Examining Faith by Steve Declaissé-Walford

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“The unexamined life is not worth living” said Socrates, five centuries before Jesus. Taking Socrates’ thought further, I assert that the unexamined faith is worthless. That is, if religious faith is to have value — if it is to have meaning and purpose, if it truly is to orient one to the ultimate reality known as God — then it must be regularly, personally, and thoroughly examined.

My personal and ongoing examination of the Christian faith has yielded the following, which I offer as an explanation of my theological position.

First, I maintain that the Bible is solely theology. While it reads like history — and like a good historical novel sometimes weaves historical facts into its narrative — it is not truly history. Nor is it science, geology or geography or any of the other fields of science prevalent in the 21st century. It is in fact an anthology of texts written over a long period of time with a common theological purpose: to tell readers about God, about God’s people, and about the relationship between the two.

Rather than being the infallible Word of God, it is the Word of God as understood and interpreted by fallible human beings, and is deeply reflective of culture and society at various times throughout its history. The writers recorded how they heard and understood God and how they believed God worked in their lives long, long ago. As a result, any reading of the Bible is necessarily interpretive; it must first be read and understood in its ancient context before its teaching can be effectively applied today.

I further maintain that tradition is not truth. Just because some ideas put forward millennia ago resonated with the people of the period does not make those ideas true. The falsity of some traditions is obvious. For example, Jesus was not born on Dec. 25, nor was he resurrected on a day commemorated in the Christian tradition as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. These traditions are however acceptable and largely harmless. But some other traditions need to be questioned and perhaps abandoned.

For instance, in the centuries prior to science the creation accounts in Genesis chapters one and two were — despite their contradictory nature — traditionally taken as factual accounts of how the earth and all that is in it came into being.

Absent an understanding of astronomy, quantum physics, the concept of light years, gravitational theory, calculus, the scientific method, and of the nature and extent of the universe, the ancients came up with the best intellectually satisfying explanation they could.

An “intellectually satisfying” explanation is one that fits within intellectual experience; that is, within the realm of existing knowledge and understanding. For example, when a child asks, “Where did I come from?” most responsible parents give an answer that falls within the intellectual experience of that child: “Jesus gave you to us,” “From the grocery store — you were on special!” or perhaps a more risky, “From mommy’s tummy.”

Such responses are generally “intellectually satisfying” for the child, fitting in with their realm of experience. The answer will naturally move closer to the truth as the child’s knowledge expands, with full revelation coming when the child’s intellectual experience can support it.

Clearly, we should no more be bound by the biblical “theory” of creation put forward millennia ago and based on limited intellectual experience than we should expect humankind centuries or millennia in the future to be bound by our contemporary theories. Humankind makes scientific (and theological) assertions based on our intellectual experience and the information available to us. Not to do so would be to deny our God-given ability for rational thought!

Speaking of creation, I am an unrepentant evolutionary creationist. That is, I believe God created the universe and everything that’s in it (the point the Genesis writers were trying to make), and that as part of creation God began the evolutionary process that has resulted in the current state of all animals, including human beings. I also believe that human evolution is not complete, and that humankind itself is beginning to participate in the evolutionary process through genetics.

Lest you be horrified by this thought, I’d like to point out that Adam himself participated with God in the process of creation. You see, in ancient times it was the naming of something that brought it into being. To be un-named was to not exist. In Genesis one, God creates the idea, and then brings it into being by naming it (“let there be [name] and it was so”); in Genesis two we read that it is Adam who completes the creative process by naming God’s idea of each animal.

Let me leave you with a parting thought: Science is not against religion: instead science gives insight to the infinite capacity of the creator. Indeed, the microscope and telescope show us daily just how awesome God’s creation really is.

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