Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Bible or Science?

Have you ever heard someone talk about his or her favorite Bible verse? Do you have one? Which one is it? John 3:16? Jeremiah 29:11? Proverb 3:5-6? While I can't tell you which verse is your favorite, I bet I can tell you which verses aren't. I bet you've never heard anyone tell you that his favorite verse is the dimensions of Noah's Ark. The verse isn't a list of genealogy from either the Old or New Testaments. I'm pretty sure that it isn't even a list of the names of Jesus' disciples.

Every "favorite verse" I have ever heard has something to do with our relationship with God. The passages that are most meaningful to us are the verses that speak into the reality that we were lost, but now we're found and it's all because of the work of God!

This illustrates the fact that the purpose of Scripture is to tell us everything we need to know about salvation and Christian living. God didn't inspire it to teach us a bunch of propositional truths.

For example, take a look at the first chapter of Genesis. Walter Brueggemann says that this chapter is the most well-known (and stereotyped) chapter in the Bible. People often talk about it in relationship to science. In these conversations, Genesis 1 stands as a representative of the whole Bible. It's the Bible or Science. Either the Bible is true and God created the world in six days or science is true and evolution tells the story of the creation the earth's creatures.

There are a lot of Christian groups in our world that have tried to explain this situation. We can group these different perspectives into three different categories (Robert Branson in Square Peg) based on how they explain the relationship between Scripture and Science.

First, there are those who try to match science with Scripture. These folks take Genesis 1 with it's "common-sense" meaning that God created the world in six days, just like the Bible says. The appeal of this idea is that Scripture remains "safe" and "in tact." However, there are two problems with this approach. First, this concept alienates thousands (maybe millions) of people around the world from the story of God. It forces people to choose whether they want to be Christians or intellectuals. Second, it is contrary to the nature of God. If science is the practice of drawing conclusions from observation and experimentation of the natural world which God created, then it is really the study of God's creation. Why would God create the universe in such a way as to point people away from Him? Since God wants everyone to come to know him (2 Peter 3), this just can't be.

Second, there are those who try to match Scripture with science. These folks reinterpret Genesis 1 to match the facts of science. So those who want to believe in evolution, for example, might suggest that "days" really mean ages or stages of evolution. This perspective is appealing because a person can believe both in science and Scripture. However, when we determine the meaning of Scripture with Science (or any other contemporary thought), we differ its authority to an external source. In other words, if we reinterpret the Bible to match science, we are really saying that science is authoritative for truth instead of the Bible having authority in itself. Additionally, we run into problems with this perspective whenever science progresses (think of all the ways science has progressed since the beginning of the Current Era, and potentially could progress in the future). If science determines that evolution is an incorrect or incomplete conclusion about the origins of creation, then we would have to "update" the meaning of Genesis 1. The Bible wouldn't have any meaning in itself. There wouldn't be much point in reading the Bible if it didn't contain its own Truth apart from other sources.

The third category is the one in which I proudly stand (it's the approach of Wesleyanism). There are those who believe that Scripture and science speak to separate spheres of reality. Folks here believe that Scripture is absolutely true about all things related to salvation, faith, and Christian living. Proclamation of God's saving work through Christ is the purpose of Scripture. God didn't intend for it to be a text book about laws of nature or the history of creation. It is a theological work. Science, on the other hand, studies the things that God has made. This perspective allows one to learn the theological truths of Genesis 1 (God created everything, all three persons of the Trinity participated in the creative work, creation is good, God created humans with His image and to intentionally be relationship with them) without getting caught up on how He did this. Science studies the how. There is obviously an overlap here. Christians can't accept science that is contrary to the theological truth of Scripture (a version of evolution without God, for example).

I land in this third category because in it there is great freedom. I can affirm the faith-Truths of Scripture without getting hung up on all the specifics. I can proclaim the entirety of the Gospel, all the creeds, and the entire Truth of Scripture without being pigeoned holed into a specific model of science. There is room in this model for six-day-creationist and evolutionists to worship the same God and not forfeit any realities of Scripture. I can be a Christian and an intellectual simultaneously. The sovereignty of God as creator and sustainer of the universe and the goodness of God as one who is redeeming the world are both saved in this third category.

If we believe that the work of Christ was powerful enough to save anyone who would believe in and be changed by his work, then we cannot adopt a perspective of Scripture that alienates the majority of the population or removes the Truth of Scripture from itself.

Tonight I was reminded by a 90+ year old woman of all the verses in Scripture that speak towards loving your neighbor, praying for your enemy, and not harboring any ill thoughts towards another person. There is room in the Wesleyan perspective of Scripture for any explanation of how that doesn't leave out the who (God) or the what (salvation).  We must remember that truth from Genesis 1 that all persons are created in the image of God and to hate another is to hate the image of God Himself.  Even those who reject God and Scripture all together must be loved as those whom God would like to come to repentance.

If you would like to dig into this subject at a much deeper level, I would recommend Square Peg: Why Wesleyans Aren't Fundamentalists edited by Al Truesdale.  This blog is my summary of the theological truths contained therein.

1 comment:

  1. So basically you are saying that you "oppose any godless interpretation of the origin of the universe and of mankind"(903.8)? ;)

    ReplyDelete

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