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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The effect of Biblicism on Eco-Faith

I was reading through chapter 3 of Daniel L. Migliore's Faith Seeking Understanding (1991) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Michigan, today in preparation for class. The chapter is about the authority of Scripture and it mentions what is called the 'biblicist view' where "the Bible is authoritative by virtue of its supernatural origin and the direct identity of its words with the Word of God" (p47). It insists that "every book, every chapter, every verse, every word was directly inspired by God" (p47), as opposed to the traditional doctrine of the inspiration of scripture which "affirms that God the Holy Spirit accompanied and guided the human writers of Scripture, respecting their humanity in all its limitations and its conditioning by historical, social, and cultural context, yet conveying God's Word through those human witnesses" (p47). Basically, in the biblicist view the writers of Scripture were simply secretaries taking down the exact dictation of the Lord without any input of their own.

This view is interesting because it requires that the Bible be infallible. "The defense of the Christian faith thus becomes the defense of the doctrine of infallibility" (p48). Apart from the spiritual issues of this, I bring it up because of what it has been doing to the relationship between science and religion and the environment and religion within some areas of the church. When pushed to the extreme, the biblicist view says the Bible cannot err in anything it says, including any science it mentions. While I believe it is often our interpretation of the Bible rather than what it actually says that causes issues between science and religion (for example in Darwin's time when the Bible had been interpreted using our previous knowledge of science for hundreds of years and then Darwin's discoveries were seen as being in contest with the Bible. The contest was really about the traditional interpretation of the Bible and the science that interpretation was based on, not any particular clash between the Bible itself and the new science), if the Bible is interpreted in a literal way, and assumed to be inerrant, then the earth must have four corners (Isaiah 11:12, Rev 7:1) and edges (multiple references), along with several other things that are clearly not in line with our current scientific understanding, including a 6 day creation.

There are two ways to approach this: the Bible is inerrant and must be interpreted literally, thus the world has four corners; or there is another way to interpret these verses. Perhaps 'four corners of the earth' is a figure of speech based in the culture of the author of that section of scripture who was more concerned with getting across a spiritual message inspired by God than being scientifically accurate in every way for generations to come and scientific advances the author could never have dreamed of.

As someone trained in science myself, how anyone could cling to biblicism to the point of deciding that the earth has four corners and all our science is completely wrong is beyond me. Actually, maybe it is not. If your entire faith is based on this idea of the Bible as perfect, and you only know one way to interpret it, then perhaps the only way to hold onto your faith is to just put your head in the sand and refuse to listen to reason or science. What a shame though to have such a weak and inflexible faith! I can't help wishing such people would do just a little theological study - it tears down those ideas pretty quickly. It soon becomes obvious that we cannot base our faith on the idea that the Bible is scientifically or historically correct - because in parts it is neither. As Migliore says "a church with an infallible teaching office [such as the Pope] or an infallible Bible no longer allows scripture to work as liberating and life-giving Word in its own way. Insistence on the infallibility of the Bible obscures the true basis of Christian confidence" (p48). "Christians do not believe in the Bible; they believe in the living God attested by the Bible. Scripture is indispensable in bringing us into a new relationship with the living God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, and thus into new relationship with others and with the entire creation" (p50).

It is my hope and prayer that those who do not believe in, for example, what science says about evolution based on their interpretation of the creation narrative, will stop using this as an excuse to stick their heads in the sand and refuse to believe anything else science tells them (eg. about climate change). I also hope that we will reconsider how we approach the concept of the Bible's inspiration/infallibility. Why should we be defending infallibility instead of faith? How many people have turned away from the church, turned away from a life-giving faith and salvation in Jesus, because someone insisted that to do so they must turn their brain off, forget all the science they ever learnt and believe in things that don't make any sense when taken literally? How many people falsely think that faith and the environment have to be enemies because of this one idea, this one concept of seeing the Bible and its authority? How many of them have no idea that theology based on other interpretations of the Word have lead to a rich and growing school of eco-theology that embraces science and the truth about God's creation? If we care about saving souls, then perhaps some thought on these issues is needed in certain sectors of the church. Happily, these issues do not affect most of the churches I have dealt with - courageous and inspirational groups fighting for God's creation.

The last point I want to make is that I think having to ignore science to hold up a view of the meaning of a couple of verses of Scripture is actually showing a lack of faith. If we have to protect the perfection of God by  ignoring the results of experiments designed using the best minds and technology we have, then we don't actually believe He is perfect. God Himself is inerrant. And the science that is being done today is rather good, and big ideas like climate change are not promoted until even the ultra-cautious and conservative leaning of the scientists is overcome by the weight of the evidence and astoundingly small confidence intervals.
So if the science is right, and God is definitely right, and we believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and thus has value for us, then it begs the question - is our interpretation of the Bible right? Or is it too narrow?

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+