It’s Been a Crazy Semester for Papers, Talks, and Blogging

This has been an extremely busy semester.

I’ve been working hard on preparing various talks and lectures, and also a number of essays for publication (not to mention teaching four courses). So I’ve fallen behind in my original goal (made nearly two years ago, when I began this blog) to post something new about once per week.

I’m afraid this will be the case until the end of the semester, when I hope to complete most of this writing.

So, in the meantime, I thought I’d share a bit about what I’ve been doing, and also post some of the pieces I’ve been working on.

Holistic Eschatology

Near the end of summer I wrote a short meditation on holistic eschatology for an online newsletter for United Methodist theological students, called The Catalyst. Then in September I expanded this piece into a longer talk for the Asian-American IVCF group at Cornell University (co-sponsored with Chesterton House). Both pieces were called “To Love What God Loves: Understanding the Cosmic Scope of Redemption.”

Imago Dei and Evolution

In October I gave a lecture at Regent College (Vancouver, BC) on humanity as imago Dei in a symposium on what it means to be human in light of hominin evolution (this was part of a series of four events on evolution in relation to the imago Dei and the fall for Evangelicals and Catholics, held in different regions of Canada, organized by Paul Allen of Concordia University, Montreal). My lecture (which had three respondents) will be revised for publication (probably next year) in a volume of essays edited by Allen. An audio of the lecture is being made available by Regent College.

Creation and Fall in Genesis 2-3

Roberts Wesleyan College (where I’ve been teaching since 2002; at the seminary since 2011) is having their 150th anniversary next year, and will be producing an anthology of essays in honor of B. T. Roberts, the founder of the College. My contribution to this volume is a close reading of the Garden of Eden story in Genesis 2-3 for what it teaches us about God’s original intent for work and male-female relationships, including how these ideals are distorted by sin. I presented a short version of this paper in October at the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association conference at Tyndale College and Seminary in Toronto. The published volume should be available by Fall 2016.

Evolution and the Fall

I’ve also been working on another essay on Genesis 3, exploring how the account of the fall might be related to what we know about human evolution and the origin of evil. I gave an lecture on this topic at Roberts Wesleyan College in October 2014 and then again at a conference organized by the Colossian Forum in Chicago in March of this year. This essay will be published in 2016 by Eerdmans in an anthology entitled Re-Imagining the Intersection of Evolution and the Fall, edited by James K. A. Smith and William Cavanaugh.

This past week I presented four papers at conferences that were being held in association with the large American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meetings in Atlanta.

Eschatology Session at the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS)

I presented an invited paper for a special session on my eschatology book at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (November 19). My paper, entitled “A New Heaven and a New Earth: For God So Loved the World,” was followed by an appreciative but critical response to the book by Greg Beale of Westminster Theological Seminary, and then by an immensely practical paper by Victor Cortez of Food for the Hungry, on “Landing the Biblical Theological Plane” of eschatology, in which he vividly showed what difference a holistic vision of the future makes for transforming people’s lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. The papers were followed by a panel discussion on the topic.

Paper on Psalm 51 for the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR)

I then presented a paper on Psalm 51 as a critique of David’s inadequate repentance, in one of the research groups of the IBR at their annual meeting (November 20). This was a precis of a longer essay I wrote for a volume sponsored by IBR called Explorations in Interdisciplinary Reading: Theological, Exegetical, and Reception-Historical Perspectives, ed. Robbie Castleman, Darian Lockett, and Stephen Presley (to be published by Pickwick Publications in 2016). A draft of the essay is available on the IBR website.

Paper on Bob Marley for the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL)

The following day (November 21) I was scheduled to give a paper on the reggae band Third World for the Islands, Islanders, and Scriptures program unit of the SBL. But due to elder care family issues, I wasn’t able to get this done. The organizers therefore allowed me to present a short version of a previous paper I had written on Bob Marley and the Wailers (complete with music clips).

Paper on Genesis 22 for the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL)

The next day (November 22), in the Genesis program unit of the SBL, I presented a paper on the Aqedah (the “binding” of Isaac) in Genesis 22. I explored a reading of the text that did not automatically take Abraham’s silent attempt to sacrifice his son as exemplary, given the normative example of lament or protest prayer in the Bible. This paper was part of my initial work on reading Genesis 22 and the book of Job in light of biblical lament prayer, which will be the topic of my research for a new book during my upcoming sabbatical (in 2016-17).

Given all the above, I haven’t got a lot of blogging done recently. Hopefully, this post will somewhat make up for that.

Future Posts

Once I finish editing the final two of the above essays, I hope to be able to turn more wholeheartedly to blogging in the new year. In fact, I’ve just been appointed a Theological Fellow for BioLogos, so you can expect a variety of posts on the Bible and evolution (among other topics) during 2016.



Creatures of God: Human Nature & Evolution for Evangelicals & Catholics

I recently began a series of blog posts on evolution and human nature, but I’ve had to put that aside for a while so I could prepare a lecture I will be giving in a few days in Vancouver, BC, as part of a two-day symposium funded by BioLogos.

The syposium is entitled “Creatures of God: Human Nature & Evolution for Evangelicals & Catholics” and is organized by Dr. Paul Allen, Associate Professor, Department of Theological Studies, Concordia University, Ottawa, ON.

Dr. Allen and his team have staged three prior symposia on related themes in three other Canadian contexts: Crandall University in Moncton, NB; Wycliffe College in Toronto, ON; and the Kings University College in Edmonton, AB.

At each of these events, theologians, philosophers, and scientists addressed different audiences of faculty, students, and members of the lay public on the question of human nature in the context of the orthodox claims of theological anthropology and the emergence of the human species according to Darwin’s theory and later revisions of it.

The symposium I’m a part of is addressed specifically to Evangelicals and Catholics, with presentations on the biblical and scientific sides of things.

I’ve been asked to speak on a biblical theology of humanity as imago Dei. I will give my lecture at Regent College (an Evangelical graduate school of theology affiliated with the University of British Columbia) at 7:00 pm on Thursday, October 29, 2015. The title of my lecture is: “Being Human: Engaging the Opening Chapters of Genesis in Light of Hominin Evolution.”

The following evening, Dr. Jeff Schloss (BioLogos Senior Scholar and T. B. Walker Chair of Natural and Behavioral Sciences at Westmont College) will be speaking at St. Mark’s College (the Catholic theological college of the University of British Columbia). His lecture is entitled: “Uncommon Nature Through Common Descent? Evolution and the Question of Human Exceptionalism.”

Each evening there will be a number of respondents to the paper that is presented, followed by an open discussion of the topic.

More information about both lectures can be found by downloading this flyer.

The Problem of Relating Human Evolution to the Biblical Account of Origins, Part 1—The Warfare Model and Concordism

Although there are divergences of opinion on details (since the science is always being refined), most paleo-anthropologists date the first hominin remains (the australopithecines) to some five million years ago and think that the first examples of the genus Homo appeared about two million years ago (Homo habilis). The most likely hypothesis for the evolution of anatomically modern Homo sapiens places their origin some 200,000 years ago, with an original population of perhaps 10,000.

Many religious skeptics and committed Christians alike have judged this scientific account incompatible with the biblical version of the origin of the humanity recounted in the early chapters of Genesis.

The Warfare or Conflict Model of the Bible and Science

From the skeptical side, the Bible has often been dismissed because its mythical or prescientific account of origins (both cosmic and human) is thought to contradict what we know from modern science. This skeptical approach is most evident in the “warfare” model of science and religion made famous by John W. Draper and Andrew Dickson White in the nineteenth century, and perpetuated by the new atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Many Christians (especially evangelicals and fundamentalists in North America) have bought into the warfare model, with the difference that they assume the “literal” truth of the biblical account—taking “literal” in the sense of necessitating a one-to-one correspondence between details of this account and events and actualities in the empirical world. This approach, which often goes by the name “scientific creationism” or “creation science” (or, more recently, “origin science”) assumes that the Bible intends to teach a true scientific account of cosmic origins—including a young earth and the discontinuity of species (particularly the discontinuity of humans from other primates).

Christian Attempts to Harmonize the Bible and Science Deriving from the Warfare Model

Since this way of reading biblical creation accounts clearly contradicts the understanding of origins provided by modern science (both in cosmology and in evolutionary biology), proponents of “creation science” typically dismiss the putative claims of modern science (at least in the case of cosmic and biological origins) as ideologically tainted. The result is a concordist attempt to force science to fit what the Bible (on a superficial reading) is thought to say about these topics.

A more recent, equally problematic, concordist approach works in the opposite direction, attempting to harmonize the Bible with the conclusions of modern science. This approach, spearheaded by Hugh Ross and the organization called “Reasons to Believe,” attempts to make the Bible agree with major scientific findings, at least at the level of cosmology. Thus, the Bible’s cosmological and cosmogonic statements (about the nature and origin of creation) are not understood in their ancient conceptual context, but interpreted so as to make them harmonize (anachronistically) with modern scientific claims (including a universe of galaxies billions of years old).

Yet at one point this alternative concordist project agrees with that of “creation science”—biological evolution (especially human evolution) is beyond the pale.

Despite what many Christians think, there isn’t at present any genuine scientific debate about the reality of evolution, including the descent of humans from previous life forms. The only debate is about certain details (as is to be expected in any empirical discipline). I myself have become convinced (by both genetics and paleontology) that biological evolution is the best scientific account of the development of life on earth—human evolution included. I have come to believe that the evolutionary process is simply the menchanism through which God has been creating life over the eons.

The Problem of Relating Evolution to the Bible’s Account of the Origin of Evil

Nevertheless, simple honesty requires me to admit that there are ongoing problems concerning how we are to relate human evolutionary history with the biblical teaching concerning origins.

One of the most problematic dimensions of affirming both biblical origins and biological evolution is the doctrine of the “Fall,” since the Bible seems to teach (in Genesis 3) a punctiliar, one-time event in which an original couple transgressed God’s commandment after an initial paradisiacal period.

I don’t believe that the classical, Augustinian doctrine of “original sin” is required (in all its specificity) for creedal orthodoxy. Nevertheless, the Bible itself certainly seems (at first blush) to tie the origin of evil to an understanding of human beginnings that is quite different from what we find in evolutionary biology.

Given the putative contradiction between biblical-theological claims and evolutionary science, what’s an honest Christian to do?

In my next post, I’ll examine some alternatives to the warfare model (and the resulting Christian attempt to make science harmonize with the Bible).