Creation on the hoof

The comments I made on Biologos , which prompted my last post here, have aroused some largely hostile response (as I expected), mainly around my daring to restrict the word “creation” to God. Since the Renaissance, that indeed has been a red rag to society’s bull, just like any suggestion that “freedom” may be less of an absolute than moderns like to believe. The most interesting thing to see was the mystification that anyone might have a problem with a novel idea in theology, as if one weren’t free to create such things at will.

But to me, theology is a science, whose basic data is the written revelation of God, though it may be aided and abetted by other spheres of human knowledge. Nevertheless, like science, it’s an exact and demanding discipline. It may, and does, lead to joy and worship (as should true science), but it starts from the disciplined application of Spirit-led reason to Spirit-breathed Scripture in order to discover truth.

By science, I don’t mean a whimsical and innocent pursuit like butterfly classification, but a science as risky as nuclear physics, only more so. Act in a cavalier way with critical masses of plutonium, and you might provoke a nuclear accident or kill yourself. Acting in a cavalier way with theology potentially risks the eternal destiny of yourself and whoever gives ear to you.

I first became aware of this at the British Christian creative arts festival, Greenbelt, around 1984. I got in free by playing on the festival fringe. I was at an “Any Questions” seminar with Os Guiness and one of the festival organisers. Os was remarkable: he’d respond to an off-the-cuff question immediately with numbered bullet points which, on listening back to tapes later, covered the ground completely. That was because he’s exceptionally bright, and had spent years studying theology and reading and reflecting widely in many other fields. If you’re interested Os Guiness was a role-model for me.

The other guy, whose name I won’t give, was obviously more out of his depth. At one point he answered some question on feminism with: “Maybe we need a new theology – kind of like, God makes men and women [a few rambling sentences] – oh, I don’t know.” He, unlike Os, was a rock musician. It struck me that he had the idea you could do theology on the fly like you play a guitar solo in a 12-bar (which you do mainly by recycling stock phrases  to make them sound convincing). And though I actually had dinner with him some years later, I didn’t lose the impression that he didn’t actually “get” theology, though he ran a Christian festival.

Now rightly or wrongly I have the same impression within the community of theistic evolution, and maybe for an analogous reason. Someone, usually a scientist with a spiritual bent, comes up with an idea about the “freedom of nature” say – or of course, its role as “co-creator” – with a basis in process theology or some such heterodox philosophy. Other scientists like it, forget its dubious provenance, and apply it more and more widely and less critically because it “seems” to make sense, especially since it allows you to be creative and free with the things of God. One of these ad hoc assumptions is that any criticism of such ideas implies a blinkered belief in “Biblical Inerrantism”, which has no place in Evangelicalism (although, actually, it is its primary distinctive).

Theistic evolution seems to indulge in such free-wheeling theologising more than any other Christian sub-culture I’ve come across. Why might that be? Could it perhaps be that biologists are so used to constructing plausible Just-So stories about an opaque evolutionary past that they think the same practices can be applied to the more rigorous sciences like theology?

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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