Science and Faith as BFFs: a book review

When I was a teenager, in my fundy evangelical days, I was taught to be suspicious of science. Scientists were you using their big bang black magic, their carbon-dating-voodoo, and evolutionary processes to explain away the Creator.  My youth leaders would do role-playing exercises designed to help us take a brave Christian response to our godless philosophy or biology professors when we got to college (I’m convinced that the entire plot to God’s Not Dead was written in a youth group). I was told if Genesis 1 was not literally how God created the earth, that would mean you couldn’t trust anything in the Bible (there is a logical fallacy there, see if you can spot it).

8741I can’t say this is all entirely to blame for my undergrad, underachieving self, but it is pretty hard to make yourself try hard in class if you think your Geology professor is lying to you (I think this suspicion of sciences is also partly to blame for certain Christians’ ambivalence to global warming or evidence-based research).

Thankfully, there are a number of Christians today which are exploring the interconnection between science and faith. Among them is Greg Cootsona. Cootsona directs Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries (STEAM) at Fuller Theological Seminary and teaches religious studies and humanities at Chico State. He wrote Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults as a manifesto for pastors, emerging adult ministries leaders, and emerging adults themselves (18 to 30-year-olds). He discusses the disconnect between science and faith, places where they may be brought into greater integration and dialogue, and he provides various case studies of relevant issues to faith and science.

Mere Science and Faith unfolds in eight chapters. In chapter 1, Cootsona describes his own history of science and faith—his Christian conversion in college at UC Berkley, and subsequent antagonism toward faith he experienced from faculty and fellow students. He then introduces his thesis, an integrative approach to faith and science. In chapter 2, Cootsona cites psychological and social scientific research to discuss how to engage science and faith with emerging adults (18 to 30-year-olds). He concludes that the conversation between faith and science has shifted with the development of new technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence, transhumanism, screen time), new understandings of faith, and the eclectic “Spotify mix” style of engaging faith and science of emerging adult Christians today which breaks down some of the old dichotomies (28-29). A bricolage of mismatched ideas (Spotify) instead of an LP album, allows emerging adults to see connections between science and faith, or at least regard them as independent spheres without any felt antagonism. Cootsona extends this analysis in chapter 3 (“Emerging Adults: Are They None and Done?”).

Chapter 4 and 5 are a crash course on biblical hermeneutics. Chapter 4 has an eye to how best make sense of the creation passages in our Scientific age. Cootsona discusses creation narratives of Genesis 1-2, and other relevant passages.  Chapter 5, looks at  Adam and Eve and human history. Cootsona concludes this section on hermeneutics with 5 reflections on reading the Bible:

  1. We hold to the Bible because there we find our relationship to God through Jesus Christ.
  2. Although we seek integration, we need to  interpret Scripture with a sufficent dose of independence between science and faith when necessary
  3. The interests of the interpreter are critical to the task of interpretation [i.e. we bring ourselves to the text and engage it with critical realism]
  4. Science is not the sole arbitrator of truth.
  5. Our biblical interpretation is about learning to live with the narrative of Scripture (96-98).

These hermeneutical reflections help Christians navigate truth in science and Scripture while acknowledging that each has a peculiar lens for comprehending reality. Chapters 6 and 7 describe the gifts and limits of technology and chapter 8 concludes the book.

Interspersing these chapters are various case studies exploring: the New Atheism, Cognitive Science, the Big Bang and Fine Tuning, Intelligent Design and the problem of irreducible complexity, climate change, and human sexuality. If the chapters are more conceptual, these case studies explore the nature of the dialogue between faith and science as they relate to particular issues.

I didn’t have this book during my own emerging adulthood, but somehow I discovered that pressing into scientific questions (e.g. evolution, cosmology, geology) and adjusting how I understood particular passages, did not cause my faith in God to slide down a slippery slope toward secularism. For myself, it was exposure to Christians outside my narrow evangelical bubble that enabled me to make my peace with science, but certainly, a book like this would have been quite helpful. As an erstwhile and intermittent pastor, I appreciate the sound advice which Cootsona offers in guiding emerging adults to greater integration of science and faith. I particularly liked the emphasis on hermeneutics. I was reminded of one of my seminary professors saying, “When science and faith disagree, there is always a hermeneutical problem. Either we are misreading God’s Special Revelation (i.e., the Bible) or we are miss reading Creation. Or both.” Cootsona explores how to navigate the issues well (I did wish his chapters on technology probed the issues a little more, but this is a short book).

This is a book about science, but not really a science book. Cootsona mentions research and some important thinkers, but this is pretty accessible to us non-scientists. I give this four stars – ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Reading Barth with Charity: a book review

Certainly George Hunsinger is a charitable reader of Barth. You’d suspect so. He is well known as a Barth scholar and has been president of the Karl Barth Society of North America since 2003.  He knows Barth’s theology well and the subsequent literature on Barth.  However Reading Barth with Charity: a Hermeneutical Proposal takes aim at several less charitable readings. Namely, Hunsinger takes on the Neo-Barthian revisionists for misrepresenting Barth’s theology and then calling Barth ‘inconsistent.’ At issue is whether or not Barth believes, as classic theists do, that the Trinity is the antecedent to the election of Jesus Christ or subsequent to it. The revisionists say that the category of Christ’s election is of preeminent importance in Barth  and therefore gives shape to the economic Trinity. So Hunsinger takes on the major revisionists: Bruce McCormack, Paul Nimmo, and Paul Daffyd Jones.

In his introduction, Hunsinger summarizes what he means by reading with charity. What he is arguing for is a reading which seeks to understand Barth’s point of view, starts with the assumption of truth and internal coherence, seeks to resolve and seeks to resolve apparent contradictions (xii). Hunsinger identifies the following critera to assess the revisionist position:

  • Does it seek to understand Barth’s theology in its strongest form before subjecting it to fundamental criticism?
  • Has it truly sought to understand Barth before picking out supposed difficulties and contradictions?
  • If apparent contradictions are discerned (as they are), has an active attemt been made to resolve them in Barth’s favor?
  • If no such attempt has been made (as it has not), does not a certain presumption exist against this interpretation?
  • Finally, do the revisionists honor the principle of humanity, or do they seem to adopt an attitude of condescension toward the writer whose views they are considering?
  • In short, are the revisionists entitled to their key claim that Barth’s view on election and the Trinity, when taken as a whole, are “inconsistent”? (xiii-xiv).

One major  point that Hunsinger demonstrates is that the textual Barth (what Barth actually wrote) contradicts the revisionist claims about the Trinity and election. Hunsinger documents repeated statements from Barth as early as 1932 and as late as 1968, when Barth died, evidence that in Barth ‘election presupposes the Trinity, rather than constitute it (52).  The claims that the revisionists make of Barth’s inconsistency, seem to be (at least in how Hunsinger presents it) ways of dismissing the claims of this actual, textual Barth.

Hunsinger  identifies several points of agreement with the revisionists. He reads them charitably, though he vehemently disagrees with their reading of Barth and identifies points of sloppy reasoning. He praises them where he thinks they read well and sensitively (especially Jones, who advocates a soft revisionist position). Hunsinger also demonstrates Barth’s metaphysical eclecticism. Barth held, at least in some form, an Anselmian ‘Perfect-Being’ theology. However he also draws on the actualistic Hegelian model. He affirms a classical Chalcedonian account of the Incarnation, but not in  way that made the incarnation ‘static and immobile.’ There was an ongoing process of incarnation (162-63)

This is a book of analytical theology and the ordinary reader may wonder why it matters at which point in eternity God elected Jesus Christ as the savior of humanity. I think Hunsinger frames well what is at stake. If the election of the Son dictated the make up of the Trinity than the constitution of the Godhead is subsequent to the plan for human redemption. If the Trinity is presumed first than the Godhead acts in freedom to redeem humanity. This seems to be a more consistently Barthian claim and have a better rational basis. The Son exists in eternity as the logos asarkos before he is the incarnate one (logos ensarkos).

I give this book five stars because I think that it is a important scholarly book for clarifying Barth’s theology. No doubt the revisionists named by Hunsinger will make a response which will further the debate and clarify it further. If you are not aware of at least the broad contours of the debate you will find this book difficult despite its brevity (about a 180 pages). So I recommend this only for the serious student of Barth.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Baker Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Jesus and Holy Joe: a book review

A couple months back, my pastor was preaching through a series on the Joseph narratives in Genesis 37-50. So when I saw a new book by Voddie Baucham exploring the life of Joseph in a Christological key I thought it would be an interesting supplement to this sermon series. Unfortunately I didn’t get my copy of Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors until well after the series wrapped up, but reading this particular book before Christmas was also apt.

Baucham avoids many of the common pitfalls of interpreting Joseph. He does not mine the story for life lessons. He does not read it as a morality tale. Nor does he present Joseph’s struggles as an example of how we can secure God’s blessing from our own faithfulness. Baucham places Joseph within God’s redemptive history. While Joseph was used by God to save his family from famine, he also preserved God’s covenant with Abraham and paved the way for Jesus’ coming (through the line of Joseph’s brother Judah).

Baucham’s hermeneutic calls into question a bald literal-historical reading of scripture which says that the passage can only mean what it meant in its original context, for its original recipients. Instead he takes a theological-canonical approach to the Joseph narrative, drawing inspiration from how New Testament authors have read the Old Testament. This doesn’t mean he allegorizes and finds types of Christ everywhere within Genesis, though he does want us to recognize when they are there.  His entire project is to read the Old Testament in light of Christ.

Generally I found Baucham’s exegesis insightful and interesting. As a pastor-theologian, Baucham’s insights come from his own study of Joseph as he preached and taught through the text. I found myself in general agreement with his take. I was pleased that he picked up on the contradictions and growth in Judah and didn’t solely focus on Judah. This is not a full length commentary, but it has a lot of details for a short book.

My one small critique is that I think that Joseph’s story should be read for its moral implications as well. If he just looked at the Old Testament for life lessons and morality he would have missed the point, but that is there too. I agree with Baucham that the gospel of Christ is the key for a proper Christian understanding of the Hebrew Bible; yet sometimes in our zeal to avoid moralism we fail to grasp the moral implications of biblical narrative. We are invited to imitate the good and avoid the bad. Other writers who share Baucham’s Calvinist, Reformed perspective and general theological framework see the moral and ethical implications of Hebrew narrative, notably Gordon Wenham and Jason Hood. Baucham is right to lay emphasis on the gospel, but we can also learn from Joseph’s perseverance and tenacity without baptizing everything he says and does. This isn’t the main point of the passage, but it is still important.

That is really a small critique because the whole story of Genesis is not about what the patriarchs do, but about what God does with them. I recommend this book for Christians who wonder how they should approach the Old Testament. Baucham’s interprets Joseph well, but he also gives clues on how students of the Bible can approach other passages Christologically. In this way, Joseph is a kind of case study for biblical hermeneutics. Baucham helps us fill out redemptive history, showing how the patriarchs prepared the way for Christ’s coming. This is helpful for anyone trying to connect the events of individual Bible stories to God’s overarching story. I give this book 4 stars: ★★★★

Thank you to Crossway for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.