January Forum Letter

I just received my January issue of Forum Letter, which is the monthly companion to Lutheran Forum. In this issue, Pr. George Murphy responds to Pr. Peter Speckhard, who wondered in the November issue why people would get so upset with him when they discovered he actually believed that God created the world over six days. They would say things to him like, “How can a bright guy like you believe in a six-day creation?” Pr. Murphy suggests that Pr. Speckhard is not so bright to believe such a thing. I don’t know if FL will publish my response, so I’m posting it here.

In the January 2008 Forum Letter, Pr. George Murphy takes Pr. Peter Speckhard to task for asking a question: Why am I (Pr. Speckhard) not allowed to hold a view of the Genesis creation accounts that fits with the Scriptures but not with the view of the current scientific establishment? Conveniently, Pr. Murphy simply ignores Pr. Speckhard’s strongest argument, that evolutionary theory is unequivocally opposed to the Scriptures on the issue of death. Death as the machinery of evolution and death as the wages of sin simply cannot be reconciled. They move in opposite directions.But, Pr. Murphy is very concerned that opinions like those of Pr. Speckhard will make Christianity the laughing-stock of the enemies of Christianity, with whom Pr. Murphy clearly wants to make nice. Pr. Murphy is apparently convinced that if Christians will discard all the nonsense of a “six-day creation and other errors,” then the enemies of Christianity will come around and realize that Christians aren’t really so bad. And then…what? Richard Dawkins will decide that maybe God isn’t a delusion after all?

Pr. Murphy then plays the “for the sake of the Gospel” card and says that “scientifically literate Christians” (as opposed, presumably, to Pr. Speckhard and his ilk) might well abandon the faith if people like Pr. Speckhard tell them Christianity requires belief in a six-day creation. Their abandonment of the faith then rests on the heads of Pr. Speckhard and those like him. Drowning by millstone is the deserved punishment for such a crime. Despite the fact that Pr. Speckhard never demanded that Christians, scientifically literate or not, accept his view of Genesis (which has been, more or less, the view of the vast majority of Christians throughout the centuries), Pr. Murphy condemns him to the hell of the scandalizers of little ones.

Two points that Pr. Murphy makes should not go unchallenged. First, he quotes Pascal that since “Scripture may be interpreted in different ways, whereas the testimony of the senses is uniform, we must in these matters adopt as the true interpretation of Scripture that view which corresponds with the faithful report of the senses.” It seems that neither Pascal nor Pr. Murphy is aware that the testimony of the senses, or at least the interpretation of that testimony, is not uniform. The information gained by the senses is not — even if we could, in our inescapable subjectivity, observe such a thing — objective fact, which simply “is what it is” and which does not have to be interpreted. The very event of stating, “Such-and-such fact of biology, chemistry, geology, etc. is or means thus” is an interpretation of such facts, just as translating a passage of Scripture is itself an interpretation of that passage. We interpret the testimony of the senses no less than we interpret the testimony of the Scriptures, and people may and do interpret both differently. And so it is not true that the testimony of the senses stands as a monolithic body of objective “facts,” against which the variegated and subjective testimony of the Scriptures must measure up in order to be taken seriously. It is strange (or maybe not) that Pr. Murphy would put more stock in the “faithful report of the senses” than in the inspired report of the faithful. Do the ministers ever have to listen to the queen? Besides, how does Pr. Murphy propose that we substantiate the faithfulness of the sensual report concerning creation, especially when creation is 13.7 billion years removed from us?

Secondly, Pr. Murphy places all the blame for the abandonment of the faith by “young people considering a vocation in science” squarely at the feet of Pr. Speckhard and those who agree with him. He says, ominously, “Those who push Christians toward such a sad and unnecessary choice should reflect on Matthew 18:6.” But, then, Pr. Murphy has already decided that it is a sad and unnecessary choice. Rudolph Bultmann and others decided that it was a sad and unnecessary choice between believing in the bodily resurrection of Christ and believing in modern electricity. Should those who “push Christians” to choose between science and the resurrection reflect also on Matthew 18:6? Or maybe those who think that no choice needs to be made should reflect on Luke 14:26-33.

If Pr. Murphy wants to defer to the scientific establishment, of which he is a part, on the interpretation of the Scriptures, that’s certainly his right. But should Pr. Speckhard have to defer to the scientists as well, so that Pr. Murphy doesn’t have to worry about whether the enemies of Christianity will like him?

Finitum capax infiniti

Some brilliance from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (obviously, a Roman Catholic now, but I find nothing here with which to disagree):

Throughout the ages, people had looked up into the heavens in search of God. Bearing Jesus in her womb, holding Jesus in her arms, Mary looked down into the face of God. Immanence and transcendence require one another. The Totally Other is the predicate of Emmanuel, God with us. Finitum capax infiniti.

Call it a paradox, call it a tension, call it a dialectic. Better still, call it Incarnation. Incarnatus est is the end of playing off the infinite against the finite, the human against the divine, as though Reality were a zero-sum game. How can modern man believe in miracles, Rudolf Bultmann asked, when he knows how to switch on a light bulb? Or, as a parishioner opined the other day, why pray for the healing of a headache when Tylenol works so well? Incarnatus est is the forging of an unbreakable union between the miraculous and the quotidian, the transcendent and the immanent. All our thinking, our creativity, our science, our labors, along with our sorrows and disappointments, is participation in the life of God become man, in faith’s anticipation of our destiny fulfilled in the life of God.

You can read the rest here.

Timotheos