Re: How do we escape the enlightenment terms natural and supernatural

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Wed Oct 10 2001 - 09:18:30 EDT

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    As a FWIW contribution to this discussion, here's a brief excerpt of
    something I'm working on:


    Question: In the context of what we have come to know via the natural
    sciences about the character of the universe and of its formational history,
    how can we best articulate our understanding of divine action ‹ both
    creative and providential?

    I shall begin by saying that I believe that we do need to re-articulate our
    concept of divine action. I have a high respect for the theological
    tradition of my Calvinist heritage, but the theology that I was taught --
    like the theology taught to the vast majority of Christians today -- was
    framed in the conceptual vocabulary and thought patterns of centuries long
    past. My own theological heritage clearly bears the marks of having been
    crafted within the framework of a late-medieval world picture -- geocentric
    in both its physical structure and its focus of attention, unaware of the
    multi-level (quarks to quasars) structure of the universe, unaware of its
    formational history and its astounding array of formational capabilities,
    and unable to imagine that we would someday have empirical access to that
    history and to the creaturely processes that have contributed to it.

    This inherited world picture includes a conceptual vocabulary for speech
    about divine action. Most of us were presented with a picture of God as an
    all-powerful, transcendent, person-like being who was both able and willing
    to engage in supernatural intervention -‹ particular acts in which the
    continuity of the creaturely cause/effect system was interrupted and
    superseded by coercive divine action. I say Œcoerciveı not to imply any lack
    of loving motivation but to denote divine action that forces creatures to
    act in ways contrary to or beyond what they could otherwise have done.
    Traditional portraits of the creationıs formational history often made
    liberal use of the supernatural intervention motif. Episodic creationism,
    for instance, envisions divine creative action in a way that places great
    emphasis on the idea that new structures and life forms were actualized, not
    by creatures using their God-given formational capabilities, but by the
    direct form-conferring action of the Creator. Relics of these traditional
    portraits remain in use today -‹ museum pieces now grandly framed with
    gilded claims of empirical support.

    I have long sought to portray both the creation and Godıs creative action
    with a vision that is founded on the historic Christian doctrine of creation
    but crafted in the conceptual vocabulary of this day. The conceptual
    vocabularies of centuries past can no longer be treated as if they remained
    adequate in this era. We should no longer be content simply to repeat things
    exactly as they were said in the 16th century, or in the first century. It
    is no longer adequate simply to say what they said‹be they medieval
    theologians or biblical writers. Instead, we must, I believe, do what they
    did. We, like our predecessors, must experience Godıs presence in the world
    about us and craft our portraits of divine action in the conceptual
    vocabulary of our own time and place.

    Howard Van Till

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