Saturday, September 14, 2013

Faith and Reason

Acts 17:1-4 When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. (And then in 17:16-17:34)
1)    Do logical arguments for ideas in our faith appeal to you or not interest you? Why or why not?

Faith and reason are often portrayed as mortal enemies. (But Paul obviously would oppose this idea.) Definitely this is a perceived struggle since the Enlightenment. Probably since Galileo Galilei.

Firm Foundation
In 1616 the arguments against Copernicus’ theory that the earth went around the sun reached a fever pitch. Galileo went to Rome to defend it, but the church decided against it, based on three lines of scripture.

Psalm 93:1 The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.

Psalm 96:10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.

1 Chronicles 16:30 Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.
2)    How do you interpret these? Why do they not mean that the sun goes around the earth?

Opposition seemed to be loosening, encouraging Galileo to write about the idea as a theory. But the climate shifted suddenly, and in 1633 Galileo was tried and convicted of heresy, condemned to spend the rest of his life in house arrest. He died in 1648, having used that time to great effect, and is now called the father of physics.

Galileo held the Bible to be true, but did not take every passage literally, especially scripture that is a book of poetry. He believed Scripture true in that the sun does rise and set – the writers were describing what they saw.  So he believed that science did not contradict Scripture, as Scripture was discussing a different kind of movement of the earth, and not rotations.

Hebrews 11:1-3 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

The rest of Chapter 11 is about the faith of the heroes of the Old Testament. Then Chapter 12 begins:
Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Take a minute to read or skim the rest of the chapter.

3)    How does the faithfulness of other believers, from scripture or in your life, encourage you?

Thomas Aquinas, ca 1250, was first nicknamed by his fellow monks the “dumb ox,”  but later proved to be one of the greatest thinkers in human history.  He thought doctrine needed to be based on scripture, and worked on both through faith and reason. Faith and reason are both necessary, because truth that can be reached with reason does not need faith, and there were truths that were entirely beyond reason, like eternal salvation. Two quotes by him help here:  “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” and  “All that is true, by whomsoever it has been said has its origin in the Spirit.”

Studying scripture he thought about its truth in two (or four) ways: historical/literal truth and spiritual truth. Spiritual truths he divided up into three categories, allegorical – like when the old testament writers wrote about Jesus, moral – like when Jesus modeled for us how to live, and anagogical. Anagogical is his term for a teaching about what is yet to come, like Revelation. All the scripture dealing with salvation, he felt, is literal, and literal scripture holds a special place.

Scientific Scripture
One bit of scripture revered by many faithful scientists is Psalm 19. Let’s read it together.

4)    (vv1-6) How does creation give glory to God in your eyes?

5)    (vv 7-9) How does God’s word compare to God’s creation? Are they connected?

6)    (vv10-14) It feels like David is personalizing creation and word here. Do you identify with his response? Is any of it challenging to you?

David, growing up in the hills, always seems comforted by creation. But he also was ahead of his time in understanding the breadth and awesome span of God’s work.  Read Psalm 8 together.

7)    How do you respond to David’s song? “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

Scientists who are Christians feel that part of their work is to show atheist teachings as philosophy rather than science. In particular, the most subtle shift: moving from the scientific process as a way of approaching truth to the belief that science is all the real knowledge there is. (Sometimes called scientism.) At the least, they ask the Church to accept them in the spirit of Acts 15.

Acts 15:5-11 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

8)    Does this passage apply to the evolution debate? Can you be a Christian and believe in evolution?


Personal Note
This was a bit of a tough study for me. I outed myself as a Christian who believes in evolution. While I don't pretend to be anything else, I haven't made an issue of it, either, and my bible study group are creationists for the most part. They were - of course - loving and just as supportive afterward as they have been before.  I shared how I have been told by many well-meaning Christian brothers (not sisters, interestingly) that you can not be both. While I have not always been accepting of creationists, either, I've repented of that and would now hate to ever give someone the feeling that they should not believe in faith where they have been lead. I do want us all to be able to be in church and worship the Lord together.

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