Chapter three in Luke Timothy Johnson’s Miracles: God’s Presence and Power in Creation surprises me most. Why?
Because Johnson wants to repossess an epistemology that makes miracles credible while accusing the secularist epistemology of an inadequate approach to knowledge and life itself. It’s totally refreshing.
He begins where he ended in chp 2, with doublemindedness, something that infects so much of the church today.
Double-minded Christians profess faith in the incarnation but insist on measuring the incarnate Jesus of the Gospels through historical analysis; they profess belief in the continuing presence of the resurrected and exalted Lord but bracket that conviction in their perception of ordinary life. Incarnation and resurrection are as difficult to accept by the mind conditioned by a secular vision of the world as are the signs and wonders ascribed to the saints.
So Johnson develops four themes (two today) that reframe a way of living and seeing and thinking that inscribe God and the ways of God in the world into life. He begins here:
Imagining the World That Scripture Imagines
We are restricted by our secular age, and it tells us what “reasonable” means but what it means is an expression of what it wants the world to be.
The epistemological inadequacy of the secular construction of the world is linked to its restriction of authentic knowledge to a single set of mental processes applied to material objects and the interactions among them, and its banishing of alternative modes of knowing to the epistemological rubbish heap. Thus “reason” is defined in terms of the accurate description of the things apprehended by the senses, their analysis, measurement, calculation, prediction, and control. Modes of cognition activated by poetry, art, and music do not count as real knowledge. What stems from fantasy and the imagination belong to the realm of the “not real” and therefore the not serious.
Johnson sees major problems here:
The greatest deficiency of the secular construction of reality, in fact, is its refusal to recognize that it is in fact an imaginative construct rather than a straightforward perception of “how things are.” By no means is the epistemological reduction effected by the Enlightenment simply natural or obvious. It consists first of all in an overall construal of reality as a material and self-contained system of interrelated causes, knowable exclusively through the senses.
Johnson will be criticized by some for “imagine” words but he’s got the long end of the stick here:
By imaginative worlds, rather, I mean those conceptions of reality brought into being first through the imagination but then fully capable of being brought into physical realization through specific physical practices that embody that conception. … Once an imaginative world is revealed through concrete and specific practices, it is perceived as “real,” and once it has been practiced long enough, it can even be perceived by its participants as “natural” or even obvious.
Does he mean “faith”?
We also learn to read the Bible in this imaginative worldview:
But the Copernican revolution I suggest means reading the Bible not for the accuracy of its description but for the power of its vision, seeking in its compositions not information about the world that produced Scripture, but the way in which Scripture itself creates, through imagination, a world that might be inhabited.
But in truth, the language of heaven and earth enables readers to “see” a world that does not offer itself easily to immediate comprehension, but rather discloses itself slowly to those who are open to the mystery that lies beneath the surface.
God as Creator
By looking at humans through his imaginative worlds he cuts through many discussions:
The real divide is between atheists and believers. Deists and agnostics fall on either side of the divide because they neither affirm nor deny anything very important.
His imaginatiview worlds(view) focuses on who we live by Creed, Scripture, and heart.
What we can say is that it is the language of the heart within the believer that makes the language of the Bible sensible, even compelling, and makes the language of the creed something gladly to embrace, while the atheist finds the language of the Bible unintelligible when not obscure, and regards the creed a perfect example of intellectual vacuity.
What he does is offer nine points of “critical theological concepts.” What does it mean to affirm God as creator in such a way that it impacts what we know and how we live?
By this I mean that while we may not be able to provide an adequate account of the positive content of a conviction of faith, we know that its denial distorts essential truths by which we live.
First, profession of God as creator is, as I have suggested, the supreme example of a critical theological concept.
Second, the phrase “in the beginning” (Gen. 1:1) must be thought of not in terms of time but in terms of causality.
Third, Scripture and the human heart also attest to the truth that God’s creative activity continues as the fundamental sustaining and shaping power at work in all things, as the cause that causes all other causes.
Fourth, the Christian confession of God as creator is therefore not a theory about how things came and come into existence, but rather a perception that all things are always and at every moment coming into existence.
Fifth, everything that exists, insofar as it exists, is capable of revealing God.
Sixth, all that is sensible in the world—every material thing that presses upon us and that we engage in our daily rounds—points beyond itself to an unseen power that brings it into existence.
Seventh, humans are called to see God’s creative activity at work in every worldly process and event, in the coming-into-being of all that comes to be.
Eighth, this vision of creation—a vision supported by the entire weight of scriptural witness—is entirely compatible with theories of evolution, for it sees God’s world as always in the process of becoming, never finished once-for-all, always flowing from the infinite creative energies of an all-powerful giver of life.
Ninth, the understanding of creation sketched here does not in the least preclude responsible discourse concerning the “signs and wonders” through which God’s power and presence in creation are made more explicit.