Re: The Problem of Liberal Theology

From: Michael Roberts (
Date: Mon May 06 2002 - 18:06:32 EDT

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    Can I put in a change of direction?

    Blake Nelson wrote;
    In fact, I think the depradations of
    > someone like Spong are silly, because Spong has
    > adopted a pastiche of modern scientific methodology to
    > scripture which is unwarranted and only barely misses
    > adopting a completely materialist metaphysic. IMHO,
    > those folks, generally, do as much harm to
    > Christianity as the YEC crowd.

    As I am in a broad church which covers the whole range of theological
    opinion - The Church of England (I was in the Church of Wales til last
    August and was one of the ultra-conservatives!) - I see and feel the damage
    done by extreme liberals.

    Blake cited dear old Bish Spong, who actually has not 'adopted a pastiche of
    modern scientific methodology ' but rather is stuck in an old mind set which
    is dependant on the conflict thesis of science and religion, in which any
    conservative theolgy has to be rejected as it is assumed that conservative
    means literal. We have several similar sorts in Britain, There is Bish
    Rcihard Holloway who delights in taking a radical position. In his 60s as
    the Presisding Bishop of Scotland he took drugs to see what it was like. His
    books sell a bomb especially among anglican clergy. I reckon every time he
    opens his mouth scores leave the church either to agnosticism or
    fundamentalism (one may as well be hung for a sheep than a loaf of bread)
    Then there is Don Cupitt - a Cambridge theolgian who started the Sea of
    Faith Movenment for people who dont believe in God but cling to
    Christianity. He argues for a non-realist view of God. His book "The Sea of
    Faith" is classic conflict thesis of science and religion and he uses the
    rise of science to "prove" his non-realist view of God. However he gets his
    history of science absolutely and utterly wrong - completley misunderstands
    William Smith according to Torrens the Briish auhtority of Smith, parodies
    Hugh Miller and gets Darwin wrong.
    Lastly Paul Badham a Welsh theologian wrote a book 'The Challenge of
    Modernist Theollgy' and claimed that in 1890 there had to be modernism to
    provide an intellectually viable restatemnet of Christianity which accepts
    science to counteract the 6 day literlaism of orthodox Prots. His histroy is
    plain woeful to be charitable yet it has had glowing reviews except for my
    hatchet job in the Expository Times in 2000.

    And dont forget some science and religion exponents like Arthur Peacocke who
    though brilliant in his attack on reductionism has a closed universe which
    denies any miraculous. We also see in it Keith Ward who is very multi-faith
    and like so many liberals ditches the whole uniqueness of Christ. One can
    also note that the atonement went a long time ago, there is no empty tomb
    and now the divinity of Christ is under question. Since Sept 11 some feel we
    must be inclusive to other faiths especially islam and not try to uphold or
    mention the unique claims of Christ.

    All this is very confusing to the average Christian and tends to unsettle
    their faith. Blake is absolutely right to say they do as much harm to
    Christianity as YEC.

    What we are being offered by such is a general transendence in contrast to
    the reductionism of Dawkins et al but none of it will put fire in our hearts
    and is simply a featherbed to catch a falling Christian (an expression used
    by grandad Erasmus Darwin to describe Unitarianism)0

    Now there are many issues raised by liberal theology but ones which affects
    us on the ASA list is the portrayal of Trad orthodoxy as literalism, the
    conflict thesis of science and Christianity, the issue of miracles or rather
    the involvemnt of God in his Creation, and the necessity of Creation ex
    nihilo (Yes Burgy I have read loads on the subject)

    At the risk of offending some or rather putting a stone to stumble on, all
    these issues are related,

    Frankly in contrast to wooly liberalism Young earth fundamentalism does have
    its attractions!


    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Dr. Blake Nelson" <>
    To: "Glenn Morton" <>
    Cc: "Asa@Calvin. Edu" <>
    Sent: Sunday, May 05, 2002 3:26 AM
    Subject: RE: Black Sea Flood

    > I think I see where we are talking past one another.
    > Let's see if I can state it one more time. I do not
    > think you wrong. I think requiring a concordist view
    > of everything in scripture as the only basis for
    > "rational" faith in Christianity wrong. That is my
    > point and we seem to disagree there.
    > My ongoing point is not that we need to liberalize
    > theology. In fact, I think the depradations of
    > someone like Spong are silly, because Spong has
    > adopted a pastiche of modern scientific methodology to
    > scripture which is unwarranted and only barely misses
    > adopting a completely materialist metaphysic. IMHO,
    > those folks, generally, do as much harm to
    > Christianity as the YEC crowd.
    > I think I agree with you about the point of Genesis --
    > that Jehovah created the world as we experience it and
    > know it now. I think you would possibly insist on an
    > ex nihilio hypothesis, but I dont see that Genesis has
    > to be read as ex nihilio creation and in some ways
    > could be interpreted not to be ex nihilio.
    > I think one of the best discussions of the
    > nonimportance of the scientific how of how this
    > universe came into being (other than it being
    > dependent on God), is George Ellis's Before the
    > Beginning. Thus, I do not see the Big Bang as
    > providing considerable confirmation of the fact that
    > the universe seems to be a created universe.
    > >So, then take the question of Genesis 1:1 (which is
    > >what I limited most of
    > >my comments to before). Let's push it to the
    > >extreme. If the universe
    > >isn't created, then it is a product of natural,
    > non->divine forces the origin
    > >of which we do not understand.
    > Depends what you mean by created. Genesis clearly
    > indicates that the form of the universe we have is
    > dependent upon God. I tend to favor an ex nihilio
    > understanding, but if the universe were somehow
    > demonstrably eternal (such a thing cannot be
    > demonstrated within science), I would still have no
    > reason to doubt the existence of God on that datum.
    > > How would we test whether or not God created
    > >the universe by doing as you say, pushing it to its
    > >extreme limits.
    > No, I was saying that a rule or principle may be
    > pushed to its limits. Obviously, the only way to test
    > whether God sustains the world in existence is to take
    > God away and see if the universe still exists. This
    > cannot be done.
    > >One way to be sure that God created would be for that
    > God to
    > >inspire a simplified,
    > >but true story of how it happened.
    > Sure. But this smacks of Carl Sagan's (I think)
    > question about spiritual experiences (could be UFO
    > abductions, but someone said it about NDEs or
    > spiritual experiences), why don't they ever bring back
    > information like some new law of physics? Personally,
    > if God is concerned about relating scientific laws to
    > people, that is not a God that means much to me, even
    > though I have scientific training. It is the personal
    > God that cares about individual people that is the God
    > I see attested in scriptures.
    > >What never seems to register with those of your
    > >belief
    > I do take exception to this in that you are presuming
    > and not telling me what you presume my belief to be.
    > It may be that you are completely wrong about my
    > belief, whatever that may be. I cannot infer from
    > your statements what that belief is.
    > > is that a poem can
    > >contain not only historical truth (Homer)
    > So, the gods on Olympus worked against one another,
    > some on the side of the Trojans and some on the sides
    > of the Greeks? You are making my point. I do believe
    > there are several kernels of truth in the Illiad.
    > There are other things that are highly likely to be
    > false, such as disputes and direct intervention among
    > the gods, the actual horse itself, etc., etc. Because
    > there are things in the text I believe likely to be
    > false does not lead me to believe that nothing in
    > Homer is true.
    > >but also >scientific truth as
    > >above. Poems are merely a means of conveying
    > >information (in the colloquial
    > >sense of that word), be it true knowledge or false
    > >knowledge.
    > Sure, and I have never said anything against the truth
    > that Genesis imparts about the dependence of universe
    > on God. If the universe is not in some sense
    > dependent on God, then God is meaningless, sure. But
    > there is no way that proving the entirety of Genesis,
    > except for the existence of God, to be true in every
    > respect that the proposition that God created the
    > universe is true. God's creation of the universe is
    > not, in a strict sense, either provable or testable.
    > >The thing I fail to understand about your side of the
    > >fence
    > Again, we may be more on the same side of the fence
    > than you think. It is rigid assertions that put me to
    > the other side of the "fence" where ever it may be
    > located, because I do not believe that most things are
    > subject to rigid requirements.
    > >is why God, with
    > >all that power to raise a dead man, make a fellow
    > >walk on water, change
    > >water to wine,
    > I would differentiate the revelation of Jesus the
    > Christ from all other revelations of God. IN that
    > life and in that life alone, God is most fully
    > revealed to us. Yes, so I would expect greater
    > indicia of divine power in that respect.
    > But, you put words into my mouth that I have never
    > uttered.
    > >can't even have the ability to give >the poor Hebrews
    > a true
    > >poem about their origins!
    > The words are that I have never said that Genesis did
    > not contain truth. We only differ as to WHAT in the
    > poem must be true to consider the whole poem true. I
    > tend to be a minimalist in this regard to avoid the
    > problems that lead to YECers. That does not mean that
    > I disagree with the bulk of the content of the text.
    > You have asserted that Genesis must be true in order
    > to believe the Gospels. I reject that. That does not
    > mean I do not consider Genesis true. I do. It is not
    > a litmus test for the veracity of the New Testament.
    > Neither is every particular part of Genesis a litmus
    > test for the truth of everything in Genesis. That is
    > my point, which you seem to either reject or ignore in
    > alternating moments.
    > >And that it doesn't seem to >bother anyone is even
    > more amazing to me.
    > It does not bother me, because it is not how I view
    > it.
    > >This is the logic which makes me view Genesis in the
    > >way I do. I think
    > >that either we have an impotent God, a God who
    > > doesn't care what people say
    > > he did (and thus allowed them to make up the
    > > story of creation which lacks any
    > > truth value),
    > I never said this. Never even implied this.
    > >or we have the wrong God. But what I see is that no
    > > matter what God had said, people would say it is
    > > a great story which is true.
    > A pedantic, but important point, the chronicle of
    > creation does not say it is being dictated by God.
    > How about a God who wanted His glory and presence
    > known and inspired His people to write a story in
    > terms they understood that contrasted his reality
    > against the proclaimed false reality of man made gods
    > of those peoples whom His people knew? That's one
    > possibility. An apologetic from God, stressing
    > fundamental truths about His nature, but not intending
    > to be an exhaustive or accurate scientific set of
    > statements.
    > > If God had said the world arose from 2 salamancers
    > > mating we would defend it as theologically true!
    > Why? What is the theological content? As I pointed
    > out above, God did not say, in the beginning I
    > created... It is being reported by people.
    > I do not see how your counterfactual salamanders
    > examples give us any handle or traction on the
    > problem. Then God would be saying He wasn't
    > responsible for Creation and if he said nothing else,
    > would not be important theologically or in any other
    > way to us. I do think Genesis is unique in avoiding
    > the problem of things such as the dualism of myths
    > that existed about creation at the time. I believe
    > this to be true and distinctive of Genesis.
    > >We give God no way to be wrong no matter what he
    > >had said.
    > As far as I can tell, his quoted words are very few in
    > Genesis 1. Mostly it is a description of His actions.
    > To me, the central importance is that the world is
    > dependent upon and shaped by God. That seems to me to
    > be enough.
    > At the extreme limits, I don't
    > >think the necessity of "truth" claims that you try to
    > >make hold up. You seem to agree by trying to
    > >differentiate cases. We disagree as to how far and
    > to
    > >what extent something can be read as a truth claim.
    > >How far back in Genesis do you believe is actual
    > >history? Let's start there.
    > >Tell me why that chapter has history and the previous
    > >one doesn't.
    > On one level, I can assert that I do not have enough
    > data to sift what is historical in a modern sense and
    > what is not. I believe that the writer(s) of Genesis
    > were trying to tell a story about their received
    > understanding of the Genesis of the world. As a
    > general principle, you can see the hallmarks of
    > historicity in some books of the Bible more than
    > others, and the NT is filled with the hallmarks of eye
    > witness accounts and remembrances. I can discuss at
    > length some of the different methodological approaches
    > historians use to try to get at this exact thing, but
    > I view these methodological approaches as not deriving
    > an absolute truth just in the same way I view
    > hermeneutics or form criticism as all relying on
    > assumptions that are not provable and are subject to
    > considerable dispute. I don't think it worth the
    > bother since our disagreement stems more from the
    > rigidity of your assertions that it has to be
    > concordistically "true" as historical or scientific
    > fact in some strict sense (although you and YECers
    > disagree in the degree to which you must concord).
    > In fact, I do not claim any of Genesis is not
    > historical. I do claim that there is no reason to
    > reject scientific understandings of the universe
    > because of Genesis or vice-versa. We must
    > fundamentally understand the limits of our different
    > types of knowledge. Scientific knowledge, deep down,
    > can never disprove or prove the kind of God attested
    > to by the books of the Bible. It simply cannot go
    > there. Ellis, Polkinghorne, Buber, all sorts of
    > people have discussed this at length. Not all truths
    > are scientific and historical.
    > The God of the Bible provides a witness to the
    > experience of a God who can only be understood and
    > related to personally. As William James has
    > discussed, it is only be choosing to believe that you
    > can determine the validity of the personal nature of
    > God and Jesus. The God of the Bible is not a God of
    > science or philosophers, but that does not mean that
    > either science or philosophy conflict with Him, they
    > do not. But you can only see what the stained glass
    > windows really depcit from the inside, not the
    > outside.
    > The God of the Bible is a God of mystery a God that
    > has mystical aspects. It is not a God that can be
    > circumscribed by our ratiocination (not to say that we
    > should not try).
    > As I said before about your poor deluded friend, one
    > can only take the validity of Christianity by the
    > degree to which each of us who professes it is
    > transformed by it.
    > (snip)
    > >"England revolted against George Washington and
    > >earned their freedom
    > >from American tyranny," is a demonstrably false
    > >statement which in no way is
    > >in a system requiring precision. I simply can't
    > >believe you are advocating the above view!
    > LOL. Actually, as a Yank, I would agree with that
    > statement. But what I was saying is that the Bible is
    > not a set of propositional statements. Not everything
    > in the Bible depends on each and every aspect of it
    > being historically or scientifically accurate.
    > >I have read Herodotus, know of this story and think
    > it is really
    > >interesting. Having seen films of rat swarms in
    > >Australia, where they
    > >covered the ground--literally-- I could believe such
    > >an event. What do
    > you
    > >find objectionable to such a story's history?
    > It would be the only recorded event of mice causing a
    > military defeat and thus highly improbable.
    > Especially since battles were rather common in the
    > area where it is thought to have occurred and those
    > little buggers are not reported as having chewed away
    > the bow strings of other invading armies.
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