Standpoint is seeking theology papers on specific topics for the 2011 Standpoint Conference. The group envisions a three year process with the goal of creating a set of documents to speak incisively to key doctrines that are threatened in our times. More in the announcement.
Calvary Baptist Seminary of Lansdale-
“Here at Calvary Baptist Seminary, we are re-packaging our systematic theology courses in a way that adheres more closely to the biblical narrative, even while retaining a doctrinal focus. We want our systematic theology to draw its content from Scripture itself. To that end, we are unveiling a new sequence of systematic theology courses that will hopefully result in a more biblical approach to systematic theology. Instead of our current six-course track, we will cover the tradition doctrinal loci with four courses that treat the major doctrines as they appear in the flow of God’s progressive revelation.”
Francis Collins, the former Director of the Human Genome Project (HGP) and now the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has risen to national prominence in recent years. His scientific acumen combined with his rather public confession of Christian faith has garnered both excitement by Christians, as seen in these Christianity Today articles (here and here), and interest among unbelievers, as in this exchange with Richard Dawkins in Time.
But not everyone is excited about Collins’ recent appointment by President Obama to direct NIH. Sam Harris, the author of the atheistic diatribes against faith, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, questions Collins’ fitness for NIH due to the geneticist’s Christian faith in this NY Times piece. While I don’t question Collins’ fitness for his present position, I do question how much he should be viewed as an ally of Bible-believing Christians. His foreword in a new book exposes his disdain for anyone who would take the creation account in Genesis 1-2 as an accurate description of the beginning of the world. Collins pens a four-page foreword for Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (Harper One, 2008). In this rather strained attempt to harmonize Christianity and Darwinism, Giberson stretches the limits of reason and logic in an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. His book is introduced by Collins’ similarly tortured attempt to elevate science way beyond its boundaries and to denigrate anyone who supports Intelligent Design (ID), young-earth creationism or virtually anything regarding the early chapters of Genesis.
Collins describes ID’s challenge to evolution’s ability to explain irreducibly complex structures in living organisms as pressing on “despite the lack of any meaningful support in the scientific community” (p. v). This statement is simply not true and masks not only the many scientists who question Darwinism’s explanation of irreducible complexity but also the almost universal pressure on scientists to toe the party line concerning Darwinism.
As a pastor, I am occasionally asked to explain the difference between two denominations, synods, religious organizations, or the like. Such requests are perhaps parallel to accountants and attorneys fielding the inevitable dinner-party query about a legal interpretation or investment option.
I tend to wince at these requests because they are never easy to address. Churches and denominations are finely layered, ever-changing works of art. It is not always easy to understand, let alone to articulate, the differences between religious groups.
But I have discovered a helpful tool by which to distinguish the foundational moorings of various Christian movements (with implications extending beyond Christendom). This measuring rod is provided to us by two fifth-century theologians who engaged in a classic debate which distinguishes the beliefs and practices of various Christian traditions to this day. Whether perceived or not, churches gravitate toward either the Augustinian pole, or toward the Pelagian pole, with most landing somewhere between these two opposing positions.
I was born in Minnesota, and this great state has been my home for many years now. But I was raised near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I am not slow to acknowledge that growing up in one of the most history-rich regions in America has deeply influenced me.
An exceptional Junior High history teacher was pivotal in the nurture of my affections for history. But my interest was also fueled by repeated visits to the very sites I read about in the history books. These places were more to me than abstract concepts found in dry books. They were locations where I played and picnicked and listened on warm summer days to guides retell the fascinating stories of important people and key events from our nation’s past.
My family picnicked routinely on the banks of the Delaware River near where George Washington crossed to defeat the Hessians on that memorable Christmas night in 1776. I spent more than one summer afternoon running across the rolling fields of Valley Forge where General Washington’s troops lodged in crude log huts during the long winters of 1777-1778. I have toured Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and his home at Mount Vernon, Virginia. I have visited our nation’s capital, looked often through the crack in the Liberty Bell, and sensed the ghosts of Franklin and Jefferson as I stood in the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed. I have visited the Old North Church, Betsy Ross’ house, and stood by the bed where Stonewall Jackson died in 1863. I have hiked through the fields of Gettysburg and stared in wonder at houses still scarred by bullets from the pivotal conflict waged there in July of 1863.
Most fundamentalists are familiar with the “Five Fundamentals of the Faith” upon which early twentieth-century Fundamentalism was founded. The inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, His substitutionary atonement, and His resurrection and physical return to earth are the absolute basics of an orthodox framework of Christian faith. What the last thirty years has revealed, however, is that these five fundamentals are not enough to safeguard orthodoxy by themselves, and are no longer sufficient as a test for orthodoxy.
A case in point is the issue of inspiration. Some of the most lethal attacks against the Scriptures in recent years have affirmed inspiration (and even inerrancy). At the same time, they have rejected the veracity and authority of Scripture (for example, see the recent book God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship by Kenton Sparks; Baker, 2008).
The reason the historic five fundamentals are no longer a sufficient test for orthodoxy is the fact that they rest on a more basic metaphysical foundation that has been quietly undermined by philosophy. (In this essay, the term “foundation” has nothing to do with foundationalist epistemology.) Philosophers, and theologians who have been heavily influenced by philosophy, have ceded key aspects of the doctrine of God that seem to conflict with philosophy’s demands. Rather than keeping philosophy in its proper place as the handmaid of theology, some have allowed the servant to become master. In doing so, the foundation of our theology has been subtly undermined. If we do not take heed to the foundations of our beliefs, we will not know that the framework has been undermined until it is too late. We will be like front line soldiers resisting the visible enemy encamped across the field, while a stronger force tunnels underneath our lines preparing to attack from the rear.