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Vibrant Dance 2: Blaising: What Is At Stake: A Call For Gracious Discourse

{RJW Note:  This is the text of the first plenary session at this weekend’s Vibrant Dance conference. In an effort to accurately relate the views of the speakers, I tried to obtain their notes and permission to share them directly whenever possible. Every speaker I approached was more than gracious, even giving me from their hands their notes with handwritten modifications. I am most grateful to these gentlemen.

This talk is from Dr. Craig Blaising, the Provost and Executive Vice President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX. He has very graciously updated and emailed his 45 minute talk to me to share with you. I have only made the most minor of edits to be consistent with the format generally used here, issues of spacing and paragraphs mostly. Below is his text and work, so this amounts to a guest post. Again, I am grateful for his willingness to share it so generously.

Dr. Blaising also served as the moderator for the talks and panel discussion, so this talk served as an introduction and setting of format for the entire conference, so having it verbatim is particularly important.}

The biblical doctrine of creation teaches that God, acting alone, freely, by His own will and power created all things—the entire universe, the heavens, the earth and all that is in them. He brought all of it into being out of nothing—no preexistent material, no prior stuff, matter or energy. And, what he brought into being out of nothing, he has shaped and formed, preserved, ordered and upheld as the world and universe in which we live, inclusive of our very own selves.
            God acted alone in creation
                        I am the Lord, who made all things,
                        Who alone stretched out the heavens,
                        Who spread out the earth by myself.

Neither is the universe or anything in it including ourselves or anything about ourselves an extension or division from, or portion of, God's own being, which is simply to say that there is nothing in and nothing about the universe that is in itself eternal or ontologically necessary—none of its powers, processes, or component parts. No part or aspect of the universe functions as or constitutes its ontological ground. All of it exists by a will and wisdom that is ontologically separate from it.

Vibrant Dance 2011: Day 2 Recap

Day 1 of the symposium was each of the speakers giving an in-depth introduction to their position. Day 2 was multiple opportunities for them to interact with each other in panel discussions. Each discussion had a main topic, but like any series of such discussions with the same players, the topics flowed back and forth across sessions.

The first panel topic was the strength and tensions of each interpretation. Topics ranged from whether Genesis 1 and 2 were one or two accounts of Creation to views of “myth” and the effects of hellenization on the Scriptures we have today to whether Creation is ex nihilo (from nothing) to the importance of the age of the earth in the accounts. Secondly, each speaker had an uninterrupted chance to talk about the implications of their individual positions on the core Christian doctrines. This actually finished slightly early, as there was a lot of “What he said,” as most were in general agreement on the idea that the important point is that God created, and regardless of how one reads the Creation accounts, there is a largely uniform and uncontested series of theological lessons about God’s character, the nature of nature and humanity, and humanity’s relationships with the Creation and with God. Some speakers therefore used their time to address other or deeper issues.

Vibrant Dance 2011: Day 1 Recap

Today was the first of the two day conference on the Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science, Theology Edition:  Creation—Biblical Options. All of the presenters come from more of a theological or philosophical background rather than a science background, so it was a change for me. I plan to give a short recap of each day’s sessions and in future posts discuss each of the talks I attended, so that it can be delivered in blog-sized bites.

There were seven plenary sessions and a breakout session interspersed with times of worship, breaks and meals. The first, by Dr. Craig Blaising, Provost and Executive Vice President of Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, set the tone by establishing a framework for discussion in terms of generally accepted principles of Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) and understanding knowledge (epistemology). He also laid out the importance of Creation as a Christian doctrine and the key questions that tend to come up in debate.

Dedication and Honor

Today we dedicated a building on campus to the man who was university President during its conception and building. Not only was he president, he is also a chemist who used to do research in the area that was a predecessor to the subject of the building, so it is appropriate on many levels.

It is nice to see people get honored for the work they do in this world, yet I continually find myself asking internally what the lasting value of it is. Is it just a hardier laurel wreath or will the good work so and so has done last beyond the memories of those present, and even longer, into eternity. I hope so.


Tuesday I was walking on campus and came upon a co-ed standing at the top of some steps and reading out loud from some document, much like some campus preachers read Scripture to passers-by. There was a guy with a camera filming her, and another guy who shoved a leaflet in my hand entitled, “What is a Free Thinker?”

Under that was the following:
free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Free thinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.”

“No one can be a free thinker who demands conformity to a bible [sic], creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”

30 Days of Praise

Today at the faculty fellowship, we had our regular time of prayer. One of the attendees shared something she recently started doing with some of the female faculty who meet regularly to pray—committed to something called 30 Days of Praise. Apparently it has its origins in a book of the same name. I’d never heard of it, but as it so often happens, this evening at a cousin’s house, I saw the book on her coffee table. It’s amazing what you see when you know it exists.

To An Unknown God

One of my favorite passages in the book of Acts is in chapter 17 when Paul visits Rome and preaches in the Areopagus to the intellectual elites of the city, telling how he saw an altar “To An Unknown God,” and how he was there to reveal that God—Jesus. Recently I came across this blogpost suggesting that America as a whole is now in a similar position. We have forgotten who the God is referred to in our pledge, our currency, and in our patriotic songs. Thus, in reaching out to our fellow Americans, we can adopt Paul’s Athens methodology.

I think it is a provocative idea and is a quick read with some great history about how that altar came to exist in the first place. What strikes me is that Paul was preaching to the intellectual elites of that culture, which when translated forward 2000 years corresponds to university faculty.

Here’s where the challenge begins. Paul acknowledges the deep spirituality of the Athenians as a precursor to his message, commenting on the vast numbers of gods in their pantheon. As I look over the current university pantheon, I see precious few deities, and either a severe animosity towards the Christian God (or anything that hints at Him) or an even more profound, even herculean effort to ignore Him. The basic academic pantheon consists of about three deities with different areas of campus honoring them in different proportions, based on area of study.

We have Knowledge, sometimes called Science, whose gender identity is generally ambiguous.

Repentance of a Food Skeptic

I urge you to watch the video above. It’s 18:27 long, but it is really over at about 18 minutes. When I was in college about 20 years ago, I began to hear about “organic food.” As a chemist, the term, then and now both, bugs me for dozens of reasons. My initial reaction beyond that was intense skepticism of something promoted by wild-eyed hippie types who were just being disestablishmentarian. That view has only slowly eroded over 20 years, but it is largely (not completely, though) washed away.

This erosion has been due to more and more folks learning more and more about how the food industry works and the unintended consequences of otherwise logical decisions, based on good, but incompletely tested scientific research. It has also been based on personal experience.

Who is the Church?

In John 17, Jesus prays one of His longest prayers—that for the unity of the Church to be identical to the unity between the Father and the Son. It also seems to be the one the Father has most likely (as far as appearances go) answered with a resounding “No.”

Skeptics have for centuries cited various divisions, sects, and denominations within Christendom as evidence against its veracity. I’ve always felt that these ‘divisions’ were like the various organs of a body, in accord with Paul’s descriptions of the Church being one Body with different parts, but unified in purpose…just seemingly suffering from some sort of auto-immune disease caused by human nature and the actions of the Adversary.


Tonight I was at a party celebrating the 40th anniversary of some dear friends. They greatly helped me out when I needed it a couple of years ago. Coincidentally, there were about 40 people there tonight. (I didn’t count, but it is a reasonable estimate.)

Tony and Felicity have hardly wasted their lives. They have worked together to build a strong business, a series of books, a global house church ministry, and dozens if not hundreds of house churches. Somewhere in all of that, they raised four amazing children to adulthood, all of whom are successful in their many ventures, including seven grandchildren with one more on the way. They have lived generously and graciously, and I have been blessed to come under the radiant shadow of those blessings.

At the party was a lot of visiting, feasting on fajitas, toasts, cake, slideshow of their lives, and prayer over them. At one point, after having people show their gratitude and praise, I reflected on how much of their lives they have eagerly given to others, yet without diminishing their own relationship. I think it is how they have worked so well together inviting others into their lives. I don’t think they even view it as “giving their time.” Rather, it comes across as living life together with people. If you give your time away, there is a sense of having lost it, of not being able to do what you want to do with it.

Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science 2: Theology Edition

Starting next Friday, October 28 through the 29 at Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Houston, TX is the Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science Symposium, Theology Edition. The topic this year is Creation:  Biblical Options—A Gracious Dialogue. Details can be found at

Last year, the conference was a combination of scientists and theologians talking primarily about “old-earth creationism” and “theistic evolution.” This year there is a panel of theologians discussion all three primary interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2 (young earth, old earth and theistic evolution). From the flyer:

Genesis 1 & 2:
                One Creation, different interpretations;
                Different interpretations, different tensions

                How does this affect the body of Christ?
                How does this impact you and yours?

The featured speakers are: Todd Beall, Craig Blaising, Walter Kaiser (from last year’s symposium), John Mark Reynolds, Bruce Waltke, John Walton (also from last year) and others.

If you are in the area, come! I will be blogging from the conference with more detailed posts to follow, just like last year, so check back often.


Study Abroad

One of the side projects I have is to help science students study abroad in Europe. I am passionate about it because of my study abroad experience as a student spending the summer in the former Soviet Union as it transitioned to become Russia and the former Soviet republics. In addition to being a study abroad trip, I took a bunch of Russian New Testaments and other literature in Russian with me, making it into a summer missions trip as well.

As faculty we have the opportunity to encourage our Christian students to take advantage of similar opportunities, both as undergrads and graduate students. One way to do this is to model it in our international travel as well. Ministries such as Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) and others like to work with faculty so that when they are travelling abroad, they have opportunities to speak about their faith in addition to their research. It turns out that many foreign countries, even ‘closed’ ones are far more open to such discussions from American faculty than American universities are.

So when you travel for conferences or as a visiting scholar, contact campus ministries with whom you have relationships at your home campus to find out what activity and people they have at or near your host campus(es) and they will help you make contact. When you have a Christian student in your classes or research area, encourage them to do the same and even join you on your trips as an assistant. It will be an incredible mentoring time, and great encouragement for the both of you.


Fringe Benefits

Three days ago, I posted about an assignment I give where students write a one-page essay on “What I want to do with my life.” One of the fringe benefits is that since I frame it as a life essay rather than a career essay, we get to often go deeper than their 9 to 5 dreams and priorities. In particular, a few students each semester share how their relationship with Christ is a driving factor for them or some other reference to their faith.

I am always thrilled with this, because since they bring it up, it becomes fair game for an open conversation between us, and it is usually mutually encouraging (Romans 1:12). They are excited to learn about an instructor at the big school who shares their faith, and I’m glad to be able to let students know where I stand, and hopefully it spreads to other students for their encouragement. They are especially encouraged that it is a science instructor who is a Christian because there is an attitude sometimes that ‘you can’t be a scientist and a Christian,’ so it is a relief to find out that isn’t true.

The Power of Myth

According to, a myth is “a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.

Ancient myths endure and contemporary ones spring up because they are stories that reveal something about us and or resonate with our experience, usually lifting us to a higher level of awareness of what we can be, urging us on to higher, nobler things. That is why Christ taught in parables, because the medium of a story engages both the head and the heart.

A challenge exists that all such accounts with the appearance of myth must therefore be categorized as such with the inherent assumption that it is merely a story with little if any historical veracity, though culturally and morally valuable. Joseph Campbell is one of the most well-known advocates of this idea. He maintained that the similarities among the various mythologies spanning the many cultures of the world, both in form and substance, were indicative of a common human condition that inspired similar narratives.

Duality of Wisdom

To continue thoughts from my previous post on training students for the impersonal expectations in the working world, I struggle with being the bad cop, busting their chops for what seem like peccadilloes. In grad school, my roommates called me “Mr. Soft Love.” They would not so name me now. I am much harder, more “Mr. Tough Love.”

As followers of Christ, we are not called to be nice, we are called to be good, holy and righteous. But I would rather be nice. Yet, it goes deeper than that.


As most of my students are upperclassmen and many are within a year of graduation, I do an unusual assignment for a lab course. They are to “write a one-page essay titled, ‘What I Want To Do With My Life’ and email it to me, after which we meet one-on-one to discuss it.” It is a very popular assignment as many of them express frustration with how often they are asked that question and struggle with how to answer it, so they are eager to discuss it.

What they don’t realize is how many other "meta" lessons are wrapped up in how I do the assignment—lessons on following directions, common sense, learning to apply what they have learned when they aren’t given directions.

Like a Man Among Grasshoppers

Tonight, Professor of Philosophy Dan Bonevac spoke on the topic of John Calvin’s philosophy to a group of grad students with whom I am involved. He showed how Calvin developed a dual philosophy on the nature of humanity, one based on how we were created pre-Fall, and one to describe how we are different post-Fall.

One of the characteristics of his post-Fall philosophy is that humanity’s ability to discern accurately vertical attributes (those about God) were all but destroyed, and those that are horizontal (interactions between humans and between us and Creation) were twisted, weakened, and diminished. To the extent we can make any good choices, it is solely due to the grace from God, perhaps through the concept of common grace, like the rain or other blessings that all can enjoy whether they know God or not (although the common grace aspect was not discussed explicitly).

As I sat listening to the talk on this topic, the picture came to my mind of fallen humanity as the stubble of a mown hayfield with God having the stature of a Himalayan mountain. I started thinking then of how our understanding of morality is so limited and how easily we can find ourselves in moral conundrums where godly people can logically and scripturally come to very different, and even opposite conclusions (i.e.—pacifist versus just war theorist versus some other variation).

Following Which Design Plan?

Part of my wing of the chemistry building is nearing the completion of a year-long renovation project. As my teaching lab is moving to the ‘new’ space, I gave the architects detailed plans for how I wanted the space built out, to scale, using industry standard design software, and gave them both hard and electronic copies of the design. You know where this is heading.

A Little Child to Lead Us

Today, I came across the story of Garvan Byrne, a child born in England in 1973, with a disease that ultimately took his life at age 12. What is remarkable about Garvan was the maturity of faith, outlook, poise, and nearly everything else he displayed. He did a television interview shortly before his death, and you see the form of a small boy, younger than his years, but the eloquence, faith, poise and maturity that pours from his heart is that of an 80 year old. Below are 4 videos of that interview. The first is an 8 minute edited version if you really don’t have the time. But I urge you to take the 22 minutes to see all three parts of the full interview. It has interviews with his parents and shows something of life and medicine of 30 years ago.

The Decline of Collegiality

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress.”
II Timothy 3:1

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Hebrews 10:24-25

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat--for He grants sleep to those He loves.”
Psalm 127:2

“I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.”
John 10:10b

I have a question for those faculty in their later years—how does faculty collegiality and interaction today compare to what you experienced early in your career?

If it is anything like what I’ve heard from my conversations with others, you will probably say that there is no comparison. Faculty are largely isolated from each other and the enjoyment of a relaxed conversation about various topics, both scholarly and otherwise is virtually non-existent.

Part of the idea of scholarship is the informal chatting over tea or coffee about ideas and research. This has been replaced with the ‘departmental seminar,’ where there is a few minutes for coffee and donuts and then sitting to listen to an outside speaker drone about their research for an hour with a few minutes for questions. If you are lucky, the speaker spends their day moving from office to office for a few minutes conversation, and then maybe a handful go out to dinner for more discussion, but more often than not, folks show up, get some caffeine to help fight drowsiness then back to their office to sit at a computer for a few more hours and the talk leaves the mind forever.

A Prayer Request

Tonight’s post is a bit unusual, and somewhat bittersweet for me. I have been leading the faculty ministry at UT for several years now, and it seems to be slipping away rather than strengthening. (Perhaps the answer is as simple as the leadership or lack thereof, who knows? I’m willing to admit that possibility.) Therefore, I am asking you to please pray for the faculty at UT, and for us to have wisdom to see how God would work through us to minister to faculty and the campus.

This is not a one-off prayer request to toss one up while you read it and then forget, though I’m sure God listens to those, too. (I hope so as I’ve done it plenty of times myself.) This is a request for a repeated, fervent, long-term commitment to see God transform the faculty, believing and non-believing alike.

I am not asking for prayer for the ministry known as Christian Faculty Network—there is only one Kingdom here, and I’m not the monarch. This is a request for God to move more in reaching this group of people bound by the moniker of UT Austin. The well-advertised motto here is, “What starts here changes the world.” If that is the case, then how important must it be for the things to start here to have eternal value and impact.

Thank you.


It’s Those Little Things

My taxes seem to be one of the things I’m worst about procrastinating on in spite of my best intentions, and the extension is up this coming Saturday. I use the time to catch up on reconciling everything from the year, assess personal finances, etc., so it’s more than just filling out some @#$@#$$%^^%$$ forms. (emphasis on the $$$$)

As I was recording receipts for the year this weekend, I noticed I was missing a lot from several months due to the relative size of the stacks. I found them quickly and when I pulled them from the folder, the size of the pile made my heart sink.

Kingship Authority

I was chatting online with someone today about the challenges of being a pastor. (He is one, not me.) It occurred to me in our conversation that one of the bigger challenges was simply the fact that we are American, and our “rugged individualism” leads us to question and diminish authority. Thus, pastoral urgings and attempts to shepherd folks closer to Christ meet more resistance than they might elsewhere or in other times. American sheep tend to have teeth! Preaching on Biblical commands and principles are viewed at best as suggestions, instead of an opportunity to repent and let one’s life be transformed. Just because I’m aware of this doesn’t mean I’m not guilty myself—I’m just as much a product of my culture as anyone else.

The implication then struck me that it will be interesting to see the attitude adjustment we will have as Americans when we find ourselves physically in the very presence of the King! Democracy? Hah! I'm sure I'll be in that group saying, "Oh! That's what kingship means..."