Re: The Problem of Liberal Theology

From: george murphy (
Date: Tue May 07 2002 - 07:53:02 EDT

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             Amen to Michael's remarks. But with regard to science-religion issues,
    there is not just a problem with liberal theology.

             I think that one major cause of the problem is a failure to focus on
    Christ in theology & especially in connection with science. This is
    true across
    the spectrum of science-religion discussions, including ASA. By this I do not
    mean that people do not believe in Christ, accept him as savior &c but simply
    that their reflection on the faith & its implications, especially
    with regard to
    science, does not begin with Christ & often has little to do with Christ.

             Instead, concentration tends to be on "God" or the Bible. If
    the former
    then the discussion is susceptible to the idea that "we all believe in the same
    God" & anything peculiar to Christian belief becomes of secondary importance.
    This kind of thing is very popular - indeed, seems to be favored - in Templeton
    Foundation sponsored science-religion activities. ("Spirituality" is another
    popular ersatz Christianity.)

             If the Bible is the focus of attention then interminable debates take
    place about the historicity of Genesis, concordism, &c & again the distinctive
    features of Christianity do not play a major role. Even when christological
    considerations are invoked, it is usually to validate certain ideas about the
    Bible - Jesus "taught" that Genesis was historical &c.

             So most religion-science discussions, including those on this list,
    could go on with little modification if everything relating to distinctively
    Christian faith were removed. They are theistic (whether traditional, process,
    panen, pan, or whatever) but not trinitarian.

             How does a christological focus make any difference in practice? To
    take just one example, in his recent debate with Blake Nelson, Glenn Morton
    referred to the "necessity" of God in connection with belief in a temporal
    origin of the universe (a belief which, BTW, I am strongly inclined to favor).
    In what sense is God "necessary"? If the character of God is most fully
    revealed in the one who "did not think equality with God a thing to be grasped,
    but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" then one can argue that that
    God as the creator should not be understood to be "necessary". As Bonhoeffer
    puts it, God "lets himself be pushed out of the world onto a cross".
    One of the
    implications of this is that the world can be understood "though God were not
    given" - i.e., the methodological naturalism which is crucial for science.
    Thus, e.g., the true God is not to be understood as one who "left his
    fingerprints all over the evidence".

             1) I certainly do not think that I have _proven_ the claims
    that I make
    in the last paragraph. At this point I'm simply trying to raise the issue of
    christological focus as fundamental. For more details on the specific argument
    see my article in the March 2001 PSCF.
             2) I am not trying to pick on Glenn here. The belief of traditional
    philosophical theism that God is "necessary" is very common.
             3) To say that God should not be considered as "necessary" does not
    mean that God is simply "unnecessary" - a careful discussion of the sense in
    which one is speaking of "necessity" is important. Juengel makes the case
    (connecting his argument profoundly with a theology of the cross) that God
    should be considered "more than necessary".
             4) To forestall the usual question, yes, I believe in the
    resurrection. But if it isn't the resurrection of the crucified then
    it doesn't
    mean squat.



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

    Michael Roberts wrote:

    > 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!

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