Abstract

 

Niebuhrís classic work on the relation between Christ and Culture can be more specifically applied to Education and Science.Niebuhrís work discusses different worldviews on the relationship between our Christian faith and the culture of society.Some relations that Niebuhr discusses are: against, of, dualism, and integration.Similar relationship can be found in more contemporary works discussing the relationship of our Christian faith with education and science.With respect to science, Ian Barbour has written a book on the relations between faith and science and speaks of the relations of conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration.Many aspects of Barbourís discussions mirror those of Niebuhrís.Both authors make the case for an integrated approach.

 

An integrated approach with respect to science may involve the construction of theological models and physical models using the same intuitions and systems of reason and analysis.These models should be developed independently, but because they share common intuition and reason and because they aim to find the same truth, they should also be coherent.Because the models will not be an absolute accurate representation of Godís truth with respect to our spiritual faith and with respect to the physical world, there will exist apparent conflicts.

 

Apparent conflicts between our models of faith and our physical models are dealt with constructively in several ways.First we must realize that our models are only approximations and are not absolute truth.We must always examine our models using our best reason and the best sources of analysis and information.If questions remain, we can wait for father clarification of the models in the hope that additional relevant resources come forth that can address the issues.But while we continue to work toward better models, we do not discard models that have served us well.And finally, we understand that what we understand now is but a small piece of what we will understand later.And though we understand little now, there is great joy in that understanding, and there is even greater joy in understanding just a little more than a little of Godís truth.

 


Christ and Culture,

††††††††††† Christ and Education,

††††††††††††††††††††††† Christ and Science

 

While we were gone to Houston this past summer, we had two students sit our home.This arrangement seemed to work out well. The students had a cheap place to stay, and we had someone to watch the house, feed the dog, and mow the lawn.

 

But it was the residual effects of this student occupancy that was to the more pronounced affects. Upon our return to our home after the summer we found that the students had left a few things behind.One of those things was a portable boom box that my twelve year teenage daughter adopted most eagerly. ďShake your tail feather, ,and†† ďBaby boyĒ was heard all day coming from the bathroom, the bedroom, the living room, and she even took the boom box outside with her when she went to jump on the trampoline.

 

As my irritation grew with this incessant stream of bebop, gum smacking, baby, baby, uh huh, I confronted my daughter and asked her if she might reduce the volume of her devil music.I also suggested that she might consider selecting another genre of music, say jazz, or classical or Christian contemporary.

 

My twelve year old teenager replied, ďDad, you just donít understand.This music reflects the angst of my generation.It speaks to the cries of our souls.You just canít understand what this music is saying to us.Ē

 

Well, having been chastised for my intellectual shallowness by my teenage twelve year old, I thought I should try to reclaim the intellectual high ground by thinking about this a bit more and providing my daughter with a proper response to her music.

***

Because I havenít had many original thoughts of my own recently, I looked to some others for enlightenment.I recalled a little book I used as an undergraduate student long, long ago at a college far, far away in a course on the relationship between faith and culture.This book by H. Richard Niebuhr appears to be a classic as it has been published many times since the 1951 copyright of my book.You can buy the 50th anniversary edition from amazon.com for $25.

 

Niebuhr discusses many of the common answers to the question of how our faith, Christ, relates to the world we live in, culture.The first answer that we will look at is that of Christ against culture.

 

***

This is view that comes from a straight forward reading of the Bible.As Christians we fight against the evils of the culture we live.We are not of the world, but must set ourselves apart from the world.This approach leads to conflict and isolation.One way to isolate ourselves from the world is to live in a monastery or convent.

 

 

***

One such monastery is this one.The Armenian Christian monastery of Khor Virap
with
Mt. Ararat in the background.We all recall Mt Ararat as the traditional resting place of Noahís ark, and recall the great debate between the Armenian and the Calvinist over free choice and predestination.

 

Mt. Ararat, the traditional resting place of Noahís Ark, is located in eastern Turkey near the Armenian and Iranian borders.Ararat is a dormant volcano and its last eruption was on June 2, 1840.

 

***

If total isolation is not practical, we might at least separate ourselves from the most frivolous and sinful aspects of culture.The Amish reject popular entertainment and social culture and much of our technical culture as well.Yet they still interact with the world and the culture of the world. Maybe the Amish have the answer, if the answer of Christ against culture is the correct one?

 

***

Perhaps some of you are saying, yes, the Amish have it right.What are we doing here at LeTourneau!Others of you may be saying.Come on DeBoer, those are extreme answers.Arenít we instructed to be in the world but not of the world?These people canít effectively witness.They canít carry out the great commission.We need to be out there witnessing to people, bringing them to the realization of salvation and the rejection of worldly wisdom.This can only be done if we are in the world.

 

Or maybe some of you havenít thought about it all.Maybe you are here, just because you arenít somewhere else?Maybe youíre not thinking about it has made you who you are?Effective marketing can make unthinking people believe they have a crucial need for a product when just minutes before they had no idea that such a thing had even existed, so also our culture can make us think things are important, crucial, or not important, without our own personal evaluation.

 

***

Perhaps our faith is the same?Perhaps our faith is a product of our culture, as our perceived needs are often a product of talented marketers.In the speech of contemporary science we as if our faith is a product evolutionary psychology, a consequence of faith being an advantageous characteristic for a society.After all, a society of faith should be a more successful society, and so also these successful societies produce even more faith.Maybe our faith is of culture?This is another of Niebuhrís descriptors of the relation between faith and culture, Christ of culture.

 

So there may be the Ďliberalí Christian, who sees the teachings of Christ as a proper way to live, a satisfying and rewarding life, and thus forms Christ into all those things that he understands as good and fulfilling while ignoring teachings of Christ that contradict his understandings.

 

Yet, even among evangelic Christians who affirm the historic resurrection, the deity of Christ, and gospel message of salvation by faith, there are differences in how they view Christ.Some may view Christ as a great peace advocate, others as a warrior of justice, some as a lover of sinners, others as a condemner of the sinful.Even evangelicals see in the gospel stories the Christ that fits what they understand as good from their own cultural perspective.

 

So also, some Christians assume that Jesus was, or would be, a republican based on moral rejection of homosexuality, while other Christians assume that Jesus is a democrat based on the ethical distribution of economic resources to the poor.

 

***

The musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, is an example.An older generation found the movie to be sacrilegious while a younger generation found the portrayal of Jesus to be very moving. Surely the Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar did not act like a superstar, the title is ironic, but perhaps people thought that the savior should be a superstar, and when Jesus was not, perhaps they questioned whether he was the one that he and others said he was?

 

How do you see Jesus?A superstar or a humble servant who carried a terrible emotional, spiritual, and physical burden to the cross?

***

And there is a larger culture of Christians made up of many subcultures.A culture sometimes named the American civil religion.In this we put all the good things of our national culture, freedom of the press, civil rights, entrepreneurship, the American way, into our understanding of Christ and religion.Since we think of all these things as good, they most surely must also be part of a true religion which by virtue of it being true must also be good.So if the US is the most good culturally, which is natural for patriotic Americans to believe, it becomes indicative of the most good religion.Thus, there is a manifest destiny in which we carry the evangelical responsibility to spread our American culture to the whole world.

 

WWJD might better be expressed by, WIVIYC, what is valued in your culture.

 

Have you asked how your own heritage and culture has influenced how you see Jesus Christ and your spiritual condition and your role in the world?If you are of the culture, can you even ask that question?Are we so blinded by culture that we cannot see?Would you know if you are in the cultural matrix, unless you have the opportunity to leave the matrix?

 

***

It was to my great enrichment that I was able to see a Christian faith from a very different cultural perspective.I was able to leave the US matrix.After completing my undergraduate education I was able to work on a small island in the middle of the Pacific ocean in the country of Kiribati.Kiribati makes the UN list of top ten least developed countries in the world.Least developed at least, with respect to western industrial development.This lack of industrial development correlates well to lack of development of a western culture.And so, the well developed island culture is very distinctive from that of the western, more industrially developed nations such as the United States.

 

Yet, despite this lack of western cultural development there is a strong and thriving Christian church.As a Peace Corps volunteer and a Christian it was a great opportunity to explore the culture of the I-Kiribati people and see how their culture influences how they see the Christian faith.Spending a good amount of time immersed in another culture, you come by slow osmosis to learn why the people value certain personal qualities and disapprove of others.

 

It was very interesting to see the juxtaposition of western Christianity brought to the islands by those of the London Missionary Society and others, with the pacific culture of polytheism, ancestor worship, and community dependence.It was great fun to sit up long nights with the local priests, pastors, and other peace corps volunteers to talk about appropriate theology as well as appropriate technology.Jesus may be the bread of life to westerners, but he is the coconut of life to the pacific islanders.

 

But of even greater impact is how I saw my own culture when I returned home.As students, you return home after your first semester at college and see home entirely different.Your younger brother still watches the same TV shows that you watched with him before you went to college, but now, after having had to do homework every night and not having seen this show for months, you canít believe how dumb this show is.You wonder how you could be so silly as to have had wasted time on it before.You find that the discussion around the table is all about things you have no idea of because you havenít been able to keep up on all the gossip about your cousins and local figures in the community.And you think, all this discussion is senseless, it is just filler, it is not really important.Why arenít we discussing the important things like valence bond theory and the application of differential equations to the dampening of vibrational motion, you cry in your heart.These are the things, the LeTourneau culture; these are things close to your experience, close to your heart.

 

***

So, yes, we acknowledge we must be conscious of how culture affects our perception of faith.But where are we at in our discussion?How does this affect our view of culture?Perhaps you havenít been satisfied with either of the two perspectives, the isolationist and the cultural Christians, and you are telling me that there must be another, a middle path, perhaps?

 

For many Christians this middle path is what Niebuhr calls Christ and culture in paradox.It acknowledges that we are in the world, that we are physical beings, that we can not separate ourselves from this, so isolation is not an option.We must therefore live out our lives, accept the saving grace of Christ, and receive our eternal reward upon leaving this world.While we are here, we must do our best to spread the gospel of salvation to our fellow man.And the way we reach our fellow man is through the activities of life, through the culture of life.

 

At the Baptist church that we attend, there is a sign that you see when you leave the parking lot that says, ďyou are now entering your mission field.Ē†† It is not the culture of life that is important in itself; it is culture as a conduit to facilitate the message of salvation.We are in the world, but not of it. We are physical beings, but that is only by necessity, as it is the spiritual that counts and it is on this that we focus.

 

This is why we sometimes speak of people working in ďfull time Christian serviceĒ if they are missionaries or pastors.While work of others is not directed toward Kingdom work directly, but could include Kingdom work if they use their vocation to witness.

 

***

You can envision the dualist model as two circles, one the spiritual the other culture, or the world in general.These two worlds are distinct.Church stuff in the spiritual.Professional stuff in the world.That stuff in the world is the stuff we have to do because we have to provide shelter and feed our physical bodies etc.Where these two spheres overlap is where we witness to people at work, or do benevolence through our particular company to provide for the poor in our community.But for the most part, this overlap is small.

 

But Niebuhr presents another model.

***

This is the conversionist model. In the conversionist model, both spheres would totally overlap; there would be no area outside of the spiritual.All of culture would be converted with respect to our understanding of our spiritual condition and our relation to God.

 

God created the world both spiritual and physical.He created us good, before the fall, as physical beings.The world, the moon, the sun and all the stars was created very good.We should accept all of this as Godís intended creation.The evil in the world is not in Godís created physical world, but in the consequences of manís fall, of manís broken relationship with God.

 

We should not therefore think of this physical life as an unavoidable pit stop on the way to heaven where we will have a spiritual non physical existence, but as very much part of Godís intention for us.And along with that intended physical existence, we can reason that God also intended for us to develop the culture related to our physical existence, whether that culture be associated with cooking, musical art, construction of buildings, exploration of physical understanding through science, or the mere joy of living.If you doubt that God intended these elements of culture to be, ask yourself, if Adam had not sinned, do you doubt that these features of culture would still develop?

 

For example, politics is not something we are forced to bear as a result of sin, but something to appreciate as a God given way for men to live with one another in mutually constructive manners.Economics is a God given means to dispense resources justly to all God created peoples.

 

These areas of culture are as much a part of Godís plan for us as is His intent for us to worship Him in song and prayer.

 

***

Less you think that the conversionist model is so much philosophizing, you should note that this model is supportable scripturallyÖ.

 

For by him all things were created:††† Col 1:16

 

For God so loved the world ÖFor God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.John 3: 16-17

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was with God in the beginning.Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.John 1:1-3

 

For since the creation of the world godís invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.Romans 1: 20

***

This table gives some basic differences between the dualist and the conversionist perspective.In the next few minutes we will want to see how a dualist and conversionist perspective influence how see education and specifically, how we see science and science education

 

***

So how does this discussion speak to the issue of my daughterís music?

***

One of my daughterís favorite groups is Evanescence.Here is part of one of their songs.It speaks of our spirit being aroused, being saved from the nothing of ourselves.My daughter tells me this speaks to the human condition.The Christian model speaks to the human condition in much the same way.The first section of the Heidelberg catechism speaks to our sin and misery.

 

Is this an example of culture, based on human reason and experience, producing insights that are consistent with the Christian faith?Even if one argues that Evanescence has some sort of religious heritage that might explain the tone of their work, would that also explain the popularity of this group with many who have rejected or are unaware of the gospel message?

 

I think my daughter has a point.From a conversionist perspective, this music speaks of manís struggle to find his relation with God, and that is what God may have intended our culture to do.

 

Of course there are also songs that express the desire of self gratification, that song, It is hot in here, take off all your clothes, for example.And you may say that these popular works are of lesser quality because of their short lifetimes than are the Ďclassicí works.†† But these points are not defeaters to the point that manís search for understanding and meaning can be expressed through culture, even the most popular trendy culture.

 

Letís move on to Christian education at the college level.

***

Here are two books that speak to the issue of Christian education.The book by Holmes was used during my faculty orientation at LeTourneau, so I assume it is in basic agreement with University thinking.The second has been recommended by President Austin on several occasions and has apparently been used within the presidentís cabinet as a discussion point.

 

Both of these books profess a conversionist perspective on culture.We might say they speak of the integration of faith and learning.And so I am inferring that our college leadership holds to a conversionist vision for LeTourneau.

 

So, are we integrated?Are we conversionist?Or are we still dualists?Is our five minute devo the spiritual sphere crossing into the culture of education while the remaining 50 minutes of lecture is the Ďsecular knowledgeí we need to know to go out into the world in order achieve professional goals and to be effective evangelists among those in that profession?

 

Do we in those 50 minutes as faculty and students express the idea that this subject is of God, created by God?And if we do profess that accounting, psychology, and fields and waves, are things of God, given to us in the creation to be discovered and used by us to live in a manner glorifying to God, how do we teach these subjects so as to reflect how God had intended us to use them?

 

Well, I canít speak for all the disciplines, but I might try to start exploring some of these questions with respect to the sciences.

 

***

A classic in the field of science and religion is Ian Barbourís book, When Science Meets Religion.This book is organized around four commonly given answers given by Christians and other theists to the relation between science and religion.Does this seem familiar?Yes, it is very similar to the Niebuhr book, Christ and Culture.

 

Letís take a look at the different views that Barbour presents through some examples.

 

***

Dinosaurs are of interest to everyone.

 

But what of the science of dinosaurs and religion?

 

***

Science seems to say that dinosaurs lived and died millions of years before humans, before Adam could have lived and sinned.How is it that dinosaurs could have died before sin entered the world?

***

There appears to be a conflict between what science says about dinosaurs and what we understand about how sin and death came into the world.

***

Maybe we can just separate these two, science and religion.Science seems to talk about how, and religion why.Maybe that is the main point.Maybe Genesis just tells us why God created, but not how?Conflict would then go away.†† Famous philosophers like Emmanuel Kant thought like this, so it must not be totally unreasonable.

 

Carl Sagan is infamous amongst theist for not seeing this independence, ĎThe cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.í (Cosmos, 1980)Clearly an understanding of the Cosmos can not allow one to give a definitive question as to why it exists.

 

It is important to separate philosophy and theology from scientific theory. Evolutionism, vs. evolution is an example.The ism speaks of a philosophy, while the theory describes how physical changes in species may occur.Even if may find the philosophy erroneous, that doesnít necessarily mean parallel physical model is also erroneous.

 

As Christians we must be careful of what we speak.We must respect the independent voices of physical science and philosophy and recognize their source so as to allow each to say what they mean to say.

 

A good book that discusses this concept of independence constructively is God Did it But How, by Robert B. Fischer.

 

***

Lack of independence is evident when a philosophy/theology is thought to necessarily follow from a scientific theory.For example, some may say that the scientific theory of evolution of species by descent is necessarily related to a philosophy of scientism, that everything can be explained by science and that there are only naturalistic causes for everything.†† Those who explore the scientific theory of evolution by descent are associated with naturalism or atheism.

 

On the other hand, a scientific theory of instantaneous origins is associated with divine creation by fiat.

***

Those who explore theories of a 6000 year old earth, or a universe created mature, are therefore associated with theism.

***

But these associations do not logically follow.For example, someone accepting a model of evolution by descent may still be a theist, but a theist who thinks that God may have used evolution by descent as part of the process of His creation work.

 

***

Likewise, a model of instantaneous origins does not have to lead to a theistic perspective.The instantaneous origins may have a very naturalistic cause, life planted by extraterrestrial space travelers for example.

 

Clearly, we must distinguish between scientific theories or models and philosophical and theological views.We must know the limits of science and the limits of theology.

 

Now, it is good to understand the independence of science and religion, to know what each can say and what they canít say.But, we also want to go beyond this to see not only where they are independent, but where they are coherent, where they overlap, and build consistency between the two.This goal will move us beyond the idea of independence.

***

Dialogue makes use of science for analogy or enhancement of the religious message.

***

David used dialogue in the psalms to express his wonderment of why God concerns himself with us.With the Hubble telescope this wonderment can only be increased.After all, we are but a speck of dust in this solar system, and there are billions of solar systems in our galaxy, and even more galaxies in the universeÖ.

 

A nice book that uses dialogue is Who is God? also by Robert Fischer.It uses many analogies from science to describe some of Godís characteristics as listed in the Westminster catechism.

***

Integration may include dialogue, but it is also beyond dialogue.It is a meshing of a faith and subject.But be clear, it should not be a force fit as that would lead to conflict!Rather, it should be a natural meshing as a result of recognized independent voices from both areas.

 

What do we learn from science, what have we developed as a theological model based on Godís revelation in scripture?If we accept the value of both while not imposing one onto the other, there should not be a conflict.And if they do seem to conflict, what tools do we use to evaluate each contribution if they appear to conflict?

 

It appears that to evaluate our models, we must depend to some extent upon our reason.If you are a dualist, you may say your reason is corrupt and you cannot depend on it.But saying that implies that you thought about your thinking, which the dualist says he cannot trust. So how can we trust the dualist to think properly that we can not trust our thinking?

 

If you are a conversionist, you respect that God has given us means to reason, to see Him in the world.Surely, these reasoning skills are affected by our sin, and so we must work to overcome sinful tendencies so that we can reason as well as we can.This is why we have philosophy class, to discuss methods of logic, means to make proper arguments.†† For example, ad hominid attacks are not only sinful, but they are also poor logic.

 

The methods for making good, reasonable arguments in philosophy and theology are very similar to the methods that good scientists use to make arguments with respect to scientific observations.

 

In both fields, the models that we use to explain our observations, must explain those observations satisfactorily, else our models fail.Our models arenít always perfect, they are mostly approximations.Yet these approximations can be helpful in understanding and explaining the world around us.The way to make our models better is through systematic, logical evaluation.This is done both in the physical sciences and in theology/philosophy.

 

So what is the model which meshes both science and theology?Are there more than one?How do you come up with the models?Can you give an example of the evaluation of the model?

 

Well people in a given field are best able to know the models in their fields.So the people in business need a model of business that is consistent with their theological model.Those in psychology likewise.Every inch of the world belongs to God, as Abraham Kuyper said.

 

***

For those in the sciences, here are some examples of attempts at meshing theology with science.Hugh Ross is a physicist and a Christian evangelical.Many people have enjoyed reading his personal testimony and his ideas as to how science is consistent with scripture.Gerald Schroeder is in many ways similar to Ross, and is of Jewish tradition.Barbour, we have mentioned before, and this is a book in which he speaks of the human condition and the science of genetics, as well as much more.

 

Also, we will have later in this semester, a talk on plate tectonics from our own Dr. Ball.That will be another opportunity for you to hear and interact with a Christian physicist as he attempts to integrate faith with science.

 

***

Is all such discussion within the mission of the University?From our previous discussion of education and the college catalog, I think so.

***

Of course all of this idealism will not work out practically if we donít allow faculty and students to explore models, to propose models for evaluation and analysis.This process requires academic freedom within the definition of the University and is also supported in the faculty handbook.

 

Now, I will be happy to entertain your questions and comments.

 


 

  1. So do you believe that there is no one truth, that there are many truths?
  1. No, there is one truth, but I do not have a full understanding of that truth, and I doubt that you do either.We all model that one truth so as to approximate it as best we can.It is my hope that we can examine our models so that they can be refined to better approximate that truth.

 

  1. Isnít this saying we can never know the truth?So what good is it to pursue it?
  1. Yes, we will, in this world, never fully understand the truth of God and His plan for our lives.But this acknowledgement should not prevent us from trying to learn as much as we can of Godís truth and His plan for our lives, but should rather humble our opinion so as to allow ourselves to reexamine old models and examine new models to see which may further our understanding of Godís truth and bring further meaning, purpose, and fulfillment to our lives.

 

  1. But what if I examine my Christian model and it doesnít answer every question; do I just throw away my faith?
  1. No, we do not simply throw away a model because it doesnít answer every question.How many of us can explain the trinity, three distinct persons, but still one?Yet all of here still profess to a Christian faith.No, because the model satisfies in so many other ways, it still has value.It is the same in science; our models may answer and explain many things but not explain one or a few other observations.We recognize the value of the model and do not simply throw it out.We would perhaps try to refine the model, explain the anomalous observations.Or sometimes we accept that right now we have no better model, no better explanation, but we hold hope for further elucidation and better models in the future.That is what we must search and strive for, better understanding, and better models for a more accurate understanding of the truth and the more fulfilling faith that follows from that understanding.

 

  1. Doesnít this approach allow for other religious models?
  1. Yes, we can construct other theological models from other religions.We must then ask, does the Christian model better answer the questions, and provide a better approximation of the truth than another religious model?There is a discipline or field that is called apologetics that does just this.C.S. Lewisís, Mere Christianity is an example of a defense of the Christian model of truth.

 

  1. So how do we integrate our faith into the instruction of chemistry?
  1. Well, we take the salvation by works approach... (said with slight humor) in that we allow students to make up for their errors through addition efforts such as test revisions, etc.We also try to be honest in our expectations.And we never grade on the curve.The Christian model is not norm referenced, but criterion referenced.

 

(unidentified voice from audience shouts)Amen

 

If there are no further questions, let us end on that vote of affirmation.