Re: [asa] (new wine in old skins) Ratcheting Concordism in Dennis Venema's talk at ASA meeting

From: Michael Roberts <>
Date: Thu Dec 03 2009 - 16:19:26 EST

If I am allowed to blow my own trumpet . A major theme in my book Evangelicals and Science (Greenwood 2008) is on how evangelicals interpret the bible but I do not do it as schematically. A major problem was caused by the Chicago Declaration on Inerrancy which undid BB Warfield's work

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Pete Enns
  To: Steve Martin
  Cc: Dehler, Bernie ; AmericanScientificAffiliation
  Sent: Thursday, December 03, 2009 8:51 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] (new wine in old skins) Ratcheting Concordism in Dennis Venema's talk at ASA meeting


  Noll's piece is amazing. I would love to see it become a starting point for some serious conversation about how evangelicalism got to where it is re: Scripture.

  Pete Enns

  On Dec 3, 2009, at 3:35 PM, Steve Martin wrote:

    Hi Bernie,

    I highly recommend Mark Noll's article "Evangelicals, Creation, and Scripture" that Biologos recently published. It looks at the historical context for 15 factors or assumptions that modern-day evangelicals bring to the table when they consider science, factors and assumptions that are rooted in events many hundreds of years ago (ie. even before evangelicalism, at least in its modern form, was born). Probably all of us that have grown up in an evangelical sub-culture have held these assumptions at one time or still hold these assumptions - and they probably impact all of us in ways we may not even admit, whether our ideas on faith and science have changed or not, and probably even those like yourself who have difficulty with the entire faith package. At least, your current views seem consistent with some of the assumptions Noll outlines.

    Noll states of these assumptions / factors that:

      some seem to me damagingly mistaken in their entirety, and for a combination of theological, biblical, and intellectual reasons. Most, however, seem much more difficult to evaluate, often because they once made a genuine contribution to the spiritual health of churches and the civic stability of society and may, in fact, continue to do so even when the circumstances in which they came into existence are no longer present. Yet taken together, the continuing functioning of these fifteen factors has created a serious problem—intellectually, biblically, theologically, apologetically, and spiritually—that damagingly constricts conservative Protestants in their engagement with contemporary science.

    On Thu, Dec 3, 2009 at 10:55 AM, Dehler, Bernie <> wrote:

      Steve Martin said:
      “And on why this topic is irrelevant to broader Christian theology (ie. not a process as Bernie suggests), is that there seem to be very, very good theological, hermeneutic, and literary reasons NOT to demand concord for the earliest chapters of Gen. “

      I don’t think so. The only reason for not being concordist is because of learnings from science since the time it was written. If you look at the text with the eyes from the ORIGINAL writer and ORIGINAL readers (the audience for whom it was written), then the most literal hermeneutic would be best, and it would make sense to THEIR mind and THEIR understanding. Science, and learnings from science, is what causes the problems for moderns. As time goes on, science advances, and creates more and more difficulties/conflicts, which results in a ratcheting METHODOLOGY (not a ratcheting POSITION) to deal with the new scientific data in a new theological way, because the new scientific wine will burst the old theological wine skin.


      (Friend of the ASA)


      From: [] On Behalf Of Steve Martin
      Sent: Wednesday, December 02, 2009 12:48 PM
      To: Douglas Hayworth
      Cc: AmericanScientificAffiliation; Dennis Venema
      Subject: Re: [asa] Ratcheting Concordism in Dennis Venema's talk at ASA meeting


      Exactly my thoughts re: the original question & Bernie's answer. I believe the point Dennis was making in his presentation was that an ANE phenomenological hermeneutic allows one to abandon the ratchet completely. (I wasn't there but in listening to the audio it seems like he was rushed near the end and finished really quickly; he may not have discussed this as much as he would have liked). Therefore although the historical / scientific concordence of Gen 1-11 is possibly an interesting topic, it may be something that is somewhat irrelevant to our faith. (eg. If Dick Fischers tenacious search for the historical Adam comes up gold, well that's great & very interesting - why discount the ancient's ability to pass down their history orally? Maybe the biblical minimalists will need a ratchet of their own going the other way :-) ). And in fact, what evangelical biblical scholars are increasing claiming (eg. Walton's latest) is that looking for any kind of concordence in early Gen might be doing a disservice to the high view of scripture.

      And on why this topic is irrelevant to broader Christian theology (ie. not a process as Bernie suggests), is that there seem to be very, very good theological, hermeneutic, and literary reasons NOT to demand concord for the earliest chapters of Gen. But, for other areas of scripture, this is not the case. The best example may be the four gospels which have all the hallmarks of historical biography from that period (eg. Burridge - What are the Gospels?) So we should expect pretty good historical concord for these (at least the same level of concordence as typical biographical / historical writing of that period).


      On Wed, Dec 2, 2009 at 1:51 PM, Douglas Hayworth <> wrote:


      I'm glad you asked the question and got Dennis to confirm that he coined the term "racheting concordism". I remember him using the term but hadn't thought to clarify where it originated. It'll be nice to have this fact on record for the benefit of historians 50 years from now! Dennis, how does it feel to know that you'll be the topic of an esoteric discussion of etymology some day!?

      It's easy to take the concept of racheting concordism too far, but I'll do it for a moment in order to make a point. In some sense, all of us believers are prone to racheting logic; we all hold out that science and the Christian view of reality make sense together (i.e., are compatible or concordist in some general fundamental way). In our own minds, we all continually maintain ways to reconcile the two competing kinds of information (formally complementary epistemologies). Which of us doesn't take some comfort in the "good fit" between a Big Bang universe (an actual beginning) and our belief in creation?

      I think this is how Bernie was interpreting racheting when he outlined his progression from YEC to atheism. But, strictly speaking, this is not the usage that Dennis intends, and attempting to apply the phrase this broadly makes it less useful. Bernie may have been forced to atheism via this racheting logic, but most of us remain theists precisely because we break free of the rachet with regard to strict concordism. Dennis' rachet applies only to those who believe that science and scripture speak the same language. Most of us allow the two languages to interact and dialogue, but we do not cogitate under the assumption that they are the same.

      Once we are free from strict concordism, there cease to be any notches in our mind's rachet because we are not counting on the rachet to prove or anchor the faith. We simply hold the rope in our hands and trust the Spirit to tell us when to let it slide or hold it tight.



      On Tue, Dec 1, 2009 at 7:40 AM, Steve Martin <> wrote:

      Hi all,

      I was interested in Dennis Venema's term "Ratcheting Concordism" at the ASA meeting. (see presentation slides here & audio here ... his brief mention of ratcheting concordism occurs around 36:00 min time).

      Dennis describes ratcheting concordism as a scriptural concordist strategy that, when in the face of overwhelming evidence, will ratchet over one position and lock in there (until the next batch of evidence comes along).

      Now, I know Dennis isn't a theologian but I'm intrigued by that term ... & I think it is helpful (not like I'm showing my cards here :-) ). I'm wondering a) if this is a new term and b) if others think this is helpful. I would especially be interested in hearing comments from those who believe that some historical and/or scientific concordism is important &/or essential for interpreting Gen 1-11 if we are to hold a high view of scripture.

      cc'ing Dennis too ... not sure if you are as hit-and-miss on this list as I am.

      Steve Martin (CSCA)

      Steve Martin (CSCA)

    Steve Martin (CSCA)

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Received on Thu Dec 3 16:20:19 2009

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