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Theology & Science – Part 2

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 2)

 

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the first question and part two of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.

Write an essay explaining (A) what hermeneutics is about, (B) what hermeneutics has to do with theology and science, and (C) why hermeneutics was important for the topic of this course (give examples).

B) Hermeneutics is generally about interpretation and not just interpretation of communication. We reflect back on our lives and interpret our whole story, even though it is unwritten. So, hermeneutics has to be used in the realm of nature and when that nature is evaluated in the context of communication between scientists and theologians and between regular folks like me with interest in one or both of those topics, there is no questioning the certain need for the discipline of hermeneutics. Each of these two disciplines of knowledge are seeking to understand truth, and once discovered they each tell the story of that truth. The moment that story enters into the picture there is a hermeneutical requirement.

In science observations have to be interpreted and communicated and once that communication happens, it is necessary to interpret that. Theology is not much different except our observations largely come out of a text that tells a story where we notice certain things within a text rather than inside a beaker. Theology and science both have within them an art and a science. In theology, one might easily think of the art side first. We think of theology differently than we think of doctrine or dogma. Theology is freer than doctrine or dogma to explore possibilities. It is about piecing things together to create something that is expressed uniquely, something expressed differently than at any other time.

However, theology, at least if it is going to be good theology, has to contain an element of science as well. Anything and everything is not permissible to the church regarding theology. There are checks and balances, tradents within the church. There is a great community also interpreting and reminding of certain truths when someone goes too far. There is history and those who interpret history and its truths. Like the world of science those truths are not always agreed upon by everyone, but also like science certain false truths eventually fade, unable to stand the test of time and the scrutiny of their growing number of interlocutors.

Neither science nor theology is strictly logical. For many, it may be easier to think this way in the realm of theology. But science has been characterized by logic. It would seem to many people that that is the purpose of science. However, Reynhout uses Heidegger to show that science is not a place of strict logic, allowing for no infiltration of things like subjectivity (Reynhout, 104). Like theology, science has a search for meaning, and wherever there is a search for meaning, there is interpretation. Reynhout says that “the most unbiased experiment conducted under ideal conditions will still involve a certain kind of interpretive process” (Reynhout 121). If science was only based on facts and no interpretation was needed, there would never be any changes to scientific theory. But changes come when new information is discovered, just like changes to theology as one grows in that field of knowledge come.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

Brian Bram August 30, 2014 3 Comments Permalink

Theology and Science – Part 1

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 1)

 

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the first question and part one of my answer.

Write an essay explaining (A) what hermeneutics is about, (B) what hermeneutics has to do with theology and science, and (C) why hermeneutics was important for the topic of this course (give examples).

A) I have borrowed my definition of hermeneutics from Grant R. Osbourne in his work, The Hermeneutical Spiral (pg. 5) as the art and science of interpretation. I like both sides of this definition. Hermeneutics is about precision in communication and this is where the science comes in. There are rules to be followed in interpretation. Not just anything will go. “I love dogs.” cannot be interpreted as “The weather is cold today.” There may be a range of interpretation but there remains the ability to go outside of the range to a place where the interpretation is wrong. For example, when a communicator wants to exaggerate and intends to use hyperbole, it should only be interpreted as such. If the intention is to go over the top to make a point, the interpreter is obligated to read (not necessarily just text) the communication as hyperbole.

However, there is a certain art to hermeneutics, as well. Typically we don’t have the time to clarify every intention, and often we don’t have the communicator present to ask for clarification. But, original intention has to be at least a part of our hermeneutic. Some people recognize figures of speech more easily than others. This is also where the art comes in. The kind of art I’m thinking about here isn’t some sort of “born to do art, gifted directly by God” kind. Becoming someone who excels at art takes practice, even from those it comes most naturally to. Hermeneutics also takes practice. The good news is that we do hermeneutics every day. We’re constantly interpreting communication. However, those who get really good at it tend to be those who reflect on it and study it.

Reynhout has used a slightly different definition which serves to enhance the one I typically use. He says that interpretation is “the dialectical process of understanding through explanation” (Reynhout, xv). Reynhout’s focus figure, Paul Ricoeur, agrees with the idea that all interpretations are not equal (Reynhout, 73). The fact that there are arguments about the correct interpretation shows they are not all equal. If hermeneutics was only a science or only an art, then the case could be made that all interpretations are equal. But that is not the case. For him, we go back and forth in a dialectical way from understanding and explanation. I liken this to Kierkegaard’s idea of going back and forth from epistemology to hermeneutics.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

 

Why I’m Not Leaving Bethel

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Why I’m Not Leaving Bethel.

For various reasons people have been asking me about my future at Bethel Seminary. Some have also asked my thoughts on the future of the seminary itself. They may have asked because I’m close with some of the departed. Or, they may have asked because I’ve attended outside functions linked to those that have departed. And so on.

The title of this blog gives my intentions away. So I’ll say a bit about why I’m not leaving.

However, I’m famous for my prefaces, so I should stay true to form and give a few here first.

  • I’m speaking only as one particular current student. I have no insight from the perspective of faculty or staff or anyone else other than me.
  • I’m not sending any hidden messages about what I think anyone else ought to do or ought to have done in their own situation. I have enough trouble hearing the voice of God in my own life to be claiming any clarity for anyone else’s journey. This blog is about why I’m staying, not about whether or not others should stay or go.
  • Finally, I have no scriptures to quote or Jesus parables to reference. I’ve written before on how these kinds of actions often get used inappropriately in an effort to gain the upper hand. After all, if I quote the Bible, who can disagree, right?
  • I can’t say everything there is to be said in a blog on the topic. I’m open for further comments or coffee!

So, on to my reasons. First of all, I’m way too close to graduation. However, even if I had much further to go, I doubt that I would leave anyways. My whole ministry is centered on the church resisting the urge to divide and rather, entering into dialogue. This doesn’t mean there is never a time to divide. However, division in the church has happened far too frequently for reasons that are often way too trivial. Bethel Seminary and the people in it are part of the church. So, unless circumstances get much worse off for me as a student, I will stay. The church and seminary are alike in that both are broken. In that brokenness, I have sometimes stayed, and sometimes left. However, my convictions about my need to struggle to stay have grown the last few years. In fact, I’m currently serving in a church denomination where I stand in a different place doctrinally and a seminary that many are describing as falling apart. I am able to accept that. In my view, both the church and the seminary have done damage to Jesus’ beautiful Kingdom that has caused the hearts of people pain, just as I have done things in my own life to cause others pain. However, where there is great pain there is great opportunity. So, my hope is that the Bethel community will enter into dialogue rather than division.

Second of all, I don’t see that Bethel owes me the right to remain in the same position in terms of its vision, goals, strategies, values, etc. I am not ignorant to the fact that seminaries and churches in our country operate in the clutches of capitalism, and there is no way around it. We can say the church is not a business but we fool ourselves if we think we can be a church or seminary in America unaffected by capitalism. So, when the surrounding economy turns, when payroll and other bills can’t be met, when people in power make decisions, when core values are rethought, I have no delusions that I will not be affected. I accept this as an employee at my job and as a student at my school.

They do not owe me a utopian environment nor do they owe me my chosen doctrinal/worldview beliefs. However, they do owe me a community that is working towards fulfilling the Kingdom. They do owe me fairness when I disagree with their doctrine/worldview. So far, I haven’t experienced any inappropriateness from a professor regarding my grade as a result of my views. I’ve never found a church perfectly aligned with my own views on every subject so I doubt I’ll find a seminary in that mold either. Bethel has always been and so far remains for me a place where I am able to decide for myself what I believe. If that were to change, I suspect that I would leave. But that has not happened so far.

What Bethel owes me is a quality education and I have gotten that with no apparent drop off. In fact, I just finished a class that was amongst the finest I’ve had in my years at Bethel. I’m bummed to see some great professors leave, some on their own and some who didn’t leave by choice. Again, I hearken to the business world where I’ve been hired and fired, where I’ve done the hiring and firing, and where I’ve watched those who were hired and fired. It’s always sad when a company’s direction changes and people lose their jobs but that is the reality of life in capitalism. It’s also one of the reasons the world needs the church. One interesting observation I’ve made is that both for me and for people I know who have had to move on from a job not by choice, things seem to end up better for them in the end. But surely, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes things do end up worse as much as we wish they wouldn’t.

I’m sure there may be some who might say I’d change my mind if I knew all the details. True, I’m not an insider. I don’t know all the dirt. But, I don’t care to learn about the dirt on Bethel Seminary any more than I care to know the dirt about you. If by chance I find out something really bad I’m sure I’ll take it into consideration. But for now, I’ve decided to stay at Bethel Seminary. In the midst of the storm.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 5)

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Click HERE for Part 1 of this blog series.

Click HERE for Part 2 of this blog series.

Click HERE for Part 3 of this blog series.

Click HERE for Part 4 of this blog series.

 

Blog 5

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Apologetics – Is the Bible Contradictory? (Part 5).

 

We’ve come to our final blog on contradictions in scripture. We’ll cover external contradictions in one blog so it will likely be the longest of the 5. We’ll cover archaeology, dating of materials, and science, both general and specific before we conclude.

It’s interesting how much faith we put in certain things these days and how easily we dismiss the overwhelming evidence from archaeology regarding the accuracy of the historical record of the Old and New Testaments. McDowell has said that our knowledge of the text has been increased because of the science of archaeology which, in turn, has strengthened confidence in the Biblical historical record.[1] Even if someone doesn’t ultimately arrive at a position of faith, they should really view scripture’s history as generally accurate.[2]

Many times there have been claims based on various criteria, including archaeology, of historical contradiction in the scriptures. Unfortunately for the sceptic, those claims have often come back to be shown false after newer discoveries. McDowell and Kreeft list a number of them, although not exhaustively. McDowell says that the following was once believed:

 

* Sargon didn’t exist

* Hittites were not significant (I assume in number)

* The Davidic Empire was not very extensive

* Belshazzar never existed

 

In fact, all of these were eventually found to be almost assuredly true so that these “supposed errors and contradictions are not errors at all.”[3] Kreeft chimes in with his own example of the walls of Jericho. The claim was that the walls fell before the Jews came. However, Kreeft cites B.G. Wood’s work on the subject and says he has done a great job in showing, through archaeological evidence, that that was not likely the case, which has caused most skeptical scholars to withdraw their earlier claim.[4]

Often, on a more scholarly level, whose details trickle down in basic form to the masses, there are objections to dating in terms of linear history. For example, McDowell has faced those who claim that there are words used in the Pentateuch that are too late in origin. If it can be shown that this is the case then it must be that the Pentateuch is not as old as we thought and was not written at least partially by Moses. However, once again, patience in archaeology shows the light. The word swh was once thought to be one of those words used in the Pentateuch thats origins were too late. However, recent discoveries of a Moabite stone show the word being used much earlier as scripture has long claimed.[5]

Sometimes scholars have claimed that a prophetic writing was not written until after the fulfillment of scripture.[6] As an evidentialist I’d like to note that this is extremely difficult to do regarding the resurrection, but I digress. Over and over again, these scholars and their presuppositional hermeneutic have been exposed. For example, as Kreeft has shown, it’s not good scholarship to claim Isaiah must have been written after the days of King Cyrus just because their presuppositions regarding the supernatural don’t include the ability to prophecy about the future.[7] Presuppositions do not equal evidence.

We’ll end with a bang and talk more specifically about the popular external claim to the contradiction of science. Up for discussion is both general and specific scientific claims. Surely this is the one that has gotten most of the attention both explicitly while also residing in the back of the mind during other claims of contradiction. In discussing science and theology here, I would like to center on miracles.

Craig L. Blomberg, in his book, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels has mentioned that there is a paradigm shift that has taken place in the attitude of scientists from the 1930’s to today, largely due to quantum physics. Laws of physical nature that were once held absolutely are now seen more as regularities because physicists realize they can’t know the exact position and momentum of subatomic particles. This, Blomberg says, has introduced chance into the equation rather than strict law.[8] Still, he cautions us not to take this idea too far since, on a larger level, things seem to be very predictable when it comes to the “laws” of nature. At a minimum, he concludes, miracles are not a violation of the law. Instead, they are an aberration from a regularity.[9]

There is this idea sometimes that the ancients were people who believed in just about anything, even if it was irrational. Blomberg thinks people think that way because they are preconceived to view past people as having “primitive scientific understanding.”[10] However, he gives a good example to say that even ancient people knew that you needed two parents to conceive and when you were dead for three days you were done with this life.[11]

If God exists, then it logically follows that miracles can exist, too, says Blomberg. As we saw in archaeology, sometimes the evidence, both scientific and theological, may seem to contradict. However, more often than not, new scientific discoveries or advanced theology helps them to coalesce.[12] One example of this, given by Blomberg is the theory in science that used to be held that the universe was eternally expanding. Now, scientists believe that the universe is both expanding and decaying towards entropy at the same time, which is an idea that can absolutely square with scripture.[13] Blomberg quotes Peter Medawar’s book The Limits of Science to say that we should be abandoning our ideas that the supernatural is impossible because of scientific discovery.[14]

What do we do when we read scripture or science and we see what appears to be a contradiction? I’m willing to say what many are not and that is that we should consider the idea that they actually do contradict. In my experience, I’ve eventually learned that they don’t, at least in any meaningful way, which has allowed me to have a great faith in both the Bible and science.

Arthur F. Holmes in his work, All Truth is God’s Truth, gives us some good pointers on how to proceed when we run into just this situation. First, we must make a careful analysis of the claim from both a scientific and a biblical perspective. Then, we must be sure we’re properly interpreting the facts. Finally, we must be sure we’re correlating science and scripture in the right way.[15] Returning to our textual example of a “rising sun,” Kreeft shows pretty easily how we can eliminate the barrier to faith after reading this.[16] A careful analysis of the textual claim clearly shows that there is no attempt to be scientific. Proper interpretation reveals the conversational genre being used. The only correlation between science and theology in this example is that there is a horizon and a sun in both while there is no evidence that scripture is trying to be both conversationally true and scientifically true at the same time. At all points within Holmes’ method we can see that the contradiction in the statement does not eliminate the possibility of inspiration, or even inerrancy, within the text.

In conclusion, I can’t say that there are no contradictions in the Bible for two reasons. Firstly, I think there are contradictions when we interpret across genre type, ignoring the context and overall message the author is trying to send. However, these hardly qualify for the type of allegations scripture often receives from its critics and it is certainly no reason not to take a long look at who Jesus really was and is. Secondly, I simply don’t know every claim for contradiction levied against scripture. While I’m not the type to flatly refuse to even consider the possibility, I have gained a great deal of confidence in the trustworthiness of scripture over the years during my careful study of its claims. After all that time, with as much of an open mind as I’ve been able to muster, I know of no contradictions in scripture that are outside of the type I’ve talked about regarding genre and context, so that I should abandon my faith. So, I remain a believer in what I see as the greatest apologetical evidence for the truth of Christianity. I believe in the historical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!

 

[1] McDowell p. 18

[2] McDowell p. 20

[3] McDowell p. 21

[4] Kreeft p. 217

[5] McDowell p. 153

[6] Kreeft p. 217

[7] Kreeft p. 217

[8] Blomberg p. 106

[9] Blomberg p. 106

[10] Blomberg p. 105

[11] Blomberg p. 105

[12] Blomberg p. 107

[13] Blomberg p. 107

[14] Blomberg p. 108

[15] Holmes p. 59-60

[16] Kreeft p. 218