Shuck and Jive


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Creation: Part 1


I am not really sure how to go about articulating a theology. I imagine that what I write will be at times random and inconsistent. I may repeat myself. I will leave questions unanswered. Yet there is one thing I need to keep in front of me. The number one question is: why do I feel the need to do this?

Here is my answer to that question: I have two great-nephews and two great-nieces. What will the world be like when they reach my age (about 40 years from now)? What will our world be like in 2046? I care about that. I cannot think of a more important theological question than that one. I and you and everyone has a part to play today in what will happen in our future. If I were a medical doctor, teacher, whatever, that would still be my central question. I would seek to use my skills toward a positive future.

Because I am a clergyperson, theology is what I do. My role is a small one. I am simply trying to understand humanity and humanity's place in the cosmos in such a way that my theology can empower me for positive change. I believe the theology we have inherited is inadequate for the task we face. It is inadequate in function and in its understanding of the universe. You may disagree. That's good.

I do not engage in this to provide answers for others. It is my project, but I invite others to participate with me. You may decide to travel with me for a while then find your own path. I am going to raise some difficult issues. This theology is not mere speculation. If it cannot deal with the toughest issues humanity faces in 2006, then, to use an image from St. Paul, it is dung.

I begin with Creation. We go to Genesis chapter 1 for the creation story. We notice that it is Earth-centered. I will talk more about the various creation myths in the Bible, but the point today is that an Earth-centered creation myth is too small. A twenty-first century theology needs a Universe-centered creation myth.

Here are some basics (as I see them):
  • The Universe is between 12 and 20 billion years old.
  • Earth is but one planet revolving around a sun that is one of billions in its galaxy that is in turn one of billions of galaxies in the Universe.
  • Humankind has evolved from lower life forms in a process on Earth that began about four billion years ago.
  • The arrival of homo sapiens on Earth is so new as to be virtually incomprehensible in relation to the scope of time of the origin of Earth, let alone the Universe.

Theologically speaking, God must be at least as big as the Universe. God has been at work far longer than humans have been making up myths about Her and in places farther than humans have as yet ever imagined.

The birds of the air and fish of the sea have known God far longer than we.
I touched on this in a sermon entitled: "Theology is Earth Science".

A doctrine of Creation must take into account the vastness of the Universe and our Evolutionary process.

I have only begun!

Blessings,
John

11 comments:

  1. Perhaps you're saving this for a more refined discussion on theology proper (that is, the study of the nature and work of God) but could you give a brief statement about how we can know anything of God in the first place?

    You said that God has been at work long before we began "making up myths about Her." So the question is, how do we know about God? Is there anything other than human-made myths about God? For that matter, how do we know about anything?

    You needn't work out a full epistemology online, but it might help you orient yourself and your readers if you give it a few minutes. I think I've mentioned this before. If I'm getting redundant, tell me.

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  2. Thanks Seeker!

    Thanks Chris!

    Yes, I think, Chris, I can say something about that now. It will require refinement. In talking about God, I think you look at experience. Everything we know comes through human interpretation. This includes what we call God. In that way, I read the biblical writers (or writers of any text) as reflecting an experience of the sacred in symbols available to them.

    That is probably where I would start.

    John

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  3. Fair enough. Hopefully, my questions can serve as a catalyst for further refinement.

    What is "the sacred'?

    Is there any content to it which can be experienced by everyone? Or is the sacred so ineffable that human language fails it utterly?

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  4. I'd like to respond to the last comment posted by Chris (and I get that you meant for John to answer, but I'm putting in my 2 cents)...
    The "sacred" is entirely subjective - for some, (I am one), the Bible is a sacred text, to others, plant life is sacred, and to others still, maybe cows are sacred. Which leads me to my next point - I don't think there is anything that can be "experienced by everyone" in the bible or anywhere else. The bible (or any other text) does not come to life until it is read by a person - an individual who brings to it his/her own unique experiences, thought proceses, etc. There is no way we can experience it "together". We can try...Even as we "worship" together, it is at best a meager attempt to connect both to the divine and to each other; but, unfortunately, it is just that - an attempt. Call me a closet existentialist, but...
    It makes me wonder if that is why some "fundamentalist christians" are so offended when we haven't ALL experienced the text of the bible in the same way they have - we're all not "saved" (just like them), or we ALL don't really buy that stuff about Mary and the virgin story. They don't want to experience God alone. There's strength in numbers, and it's not so scarey if you fool yourself into believing you're "WITH" other people (i.e.death - we - the supposedly chosen are ALL going to heaven together). But perhaps that is how God (whomever, whatever) intended it - for us to realize that we can't REALLY expereince anything "together", thus compelling us to seek the divine (God) that much more urgently because that divine force is the only life force that can TRULY know each of us.

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  5. Celia,

    Welcome! Thanks for posting! Thanks to Chris and Seeker and all of you for good honest discussion! Keep it up!
    John

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  6. I find it ironic that those who say orthodox Christianity is a sell-out to American individualism turn right around - practically in the same breath - and say that we should all be free to define "the sacred" or "the divine" or "god" or "whatever" for ourselves.

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  7. Chris,

    I am not sure I am following you. Could you explain that again?

    John

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  8. If "god" has no content that is accessible to all persons, if there is no starting place outside of our individual experiences, then:

    1) how is meaningful, connectional interaction achieved?

    2) how is community helpful?

    Perhaps for panentheists this isn't a problem. But panentheists are not Christians.

    If we are to remain Christians, we do so because we believe that God has acted in a self-revealing way. God self-reveals in creation to all of humankind (general revelation) such that we are without excuse (Rom. 1).

    But God is so loving and merciful that God also self-reveals through a covenant people. The authoritative record of that special revelation is the Holy Scriptures. The entire point of Christianity is that God self-reveals in Jesus Christ. Some people want to hold that revelation up apart from the Scriptures, but they do so only after perpetrating violence on the primary source of historical data available about this Jesus of Nazareth fellow. Jesus apart from the witness of Scripture, or set over against the witness of Scripture, can be nothing less than antichrist (i.e., "instead of" or "in place of" Christ), and is thus an idol.

    Chris

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  9. Thanks, Chris.

    I appreciate your articulation of your beliefs. I happen to be less certain than you about exactly what Christianity is or is not, how we can view god (theistically, panentheistically, or other ways, and whether or not one view is more Christian than another), exactly what is and is not historical about Jesus, the role and function of scripture, and to what degree our experience of God is equated with what God actually is.

    Addressing those issues is what I seek to do in constructing a theology for the 21st century!

    Peace,
    John

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  10. I want to respond a bit more in depth to Chris’s comments about what is and what is not Christian. What is Christian is in the eye of the beholder. The beholder may be an individual, a group of individuals, a congregation, a higher governing body, or an individual or a group given authority by the larger group to make these determinations. In other words, the church is a political body.

    I remember an incident from my first congregation. We had a group of six churches, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and Mennonite that participated in what was called the Lowville Council of Churches (Lowville, NY). The council ran a food pantry and a thrift store, The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) came to town. I befriended the leader of the stake as it is called. After discussion and after my encouragement, he expressed interest in his congregation becoming part of the Lowville Council of Churches. When I brought it up the board, the Baptist minister objected, citing all kinds of theological reasons why Mormons were not Christians etc.
    The group, influenced by his views, said no to the Mormons. Being relatively new to the town and to the ministry, I didn’t push the issue. I would today. We lost a chance to cooperate and build community with other good people in our town.

    The Roman Catholic priest, who was not at the meeting, visited me later. He was sympathetic with me and amused at what had happened. He said, “Catholics regard Mormons the same as Presbyterians; you all are not Catholic.” I have never forgotten that. The point is that from the RC perspective, we were all heretics (not Christian). But the RC church worked with us heretics anyway.

    I tell this story to show that what is Christian and what is not Christian depends on who is doing the evaluating and whether or not the person or group doing the evaluating has the power to enforce their view. What is Christian is what the group decides.

    Take the case of Mr. Jensen of St. Andrew’s Church in Austin, TX. Is he a Christian or not? We all may have our opinions. In the end, it will be decided whether he fits or does not fit the PCUSA definition of Christian when the highest governing body makes that determination. Even then, what is said will not be about Mr. Jensen or his beliefs, what is said will reflect what the body says about Mr. Jensen.

    A colleague of mine on another blog said that I am not even Christian let alone a PCUSA minister. That is his view of me. It has nothing to do with me. The fact is, I am a PCUSA minister in good standing. Why? Because I have passed the requirements to be one, just as he has. So he can say whatever he wants about me; he can quote scripture, the five points of Calvinism, or Moby Dick. Big deal.

    I (or anyone) could be taken to church court. I could after trials and deliberations be defrocked. Oh well. That says a lot about the current political situation in the PCUSA, but it says nothing about me.

    The church has always been a political body. It decides by vote or by force who is in or who is out. How does the group decide? Generally, by politics and persuasion. I have (in my view at least) very persuasive arguments why I am a damn good PCUSA minister (pardon my French), and represent the cutting edge of where our denomination and where I think Christianity is headed.

    My pastoral sermon is this: Don’t take it personally when someone or a group of someones do not think you are a Christian. That represents their view of you, that is all.
    So many people have been damaged by heresy hunters, inquisitors and the like. The church has so often taken the place of God in its own eyes, that it has bullied people, and sent them into depths of depression and self-hatred. My congregation contains many people who have been wounded by such bullying.

    I don’t let any kind of bullying (especially of people in my congregation or people who are seeking and questioning) go unchecked. So my sermon to all of you whom others call heretics, is stand your ground. Think freely. Question. Make your own decisions. Don’t let others define for you who you are.

    Chris, don't think that I am referring to you when I talked about bullying. I understand that you have your views and that you say what you think based on them. That is good.

    I am simply speaking from my perspective as a pastor to many people who have been bullied and have taken it to heart when they have been accused of not being Christian (which often means for them being outside the grace of God).

    Blessings,
    John

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