Pope Francis, Old Princeton and Evolution

FullSizeRenderPope Francis made some statements affirming the validity of evolution which some no doubt find     controversial, especially those of the conservative protestant stripe. What’s interesting is how much of what he said seems to echo what the 19th century Old Princeton theologians had to say on the matter (whom many evangelicals look to as theological ancestors, especially where the doctrine of inerrancy is concerned).

In a recent review of Bradley J. Gundlach’s Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929, the reviewer points out the Gundlach’s research demonstrates that while the Old Princetonians rejected atheistic naturalism, they were quite interested in what some today call forms of theistic evolution:

Gundlach devotes the subsequent two chapters to surveying the relationship between progressionism in evolutionary biology and progressionism in orthodox Calvinist theology among the generation of Princeton scholars who succeeded McCosh and Hodge. Gundlach’s examination of the views of the theologian B. B. Warfield might surprise contemporary readers who assume that Warfield’s commitment to biblical inerrancy inevitably led him to reject evolution. Well-known for co-authoring an 1881 article with A. A. Hodge that articulated the Princetonian understanding of inerrancy, Warfield, like numerous Princetonians before him, criticized atheistic naturalism. Yet Warfield, who embraced evolution even more than McCosh, went so far as to consider the possibility that an immaterial aspect of animal life served as a precursor to the human soul, constituting a second and essentially separate evolution alongside the physical one.

Warfield also stated:

I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution.

Maybe some room for ecumenical rapprochement?

Is Love Winning?

Robe Bell says he isn’t interested in controversies over traditional and long held conceptions, but in the possibility of regaining the meaning, mystery, love, and hope that go with God.

But isn’t that like saying as a radical interventionist, “I’m not concerned with your family history, with the language, patterns and symbols that have landed the family here. I’m concerned with moving the family forward today!”

The thing that bonds liberals and evangelicals tighter than Jacob and Esau in the womb is a loathing of the tradition.

Feeding on Flesh

In John 6: 53-54 Jesus causes controversy and confusion by explaining that redemption comes through feeding on him: “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.'”

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising in light of Exodus 29. There we read that Aaron and his sons are “baptized” into the priesthood. When they offer sacrifices, they will be eaten: 31 “You shall take the ram of ordination and boil its flesh in a holy place. 32 And Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram and the bread that is in the basket in the entrance of the tent of meeting. 33 They shall eat those things with which atonement was made at their ordination and consecration, but an outsider shall not eat of them, because they are holy.

The priests must eat of the flesh which ordained and consecrated them for their calling, so must the royal priesthood which the victorious Lamb redeems.

The Bible Makes Sense

…anyone who calmly and patiently reads the Bible as a whole may very well leave many questions about the details open, yet he soon learns to distinguish between where the path is leading and where it is not. But this unequivocal character is not a fact to be grasped by historical or abstract hermeneutical methods. In order to be perceived, it presupposes contemplation of the Gestalt as a whole and, thus, a way of looking in terms of the whole: within the living context of faith and Church.

Benedict XVI, Dogma and Preaching

Its Not About You!

In Against the Protestant Gnostics, Lee contends that for gnostics of all historical types, salvation is about knowledge of the self for the sake of the self, as opposed to knowledge of the mighty acts of God:

As far as the gnostics were concerned, the “many” were overly fascinated by historical happenings, even by the historical events in the life of Christ. Elaine Pagels, writing on the ahistorical views of Heracleon, reports that he claimed: that those who insist that Jesus, a man who lived in the flesh, is Christ fail to distinguish between literal and symbolic truth. . . . Heracleon goes on to say that those who take the events concerning Jesus “literally”—as if the events themselves were revelation—have fallen into flesh and error. Concern about the mighty acts of God in both the Old and New Covenants was from a gnostic perspective a lower stage in the development of an authentic Christian understanding. To know Christ was not in any sense to have knowledge about the “historical man of flesh and blood” but rather to be personally related to the mythical heavenly being who liberates humanity from historical concerns…

…The reason for this totally different concern of the gnostics is their conviction that the root problem of humankind is ignorance. Judaism and Christianity in their orthodox expressions would understand the basic source of all our misery to be sin, humanity’s failure to meet God’s expectations or its own potential; gnosticism would see the human predicament as resulting from a profound blindness concerning the human situation. “Ignorance of the Father,” states the Gospel of Truth, “brought about anguish and terror. And the anguish grew solid like a fog so that no one was able to see.



Live And Let Die

According to Peter Leithart, Israel’s prophet’s did not preach a legalistic message that aimed at moral reform. They preached an evangelical word. Ever since humanity has lived East of Eden the curse that follows sin is “dying you shall die”. This same curse haunts Israel since the covenant at Sinai. The prophets don’t proclaim: “Israel has sinned; therefore Israel needs to to get its act together or it will die.” The message is, “Israel has sinned; therefore, Israel must die, and its only hope is to entrust itself to a God who will give it new life on the far side of death.” Or, perhaps more simply: “Israel has sinned; Israel is already dead. Cling to the God who raises the dead.” This is the message of 1-2 Kings, which in Leithart’s mind “systematically dismantles Israel’s confidence in everything but the omnipotent mercy and patience of God.”

To Fear or Not to Fear


“In his explanation of the commandments, Luther begins every one with these words, ‘We should fear and love God…It is perhaps well known that there are some Christians today who maintain that Luther made a mistake in this. They strike out the ‘fear’ and say that we should love God, nothing more…But when people of our superficial generation have read the the Bible as thoroughly as Luther did, they will see that Luther was right also in this…He has seen that love to God does not exclude fear, but that they mutually strengthen each other…The greater the good in life, the more dangerous it becomes to us, if we misuse it. And since the grace of God is life’s most precious good, grace is more dangerous than anything else int he world, if we misuse it.”-Ole Hallesby, Under His Wings

How does one make sense of a passage like this in light of the most preponderant commandment in Scripture: “Be not afraid”? What about John’s insistence that “perfect love drives out fear”. (1 Jn 4:18)?

There is certainly a sort of fear that is inappropriate for the baptized. Such fear is more likely the product of an unsanctified imagination than a pious heart. Perhaps it’s the sort of fear rooted in the suspicion that when confronted with God, we will meet someone or something much like ourselves. One who reckons, forgives, judges much the same way we do. This is indeed a fearful prospect, but in the end it probably tells us more about ourselves than about God (which as Calvin reminds us isn’t a bad thing, as true knowledge of self will ultimately, by God’s grace, lead us into knowledge of God).

The fear Luther finds appropriate, which the Scriptures tell us is the beginning of wisdom, must be rooted in something much more like the Psalmist speaks of in Psalm 147:

“He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and and his judgments to Israel.
“He has not done so to any other nation; to them he has not revealed his judgments.

It is only when one comes into the embrace of grace that one even glimpses the nature of divine judgment and justice. Von Balthasar gets at something like this in Love Alone Is Credible:

“…the moment we see our sins objectified before us on the Cross, it becomes all the more impossible to leave the One who died for us to his fate; so loveless a thought reveals our whole evil heart to us, love awakens fear in us, and the terrifying reality of being left behind by God (which is timeless as far as the one abandoned is concerned) shows us vividly that hell is no pedagogical threat, it is no mere ‘possibility’. Instead, it is the reality that the God-forsaken one experienced in an eminent way because no one can even approximately experience the abandonment by God as horribly as the Son, who shares the same essence with the Father for all eternity…We are therefore not required to bring a systematically conceived hell into harmony with the love of God and make it credible, or indeed justify it conceptually as love (and not perhaps merely as the revelation of self-glorifying divine justice), because no such system could be constructed out of a possible ‘knowledge’ apart from or beyond love and at the same time related to it. We are required only not to let go of love, the love that believes and hopes through both is suspended in the air so that its Christian wings may grow. Soaring in the air, I also necessarily experience the abyss below, which is only part of my own flight. Similarly, I can speak of hell only in relation to myself, precisely because I can never imagine the possible damnation of another as more likely than my own.”

There is perhaps no more painful fear than that of wounding or betraying one’s beloved. And yet this fear is not possible without first pledging, with one’s whole self, one’s love. Before that, it is abstract, a possibility, one that cannot produce the sort of fear that is rooted in love. Perhaps perfect love drives out imperfect fear, replacing it with a fear that flows from faith, rather than inhibiting it.

What you need to know to understand the Bible…

martin-luther1“No one can understand Virgil in his Bucolics and Georgics unless he has been a shepherd or a farmer for fifty years. No one can understand Cicero in his letters unless he has been involved for twenty years in the life of a state. Let no one think that he has tasted Holy Scripture unless he has for a century ecclesias gubernarit and has been responsible for the Church.”-Martin Luther