Wednesday, December 5, 2007
One of the hallmarks of the Call for an Ancient Evangelical Future is the primacy of the biblical story over all the other narratives that try to tell us who we are and what the world is about.
Evangelicals almost always turn first to the Bible when they have a question or are trying to meet a contemporary challenge. But we often fall into proof texting rather than using the entire sweep of the biblical story to inform us. Likewise, we frequently use biblical passages as if they were written in our own day with our own society’s issues in mind. It takes time and effort, but it is worthwhile to look at the whole story and to try to make explicit all the links in the chain of connection between the biblical story and our own time.
At the moment, I’m attending a consultation on Human Embryonic Stem Cell research in
In his paper, Allen tries to look at medical research (including stem cell research) in the light of the whole biblical story and not just the familiar proof texts evangelicals got in the habit of quoting when they got entered the abortion debate in the late 70s and early 80s.
Allen contrasts the biblical story with other accounts of reality, including “the Baconian project” (Science and technology are the saviors that deliver us from the world's evils) and “the Capitalist project” (The market saves us from our ills).
He begins his account of the biblical story by noting that most Protestants who want to support stem-cell research start with an appeal to Jesus’ healing ministry. That is a noble place to begin. Jesus was a compassionate healer and so were the apostles. If that text gives us our orientation, it “forms a readiness to celebrate the research, including stem cell research, that may provide help for the sick and suffering,” writes Allen.
But let’s not stop there, he says. The story of creation “orients us both to turn from idols and to delight in the creation as a gift of God.” But what happens when nature (the creation) becomes our enemy (as it does when disease threatens)? And what happens when technology (including medical technology) becomes an idol? At times, the creation story helps us to resist that idolatry. But at other times it helps us to roll up our sleeves and bring nature back into line. It takes wisdom to know in any given moment which we are to do.
We also find in the story of creation respect for human dignity and for natural relationships. Human beings are not mere animals but are made in the image of God. We are also created to be social creatures who form marriages and families and societies. When it comes to medical research, this means that we cannot reduce other people simply to their bodies or their organs, which may be fascinating subjects for research but which are not ours to commandeer.
Clues from the Jesus Story
Now let’s turn back to Jesus. “The stories of his conception and birth point us toward a high regard for and generous hospitality to nascent life,” writes Allen. The application of that orientation to embryonic stem cell research will be familiar to evangelicals.
When as we look at Jesus’ ministry we see that he was not only a healer, but a preacher of “good news to the poor.” That means that when we confront questions of medical technology and scientific advance we need to be oriented to issues of fairness and “the effects of research and development on the lives of the poor.”
And then we look at Jesus’ death. This story (among the many other things it does) calls us to “a readiness to share suffering,” not just to eliminate suffering as modern scientific culture pushes us to do.
The biblical story ends with “God’s good future.” We’re not there yet, but we must always keep that in view as we struggle with contemporary challenges.
Allen summarizes his survey of the biblical story this way:
These orientations ... do not always point in the same direction or towards the same conclusion. Until the good future of God we will live with moral ambiguity. The Bible does not provide a code for research, but it does form a community capable of moral discourse and discernment.
Now, if you’re looking for the Bible to always deliver clear answers to your questions, Allen's summary may not be very satisfying. But mature Christians know that you can’t always expect the ancient text to give you a quick and easy answer. That’s why Jesus promised that we’d have the Holy Spirit to lead us into truth.
Notice what Allen says about how the Bible forms “a community capable of moral discourse and discernment.” Our task as a Christian community is to be formed by the biblical story, to engage vigorously in moral discourse, and under the guidance of the Spirit to practice discernment. That is not an individual task, but a communal one, and like much of what happens in community, it may have a longish timeline.
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The ideas in Allen’s paper were also covered in his book Reading the Bible in the Strange World of Medicine (Eerdmans, 2003).
Sunday, December 2, 2007
There was tremendous intellectual and spiritual energy at the 2007 Ancient Evangelical Future conference, which ended at noon yesterday.
Thanks to "Desert Pastor" Chris Monroe for liveblogging the event. Here are the rest of his posts.
2007 AEF Conference: Evening Worship
2007AEF Conference: Scot McKnight
2007 AEF Conference: Edith Humphrey
2007 AEF Conference: Panel Discussion #3
If you want to order CD's of the talks and the panels, you can contact the Grow Center at Northern Seminary. Read more!
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Yesterday afternoon and evening, I emceed the opening sessions of the Call for An Ancient Evangelical Future (AEF) Conference at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois.
We had some thought provoking papers by Kevin Vanhoozer and Scot McKnight based on the first article of the Call (“On the Primacy of the Biblical Narrative”) and some lively, engaging panel discussion.
Here are his entries so far. (Watch for further posts on presentations by Scot McKnight and Edith Humphrey.)