Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reason and Our Confessional Heritage

This is part 2 of this post. The challenge it seems to me for Christian ministers, theologians, and laypeople is to have and to encourage dialogue between our confessional heritage and reason. We don't need to throw either out, but there does come a time when we may have to make a choice. Usually we do make the choice. We choose reason and then reevaluate and reinterpret our confessional heritage in light of new information.

I appreciate the slogan of the United Church of Christ (UCC):

To put it theologically, God is still speaking and reason is the way God speaks to us. Reason has given us higher criticism of the Bible and Christian origins as well as a cosmology and information about our evolving existence. This is information that our confessional heritage would have never imagined. Yet, our confessional heritage does speak to us about enduring values that, I think, can guide us.

Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow have this symbol on their van.

I think it is a far better symbol than this one, although perhaps not as amusing.

Michael Dowd uses the phrase Evolution Theology to describe

...those whose position on the science vs. religion controversy tends toward reconciliation or synthesis. The term points broadly to those who do not see themselves at either end of the polarized debate as it is currently framed (either anti-evolutionary creationism and intelligent design at one end, or anti-religious atheism at the other). Theistic evolutionists, religious naturalists, evolutionary humanists, emergentists, pantheists, panentheists, theosophists, and the 11,000+ signers of the Clergy Letter Project may differ in how they integrate evolution and theology, but they all do.

As I read Michael Dowd, he begins with how the Universe has been revealed to us through reason, and then examines our symbols of faith in regards to how they can give us meaning and heart to what science is showing us. Through this dialogue, new symbols emerge. It is an ongoing process that honors our confessional heritage by reinterpreting it for a new era.

Think of the doctrine of "Creation" for example. Our ancestors would have thought of this mystery by thinking Earth was just a few thousand years old and made in a short period of time. Science has a much different picture of course: 13.7 billion years and changing over a long period of time.

More than just time, the very processes of our evolution have provided us with instincts we still carry with us from our ancestors. Evolutionary biology helps us to understand our drives, emotions, and our unique gift of the need to search for meaning.

Can we still call it all, "Creation?" Certainly. Creation is a divine process, if you will. We are engaged and participating it. What an honor! What a fabulous, amazing thing that we exist! And the Book of Genesis says in that beautiful refrain: And God saw that it was good.

Yes, what 21st century theologians say about creation may be quite different in some respects from what the Bible, Augustine, or John Calvin said about it. Theologians who follow us will say different things in their time. Our task is to let our confessional ancestors speak from their time and to listen carefully. Then we can glean from them what is enduring and carry it to our new era.

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  1. It seems like people who accept evolution whould understand that the best economic system is laissez-faire. What a paradox.

  2. John--

    First, thanks for the Straight-Friendly endorsement above; may your generosity and kindness be repaid over and over!

    Second, how cool is this! Shuck and Jive's energy and intelligence leap off the screen! Seriously--I had to catch my breath for a minute...

    Third, at the risk of shameless self-promotion, I thought I'd link a previous SF post that also addresses the ongoing evolution/creation megillah. Though it has less historical/scientific/theological detail, we're definitely singing from the same hymnal. As more voices join the choir, maybe our song will help settle this useless controversy.

    Then, after people get that it's kosher to serve faith and facts on the same plate, maybe--just maybe--they'll also learn to celebrate all kinds of diversity as God's creative signature and nature's most stunning achievement.

    Here's the link:

    Be blessed

  3. It seems like people who accept evolution whould understand that the best economic system is laissez-faire.

    Except that this is patently untrue. See the Panics of 1819, 1837, 1857, 1893, the Great Depression and the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.

    Paradox resolved.

  4. Maybe in your head it is resolved. All I can say is to read Rothbard on the Panic of 1819 and the Great Depression, as a start.

    All of the busts and booms that you mention can be traced back to periods in American history when there was war and the government intervened in the economy to create soft money and easy credit. "The business cycle of boom and bust is avoidable but inevitable after monetary manipulations by a central banking authority. The availability of 'cheap money' during a recession leads to a economic boom, but once those malinvestments become realized when interest rates increase after periods of growth, there is a bust. Austrian economists believe this is unavoidable in a fiat monetary system." wiki

  5. Hey Tim! You are most welcome. A great blog and a great idea. Also, glad you like my blog! Thank you!

    Rachel and Fly, you two have fun!

  6. The Episcopal church teaches that we need to be informed in matters of faith by reason, the witness of Scripture, and the tradition of the church, Hooker's famous three-legged stool.

    Reason is important. God gave us our minds for a purpose! That's for sure. But, I don't think by reason or science alone, anyone can truly know God. For that, we defintely need some kind of specific divine revelation.

    Also, I don't think that God can be bound by any human paradigm.

    A God that totally accomodates into the finite human thinking of any age is probably an idol.