In a recent post on God's Politics, Derek Flood suggested (as many do lately) that Christian communities need to start taking this whole "faith and science" thing seriously. I posted some relatively snarky comment on my Facebook page about it (I apologize for the snark) suggesting that the authors of these recent posts about faith and science are ignoring about a century's worth of conversation and theology. Perhaps more. Let me give you an example of what I mean in Harry Emerson Fosdick1.
As I said just yesterday, Fosdick was famous for lots of things especially a sermon entitled "Shall The Fundamentalists Win?" which he preached on May 21, 1922. It was a call to arms of sorts within the church to encourage tolerance and a willingness to engage the minds of believers and unbelievers alike in a time of incredible scientific discovery.
Science treats a young man’s [sic] mind as though it were really important. A scientist says to a young man, “Here is the universe challenging our investigation. Here are the truths which we have seen, so far. Come, study with us! See what we already have seen and then look further to see more, for science is an intellectual adventure for the truth.” Can you imagine any man who is worthwhile turning from that call to the church if the church seems to him to say, “Come, and we will feed you opinions from a spoon. No thinking is allowed here except such as brings you to certain specified, predetermined conclusions. These prescribed opinions we will give you in advance of your thinking; now think, but only so as to reach these results.”
My friends, nothing in all the world is so much worth thinking of as God, Christ, the Bible, sin and salvation, the divine purposes for humankind, life everlasting. But you cannot challenge the dedicated thinking of this generation to these sublime themes upon any such terms as are laid down by an intolerant church.
Fosdick graduated Union Theological Seminary in 1904, more than a century ago.
In the "b-side" sermon to the above, "The Church Must Go Beyond Modernism," Fosdick states that in his time in seminary, modernism was all the rage. Science and scientific knowledge ruled the day. He, and many of his peers, were elated for, "youths like myself...a half century ago face an appalling lag between our generations' intellect on one side and it's religion on the other..." Modernism was "a desperately needed way of thinking." Theologies founded upon the intellectual assumptions of the sixteenth century were deemed lacking because they represented bygone ways of thinking about everything including theology. Fosdick continues:
"When I was a student in the seminary, the classrooms where the atmosphere grew tense with excitement concerned the higher criticism of the Bible and the harmonization of science and religion."
A century ago students were engaged in harmonizing science and religion. A century ago!
Friends, it should always be the work of religious people to make sence of science. Why? Well, because science is about discovering more and more about the world we live in. To pretend that science doesn't exist is foolishness. Theology must take into account the world which God loves. It's that simple. It has always done this and it (I hope) will always do this. That there is an intellectual push and pull in religious communities is consistant with all of human history. Flood and others who are raising their concerns frustrate me not because they are inappropriate concerns. Flood frustrates me because his rhetoric suggests that this is a brand new endeavor, as if evangelical Christians have never had such a conversation before. Fosdick and his generation of evangelicals were embroiled in just that conversation.
Now, what's interesting is that Fosdick assumed that the Fundamentalists had lost the debate, that they had been sent to "some backwater" (I know, not very charitable) someplace and would never be of great influence in the United States (See: Wheaton, IL, the rural south, etc.). Clearly history proved him wrong. Fundamentalism has been running the table of public perception of Christianity since the 1960's an 70's. Certainly the Southern Strategy and the growth of the Religious Right demonstrates that. No one from the left stepped in to fill Fosdick's shoes on the national stage (He had a popular radio broadcast funded by Rockerfeller money, the same money that funded the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, and was invited to preach to the gathered delegates in Geneva from John Calvin's pulpt when the Geneva Accord was signed).
Some tried, but none would hold the same prominence. Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr. would in some way, but his concerns were very different from Fosdick's. On the other side of the coin came Billy Graham and others.
Some of you may be thinking "Yes, and look where his victory took liberal Christianity." Indeed. (Ross Douhat has published another article, by the way, this one more measured in tone). The critique is fair. In fact, and this is why I admire Fosdick so very much, he warned the faithful of the problems of modernism and called them to move past it. He ws heavily critical of it's lack of a theology of judgment, of sin. He suggested that modernists willingness to adapt meant that modernism only ever remained shallow. Such "rapid adaptation" led one to deny anything Eternal...specifically The Eternal One. Modernism was no answer. The church must go beyond it. "And this comes from a modernist!" proclaimed Fosdick.
So, here we are...all post-modern and the same question of faith and science comes up and I see us back-tracking, making assumptions that the discovery of quantum mechanics, dark matter, and the Higgs Boson particle means we aren't taking people seriously or science seriously. I beg to differ. We've always done so, but we have to move beyond this conversation. We have to move beyond making this conversation the primary function of theology. That's a rat race. We Christians will only ever be in a position of reactivity and have nothing of depth and substance to offer the people of the world if this is our primary conversation.
I've one more post to go. Fosdick doesn't stop with this statement to "go beyond." No. He has some ideas as to what that might look like. Until then, I'd love to know your thoughts. What does "going beyond modernism" mean to you? What do you recommend or does the idea sound like mere hokum?
Scot McKnight has this harmonization of Douhat and Bass that echoes some of what Fosick assumed in 1935.