There are a few names unmentionable, at least in the positive sense, from the Christian pulpit. One of them, if not the main one of them, is Charles Darwin, the 19th century scientist many accuse of creating evolutionary science. But, there are more than a number of Christians who believe science and faith are co-habitable. This number, we hope, grows every day. And this is where the problem lies. Pastors are having a difficult time presenting science and faith together due to a lack of education on the topic or because they simply do not know how. There are plenty of books about science and faith, but only a few on how to use them together. There is one, however, incorporating them. Cornwall’s book is a book of sermons and essays.
This is a pastoral account, almost like an autobiography, of bringing forth God’s message out of the two books, Scripture and Nature. As one who has read Cornwall considerably, I am neither surprised nor let down at the amount of work in these sermons. They exist, ever etched into someone’s mind, as a real method of worshiping the Most High God by celebrating how he formed the world. The book begins with a lengthy introduction wherein Cornwall tells you of his journey from Young Earth Creationism to this robust faith presented in this volume. Many of us who have traversed the same plane will recognize the same highway pit-stops along the way. This is not a story about someone losing their faith, but one where someone finds a faith richer and fuller than he has known before.
Following this are two parts, one with sermons and the other essays. Cornwall uses these short statements to explain further the relationship between faith and science. The sermons he delivered while the essays are former blogposts, all are crafted for both the subject and the audience. What does Cornwall really do? He doesn’t destroy the Christian faith, as I imagine some of his detractors would accuse him of, but instead leads us along the way to a better, more honest faith.
To be frank, it is difficult to review sermons, although not all of the book is made up of sermons. Sermons are meant to be given rather than read. Even the poorest sermon can sound remarkable if given properly. So I will not judge them as such. Rather, when I read them I tried to see if they were accomplishing what Cornwall intended. He does the job well. The sermons are exactly what you expect from sermons — rooted in Scripture, rooted in the Christian faith, and yet applicable to the modern world. No doubt, this is going to be difficult for some to digest, but the sermons (and essays) approach the Christian as a Christian who is in need of moving forward. Yes, Cornwall declares, the Books of God are applicable, practical and compatible. I would hope, and pray, that more pastors seek to implement what Cornwall has done, else we subcumb to St. Augustine’s warning about looking like fools for following superstitions (disguised as theology). God helps us and God bless Robert Cornwall.
Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama’s and Governor Romney’s responses to the violence in Egypt and Libya and now in other countries in the middle east?
First, Romney’s actions were deplorable, and the more so because he refused to apologize for a clearly error-filled, not to mention poor timing, of the statement he issued. Second, Romney’s approach to foreign policy is akin to the parodies of “cowboy diplomacy” of the 1980’s. Unlike President Reagan, Romney’s foreign policy has no real rhyme or reason, save that of hurting the current President.
The President’s was a bit more dignified. I am unsure as to why, if we proclaim our Christianity and our Christian nation (hope/)statue why to seek peace and reconciliation, even to the point of humility, is not the first course? The memo from the embassy in Cairo was an important first step, and I believe, helped to ease some of the tag-along-protesters. His “flub” about Egypt not feeling too comfortable with the title of ally is important. It spurred the Egyptian protest into action, on our side.
But, the issue remains as to what now. The protests are something of a terrorist attack, spreading across the region. But, we must decide to whom are they directing their anger. While it is easy to look at the pictures of the demonstrations and see their anger as directed to the United States, it is simply not that simple. There is a great deal of anti-Western feeling in that part of the world, exasperated by issues long boiling. The President needs to take a … hands off approach … because any perceived involvement by the United States will push the idea of more Western colonialization. I think that is the one thing we haven’t yet talked about publicly. What role does the arbitrary border lines play in this?
And frankly, why are we still expending resources in an area that does not like us?
To sum, briefly, I think Romney’s is just another sign that he is a poor candidate and frankly, I find his character lacking. The President, a pragmatist, carries the duty of the office well when it comes to foreign policy, and at least in regard to initial moves to reconciliation, attempts something of a graceful hand.
I’m a little late to the conversation, but I wanted to get this quickly out. I’ve been thinking about the question all day, and while this may come as a confused answer, I wanted to talk my way through it.
First, a previous question inquired as to how my faith impacted my vote. That is difficult to say, because faith is such a vital part of who I am. I am a Christian, and a conservative one at that and that leads to a pretty liberal outlook on politics. I take Matthew 25 pretty serious, but I also take it serious that the character of the person is worth something as well. My conservative reading of Scripture also prevents me from engaging in jingoistic warmongering. While I am leaning to voting once more the President, how foreign policy and his catering to the business community leaves me wondering just what I am voting for. Several recent articles, and I’ve said this for a long time, indicate the President is a modern Republican from the 90’s. While I was a conservative Republican in the 90’s, I am not now. I grew up, after all, and read Scripture seriously. I will generally vote Democrat, but have voted for third party candidates before. One of the issues I face in this election cycle is that I believe a GOP controlled Senate will damage this country for generations to come. Looking forward always decides my vote.
The second question was in regards to the top three issues in the federal elections. First, I am tired of war. Second, I am tired of the retread Reaganomics. Third, I believe the GOP will take us backwards. Eventually, the mimetic desire will break and will see social unrest.
So, now… for the question of capital gains. First, I think “work” should not be taxed. No income tax. No corporation tax. I believe in a progressive flat tax. In other words, no tax on food and the bare necessities of life, at least on the Federal and higher State level. Capital gains, the tax you pay when you sell imaginary pieces of paper, seems just as imaginary, but without a flat tax, one must tax things otherwise not worth taxing. I guess I view capital gains taxes like taking a census for imaginary friends. Our economy is too tied to Wall Street (imaginary capital) and not Main Street (production). I also do not believe in double taxation, something capital gains does.
But, what about selling real estate? Or actual product. Without a flat tax, you have to secure a method of raising money, and the people who have the most taxable money are those with product to sell. We need to shift capital gains out of Wall Street, limit the money traded on Wall Street (can of worms there), and tax actual product. If we could, I would limit all capital gained from Wall Street and other stocks to refocus the money into actual production.
The President has shown a remarkable ability to bend to the rich. I doubt he would support this plan. Generally, only more conservative candidates will tend to speak about the flat tax, but it will never get down.
The space that this book occupies on the shelf is not enough to fully define the value of it in the hands. In the brevity of 103 pages, one of our most notable and quiet theologians has given us a succinct investigation into the various views of God’s victory that we simply call Creation.
Knowing that he is working against the grain – either people have moved on past the subject or people are unwilling to see Creation as anything but physical – Weiss opens up the discussion on Darwin and how evolution has pushed up further into our view of science and Creation. His maintenance here is that Scriptural Creation, never a monolithic event, fits well with evolution or other cosmological theories now carried about. After this introduction, Weiss tackles Creation throughout various parts of Scripture. He begins not with Genesis 1, but with the Prophetic literature. This is, in my opinion, an ingenious method of opening the conversation. Unfortunately, we tend to begin our conversations about Creation in a literary linear manner in Genesis 1 and read it straight through, forming things roughly to it. In other words, we take Genesis 1 as the model of physicality and thus, if something, say like Job, disagrees with it, then it must be a metaphor or other genre, just not a different view. Starting with the prophetic literature, the ground level of creation if you will, the reader is introduced to a new way of reading Creation in Scripture – that of justice, that of a progression of God’s plan.
From there, he moves into the Wisdom literature (Job mainly) and The Psalms and finally, into the various creation stories in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3, although he inverts the order in his exploration. Romans is next, followed by both Corinthians, in which he takes us through the Pauline nebula. In Colossians and Hebrews, he gets into some dicey, but for me very welcomed, territory. He starts to use odd sounding words like panentheism and stoicism. Don’t let this scare you, as the former is used today by many Christians and the latter as a concept has been better placed in Scripture than (neo)Platonism. If we can sit with the audience, we can understand these two concepts as cultural structures that aid in defining Creation. Regarding of what words or concepts were used, we must understand Creation was, wait for it, more theological than it was scientific in the minds of our ancient sisters and brothers. From here, he tackles Creation in Revelation and closes it the book with a summation of Creation in the bible. Throughout most of these chapters, Weiss continues to referred back to other creation accounts so that you will not forget the stories of Job or Genesis 1.
John Walton has written several books recently on Creation in Genesis 1. Other scholars are doing the same thing. Energion has published a companion book by Edward Vick as well. But, why another book on Creation? There are two types of people, generally, in respect to Creation. First, there are those who are Young Earth Creationists. The other are those who see Creationism only as a myth. Both groups do an injustice to the theologies of Creation found throughout Scripture. Either make a bad case of it or ignore it altogether. But, how do we continue to make Creation an essential part to our theology? (Ecotheology anyone?) This is the point of Weiss’ book, I believe, to show us that Creation has been defined and thus used to fit various needs in our narrative. Important? Immensely. Timely? Always. Remember, Creation isn’t just found in one place in Scripture, but in many places. Understanding that is the first step in progression.
Having struggled with the issue of inerrancy for several years before moving into a more secure belief of inspiration, I have found that this recent work by Dr. Edward W.H. Vick is an enlightening plea to read the bible of Christian Tradition seriously, even if we no longer take it as inerrant. Reading the bible, however, is not the mere act of digesting the words on the paper. As he says in one area, the bible is a dead letter without the live interpreter.
That word, inerrancy, is a flash point. It is usually thrown about to deny that people can take seriously the Scriptures without believing that they are infallible. Inerrancy is simply not the historic position of the Christian Church and not easily philosophically attainable, but it is nevertheless the dividing line for many. Inspiration has come to mean, ironically, a liberal belief that Scripture is a human witness to God’s dialogic revelation. Vick takes both of these concepts and shows how one can actually take the bible faithfully, without having to rely upon created concepts of authority. That is the profit of this book, that those who struggle with inerrancy can find a better foundation in Tradition and not in Chicago, and those who struggle with the idea that if the bible is not infallible, does it still matter will find that their boat is better anchored with a clear and concise argument about what Scripture is actually supposed to be.
Vick is a prolific writer. This book is over 340 pages in length, but divided into short, accessible sections with solid points constructed easily enough. As with his other books, the pen of the critical thinker is present. He doesn’t mince words, nor does he embellish with floral patterns to somehow soften the effect of what he has to say. In other words, Edward Vick is no N.T. Wright, and for that, while one may struggle with the matter-of-fact language of his, they will be eternally grateful. The book as eleven chapters that tackle the tough issues. He begins with what may almost be considered a (proper) introduction to the bible as a book. How do we approach it, he asks. Do we consider the bible as devotional or doctrinal, analytically or exegetical? This is a major concept, and he shows why considering Scripture as doctrinal, and this is important, is not preferred or even rightfully allowed. He next engages us in the canon. The only issue I have here is that Vick is writing to Protestants and their canon instead of including the (my preferred) canon of Catholic Church. In the next two chapters, Vick takes several questions on authority followed by two chapters on inspiration. Chapters seven and eight deal with what revelation actually means. Chapter nine tackles Tradition and Scripture and sees Vick discussing several Protestant view points here, including trying to straighten out what sola scriptura does and does not mean. The last two chapters deal with interpretation.
Usually, books written on this topic from a Protestant viewpoint is almost polemical against the Catholic Church, but Vick seems to make almost the clearest case I know of, from the viewpoint of a Protestant, of why Rome’s views on Tradition and Scripture are correct, and without the agitprop usually associated with this material. Trent, Vatican I and other major Catholic statements are taken in their historical context and portrayed rightly. No worries for those of you who are Protestant though, he is still Protestant with no likely change of conversion. But I am left as to wonder why? Regardless, his take on this particular issue is one – I’m saying this too much – one of the profits of this book. He repositions Scripture and Tradition so that we can understand one another better, and in doing so, help us out of our idolatry of either Scripture or Tradition.
The arguments are concise, philosophical, theological, and well supported. There is nothing in this book that cannot be used by the Church universal, either in community or individually. Vick is, in my opinion, one of the most profitable minds for our current era in the Western Church. He is restoring faith in the workings of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. This book is not just recommended to you, dear readers, but I would demand that you get a copy. Read it. Make it dog-eared. Read it that first year so thoroughly that you must get another copy the second year. But, read it.
Vick writes, regarding the authority of Scripture –
Authority which has to be demonstrated and then attributed to the Bible is secondary and not primary. Christians do not believe the Bible because of something else, this E, this extrinsic thing. They believe it on account of its effectiveness. That is the kind of authority it has. They have already experienced its effectiveness. They do not need persuasion by argument….
And have a short, but powerful stance against the need to prove the Bible, he writes,
The Bible whose authority can be demonstrated is not the church’s ‘Word of God.’ Archaeological evidence is interesting. Here it is irrelevant. Between historical demonstration and religious authority lies an unbridgeable gulf. (98-99)
And regarding fundamentalists and the “literal” debate, he writes,
It is not then a question for the fundamentalist that the Scripture can be taken literally. It must be taken so as not to compromise its inerrancy. (129)
All I can say is…. bam.
Where is your faith? What do you have to demonstrate the authority of Scripture? Why? Because your faith is not in Christ, but in the merits of your own demonstration.
I’m about a third of the way through, and finding that Vick’s book is going to become something to chew on for a while. He is first and foremost a philosopher. Coming from the Seventh Day Adventist Tradition, he still maintains some connection in his writings with his past, but he is ever reaching into the highest heights of a philosophical view towards the subject. Something I want to highlight from this first third.
“‘The most important thing we find in the Bible is not “doctrine” but something that helps us in a new attitude to God and life.’ If we treat the Bible as a source of information, whether doctrinal information or historical information, we are missing the point….”
He goes on to suggest that the authority of the Bible is in its doctrinal statements, which more often than not we have put there, but in the way it guides us towards God. It is not meant to be static:
“That means that we are caught up in a progressing movement, in which (as the New Testament says) the Spirit of God is leading us into a developing and forward-looking experience. It is in performing this activity that the authority of Scripture consists. (61-62)
And a powerful statement on pg 92,
But the church cannot pretend that it does not intervene between what the Bible contains and what it pronounces that the Bible teaches.
That thought there is worth a thousand more pages, I think.
His doctrine of Scriptural authority sounds a lot like mine which I posted a few weeks ago. Inspiration is, like Justification/Sanctification, is about a process. It’s easy to get confused about these terms, like many are confused about what prophecy actually is. Hopefully, by reading Vick, thought who are under the oppression of arrogant doctrine will come to the light.
I have some minimal problems, such as the focus on 66 books. Vick remains thoroughly Protestant in this view. He does not hold to casual human terms like inerrant and infallible, so I can be a bit forgiving for his gloss over the other books in the Canon!
Robert Cornwall’s latest offering, Faith in the Public Square, is a much needed reminder that faith need not be absent from the public square. Or, for that matter, that faith in the public square need not be a controlling factor, recognizing that we are in a democracy, and democracy calls for compromise. Cornwall seems to follow Allan Bevere’s book, The Politics of Witness (Energion, 2011), in attempting to keep a faithful engagement alive and well in American politics, but not to the extent of what many conservatives and liberals have stretched it too.
Utilizing many of his columns he wrote while acting as an opinion editor for a newspaper in California, Cornwall makes the case through short, insightful articles that a Christian needs not be either un- or over- engaged in the public square, but can find a place to fit into. In our post-secular world, we are coming to find that black and white viewpoints have become unattractive and often unattainable. It is not either science or religion, Republican or Democrat, faith or atheism, disengagement or dominionism, but more and more, people are finding that a moderate, middle ground provides a better pulpit. People aren’t simply living either on the left or right anymore, if they ever truly did, but engaging the middle where a pluralistic society is developing. This is happening in American churches as well, but unfortunately, the more moderate churches and denominations have chosen to remain quite while the liberals and the conservatives bicker over religion and an active faith life as vultures on a carcass. Cornwall, while not drawing a road map, does posit some images that may help us found our way.
He has divided his writings into four categories which are: The Religious Landscape; Varieties of Faith, a Common Cause; Politics, Ideology, and Faith; and Justice in the Land. Something that one has to note first is that while Cornwall does take a Neiburhite view of realism, he doesn’t too often take sides on political issues as they are often presented but does maintain a constant faithful course of how to tackle such issues such as the rise in pluralism which means the demise of traditional religious institutions, how a Christian should see his or her nation among other nations in the world, violence and non-violence, racism, and even some environmentalism. One would think that with such a group of essays that the book would get rather boring, but it doesn’t. Each essay is challenging, relevant and sometimes, even a little political jarring to even those of who would first align ourselves with Cornwall’s description of his political self. His take on Kennedy’s speech even has a ring of Rick Santorum. Maybe this is a sign of what he says, that while we can remain affiliated with our political parties, our allegiance need not be solely there. We should not be afraid to let our faith guide us. Perhaps the best way to summarize Cornwall’s book is to say that his ultimate goal is to suggest that it’s okay to be a believer and political, just don’t be religiously political or politically religious.
One thing, though. I do wish that he would have written or at least alluded to the date of which he wrote the first essay. Granted, many of them have been reworked, with new ones added, but several of them I think would benefit from the reader’s perception of foresight/hindsight. For instance, in one, Cornwall introduces us to the 2008 issue of Mitt Romney’s religion. In 2012, but more, in 2013, such an essay would be more prophetic if we were allowed to put it in a time and place that is removed from our own chronotope.
A highly recommended work, especially in the current political climate.
Thanks to Energion for this free, hand delivered, review copy:
Many prominent Christian theologians question those who question. Smaller sects, indicative of their origin, often refute questioning of any kind because they see doubt as sin. When Rob Bell wrote Love Wins, one of the central characteristics of that book was to ask questions; one of the central characteristics of his detractors was to deny that such questions should be asked of God. Obviously, the book of Job has not been a regular source of inspiration for such people. But, it goes beyond just the trends of Christianity. Can questioning a monotheistic god lead to anything good? Are we allowed and if so, what types of questions are allowed? That is the goal of this book, part of the Areopagus series by Energion. Ant Greenham, the author of this monograph, writes to explore the allowance of questioning in the three major monotheistic religions of today’s modern world – Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
After explaining the role of questioning in humanity, Greenham moves to tackle the questioning process in ancient Islam. In a religion that is named after submission, it is difficult from the start to suggest that ancient Islam allowed questioning. Of the historical matter, I am most distressed by his suggestion, as passive as it was, that Islam’s restriction on questioning goes back to Muhammad. The early decades of Islam, much like the early decades of Christianity (and the early millenniums of Judaism) are generally murky in historical fact and only interpreted through those who managed to become the most entrenched interpreters. It is reasonable to suggest that the Quran we have today is not the Quran of Muhammad’s ‘recitation.’ After all, history reminds us of the forced and bloody Uthmanic recension process. But, if we consider Islam post-Uthmanic, then we can agree with Greenham, that ancient Islam, as a whole, was often oppressive to questioning. Moving into modern Islam, he presents an often negative view, of fiery councils, executions and repression of self-introspection. It is difficult to view Islam this way, in such a politically incorrect view, but he is more right than wrong; it’s just that he is not all right. Indeed, after the terrible tragedies of 9/11 a new breed of Muslim made itself known in America. It was this new Muslim that questioned the historical attitudes of Islam and called for introspection. Liberal and Moderate Muslims formed groups which questioned Islam in light of the tragedies. This questioning goes on. I would also suggest that Islam is some 600 years behind Christianity as an evolved religion. What did Christians do 600 years ago to those who questioned unsanctioned questions?
Moving into Judaism, Greenham’s theological bias comes forth. Again referring to John Piper, he seems to suggest that Judaism is lacking because it acknowledges that God no longer speaks to the Jewish people. His chapter six is rather weak, relying more on stereotypical misunderstandings of a religious group which is spread across a variety of cultures, times, and races. Indeed, I cannot tell if he is focused more on the Jew or the practitioner of Judaism. I it is the former, then there are significant problems; if it is the latter, his thesis becomes weaker. Regardless, his thesis that an entire religion based on questioning (again, Job and as he mentions, the Talmud) is something suffering a deficit is entirely bunk. His next chapter, related directly to the modern state of Israel, is even worse than his sixth chapter. Israel (from here on out, I will use this only for the modern State) is a questioning society, more so, as he points out, than American Zionists. This is a good thing. Indeed, both of these chapters, if one could get past what is surely coming in chapter eight, portrays Judaism and the Jewish people as one who continues to question and in questioning, moving forward as an open-minded society and, indeed, religion. Chapter eight is nothing more than a condemnation of the Jews for not questioning the veracity of the claims of Jesus. What bothers me the most is that this is not taken next to the refusal of Christians to question “in their heart” if Joseph Smith is the Prophet or if Allah is the Prophet of of Scripture is wrong without any meaningful suggesting that they could be wrong. Perhaps, we should also question if Hitler was truly right.
Greenham exhibits a large amount of theological ineptness in chapter nine when he discusses the role of questioning in Catholicism. I am unsure as how to amend all of his errors except to suggest that Greenham take time to read of the history of development of Catholic doctrine so as to not create embarrassing errors for himself in the future. Indeed, I would suggest that his idea of Salvation is not completely biblical, in that he assumes that salvation is not an ongoing process. I would take it that Greenham is not Wesleyan, to his discredit, but further, he hasn’t questioned Paul’s own admonition throughout Scripture that he is saved, he is being saved, and he will be saved, indicating an ongoing process of salvation. Granted, reviews are not meant to be full blown theological rebuttals, but Greenham isn’t just talking about questioning God, but failing to question himself in his assumed knowledge of what he is talking about. He follows this rather anti-Catholic chapter by opening his tenth chapter with the suggestion that evangelicals have the corner on the “biblical Jesus” and salvation. Indeed, this chapter is more about the superiority of Western culture and Evangelicalism than it is about questioning anything, especially those presuppositions. As of chapter eleven which continues with the Christian theme, Greenham has yet to suggest anything related to the questioning God. Eleven is more about questioning the leaders of various Christian institutions rather than Christianity or even God. His final two chapters are light, and nothing more than you’d expect to find at a usual evangelical retreat, that of, have an orderly home, read the bible, but don’t question God.
Is this really how we are to be left? He opens with the suggestion that God asks questions and that we may in turn ask him as well. Yet, he moves to Piper who suggests that many questions should not be asked. Throughout the book, no real questions are asked, or at least those questions which are asked are not also asked of Christians. This is a thoroughly disappointing work. Where are the questions, and the allowance for questions? Throughout Scripture, and if we could step away from the theology which we have placed into Scripture we would see Scripture itself as a grand question, questions are asked of God, about God, and sometimes, in such as way as to suggest that God is not there. Yes, Islam does have a way of discarding questioning, but the Jews thrive on it. Christians, on the other hand, especially evangelicals, follow more along the lines of Islam than Greenham and others would have us believe.
Now comes the question of whether or not you should purchase this book. Let me say yes. Yes not because of the reasons I have given you against such a book, but because you must question me and my review. You must question Greenham. You must question yourselves.