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Vibrant Dance: Communicating Theology/Science and Theology Issues

There were three panel discussions at the conference, one on Wednesday morning, and two on Thursday morning, of which this is the second. I was generally able to summarize each statement made by each speaker, and so will present these as summarizing transcripts. Each speaker will be identified by their initials, listed after their name below. The listing below comes as presented in the symposium program. My comments will be bracketed.

This panel was entitled, “Panel Discussion and Q&A with Speakers: The Vibrant Dance of Faith & Science:  Communicating to our Churches, Communicating to our Cultures – Theology/Science and Theology Issues,” and was moderated by Larry Coulter (Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church). Panelists were Rob Norris (RN), John Walton (JW), Jack Collins (JC), Walter Kaiser (WK), Tremper Longman (TL) (Westmont College) and Hugh Ross (HR). {Ross Hastings fell ill, and left early, but was supposed to be on the panel.}

Start transcript summary.

LC—This is more of a theological rather than scientific panel; Let’s look at three areas of interest among congregations—1) Genesis 1-11 & miracles, 2) practical applications of science, and 3) sharing the faith with highly educated folks.  How do you make decisions about the boundary of science as a person of faith?

JC—Certain ethical things are universal.

RN—Two steps in making these decisions-1) inform yourself on the nature of the involved issues , but that’s hard in all the complexities of the field, so get help being informed from those in the field with and to whom you want to minister and/or dialogue; 2) in areas where there are concerns, it is partially due to a lack of policing (bioethics-end of life issues/beginning of life issues, etc.) so need constant dialog between parishioners and between practitioners. {& between both groups}

HR—What can we do in churches to get scientists and engineers to be more active in fulfilling the work of the church?

LC—How do you do it?

HR—Active recruiting of them to teach and be involved in life of church, which also helps lowers barriers.

JC—We had one medical researcher in our church declare that the theologians WILL NOT tell them {scientists} what to do and they will do the research they want to do, regardless of what the theologians think is appropriate.

LC—{New topic} How does science interact with the cross and empty tomb?

JW—We need to be able to separate different parts of issues; how to evaluate what claims Scripture is actually trying to make. While there can be some variation in the OT claims, the cross/resurrection is very clear about its claims.

TL—Genesis 1-11 is one of the most difficult sections to interpret, so we need to be solid on the things that are truly clear (i.e. God did it). Encourage dialog.

WK—The author’s intentionality has been a big issue for last 50 years, but we also need to just point to text and determine the truth intention; pastors need to be able to show, “Thus saith the Lord,” and give the parishioners real direction. The theological community is reluctant to engage in discussion on the science/faith debate. {It sounds like Kaiser is calling the clergy/seminary community to man up and take a stand in grace and truth.}

HR—How can we use these issues to bridge the science/faith gap to bring others to the cross?

RN—Scripture not about creation alone. Forgetting this can cause us to lose the perspective that Creation is the beginning of the story and Revelation is the end of story—the REAL story is of Redemption (of which Creation is the introduction). Isolating Genesis 1-11 cuts it off from the cross and creates division, and loses the Divine perspective. Exegesis needs to be informed by systematic theology. {Major on the majors and minor on the minors, maybe? Perhaps we will be more successful in evangelism to all types of folks if we don’t ourselves get wrapped around the axle with secondary issues.}

TL—They {exegesis and systematic theology} inform each other and it is a great reminder!

WK—Told the following joke:  A Sunday School teacher asked her class, “What climbs trees, eaths nuts and has a bushy tail?” The class was silent, and obviously puzzled for a long time. She kept encouraging the children to answer the question. Finally, one kid tentatively piped up. “I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel.” {I guess his point was that folks tend to think that as Christians, only certain perspectives are acceptable, even when common sense and common knowledge seem to disagree.}

TL—If things are differently clear, it raises challenging questions. {?}

HR—Shouldn’t we continue to seek out clarity?

TL—Yes, but we also need to be honest about what we do/don’t know.

WK—Even Peter said the same about Paul J; Jesus and Peter tend to have things to say about whatever is in the Scripture—God put everything in Scripture for a reason. Theologians need to be more risky/bold in directing interpretation of Scripture just like scientists are about science. {There it is again, “Man up!”}

LC—{New topic} How do we handle miracles?

JW—God is involved in everything. There is No secular/sacred separation, so ancient world didn’t have a class for miracles—they were signs and wonders—you can’t intervene in something you are already doing and they saw everything as being the activity of God. {GREAT point!! I think this disconnect occurred as we started trying to understand natural mechanisms as a separate and independent field from theology/philosophy, and forgot to reintegrate that framework back into a theological superstructure.}

RN—The nature of miracles fits into the doctrine of Providence, so doesn’t have a unique scientific designation.

JC—Disagrees with JW a little, in that miracles describe things a little out of the ordinary, but need to be careful about semantics.

HR—Not all miracles are transcendent, many are transformational—God takes the resources and laws of physics and manipulates them with His intelligence.

LC—{New topic} What is the origin of the soul/imago Dei?

HR—The Hebrew indicates to him that there is direct divine action in the creation of humanity.

JC—We need to settle some definitional issue. What do we mean by soul and image of God? How do we image God—through similar characteristics? As relational beings? By being His representatives? Why not all 3? The embodied soul is a representation of the image of God, so the body is not less important than the soul.

WK—A magazine in the 50’s had an article that said science has found the human soul in the brain. He thinks imago Dei is the ability to speak/communicate, to have dominion, to love, intelligence, the capacity for or awareness of holiness/righteousness, etc.

JW—Tying the physiological with the physical is fraught with difficulty. Should we not focus on imago Dei in terms of his purposes?

TL—{made a comment on a Hebrew interpretation by another panel member}

RN—Christ is the very image of God, so we are made by and for God and Christ is the embodiment of our destiny.

TL—We display the image Dei best in our resurrected bodies, so we don’t just look forward to heaven.

LC—{New topic} Youth directors are the primary purveyors of the faith and college ministries too. How do we equip these folks to deal with students who are dealing with learning the sciences?

JW—We try to give students answers, instead of models for thinking. This needs to change. We also give students the idea they must choose between science and faith, and so they choose science. So we need to tell them that it isn’t a choice they have to make. We need to push education to youth pastor conferences etc. about science/faith issues.

JC—Agrees. We need to recognize that redemption is a restoration of Creation. God is not embarrassed by our curiosity, so we need to encourage it. We also tend to leave out the enjoyment of God and his creativity as we enjoy and express ours.

RN—Gave 3 pictures of what he’s done in his church over 20 years:  1) he created a Sunday School curriculum from junior high through college—gospel, hermeneutics, sense of doctrine along with an age appropriate apologetic; 2) they teach teachers to develop the curriculum theologically; and 3)prepare high schoolers before they go to college, giving them a conference on applied apologetics to provide them with ability to defend the faith in different situations—teach them there is nothing that is true that is contradictory with the nature of Christ.

HR—We need to really upgrade the intellectual challenge of Sunday School materials for our children, not just tell them answers, but get them to discuss, debate, think through and equip them to engage their peers from early on.

End Transcript summary.


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