Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Alternative to the Clergy Letter?

You knew this was coming. A story in the Christian NewsWire reports on efforts to get churches to ditch "evolution Sunday." The story notes:
CreationLetter.com is urging churches to celebrate Creation Sunday this February 14th to counter the Clergy Letter Project's Evolution Sunday, scheduled on the same date.

As the Year of Darwin comes to a close and we enter the Post-Darwin Century, CreationLetter.com is renewing its efforts to answer the challenge the Clergy Letter Project represents to the plain, traditional interpretation of Genesis.

Since 2004, the Clergy Letter Project has been recruiting ministers as evolution advocates, promoting the idea that "religious truth is of a different order than scientific truth," echoing an unBiblical notion popularized by the late Stephen J Gould: non-overlapping magisteria, or NOMA.
Clever, that "post-Darwin part, as if the age of Darwin is over and a new century has begun. Not hardly. The article continues:
"Jesus refuted the concept of NOMA in John 3:12," notes CreationLetter.com founder Rev. Tony Breeden, "when He pointedly asked Nicodemus, 'If I've told you of earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell ye of spiritual things?' How can you trust the Bible for spiritual things like the Gospel for salvation when you can't trust what Genesis says about earthly things like biology, geology and so on? The Bible isn't a science textbook, but if we can't trust it when it speaks on science, when can we trust it?"
Christ was speaking directly about Nicodemus accepting Him as the Son of God. That is the context of the passage. Nicodemus did not understand Jesus' symbolic language and Jesus is chastising Nicodemus for not understanding the passages in the OT that referred to His coming. The entire passage hinges on whether or not Nicodemus understood who Jesus was and what he represented. It doesn't have anything to do with the NOMA. Breeden's interpretation represents the worst form of cherry-picking.

He then remarks that the Bible isn't a science textbook and then argues that we have to trust it to be exactly that! If the Bible isn't a science textbook then why is it important that we treat it and trust it as such? A bit back I posted an article by Daniel Harlow on the literalism of scripture. His analysis?
If we were to insist that the Bible gives an accurate picture of the physical cosmos, then to do so with integrity, we would have to believe that the earth is flat, immobile, and resting on pillars; that the sky is solid and has windows in it; that the sun, moon, and stars are set in the sky and move along it like light bulbs along a track; that the sun literally rises, moves, and sets; that there is an ocean of water surrounding the earth; and that beyond the waters above the sky is the very heaven of God. That’s what the Bible says.
Mr. Breeden's view of scripture is a very myopic one that, despite having been shown by countless biblical scholars to be completely unwarranted, is becoming increasingly common in evangelical circles. I certainly hope my church doesn't sign this letter. I will dissent.

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  1. I don't use Matthew 7:24 to tell me how to build house foundations. Nor should I use Genesis to tell me anything about modern Scientific explanations.

  2. Same here. My home church is OPC, which is very conservative Presby. A lot of them are young earth. I currently attend an Anglican church in Boston. Thankfully I don't think they share that subculture that has infected many evangelicals. The imagine you mention from Harlow is interesting of course, in that the ANE actually did view the universe that way, and I'm sure most Hebrews did as well. Yet even the most fundamentalist Christians would never argue that viewpoint because they know that it would be absurd. Ye that would be the most literal reading of the text! Ah blessed inconsistency!

  3. Such a reaction is only to be expected, sadly. We have a long fight ahead of us. But truth will prevail.
    It's ironic to see Rev. Breeden interpret John 3 as badly as he interprets Genesis 1 and 2. It tragic that most people won't see how bad his interpretation is.

  4. I will be having a guest post on Steve Martin's blog in which I will post about my experiences growing up in Tokyo, Japan and how my church viewed science in general and science in particular. As I indicated to Steve, I didn't encounter a creationist until I came to the U.S.

  5. Meant to say "evolution in particular." Sorry.

  6. Anonymous9:04 PM


    No one's said we should use Matt 7:24 to tell you how to build house foundations. The word "like" clues us in on the metaphorical intent. Such language is not found in the Creation account. Which is to say that you've thatched a straw man here, intentionally or otherwise.


    A literal translation should not be conflated with some "most literal reading" possible without regard to figures of speech, round numbers, et cetera. Context determines whether a passage ought to be read literally, not the current consensus of men who weren't there, don't know everything and largely reject God's revealed Word as the fallible works of men in favor of the fallible opinions of men - so long as said opinions are voiced in the name of science. So the charge of inconsistency is also a straw man; we simply don't read the text hyper-literally as you would suggest.

    @Arni and the author of this post:

    I am aware of the specific application and context of this passage. You are also no doubt aware that general applications and principles can be gleaned from passages as well. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to account for why you make no note of this fact in your castigation of my application of John 3:12, except that to note such would weaken your argument.


    Your point is misleading. Stephen J Gould notes in Rocks of Ages that he could not believe that Protestantism was the majority religion of USAmerica at first because everyone he knew was either Jewish or Catholic where he grew up. It didn't prevent Protestantism from being the majority faith of the rest of America any more than a scarcity of Creationists in Japan [which only has a scant population of Christians to begin with!] would preclude it from being the orthodox position of Christendom.

    On a far different note, I hope the Holy Spirit guides you into all truth. You guys are wholly inconsistent in your beliefs. You strain at gnats and swallow camels whole. The consensus of a largely godless 21st century science forbids special creation and a young earth, so you hurry re-interpret the Bible to accomodate a theory that hopes to explain the world without God, yet this same science forbids that men should walk on water, turn water into wine or especially rise from the dead. How long before you deny the Resurrected Lord to keep the praise of godless men?

    Think about it,
    Rev Tony Breeden

  7. Reverend Breeden,
    My comment about Japan was meant to convey what my perceptions of the dominant Christian culture was there. It was not necessarily to be extrapolated to the world as a whole. Having said that, just because the young earth model might be the orthodox model in Christendom, it has not always been so and, indeed, is very recent. I am reading The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical Evidence by Davis Young. It is illuminating. It tells of the plight of deeply Christian men of the 17th and 18th century who were up against a wall: the rocks clearly showed that there had been no worldwide flood and that the earth was older than thought. Realizing that this evidence was still God's creation, they adjusted their understanding of how God spoke to the people of Israel in the Primeval History. They simply could see no alternative. Modern flood geologists, on the other hand, have walled themselves off from the evidence of creation in an effort to hang on to an outdated, unscientific model of a world wide flood like "grim death (as Christian writer and scientist Alan Hayward put it).

    On the other note, how is the science of the 21st century largely Godless? It is an examination of God's creation. That some do not believe in Him doesn't change the science or His creation. This idea of linking science to atheism is a truly troubling trend in fundamental evangelical circles because it has no scriptural basis.

    Regarding Jesus' comments to Nicodemus: can we glean some general scriptural understanding from the passage? Yes, we can but it is also clear that it had a specific context that you do not mention in the interview. The Holy Spirit works in us and around us and Jesus was castigating Nicodemus for not understanding or accepting that possibility. It didn't have anything to do with our understanding of the physical world.

  8. @siriusknotts

    Fair enough!

    But, on the other hand, if you know that the Creation account is consists of poetic elements, reflects an ancient understanding of the physical world (flat earth, cosmic sea, etc.) and to boot reflects a purpose (cosmic temple of God) that goes beyond the physical world then still you insist on taking it to reflect a modern understanding of Science and to be precisely descriptive of physical processes then wouldn't that be like using Matthew 7:24 as building code?

    All of these elements are hard to accept if your tradition blinds you to the original context.

  9. @Jimpithecus

    I received a BSc in Physics in the US. While evolution was brought up and most of my classmates were believers MOST of the facility were Christians (a few exceptions).

    I have been on the YEC side of the fence since childhood and I COMPLETED my physics degree with honors while still being YEC.

    I never was abused and I was actually one of the department's favorite students as I truly loved my field at the time.

    To say that Scientists are godless, indicates a person who just doesn't know scientists.

    I have subsequently in the last decade gradually moved to becoming an OEC, then finally EC.

    I find that MOST of the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt I encountered in my life came not from Scientists but from my Christian brothers.

  10. Arcaemede

    I also know several people out here at ORNL that are practicing scientists who lean toward the YEC model. I have found that most scientific disciplines do not impinge on origins of life questions and can be safely practiced without any thought of evolution or the age of the earth. I am curious what brought you over to the EC frame of mind, given your physics background?

  11. Simple personal answer: I grew up and got over being afraid.

    Slightly more complex answer: my conception of God and the Bible gradually changed from a inflexible, monochromatic view to a full-color bamboo.

    I'd say my movement began not from the Scientific side (I'm still catching up on my understanding of Evolution and its evidences) but on the theological side.

    One of my mentors brought me a kernel of my future understanding when I was 16 and studying Genesis 1 Hebrew with him -- he didn't believe in ex nihilo.

    A little later after college, I had a different mentor who convinced me of the poetic structure of Genesis 1 and also had me leaning heavily toward OEC.

    After I got out on my own and was able to do more reading outside of my tradition, my conception of God "evolved" through the works of Karen Armstrong.

    Really, the final nail in the coffin of my YEC/OEC beliefs was Denis Lamoureux's Evolutionary Creation. As I had been telling Mike Beidler (who introduced me to the book) that I was searching for a framework to deal with my theological questions.

    Since that time I have moved on to other areas of growth in my understanding of God and inspiration.

    I must say I appreciate people such as yourself who provide resources and discussion in these areas.

    While I may have been terrified of the prospect of the truthfulness of Evolution as a child, the process of shedding that fear and left in its place a keen interest of the topic that I read daily about.

  12. Your story is illuminating and encouraging. I confess I have not read Denis' book yet but it is on my list of things to read. Thank you for your insight and kind words.