Re: The problem with RFEP

From: George Murphy (
Date: Thu May 29 2003 - 11:18:51 EDT

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    Howard J. Van Till wrote:
    > For a variety of reasons, many folk desire a more detailed and specific
    > grounding for RFEP in some traditional theological system. I often point in
    > a theological direction with my customary reference to the RFEP as an
    > indicator of God's creativity and generosity, but most people in the
    > evangelical camp find that unconvincing ( I suspect that it strikes them as
    > a thinly disguised rationalization of evolution) and want a more tightly
    > argued theological position, complete with a generous list of biblical
    > references.
    > At the moment, however, I would rather not tie the RFEP so tightly to one
    > specific theological perspective. I see the RFEP more as a broad
    > metascientific principle that describes a fundamental property of the
    > universe and less as a principle that could be derived from some particular
    > theological framework.

            It's reasonable to call methodological naturalism (I know you're not crazy about
    the term) a metascientific principle because it's a statement about how science should
    function. But if RFEP is a principle "that describes a fundamental property of the
    universe" (& not of the God-world relationship) then it seems to me it's a scientific

    > George again:
    > >> > In particular, I believe that their major problem is
    > >> > that they are not properly grounded in christology.
    > To which I replied,
    > >> George's preferred approach is to ground the RFEP in his christology,
    > >> which
    > >> is entirely reasonable, and he does this ably. It is not my intention
    > >> to
    > >> argue against such an approach, even if I do not hold to it.
    > >
    > > Thanks for the compliment. But this still leaves one wondering
    > > on what other basis we can claim to know the character of God in a way
    > > that motivates your understanding of divine action.
    > I think you were using the word 'character' in a more specific way than I
    > intended, but that is probably not worth pursuing.
    > Without any desire to open up a big theological argument here, I will simply
    > say that I think it is possible to speak meaningfully about a loving
    > God/World relationship without reference to the cross and substitutionary
    > atonement. I do not expect you to agree with that.

            Certainly it's possible to speak in this way. However:
            1) The classic problem of theodicy (which I know is a concern of yours) is,
    "If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why is there evil?" To oversimply greatly,
    process theology deals with it by rejecting "all-powerful." But logically one can just
    as well reject "all-loving." (N.B. That is _not_ the course I'm recommending!) & of
    course there are plenty of people in the modern world who have dealt with it by
    rejecting the idea of God period. So if RFEP is to be plausible, there needs to be some
    rationale for speaking about a loving God/World relationship besides the fact that we
    want it to be so. (Which of course doesn't mean that you're obligated to give such a
    rationale here.)
            2) You indicated on another thread yesterday that you no longer consider
    yourself a member of the Evangelical community. (For that matter I don't consdier
    myself one either if Evangelical has its usual American sense, though I think my
    theology is evangelical.) But most people to whom ID & similar ideas appeal are part of
    that community. So I think there's a practical question (which I sketched in my
    original post on this thread): How do you think your arguments for RFEP & against ID
    are going to have any impact on these folks if those arguments don't make significant
    contact with traditional Christian beliefs?
            I should add (not just to appear avant-garde) that I'm not appealing for just a
    return to traditional theological formulations. I would argue for the centrality of
    faith (with primary emphasis on the element of trust) in Christ crucified. But some of
    the ways in which the Christian tradition tried to talk about the significance of the
    cross are no longer adequate.


    George L. Murphy

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