Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Intelligent Design and the Judge

The decision has been handed down, and it is probably no real shock that the judge in the ID court case in Dover, PA has ruled against ID being taught in the classroom.  I argued before that the details that gave rise to this case were probably weak, and a little silly, and I am sure there will come another court battle in the future on better and more solid ground.  Yahoo.  HT: ID In The News

What surprised me the most were some of the comments coming from the judge.  I must admit that when I first heard some of these excerpts quoted on the radio news, I just about flipped out of my seat.  So here is the judge’s take on the parents and school board members driving the ID issue:

It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

Maybe judges often accuse plaintiffs or defendants in a case of lying, I don’t know.  But this is especially egregious.  It reveals a profound prejudice on the part of the judge in which he seems to believe that no motivation on the part of a religious believer (probably just Christians) can also have real and legitimate scientific value as well.  If it comes from a believer, it must be just religion and thus a private matter and not something suitable for the public square.  It appears from this excerpt that what was at trial in the judge’s mind was the teaching of religion in the public square, and not the actual science involved in the case.

It will be objected here, as it often is, that ID is religion and not science.  My point is that that accusation is a separate issue than what was presented in the Dover case, and it seems to be a premise snuck in by the judge.  I had a friend who was called to testify in the case, and at the last minute was taken from the witness list because Michael Behe preceded him and had apparently done a bang-up job with the science.  Maybe the judge was sick that week.

Here is more of the measured and thoughtful ruling at a point in which the judge is preempting the “activist court” charge:

Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial.

Honestly, if I had ever used the words “ill-informed” or “breathtaking inanity” in any of my graduate papers to describe an opposing point of view, I would have been chastised severely as letting colloquialisms and personal hobbyhorses get in the way of serious critique.  Is this language worthy of a serious opinion?

And to say that the factual backdrop has been “fully revealed” is just nonsense.  The judge had an agenda and his ruling makes that abundantly clear.

To put a fine point on that accusation, the judge went on to declare that teachers simply can not critique the theory of evolution in the classroom.  For what must be the umpteenth time on this blog, are we comfortable with a single, state-mandated position forced on students and teachers in any field of education?  The judge’s words:

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID.

Round two can’t be too far off…

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Intelligent Design Counfounds Another Author

I was perusing a few sites I visit looking for juicy post topics when I ran across this article by one J.M. Tyree called, “Malevolent Design: Intelligent Design isn’t just bad science, it’s bad religion” on The Revealer, a generally informative website dedicated to religion in the media and news.  At first I had hoped for an interesting take on the possible extensions of Intelligent Design like a plurality of gods, an ├╝ber-intelligence, or something else novel (near the end of the article, the author finally made it to the surmises of a malevolent designer).  Instead, I got a barrage of bad research, bad thinking, and the same old hackneyed responses to ID.

In a few ways, you could tell the author had done their homework on some of the general philosophical background involved, but unfortunately, most of that research had nothing to do with the background of ID.  More on that below.  For instance, the author quotes Duane Gish as a defender of ID.  Talk about a stretch for a straw man.  Here is his quote:

"How are you going to explain that step-by-step by evolution, by natural selection," says an ID proponent named Gish. "It cannot be done!"

Note two things (besides Gish not being part of the ID cadre of scientists).  First, Gish’s quote regards gradual macroevolution, not design.  Second, it is clearly used as an inflammatory device within the article and not in a means conducive to charitable representation.

Now for the bad thinking.  Instead of dealing with the scientific claims of ID, the author quickly morphs into the classic stand-by reaction to theism: the problem of evil.  The reason this is a bad leap in reasoning is that ID does not make moral claims on the design and current shape of the universe.  Certainly many of its adherents are theists, and they would make such claims, but ID is about the science of “specified complexity,” and other, biological, mathematical, and chemical realities.  And as so many of ID’s defenders have pointed out, the science of ID does not make any claims stemming from or leading directly to any specific religion.  ID’s claims are not moral.

One of the core passages in the author’s train of thought:

Hume, a notorious antagonist of religion, wrote in carefully and artfully constructed forms like the quasi-fictional Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1777), perhaps in order to avoid trouble with the authorities. There, Hume put forward what are now considered the classic objections to the teleological argument, which also apply in spades to ID. The most devastating objection is that even if you assume the world was designed, it does not appear to be designed by a very nice deity. Bearing in mind that the Christian God must be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, wouldn't there be some way for God to prevent events like the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, or Nagasaki? As Hume pointed out, if he can't, he's not all powerful, and if he won't, then he's not all good. Theologians do have answers for these problems -- God must allow the universe to proceed in an orderly fashion, and an orderly universe appears to require storms, earthquakes, and volcanos -- but the answers are not very satisfying when confronted with the epic scale of human suffering.

It is fine if someone wants to write on the problem of evil and the teleological argument, but they should pick the right context.  The author makes the religious jump himself (I don’t know if J.M. is male or female), and then claims ID is religious by its very nature.  A little disingenuous.  This is a little bit like me picking on the recent spate of Christmas-in-the-public-square issues and arguing for the return of prayer in public schools.  There may be some connection on some level, but it is the wrong argument to make given the context.  

Either the article is about the science of ID, or about providence.  If the author wanted to deal with the problem of evil and providence, he should have dealt with a segment of ID’s supporters and their theology rather than painting ID with a theological brush and assuming there is no difference between the science of ID and the theology of Christianity.

Additionally, this quote highlights the jump in reasoning made by the author from scientific and mathematical claims to religious and moral claims.

Speaking in religion's own terms, ID is not only an argument from design, it's also an argument for providence, God's good guidance of the universe, human history, and individual moral choice.

The author is apparently assuming ID is a kind of theology and hence is responsible for answering all the religious issues held by the author.  Again, some who like the ID movement will make the jump from the science to providence, but ID doesn’t do that.

What happens in this article is nearly universal in ID’s critics.  Instead of taking a real look at the scientific claims, they summarily dismiss even the possibility of ID being a science and then proceed with a self-derived sense of justification to the ad hominum attacks.  As an example:

Yet aside from its nonentity status as a scientific theory -- a "theory" must be provable or disprovable ("falsifiable") by experiment, therefore Intelligent Design doesn't qualify…

And macroevolution and atheism are “provable or disprovable…by experiment”?  As I have noted elsewhere, using the notion of “falsifiability” is a slippery one for a theory whose primary premises are just as philosophical as anyone else’s.  And besides, those who understand ID could remark that there are highly developed mathematical models in support of ID’s contentions that can be tested in this fashion.

The argument is called "irreducible complexity," a term that along with the even more voodooish "specified complexity," forms the bedrock of ID's pseudoscientific vocabulary.

I guess you win if you label your competition as “voodooish.”

Instead of being something thoughtful or something that addresses some of the real issues out there surrounding ID, this article seems to simply be a way for the author to get some frustration off of his chest.



Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Authentic Spirituality?

I wish I could take credit for the following idea, but I heard it today listening to the latest edition of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. The executive director, Ken Myers, is a sharp and broad-reaching cultural critic, and the basic thought on “authentic” faith belongs to him.

He wondered out loud while introducing a segment on the recent surge in Wicca and neo-paganism, about how the word “authentic” has been applied lately to religion and spirituality. It is an idea that is often used (and was one point in the discussion about neo-paganism) to reject historical Christianity, or at the least, to reject institutionalized forms of Christianity. Instead, people who search for “authentic spirituality” usually walk away from historical faiths in favor of newer, more personalized faith practices and beliefs.

One point the interviewee made about her book on Wicca is that its tenants tend to be very person-specific and fairly malleable. Wicca, along with so much of American spirituality, gives its believers the chance to make religion in their own image.

Myers’ comment was on the ironic linguistic twist involved. “Authentic” literally means something that can be authenticated-something that is demonstrably real and objective. We still use “authentic” in this way to describe things like artifacts or art, as in an “authentic Navajo pot” or the “authentic self-portrait by the artist.” The point is, the label “authentic” describes the genuine article.

But now, and this is no less true in evangelical circles, “authentic” means “subjective.” The upshot is that people are ostensibly searching for the real thing when in fact they are looking inward and creating a cheap reproduction of what is truly spiritually authentic.

In the recent evangelical reaction against the church growth movement and the evil specter of Modernism, have we bastardized the term “authentic”? Have we helped lead people out of the church and the embrace of orthodoxy just so they can craft their own faith in search of the supposedly authentic?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Book Review: C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea


DangerousIdea
Originally uploaded by Phil Steiger.
Victor Reppert’s book, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason, is a relatively short, but philosophically rigorous book. The fundamental burden of the book is to explicate Lewis’s argument found in his Miracles, sometime called the argument from reason, and defend it against some contemporary trends in philosophy. Reppert takes an almost deceptively simple argument against naturalism and reveals it as the powerful apologetic tool that it is.

Lewis’s fundamental claim is that rational inference cannot be explained in purely naturalistic terms, and because it is obvious that rational inference does occur, that is a reason to reject naturalism. The title of the book is a self-confessed spin-off of Dennett’s book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. The deliberate connection in the title juxtaposes Dennett’s contention about the fundamental realities of reasoning and Lewis’s. Dennett argued that the best way to build knowledge was through the use of “cranes” and not “skyhooks.” Cranes are ideas and theories built on previous, naturalistically achieved, theories. A skyhook is a derogatory term for theories explained in terms of the supernatural or non-natural, and which, as the title implies, have no real grounding. Lewis’s contention is that there is something fundamental about the way reason works that turns Dennett’s idea on its head.

The first obstacle Reppert works to overcome is what he calls a biographical objection. He notes that many of the objections to Lewis’s philosophy are attacks on Lewis the person and not on his ideas. As legend has it, this argument of Lewis’s was once attacked and (apparently) trounced at a meeting by Elizabeth Anscombe. As the legend goes, Lewis basically gave up his apologetic writings after this apparent embarrassment. But as Reppert details, Lewis not only replied to Anscombe’s objections in an updated version of Miracles, Anscombe openly admitted that the second version was much more rigorous and harder to critique.

This section of the book was helpful to me in that I think many people’s objection to Lewis as a serious philosopher are biographical and not technical. His reputation as a favorite of evangelicals and as the author of children’s books has colored the view of many. In all honesty, I don’t see the need for the seeming bifurcation between serious thinker, religious thinker, and popular author. I think we need more serious and rigorous thinkers, not less, writing popular books than we might have now.

After a helpful chapter on apologetic arguments in which Reppert classifies Lewis as a “critical rationalist,” the philosophical defense begins in ernest. The first objections he deals with are the original objections posited by Anscombe. She critiqued Lewis’s original formulation by arguing that non-rational reasons may give rise to rational inference (Lewis originally used the term “irrational”), and that paradigm cases of reasoning may serve as an example of good and bad rational inference. Later in the book, Reppert continues to defend the argument from reason against more contemporary objectors. He deals with critiques concerning the explanatory power of non-physical causes, and what he calls the inadequacy objection.

Essentially, the inadequacy objection is that when naturalistic/materialistic reasons are found for any explanatory gap, they are the best and most sufficient explanations for phenomena. So, non-physical explanations, by their very nature, fall short. This chapter, along with its specific intent, provides a solid philosophical look into an answer to the “god-of-the-gaps” objection to theism.

Theism, and all the science and philosophy surrounding it, is often rejected as a point of view that will naturally be discarded when a better, materialistic, explanation is discovered. So is the case in this book with rational inference. Lewis and Reppert argue that it cannot be explained by naturalism, and thus is a reason to reject it. Naturalists reply that the non-natural explanation is a stopgap measure that will simply fade away when science has caught up with itself: we used to explain thunder as God doing something or other in the heavens, and now we know differently. It is, so the argument goes, the same with rational inference.

But Reppert’s point is that the argument from reason is no “god-of-the-gaps” argument. Instead of being an argument simply from an ignorance of natural explanation, it is a positive argument about the only good philosophical explanation for rational inference. In other words, if the argument from reason holds, there is logically no naturalistic explanation for the exercise of reason.

This same point can be made in the case of Intelligent Design, and recent work in the area of testable models of nature that infer (or abduct, if “abduct” is a verb) the existence of an intelligence. The straw man argument against ID is the claim that it is a “god-of-the-gaps” point of view that will disappear with the next scientific advancement. But that misses the point entirely. The point is the same as Reppert’s-if the argument holds, naturalism will never explain our origins or our apparent design.

I would highly recommend this book with one simple caveat: be prepared to think. It was a more philosophically rigorous book than I expected. I refuse to call this caveat a warning: it is a challenge and an encouragement to think a bit more deeply about Lewis, about apologetics, and about how your mental faculties work.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Intelligent Design and the Role of Explanation

This is a wonderful example of apologetic interaction with the culture at large.  It is an opinion piece written by Douglas Groothuis regarding the typical take on Intelligent Design in the Denver paper, The Rocky Mountain News.  HT: World Mag Blog

One excerpt:

When Darwinists refuse to admit intelligent cause as a possible explanation for specified complexity, this only reveals that they define science such that intelligent causes are disallowed in principle. But this approach is not a discovery of science itself. It is rather a philosophical commitment to materialism (the belief that reality is reducible to impersonal physical laws).

This passage addresses one of the more crucial issues raised in opposition to ID.  Often ID’s opponents will regard an explanation that goes beyond the natural/physical realm as no explanation at all.  In other words, good explanations describe an event or process (or whatever) by other physical events, objects, processes, etc.  Any attempt to produce an effective explanation outside the physical realm is an effort in futility.  Non-natural explanations are not explanations at all.  (See Victor Reppert’s book, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea for a developed engagement with this physicalist view of explanation.)

This view, though, reveals more about the typical assumptions built into the edifice of modern science than it does about the nature of explanation.  If we begin with the assumption that physical causes are all that exist, then any attempt to explain data without appealing to other physical data will be dismissed out of hand.  But, as Reppert points out in his philosophically rigorous book, exclusively physical explanations fall apart rather quickly.

If a naturalistic scientist is a fan of the N.Y Jets, his potential glee at them drafting a good quarterback next season is not at all explained by physical facts.  Intent, belief, and other non-physical realities do a better job of explaining an emotion or reaction like glee than other, “lower down the chain,” physical explanations.  Glee is not adequately described as having a causal chain beginning with neurons.

Analogously, for the scientific community to deny non-physical explanations for apparent design, is for them to say more about their philosophical presuppositions than their scientific rigor.  And, as Dr. Groothuis points out in his article, it ends up being a straw man argument anyway.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Links Sans Context 12.9.05

Chad has some very thoughtful things to say in reply to Plantinga’s “Advice to Christian Philosophers.”  It is a new blog to me and looks good.

Adrian is talking about Charismatic gifts and cessationism.  He links to what looks to be a thoughtful article on the contemporary issue of prophecy.

Another new blog to me by Doug Wilson-this post deals well with McLaren’s A Generous Orthodxy.

Dr. Steve Cowan is writing a short series of posts on the role of apologetics and philosophy in the church.  This post in particular is about their roles from behind the pulpit.

Darrell at Disert Paths is writing a series on Christian mysticism.  This post has some good thoughts on the roles of small groups and Christian communities in directing mystical experience.  We are beginning a conversation on the post-throw your hat in the ring.  HT: Out In The Sticks

Steve has written another in his string on evangelical theology.  Check out his thoughts on why evangelicalism might be so short on tools dealing with suffering.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Pastors and Plagiarism II

Rich at BlogRodent recently posed some thoughts on my post on pastors and plagiarism. I was forming this response when it became too ginormous for a comment. So here is the latest post on pastors and the problem(?) of plagiarism.

BTW-Rich is a former Chi Alpha minister-so am I. It is good to hear from another AGer and especially from someone who was part of one of the most dynamic and quality ministries in the AG!

Rich-

Thanks for your thoughts-they have been provocative and a great help for me in thinking through this issue. In fact, I have a few things to throw out there in reply.

Intent
I agree with you that because there is only so much Scripture and it is preached over so often, we are unlikely to “come up with anything new.” In fact, one of our tasks is to be dedicated to theological unoriginality. So, if I may not say anything genuinely original this weekend, what guidelines should I use to avoid plagiarism?

To begin with, I can’t be held responsible for citing someone I have not read. I may be responsible for reading the important scholars and pastors, but you cannot be culpable for something out of your control. I have never really read Tertullian, and am likely not to.

Intent is, I think, a big deal. My friend profited off of me when he could have called me and put me in touch with the editor. His motive was profit, and therefore wrong. If I borrow from the “masters” with the intent of sounding like a master without giving credit, I believe that intent makes it wrong.

More commonly, I think pastors borrow from other popular ministers because it cuts down on their prep time. In my opinion, that is a wrong intent. The primary job of the pastor is shepherd manifest most directly by theological and biblical leadership behind the pulpit. If I get another pastor to do that for me, that intent has made my action wrong.

If a pastor does their homework in study and prayer, and utilizes tools or skills from another, then there may not be plagiarism. As an example, I do not publicly credit my seminary teachers on a regular basis for the tools they gave me, or for pointing me in certain directions. (I do, however, credit them if I repeat something they said specifically or tended to say a lot-ut back to my point.) If I learn something in class about how the Greek language works or how a theological argument works, then I do not need to credit the tools I have been given. And most of the text in a commentary may fall into that general category. They are written to bring the pastor and student up to date on the latest take on the original languages. (But even then, if I borrow a specific or poignant thought from an exegetical commentary, I will cite it.) But if I read a book in preparation for a sermon and borrow an actual point made about an issue or a passage, I am bound to credit that person.

I just don’t think a pastor can or should gloss over plagiarism by appealing to the “it has already been done a million times” defense (not that you did that).

Spiritually Specific
I believe that we can hear or read points from another minister and use them to great effect in our congregations and their specific situation. But, it is negligent of a pastor to simply “use” another pastor’s material and hope it has the same effect for them it had for the original pastor and church. How many copy-cat churches have simply repeated Warren’s or Hybel’s sermon series because their churches got big using those sermons, and hopefully theirs will too?

Even if a pastor allows their sermons to be used as a kind of public domain, does that exempt the next pastor from the moral and spiritual requirement of connecting their passage, their God and their congregation on the weekend?

Academic Expectations vs. Pastoral Expectations
I can imagine some disagreeing with me by arguing that what is expected of a scholar writing an article is different from what might be expected from a pastor behind a pulpit. Though I would grant a few differences-there may not be the same expectation of universal familiarity with the average pastor-I think the principle still applies.

For example, a scholar who submits a paper for review will have it rejected if she cites a major figure or argument in the field and does not properly cite it. Likewise, if a minister manages to convince her congregation that she came up with the doctrine of the atonement, she has committed a serious sin.

Additionally, if we expect our scholars and “masters” to be rigorous, why should we expect our ministers to be sloppy?

Congregational Expectation
What is assumed by a congregation when they listen to their weekly sermon when it comes to plagiarism and citation? I do not mean to talk about what they actually expect-that is a statistical question-I mean what kinds of expectations are they due? Should they expect the sermon they are hearing to be a carbon copy of the latest and greatest sermonizer and his series from six weeks ago? Should they expect a sermon that is taken largely from another pastor’s sermon spoken at a conference last month? Should they expect their pastor to be producing largely “original” material taken from commentaries, books, conversations, current affairs, tools and skills learned in seminary, and their own spiritual lives?

Maybe I have stacked the questions a bit, but I think the answer is fairly clear.

Openly Christian or Deeply Christian?

The recent popularity of The Lord of the Rings and now Narnia has spurred many conversations and articles about the “Christianity” of the books.  While neither author made their worlds and fantasies explicitly Christian, (in fact, they both openly claimed the works were not attempts at Christian apologetics), there is no denying that the authors openly and unashamedly wrote from Christian worldviews and orthodox positions.  Their theology made the worlds they created, and their worlds reflect the great themes and truths of the world the way God has created it.

The primary problem with spin-offs and much of Christian fiction today is that very little of it is as theologically informed as Middle Earth or the timeless Narnia.  A good deal of it tries to cover up this foundational shortcoming by being explicitly Christian, but even then, without a sound and robust theological base, it fails to be enduring.

After a long battle over the rights to make the Narnia movies in a way true to the books, there are Narnia spin-offs appearing.  “A Narnia Without Lewis or Aslan” deals with one such book.  From the author near the end of the article:

Since we're supposing, I suppose that what would bother Lewis (and what should bother us) is not that the book isn't "Christian," but that it isn't any good. It's flat, predictable, and utterly undistinguished. It is hard to imagine that a story this lifeless would have been published had there been no Narnia hook.

This insightful quote points to an extremely important issue with Christian worldview living-the point is not to put a Christian veneer on a normal life, but to live a deep and meaningful Christian life wherever we happen to be.  And in the case of literature, a children’s book that hopes to mimic the power of Lewis’ Narnia without the Christian worldview will fall flat, and a work that hopes to be Christian but relies only on the veneer will likely suffer the same fate.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Planting Churches in Church-Sparse Areas

"Distant Neighbors" Gazette.com

I was interview recently by our local religion writer about the relative differences between Colorado Springs zip codes and the varying concentration of churches. The area we are planting in, the 80906 area in the article, is a fairly sever mixture of the wealthiest part of town and the most economically depressed area of town-and is the least populated by churches. Add to that a major Army base just one exit south on the highway and our downtown one exit north, and you have an interesting mission field.

I thought the article picked up on the issues well. The church planting "guru" quoted in the article, Steve Pike, was our local church planting director who helped us get Quail Lake started.

I would love to know some of your thoughts or experiences regarding planting churches in wealthy and/or economically depressed areas.

Friday, December 02, 2005

How Do We Fix It?

In response to a recent post on Oprah and the kinds of spiritual role models our Christian culture has, Bob and Steve have posed some questions that are at the same time of terrific importance and terrifically difficult to deal with.

Bob said:

If our culture is in a negative level of spiritual interest and understanding, then what is the best tactic for moving it up into the positive? It can't be "talking above their heads," but it can't be capitulating to the ignorance either!

Steve said:

So my question after reading your post and Dr. Groothius': How do we change it? Whenever I criticize different teachers on TV or radio (Oprah, Joel Osteen, James Dobson) I am playing precious chips with my congregation. It seems they buy so much of this stuff hook, line, and sinker! How do we change that?

So the question stands: How do churches reach their people with a Christian worldview? The answer is clearly enormous, and all I want to do here is begin an engagement with a few thoughts that are hopefully just as practical as they are theoretical.

Worldview Teaching From The Pulpit
In my own sermonizing, I have found the worldview concept to be a helpful and fruitful tool. As I pour over a text and my notes, reflecting on how some specific biblical stories or concepts relate to a broader Christian worldview has enriched my own teaching (at least in my mind it has…). A pastor can never be in control of what people hear or absorb, but maybe we can be a little more deliberate about relating Christian worldview concepts to people. And of course, these concepts land most effectively when laypeople have a chance to engage them in their own lives.

For example, we recently went over Jeremiah 17:19-27 in which the prophet creates an image of crowded streets on the Sabbath and the rightful king’s inability to enter Jerusalem. As a result, the Sabbath concept we talked about was clearing our hearts and minds of the clutter of our pagan culture and freeing up our mental and spiritual attention for the rightful King.

A small step, admittedly, but most of them are.

Pastor as Thought Leader
This is a big-picture point, but an important one nonetheless. David Wells makes a devastating critique of the modern pastorate in his books No Place For Truth and God In The Wasteland in which he juxtaposes the community role of the pastor in early American and English Puritanism with that of the modern evangelical pastor. Suffice it to say the later does not stack up well. For good reasons and for not so good ones, the typical evangelical pastor is not seen as any kind of serious thought leader in their communities. As a result, people do not tend to think of the pastor or their pastor’s sermons and writings first when they do any kind of serious thinking about the world. They are much more likely to think of the talking heads on cable news or their favorite periodical.

The solution? Maybe we should expect pastors to be better educated, more well rounded, and more conversant with the important matters in life than many of them probably are. I suspect some pastors deserve the parochial image they have in the eyes of their congregation.

Just an initial set of thoughts to maybe get some juices flowing…

Christian Scholarship and The Authority of Scripture

I have just started reading “Shaping a Christian Worldview: The Foundations of Christian Education” by many of the faculty at Union University. The book is intended to be an engagement with the idea of higher education and its relationship to a Christian worldview. I must say, so far the work has been very thought provoking. One of the early essays tackles the problem of being a serious and rigorous scholar and holding to the authority of Scripture at the same time. Can believers in the ultimate authority of Scripture be academically rigorous and honest?

The author of the essay, George Guthrie makes a couple of helpful foundational remarks. First, the idea of any kind of authority from which scholars perform their work is more ubiquitous than many would admit. The accusation that Christians cannot perform scholarly duties honestly, leaves the clear implication that everyone else can because they are free from the fetters of a myopic authority structure. But, are they? What of postmodern deconstructionism, naturalism, Neo-Darwinian evolution, Marxism, etc.? Each of these paradigms acts as authority structures from which many scholars do their work and out of which many of them refuse (or fear to) stray. Christians are not the only scholars working from an authority structure.

Secondly, the implication is made that a Christian worldview and its authority structure is inherently at odds with the fruits of scholarly labor. Though much of fundamentalist isolationism in the past may have thought that and put that across to the rest of the world, good Christian theology has always taught the unity of truth: all truth is God’s truth. Christians can and should engage serious and honest work done in all fields of the academy with an eye to God’s truth.

Then Guthrie engages Grenz and the recent Postmodern turn in recent evangelical theology (so popular in many Emergent church circles). His critique of Grenz rests on a point I had never seen before. Guthrie states, “Grenz has moved his doctrine of Scripture out of a foundational position for doing theology to a subcategory of pneumatology, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” (28) Fascinating insight. What that means is that no longer is the message of Scripture a starting point in a Christian worldview, it is a result of various interpretive communities.

This, of course, falls prey to all the straightforward critiques of postmodernism. Why choose one community over another? Why believe there is any inherent, cross-cultural message in Scripture at all when another community might believe it is so much debris?

But in Guthrie’s assessment, another recent development in hermeneutics by Vanhoozer has helped solve some of those problems. Vanhoozer’s theory is a speech-act theory of interpretation in which God did deposit eternal truth in Scripture as He interacted with it, and as we interact with God’s speech, so to speak, we interpret and live out God’s deposited truth. (Doubtless this is a simple version of Vanhoozer’s thesis.)