Browsed by
Tag: creation

What Creationists Could Learn from Herold Weiss

What Creationists Could Learn from Herold Weiss

creation-5We’re starting a new series of posts on the Energion Discussion Network and the current author is my friend and Energion author Dr. Herold Weiss. He’s the author of the book Creation in Scripture, the first in a series discussing creation from the point of view of those who accept the theory of evolution. That note should tell you that Dr. Weiss’s work can be controversial, as are all discussions of this topic.

I don’t happen to like the terms generally used, but it is generally somewhere between frustrating and futile to try to change language. “Creationist” has become the label of those who believe in a recent (read 6 to 10 thousand years) creation in a literal week, while “theistic evolutionist” labels those who believe God is creator but that the process of evolution is how he has chosen to diversify life here on this planet.

Dr. Weiss does something in his first post in this series that tends to annoy creationists (using the definition above). He calls their view unscriptural. The typical view of a creationist is that their view is scriptural while the theistic evolutionist has chosen to ignore the Bible in favor of evolutionary theory. No matter how strong the evidence for evolution (and they will, with few exceptions, maintain that it is weak), they would not see how it could override the Word of God. So the argument, at least as they generally present it to me, should be couched in terms of their strong convictions about scripture and the weak convictions of the theistic evolutionists, which are to be defended.

But neither I nor Dr. Weiss thinks our position is biblically weak. In fact, I did not change my view from a young earth creationist, which I was until some time during my third year in college, because I had studied evolutionary science. My science requirement was fulfilled in a chemistry class, taught, by the way, by a young earth creationist. It was in doing research for a paper that I found that I could not reconcile the biblical texts on the basis required for young earth creationism. The starting point was chronology, and it wasn’t even comparisons with archeology. It was simply looking at what must have happened between two points in the biblical story, and determining that it was beyond extremely improbable; it was impossible. And further, there was no report of some sort of miracle to connect the dots.

From there the question changed for me. Why is God presenting the story in this manner? (I’m ignoring here all the things I have come to believe about biblical inspiration over the years and discussing my thinking at age 20.) From there I started to ask just what it means to me that God is the creator and how that doctrine reverberates through scripture.

And this is what I think creationists can learn from Dr. Weiss. No, I’m not suggesting they will all read his book and decide to become theistic evolutionists. He isn’t even trying to make that case in the book, and I know my own views would be unlikely to change in reading one book. What he does that is important is look at how creation, and its implications, is presented in various parts of the Bible. Creationists seem to me to be hung up in Genesis 1-3, important chapters to be sure, but not the only thing in scripture on the topic. And yes, I do think these chapters are important, even foundational, even though I read them differently. And no, I’m not claiming that creationists are ignorant of all other passages. What I’m suggesting is that they are not brought into the discussion enough.

Too much of the debate about creation and evolution is concentrated on when and how and too little is focused on so what now?.

I think it would be great if we spent more time on the third question. Yes, we’d still disagree on when and how, and we’d still argue that both of those questions impact the answer to the third, but we might have a chance to shed a bit more light. I think Dr. Weiss has facilitated that.

Review of Creation in Scripture by Herold Weiss

Review of Creation in Scripture by Herold Weiss

Creation in Scripture by Dr. Herold WeissHanz Gutierrez has reviewed Creation in Scripture by Herold Weiss on the Spectrum Magazine web site. Spectrum is published by the Association of Adventist Forums. Many may not realize that Dr. Weiss is Seventh-day Adventist, though he clearly differs with the officially proclaimed church view on creation. He describes his journey in another book, Finding My Way in Christianity.

I commend Creation in Scripture (note that I’m the publisher, so that’s likely!) because it looks at multiple views of creation in scripture. Each of these viewpoints can help us understand something about God the creator.

Here’s a YouTube of Dr. Weiss talking about God the creator and creationism:

Would I Publish a Creationist Book?

Would I Publish a Creationist Book?

creation-5I’ve been promoting the creation book set from my company, Energion Publications. The authors of this set of books all support the theory of evolution. In fact, the contribution made by these books, I think, is that they are talking about how we should live in light of a belief that the “how” of creation, at least with respect to life, is by means of biological evolution. (This could have been a post over on the Energion company site, but since it’s also so much about my own beliefs, I thought I’d post it here.)

Here’s a clip:

Herold Weiss is a biblical scholar and is talking about creation and creationism from the biblical and theological point of view. It was his book Creation in Scripture that got the book set started.

“For creationism I have no use.” I publish that. I’m also a known advocate of excluding creationism from the public school classroom. I’m a board member of Florida Citizens for Science. So we know where I stand on the issue. I’m a theistic evolutionist, though I don’t like that term.

So would I publish a creationist book?

Short answer: Yes.

Now for the longer answer.

I’m often asked this question by people who wonder just how far to the liberal side of the spectrum I’ll go in terms of publishing. In this case, considering how strongly I’m identified with one side of the issue, we have the opposite question.

The easy way to figure out the general answer to this question is to read the company’s short doctrinal statement. As you read that statement, remember several things:

  • Energion Publications is not a church. Nobody is asked to sign or affirm this statement
  • We judge manuscripts, not authors. I have been asked about things an author said on his web site and whether they “fit.” That’s not my concern.
  • There are many issues of definition in even that short doctrinal statement. For example, amongst our authors we have quite a number of definitions of what the word “inspired” means with relation to scripture.
  • It does provide a general guide to let us focus on an audience

Having said that, if a book falls within that statement, we’ll consider it. Does creationism fall within those parameters? Absolutely.

So the longer answer is again, yes. But remember that this openness to publish covers a large number of other issues as well.

Why are all our books on creation written by those who accept theistic evolution? Again, a simple answer. Those are the ones that were submitted and accepted.

Aha! A snag! What our hypothetical questioner would probably like to know is whether this manuscript, the one he or she has in hand, expending from days to decades, would be considered for publication and what its chances would be. Would the fact that I have a firm position on the issue prejudice me against that manuscript?

Without doubt my beliefs influence what I do. But one of my beliefs is that the best thing to do with theological disagreements is to discuss them, entering into genuine dialogue. I consider creationism to be a very live theological debate and one on which we should be having dialogue in the church. I think actual dialogue on this subject is rather rare, but I’m ready to promote it.

In fact, I see myself as a publisher in the role of an advocate for advocacy. So if I publish a book on creationism I will also put every effort into marketing it.

That doesn’t mean that I will bend over backwards to accept the first manuscript on the topic that I get. I have been studying this subject since I first learned to read, and so I have a very good feel for the literature.

Let me provide an example. Dr. Kurt Wise, who earned his PhD under Stephen Jay Gould at Harvard, is a creationist. He wrote the book Faith, Form, and Time. The link provided is to my review. It’s a good book. I disagree with practically every word in it. I don’t see those two statements as contradictory. I consider it the best statement of a Christian creationism as is available for a popular audience. Wise starts from the premise that Genesis teaches a young earth and a literal creation week, so we must follow from that point and discover the science that proves God right. I disagree with that premise.

If you can send me a manuscript that is as good as that one (good luck!) I’m bound to publish it. And there are lots of other manuscripts that would be good. For example, looked at from the point of systematic theology, how does a young earth or a literal creation week (or both) fit into a doctrinal pattern? What other pillars of the faith lean on those concepts? One could write some excellent systematic theology in that area, and consequently argue with our existing volume, Creation: The Christian Doctrine, which argues that those are not important. It happens I agree with the latter book, but that won’t prevent me publishing a rebuttal!

Now if I had a category for science, which I don’t, I would require that material in it be reviewed by qualified scientists. That would be another matter. I don’t think modern creationism has yet earned a place at the scientific table, and I’m not the one to offer that place. It must be offered by scientists who are active in their disciplines. I’d have a team of them as readers if I were a science publisher. But the biblical, religious, and theological debate is very relevant and active.

For those who are interested, I didn’t become convinced that the earth wasn’t young or that the creation week wasn’t literal by studying biology. In fact, I never took a college course in biology. I’m not going to judge one’s biological pretensions. Well, unless they violate elementary principles, that is. It was through study of the scriptural material that I became convinced it was not possible that God was intended to provide either the “how” of creation or the timeline of earth’s history.

There’s a great deal of open territory for studying biblical studies and theology involved in that!

I can’t help but finish with some pictures that illustrate how thoroughly indoctrinated a creationist I was. These are pictures of the “Eden to Eden Timeline.” You can see in the second image that we were taught that the date of creation was 3957 BC, a correction of the more common 4004 BC. Students added pictures and colored maps as we worked our way through the Bible, entirely guided by this timeline.

Eden to Eden Timeline
The title indicates the topic. It starts with creation and ends with recreation. Everything is on a timeline, though the time of the final events is left open.
Eden to Eden Timline - Antediluvian Period
You can see the date of creation represented here and also the proposed date for the end of this period with the flood.
Timeline - Antediluvian period
This shows how the timeline spread out. I did this outside by the fence, so it’s a bit scraggly. In our classroom we had the whole thing stretched out around the wall. Click on it for high resolution.
Energion Google Hangout on Air Tonight – Creation and Christianity

Energion Google Hangout on Air Tonight – Creation and Christianity

creation-5Tonight at 7:00 pm central time for the weekly Energion Google Hangout on Air I’ll be moderating a panel of four authors. You can find the event information on our Google+ page.

The participants are:

This event is not a debate about creation and evolution. While I vary the content from hangout to hangout, I avoid outright debates. Each of these authors accepts the theory of evolution but also believes that God is the creator. Dr. Herold Weiss started the series, which also includes Creation: The Christian Doctrine by Dr. Edward W. H. Vick, who is unavailable for this panel. What I have asked them to do for this panel is talk about how their beliefs about creation impact the way the read scripture, teach, worship, and live.

The YouTube embed to view the event is below. If you want to ask questions of the panel using the Q&A App, you’ll need to sign into Google+. There should be a link on the YouTube viewer at the time the event starts for you to do so.

 

Adrian Warnock – Evolutionary Spectrum

Adrian Warnock – Evolutionary Spectrum

I always find it interesting when Adrian Warnock produces a spectrum on some topic. I almost always disagree with some point on the spectrum, but the exercise is worthwhile. After all, if I produce a spectrum, there will doubtless be people who disagree at some point.

This time Adrian has produced a spectrum on beliefs regarding evolution. I think it generally covers the ground. At the same time, I think it skips over the majority of theistic evolutionists.

The reason may seem subtle, but I think it’s important. Adrian divides the theistic evolutionists between “passive” and “active” equating the latter with intelligent design. I have a couple of problems with that. First, I think natural laws are an expression of God’s will. That a law continues unchanged, or a process functions and finishes (if finishing is appropriate) does not mean that God is less active than when (or if) there is some sort of intervention. Thus God is not less active when he designs a process that works without active intervention than he is with something that requires him to step in from time to time.

Secondly, I think there is a problem with the concepts of intervention, active, and passive. God is. God is infinite (or something close enough we can’t tell the difference). In any case, in terms of interacting with the universe, God doesn’t have to prioritize. He isn’t less active one place than another. So the idea of God being active or passive is an effect of human perception. A process that continues consistently does not appear to require action by God, while one that varies or changes direction is more likely to seem to require such intervention.

Resurrection seems interventionist. Birth and death seems natural. To us.

The evolution of a new life-form seems “special” and perhaps to require intervention. The continued life of a single creature does not. To us.

I just don’t think there’s a real difference from God’s point of view, insofar as one can catch God’s point of view (not very far, I fear). My breath stops without God (Psalm 104:29-30). Gravity stops without God. When all of this works, it appears not to require God’s intervention.

I’m probably writing this too quickly (it’s Sunday morning), to be clear, but my point is simply that God is active whether the process he is using operates consistently and without identified points of intervention or whether (as in intelligent design) there are points at which God intervenes in some special way.

Otherwise, I love the spectrum. I’m glad Adrian included the ruin and restoration folks, who are often forgotten. I’m also glad he distinguished some nuances such as young earth/old universe, and “the earth is young but appears old” vs. “the earth is young and would appear that way if you got the science right.” (My descriptions, not Adrian’s.)

 

Why I Still Don’t Like Inerrancy

Why I Still Don’t Like Inerrancy

Andrew Wilson has a post on The Gospel Coalition (Voices) blog titled Why I don’t Hate the Word Inerrancy. In a certain way I have to agree with his conclusion:

But I don’t think the answer is to hate the word. If we were to abandon every word that had been tainted by poor use, we’d have to remove dozens of descriptors from our lexicon, beginning with “Christian”—only to find that the replacements we brought in were also sullied over time by clumsiness, groupthink, insensitivity, and arrogance. …

Just so! It’s pretty difficult to hate a word when the word hasn’t really done anything bad. It just fell into the hands of cruel people who have tortured it a bit.

But I still have to wonder about the value of the word in the first place. As a substitute for saying that God’s word is true, it draws much of its usage from the effort to narrow down the concept of what we mean by “true.” It ties truth to a collection of facts, to data, and not to the message. Properly interpreted, the message of the books of Kings in the Hebrew scriptures can be true without being accurate in every detail of the numbers. There are serious issues in the chonology of the divided kingdom, and resolving these is an interesting hobby, but it’s not really something that impacts the truth of the Bible message.

I think inerrancy, as used—and in effect a word is the way it is used—tends to put our focus on the wrong aspect of any story. It makes our first question be “did this happen precisely as stated?” rather than “what message does God have for me in this story?” That’s unfortunate.

I think there are worse problems for inerrancy than the ages and reigns of kings, but that provides a good starting point. Once we are past that, we need to look at how God communicates. How did God send us scripture? How did God cross the gap between infinity and our finite existence?

This is one of those questions that plagues discussion of topics such as the meaning of Genesis. I believe that God communicates to us in our language, and that Genesis communicated God’s message about creation to people who believed in an earth that was flat (though round, like a dinner plate), with the waters under and the heavens above. They also believed that earth was the center of the universe and had no concept of the size of the universe. In that context, God spoke about God’s involvement in human lives.

That means that the science of Genesis is doubtless in error, when looked at from our point of view. But it’s not in error by mistake. It’s in error intentionally. By God’s intention, not by the intention of the human authors who knew no better. It’s in error in the same way as my explanation of some technical topic might be if I presented it to a child.

And lest you get the idea that I think we are on a pinnacle or knowledge, I expect that, if the world continues and we don’t set ourselves back to the stone age through our own stupidity, people a few hundred years from now may consider our view of what the universe is like to be hopelessly primitive. They’ll look for new ways to tell the story of God’s involvement.

I don’t like the word “inerrancy” because it says that the Bible is going to mean what I think it needs to mean rather than saying that the Bible gives God’s message in the way that God wanted it to be presented.

As I read it, God did very little to scratch our modern itches.

Of Creation, Evolution, and Worship

Of Creation, Evolution, and Worship

There are few topics that get Christians more angry at one another than the subject of evolution. Those who accept a young earth (or young age for the universe) tend to think that those who accept the theory of evolution do it simply because they lack the faith to believe the Bible. To them, this is the first step toward rejecting Christianity and becoming an atheist. Those who accept the theory of evolution often think the young earthers are ignorant, perhaps willfully so. (All of this ignores the broad sweep of views between young earth creationism and a purely materialistic view of origins. There are many nuances on the line between the two. But that is a subject for another blog post.)

I disagree with both those viewpoints. Irrespective of my own beliefs (and I’ll get to those in a moment), I have met too many dedicated Christian believers whose faith is nurtured by Scripture and also accept evolutionary science to imagine that acceptance of evolution is necessarily the first step on the road to unbelief. I have also met too many intelligent and capable individuals who accept a young earth to believe that they are all ignorant or stupid. As a matter of principle, I never want to imagine someone is stupid because of their view on a single issue, nor do I want to think them immoral because of their view on one moral issue. Someone who is intelligent, competent, and functional, and yet believes something I find ridiculous, does not thereby become generally stupid.

As an example, my dad was a doctor (MD), and an excellent one. Yet he believed in a young earth and a literal creation week his entire life. I’m not going to go down the route of believing that he was somehow less capable of carrying out his profession in a competent fashion, which he did all his life, because of one issue. There’s the family connection there, but I know a number of other people in similar situations.

In spite of this, I  am not arguing a middle of the road position. I have a firm position on creation and evolution. I was raised with young earth creationist literature. I devoured the literature written by George McCready Price and Frank Lewis Marsh, icons of my Seventh-day Adventist upbringing, as well as many others. I did not begin to doubt this view because of studying science. In fact, I changed my position through a study of Scripture. It all started when I wrote a college paper examining the text of the genealogies of Genesis 5 & 11 and looking at the resulting chronology. Archeology did enter into it, as I looked at the dating of events that would be required to match that chronology, but characteristics of the text itself first suggested that we did not have literal history there. Nothing I have studied since has changed my mind on that point.

9781938434723mBut I’ve written on this subject many times before. Just try typing “evolution” in the search box. I’m writing this because I’ve just sent a book off to the printer titled Worshiping with Charles Darwin. That’s a provocative title. Carol Everhart Roper designed a provocative cover to go with it. That was intentional. It’s not actually the most controversial book I’ve published, even on this topic, but I’ve focused on the controversy. That’s marketing, but it also comes from conviction.

I look at this from two perspectives. First, as a Christian and a church member, I believe that this is a non-essential. That God is creator is an essential. How God created is not. I think we should have tolerance and respect in the church on this issue. But my belief in tolerance and respect does not mean that I don’t have a firm position on the issue myself. I believe that God is the creator of heaven and earth and that through the study of the world by the methods of the natural sciences we can learn how creation was accomplished and how the physical world functions. I believe we are in error both in theology and in science when we try to impose our theology on the findings of science. It’s bad theology because to claim that what we learn from the natural world is not reliable we make God a liar. It’s bad science because it imposes a conclusion prior to the data.

Thus I would be called a theistic evolutionist, though I object to the label. I am a theist, in that I believe in God. But my theism is not a characteristic of my acceptance of the findings of evolutionary science. Though I am strictly an amateur in any scientific endeavors, I do not modify the findings of science by saying “and God.” This is not because I do not see God in the natural world. It is rather because I see God everywhere in the natural world and not more so in one place or another. I do not see God more in my cat’s purr than I do in a pencil falling. Both things result from God. Science tells me how. Science does not discover God at some specific point. Science is studying God through studying God’s handiwork. But science does not improve its study of the handiwork by trying to pretend to find God at some specific point. That is why I don’t like linking the word “theist” to “evolutionist.”

But I also object to the word “evolutionist.” Evolution is not my philosophy. It is not my religion. It is not an article of my religious faith, though the fearless pursuit of accurate knowledge is. I am not an evolutionist any more than I am a gravitationist. I believe that gravity functions as science describes. I believe that evolution functions as science describes. I believe we will discover more about how each of these works. Neither gravity nor evolution is an object of my faith or trust. My trust in science is based on the method, a method that has proven functional repeatedly. It is not a matter of perfection either. Science will produce new results and alter previous understandings. But it has proven effective at correcting its own errors.

Now people who believe what I do about evolutionary science have tended either to keep quiet in church or to simply say that we believe the Bible teaches that God is the creator and the how doesn’t matter. I don’t agree with these approaches. What I think we need to do is think about how the discoveries of natural science impact what we believe about God and how they change how we tell the story of God the creator. Genesis 1 & 2 told the story to the ancients. We can listen in to that story and learn theology and generate our own liturgy. But I think to tell the story as faithfully as it was told so long ago we need to tell the story of the creator in the light of what we know about cosmology and origins. Belief that God has used evolution as the means of diversifying life here on earth, and presumably elsewhere in the universe, is not a withdrawal from an area of faith. Rather, it is a new look at the expanding story of God and our knowledge and experience of God. We need to tell that story faithfully and vigorously.

And this brings me back to the title of this recently released book. We could pretend that the discussion doesn’t matter, but that would not be faithful to the search for truth or to the integrity of the way we proclaim the gospel. I know of people for whom this issue has been a stumbling block. It’s time to talk about it openly. We’ve been arguing about it vigorously, but that’s not what I mean. We need to start looking at the implications and talking about how we tell the story of the gospel faithfully in the world God created and is creating. I think that is something worth celebrating.

Bob Cornwall has taken up one part of that task. I hope the conversation continues to grow.

The Bible Gives No New Science Revelations

The Bible Gives No New Science Revelations

My title is slightly modified from No Scientific Revelation in the Bible, posted by RJS at Jesus Creed, with links in turn to work by John Walton. I think this is an important point.

My argument since I was an undergraduate just trying to work my way through these issues, has been that if you can easily explain terminology used in terms of the cosmology of the time there is no adequate reason to try to read modern ideas into the text.

Some find every reference that might just allow them to sneak advanced scientific revelation into the text and try to claim that as evidence that the Bible writers had some advanced knowledge. But unless one makes a claim that is clearly different from what was commonly believed about the way the world works, and that claim matches later knowledge, there’s no basis to assume advanced revelation.

The Bible speaks within the world of its original hearers and readers. That shouldn’t be a problem for us. That is precisely what it should do. It’s our function to carry on the story in our world as we know it. Should the world carry on for so long, in another couple of millenia other people, who may know as much more about how the universe functions as we do compared to the ancients, will be telling the story within their context and their knowledge.

God didn’t intend to provide a science textbook, or a crib sheet for scientific advancement. I can make this claim because if God did try to do such a thing, it was a miserable failure. I prefer not to call God a miserable failure.

What Could Be More Dangerous than Liberalism?

What Could Be More Dangerous than Liberalism?

If you let your eyes wander up to the header you’ll see that my tag line includes the word “liberal” and not in a negative light. I’ve even written about being a liberal charismatic believer. So if you’re wondering how I can use both labels at once, follow the link. But in certain circles, “liberals” make good enemies, you know, the kind of enemies that you know will help make other people your friends—the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?

And so Adrian Warnock points to a post by Micah Fries, titled simply Fighting with Scripture. In this post he speaks of the joys of being Southern Baptism following the conservative resurgence, and how nice it is to know that those around him embrace infallibility and inerrancy. In this portion of the universe, the old enemy, liberalism” has been laid to rest and it is easy to ridicule, at least in these sanitized domains. Now my point here is not to beat up on Southern Baptists. I do not consider those who believe in biblical inerrancy to be either worse Christians or scholars than those who do not. In fact, I hope that more moderate and liberal theologians will read and engage with conservative scholarship. I do like to make the point that those of us who see biblical inspiration differently are not the enemies, and may have something to contribute as well.

Just a couple of lines from the post:

Liberalism, of course, reduces God’s word, and in doing so attempts to make a mockery of those who would dare take that word at face value. It assumes a position of great authority, in fact it could be argued that it assumes a position of greater authority than scripture itself as it attempts to “rectify” the “errors” found in the bible.

When I see “of course” in a sentence like that I must confess that it gets under my skin a bit. You see, I don’t think I “reduce God’s word.” Rather, I attempt to understand God’s word as clearly as possible. I don’t “make a mockery of those who would dare take that word at face value,” in fact, I try to avoid mockery. (There are those who assume that disagreement, especially vigorous disagreement is mockery. I’ll just have to live with that.) But still, the issue here is not whether to take “God’s word” at face value. The question is just what that face value is.

Let’s illustrate this for a moment from Genesis, the great controversy these days. I’ve just edited, and my company has published, a book titled Creation in Scripture by Herold Weiss. It takes a look at the various ways in which creation is discussed in scripture. What it taught me as I edited it was how much more there was to the “face” of what the Bible has to say about creation than most people realize. There are major texts in scripture that are rarely part of this discussion. Many people who try to discuss creation see a “face” of God’s word that is like viewing a large mountain through the trees. You see a little bit of the mountain where light gets between all the trees. But the mountain is more than what you see in that way.

And how do I get the face value of scripture? Do I read Genesis 1 & 2 as a 21st century citizen of a scientific era? Do I try to get into the perspective of someone from the ancient world? The face looks considerably different depending on which of those perspectives I take.

My intent here is not to demonstrate what particular view is better, but rather to show that the simple statement that “liberalism reduces God’s word” is somewhere between inadequate and false. It’s inadequate in the sense that it doesn’t do justice to what moderate and liberal students of scripture do when studying. It’s false because very often the liberal interpreter is actually seeing more of the “face” from which the “value” is derived.

This reminds me of my discussions with KJV-Only advocates. They refer to any word or phrase that is present in the KJV but not in a modern version as something that has been removed from scripture. In vain does one point out that the best Greek manuscripts do not have the word or phrase in question, and that one might just as well say that the KJV added it to scripture. What are you taking as your standard? More importantly, how are you using and applying that standard?

In order to have valuable discussions of these points we need to state the questions a different way. Conservatives, moderates, and liberals understand scripture differently. We need to discuss passages on that basis, and examine our hermeneutic first. It’s often valuable to take a passage that is slightly less controversial and ask how we look at that passage. We may well continue to disagree (doubtless in many cases we will), but perhaps we would have a better understanding of why and how.

I share the concern of the authors I linked with reference to legalism, though I don’t think the accusation that it is “adding to scripture” is the best way to address it. I suspect legalism is more a matter of where we place things in our thinking and acting. Having just taught from Ephesians 2 and done preparation to teach from Ephesians 3, I see a fairly clear relationship between grace and action. It’s not that legalists do too much, though some do, it is that they place rules and their actions in the wrong place in their relationship to God. Grace, God’s grace, comes first.

In pursuing correct theology, I think we often fall into the same danger. We make theology our works and become legalistic in terms of what people should believe. But placing barriers of knowledge and belief ahead of grace is just as damaging as placing barriers of action. We can get into the position of earning God’s favor through getting things right just as easily as through doing things right, and often with even greater damage.

Legalism will not be defeated by making sure people’s theology of grace is thoroughly correct and orthodox. Legalism is defeated by grace in action. God’s grace, and yes, God’s grace displayed through God’s people.

Quote of the Day: God’s Word and Our Words

Quote of the Day: God’s Word and Our Words

Creation: The Christian DoctrineI’m working on editing Creation: the Christian Doctrine by Edward W. H. Vick. It’s quite an enjoyable task. I regularly learn new things while reading Dr. Vick’s work. In this case he’s talking about knowledge of God. He has already contrasted this with knowledge of the natural universe. We, as finite creatures, cannot by normal means understand the transcendent. Only as God acts and reveals himself can we attain such knowledge.

It is because God has expressed himself and continues to express himself that God is known. A clear distinction is to be made between the divine reality, the form by which God is expressed, and the knowledge human beings acquire of him.

So we, the human creatures, cannot by observation, sensation
and deduction, arrive at a knowledge of God. We use such methods in our successful search for knowledge within the cosmos, but they are not the ways that we can come to a knowledge of God. But as God reveals himself and the Word is grasped, the human can understand the expression by which the revelation is made possible and expressed. We never transcend the limitations of our language, even in speaking of the revealing act of God. We are creatures and our language is anthropomorphic. But that does not mean that there are not poorer and better ways of using our language! The very use of language should remind us that God is transcendent.
He is Creator. We are creatures. Without the Word, we would know nothing of the transcendent God.

(Creation: The Christian Doctrine, pp. 54-55, forthcoming from Energion Publications.)

Vick develops these ideas further in his earlier books History and Christian Faith (distributed by Energion) and From Inspiration to Understanding: Reading the Bible Seriously and Faithfully.