Many fear to tread into culturally charged topics in an “us” versus “them” social media climate characterized by rapid escalation, rabid judgments, and character assassinations. What if a course on God and science could actually help us love one another, or at least be kinder to those who see things differently than we do?
I’ve just returned from Houston where I taught the first three lectures of an eight-session course on “God and Science.” I’m thrilled and a bit overwhelmed with the challenge and opportunity presented to me by The Bible Seminary in Katy, TX. How does one begin to develop and teach a course on two inexhaustible topics? My approach so far: prayer, perseverance, hope, humility, and lots of good authors, theologians, biblical scholars, and scientists.
The surprising thing to many, myself included, is that after the next lecture we’ll reach the halfway point—and we haven’t even covered a single piece of “scientific data” yet. What?! What kind of course on God and science is that?
Well, it’s one where I’m not trying so much to teach the intricacies of science to nonscientists or to convince anyone to see the data my way. I’m trying to help others see foundations for harmony or integration when thoughtful, committed people engage on the topic of science and faith in a culture where the two are sometimes pitted as polar opposite ways to approach life.
So, what have we looked at? In week one, we examined metaphysics and worldviews, as well as the roles of revelation and interpretation. Next, we considered the history and concept of dual revelation in nature and Scripture, ways of relating science and faith, and the types of reasoning we employ whether we’re involved in scientific endeavors or theological ones. In the third session, we spent most of our time discussing and contemplating the demarcation of science and the role of methodological naturalism in scientific research (and how critically different methodological naturalism is from philosophical naturalism).
The best part of covering this material is that I have drawn from authors who cover the gamut of interpretive positions. The next lecture will feature some of the most challenging material as we look at specific interpretive positions. In regard to the science, I am drawing from old-earth and evolutionary creationists as well as naturalists and biblical literalists. And in regard to scriptural interpretive approaches, we’ll consider those who take the creation accounts literalistically1, non-literalistically—but still historically (analogical and chronological approaches), and positions that could be described as more theological than historical (e.g., framework views, polemic views, and ancient Near Eastern mythical views). When we break it down and tackle the topics this way, we see areas of overlap in several positions and logical consistency within a variety of positions that try to harmonize God’s activities in nature and words in Scripture.
I’m not out to convince others of my position. I am hoping to help others understand how their philosophical (metaphysical) and worldview biases shape the way they interpret data (scientific and biblical) and to adopt their own view on how science and faith relate. By doing this, I also hope to help them understand that others may approach the interpretation of the data (scientific and biblical) differently. We’re all just trying to make the best sense we can out of life. We’re all just trying to fit those things we know via mathematics and philosophy, natural and behavioral sciences, human experience, and religious beliefs together in a logically coherent whole that helps us navigate and make sense of the world.
I hope this approach will allow us to be more accepting and loving of fellow Christians who have different views than we might. I hope it will allow us to view other non-Christians with a greater degree of understanding and acceptance, too. I really hope it will allow us all to dialogue with true curiosity and genuine kindness with one another.
Jesus calls us to seek truth and to be actively engaged in loving each other—and God—as we do. If we’re doing these things with a modicum of humility and a serious dose of self-awareness, I think we can build bridges and friendships with people who are very different than we are. What a beautiful vision, a kaleidoscope of diversity without character (or real) assassinations. If we could pull that off, maybe others would believe there really is a God and that Jesus is really who he claimed to be.
If we’re helping one another to consider things differently, we will likely understand our own positions better, and together, draw closer to the truth. As Christians we should never shrink back from the pursuit of truth as we trust in Jesus. Because all truth, after all, is God’s truth. On that note, I’ll close with a recent statement I heard that I wish was attributable to a fellow Christian, but is not. “In the end we’re all just walking one another home”—even in a course on God and science.
Original article: A Course in God and Science
This current blog series on Reflections is intended to encourage Christians to read more vigorously by providing a beginner’s guide to some of the Christian classics in such fields as theology, philosophy, and apologetics. Hopefully, a brief introduction to these important Christian texts will motivate today’s believers—as St. Augustine was called to in his dramatic conversion to Christianity—to “take up and read” (Latin: Tolle lege) these classic books.
This week’s book, City of God, is by that same St. Augustine and is considered by many scholars to be Augustine’s magnum opus (Latin for “greatest work”). Along with being a timeless Christian text, this work is also considered a literary classic of Western civilization. It is encouraging to know the depth at which Christian writings have influenced classical literature.
Why Is This Author Notable?
Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) is widely considered not only the greatest of the Christian church fathers but also, in many ways, the theological father of Western Christendom. In fact, Augustine has influenced both Catholics and Protestants. His diverse writings touch on such fields as theology, philosophy, history, and apologetics. For more about him and his unique accomplishments, see my article “Christian Thinkers 101: A Crash Course on St. Augustine.”
What Is This Book About?
Over his lifetime, Augustine wrote in excess of 5 million words, which makes him arguably the most prolific ancient author of all time. City of God (Latin: Civitate Dei), written intermittently between AD 413 and 427, is considered to be Augustine’s scholarly masterpiece. The title of Augustine’s work came directly from Scripture:
Glorious things are said of you, city of God.
City of God stands as Augustine’s monumental world-and-life-view analysis. It is his longest (more than a thousand pages) and most comprehensive work, and it is considered by some to be his most significant contribution to Western thought. In this book, Augustine laid new foundations in the fields of Christian apologetics and worldview and in the analysis of Christian history.
City of God consists of 22 chapters and can be divided into two major parts. The first part of the work consists of Augustine’s refutation (“Against the Pagans”) of the charge made by some Roman citizens that Christianity was responsible for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. (Rome had been shockingly sacked in AD 410 by barbarian invaders.) Augustine concludes that the Roman Empire’s demise was not the result of it becoming influenced by Christianity in its later stages but rather the result of the empire’s inability to live up to its highly exalted ideas.
In the second part, Augustine developed his own tale of two cities: “the City of God” and “the City of Man.” The City of God, represented as Jerusalem, has a divine origin and a heavenly, or eternal, destiny. The City of Man, represented as Babylon, has a human origin and an earthly, or temporal, destiny. Augustine saw human affairs, like all things, as being under the control of the sovereign and providential plan of almighty God. In this work, Augustine gave the Western world its first philosophy of history, presenting and defending a distinctly Christian linear view of history.
Why Is This Book Worth Reading?
This volume is widely considered one of the most important Christian books ever written. It seeks to explain the proper place of Christ’s kingdom (or City) in relation to earthly political powers and authorities (the Greco-Roman world). According to Augustine, the City of God is motivated by a different devotion (love) and has a different destiny than the societies that make up the City of Man. Thus, a central theme of City of God is that God’s kingdom purposes—salvation through Christ—transcend all temporal human powers and authorities.
Original article: Take Up and Read the City of God
You want a standard? How’s this?
Concerning Overseers and Deacons:
- This is a faithful and trustworthy saying: if any man (eagerly) seeks the office of overseer (bishop, superintendent), he desires an excellent task.
- Now an overseer must be blameless and beyond reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
- not addicted to wine, not a bully nor quick-tempered and hot-headed, but gentle and considerate, free from the love of money (not greedy for wealth and its inherent power—financially ethical).
- He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (keeping them respectful and well-behaved),
- for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?.
- And he must not be a new convert, so that he will not (behave stupidly and) become conceited (by appointment to this high office) and fall into the (same) condemnation incurred by the devil (for his arrogance and pride).
- And he must have a good reputation and be well thought of by those outside the church, so that he will not be discredited and fall into the devil’s trap.
- Deacons likewise must be men worthy of respect (honorable, financially ethical, of good character), not double-tongued (speakers of half-truths), not addicted to wine, not greedy for dishonest gain,
- but upholding and fully understanding the mystery (that is, the true doctrine) of the (Christian) faith with a clear conscience (resulting from behavior consistent with spiritual maturity).
- These men must first be tested; then if they are found to be blameless and beyond reproach (in their Christian lives), let them serve as deacons.
- Women must likewise be worthy of respect, not malicious gossipers, but self-controlled, (thoroughly) trustworthy in all things.
- Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.
- For those who have served well as deacons gain a high standing (having a good reputation among the congregation), and great confidence in the faith which is (founded on and centered) in Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 3:1-13 – Amplified Bible
There! That’s your standard!
This chapter alone would empty 90% of every person in the city, state and federal government, most of the military, all the media, as well as most pulpits.
You can’t be this?
Don’t show up.