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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In Defence of Natural Theology

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring'." (Acts 17:24-28)

It was Neil Moore who a while back posted a blog linking wisdom with science. That set me thinking and I picked up something while recently reading the gospel according to Matthew. But first I need to set the scene with some comments about Paul in Athens.

Several Christian writers have used Acts 17 to encourage Christians to engage in evangelism. For brevity I have not quoted the entire chapter. I leave it to readers to do that. If they do, and do so without scales on their eyes they will see what Biblical Creationists have seen for some time. There are many people in the world for whom the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is nothing more than babbling. They are not ready to receive the message. Further preparation of the 'soil' is required. The Apostle Paul quickly realised this in Athens and amended his preaching to what is today called Natural Theology and then Paul brought into his conversation the resurrection of Christ. This approach attracted some sneering but others said "We want to hear you again on this subject." (Acts 17:32) - a marked improvement on the prior condition.

Perhaps about a millennium prior to that scene in Athens there was, ruling in Israel, King Solomon who possessed a knowledge of the creation which set him over and above everyone else in the world. News of him spread far and wide. The Queen of Sheba heard the reports and went to Jerusalem to test Solomon with some hard questions. What she heard and saw overwhelmed her. She remarked "Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD's eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness." (1 Kings 10:9)

Don't miss the point here! The Queen of Sheba, along with observing how God had blessed Solomon with wealth, found Solomon to have an understanding of what is today called science which was far superior to anything or anyone she had known. She tested it against her own understanding and, we ought expect, in its outworking in the world around her. It proved right and played a major part in her praising God. Here was so-called Natural Theology as an instrument in the salvation of the Queen of Sheba.

Salvation of the Queen of Sheba?

What else can one conclude if our Lord Jesus Christ, when speaking of the wicked and adulterous generation of Pharisees and teachers of the law, says "The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here." (Matthew 12:42) Who else is appointed to judge and condemn the world but Jesus Christ and those who are adopted into Him through repentance and faith. (1Cor. 6:2-3)

Note also the distinction our Lord makes between the people of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom (Matt. 11:21-24) and the men of Ninevah at the time of Jonah's preaching and the Queen of the South. (Matt. 12:41-42) The former group are said to be under judgment (albeit a degree better off than Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum) whereas the latter are said to perform a role as judges. At one particular moment the citizens in the capital city of one the cruelest nations on earth (Assyria) were recipients of the mercy of God through the preaching of the word of God and their response of repentance. Also, the Queen of Sheba, outside the covenant of God with Israel, hears reports of the wonders of a man (Solomon) blessed of God and she goes to test the veracity of the reports. R. D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel, commenting on the reaction of the Queen of Sheba in being "overwhelmed" after testing Solomon, say "This last is literally 'there was no more spirit left in her,' which indicates extremely strong emotion." It presents to me that this spiritual state of the Queen of Sheba is like that of conversion experience. This view is reinforced by our Lord Jesus' words when, at Matt. 5:3, he says "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Where then does this all lead us?

Clearly, the maligning of Natural Theology within the Episcopalian Diocese of Sydney is misplaced. There always has been and always will be a place for rightly explaining the Creator God and the order of creation. Obviously we are today under a covenant ushered in by Jesus Christ and being brought into that covenant relationship involves explanation of and reception of the redeeming work of Christ. However, the covenant relationship offered by God today, through Christ Jesus, is not so restricted by explanation as to leave out the creating work of God through Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That the order of creation is lightly regarded in the Episcopalian Diocese of Sydney is indicative of a workman who has no confidence in certain tools of his trade. Those not understood or less regarded will not be employed. Further, holding to a Theistic Evolution view of the order of creation leaves the advocate with an explanation overloaded with words such as "maybe", "possibly", "mystery" and "uncertain." In such circumstance you would be reluctant to employ it or, as hearer, receive it.

Solomon's understanding of the order of creation was an instrument in the salvation of the "Queen of the South" and the Apostle Paul's successful resort to the order of creation when his message of the resurrection was confused by the Athenians are sufficient cause to reject the unhelpful notions of the Episcopalian Diocese of Sydney toward Natural Theology.

To rely on Natural Theology (or order of creation) alone today is an incomplete theology just as much as not including it. A caution exists. In employing Natural Theology you are only offering empty rhetoric if what you present is not in accord with the clear word of God.

Sam Drucker


Critias said...

I flicked to the Anglican Origins Discussion site a while ago and that led me to one of the theology blogs that site advertises. One one of them, I can't remember which there was a symposium about Barth and natural theology. I'll have to go back and read the posts now, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Barth disdained it...he being of the 'faith in the air' brigade. But I come back to Paul...he certainly seemed to think there was something in creation that should point us to God...maybe the moderns misunderstand what Paul was on about.

Critias said...

Heck, there's no other way to send a message, so here goes. Check out this blog on a book on the crusades:

He (Peter Bolt) also side swipes evolution, I think...hard to say for someone who comes from The Briefing.

gwen said...

Peter Bolt, shock, horror - also on staff at Moore Theological College!!!


sam drucker said...

Critias, is that the right link? I'm having trouble with it.

Sam Drucker