Sunday, January 31, 2010

Christ and cross centered ethics

Unless our ethics are grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ, they will either fluctuate from one extreme to the other. On the one extreme our ethics will become so divorced from any concrete grounding that they will become completely relativized. Ethics in this scenario becomes entirely culturally conditioned and has no center. On the other hand, if our ethics has a center apart from the person and work of Christ, even if biblically based, then it becomes too concrete and cannot adapt to the vast variety of cultural contexts spanning human history. That kind of ethics ends up becoming a one size fits all model that forces the facts on the ground to be twisted and contorted in order to fit them into that rigid system.

In contrast to these two extremes, Christ and cross centered ethics offers up a grounding of ethics in the life lived by Christ as our model exemplar. Even the previous revelation given to the Israelites through the law of Moses is seen in a new light because of Christ's incarnation. He both fulfills the law, thus satisfying its demands, but also gives an even higher standard than what the law called for as taught by Moses and the rabbis.

But finally, Christ on the cross gives us a full grounding of our ethics in a way that no other system can ever give. The reason for this incomparability is because Christ on the cross isn't a system, it's a person, God the Creator, entering into history through the person, Jesus of Nazareth, in order to redeem an estranged creation. All of history, whether human or otherwise, is impacted by this radical intervention by our Creator God. No part of creation is exempt from this and thus everything has ethical implications, whether our personal ethics, our political ethics, our economic ethics, or our environmental ethics, which includes both our interactions with the animal and the plant world.

As creaturely beings, along with the rest of creation, we have been radically impacted by this intervention by God through Christ Jesus. God began the work of restoration with Christ's resurrection. It will find its consummation with his return when all things will be made new. That day is not yet here, but we have been given a model in Christ's life, death and resurrection. We partake of his kingdom work when we enter into the mystery of his sacrificial life and death, knowing that we live because he died and lived again. The women and men who surrounded him during his ministry, and whose eyes were opened to who he is, were radically transformed by this new reality. They went from hardened disbelief and arrogance to living lives of self sacrificial service to each other and to all around them. This transformation in their lives proved to be more powerful than anything Rome or Jerusalem could ever wield. That is the same transformation that we have available today if we would only see him for who he is and what he has truly affected.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pray for Michael Spencer (Internet Monk)

Please keep Michael Spencer, also known as the Internet Monk, in your prayers. He's been diagnosed with cancer and is beginning chemo next week. For those of you who may not know Michael or his writing, he's been a prolific blogger who has been a tremendous blessing to the church, even when he's critiquing the church's failings. In fact, that's when he's been the biggest blessing. This is the biggest challenge Michael has faced and he needs fervent prayer, both for healing, but also for his emotional health. Also, please pray for provision for Michael and Denise, as this sickness has cost him his job at the school and his health insurance runs out next month. Please, if you can, give a gift of whatever size to help them out. Just link onto the chemo link above and you'll see how to contribute. His ministry has enriched my life, and many many others, greatly. Help if you can. He's a brother in need and Christ has called us to bear each others burdens. This is an opportunity to do just that.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What would be the theological impact if we found extraterrestrial life?

I just read a short piece on the BBC's website about how we're more likely than ever to find some sort of alien life forms off of planet earth. As Christians, what would be the impact on our theology? In particular, how would it impact our understanding of our uniqueness as creatures made in the image of God as distinct from the rest of the earthly creation? In popular fiction as well as in various 3rd kind encounters, not to mention abduction accounts, the aliens always look remarkably like us. I believe, by the way, that this is a typical anthropomorphism of our hopes and fears and most likely has no basis in actual reality, but ascribing humanesque qualities to otherworldly creatures. Since westerners largely don't believe in angels anymore, aliens have taken their place. Nonetheless, if there are planets orbiting other stars similar to our own sun that are themselves similar to our own planet earth, and the universe is as vast as we've come to understand, then it makes sense to expect that some form of sentient life forms must have developed on those planets as it has here. And since our planet and star seem to be relatively average in comparison to what we've discovered so far, it seems pretty obvious that it's just as likely that other worlds have evolved just as much as ours if not more so. So with this in mind, if (and I would say when) a new world is discovered that has biological life, what does that do to our understanding of the Biblical text? Are the Judeo-Christian scriptures able to handle this kind of development? I would say that it can. But then again, I'm a Christian. I would say that. Christianity, after all, survived the Copernican revolution. And it seems to be surviving the Darwinian revolution as well, though with some bumps in the journey. Will Christianity adapt to and survive the exo-biological revolution?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Rise of the Evangelical Evolutionists

It used to be that the terms evangelical and evolutionist were oxymoronic. If you were one, then you obviously couldn't be the other. Evangelicals generally were seen as being the stalwarts of biblical authority, and in light of that authority most evangelicals held to some form of direct (or directed) creation by God of all that currently exists in the world. Some held to the young earth view, which sees the earth and the cosmos as being only thousands of years old, because that's considered by them to be the most plain sense reading of the early chapters of Genesis. Other evangelicals accepted that the earth and the cosmos are much older, as in billions of years older, but nonetheless still held to a form of creationism, which, though divided by their various views in the details, nevertheless all agree in rejecting Darwinian evolution as the explanatory framework to how speciation has come about. Some accept a limited form of evolution, such as micro-evolution, but reject macro-evolution. Some go so far as to accept a limited macro-evolution, but reject that humans are part of that equation, saying instead that humans were specially created by God distinct from all other creatures. And in more recent years, there has been the very popular movement called Intelligent Design or ID for short. They've argued that they accept an ancient earth and cosmos. They also accept limited evolutionary activity, but that certain physiological functions are so complex that Darwinian evolution cannot satisfactorily explain them. Thus these functions are deemed to be "irreducibly complex" as so only an "intelligent designer" can explain their existence.

On the other side of the aisle are the evolutionists.Traditionally they've been seen as holding to scientific materialism. And some certainly do. We need look no further than the New Atheists to see that at work. Though to be fair to many who do hold to scientific materialism, most are not as crass, provocative and dogmatic (dare I say fundamentalistic?) as Dawkins, Hitchens, or Harris. These are the loudest voices, and of course they're going to get the most press, if only because of their offering up the neat dichotomy of faith versus reason. Once again, it offers up the comforting bromide that if you're a person of faith, reason must necessarily be checked at the door, and if you're a person of reason, faith is seen as the foolish superstition that holds poor men and women in its insidious grip for far too long, keeping them in the dark (ages) about origins, sex, and anything else that helps us to actualize our expressive individuality.

But there are those who have advocated for the evolutionary viewpoint who consider themselves to be Christian, or at least theistic. Some have been relatively orthodox in their views, but in many cases, those arguing for the evolutionary viewpoint have come from the mainline denominations and have been considered to be liberal in their theological perspective. To be "liberal" in theological circles, whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, is to so reconcile the scriptural narrative to modern science as to rob it of any supernatural content, such as miracles, the direct action of God on the natural world contrary to how natural laws normally work. Once again, in each of these cases, the false dichotomy has been offered up that faith and reason are diametrically opposed to each other. Theological liberals are guilty of giving up too much to the scientific materialists. Too often theological liberals have ceded clear language of miracles to naturalistic explanations when the writer clearly understood the event in supernaturalistic terms.

Part two coming up.