Friday, February 13, 2009

Verbal Inspiration / Grammatical Interpretation

The previous post on creation and evolution was not on creation and evolution. This is very important. I do not say in that post what my own views are about creation or evolution or whether I have views. Granted, that non-commitment is annoying, but it's kind of how I do things on this blog at least. So, again, I did not actually say one way or another whether I think Christians can or cannot believe in the Bible and in evolution.

The point of the previous post was about how Christians relate to their convictions. Are we committed to our beliefs before having reasons to believe them? Yes. And no.
Are we committed to our beliefs before having reasons to believe them? Yes. And no.
Yes, in that, as Augstine describes, faith is always seeking understanding (fides quarens intellectum). But no, in that, you only believe things that you have at least some reason to believe, whether personal experience, reliable testimony or historical documentation. There is also an element of willingness involved. You have to be willing to admit the possibility of something before you can find any reasons to believe it.

We who claim Christian faith believe it is true. (Otherwise, presumably we would not believe it. I.e. we would not intentionally believe something false. There is also the question of whether it is actually possible to believe something that one knows to be false.) And Christianity claims to be a full statement of truth for creation. Thus all things that are true are Christian in some sense since if there were something true that was not Christian then Christianity would be making a false claim in claiming to fully represent truth for creation. This is popularly summarized by the phrase "All truth is God's truth."
This is popularly summarized by the phrase "All truth is God's truth."
Wayne Grudem says the meaning of the "inerrancy of Scripture" is that "Scripture in its original manuscripts does not affirm anything contrary to fact."

This means that people claiming Christian are not prohibited from believing anything in ipse, in and of itself. "All things are lawful," wrote the Apostle Paul. It of course does not mean that Christians have to accept as true whatever anyone claims to be true, for John wrote "Test the spirits to see if they be from God." Indeed we have tools for discerning God's will or God's truth on all matter to the greatest degree possible. One of these tools is the Bible.

Now, there are different views on how to interpret the Bible's claims. The issue at stake in relation to the question surround the creation/evolution debate is whether Christian faith requires a verbal inspiration view of the Bible or another. If the Bible is verbally inspired by God (i.e. God selected the specific words themselves for the Bible), then the first and most appropriate method for interpreting the Bible is grammatical. Grammatical interpretation would seem to call Christians to maintain a six day creation of the world because that's what the words themselves say.

So the closing question for this post is, Is a verbal inspiration view of the Bible necessary? Why? What is at stake?

Again, you'll notice that, in keeping with such a view, one would have to read my question as an actual question and not as a suggestion that verbal inspiration is not necessary.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Darwin vs. Creation: A Necessary Antithesis?

I don't get into Faith and Science discussions really simply because God has not blessed me with the brains for science. I wish I could do it, but alas. But Christine does math, so I am at least vicariously linked to science (?). This is a fun graphic from the economist that relates to some questions I have about Christian belief and scientific understanding of the world.

Regarding evolution: Why do many Christians feel evolution represents the paragon of godless secularism? Presumably because evolutionary theory offers an explanation of human origins that does not require God. But note, evolution does not necessarily imply godless origin of the world. God could have ordained the world's creation via evolutionary processes. The sticking point is defending the claims of scripture.

Regarding 7-day creation/ism: Why do many Christians feel that Christian faith requires commitment to a 7 day creation? Presumably because (1) the story of creation in Genesis 1-2 tells of a 7 day creation, (2) to believe in a 60 billion year creation suggests the Bible was wrong, (3) the Bible cannot be wrong and (4) therefore Christian faith requires belief in a 7 day creation.

See some of these helpful links:
Hypothetically speaking, what if the writer of Genesis 1-2 literally intended to be telling a story about how God providentially created the world and cares for it and about how the world is to rely on God in all things, but did not literally mean that God brought the world about in a matter of seconds? (Don't yet say, "But that's not what it says." This is just a thought experiment.) What if the science of the world's creation never even crossed the storyteller's mind? In that case, would a commitment to reading the Bible literally still prohibit a belief in evolution?

Another hypothetical, let's suppose that scientists actually documented incontrovertible proof for the theory of evolution. If this were to happen, would 7-day creationists then (1) say the evolutionary scientists must have made a mistake, (2) say Genesis made a mistake or (3) change their understanding of the meaning of Genesis 1-2?

If #1, then we have a serious problem, for this means that there does not need to be any recorded verification of any kind for true Christian faith. Anyone could always appeal to their own interpretation.

#s 2 or 3, do not undermine the Bible's claims to authoritatively describe the human experience, its helpless state and its source of salvation. The idea that any data-mistake (numerical, geographical, historical, etc.) disproves the Bible is one of the greatest lies to have deceived the Church. Genesis 1-2 can be read in other ways, and I think that there is compelling reason to believe Genesis has no scientific intentions. Thus to read it as making claims about physics, chemistry and biology is actually to misread it.

I could, perhaps should, and even want to keep going. But I have reading to get to. But I plead to the Church, to Christians who see their high-school science classrooms as enemy territory: examine carefully, does scripture prohibit evolutionary explanations? Re-examine. Do not supply the automatic response that you've been told it "correct." Ask, why is it correct? Is it correct? And if it is correct, then no one will be offended if you ask and decide it is.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Gentrification, Hypocrisy, Moving into Woodlawn

The question: Would I be contributing to economic and racial segregation by purchasing a condo in Woodlawn (and thereby participating in the gentrification of the neighborhood)?

The issue: Chicago has a history of gentrifying poorer neighborhoods, and the result has often been that the neighborhood gets nicer but at the expense of moving all the old residents out and bringing in new residents. So the people who could afford to live there when it was a "bad neighborhood" cannot afford to there now that it's a "nice neighborhood." So they move and rich people move in and the division of classes (and usually race) stays roughly the same.

The Woodlawn community just south of the University of Chicago is one such neighborhood. The University has purchased a good deal of land in the neighborhood, and is planning to be moving (and growing) into the area. It has already built new graduate housing, is in the process of building new undergraduate housing and is planning to move its police headquarters to this area.

Gentrification is well under way and there are many old buildings (condo and apartment) that have been gutted and renovated. Because this process is still somewhat just beginning, there are many "great deals" to be found in housing there. The area can't yet support, e.g. $350,000 for a 2-bdr condo in the way that Lincoln Park on the North side can. No one would buy it. Thus, you can get a really nice 3-bdr, 2-bath completely newly renovated condo for $250,000 (pictured).

I really want to buy this condo. It is, objectively, a phenomenal deal. For all intents a purposes it would be getting a brand new condo for about half of what I'd pay for a smaller, lower quality place only a few miles away. But I am nervous that to do so would be to act in complicity with larger forces of social inequity that I claim to oppose.

Any thoughts? I'd love to hear.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fit In Churches?

"You're never going to find the perfect church." I have heard and used this phrase many times. It's a handy, if unhelpful, reminder to give anyone who is feeling anywhere from "off" to downright dissatisfied with the congregation they attend. I am finding myself feeling quite "off" right now regarding my fit in my local congregation. Something just isn't right. It's not the "right place." It feels a bit "off" is all I can say.

To anyone from my church that may read this (though unlikely): I'm fairly confident my unrest has more to do with me than with our communion. And I have good reason for this confidence since the feelings I'm having are the same feelings I've been having about church in general for about 6 years now - with about 1.5 years of awesome churchness stuck in the middle there. Moreover, because I see that these feelings of unrest and "off"-ness have transcended my interaction with specific churches, I believe that in this case the reminder "You're never going to find the perfect church" does not apply in this case.
...because these feelings of "off"-ness have transcended my interaction with specific churches, I believe "You're never going to find the perfect church" does not apply in this case.
I know what I'm saying is vague. However, many times the thoughts and feelings that excite or trouble us the most (and subsequently affect our moods and decisions) are vague. Thus, a little extra time wading through my vagueries seems appropriate:

For me, the issue here is discerning what kind of church I feel called to and actualized in. That is, I do not have in mind a list of criteria that I expect to meet in a church (theologically, missionally, liturgically, etc.) which the churches I've attended have failed to meet. I am able to point out theological, missional and liturgical things that I would change in my church experience. But these do not form the crux of the matter. The issue is discerning what kind of church setting or tradition I feel at home in.

What calls me out? What liturgical, traditional and theological voices compel me? Yes, I see that I am looking for traditional practices and theological committments that compel me. I am straining to hear voices that hold my attention and regard. I know that I have found such voices in the history of the Church as well as in the comtemporary theological converstation among theologians in various parts of the world (USA, Africa, India, academy, parish, etc.). But where am I to find their corresponding practices in churches?

On the one hand, my life is committed to the service of the Church. At present, I expect this to primarly take the form of work in academic and practical theology and theological education both in the U.S. and in Africa. At the same time, the possibility of serving churches in the capacity of pastor, teacher, elder and so on excites. On the other hand, for whatever reason, I think 2-3 years of just being part of a larger, older, established church might be critical for me to settle down theologically and ministerially as I have finished seminary and am beginning doctoral work. Why?

In no intentional order - First, I have not used the M.Div at the Divinity School as a program for preparation for parish ministry. I maintain that I did not use it as simply a stepping stool to PhD study and rather that I have aimed all along at preparation for teaching in seminary and Christian college/university settings; for me the M.Div over an M.A. suits this intention. But the point is, I have taken pretty much the minimum in required pastoral training courses. But I need more work in preaching and I especially desire more training in pastoral care and spiritual formation/direction. I have greatly profited from more sustained study in the history of Christianity than I realized I would receive here. This experience, however, has awakened in me a longing for greater communion with and fidelity to that history in my daily Christian life and congregational church life. I am looking for "church" that feels connected and committed to "Church".
Second, I did both of my field placements in seminary "non-traditionally." My parish internship was in a church plant that simply did not have in place much of the operating structures of established churches and I, as intern, was allowed and expected to play an integral role in the spiritual leadership of the church. I did not gloat in that as I may have a few years earlier, but I did not resist it either as I now think I should have.
I need learning, training and mentoring by older, wiser pastors and elders in what being "pastor" requires.
Granted that I am one term away from finishing an M.Div at a prestigious institution and that, by external measurements, I am "ready" to now move to the pastorate. But, take it from me, I'm not ready (i.e. equipped and matured) to move to the pastorate - associate or otherwise. I need learning, training and mentoring by older, wiser pastors and elders in what being "pastor" requires. Books and being a role model to college student - while vitally important sites of learning and ministry - are not sufficient. My non-parish intership took the form of an immersion project with pentecostal chuches in Africa and it was quite good actually. It schooled me in serving under and alongside Christian belief and practice that is much different than my own. Nevertheless, it was still a project of my own design, and something I feel I really lack is experience in ministry where I am not designing and implementing things myself.

Listen, I lack a spiritual maturity that I hope pastors have. I told my teaching pastor last year, "I can do administration. I can make things run smoothly and efficiently. But that's not spritual leadership to me." My friends tell me a unit of CPE might be a good soul ointment for what ails me. They might be right. It is simply true that to a large degree what I understand the work of the minister, the pastor, to be has come to me through my own experience, and that experience has furthermore been of my own design - an amalgam of personal conversations, books read, courses taken, worship experiences, and a host of cultural influences that I've tried to translate into something called "ministry." Am I essentializing here? Am I looking for something that does not exist? Have I created a fictive and idealized "minister" or "pastor"? Am I already a church leader? Should I be? Should I see myself as such? In reverse order, I don't, I don't think I should be, and I think that I am.

A point that came up a moment ago helped me realize something (or see a way to put something). I wrote, "I am looking for 'church' that feels connected and committed to 'Church'. "
"I am looking for 'church' that feels connected and committed to 'Church'. "
The kinds of churches I have long affiliated with have always emphasized their Bibilicity. The mainstream evangelical culture in which I was raised made the "Biblical" the standard by which all other standards were measured. This, however, often had the sometimes intentional and sometimes unintentional result of undermining or dismissing altogether the history of the churches that have striven to preserve the Biblical. Obviously (or at least I hope "obviously") what is Biblical is not self-interpreting. All churches are faithful to traditions of interpretation whether they admit it or not. I feel the need to be part of a church tradition that highly regards its tradition, recognizing that it only is what it is because of the grace of God communicated to it via the tradition that passed down understandings of God's revelation of truth to it. In short, I am looking for a more tradition-based church. A church that is committed to the/a tradition (i.e. both the broader Church tradition and its own specific tradition in it). A church that teaches not only "the Bible" but also actually teaches tradition.

Thus, it seems to me that a church with a mission to make a church out of the unchurched is not the place for me. A church that combines this mission with being a church plant is especially not the place for me. Why? I have a hard time seeing how such a group of people even knows how to go about being a church. The tradition of the church - and the history of Christianity - do not just automatically *poof!* become important to you if you've no prior background or interest. These things must come to be important to you. Therefore, if you're working with a group of people who have no prior background or interest in the history of Christianity and the tradition of the church, you either have to be fine with taking like 20 years to grow and nurture a mature community of believers or you have to emphasize things other than the history of Christian faith and tradition (than historic Christian faith and tradition?). It seems to me that due to convenience many church plants aimed at the unchurched take the latter route. Others turn out all right - hey, they turn out well! - but the road is, like I said, long and the people involved many times weren't expecting things to be so hard or take so long. Cf. the number of church plants that meet the fate of the first three seeds of Jesus' sower parable.

If any potential readers have read all of this, you have too much time on your hands. Anyway, there a few other issues that fill out the rest of the stars in this one constellation. I'll probably put them in other posts I guess. But they include: I'm really battling within myself over some questions about the Christian's correct relation - really, my correct relation - to wealth and poverty. Also, I am having difficulty thinking through how I should be committed serving people and giving of myself to the marginalized that I say I believe are so important in God's eyes. I believe that at the center of God's hear is not theology but the desparate and needy. But at the center of my heart is usually wealth, theology, philosophy and comfort. And is duty ever Christian? Another post - thank you Beau - needs to address what appears to be a contradiction in what I'm saying: how is it that I say I want to be in ministry and that I don't want to be so involved in minstering right now? Probably some of this post gets at that tension, but more sustained reflection is necessary.