Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reason and Our Confessional Heritage


This is part 2 of this post. The challenge it seems to me for Christian ministers, theologians, and laypeople is to have and to encourage dialogue between our confessional heritage and reason. We don't need to throw either out, but there does come a time when we may have to make a choice. Usually we do make the choice. We choose reason and then reevaluate and reinterpret our confessional heritage in light of new information.

I appreciate the slogan of the United Church of Christ (UCC):


To put it theologically, God is still speaking and reason is the way God speaks to us. Reason has given us higher criticism of the Bible and Christian origins as well as a cosmology and information about our evolving existence. This is information that our confessional heritage would have never imagined. Yet, our confessional heritage does speak to us about enduring values that, I think, can guide us.


Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow have this symbol on their van.




I think it is a far better symbol than this one, although perhaps not as amusing.



Michael Dowd uses the phrase Evolution Theology to describe

...those whose position on the science vs. religion controversy tends toward reconciliation or synthesis. The term points broadly to those who do not see themselves at either end of the polarized debate as it is currently framed (either anti-evolutionary creationism and intelligent design at one end, or anti-religious atheism at the other). Theistic evolutionists, religious naturalists, evolutionary humanists, emergentists, pantheists, panentheists, theosophists, and the 11,000+ signers of the Clergy Letter Project may differ in how they integrate evolution and theology, but they all do.

As I read Michael Dowd, he begins with how the Universe has been revealed to us through reason, and then examines our symbols of faith in regards to how they can give us meaning and heart to what science is showing us. Through this dialogue, new symbols emerge. It is an ongoing process that honors our confessional heritage by reinterpreting it for a new era.

Think of the doctrine of "Creation" for example. Our ancestors would have thought of this mystery by thinking Earth was just a few thousand years old and made in a short period of time. Science has a much different picture of course: 13.7 billion years and changing over a long period of time.

More than just time, the very processes of our evolution have provided us with instincts we still carry with us from our ancestors. Evolutionary biology helps us to understand our drives, emotions, and our unique gift of the need to search for meaning.

Can we still call it all, "Creation?" Certainly. Creation is a divine process, if you will. We are engaged and participating it. What an honor! What a fabulous, amazing thing that we exist! And the Book of Genesis says in that beautiful refrain: And God saw that it was good.

Yes, what 21st century theologians say about creation may be quite different in some respects from what the Bible, Augustine, or John Calvin said about it. Theologians who follow us will say different things in their time. Our task is to let our confessional ancestors speak from their time and to listen carefully. Then we can glean from them what is enduring and carry it to our new era.


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