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)

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.

Fall 2014 topics for Fresh Read

wileerunningI have been running like a cartoon character recently.  You know the scene, where the legs are going but the person is stationary. Yet, at last I came up with a fall schedule for sermons and classes. So, of course, Fresh Read topics will be tied to these and whatever idea falls out of the tree to hit me on the head.

Delivering the Good News – how the speeches in Acts demonstrate speaking the gospel to different kinds of people, from people of faith, to polytheists.

Science and Faith – I plan to do three weeks of topics on how Christians have responded to Darwin in particular, look at the responses of opposition, accommodation and dialogue. In the last I want to treat B. B. Warfield as the Theologian of the Year.  He engaged Darwin in correspondence – interesting for the “Father of Inerrancy”.

Finances – the Bible does not give a full fledged financial plan (despite some books to the contrary) but it does speak about finances and material things, so we will talk about giving, generosity, simplicity and planning. In one case I set the
Sermon on the Mount (chapter 6) beside Proverbs (chapter 6) and say ,”what gives?”

A Slow Train Coming – I want to explore a few texts that were fulfilled in the birth of Jesus – mostly from the account in Matthew’s gospel.

Then after all this, we return to Matthew part 2, from Chapter 15 to the end.

I am also teaching a class at Christian Life College on Isaiah.

Review: Wisdom & Wonder by Abraham Kuyper

wisdom & wonder_frontWisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art, Abraham Kuyper, Edited by Jordan J Ballor and Stephen J. Grabill, Translated by Neslson D. Kloosterman; Christians Library Press, Grand Rapids, 2011

Wisdom & Wonder contains a new translation of chapters written originally under the title “Common Grace in Science and Art.”

Common Grace refers to God’s preservation and self-revelation within the created order, which is imperfectly but universally available.  It is revelation by the creation as well as an invitation to study, understand and enjoy the creation.  It is “common” because it is not limited to Christian believers.

I’d like to give a brief account of Kuyper’s perspective on Science and Art – though he discusses a number of other topics.   Kuyper states that art and science were given their start and patronized by the church and the state.  One sees this in any survey of Art History: the earlier the art, the more likely it was part of worship.   Art and Science, though birthed by church and state, possess legitimate and independent domains.

“First, then, let us emphasize the independent character of science.  Before everything else it must be understood that science is a matter that stands on its own and my not be encumbered with any external chains.”  (p. 33)

Science had its origin in the church as it grew out of the universities, which had their birth in the church.

“Science has not demanded such independence in overconfidence, but possesses this independence by diving design, so much so that science neglects its divine calling if it permits itself again to become a servant of the state or church.  Science is not a branch growing from the trunk of government service, and even less a branch that grows from the root of the church.  Science possesses its own root…” (p.34)

            If, therefore, God’s thinking is primary, and if all of creation is to be understood simply as the outflow of that thinking of God, such that all things have come into existence and continue to exist through the Logos, that is through divine reason, or more particularly, through the Word, then it must be the case that the divine thinking must be embedded in all created things. Thus there can be nothing in the universe that fails to express, to incarnate, the revelation of the thought of God.”  (p. 39)

            “In this way, then, we obtain three truths that fit together. First, the full and rich clarity of God’s thoughts existed in God from eternity.  Second, in the creation God has revealed, embedded and embodied a rich fullness of his thoughts.  And third, God created in human beings, as his image-bearers, the capacity to understand, to grasp, to reflect, and to arrange within a totality these thoughts expressed in the creation.”  (p. 41-42)

Art had a similar origin and division from the church.  Art does not need to return to the patronage of the church.  The Reformation, according to Kuyper, with its restrictions on art in worship, brought about an abrupt separation in Western Europe, especially where the Reformed Churches predominated.  This is a good thing. Yet a true artistic vision will be incomplete without the corrective influence of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures.  Art is independent, but needs guidance to find integration

           “The inspiration for art never belonged to particular grace, but always proceeded from common grace.  It is exactly everyday human living that constitutes the broad arena where common grace shines, and simultaneously the arena where art constructs its own temple as well.”  (p. 118)

The separation between church and art, therefore, does not at all bear the character of a complete separation between art and religion. Instead, the bond between both is guaranteed in the ideal character of both, so that if people refuse to permit the refined religious impulse to affect art, that defect belongs not to art as such but to the impiety of those advocates.” (p. 118-119)

By way of evaluation, I have several comments.

One has to read the Kuyper with grace.  He made assumptions about non-European cultures and non-Christian religions that could offend our sensibilities.  We are all marked by the prejudices and judgments of our town times. Try not get impaled on these thorns.

The independence of Art and Science as domains intended by the Creator and built into the world is a scriptural idea.  Kuyper cites passages such as Genesis 1 where God created by the Word.  Wisdom Literature sees wisdom imbedded in all things (e.g. Proverbs 3:19-20; Proverbs 8).  The wise even seemed to gather wisdom from other places (see Proverbs 22:27ff and the 30 Sayings of the Wise).

One does not need to do Christian science or Christian art to be a faithful Christian in those domains.  One needs to do good science or good art.  Yet, science and art are powerful tools that come without a clear moral compass or centering integration.  A believer ought to do art or science in a way that is truly integrated by means of Special Grace.

            “Sin’s darkening lies in this, that we lost the gift of grasping the true context, the proper coherence, the systematic integration of all things.  Now we view everything only externally, not in its core and essence, each thing individually, but not in their mutual connection and in their origin from God. That connection, that coherence of things in their original connection with God, can be sensed only in our spirit.”  (p. 55)

What I’d like to do is gather a few bible students, some artists and scientists from any field and read and discuss this work together.


Summer is for Sermon Planning

It does not always work, but the summer is a necessary time to clear my head and to work on the following year.  Ministry years are lots like school years – September to June with the summer at a different pace.

Some ideas:

Science and Faith, using some ideas from a L’ Abri conference that we attended last winter.

Two Books and/or Art as Communication – the idea that art helps us read the book of creation, part of “general revelation” and it also gives us a bit of common ground with people of other worldviews.

Two Cites – on how to be a good citizen in the US while also being a good citizen of the Kingdom – some thoughts on how to speak, how to listen and how to balance justice with the gospel.

“Fill the Blank” – using John 1, find the different ways to complete the phrase, “Jesus is the _____ of God.”

The Old Story – an overview of the Pentateuch, taking clues from Sailhamer on the narrative flow, and the importance of Faith and how that relates to the law.

So, this calls for time in the library.  If any of you Fresh Readers have ideas on these topics, particularly on art, artists, theologians who talk about art, artist who talk about theology, or stories of making connections, give me a shout.