My mind is really churning now as a result of RJS’s “Houston, we still have a problem” posts, and the comments and the linked conversations and speeches, and I imagine I’m not alone. The issues that are sticking in my mind stem from the argument that Mohler and others have made, namely this: that the credibility of Christianity, or more specifically, of Christian theism, rises and falls on the credibility of Gen. 1-3, or, more importantly, on the credibility of the Grand Narrative of scripture, within which a YEC reading of Gen. 1-3 plays a necessary part. (I’ll briefly add that I thought Mohler kept a very high level of civility, and directness, in his discussion, which I’d like for everyone to imitate here.)
First, I think a couple of definitions are in order, via the ever-ready Wikipedia: “theism . . . conceives of God as personal, present and active in the governance and organization of the world and the universe.” It is often contrasted with “Deism” which sees God as “The Supreme Architect” or “Divine Clockmaker” who set the world in motion, but no longer intervenes in the world via either miracles, revelations or otherwise.
As I took in all the arguments I could not help but think of the (contrasting) source of Jesus’ own credibility and that of his disciples and apostles in the first century, and how exactly the people around them were strengthened in theism versus a mono or polytheistic deism.
I was also thinking was how odd it was that folks were arguing that God’s present and personal activity in the world was completely at stake with the age of the earth debate. That would seem to require an assumption that God’s specific acts in Gen. 1-3, ironically, had far greater evidentiary weight for God’s present activity than his present acts. Being in both conservative and charismatic circles, I could see how conservative (and largely cessationist) Christians would make that assumption, but this debate brought the “past-ness” of western, conservative theism to the fore.
For examples: 1. How likely is it that the man who has been healed of a deadly tumor or blindness via the prayer of Christians is going to stop being a Theist because of the age of earth debates? And, 2. How likely is it that the “untouchables” who are served and loved by Mother Theresa’s ongoing mission society are going to stop being Theists because of the age of earth debates?
On the personal side, which witness(es) of the Spirit does your tradition favor? What convinces you most of Christian theism? Which witness of God do you want to hear or see more often than you do? Which would most strengthen your own faith that God is personally and presently involved in the world?
What these questions have in common is the ongoing work of the Spirit, through the Church, that testify both to God’s existence, power, and loving agenda. They would also fall within the “Experience” category of Wesley’s Quadrilateral for theology. Now I will be among the first to say that the scriptures are also such a witness, and a powerful, special and necessary one at that. But as RJS mentioned and others seconded, we believe in Jesus because of the Spirit’s work through the Church, present and past of which Scripture is one, and though it may be properly central among them, it is not the only one, not even the only necessary one.
Would any of us continue to believe the scriptures if we did not see those scriptures embodied at all, today and in Tradition, by the Church? Or, for the scripturally inclined, the scriptures themselves don’t point to themselves as the only way God gives evidence or testimony or validation of his Son, his goodness, his message or even his messengers. But the line of argument that acts like scripture is the only leg upon which our theism stands has highlighted to me one of the unforeseen costs, even dangers, of refusing to avail ourselves of all of the witnesses and works of the Spirit.
It is obvious to me that the people who witness Christ in the Church, past and present, in their Experience, and in Scripture, and apply their Reason to all of them, do not have their theistic faith on the line just because evidence comes out, for instance, showing that the earth does in fact move, contrary to the express and implied teaching of scripture. Or that the gospels vary on the details of Peter’s denials, or what have you. Similarly, the person who experiences disappointment in praying for the sick is strengthened by other experiences and by a scriptural narrative that contains similar failures by the 12; and the one in the dark night of the soul can be strengthened by the love of Christ alive and active in others, both alive and long dead, some of whom have similar experience. And the man who is betrayed by the Church can find other things in his experience, tradition and in scripture, to keep God’s credibility, and their faith, alive and functioning.
How about you? Do you see our favoritism regarding certain witnesses of the Spirit coming out in these debates?
On the right: Do you see the current responses from the right as at least partially due to the fact that the practical, modern announcement of the Christian faith by the far right has become an announcement of “Father, Son and Holy Scriptures” instead of the Spirit as the early church did and other branches of the Church did and does?
Also, if Mohler is right that theism is what is ultimately under attack, wouldn’t pursuit and practice of a more robust and biblical theism, grounded in all four elements of Wesley’s Quadrilateral, be a helpful direction for Christians and churches, for their own faith and the witness they offer the world? If our concern is truly with theism’s credibility (and not just our take on origins), does more attention to Acts 1-2 and Romans 12 seem more relevant or helpful than Gen. 1-3 and Romans 5 alone? Would a more robust ecclesiology and/or appreciation for Tradition and even experience help ground our faith on the right? Finally, is the exegetical maneuvering that Mohler argues is involved with the various old earth interpretations of Gen 1-3 any more extreme than the ones many conservatives have used to discourage or explain away the Spirit’s ongoing use of divine power for healing and prophetic service in today’s mission of the Church despite the overwhelming NT precedent and teaching?
On the left: Are some responses to the origins debate grounded, from the progressive end, in a more deistic faith, or a theistic faith that devalues scripture vs. the other witnesses?