Re: [asa] Rejoinder 2 from Timaeus: to David Opderbeck, with a Question for All

From: <SteamDoc@aol.com>
Date: Sat Sep 27 2008 - 16:16:44 EDT

Timaeus asks about "a TE theology" (or the variety of positions). A good
question, and I will start by saying I have no formal training so these are
amateur observations. I will also narrow the question in two ways.
 
First, I assume he is not asking about "big-picture" theology. People take
theistic evolution positions from many traditions -- Reformed, Wesleyan,
Anabaptist, Roman Catholic, Orthodox (probably not many dispensationalists). So
I assume the question is about just that part of theology that talks about
God's creative action and action in/with nature. Second, I limit my scope to
those who take a TE position within Christian orthodoxy as most of us in the
ASA would understand it. Most process theologians probably fall in the TE
category (we might argue whether the "T" fits), but I'll leave them out.
 
With that, I would first say that, for most of us, the main theological
affirmation in this area is "I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of
heaven and earth." In other words, the *status* of God as creator and Lord of
everything is primary, and *how* and *when* God did this creating are seen as
secondary questions at most. But to the extent TE proponents do address a
"theology of nature", I would identify two main strands of thought. These
strands are not mutually exclusive; some people emphasize one or the other, and in
some ways they might come into tension but can be complementary.
 
The first strand is a *kenotic* understanding of God's character. George
Murphy, who frames this in terms of a theology of the cross, could explain it
better than me. Part of the idea is that God lovingly allows his creatures to
have some freedom and their own integrity rather than acting as a tyrant.
This would include allowing his creation to participate in the unfolding of
God's creative purposes. Another part of the idea is that, as exemplified by
Jesus on the cross, it is God's character to work in humble and hidden ways
rather than (as a "theology of glory" would have) showing off in the way we
would if we were God. This leads some to expect that God's role in nature would
have an aspect of hiddenness, and that to attempt to understand God and
nature by some modern rationalistic approach (like Paley) apart from Jesus and
his cross is likely to be fruitless at best, and at worst could lead to the
idolatry of looking to an anonymous "Designer" rather than the God revealed in
Jesus.
 
The second strand, maybe more among those from a Reformed perspective, is an
emphasis on God's sovereignty over nature. In much of the ID movement (and
also in people like Dawkins), there is a tendency to divide the world into
"natural processes" and "things God does" and to treat those as disjoint sets.
This strand would reject such a division, and would instead say that natural
processes is a subset of "things God does" (or at least "things under God's
authority"). This may be phrased in terms of "providence" or "governance" or
"cooperation with" natural processes, but the idea is that, because of God's
sovereignty, natural explanations (whether of the evolution of life, or star
formation, or fetal development) are not (contra Johnson and Dawkins) in
competition with God.
 
Timaeus also asked about hermeneutics. Here again there is variety; people
take TE positions who affirm the inerrancy doctrine of Old Princeton (I think
Terry Gray is in that category) while others have a view of Scripture that
is too "low" for my taste (I think of John Haught).
 
In terms of hermeneutics, a key is an acceptance of *accommodation* as
opposed to *concordism*. By "concordism", I mean the view that every passage in
Scripture, even where science is not the point, must be made to "line up" with
modern science. Hugh Ross exemplifies this. "Accommodation" is the
principle (going back at least to Calvin) that God *may*, for the sake of good
communication, accommodate his revelation to the limited knowledge of the
recipients. Note the word *may*; exegesis decides whether this is taking place in
any particular passage. So, for example, a concordist is forced to interpret
the solid firmament in the sky in Genesis 1 as corresponding to some
scientific fact (such as clouds), while the principle of accommodation would observe
that the people in the ancient Near East believed the solid firmament was
there, and that God did not bother to correct that faulty understanding because
it was not relevant to the theological message being communicated. I think a
commitment (often unconscious) to concordism is the main hermeneutical
barrier that makes a TE position (or even an ID position that accepts common
descent) unpalatable to many Evangelicals. [although other types of barriers may
be bigger]
 
A few other hermeneutical issues (some related to the above) cross my mind
that are probably common to most TEs, and/or more common among TEs than among
the general evangelical population:
1) A principle of "Don't ask the Bible questions it isn't trying to answer"
2) Willingness to recognize historical and cultural context and to allow
that knowledge to inform our interpretation (as opposed to [caricature of modern
evangelicalism] treating the Bible as a book that dropped out of the sky on
golden plates in modern times)
3) Appreciation of the variety of ways God communicates through Scripture,
including through story, rather than [another caricature] trying to force it
all to be propositional truth by the standards of Enlightenment rationalism.
 
Allan (ASA member)
---------------------------------------------------------------------
Dr. Allan H. Harvey, Boulder, Colorado | SteamDoc@aol.com
"Any opinions expressed here are mine, and should not be
attributed to my employer, my wife, or my cat"

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Received on Sat Sep 27 16:17:51 2008

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