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April 02, 2010


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Prior to the Reformation period, the authority of the church among the educated classes and common people was greatly undermined by its excesses. The Reformation and Renaissance were radical breaks from the authority of Rome. Now the church has been utterly defeated and the forces of humanism and secularism rule supreme. Is life any better than before? The problem in both cases is putting your faith in man and his institutions. We must put our faith in God and his Word alone.

The presuppositions of the modern scientific method exclude any possibility of a metaphysical divine character intertwined with nature, which character can not be detected, measured, or captured by the many tools used by that method. It presupposes that everything is governed and therefore explainable by impersonal laws in a material universe. The very laws the method interprets as natural and impersonal are actually a revelation of the mind and character of God as much as the revelation of the same in the life of Christ and Scripture. All three books are about God's character as the law of all creation. The sooner we as Adventists understand and experience this, the easier it will become to figure out what elements of the history of science-theology relations are compatible with Biblical theology. Don't get discouraged if that search is like salvaging a few overripe apples in a barrel of rotten ones. It is easier to build from scratch, than to remodel.

Thanks for your comments Rob and Matt! God’s word alone is trustworthy. At the same time, God’s word is revealed in Jesus–the living Word, in Scripture–the written word, and in nature–the created word. “In the beginning was the word . . . and the word was God” (Jn 1:1). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim 3:16). “By the word of God were the heavens made” (Ps 33:6).

As you both implied, there is not contradiction between God’s words in the Savior, in Scripture, and in nature. Contradictions arise because of mistakes made in the theological and scientific interpretation of God’s words. Let us respect God’s word wherever he reveals it. In this sense, we should start from scratch–that is start from the revelation God has given.

At the same time, there is another sense in which we do not need to start from scratch. We can stand on the shoulders of men and women of God who have done good work in science and in theology. Ignorance of their mistakes and breakthroughs would make our work more difficult.

We have nothing to fear for the future except we forget the way the Lord has led in our history. God has been leading in the history of the church and in the history of science. Of course, Satan has be active as well. He is the source of the bad apples. May God give us the wisdom to know the difference between bad and good apples!

For those interested in a more detailed explanation of postmodern trends in scientific thinking, I recommend CBC Radio's Ideas series "How to Think About Science" (and, yes, Canadians do say "about" like that). All 24, hour-long episodes are available online for your perusal. The series of interviews focuses on authors who probe the epistemological limits of science. Of particular interest to science-theology relations, IMHO, are episodes 1, 6, 8, 9, 10, 16, 18.

On an unrelated note, our Adventist, historicist understanding of the prophetic indicates to me that history is another location (albeit in the 4th dimension) where God reveals himself. If this is so, when constructing theology, there is no such thing as starting from scratch, if by starting from scratch we mean setting aside all that has come before, because what has come before is part of that "scratch." On the other hand, if by starting from "scratch" we mean beginning from the raw materials, so to speak, of theology, rather than tacking on additions to an existing theological structure, I think there is definite value in this. But this is only valuable if the present structures are wholly unsuited to their task. And it seems to me that, at least for Adventists, this is the situation that exists in science-theology relations where there is a vast distance between what we believe should be and what the current philosophical systems allow.

David and Martin, I find myself agreeing and appreciating the distinctions you make about working with the past as history and working with the sources of theology in the present. Getting to the sources of theology is starting from scratch and it is necessary to do this in order to sift through what has gone before us. Both have their merits, because in knowing what history shows in the relationship between science and theology, no matter how each is understood, knowing that history helps us realize how our approach is in utter contrast to what has gone before us. What the history of that relationship has shown to me is trying to reconcile theology to various philosophies does not always help what we learn from scratch. It tends to muddy the waters.

You are quite right Matt. If we seek to reconcile theology with various scientific theories, we will likely compromise theology in the process. Science is not always right. In fact, good science should always be open to changing and growing based on ongoing research. To reconcile theology with the science of today will make theology to be outdated when the science changes.

At the same time, theology must also be open to change and growth based on continual study of the revelations God has given in Scripture and nature. When theology is open in this way there can be a fruitful dialog between science and theology. The dialog does not mean that science and theology will always agree. Neither will they always disagree.

For example, Scripture clearly teaches that God created different kinds of animals which reproduce descendants of the same kind. For me, this contradicts the scientific theory of the common evolutionary ancestry of all living things.

At the same time, nature teaches us that different descendants within one kind of animal may have different characteristics. In light of this, I think that theology can acknowledge that many modern breeds of dogs were not present in the Garden of Eden.

This type of dialog is not an attempt to reconcile theology to scientific conclusions. Rather it is a critical and constructive dialog with science concerning the interpretation of the book of nature which is God’s book. It is essential that this dialog proceed without compromise of the revelation given in Scripture.

However, sometimes this dialog may show us that we have not interpreted Scripture correctly. For example, it seems to me that it would be an incorrect interpretation to claim that Scripture teaches that there could be no variations within the kinds of animals created by God.

Dr. Hanna, In response to your questions I would include the dimension of the theologian’s relationship with God. I have no doubt that any of the theologians studied in their respective eras sought a Bible based theology. Who, as a Christian theologian, would seek to develop a non-Bible based theology? The difference is where they, he men/women, developing the theology or was the Spirit of God working through the theologian in developing a theology in order to reveal His will and works to the church? How could we answer such a question since such a relationship lies beyond the sensory perception of man? Only the unfolding of the theologians influence would provide evidence and even the apostate theology could still be used by God for the building of the church as He reveals Himself to those who seek Him. In asking if elements are compatible we are trying to seek the intentions and relationship of the theologian under study with our own relationship with God that affects our theology when we read the Bible. This intimacy with scripture . . . with Christ may indeed be unique to each and every soul. So what may be Bible based theology to one man or woman may be heresy to another. So what hope do we have for clarity? Perhaps clarity in defining Bible based theology is not the answer. Perhaps it is the intimacy with God that is the foundation for our hope. If we abandon the quest for definition of Bible based theology as a monolithic objective we may find a living, dynamic reality not based on human reason and understanding. We may find we receive the Mind of Christ that is not bound by human reason but answers to mysteries that defy human axiomatic development.

In regards to Adventist theology's relevance I would say that any theology is irrelevant because once theology is defined it is human and dead. If theology is more than a process but itself a revelation in real time then relevance is in the theologian's dialogue with the world as a prophet of God in the hope that all may too become prophets of Him. If Adventist theology is to become relevant it may need to cease defining and begin revealing, but not by the mind of man but by the Mind of Christ.

If theology is in dialogue with science on the basis of a defined system founded on human reason then it is just as prone to failure as science if science continues to disregard the revelations within its own community. Both science and religion have found barriers of understanding that defy reason. When human reason is the source of axioms then the entire system is compromised. If, however, the source of science and theology ideas is God then hypotheses in both camps may find greater understanding; again not by the mind of man but by the Mind of Christ. Where do these ideas that are postulated which drive the innovations of science come from? Are all deductively inspired? No, on the contrary they come from man's creativity. Is that creativity from man or are some from God? How can one know? As science receives innovation by reason and perhaps by divine inspiration so does theology. If a science-theology dialogue has its source of innovation from God rather than man how much could be revealed?

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