Dialogue – B. B. Warfield

bb-warfield-1851-1921-grangerB. B. Warfield, so far as I know, did not have any direct conversation or exchange of letters with Charles Darwin.  Other people did engage the scientist on his views of God and Scripture. One of those was Asa Gray, the botanist. He exchanged letters trying to get Darwin to be open to the idea of God working in the world.  In the end Darwin died, by his own words, as an agnostic.

Warfield engaged in a dialogue with the written works of Darwin.  By Dialogue I mean an informed interchange of ideas.   A dialogue is not a screaming fit, nor is it a congratulatory slap on the back. It is a frank discussion.

When Paul was in Athens, as recorded in Acts 17, he engaged in dialogue.  He did not always preach, sometimes he got into the places where people meet and talk, and dialogued.

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 

        Can you see him, there in the market place and on the covered porticos of Athens talking with those who gathered to talk.  Presenting his view to challenge and engage their views.  This was a normal thing in Athens. For as we saw:

        21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

The 19th century version of this was to write in scientific or theological periodicals.  The Old Princetonians lived in a time where a scholar in one field could keep up with the general outlines of human knowledge by reading such articles.  They could keep up with the fields of geology and biology.  And as Darwin had made such a big splash in the world, they were able to keep up with the thinking of scientists at that time.  They especially wanted to engage in those places where science and faith meet.

Another passage comes from the book of I Peter 3:13-17

                13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

Full Sermon –   Dialogue   (corrected version)

Scholars Compass – Wisdom Literature

306px-Wisdom_-_Google_Art_Project-191x300 I recently posted three pieces in an online devotional called Scholars Compass, which is part of the Emerging Scholars Network with IVCF.

Post 1 – How I Discovered Wisdom Literature

Post 2 – How I Fell in Love with the Library

Post 3 – How Wisdom Calls Out in the Streets

Accommodation – James McCosh


I have written last time about the strategy of Opposition as shown in the example of Charles Hodge in his book, What is Darwinism?”

This post is about a position I call Accommodation.  This is the idea (to which Hodge also agreed to a lesser extent) that we have to accommodate our reading of scripture to incorporate what we learn from science. The basis of this is the idea that God is the Author both of Scripture and of Nature, and that in the end those two forms of revelation will not be in conflict.

One widely accepted example is that of Astronomy.  Though the Bible, like everyday language, reads as if the sun rises and sets, we know from science, that the earth is in motion around the sun, and the sun is also in motion in our galaxy, which itself is in motion.  We have accommodated our views to further evidence.

I have collected some interesting quotes by McCosh here. McCosh Quotes

From Christianity and Positivism, 1871, p. 6,7

“On the one hand, our scientific men are not, as scientific men, qualified to find out and to estimate the theological bearings of the laws which they have discovered.  For if there be a religious, there may also be an irreligious bias…The laws of the physical world are to be determined by scientific men, proceeding in the way of a careful induction of fasts; and, so far as they follow their method, I have the most implicit faith in them, and I have the most perfect confidence that the truth which they discover will not run counter to any other truth.  But then they pass beyond their own magic circle, they become weak as other men. I do not commit to them – I reserve for myself – the right of interpreting the religious bearings of those laws which they disclose to our wondering eyes.”

The message from the series is here: Accommodation

Opposition: Charles Hodge and Charles Darwin

Charles_Hodge _wts_1 DarwinThe Theologian of the Year series this year explores the strategies of Opposition, Accommodation and Dialogue.  We are looking at  three theologians from Princeton Seminary, a bastion of Evangelicalism from the mid 19th Century to 1929.

Here is the sermon on Hodge and his book “What is Darwinism?”  Opposition

And a quote, that seems to be quite relevant:

“It is very reasonable that scientific men… should feel themselves entitled to be heard with special deference on subjects belonging to their respective departments.  This deference no one is disposed to deny to men of science.  But it is to be remembered that no department of human knowledge is isolated.  One runs into and overlaps another.  We have abundant evidence that the devotees of natural science are not willing to confine themselves to the department of nature, in the common sense of that word.  They not only speculate, but dogmatize; on the highest questions of philosophy, morality and religion….other men have their rights.  They have the right to judge the consistency of the assertions of men of science and of the logic of their reasoning.  They have the right to set off the testimony of one or more experts against the testimony of others; and especially they have the right to reject all speculations, hypotheses and theories which come in conflict with well established truths.”  (p. 137)

Charles Hodge, What is Darwinism? and other writings on Science and Religion, Ed Mark A Noll and David N. Livingston, Baker, 1994.

Converting the Preacher – Acts 17

athens.smIn a series on the speeches in Acts, we came to Paul in Athens.  A lot has been written on this and much of it is quite good.  Here is the insight for the day.

Paul the evangelist had to be converted.

When he arrived in Athens, Paul’s first response was anger.

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.

He deep in his soul detested idolatry.  As a son of the Covenant, he know the command of God against idolatry.  He knew the history of his people with idolatry and the dislocations that it brought. He was actually part of the diaspora, having been raised in Tarsus, outside of the land of promise.  He knew the immorality often associated with idol worship, from drunkenness to human sacrifice.  So seeing a city filled with shrines to the deities on the nations, he had a visceral reaction.

Yet, when he got to speak, as is recorded in v. 22ff, what was his source of anger, became his bridge to common ground.

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship…

Paul was not a finger pointer like some outdoor preachers. His method was to reason in the synagogue from scripture that Jesus is the Messiah, and to reason in the marketplace that Jesus is the Christ.  He took as his starting point the very thing about Athens that would cause him to churn with anger.

You might wonder how you could accomplish this trick.  Perhaps you are incensed at the others on a social question such as abortion rights, same-sex marriage, or economic policy.  Those “others” on the issue get your blood to boil.

Can you, like Paul, listen, observe and see how to find common ground?

23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…

Paul did not convert to idol worship or to the tolerance of it. But he brought himself to see that the Athenians, in their own way, were seekers of God, and were open to what they did not know (v. 21, 22).  It was a conversion of attitude.  It was a conversion from “us vs. them” to “we all are seekers…”

Serendipity in Psalm 119

serendipityPsalm 119 is an acrostic poem, with an 8 verse section for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Of course the ABC of this is lost in translation.  The very nature of an acrostic poem makes it complete – it goes from A to Z  (aleph to taw). It is also somewhat randomly organized, each section speaks to the overall theme, but not in a progressive way.  So it is like the randomness of the later parts of the book of Proverbs.

However, in preparing for a prayer group which is studying a book on praying with the scriptures, I fell across the following observation.

The first unit – Psalm 119:1-8 is a celebration of the Goal of walking blamelessly with God.  It begins with a double beatitude.

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,

 who seek him with their whole heart,

who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways!
You have commanded your precepts
    to be kept diligently.
Oh that my ways may be steadfast
    in keeping your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame,
    having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart,
    when I learn your righteous rules.
I will keep your statutes;
    do not utterly forsake me!

The next section is about method – we walk blamelessly by keeping the Torah.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
    all the rules of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.

One does get the impression from Psalm 119 that this is all rather easy.  Simply guard, keep, meditate and delight in the law of God.  So where is the acknowledgement that we are flawed people who do not find keeping the rules all that easy?  In the book on prayer, that I mentioned before, the last section of Psalm 119 is quoted.  It is an aid to prayers of confession.

Notice how this sections acknowledges need .

Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
    give me understanding according to your word!
170 Let my plea come before you;
    deliver me according to your word.
171 My lips will pour forth praise,
    for you teach me your statutes.
172 My tongue will sing of your word,
    for all your commandments are right.
173 Let your hand be ready to help me,
    for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation, O Lord,
    and your law is my delight.
175 Let my soul live and praise you,
    and let your rules help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
    for I do not forget your commandments.

How interesting, the psalm starts with a double Beatitude about keeping the Law and ends with a confession of need.  Often the beginning and the end of a thing are where the crucial messages lie.  the beginning of Psalm 119 rightly directs us to the wisdom and purity of the Law.  The end of Psalm 119 rightly shows us the need for the grace of God – for forgiveness, for rescue and for the ability to follow again.