A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

An evangelist for Campus Crusade wrote a piece recently claiming that evangelicalism is unpopular because it makes the basic claim that it knows the truth. It's hard to gauge the issue of popularity, though evangelicalism has already succeeded in becoming the dominant religious and political movement in this country. And it's hard to see how such folks are going "against the current" on cultural issues such as gay marriage.

I also have my doubts that relativism, in practice, is as pervasive as this piece suggests. In any case, my argument with evangelicalism is not that they make truth claims, but that they have largely undercut the possibilities by which increasing knowledge can be secured. That is it is their lack of committment to the best methods we have at gaining truth is the problem. Much of this can be seen in the continual fights over the relation of science and religion.

Southern Baptist Seminary has discontinued it's program of integrating modern psychology with Christian counseling. It's being remade into a "biblical" counseling program where students will no longer receive the training neccessary for licensing or certification by professional organizations or state agencies. The school also now denies credit to students who have received clinical pastoral education in "secular" contexts.

These moves were done in response to the SBC convention's resolutions against "man made" theories as opposed to those found in "God's word" As one former student noted, this "movement away from science reveals a lack of faith, or at least a fear that somehow science is outside the realm of God's creation and domain". That is, there is lack of trust that God can speak to us in any context outside of the church, pitting the sciences and other disciplines against faith.

And there's the continued fights over evolution versus intelligent design in the k-12 public schools. The ID movement is going after universities as well. The problem with ID is that it fails to produce a theory of origins or testable hypotheses. It's rather a place holder for the unknown. The problem, as Bonhoeffer noted, is this produces a God of the gaps which continues to shrink with increasing knowledge. It certainly does nothing to further knowledge. And without such a committment what does it mean to "follow the truth"?

When I was an undergrad in InterVarsity I was told to be fearful of the humanities and philosophy professors because you might hear theories which could shake your faith. But a world where the sciences, historical work, etc. is to be feared or shuffeled off to the corner so as to not touch religious faith became untenable to me. I wanted to live in a unified world, where knowledge from any area could be welcomed, made sense out of, integrated. It was the mainline, not evangelicalism that allowed me to do this.

In the word of William Ernest Hocking: We wish to bring our religion at least into the same universe with our science and have them speak with the same voice when they verge upon the same great questions of human destiny. And surely as any one person rides one consecutive route of experience through time, so surely must all truth that belongs to one person come to the same court and enter into the same total system of his world.


At 10:12 PM , Blogger virusdoc said...

Great post. You hit the nail on the head with respect to the relationship of science and evangelicalism. I deal with this almost daily as a liberal christian biologist, particularly with the Design inference.

WRT to the "unpopularity" of evangelicalism, it isn't so much the claim to Truth that bothers me, per se. It's the absolute arrogance of evangelical biblical literalists--in assuming that their language, culture, and historical perspective wouldn't radically interfere with interpreting "God's word" even if it WERE penned directly by the Deity--that I can't stomach. This shows a complete disregard for everything we know about the vagaries of human thought and knowing.

The other secular forms of knowing to which you allude at least incorporate self-correcting mechanisms into their epistemologic methods, such as peer review and independent reproducibility. This is far from perfect (as the postmodern critiques of western science are quick to point out) but it's at least a start, and probably the best we can do.

At 4:16 AM , Anonymous Tim said...

Well said indeed.

Yeah, I've also heard the idea that studying theology at uni can cause loss of faith. Hmmm. So if someone's faith can't cope with posing a bunch of questions, isn't it better that it be shaken up? Or isn't it just an incentive to go in there with an attitude of bloody-mindedness and say `I am *still* going to emerge a Christian, even if I have to think hard how to remain one' (the horror!)?

And I think virusdoc has also got it spot-on. Best to acknowledge that one's brain is involved in every decision one makes, as it should be given that we have free will, than to set up some faux state where everything is `God told me to..' or similar.

At 8:46 AM , Blogger Merseymike said...

I think evangelicalism finds it difficult to deal with the world as it is, so creates its own reality and structures to attempt to shut the world out. Look at an organisation like NARTH - entirely discredited by the discipline it claims to operate within, but exists to create 'evidence' which will match the evangelical world view.

I do wonder whether in their heart of hearts , they know it is nonsense, hence the need to set up these sort of bunkers where they feel safe and uncontradicted?

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