Virtueonline offers a refreshing take on ‘Biblical Certainty’

On the Bible and Science: Preliminary Principles Associated with God‘s Revelatory Purposes

By Bruce E. Atkinson PhD
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
August 27, 2012

My writing here was stimulated by the excellent review article (“Some Reflections on Enns and The Evolution of Adam: A Review Essay”) in Themelious by Hans Madueme. I felt it appropriate to weigh in on this issue since I think I qualify to have an “expert” opinion. I am a Christian who is also a scientist of sorts (psychologist), who has taken philosophy of science courses and holds a Master’s of Science degree in research from a secular institution (Illinois State U), who completed his formal doctoral training at an evangelical Christian institution (Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Psychology), and who has struggled with these particular issues his whole adult life. – BEA

Let me begin by reminding the reader of a biblical reality: God did not tell Abraham everything, nor did He tell Moses, nor David, nor Solomon. God has kept information from even His chosen people for some excellent teleological reasons. I submit that the Old Testament scriptures are designed to set us up, to prepare us for receiving the ultimate truths about God, Jesus Christ, and salvation as we find in the New Testament. At the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul writes:

Now to Him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him- 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen. (Romans 16:25-27, cf. Colossians 1:26-27; to find many similar references in the NT, especially in Ephesians, use the key word “mystery”).

To extend the words of the sage in Ecclesiastes 3, I believe there is a time to reveal knowledge and a time to keep knowledge hidden. Why does God keep some information hidden? There must be a number of reasons, but allow me to share at least one.

If I were asked by a five year old about where babies came from, what would I say? (I happen to have some well-written picture books for his age on the subject-which helps to get grownups like me off the hook.) But it is clear how we should do it: we keep the information at his developmental level of comprehension. We keep it simple but true and we gloss over a lot of the details, almost to the point of deception-because intellectually he will not be able to understand it, and emotionally he just isn’t ready to deal with all of the ramifications.

Now let’s generalize this principle to God and His immature human creations, especially many thousands of years in the past when the OT ideas were originally received and then later written as scripture. This developmental principle is why we find the creation stories in the book of Genesis to be so simple and unscientific; they are true in generality but have none of the specific details that many of us would like to see.

The book of Genesis indicates that the creation of the universe occurred in stages, from the simple to the more complex, with human beings being the “crown of creation.” Human beings were created using both humble elements (clay) and divine elements (breath of God). Through the rebellion of the first man, Adam (and his “one flesh” helpmeet Eve), they fell from their lofty position in relationship with God. Modern people are the living extensions of these first sinners, biologically, psychologically, and spiritually. These essential truths are infinitely more important than any scientific details regarding how exactly God accomplished this creation or what other human-like creatures existed in the time of Adam. To focus on such details is to miss the point. God accomplished Creation and did it for own His divine purposes. The first humans sinned; thereafter, God has wisely informed, convicted, informed, forgiven, informed, redeemed, informed and transformed humans as a part of these divine purposes. As Jesus told us, true information can set us free, and this “good news” information is now available. With completion of our Great Commission from Jesus, they will be available to everyone.

I believe that many people have a nefarious (if unconscious) purpose in obsessing on the assorted scientific details: it distracts potential believers from these saving truths.

The Bible is absolutely true and authoritative, even if God the Author has passed on his revelations through His imperfect human instruments. Being chosen for this purpose, they have accomplished God’s will. However, (clearly from my point of view) the Bible was never intended to be a scientific manual on cosmology, physics, time measurement, chemistry, biology, or even psychology (although it says a lot about fallen human nature). It is primarily about the history and destiny of the relationship between God and humankind. When seeking to repair my kitchen plumbing, I may pray for guidance (I need it.), but the Bible will be of no help in the repair job. When it comes to most of the questions that fall under the umbrella of science, I am not going to look for answers in the scriptures. Answering such questions is not among the purposes of the scriptures.

The Bible is about human beings because it was written to and for us (with our willing participation). It tells us that we were made in His image, with the capacity for choice beyond that of other creatures; it tells us about our fall, our potential redemption, and our ultimate destiny (glory or separation). In terms of the Mosaic Law and its NT refinements, it also has a purpose of teaching us moral right from wrong (confirming our consciences, clarifying our choices). The Bible is a love letter from God so that humans can become more than just stubbornly fallen creatures and so that they can be transformed into His children. That is enough for one book, don’t you think?

Following the “special revelation” that is the Holy Scriptures, almost as an afterthought, God also attended to “natural revelation.” He made sure that humans, as a result of their God-given curiosity, would eventually discover the details of their world (scientific facts), so that they could better interact with it and protect it-as its stewards. Because all truth is God’s truth, and because God is sovereign, He has been intimately involved in directing the scientific enterprise from its beginning. Even if it does not always seem so due to the misinformation of those who would take God out of the pursuit of natural knowledge, God remains in control.

But it is also true that empirical science is not just about facts, it always promotes hypotheses and theories. These theories are continually changed and updated by new facts and more plausible interpretations of the facts. With regard to spiritual things, progressive revelation (as in revisionism) is questionable, but in science it is what it is all about. Scientists discover new facts and revise their theories accordingly. Who knows what will be discovered tomorrow that will change how we understand the physical universe? This is not so for spiritual things-because scripture has once and for all delivered the essential realities, even many truths that were once clouded mysteries. Whatever esoteric information is left to be revealed is not crucial for our salvation, and nothing new that God reveals will contradict what has already been revealed. God does not change (Malachi 3:8, Hebrews 13:8) and He doesn’t contradict Himself (Ps 33:11, James 1:17).

These basic points must be kept in mind whenever we allow the scriptures to interact with science. If we do so, then we can present God’s truth in such a manner that it will reduce the quarreling between conservative, evangelical Christians and secularly-minded scientists. To get caught up in unimportant details is to “not see the forest for the trees.” We must always keep “the big picture” in mind.

Because some Christians do not understand these basic principles of human development and divine revelation, and because they want to make the Bible into something it was never intended by God to be, they actually make Christians and their Bible appear ridiculous and make it harder for evangelism to be successful in a scientifically sophisticated culture. Remember what God shared with us through the prophet Isaiah (55:8-11):

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

In summary, the Bible is completely authoritative because it was inspired by the Author of everything. But we must remember the fallen and immature nature of the creatures He has been addressing and also His ultimate revelatory purposes in the salvation of humanity. God knows exactly what He is doing, even when, in His wisdom, He temporarily refrains from telling us all the details concerning His creation. What He does tell us in the scriptures is more than enough for our spiritual needs. His grace is sufficient:Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Eph 1:3)

It is God’s purpose to reveal His mysteries according to His own timing, the primary mysteries being christological and soteriological, not scientific. What could be more important than the gospel message we hear in John 3:16- the salvation of mankind that comes only through Jesus Christ? Here is how Paul explains it:

Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:8-11)

Scripture also indicates that the ultimate situation for believers includes complete unity (John 17) and understanding: 2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2)

Dr. Bruce Atkinson is a graduate of Beloit College (WI) and earned an MS degree in research psychology from Illinois State University, an MA in theology and a PhD in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary (CA). He works in the Atlanta, GA area as a clinical psychologist in general practice and as a supervisor/teacher of Christian counselors with Richmont Graduate University. He has published articles in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion and in The Lamp-Post: Journal of the C.S. Lewis Society of Southern California.

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Dr. Atkinson makes it quite clear that scientific research reveals ‘truths’ that may not have been accessible to former generations – about human biology and cosmology, for instance. This is hard to take for fundamentalist Christians, but nevertheless, true. The Scriptures have revealed God’s basic plan and purpose for humankind – forgiveness and redemption in Jesus Christ – a gift of grace!

This paragraph is a pretty convincing testimony to the problems of trying to align the cosmology of the Scriptures with the reality of scientific objectivity in the modern world:

“Because some Christians do not understand these basic principles of human development and divine revelation, and because they want to make the Bible into something it was never intended by God to be, they actually make Christians and their Bible appear ridiculous and make it harder for evangelism to be successful in a scientifically sophisticated culture.”

Surprising though it is for this statement to appear on the virtueonline site of conservative  commentator David Virtue, it must be assumed that the writer, Dr. Atkinson, knows what he is writing about. The above quotation is a good starting point for further dialogue on the subject of the presumption of scriptural inerrancy.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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