Embracing Creation – A Question of Faith (Guest Post by Bev Mitchell, NB, Canada and Oaxaca, Mx)
There are many kinds of faith: faith in human ability; faith in our beliefs; faith in our faith (fideism); faith in our interpretation of Scripture; faith that our faith and reason combined will uncover purely human reasons to believe – and this by no means exhausts the possibilities.
Christianity has a different take on faith. It sees faith as a dynamic gift from God that comes through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. As such, none of the above, or others that could be listed, is true Christian faith. Some may think that fideism comes close but it does not. The important insight of “Faith not works” does not negate the fact that faith works; it is dynamic. A tested faith, a faith that trusts the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, encourage etc. provides its own assurance, through continual use and the results it yields. This approach to faith contrasts sharply with the suggestion that human reason can somehow convince one to have faith. Contrary to expectations, such presuppositional or propositional approaches to faith have greater and greater difficulty as science continues its advance.
For example, many Christian denials of the materialist interpretation of the findings of the life sciences are founded on the idea that somewhere in creation there must be something materially tangible (the human eye, the first stages of the origins of life, some unexpected mutation) that science cannot ever explain. If we could just prove that such a thing exists, we could prove the existence of God. We would have captured faith and brought it under human management. For this reason, these apologetic approaches get very uneasy with the seemingly endless advance of scientific knowledge.
The kinds of faith listed in the first paragraph are often combined in various ways. Practitioners of some of these approaches are upset when science explains something that was thought inexplicable, as if God has been somehow lessened. The thinking behind this seems identical to that of the atheist believer in the ultimate triumph of science – this new fact will (finally) explain away the Creator. Yet, seen through the eyes of a living, Spirit-gifted faith, all of the facts of the life sciences are simply further expressions of what God is doing or making possible. They bring us no closer to understanding exactly “how” God accomplishes all of this or, how he uses the freedom inherent in creation to do so. That is a question of exactly how Spirit interacts with and works with matter – the causal joint. We would love to know, but we don’t. Faith is required, and trusting faith can observe the results. Approaches based on other formulations of faith seem too quick to want concrete explanations where none are on offer. If our faith is in at least the ultimate possibility of such explanations in the material domain, it will be continually challenged by the advance of science. We will restrict ourselves by a continual search for certainty, when Christian life in the Spirit is based more on confidence and trust in the finished and ongoing work of Christ.
Related to this, perhaps just saying it differently, it sometimes seems that, for many, the gift of faith that comes solely from the Holy Spirit is too vague, too spiritual, too subjective – surely we can do better. A fierce attachment to our particular interpretation of Scripture must be an improvement we can offer. An unyielding defence of a particular theological system is surely another. And, it must be true that human expressions of faith combined with human reason will indeed uncover reasons enough for true faith that, for all intents and purposes, constitute proof.
Our role as members of the kingdom of God and Spirit-led followers of Christ is not to put the Holy Spirit out of a job. Apologetics, however well intentioned, will never come close to accomplishing the work of the Spirit. When our faith has its sole source in the Holy Spirit, the relentless advances of biology are a cause for celebration, not fear and defensive resistance. God’s fingerprints on his great works will not be erased, they are not even there in a way that science can see, remove or explain away – or that apologists can discover.
For an interesting analysis of the philosophical and political foundations of the problem of certainty vs confidence in faith of various kinds, consider the small volume from 1968 by Eric Voegelin entitled “Science, Politics and Gnosticism: Two Essays”. The evangelical authors that I read seldom if ever refer to this book. Perhaps it’s time to consider it.
For more on the ever elusive ‘causal joint’ see a relatively new volume by Amos Yong “The Spirit of Creation”. This book is probably not yet widely known and is admittedly a challenging read covering a variety of closely related subjects. But, on the big theme of knowing/observing exactly how the Spirit affects material reality, it may well be the best currently available. I’ve put a short review of the book up on Amazon.