Shuck and Jive

Friday, October 12, 2007

Christianity: Two Views

(Conversations with Bob! Don't hate us because we are beautiful. My turn!)

I am reposting an entry I made a while ago. This is a list of two different ways of seeing the Christian tradition. Borg calls these the earlier and the emerging paradigms in his book Heart of Christianity.

This was originally printed in the Fourth R by Roy Hoover, a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar and a Methodist minister. It might be fun to vote on where you find yourself in this scheme.

Let's try it. Everyone can play. Give a 1 if you are totally with the Brown (biblical, earlier) and a 10 if you are totally with the Blue (modern, emerging). Give a number between 1 and 10 if you find yourself in between these views. Of course, feel free to critique the categories and their descriptions.

Here are the two views. My votes at the end of this post!

The Biblical View of the History of the World
and Human Life


The Modern View of the History of the World
and Human Life

1. The origin of the universe

God created the heavens and the earth and all of the forms of life in the in six days by commanding them into being (Genesis 1). God rested from his creating work on the seventh day, thus establishing it as a day of rest for as long as the world lasts.

1. The origin of the universe

The universe came into being fifteen billion years ago, or so, following a “big bang.” Life on earth in its many forms has evolved and developed across hundreds of millions of years.

2. Space

The earth occupies the center of the whole cosmos. The sun, moon, and stars circle around it.

2. Space

Space is many light years in extent and seems to be still expanding. The earth is one of several planets orbiting the sun in a solar system that is part of the Milky Way galaxy.

3. Human origins

God created human beings in his image, made them male and female, commanded them to propagate and fill the earth, and delegated to them authority over and responsibility for the care of the plants and animals God had created (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:15).

3. Human origins

Human beings emerged comparatively late in the history of the earth from earlier forms of life and continue to be sustained by the whole ecosystem of the planet.

4. God

God is the world’s lord and king; he rules over it from his throne high in the heavens.

4. God

God is the symbolic term we use to refer to the ultimate reality and mystery with which we have to do. Theology is and always has been the constructive work of human beings and is useful only insofar as it succeeds in depicting the way things really are and in pointing out how we may live humanely amid the realities of the world.

5. History

God is directing the course of history to its final consummation which he determined for it from the beginning.

5. History

Human beings are characterized by self-conscious, self-transcending intelligence and imagination. This capacity gives us the ability to create culture and to shape history. It also gives us the inclination and ability to search for and recognize the meaning of our experience in the world, which we often express in the form of a religion.

6. Bible

God revealed, through Moses, the basic law by which human life is to be ordered, and sent prophets, apostles and other messengers to communicate his will to humankind. These revealed truths, recorded in scripture, make the Bible the Word of God.

6. Bible

God [esp. the rule of God] is the principal subject of the Bible, not its author. The writings—of priests, prophets, wisdom teachers, psalmists, anonymous gospel narrators, and apostles—that have been collected to form the Christian Bible are an irreplaceable source of information about the origins of the characteristically Jewish and Christian ways of viewing the human condition and a primary resource for theological reflection and public worship.

7. Jesus

God sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to preach the gospel and to die on the cross to save us from our sins. God raised Jesus from the dead and will likewise raise all who believe in him. This incarnation of the eternal son of God marks the beginning of the consummation of all things, which is even now playing out under God’s providential direction.

7. Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth was the pioneer and exemplar of a new form of ancient Israel’s faith that emphasized its universal rather than its ethnic meaning. The message Jesus preached was about “the Kingdom of God,” a vision of life ruled by the union of power and goodness. The political and religious establishments of that time regarded the threat to their legitimacy posed by this vision sufficient reason to execute him.

8. The future

The resurrected Jesus will return on the clouds of heaven at the end of history when God will defeat the powers of sin and death and bring into being his kingdom which will have no end.

8. The future

The literal statements about the resurrection lost their literal meaning when the modern view of the world displaced the ancient. The real core of ancient resurrection faith is the recognition that justice and moral virtue are indispensable for a truly human life, and that human life can be transformed in the direction of greater fulfillment.

Prepared by Roy W. Hoover
February, 2003
Some of the phrasing is drawn from Gordon D. Kaufman, In Face of Mystery. A Constructive Theology.
Printed from the January-February 2004 issue of the Fourth R, p. 3

Here are my votes:

Origin 10
Space 10
Humans 10
God 10
History 9
Bible 10
Jesus 9
Future 10


  1. Here's a brief stab:

    Origin 8
    Space 10
    Humans 8
    God 8
    History 6
    Bible 10
    Jesus 6
    Future 8 (sort of - I disagree with the use of "literal")

    In all of these categories, what I really wanted was a third position, the one that I would actually take, which takes into account the mythic nature of the Christian narrative as such and as valuable in and of itself. The more secular or modern view also presupposes a mythic narrative of a different kind, and I do think that the modern mythic narrative is in some ways inimical to Christianity.

    In both cases, though, we're making observations and making meaning to find coherence in the observations. We're also being selective about what we choose to represent and what we ignore. I think the modern reductionist narrative needs to be dealt with, and that Biblical literalism can be summarily thrown out to our great benefit, but the two poles, for me, didn't cover the spectrum of options thoroughly.

    Ironically, a very similar issue/discussion came up in class today, and I gave a similarly odd answer...

  2. I never really liked this kind of test. I took one on the authority of the Bible by the Presbyterian Research and they didn’t have my position listed among the possibilities. This one at least gives me a range of choices. This may or may not surprise ya’ll:

    Here are my votes:

    Origin 10
    Space 10
    Humans 4
    God 1 but only if heaven is not in the space above the earth but rather not a place
    History 1
    Bible 4
    Jesus 3
    Future 1

  3. I agree that the "secular or modern view also presupposes a mythic narrative of a different kind," and this can easily slide into scientism, the uncritical erroneous philosophical assumption that science is the only source of knowing reality.

    Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar said, "Catastrophe apart, I believe it to be science's greatest glory that there is no limit upon the power of science to answer questions of the kind science can answer." (P. B. Medawar, The Limits of Science, p. 87)

    The key is knowing the limits of science, and it is here that the history of science is a wonderful means of countering this tendency to overlook the tentative nature of some so-called "scientific" explanations that upon closer examination reveal unexamined assumptions.

    "[K]nowledge of history helps us appreciate that out current knowledge and convictions are only a moment on a continuum of change. This realization can make us more open to new ideas and less dogmatically certain about what we believe to be true and unchallengeable. Jonathan Cohen, a neuroscientist at Princeton, was recently asked by a reporter why he would want to participate in a symposium on Buddhism and the biology of attention. He replied that: (Valenstein 2005: 182)

    Neuroscientists want to preserve both the substance and the image of rigor in their approach, so one doesn’t want to be seen as whisking out into the la-la land of studying consciousness. On the other hand, my personal belief is that the history of science has humbled us about the hubris of thinking we know everything. (Cited in the New York Times, September 14, 2003, sec, 6, p. 46.)"

    (Valenstein, Elliot S., Author. The War of the Soups and the Sparks: The Discovery of Neurotransmitters and the Dispute Over How Nerves Communicate. New York: Columbia University Press; 2005; p. 182.)

  4. Origin 10
    Space 10
    Human Origins 10
    God 9
    History 8
    Bible 10
    Jesus 10
    Future 10

  5. The "modern" views are strongly influenced by secular prejuidices. This wasn't really a challenge to the Bible's putatively archaic thinking. 1,3,5,6 and 8 are not mutually exclusive, which leaves only 3 to discuss.

    2 - Space. The Bible does not make this scientific conclusion. It uses earth as the center as an integral part of its imagery, yes, but making the scientific claim "earth is at the center of the universe" it does not. I would add that earth is still the relational center of our universe. I've never been anywhere else myself!

    4 - I like how the Bible defines God and the "modern" view defines what we think He is. One is a definition of God and one is an impression of what God might be like from some secular elites. Apples and oranges alert.

    7 - This "new version" of Jesus is based on something akin to the whims of the "History Channel". I call this the "coulda, woulda, shoulda" construction method for making up history.

    I think the ancients got it right for one reason; God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We are the ones wandering around in the dark.

    Doug said The more secular or modern view also presupposes a mythic narrative of a different kind, and I do think that the modern mythic narrative is in some ways inimical to Christianity.

    I couldn't agree more.

  6. 1) 5 - Just not ready to decide this one. Even Sagan didn't fully believe the Big Bang theory. He just said that because he was tired of being asked about our origins.
    And in the broader scope of things, what does it really matter anyway? We either Love or we don't.

    2) 10 - This much is obvious.

    3) 10 - You know how I feel. If God is great, man is then obviously not created in His image.

    4) 5 - I believe in a spiritual realm that co-exists with the physical one. Containing one ultimately Good and one ultimately Bad spiritual entity that are in constant conflict. That's why we're so screwed up. :P
    What people call these entities matters not.

    5) 5 - Both seem to be of a fairly whimsical nature.

    6) 7 - Leaning modern but the spirit of Good (which we call God) is not understood. Wins back three points for the old school.

    7) 9 1/2 - LOL, something just won't let go.

    8) 10 - Absolutely.

  7. 1. A. Big Bang: I think an interesting comment on this question is found in Michael J. Disney’s article in American Scientist (Modern Cosmology: Science or Folktale?).

    B. Evolution: The fact of organic evolution (common descent with modification) is established beyond reasonable doubt it seems. Scientists will continue to debate and modify based upon new evidence theories regarding the underlying paths and mechanisms. Anyone interested in this exciting debate should read Robert G. B. Reid’s book Biological Emergences.

    2. Science has it right on this one.

    3. Science is correct, organic evolution is a fact, but this does not exclude a philosophical view that evolution is the means by which the Creator creates finite evolutionary creatures. Of course, if this is true, it does have profound implications for traditional Western Augustinian theology.

    4. It is one thing to recognize that the word symbol “God” is a human idea/ideal/concept symbolizing our understanding of “ultimate reality”; but very much another to implicitly or explicitly claim that there is no putative reality behind this world symbol, and that the God is just a human psychological projection. One can recognize that theology is a “constructive work of human beings” and still recognize both experientially and philosophically that there is a real God beyond human comprehension that is the source and foundation of all reality. The Biblical version of #4 if taken literally is a form of na├»ve religious realism, while the denial of any putative reality behind the human word symbols is a perversion of religious language that is really nothing more than a materialist philosophy draped in pseudo-religious language. Epistemologically, the debate is between the realist and non-realist interpretations of religious language. The middle ground is found in what is called the critical realist position. (See John Hick on Critical Realism.) A critical realist position holds that while the God concept is viewed through the lens of human mind, the putative reality behind this human insight is not a mere “psychological projection. ”

    “The eternal God is infinitely more than reality idealized or the universe personalized. God is not simply the supreme desire of man, the mortal quest objectified. Neither is God merely a concept, the power-potential of righteousness. The Universal Father is not a synonym for nature, neither is he natural law personified. God is a transcendent reality, not merely man's traditional concept of supreme values. God is not a psychological focalization of spiritual meanings, neither is he ‘the noblest work of man.’ God may be any or all of these concepts in the minds of men, but he is more. He is a saving person and a loving Father to all who enjoy spiritual peace on earth, and who crave to experience personality survival in death.”

    5. These two views are not necessarily incompatible; process theology is one attempt to harmonize these two views.

    6. Biblical Criticism has show us the historical nature of the Bible. One the genie is out the bottle there is no putting it back. (See Hick on Sin and Theodicy.)

    7. Biblical Criticism has shown there is a difference between the essential message of Jesus the message about Jesus taught by the church. The question is my mind is what is the message of Jesus, how did he live, and what were his teachings if they are different than the later evolving church teachings about his person? On the other hand, the question of his divinity cannot be settled by historical studies alone, as they are subject to certain limitations. But neither is the recognition or non-recognition of his divinity the core of his teachings; Jesus’ teachings were theocentric, not christocentric, and the scholars got this one correct, as the best of Christian scholarship testifies. (See "No Other Name?" by Paul Knitter.)

    8. Regardless of whether or not one believes in the resurrection stories as testified to in the New Testament, the core of Jesus' gospel about the "kingdom of God" certainly does proclaim a God of personality salvation. The so-called "modern view of the world" is itself subject to critical philosophical analysis. Only one version of this "modern view" implicitly or explicitly claims that life after death is a non-reality. This is a materialist worldview, and is not the only option available under the rubric of modern thinking.

    The post-modern reinterpretation of the “resurrection faith,” in my view if it is to remain faithful to Jesus’ teachings, is both the a recognition of the reality of the indispensible need for spirit born sons and daughters of God to yield the fruits of the spirit in their daily lives (i.e., justice, mercy, compassion, moral virtue, and wisdom) and the faith hope of the gift of eternal life in ever ascending experience of becoming like God: “Be you perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect.”

  8. May I offer this Lewis quote for number 2? Lewis by the way was an expert on ancient and classical writing and works:

    "It comes naturally to a modern to suppose that the new astronomy made a profound impression on men's minds; but when we look into the literary texts we find it rarely mentioned. The idea that it produced a shock comparable to that which Darwin gave to the Victorians or Freud to our own age is certainly mistaken. ... [after offering some reasons why this was he wrote], "Even where the new theory was accepted, the change which it produced was not of such emotional or imaginative importance as is sometimes supposed. For ages men had believed the earth to be a sphere. For ages, as we see in Vincent of Beauvais or Dante or 'John Mandeville', men had realized that movement towards the centre of the earth from whatever direction was downward movement. For ages men had known, and poets had emphasized, the truth that earth, in relation to the universe, is infinitesimally small: to be treated, said Ptolemy, as a mathematical point (Almagest I. v.) Nor was it generally felt that earth, or Man, would lose dignity by being shifted from the cosmic centre. The central position had not implied pre-eminence. On the contrary, it had implied, as Montaigne says (Essais, ii. xii), 'the worst and deadest part of the universe', 'the lowest story of the house', the point at which all the light, heat, and movement descending from the nobler spheres finally died out into darkness, coldness, and passivity. The position which was locally central was dynamically marginal: the rim of being, farthest from the hub. Hence, when any excitement was shown at the new theory, it might be exhilaration. The divine Cusanus (1401-64), who was an early believer (for his own, metaphysical, reasons)in earth's movement, rejoiced in 1440 to find she also is 'a noble star' with her own light, heat, and influnce (De Docta Ignorantia, 11. xii)."

    (C.S. Lewis, "English Literature in the Sixteenth Century" Oxford 1954)

  9. Well, John, it's a litmus test, but a pretty good one :)
    here I stand:

    Questions 1-3: The brown part makes my brain hurt, and the blue part makes my soul hurt. I can't endorse either answer. Maybe a version of the blue that still says God made everything and did it out of love. And takes Genesis more seriously as the word of God to us, although not as a book that ever intended itself to be a journalistic account of history. However, it's those bits about God and the Bible that are matters of faith and personally important to me. If another Copernicus comes along and disproves the Big Bang or evolution or whatever, that's cool, I'll adjust my understanding of the facts and move on. If people try to convince me that the world doesn't owe its being to God, that's where I get upset.

    Question 4: 1, although let's not be silly about God having a literal throne.

    Question 5: 1, plus the fact that human beings are really great at messing up what God is trying to do, and God gives us some freedom to do so.

    Question 6: 1, except the Bible is not primarily law for us to obey--it is primarily God's revelation of God's self, and any law in it is secondary to that primary purpose. (Trying to read the entire Bible as law just doesn't make any sense, I mean, what would you do with the Song of Songs? Or Judges?)

    Question 7: 1

    Question 8: 1, plus a strong belief in the resurrection of the dead at the end of time.