Friday, November 22, 2013

Natural Theology

I've been reading The Open Secret by Alister McGrath. It's a fantastic book on how to have a distinctly Christian Natural Theology. I haven't finished it yet, but each chapter is inspiring.

What is Natural Theology? I would define it as how God has revealed himself through nature. If such a statement makes you recoil and shout, "But what about the Bible, isn't it enough?," then let us start with Psalm 19:1 among others.

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

I think we can find out something about God through nature. It will never be enough since God has revealed himself for us through Jesus. But just because nature can't tell us everything about God doesn't mean it can't tell us anything about God.

I watched a show the other night, How the Universe Works. It was all about stars and how if there were no stars there would be no life. It was estimated that on a clear night, one could possible see 3,000 stars, but the actual number of stars in our galaxy alone could be more than 100 billion, that is 100,000,000,000. Our Sun is just one of those.

Inside stars is a bakery for cooking up elements that are needed for life (i.e. carbon, oxygen, and most importantly iron). There is no other way of getting these elements than from stars.

So, what conclusions can one draw? I think I would say that God created the stars to shine, to bring light and life into his world. He gave humanity the ability to see the stars and study them and by understanding them, we see God's vastness, power, and creativity. He even knows their name! (Psalm 147:4 and Isaiah 40:26)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Build a caricature then tear that down

The other day someone gave Lady R a Muslim track in front of the British Museum. She brought it home, and we both read it.

I know Christians do the same thing, but building a caricature of the other and then tearing that down will not normally win anyone over.

Here are some lies that is most certainly believed among Muslims about Christians. I can't quote the track because I would have to get permission, and I am too lazy to do that.

Scientific knowledge, unknown until present day, has been preserved in the Qur'an. What I find interesting in this statement is how it is then used as a proof of its truth and has caused many scientists to become Muslims. As far as I know both the Bible and the Qur'an are not scientific books. Therefore, if either the Christian or the Muslim finds scientific ideas in them, those ideas have probably been read back into the texts. While admitting that the Qur'an is not scientific it goes on to assert that the Qur'an is the most accurate ancient book about science. There have not been many conflicts between Islam and science. I would respond by saying, "it may well be on its way."

Islam rejects the Trinity and does not see how it can possible be compatible with monotheism. That is because, along with Christian heresy, the idea of Trinity has not been accurately explained to nor grasped by Muslims. And even when it has been, there is never a guarantee that one will choose to accept it.

Idris is a biblical prophet along with Muhammad.

The text of "Scripture" has been changed, and it can be proven; thus, the unreliability of the "Scripture." The Qur'an has only had one version ever. However, it preservation has only been in Arabic. So sad for the rest of us.

Christians believe that because children are born sinful they must be baptized shortly after birth so that they will be protected from God's wrath.

Jesus was a only a great teacher/prophet. There are so many conflicts about the life of Jesus that this is proof that what is said about him is unreliable. God is too good, according to this pamphlet, to punish Jesus who was a good man.

I would encourage Christians to be the experts in Christianity as well as to be able to defend themselves against opposing ideas. At the same time, let Muslims be the experts in Islam and let them tell you what they actually believe and practice. You will still have plenty to discuss even when you aren't assuming you know what the other believes.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

They are all telling us a story

Who doesn't like a good story? Books, films and radio dramas succeed only through a good plot. And if that story is being passed off as history, we assume it is true unless we have been told it is an imaginative re-interpretation of history. If it is recent enough history the event can be collaborated by eye-witnesses. For example if I were to report that the Tom Jones opened for Bon Jovi in January, this could be easily discredited.

But there are a lot of stories we just can't prove with that kind of accuracy or precision. I have been reading again some of the major stories of the Bible. I'm fascinated once more by the story of Noah and the Flood. I know there are older flood stories than the one we have in the Bible, and I might even say that the biblical one is Israel's version of the Babylonian/Sumerian one. This story can't be verified through independent eye-witness accounts. Except for Noah, his wife, Shem, Ham, Japheth, and their wives, no one else survived. No one saw this crew exit the boat with all the animals. But surely there is some truth there.

Because of the ancient sources, I think we can say in the least that there was a flood of some sort that has stayed in the conscious minds of people for a very long time after that event. There were probably survivors who found refuge in a big boat. They may even have had some animals aboard.

The Hebrew version doesn't seem to be polemical except that the gods of Babylon have been replaced with the one true God, this is a huge deviation from the Babylonian story. But it isn't simply removing the gods and re-telling the story with just one God. It is re-telling the story with the characteristics of the monotheistic Deity keeping in tune with the understanding of how he brings salvation in the midst of judgment. Of course, in keeping with the purpose of Genesis, we are given in the story of Noah and the Flood the origins of a few more every day items such as human diversity, the perpetuation of wickedness, why God has not wiped humans out of existence, rainbows etc.

All in all the lessons remain the same. God is the one to trust for salvation in judgment, wickedness will be destroyed, righteousness is what God wants, and we're not judged yet because God is holding back. Now, if the Earth is ever completely flooded, then we can say this was a story from someone's imagination who was able to deceive billions of people over thousands of years. We, then, can conclude that they were all telling us a bunch of stories (or untrues).

Historic Adam

I have been listening to an internal (i.e. Christian) debate, which recently aired, among Dr Dennis Alexander, Fuz Rana, and Peter Enns on the radio show "Unbelievable," concerning the historicity of the Biblical Adam.

There have been some good points brought up like why do we have to protect the doctrine of Original Sin by insisting on a historical Adam. There may be other reasons to seek for a historic Adam, but systematic doctrine should not be one of them. The text should drive doctrine and not doctrine drive the text.

An argument for a historical Adam comes from Paul and Jesus. And before one outright dismisses Adam from being a real person, one would probably do well to consider their treatment of a historical Adam. If Paul and Jesus believed in a historical Adam, shouldn't we do well to believe the same? Luke vies for a historical Adam by taking Jesus' lineage all the way back to Adam. Mathew and Mark report that Jesus indirectly refers to Adam and Eve, when he is teaching on marriage. Paul compares Christ to the new Adam. What Adam failed to do, Christ did; extend life all the way into eternity.

But what about our deeper understanding of the natural world that was not known to the writer of Genesis or Paul? Obviously, there will be more to learn, but how do we deal with what we do know? What we seem to know from the natural world is that the evidence for a single couple being able to account for the entire genetic progenitors of today is slim to none.

Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome project and a follower of Jesus, has proposed that the way we can account for the genetic diversity of humans may be through an Adamic population in the beginning of about 10,000 (if memory is correct). And at some point hominids were given the breath of life from God and became conscious of theirs and God's existence.

I don't think we have to solve all the details. But we can feel confident that mankind from beginning until today is still rebeling against God and in need of a second Adam.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Which Adam?

I have been reading a book on how to read the Qur'an called, obviously enough, Reading the Qur'an by Ziauddin Sardar. I was interested in knowing what, if any, differences there are between the Christian and Muslim understanding of the "Beginnings."

The first thing I learned is that the Qur'an is "non-chronological...non-linear...and non-narrative..." (pg18). I knew every time I had tried to read portions of the Qur'an that I relied heavily on the subject index in the back to get me to the Sura that addressed my interest. So, I am glad to have confirmed that it is not only my lack of knowing how the Qur'an is set up, but also the structure of the Qur'an itself that forces me to the subject index.

From what I can gather so far, there is no "Creation Story," as in the Bible. Creation is affirmed in Islam and God is affirmed as Creator, but how he did it is not mentioned directly. This is why, I assume, I have often heard that Islam and Evolution are not incompatible.

So what about Adam? Mr. Sardar devotes a chapter to the "Fall and Evil" section of the Al-Baqara (Sura 2:30-39). The text tells us that God created a vice regent on earth. We assume his name was Adam (2:31) and God taught him all the names (either of the plants and animals or attributes of God). The angels do not know the things taught to Adam until Adam revealed them to the angels. God, then, told the angels to bow down before Adam, which they did except Iblis. God continued and commanded Adam and his wife to dwell in the Garden and to eat freely from all the trees, and they were not to go near a certain tree or they would become wrongdoers. Satan caused them to slip and they lost their happy state. Next, Adam received guidance from God and God relented since He is Most Merciful. And whoever follows His guidance has no fear nor grief, but the ones who disbelieve and deny "Our" revelations deserve/are destined for the Fire.

As noted, there are some key differences between the Genesis account of the Fall and this one from the Qur'an.

  • Eve is not named as wife of Adam in Qur'an.
  • In Genesis God seemingly has endued Adam with the ability to name the animals, whereas in the Qur'an, God taught Adam the names (assuming names of animals).
  • Adam's wife appears without any explanation of her being brought into being.
  • Angels bow to Adam in the Qur'an.
  • Iblis refuses to bow down to Adam. It is assumed Iblis and Satan are the same.
  • In Genesis it is assumed the snake has been embodied by Satan.
  • Satan influenced Adam and his wife to "slip." The assumption is either he came near the forbidden unnamed tree or ate of it.
  •  In Genesis Adam and Eve may eat from every tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve told the snake that they could not eat nor touch that tree.
Mr. Sadar reflects on this Sura and calls it a "parable...Their fate, the fall from grace, is an ever present possibility for those who stray from the straight path of God's guidance and will not repent and reform." (p90 emphasis mine) Sadar further explains that when God made the angels bow to Adam and his wife that this is a symbol of humanity's capacity to do better. "We can rise above angels in our good deeds."(p92) Adam and his wife only slipped up and were forgiven without any "bloodcurdling Old Testament curses from God..." (p92)

What shall we say in way of comparison and of the consequences of these two stories?

I think we can say that the differences in the two stories highlight the main difference between Christianity and Islam. In Christianity Jesus had to come to restore something irreparably done when Adam disobeyed. In Islam, it seems, humanity has no need of a rescuer. Humanity can do enough good deeds to earn the favor of God. Since nothing has been broken, nothing needs fixing. The story of Adam, according to Islam, is to highlight humanity's ability to find his way back to God on his own. The stress is not on Adam's "slip," but that he not be like Iblis (p92), not be arrogant towards God's guidance when he does slip. While Christians should admit that pride does keep us away from God, we also admit that there is nothing we can do to get back to God after sin. We believe that only Jesus can bridge the gap between our fallen sinful selves and a holy God.

In conclusion the Qur'anic Adam and the Adam from the Bible are not the same. One Adam highlights his ability to overcome slips through humility, the other Adam characterizes his total shame because of rebellion and wrongdoing and his inability to do anything about it.