Your God is Too Small and Your Bible Needs Retranslation
Jack wants to chat with Adventist Evolutionists, Agnostics, and Atheists—you know who you are. Others welcome to listen in.
By Jack Hoehn, December 6, 2014: For the last three years I have blogged for the average thoughtful Seventh-day Adventist English speaking believer who is interested in seeking reason in faith. As I look back I recognize that the earliest non-Adventist influence on my own spirituality was a little book by J.B. Phillips called, Your God is Too Small.
Although that book did not carry a subtitle, J.B. Phillips himself offered a modern, alive translation of the Bible, that we called The Phillips Translation. This dynamic attempt to make ancient scripture open and understandable to our times was electrifying in the 1950’s and led to a plethora of attempts to restate the 66 books in both restricted and historical (what did the ancient writers mean), and dynamic and fluid (who cares what it meant then, what does it mean now) ways. The unstated subtitle then was, Your Present Bible is Too Old, and we need to retranslate our spiritual sources to be of use today.
Adventism that had retranslated the King James Bible by a certain inspired woman into the Spirit of Prophecy in the 1800’s, again made room in 1950’s Sabbath School Classes for Phillips Translation, and then the RSV, then the NIV, then The Message, and now even reluctant tradition bound have finally permitted a New-KJV to appear. (I’m sure a new-new-newer KJV can’t be that far away!)
For the non-faithful there was a parallel movement, and God was not found to be too small or the Bible in need of constant reapplication, but both were simply pronounced dead. Darwin and Freud and Marx danced through 20th century culture on God and his Bible’s grave. But by the 21st century Marx had died, Freud had died, and Darwinian thought itself was forced to constantly evolve. God refused to remain entombed; Easter keeps happening; and reality keeps marching on.
Science/Faith War Victims and Refugees
The battles for progress and change in religion and in non-religious thought are not bloodless academic exercises. Spiritual abuse is as real as sexual abuse and can be just as scarring. Even today our church at times seems led by spiritual troglodytes trying to drag Adventism back into a Doug Batchelor cave with a club of simplistic literalism beating back reapplication of Adventism on one shoulder, and with our women dragged by the hair of the male headship heresy on the other.
In the Adventist Today and Spectrum communities, in the comments on our blogs I find Seventh-day Adventist educated and nurtured men and women who have had personal war experiences in these battles. Former Adventist pastors linger to release the rest of us. Scientists who found that given the option of either young earth creationism or evolution they had no choice. Theologians who have learned that rigidity is fragile and very breakable and consensus sometimes impossible.
Adventism also has many “faithful-church-member” warriors who like our present church President feel threatened and endangered by the threat of progressive thought, so place barricades over any paths towards tomorrow. They pledge towards the 1800’s Bible retranslations by Ellen White undying fealty and like Peter on the edge of Gethsemane draw their little swords to slash and burn those they feel threaten their KJV/SOP Lord. I’ve tried to dialog with them and their sympathizers in the past, and open their hearts to a kinder gentler faith and a willingness to follow Christ if he asks them to move along down the path of understanding towards a Newer Heaven and a Newer Earth with a Refreshed Adventism.
Scientific and Free-thinking Joys
This blog however is not for them. It is for you. Those of you who have escaped the narrow and restrictive confines of Adventism may have found the same sense of freedom that Peter Hitchens found as he set fire to his Bible on the playing fields of Cambridge in 1967. “I was engaged at the time in a full, perfect, and complete rebellion against everything I had been brought up to believe.” At that moment he says he knew suddenly and decisively and liberatingly that “there was no God, that the Old Testament was a gruesome series of atrocity stories and fairy tales, while the gospels were a laughable invention used to defraud the simple.”
He describes his emotional reactions as “with youth’s lack of sympathy for an attitude other than its own he despise [those who did not go along with his decision]… because they were content with the vague emotion which they called God and would not take the further step which to himself seemed so obvious.”
Even deeper he “congratulated himself… on being able to be virtuous without hope of reward or fear of punishment.” “I rather think I imagined this was a tremendously original thing to do and a shrewd blow at the dull believers who needed to be scared or bribed into goodness. This is one of the principal joys of the newly fledged atheist (and a continuing joy for many rather experienced non-believers).”
“Praying was a comical folly, hymns were so much wailing at an empty heaven, churches were absurd building in urgent need of conversion into something more useful, or of demolition. Anyone could write a portentous book and call it Scripture. Enlightened self-interest was the evolutionary foundation of good behavior. I did not have to do anything that I did not want to do, every again. I would therefore be “happy,” because I was freed from those things whereof my conscience was afraid.”
Abolishing the pains of life
Hitchens continues, “We were sure we, and our civilization, had grown out of the nursery myths of God, angels, and heaven. We had modern medicine, penicillin, jet engines, the welfare state, the United Nations, and “science,” which explained everything that needed to be explained. People still died, it was true, but generally off-stage and drugged into painless passivity. We could not imagine ourselves every doing so. The “pains of death” had been abolished, along with most of the pains of life.”
The “widely accepted dismissal of faith by the intelligent and educated seemed then to be definitive proof that the thing was a fake.” “(There were, after all, plenty of Christian intellects available if I had desired reassurance that faith and intelligence were compatible.) But I dismissed them as obvious dupes, who spoke as they did because it was their professional paid duty to do so. I had spotted the dry, disillusioned, and apparently disinterested atheism of so many intellectuals, artists, and leaders of our age. I liked their crooked smiles, their knowing worldliness, and their air of finding human credulity amusing. I envied their confidence that we lived in a place where there was no darkness… It certainly did not cross my mind that I had any low motives for it. Unlike Christians, atheists have a high opinion of their own virtue.”
“I was wholly satisfied that evolution by natural selection—which I did not understand because it was not though necessary to explain this holy mystery—fully explained the current shape of the realm of nature.” “Science had fully explained the motions of the planets, the law of gravity, and mysteries of time. Anything that had not yet been explained would no doubt soon be discovered. There were no mysteries.”
“Because we could observe gravity in action, we somehow knew what it was. (Nobody then mentioned that its operation, especially in empty space, simply cannot be explained.) All was settled. Just learn the Table of Elements, your species, your elementary biology, and formulae, and that was that. The fact that the “laws” dealt with in this subject are all accounts of what did happen, rather than rules about how things should happen, was passed over in silence. Why and how were silently but inextricably confused. The use of the majestic word “laws” curiously turned the mind away from speculation about whose laws they might conceivably be or why they might have been made. Science, summed up as the belief that what could not be naturalistically or materialistically explained was not worth talking about, simply appropriated them.”
“I actively loathed anything that suggested the existence or presence of death.” “I learned how to shock my teachers… [and] had absolutely no idea that I might have been making any kind of mistake. I was in fact rather pleased with myself. I have come to think that this readiness to live entirely in the present—in which we spare ourselves any self-reproach and fail completely to see ourselves as others see us—is a metaphor for the Godless state, in which we simultaneously ignore the experience and warnings of our past and the unknown limitless dangers of our future.”
Beyond Adventist Pretense?
Peter Hitchens book, The Rage Against God,[i] then details his loss of faith in secularism, unlike his more famous and departed brother Christopher, who remained true to atheism till death did the brother’s part. So what does this have to do with Adventists who have “moved beyond” Adventism either with pain and regret or with easy and pleasure, stopping back now and again just to remind themselves of where they were, and why they are no longer there?
Just this warning: That non-belief can be as rigid and inflexible as religious fundamentalism. And that the assumptions of materialism may not be free of dogma and rigidity, any more than are ISIS, the Papacy, or Educatetruth.com. I particularly find this in the comments on my blogs from those Adventists or former Adventists who have rejected Young Earth Creationism and moved into the tent of Naturalism. Some are scientists whose Adventism was overwhelmed by the evidence in their fields, and supported by the weight of concord among fellow scientists. Embarrassed by our Adventist credulity and the apparent dishonesty of using scientific tidbits while rejecting scientific consensus, they write off as “creationists” any Darwinian critics and doubters.
I find some progressive Adventist theologians seeking a faith worth this world also tend to flee to a vague “let’s get along with the scientific majority position,” that is accepted without being deeply investigated.
Particularly noticed are parroted criticisms of the Intelligent Design movement that I read from scientists and theologians alike. Much like Judge John Jones in the Dover case, they seem to have swallowed the propaganda briefs of Darwinism in its latest but fully materialistic manifestation and repeat them untested and untried.
Why reconsider ID?
There are books and conferences and blogs to infinity on ID versus Darwinism and I will not try to refute the misunderstandings and misapplications regarding Intelligent Design here. I am just asking Scientists and Theologians with Adventist connections to carefully and thoughtfully listen to what ID says. ID is a broad tent and offers both support and criticism at the same time of several camps.[ii]
ID has something to offer Young Earth Creationists, that yes the evidence is compatible with your hope for God in creation. But ID has nothing to support the young earth age chronology or a namby-pamby view of the Designer.
ID has something to say to naturalistic scientists. ID fully respects your science and your methods, it welcomes the data and all who methodically seek for information about the universe. But ID asks that the evidence of design that you see be permitted to be considered and not banned by a dictatorial proletariat forbidding discussion and evaluation of the fingerprints seen all over the cosmos and its life.
ID has something to offer theologians about how to read the Bible where it intersects with nature. God’s second book must be permitted to help us consider His first book. ID will require of Adventist theology a more robust doctrine of Creation than we presently have. Why have we restricted eternity to the future, and been uncomfortable with deep time in the past? What does a God willing to wait and adapt life over eons say about His openness, and about human participation in the Kingdom of God that began 2,000 years ago but is still fairly anemic?
(Adventist Theology, on the other hand, particularly the Great Controversy motif, offers ID something enticing. ID at present posits a Designer. ID has not yet explored the possibility of the Intelligent Destroyer also on display in life.)[iii]
I do not expect Adventist Young Earth Creationists, Young Life Creationists, Old Earth Creationists, Progressive Creationists, Theistic Evolutionists, Agnostics or Atheists to all convert to ID. I am asking for permission for the conversations to continue without the automatic, reflex, and dogmatic exclusion of thought and discussion about ID.
We shrink God and narrow the Bible by retreating into Adventist fundamentalism. We trivialize the realities of consciousness, music, mathematics, aesthetics, language, information technology, sexuality, romance, love and the resurrection of Christ by accepting materialism.
J.B. Phillips was quite right; our present or our former God may have been too small and our Scriptures surely remain in need of frequent retranslation. But so do the metaphysical projection of scientists suggesting materialism is adequate. ID could be a somewhat neutral meeting place to correct some of those problems.
Can we continue to talk?
“In thinking about these questions I have been stimulated by criticisms of the prevailing scientific world picture… by the defenders of intelligent design. Even though writers like Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer are motivated at least in part by their religious beliefs, the empirical arguments they offer against the likelihood that the origin of life and its evolutionary history can be fully explained by physics and chemistry are of great interest in themselves. Another skeptic, David Berlinski, has brought out these problems vividly without reference to the design inference. Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.”
Thomas Nagle, Mind and Cosmos, 2012, Oxford University Press. [iv]
[i] Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God-how atheism let me to faith, 2010, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan.
[ii] Please use ID sources, not ID critics for information on Intelligent Design. https://www.discovery.org/id/faqs/ lists several on line resources, including https://www.discovery.org/a/3059 , https://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=3241 , and https://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1154.
[iii] The Intelligent Destroyer has been observed by both secular and religious observers, see:
Howard K Bloom, The Lucifer Principle, 2008, Atlantic Monthly Press, for a secular opinion; Gregory Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil—constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy, 2001, IVP, for a Christian but not SDA opinion that sounds a lot like the Great Controversy.
[iv]Thomas Nagel is University Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the School of Law at New York University. His books include The Possibility of Altruism, The View from Nowhere, and What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. In 2008, he was awarded the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy and the Balzan Prize in Moral Philosophy.— from Amazon.com