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Theology & Science – Part 3

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 3)

 

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.

Click HERE for Part 2.

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).

C) Most of the time, hermeneutics is done quite naturally. We do it better with more and more experience. However, there are some extenuating circumstances that can make hermeneutics a much more difficult task. One of those is the analyzing of very old communication, such as biblical texts. Another is when we look at texts that are interdisciplinary, especially when we are unfamiliar with the language that is used in one of the disciplines.

When a scientist who is used to reading science books picks up a modern-day novel, they seem to know it’s a novel and they seem to have the ability to read it as such. However, possibly due to influences from popular, often uninformed theology, the same scientist often seems to be unable to remove their scientific proclivities when they pick up the bible. Maybe they have looked past the fact that they have put down the reading of one genre and picked up a book of another genre. Certainly all scientists are not guilty of this offence just like all Christians are not guilty of this genre mistake. However, Christians have often been unable to remove their narrative proclivities when looking at science.

Young Earth creationists have needlessly gone to great lengths to attempt to explain away scientific findings. When there were scientific findings in the single digits that needed to be explained away, the task wasn’t so great. But, it seems to me that there has gotten to be so many things now that scientists have found regarding the age of the Earth and evolution and such, which these well-intentioned folks feel they have to explain away, that the weight of the task has made the arguments in defense of a young Earth look a bit foolish.

I remember a number of years ago listening to a Christian making the claim that the “so-called” dinosaur bones that were “discovered” were all fake. Or, that God miraculously put them there to test our faith. I also remember thinking, “Really, all of them are fake? There sure do seem to be a lot of them.” Regarding the planting of fake bones, well, obviously that kind of act would go against everything scripture claims about the character of God.

The trouble is, according to Charles Foster, that both the Atheist (Dawkins) and the Young Earth creationist are looking for one grand theory that explains all the difficult questions of the world. It seems to me that this is a failure of hermeneutics. Good hermeneutics would recognize the milieu and genre of each discipline and modify their interpretation of things accordingly. Here the scientist or the fundamental Christian may shriek, “How dare you modify!” I remind both that science and theology has to modify when new information comes along. Copernicus modified his science when new information and a relooking at old information came along and many expectant Jews who were looking for an earthly warrior Messiah modified their theology when Jesus came along. So, hermeneutics is always interdisciplinary at some level.

Reynhout has supported this claim in his introduction as well as throughout his book. He says that, “theology’s interdisciplinary character is fundamentally hermeneutical” on page xii (emphasis his). The very definition of hermeneutics includes interpretation, which is at the very least one person with their own set of notions attempting to correctly understand another from their own set of notions. This, of course, comes after the step of interpreting the data provided to the first person. Let us not forget that if I asked someone to show me science they would likely wander off and bring back a science book or drag a professor in to talk science. Either way, they would be bringing back science as communication. Reynhout shows that they would be sharing meaning and this meaning has to be interpreted. Imbedded in all of this is an “author, context, and receiver” as well as a gap between the author and receiver. This gap is where either communication or miscommunication can happen. (122-123)

Since this is the case, it is most prudent for both the scientist and the theologian to study hermeneutics.

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!