This is a difficult era for those who find themselves committed to the values of scientific rationality and yet moved by the claims of a religious tradition.
That is how the preface to Philip Clayton’s new book The Predicament of Belief begins.
I am always a little jealous of people who have a scientific background or who have a comprehension of philosophy. Don’t get me wrong, I read books like Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Green and dabble in Tillich or Moltmann. I love reading that stuff and get a lot out of it … but it is never comfortable or familiar. I was raised as a Billy Graham evangelical and have a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies. I have a Masters in Theology and in 20 years of ministry I have preached over 1,000 sermons. I am a pastor. I adore the church. I think in community. It is both how I am built and how I have been groomed. This is part of why I wrote my thesis in Contextual Theology and am now pursuing a degree in Practical Theology. I am obsessed with the church.
“… It is hard to decide what parts of one’s tradition it makes sense to reject or retain.”
Here is the thing:
- I like when John Cobb calls into question the ousia of the Creeds and gets into the metaphysics of the hypostatic union.
But can I go with Philip’s brand of Adoptionism (in Christology)?
- I like when Philip talks about the origins of the universe including the possibility of a multi-verse with Red Giant suns exploding and propelling their heaviest components out into the far reaches of the galaxy.
But can I go with him when he talks about the 5 layers of the Resurrection?
[Keep in mind that I said in a post last week that I could never imagine saying 3 things: A) Paul didn't write that book B) Jesus probably didn't say that sentence and C) the Bible is wrong about that ]
It is interesting to me that Philip comes from much the same background as I do. It was because of his work that Claremont School of Theology first came onto my radar. I love his vision as the new Dean for the school and have gone on to read several of his books. His conversation with Tony Jones at an Emergent Theological cohort gathering is something I still reference monthly. I get what Philip is saying and I am down with what Philip is up to. Clayton speaks to me. I quote him often in sermons and coffee-shop conversations.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have no affection for tradition-for-tradition’s-sake and I don’t even have one conservative bone in my body. I have no affinity for ceremony, ritual, sacrament, or obligation apart from their narrative value. But as I read Clayton’s newest book, I am confronted on nearly every page with the question “do you know what this would mean?” This is edgy stuff. His work is innovative and daring and would be well over the line for those that I report to for ordination and accreditation.
So I am left with two questions:
- How does one preach this stuff?
- What would it look like to let go and fall all the way down the rabbit hole of this kind of thinking?
I am saved from too much torment by two entirely different convictions.
- The world is changing.
- As people of truth, we need to deal in what is true.
The first reminds me that the world has always changed – which is good and healthy and necessary. Some say that the only difference is that we have moved,in human civilization, from incremental change to a period of exponential change.
The second reminds me that we can say things like “You shall know that truth…” or “All truth is God’s truth” and then act like they had it right in the 3rd century. No, if we are to be people of truth, then we need to pursue truth – wherever it leads.
Pursuing truth may lead us to conclusions that are different than our traditions have expressed. It may lead to us revisiting some things that we have held dear. But what is the alternative? To hang on to outdated and outmoded sentimentalities that have little to do with reality and the world as-it-is? Or to continue to play word games in our ecclesiastical silos that have little bearing on the real way people live outside our theological conclaves?
No. We need this. We must to do this. We have to take seriously the landscape that is in front of us and navigate the actual terrain that we occupy. Otherwise we risk living in the conceptual map and never walking on the land as it really is.
That is the predicament of believing Philip Clayton.
you can also check out this earlier post & video (and podcast) for a great discussion