Saturday, September 29, 2012

Is Ours a "Galileo" Moment?: Re-posturing the Faith/Science Dialogue

In September's Christianity Today magazine I published a short article entitled, "What Galileo's Telescope Can't See" (now available online) which also gets at some of the core themes that concern us at The Colossian Forum on Faith, Science, and Culture.

The article pushes back on a tendency to immediately equate contemporary discussions at the intersection of Christian faith and science as "Galilean" moments--demanding that our reading of Scripture be revised in light of new scientific evidence.  While responsible theological interpretation certainly requires that we attend to "the book of nature," in the article I suggest that this analogy with Galileo is often hasty and unhelpful.

Here's an opening snippet:

Analogies have persuasive power, a suggestive force that operates on an almost unconscious level. To say that A is "like" B is to suggest that everything we associate with A should also be associated with B—whether good, bad, or ugly. 
So, for example, if I describe American soldiers as "crusaders," I have just painted them with an analogical brush that colors them as religiously motivated warriors guilty of the worst bigotries of the West. The analogy is loaded with a moral depiction that exceeds what's actually said. So all the disdain we have towards our (usually caricatured) understanding of the Crusades is now overlaid on our perception of military operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. 
Conversely, if I describe the proponents of my cause as "prophets" or "martyrs," I have loaded the perceptual deck with images of heroism and purity. Just by the analogy, we get to don our white hats and claim the moral high ground. Or if we describe our regime as "Camelot," we associate ourselves with romance and royal privilege. Never underestimate the power of an analogy. And never simply accept it. 
There is a particular analogy often invoked in current discussions about the relationship between Christian faith and science. Ours, we are told, is a "Galilean" moment: a critical time in history when new findings in the natural sciences threaten to topple fundamental Christian beliefs, just as Galileo's proposed heliocentrism rocked the ecclesiastical establishment of his day. This parallel is usually invoked in the context of genetic, evolutionary, and archaeological evidence about human origins that challenges traditional Christian understandings. 
Historical analogies like this are often particularly loaded because our age is characterized by chronological snobbery and a self-congratulatory sense of our maturity and progress. Since we now tend to look at the church's response to Galileo as misguided, reactionary, and backward, this "Galilean" framing of contemporary discussions does two things—before any "evidence" is ever put on the table.

Read the rest of "What Galileo's Telescope Can't See."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sanctification *for* Ordinary Life: Is "all of life" worship?

The Protestant "sanctification of ordinary life" (as Charles Taylor often describes it) can generate a curious question: 

"If all of life is worship, then why do I need to go to church?" 

I address this question in "Sanctification for Ordinary Life," an article in Reformed Worship now available online.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Gift of Constraints: Further Thoughts on Tradition & Innovation

Following up on my earlier article, "Tradition for Innovation," Faith and Leadership at Duke has just published my new article, "The Gift of Constraints." The article is a take on the new Barnes Foundation building in downtown Philadelphia, reading it as a kind of material allegory or parable for leadership lessons.  As you'll see from the article, the architects had to work with odd, stringent constraints; but rather than shutting down creativity, the constraints invited innovation.

Here's an opening snippet:  

Let’s face it: all of us inhabit institutions that we would have built differently. We inherited policies and procedures and even physical plants with aspects that we’d happily do without. Sometimes we bristle under the constraints put upon us by founders and historical bodies that could know nothing of our contemporary challenges.

Many of us have probably daydreamed what it would be like to be free of such constraints -- to “re-imagine” the institution from scratch. Then, we tell ourselves, we’d really be free to push forward our mission and vision. But now, in the real world, these constraints are like millstones, anchors dragging on the bottom as we try to steer the ship forward into new waters.
Could we ever imagine receiving such constraints as gifts? Indeed, is it possible that the constraints of handed-down traditions could be catalysts for creativity and imagination?
I was recently struck by something of a parable in this regard. In May, after a protracted -- and very public -- legal battle, the Barnes Foundation, a Philadelphia fine-arts institution, opened a new building on that city’s famous “museum row.” Called the Barnes Philadelphia, the new museum houses Albert Barnes’ world-class collection of modern art, moved there from its former suburban home in Lower Merion, Pa. The legal wrangling need not detain us here. It’s the result that yields an interesting case study of “traditioned innovation.”

Read the rest of "The Gift of Constraints" at Faith and Leadership.