Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Rationalizing the Bible

Continuing on the related subject of the last two blog articles, Clifford Goldstein's insistence that a theist evolutionist explain to his satisfaction his Biblical suppositions and the next article on the paradigm shift in theology that is coming to Adventism and Christianity. I would like to begin by quoting a comment from the Editor of Adventist Today magazine J. David Newman:
Now those who have followed my exchanges on various threads know that I believe in a short creation and not one of millions of year. I believe this because of my presupposition that I understand nature through the bible. Others work from the presupposition that they make the bible fit into their understanding of science. My main concern is the issue of why Jesus Christ came to die for us and how sin and death relate to what he saves us from. I have not yet read anyone with an evolutionary veiw point explain how to fit the bible concept of a time without sin and without death into the evolutionary framework.
There are a couple of notable things in this quote. First the understanding of Nature through the Bible. The Bible is not and has never been about nature, you could argue it is about human nature or maybe even the nature of God or the nature of characters in the stories of the Bible but it is really not even in the slightest bit about nature. Even the agricultural nature statements like early and latter rains are about a specific geographic area's weather. So they are in themselves not even about nature as one very limited version of nature. You don't learn nature from the limited examples, you have to broaden the base of knowledge to come to understand nature.

So the question is why does Newman think to understand nature by the Bible? I imagine he took Biology in high school or college and even if he took the theology students science course their textbook was not the Bible. So what he is really saying is that he has rationalized his understanding so that he can claim it is from the Bible. No Gregor Mendel for him, genetic inheritance is from the Bible, perhaps the story of Jacob and the spotted sheep produce his understanding of inheritance of physical traits. It could be like the article linked to above about Jacob and the spotted sheep which is from some publication that says it is “Science in Christian Perspective” which seems to be more about finding the science behind a miracle and thus validate their religious beliefs. By such reasoning Newman means that he understands nature based upon his assumed Christian positions. Thus the assumed position in recent 6 day creation period, based upon the assumption that the Genesis story was intended as a literal and historical representation of reality.

What is important to notice here is the way a shorthand term is used, “I understand nature through the bible” That is not what he means surely. He means he has certain interpretations he applies to Biblical texts and he rationalizes that such understanding defines his knowledge of nature as well. You can see why the shorthand is really does not sound to clever when you unpack the information in the shorthand verbiage. Let me just define rationalization here so that we are clear:
to ascribe (one's acts, opinions, etc.) to causes that superficially seem reasonable and valid but that actually are unrelated to the true, possibly unconscious and often less creditable or agreeable causes.
The first part of the above quote is shown to be a rationalization and we can move on the the more important information and really the reason for this article. Newman says:
My main concern is the issue of why Jesus Christ came to die for us and how sin and death relate to what he saves us from. I have not yet read anyone with an evolutionary veiw point explain how to fit the bible concept of a time without sin and without death into the evolutionary framework.
Here I am on my second page of this article in the word processor and I am just getting to the most important part, why not just separate it into a second article. The answer is that though the material and subject matter are different, his presuppositions are the same. That is they are traditional Christian perspectives masquerading as this is what the Bible says, interpretation can only be via traditional views. Shorthand verbiage, “in the Bible”, that's what “the Bible says”, and of course, I am judging nature “by the Bible”; these are often just rationalizations.

But what Jesus' Atonement did is subject to what your presuppositions are. If the point is reconciliation between God and man it does not really matter how the separation first occurred, what matters is that it is the reality we live with. We are not really any better off because we have a story about the first sin on earth whether it was thousands or millions of years ago. What our ancestors may have done at some point in time is not that useful for us. I think my answer to what Jesus did by the atonement will be quite different from Newman's. As for the so called Bible concept of time without sin or death. Well even with the story in Genesis it is preciously short. Again that time that he wants explained is not necessarily what the Bible means, inspiration has the affect that it works upon people differently when they have different facts in front of them.

A good example is the verse where Jesus says:  
John 12:24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (NIV) 
Nature if judged by the Bible requires that seeds die, cease respiration, but science tells us seeds that no longer respire are dead and they don't ever grow again...a farmer can tell you that as well even before they determined how to find out the germination rate using other methods besides actually germinating seeds. Now it may be that at one time the ancients really thought the seed died because it was buried, but we know now that is not the death of the seed. Has the meaning been lost because we now know that the seed did not really die? So is the point of the Genesis story to tell us about a time when death of any kind did not exist. Doubtful, there is nothing in our world that would allow us to conceive of a world with no death. We eat plants they die, we eat fruit the cells die, if bacteria did not die they would reproduce so quickly that they would cover the earth 50 feet deep in a month, if the bacteria didn't do it then the insects would. It simply does not work on any level we know of. Yet you don't see the traditionalist trying to explain the nature of life during that supposed length of sinless time. No they only want you to explain what happens with theistic evolution. God can make everything work in their perfect world of rather limited time in the Genesis but don't expect them to allow God to do anything if God chose to use some form of evolution.

The sad thing about this is that they think they are being so logical and so certain that they are “in the Bible”. But while they maybe in the Bible so can the theistic evolutionist, it is just that they are using different interpretation criteria and facts to arrive at their beliefs. No doubt we are far from figuring it out...Probably both sides, the young earth creationist and the Theistic evolutionist. But the young earth creationist seems to have stopped trying to understand and just begun to defend their interpretations. Thus they don't really grow any longer, they assume they have the truth but what they really have is traditions that are called truth. It stops their growth in practically every area of theology, from origins to the the atonement to inspiration. It is really time to begin to grow again.

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