Saturday, February 19, 2011

We recently had a speaker at NCBC who took a very hard "Young Earth Creationist" line. This has generated some correspondence. Below I reproduce one of the emails I sent out. I have amended the  email to make it suitable for posting:

I think our epistemic limitations are with us in everything - even our grasp of the kernel truths we cherish most, like, repentance, forgiveness, sacrifice, and salvation by grace etc. (See my last post here) Any attempt to underwrite what we believe with the claim that it is "God's Word" ignores the truism that we are always ontologically other than God; we supply meaning to the bare "Word" and whilst we believe that a loving God is ultimately sovereign over our perception of meaning (via the Holy Spirit) we realise that this doesn't entail our infallibility in supplying it. The upshot is that there is, or should be, a healthy tension between knowing that a loving God is the sovereign manager of our perceptions and the undoubted fallibility of these perceptions. The indwelling Word supplies meaning, but I think He is a counsellor, not a dictator. Therefore whenever we proffer a message we too come in the role of counsellors not dictators.

The fuss over this YEC business is, I suggest, an excellent outworking and test case of this very tension. The differences we have in our fellowship are a sure sign of our fallibility. But the differences will only become sharp and angry if one or both parties think they somehow have direct access to the Word and attempt to account for those who differ from them as being compromisers with bad consciences. If an attempt to spiritually mandate YEC is made, it will inevitably cause tension.

However - and this is important - I don't see the differences being a problem at all...unless...unless...unless one party is utterly unaware that their beliefs are subject to epistemic uncertainty for reasons I have outlined above. I would hate to see the creation question to go underground simply because one party has such a profound epistemic arrogance that whenever the subject is mentioned a self righteousness kicks which will naturally be the source of hard feeling. Have you noticed that the more fundamentalist a fellowship is the deeper and nastier the disagreements? That's because both sides are sure they are on God's side.

If the Creation issue must surface in order to act as a test case and expose a deep seated sectarian and epistemic arrogance in our fellowship then I suggest that it is better to air it rather than for it to fester underground. People who are aware of their epistemic fallibility can agree to differ, but for those who "know" they are right, "agreeing to differ" is anathema - and it will show!


Note: The YEC philosophy seems to have come to the fore amongst evangelical fellowships since the sixties; it is worth comparing the views of our pre-war minister Gilbert Laws who appears to have accepted and came to terms with the findings of science. See here for a post I did on Rev. Laws views. Relevant to my comment above that "for those who know they are right, agreeing to differ is anathema - and it will show!" is an email I had from a member of an exclusive and exacting Christian sect who happened to visit the church on the evening of the talk. Almost to order he provided the expected response: He was appalled by the largely polite allowance that was given to the disagreements that surfaced in the Q&A session after the talk. This is what he wrote:

"How many spoke for and in the Lord in your meeting today? 1 may be 2 or 3? Any? Or was it all objective knowledge concerning this and that like the the age of the earth and you agreed to disagree yet still not touch the living Christ.  Did you practice the all inclusive priesthood? "

His sect has a view of man that approximates toward gnosticism: "particles of spirit" are trapped in a "soulish" world and by blending with the sect can one best learn how to "release" the spirit. What he calls "objective knowledge", is, of course, considered inferior to the inner spiritual knowledge (or gnosis) available to the initiates of  the sect - only they have the best chance of "touching the living Christ" via the sects teaching which imparts spiritual gnosis. And of course amongst this small group, whose number in Norwich is barely measured in tens, a uniformity of opinion reigns - as is the wont of exclusive sects where epistemic over-confidence is normative and the fellowship pressures are great (in this particular case those pressures are subliminally coded by my corresponded in the expression "practice the all inclusive priesthood")

Oh the childish arrogance of it all! It's all too human and predictable!

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