In my previous post, one commenter thought I was critiquing conservative Christianity. In truth, I was critiquing an assumption of our age, an assumption not limited to conservatives. Take, for example, this quote from a well-known liberal bishop:
Sometimes the dead wood of the past must be cleared out so that new life has a chance to grow. With regard to the Jesus story, that step becomes vital and urgent. Not every image used to explain Jesus is worthy of survival. The most obvious candidate for dismissal in my mind is also perhaps the oldest of all the interpretations of Jesus. I refer to that image of Jesus as "the divine rescuer."
- John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Chapter 6
Though on the surface this has little to do with climbing mountains in Iran, Spong is commiting the same error as Bob Cornuke. Spong explains his provocative statement by noting that the Jesus as rescuer doctrine is rooted in the story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent -- commonly known as the fall. He then argues that modern science has disproved the idea of the fall:
To ascribe goodness to creation implies that the work of creation is complete. Darwin, however, made us aware that the creation even now is not finished. Galaxies are still being formed. Human life is also still evolving. Suddenly the whole mythological framework in which and by which the Christ figure had been captured came tumbling down. What is sin? It is not and never can be alienation from the perfection for which God in the act of creation had intended us, for there is no such thing as a perfect creation.
So Spong uses modern science to judge the truth of Genesis. This is a category mistake. It's also bad theology.
Despite Spong's claim elsewhere that "no modern person can accept the literal truth of the Bible," here Spong relies on a hyper-literal reading of Genesis 2:2, "And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done," to oppose Gensis to Darwin. Then he uses a very loose interpretation of the word "good" which appears throughout Genesis 1, arguing that it means "perfect," to claim that it is no longer relevant because Darwin says otherwise.
We live in an age of science. Many people, with the best of intentions, fall into the trap of worshipping this god of our age. But whether it is by climbing mountains in Iran to prove the truth of Genesis, or by invoking Charles Darwin to deny the truth of Genesis, it still involves a distortion of faith. The modern mind wants to filter everything through the lens of science, which centers around cause and effect, observation and hypothesis.
The irony is that, though science might at first appear to be a more solid foundation than faith, science has its limits. There are some things we will never know through observation (ancient history, for example). What's more, the modernist framework that spawned the scientific method is itself on the way out, even now. We are entering what has been dubbed the postmodern era. A lot of ink has been spilled trying to define the new era, but the one thing everyone agrees on is that it will be different from what came before. So ultimately, there's nothing to gain by trying to squeeze God into a modern framework. Modernism, like all other -isms, is headed for the garbage dump of history. (For that matter, postmodernism will eventually follow it there, so there's nothing to gain by squeezing God into a postmodern framework either.)
So what are we left with? Perhaps just this: a God who is greater than all our attempts to define, systematize, shrink-wrap, or squeeze into a box. Now that is a God worthy of our faith.