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Our Eternal Destiny: A Discussion about Universalism – Audio

Here is the audio from last month’s panel discussion between Joe Fleener and Bryan Winters on universalism and the Christian understanding of salvation:

[pk_icon_link icon=”download” icon_type=”dark”]Our Eternal Destiny: A Discussion about Universalism[/pk_icon_link] (please right click and save as)

The exchange took place at Bethlehem Community Church, Tauranga, with Bryan defending universalism and Joe defending the traditional Christian approach.

Special thanks to Rodney for organizing the audio. If you would like information on how to get a copy of the dvd, please contact him.

More about the speakers:

Bryan Winters has an Honours degree in Geography and Economics and has been a school teacher in New Zealand, West Africa and London. He now works in IT sales and consulting where he has worked in Australia, Singapore and New Zealand.

Joe Fleener holds a Masters of Divinity and has served as a fulltime Bible College lecturer in New Zealand in the areas of Old Testament, Church History, Apologetics, Christian Worldview and Ethics before entering his current role as Associate Pastor of Howick Baptist Church in Auckland. He blogs at the Kiwifruit Blog and you can follow him on twitter at @jfleener5.

Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind by Mark Noll

Few sentences have had as great an impact on evangelicalism in the late twentieth century than the opening of Mark Noll’s 1994 book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. “The scandal of the evangelical mind,” he wrote, “is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” For many, the book was a wake-up call to the anti-intellectualism of the church and the state of evangelical scholarship.

Seventeen years later, the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at Notre Dame returns to the topic in a new book released this month: Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.

Read more

The challenge of the New Evangelical Liberalism

Whether or not J. Gresham Machen was right, that modern liberalism represents a different religion from Christianity, it is definitely a mindset that offers enormous danger to the church. The January/February issue of the 9Marks eJournal examines the new evangelical liberalism and the current marginalization of the Gospel in some quarters of the church today. There is plenty of good reading, from the issue of evangelical scholarship and ambition by Carl Trueman (Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at WTS) to an article by R. Albert Mohler (president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) on how the reformulation of the doctrine of hell to remove its intellectual and moral offensiveness is a good test case for the slide into liberalism.

For those that are passionate about the Gospel and the health of the church, the eJournal is a helpful collection of essays that reaffirm the necessity of faithfulness to God’s Word in our Gospel-proclamation and witness.

Download the PDF or read the articles online:

THE MINDSET OF THE NEW EVANGELICAL LIBERALISM

How to Become a Liberal Without Attending Harvard Divinity School
What kind of pastor is susceptible to liberalism? One who loves self, and even the sheep, more than he loves the Good Shepherd.
By Michael Lawrence

The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
Why do evangelical academics so crave worldly acceptance?
By Carl Trueman

Air Conditioning Hell: How Liberalism Happens
Liberalism happens when we try to save Christianity from itself.
By R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

The Neo-Liberal Stealth Offensive
The gospel’s most dangerous adversaries are not raving atheists. They are church leaders with gentle, friendly, pious demeanors.
By Phil Johnson

CASE STUDIES IN THE NEW EVANGELICAL LIBERALISM

What’s Happening to InterVarsity?
A long-term InterVarsity vet takes a hard look at some disturbing trends in this historically faithful campus ministry. 
By J. Mack Stiles

Is the God of the Missional Gospel Too Small?
When we say that a gospel that addresses systemic injustice is “bigger” than a gospel of “sin management,” what are we saying about the worth of God’s glory?
By Jonathan Leeman

What Would Athanasius Do: Is The Great Tradition Enough?
Is this new rallying point for Christian unity all it’s made out to be? Not if you want to preserve the gospel.
By Greg Gilbert

Notes from the Future: Evangelical Liberalism in the UK
Want a sneak peek at the future of evangelicalism? Then listen in as a British brother takes a look at the past and present of liberalism in the UK.
By Mike Ovey

Social Gospel Redux?
Are some evangelicals preaching a renewed social gospel?
By Russell D. Moore

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE NEW EVANGELICAL LIBERALISM

What Can We Learn from the History of Liberalism?
Historic liberalism was a response—the wrong one—to Christianity’s credibility crisis.
By Gregory A. Wills

Who Exactly Are the Evangelicals?
Is an evangelical simply “anyone who likes Billy Graham,” as one historian put it?
By Michael Horton

More Than a Feeling: The Emotions and Christian Devotion
Casting an eye toward recent evangelical history, Darryl Hart suggests that a wrong emphasis on emotions has been—and can still be—a path to liberalism.
By D. G. Hart

Evangelism and Social Action: A Tale of Two Trajectories
What do twentieth century ecumenism and twenty-first century evangelicalism have in common? More than you might think.
By Bobby Jamieson

MISCELLANEOUS BOOK REVIEWS

Book Review: The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small Is the New Big for Today’s Church, by Tony and Felicity Dale and George Barna
Reviewed by Aaron Menikoff

Book Review: Why Join a Small Church?, by John Benton
Reviewed by Aaron Menikoff

Conflict for the Darwinian Dispute

Charles Darwin (1809–1882) is often portrayed as a believer struggling with doubt, reluctantly yielding to rational thinking in light of the evidence he found while journeying on the HMS Beagle in the Galapagos Islands. Wiker[1] points out that while Darwin’s ideas are well known, much of the story of his life is either unknown or mythical. To summarize just a few of his more relevant points;

First, evolution was less innovation and more popularization, having been believed by his father before him and his grandfather Erasmus Darwin. During Erasmus’ time there was a resurgence of interest in the philosophy of the ancient Epicurean philosopher Lucrecius, who propounded evolutionary ideas. Evolutionary thinking was already a part of the ethos of the age we call Modernism and Charles Darwin was a man who set out on the Beagle to find proof of evolution, rather than someone who reluctantly came to accept the idea because of the weight of the evidence.

Second, Darwin’s brief tenure studying theology was less from conviction or faith in God, and more to maintain a social acceptability by conforming to what was then considered to be stabilizing cultural norm – the church. His departure from that institution was less from lack of belief, and more to follow his true interest – the study of nature.

Third, Darwin’s thesis was not the bombshell it has been made out to be.[2] Many Christian’s of the day, including Charles Lyell (1797–1875)[3] easily accepted evolutionary ideas and yet remained critical of the Darwinian posturing toward God no longer being necessary to explain the origin and diversity of life. Darwin’s associate and co-discoverer of evolutionary theory Alfred Russell Wallace (1823–1913) became convinced that natural selection alone – without God – would not suffice. The beauty and intricateness of such a process, he thought, was too grand and astounding, and still could not explain human morality, rationality and even physical nature.[4]

Fourth, the idea that there was a thoughtless rejection of evolutionary theory on behalf of the church when Origin of Species (1859) and the Decent of Man (1871) were published is mainly rhetoric. Christian thinkers, both scientists and theologians, were for the most part civil and maintained friendly dialogue. Asa Gray (1810-1888), the American botanist at Harvard and Evangelical was one of these: a friend and long-time correspondent of Darwin who saw design and order in the natural world of evolution progress. Moore writes,

“There was not a polarization of “science” and “religion” as the idea of opposed armies implies but a large number of learned men, some scientists, some theologians, some indistinguishable, and almost all of them very religious, who experienced various differences among themselves. There was not organization apparent on either “side” as the idea of rank and command implies but deep divisions among men of science, the majority of whom were at first hostile to Darwin’s theory, and a corresponding and derivative division among Christians who were scientifically untrained, with a large proportion of leading theologians quite prepared to come to terms peacefully with Darwin. Nor, finally, was there the kind of antagonism pictured in the discharge of weaponry but rather a much more subdued overall reaction to the Origin of Species than is generally supposed and a genuine amiability in the relations of those who are customarily believed to have been at battle.”[5]

In order to understand the avid rejection of evolutionary theory by some Christians one needs to understand that another science appeared in the nineteenth century. Higher criticism leveled its gaze on the orthodox view of scripture and with the philosophical assumptions of the Enlightenment and Modernism challenged much of Christian belief. There was no official response given by the church on Higher criticism, Evolutionary theory or Darwinism, however individuals within the church did deem to respond to these intellectual challenges. Responses were indeed inevitable if merely by virtue that these ideas became engrained in the culture. These responses can be categorized into four distinct groups: the Liberal response, the Neo-Orthodox response, the Evangelical response and the Fundamentalist response.

The Liberal response to Higher criticism was acceptance. Liberals rejected the authority of the Bible and traditional Christian orthodoxy and therefore did not consider conflict with science possible[6] – science and religion were non-overlapping magisteria. The Neo-orthodox response was dialectical, and so to a lesser extent did the same as the Liberals and accepted the insights.

The Evangelical response was that of accommodation. This was in the tradition of Calvin and in-line with Augustine who advocated perceived conflicts could be reconciled with better interpretation of either the Bible or of nature. John Calvin (1509–1564) the French theologian gave to science two gifts. First, he encouraged the study of nature. Nature demonstrated the wisdom of God and provided proofs of his glory.[7] Second, he removed the need to interpret the bible literally. By offering people a hermeneutic of “accommodation” he made the emergence of the natural sciences possible[8] and firmly grounded a tradition within evangelicalism allowing science to be integrated with the scripture.[9]

Evangelicals therefore attempted harmonization with the insights of Higher criticism, which would eventually yield new insights in theology, and breakthroughs in historical Jesus research. For evolutionary biology harmonization meant a variety of differing positions like Theistic Evolution[10] and Progressive Creationism.[11]

It was the reaction of Fundamentalism that was to have the most profound influence on the way the relationship between science and Christianity were perceived. Higher criticism and Darwin’s popularization of evolutionary theory elicited a negative reaction by some who felt that society was becoming more and more depraved in their thinking. Fundamentalism, distinguished by cultural isolationism and a dogmatic biblical literalism, decided to judge science by the Bible. Evolution is therefore a fraud. This response represents a “circling of the wagons” and as evolutionary theory gained prominence it created a siege mentality. This is why many describe Fundamentalism as obscurantist, insular and militaristic.

Essentially Fundamentalism is Evangelicalism on the defensive, though there is a range of responses to both sciences encapsulated by the term.[12] All refuse the Grand Evolution story for its atheistic implications, but there are a great variety of opinions to the extent which evolution has played a role in the development of the diversity of life. Some criticize evolution on the basis of flaws in theory, others dogmatically refuse in principle and offer no more explanation. Some in the twentieth century sought to re-interpret the evidence without the Rationalist and Materialistic presuppositions and developed Creation Science, which for the most part that militantly rejects evolution in favor of a young earth and a literal 24-hr/six-day creation period.

It is Fundamentalism that fueled the Creation/Evolution controversy in the twentieth century, and this is nowhere more typified by the Scopes Trial (referred to now as “The Monkey Trial”) in 1926. John Scopes was put on trial for teaching evolution, and backed by the ACLU,[13] lost when the Tennessee law was upheld, but the fall-out from media sensationalism at the time lent credit to the Conflict Thesis. The influence of that media storm made it the subject of a play Inherit the Wind (1955) later adapted to a movie in 1960. The idea that science and religion are at war is still very much a part of the general public’s consciousness, even though it is not “religion” as such, but one specific branch of Christian belief that insists on literal interpretations.[14]

Today the relationship between science and Christianity is very healthy. It is believed the renaissance of Christian philosophy over the last fifty years has been so successful the effect has been the resurrection of Natural Theology, including powerful refurbishment of the teleological arguments.[15] The increasingly powerful Intelligent Design movement can be viewed as an effect of this renaissance in Christian thinking. The so-called “New Atheism” is an aberration to the general trend (perhaps also a reaction to it) and represents a movement out of touch with the higher echelons in academia that rejects the Conflict Thesis.[16] There are many other models that are used to describe the relationship between science and religion, but as Brooke says “general theses are difficult to maintain.”[17]

Alvin Plantinga views Christian belief as fundamentally congruent with science and only peripherally hostile.[18] Gary Ferngren summarizes,

“While some historians had always regarded the Draper-White thesis as oversimplifying and distorting a complex relationship, in the late twentieth century it underwent a more systematic reevaluation. The result is the growing recognition among historians of science that the relationship of religion and science has been much more positive than is sometimes thought. Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization. If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule”[19]

Concluding then, Christianity has been an overwhelming boon to the scientific endeavor.[20] Kenneth Samples writes:

“Conflicts between scientific theories and the Christian faith have arisen through the centuries, to be sure. However, the level of conflict has often been exaggerated, and Christianity’s positive influence on scientific progress is seldom acknowledged.”[21]

Christianity provides a philosophical foundation for the success of science and today enjoys a fruitful conversation that has endured since the seventeenth century. Although many people presuppose and implicitly if not explicitly accept the Conflict Thesis, this is largely dead in academia. A particular type of Christian belief, namely Fundamentalism, remains reactionary towards a particular type of science, namely evolution. The broad mainstream accepts science as useful to theology, particularly in supporting the project of Natural Theology. When difficulties arise harmonization with a hermeneutic of “accommodation” can be attempted. The relationship is best described as a flourishing dialogue rather than with militaristic terms.

Footnotes

[1] Benjamin Wiker. The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (2009)

[2] Dr. Matthew Flannegan argues evolutionary theory, if correct, only undermines a specific teleological argument for God’s existence and the rest of Christian theism is still on solid ground.

[3] The eminent scientist and founder of modern geology

[4] Talk with Greg Koukl and Dr. Benjamin Wiker, Stand to Reason.

[5] Quote found at God and Nature: p7-8, quote from Moore, Post-Darwinian Controversies

[6] David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, University of California Press (April 29, 1986) p. 14.

[7] In order than no one might be excluded from the means of obtaining happiness, God has been pleased, not only to place in our minds the seeds of religion of which we have already spoken, but to make known his perfection in the whole structure of the universe, and daily place them in our view, in such a manner that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to observe him. . . To prove his remarkable wisdom, both the heavens and the earth present us with countless proofs – not just those more advances proofs which astronomy, medicine and all the other natural sciences are designed to illustrate, but proofs which force themselves on the attention of the most illiterate peasant, who cannot open his eyes without seeing them. (Institutes I.v.1-2)

[8] Alister E. McGrath. Science and Religion, (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1999) p. 11

[9] “Prior to the nineteenth century there was a widespread agreement in the West, particularly in Protestant Christian circles, that resolution to these questions could be achieved by combining insights from both science and Scripture in a unified field of knowledge. If such an integrated view on the level of method and reference was established, it would become the focal point on which the understanding of life depended. Consequently, science and the Christian faith were presumed to be on the same die, mutually compatible, and dealing with the discovery of truth through a uniform epistemology.”

Diepstra, George R. and Gregory J. Laughery. “Interpreting Science and Scripture: Genesis 1-3” European Journal of Theology, 18:1, p. 6.

[10] There is a wide range of opinion encapsulated in this broad category, but generally means God created the first life and got the evolutionary ball rolling, but then left the process alone.

[11] Again, this is a broad category, but generally means God was involved and intervened in the process of creation.

[12] The term is also employed to describe a quagmire of other things, such as theological positions and hermeneutical methods, social agendas and political associations, etc., which make the title an honorific, a slur, and without context too vague for proper use.

[13] American Civil Liberties Union

[14] Alister E. McGrath. The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998) p. 22.

[15] The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, pp. 69-85. Ed. M. Martin. Cambridge Companions to Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 2007  also Quentin Smith, “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism” Philo 4/2(2001): 3-4.

[16] “God Is Not Dead Yet.” Christianity Today. July, 2008, pp. 22-27.

[17] John Hedley Brooke. Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) p. 5

[18] He also convincingly argues that it is naturalism that is fundamentally hostile and only peripherally congruent. (Science and Religion: DVD, Naturalism ad absurdum).

[19] Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. p. ix

[20] Kenneth Samples, “The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science” (http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/christianscience.shtml; Retrieved 27 Jan, 2009), 1998.

[21] Ibid., See also Stuart McEwing, “The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science” (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2009/the-historic-alliance-between-christianity-and-science/; Retrieved 27 Nov, 2009)

The danger of intellectual compromise

In his massive work on postmodernism and evangelicalism, Don Carson drew attention to the perils and pitfalls of the Christian community’s navigation of pluralism. Although the Gagging of God is no longer as perhaps contemporary as it once was (his Christ and Culture Revisited or Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church might be slightly more relevant) I still find myself returning to it as a source of invaluable insight and and clarity on broader cultural issues and theology. Today we might be witnessing a greater vibrancy and growth of Christian thinkers in philosophy, but I believe Carson’s words should still resonate with us:

In other words, I worry less about the anti-intellectualism of the less educated sections of evangelicalism than I do about the biblical and theological illiteracy, or astonishing intellectual compromise, among its leading intellectuals. Evangelicalism has many sons and daughters whose primary vocation is the life of the mind: writers, thinkers, scholars, academicians, researchers — in field after field. They are not inferior to other thinkers in similar fields. But with rare exceptions they have not made the impact they might have because their grasp of biblical and theological truth has rarely extended much beyond Sunday school knowledge. In the main, they think like secularists and bless their insights with the odd text or biblical cliché. They cannot quite be accepted by the secular guilds (unless of course they keep their mouths shut completely about heir faith), and they cannot revolutionize intellectual life in the West because they do not think like consistent Christians who take on the status quo and seek to replace it with something better.

Carson is the research professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and the author of over 40 books on theology, hermeneutics, and Christian living .