall as well. I think God created the world in 6 days (regardless of how you translate "days") and that there was definite beginning and ending in creation. This is not poetic symbolism. It is not just polemical or theological--it is actual.

Fundamentalists often push and ask "Well, do you believe in a young-earth or old earth? Do you believe in theistic evolution?" This is where you start to lose me in the conversation because (and this is important), it ultimately doesn't impact much. While I personally reject theistic evolution, it is possible to maintain a literal Adam and Eve and fall (despite what Ken Ham says) and hold to evolution (provided that God maintains total sovereignty in it). As far as the young-earth vs. old earth debate...I'll be is boring to me. I don't care. I've read enough about it and we are now traversing into the field of biology and that isn't my specialty so I'll refrain from commenting.

For the record, I am a (tentative) "young-earther". The reason for this flows out of the lexical argument for the Hebrew word for yom (which is translated "day" in our English Bible). Yom when it possesses a numerical adjective means a literal 24-hour day. That is what you see in Genesis 1. Also, I think the argument that God patterns Israel's work week off of creation should carry a bit of weight.

Of course, there are middle ground positions as well. If you disagree with me, I'll probably just slap you on the back and say "Cool deal, bro" and go out to get Mexican food with you. The big three issues I listed above, to me, are the most essential points to grasp when talking about creation. I think those three points also bring out the richness of the biblical text. It helps us to not read the Bible just as a scientific account of creation. Rather, it pushes us to see the God behind creation. God was going to war against the false gods, giving us a theological paradigm for understanding the Christian mission, and yes, even giving us a historical picture of what actually happened.

That is beautiful. That gets me excited to talk about creation.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Why Does Our Stance on Scripture Matter?

What you believe about the primacy of Scripture in the life of believer matters. It shapes pretty much everything you think when it comes to integrating various disciplines. It will impact whatever model of integration you propose and it will shape how you assess information. For instance, if you don't really care if a finding in a discipline contradicts Scripture then you will more likely adopt that belief. However, if you hold that Scripture is the lens by which we see the world you will filter all contradictory claims through that lens.

Ultimately your view of Scripture is a worldview question.

It is one I wrestle with as a psychology and Bible teacher. Much of psychology seems to contradict what we find in the Bible. At times psychology sets itself as a sort of anthropological God. It is tricky waters navigating being both a teacher committed to the Bible as the inspired, authoritative Word of God and yet also holding to the legitimacy of psychological discovery. I have had many conversations with Christians who think psychology should not be studied at all or, if it is, we must dismiss most of it as unbiblical. I disagree, but that is because I believe we can integrate the two. 

But how that integration occurs is a question of tremendous debate. This is where David N. Entwistle's book Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity: An Introduction to Worldview Issues, Philosophical Foundations and Models of Integration comes in. David lays a foundation for thinking biblically about integration. Most of the book is rock solid but there is one major pitfall that I think hurts the book severely. I'll get to that in a minute.

The over half the book, Entwistle lays out various worldviews and philosophical perspectives held throughout history. His introduction to these issues are sufficient. It serves as a really good introduction to many worldview issues. The foundation he lays is great.

My problem really comes in when he starts discussing various models. He sees that there are three primary models of integration: antagonistic models (models against psychology--he calls these "enemies"), intermediate models (labeled "spies", "colonialists" and "neutral parties") and finally integrative models (labeled "allies"). In order to understand my problem, you have to grasp the intermediate models in a bit more depth.

"Spies" are those that basically highjack the language of psychology but filter it so much through the lens of Christianity that it really ceases to be psychological. It is neither theological or psychological but some bizarre mashup. "Neutral parties" are those who say that Scripture has its realm and psychology as its realm but the two should not really intertwine. Don't mix them together.

I reject both of these views because, as Entwistle rightly points out, they are sub-biblical. But what about the "colonialist" perspective? It basically says that provided that psychology does not contradict Scripture, we can use psychology. However, if psychology contradicts the Bible we must reject psychology. Entwistle rejects this perspective, adopting instead the "two books" model. This model says that both creation and the Bible are God's books by which we can learn from Him. If one contradicts the other, we should inspect our interpretation of either one to see if we have misinterpreted either the Bible or the science. Much of what we think contradicts the Bible really just contradicts our interpretation of the text.

But here is the rub (and I think the downfall of the book). Entwistle tends to lean toward the idea that most of the time we are misinterpreting the Bible, not misinterpreting the science. Yet, what happens if psychology contradicts historic orthodoxy? Is that open for negotiation? If it is, Entwistle is going against what has largely been handed down through 2,000 years of church history. Further, is it more likely that we have misinterpreted the Bible for 2,000 years or that the science is wrong? These are, of course, worldview questions.

Image result for integrative approaches to psychology and christianityI would also ask, "What is so wrong with using Scripture to critique psychology?" I agree with the general thrust--I think we need to always be inspecting our interpretations. But if a contradict really exists, Scripture wins. Always. Entwistle would disagree and say that I essentially hold to an intermediate model. That is fine. Why? Because we have to assume that when we call the Bible the Word of God, no truth will ultimately contradict that. If there is a contradiction I tend to think it is going to fall more on the side of recent scientific interpretation than 2000 years of church history.

Those taking aim and saying that I am doing nothing more than pulling a "Catholic faith vs. Galileo" scenario are wrong. The church has often been on the cutting edge of science. While the church has often been slow in adopting new science, I don't think it is without warrant. Much of psychology is in flux. Yesterday's quirks are today's disorders. Our understanding of how the brain is changing quickly due to pioneering work in neuroscience. Yet there is still much we don't know on how the brain works. Yet we know much on how God operates and how humans operate. Church tradition is a powerful testimony and should not be dismissed quickly.

I think Entwistle would agree. I just don't think his "two books" solution is nuanced enough to stand as a serious proposal for theologians. Unfortunately, that hurts his book since it is essentially proposing a "third way" of integration.

The book can be read with profit but I cannot give it full marks.

*Thanks to Cascade Publishing for the free review copy in exchange for a fair review*

Is Covenant Epistemology the Way Forward?

Esther Meek's book Loving to Know is a remedy to modern and postmodern epistemologies. She proposes a model entitled covenant epistemology that seeks to integrate knowledge that we gather from investigation and from emotion. What makes covenant epistemology unique is that it is grounded in covenant theology and assumes that all knowledge is essentially covenantal. Thus Meeks assumes that even non-Christians are under some sort of covenant relationship with their Creator. This allows Christians and non-Christians to integrate our findings since all knowledge ultimately come from God. This allows integration from various fields to be possible.

Meek's philosophy of knowledge is difficult to pinpoint since she draws from such a variety of sources. Meeks integrates the theological thinking of John Frame and Mike Williams as well as the philosophical thinking of Michael Polanyi, James Loder, Martin Buber, John Macmurray, David Schnarch, Colin Gunton and Philip Rolnick. The benefit of this is it allows Meeks to synthesize a massive amount of material. The downside is that it feels as if what is really happening is adopting so many views that it accommodates any issue while solving nothing. In other words, her theory of epistemology feels so unbelievably bloated that I am not entirely sure that she has synthesized anything. With every layer of knowledge discussed, I kept thinking "Do we really need yet another dialogue partner?"

But maybe that is the appeal. Maybe we need an extremely complicated system of knowing because we are dealing with an extremely complex God, right? Maybe the reason Meek's book resounds so much is because we recognize the inherent complexity of living in a world with various viewpoints. Yet these various viewpoints, in Meek's thinking, never collapse into relativism. The voices are all heard at the table and the conversation is allowed to progress without disintegration.

I think the genius of Meek is that she writes like a literature professor with the mind of a philosopher. There is something captivating and beautiful in her work...she makes epistemology beautiful. I cannot think of any philosopher who has done that for me. Her work is long. It comes in at almost 500 pages. She displays a verboseness that really could have (and should have) been reigned in by an editor. The journey becomes wearisome around the 300 page mark. I feel as if some chapters were unnecessary, retreading old ground.

Yet I have to recommend the book. It is too important for Christian theologians and philosophers to ignore.  It is a unique and necessary approach to philosophy that I think allows Christians to engage with a plethora of disciplines. In some sense, her work is groundbreaking. I honestly feel as if I have only just begun to digest her thinking. This is an important work...I would argue one of the most important works on Christian philosophy written in the past decade.

For some of the reasons listed above I cannot give it five-stars. Yet I also have to say this: if you are a pastor, theologian or philosopher, you need to read this book. It is worth the (hefty) price of admission.

*Thanks to Cascade Publishers for the free review copy in exchange for a fair review*