The following is a post I was asked to write up on a webforum for a Gospels class I’m enrolled in. Once again, I hope they don’t mind I’m posting it here. The subject was on how one reconciles faith and academic inquiry, and how they would reassure someone who has issues with it, or how they would deal with the problem if they had it.
Anselm of Canterbury defined theology as, “fides quaerens intellectum.” Or “faith seeking understanding.” Faith is stronger than belief, it is a hardened conviction in the truth of something. A conviction that can weather doubt and other nouns. Understanding is the comprehension of an idea.
There are many ways to comprehend things. As a Christian, I should comprehend things through “God’s Word” as it is revealed in scripture and the tradition of the faithful. I fail at that.
In academia many times a different method is used to comprehend things. Rather than working from scripture, one works from western reason. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Many books have been written, most I haven’t read.
Rather than interpreting scripture through scripture, academia many times uses archeology, sociology, history, and other means.When this happens the meaning of a text becomes lost, and the priority instead is put on its development and “original context”. What does it tell us about the sociological situation at the time? What does this tell us about the history at the time? What does this tell us about the beliefs of first century Jews? What does this tell us about the controversies in the early Jesus Movement?
These questions will get us nowhere, if our desired destination is what scripture “means”. It is impossible for me to interpret scripture as a first century Jew from Galilee , or a first century Greek from Corinth (or a 24th century Klingon from Qo’noS). I am a 20 year old religion major in Wisconsin. And that’s how I’m going to read it. The original context doesn’t matter to me. It is a quaint historical obsession, which isn’t all that bad. I have them myself many times. But it doesn’t have a place in biblical theology. All the context needed is in the scripture itself, as scripture is marvelously self-referential.
But this doesn’t mean one must necessarily believe that the world was created in seven days. The advances of science must not be thrown away, they should be recontextualized into our mindset. Like I said, I am not a first century palestinian Jew. I can’t ignore what science has taught me, but that doesn’t make science king. Culture is the king of all. And my culture, as a Christian, ought to be the ekklesia, the Church. While the culture of someone else may be Buddhist, or atheist, or humanist, or any other ist or ism. That will determine their interpretation, through a careful study of the scriptures themselves of course.
So personally, I will have little problem with a “clash” between faith and academia. But if someone did have a problem my answer would be to say no one knows the truth, and I don’t believe we’ll know that until the end. But we can live in the truth. Till then, our faith should seek (note that word, seek) understanding. In any way it can. If science has the better claim, I’m not going to let it hurt the greater claim.
I wonder what I’ve been reading…