I was recently asked to provide a quotation that could serve as a “motto” in connection with an interview I gave to a Romanian journalist. I did not have one readily prepared and ready to go, but I quickly decided upon the following:
Man’s knowledge and mastery of the world have advanced to such an extent through science and technology that it is no longer possible for anyone seriously to hold the New Testament view of the world – in fact, there is no one who does…it is impossible to revive an obsolete view of the world by a mere fiat, and certainly not a mythical view. For all our thinking today is shaped irrevocably by modern science. A blind acceptance of the New Testament mythology would be arbitrary, and to press for its acceptance as an article of faith would be to reduce faith to works.
Rudolf Bultmann, in Kerygma and Myth
Is this a good motto for me? Any recommendations for alternatives? What would your motto be?
Yesterday I read (in a somewhat cursory fashion) two books by Alister McGrath (one co-authored with his wife), Dawkins’ God and The Dawkins Delusion?. I remember at one point having been somewhat disappointed with one of McGrath’s earlier books, Understanding Jesus. It just seemed at the time so simplistic in presenting the traditional Christian viewpoint, without asking any of the troubling critical questions that I found myself posing at the time. While I might still view Understanding Jesus in this way, I can strongly recommend McGrath’s two books about Dawkins, his scientific work and his atheism. McGrath, a former atheist and as far as I know no relation to the McGrath who is writing this blog entry, speaks on behalf not just of educated Christians but also atheists who find themselves exasperated with Dawkins’ linkage between his scientific work and his atheism, his charicatures of Christian belief (if, admittedly, many ordinary believers who have never read a book about their own faith do indeed at times resemble the charicatures). There is nothing polemical, no attempt to argue against any conclusion of mainstream science, no attempt to argue that science proves Christianity instead. McGrath just provides a balanced presentation of how Dawkins, who writes so admirably clearly and soundly about evolution in many of his books, does not show the same aptitude for writing his books about atheism.
As my ‘motto’ indicates, I do believe that Christians today need to admit that data from the natural sciences have transformed our worldview, and that we no longer view it in precisely the way that Jesus and his first followers did. Nor can we ever hope to do so, no matter how hard we might try. No leap of faith can replace a post-scientific worldview with a pre-scientific one. No willful attempt at literalism will ever be the same as the naive literalism of a pre-scientific age. This is not, however, an argument against Christianity or religion any more than it is an argument against science (for earlier science has had to adapt its worldview in response to new discoveries also). But it does set before us the challenge that confronts religious believers in every age: What is the heart of our faith, and how can it be appropriately expressed in the context of the time in which we find ourselves living?