One debate, many responses: Amie van Wyk on "Three debates, many questions"
In today's "By" (Die Burger, Saturday June 27) prof Amie van Wyk, a theologian, has an article titled "Three debates, many questions". He writes:
"Three theological debates are currently taking place in South Africa. The nature, scope and urgency of each differ markedly."
The first, he notes, is an internal matter amongst the Afrikaans churches, about church unity, the role of women in the church, etc.
The second, he writes, is a debate between 'orthodox' and 'modernistic' theologians.
This is slightly more interesting, dealing (amongst others) with how the resurrection of Jesus should be understood: as a literal truth of bodily resurrection, perhaps as a metaphor, or perhaps as something else. He writes:
"If Jesus did not bodily rise/wasn't resurrected – if it was just his message of commitment to God as well as to neighbourly love that was 'raised' in the hearts of his disciples… – then, according to the New Testament, the foundation of the scriptures falls away."
Oh well, so be it, eh? [Matthew 18:9]
However, the third debate he lists is a lot more interesting. (Please note that what follows is probably not an accurate translation [read Afrikaans original]; I've tried my best but the shallow depths of my vocabulary have been plumbed. I've numbered the paragraphs for later reference.)
|The third debate is being carried out between atheism and Christian faith. Personally I view this debate as meaningful, if it is carried out responsibly.||1|
|It sets the stage for both atheists and Christians to re-state their arguments clearly in terms of how sensible [meaningful? "sinvolheid"] and feasible [defendable? "houdbaarheid"] their points of view and assumptions are.||2|
|Amongst others it is about the question of the relationship between faith and knowledge/science.||3|
|For the atheist there is no relationship. The more the science, the less the faith; more faith, less science. Such a (rationalistic) approach excludes faith and science from each other. To believe in God is not scientific and is an expression of a primitive or superstitious belief.||4|
|In contrast, the Christian faith accepts it that faith and science are not competing, but are complementary world views. The God that makes himself known in nature (and science) is the same God that reveals himself in the scriptures of Christ.||5|
|Another question atheism raises is: How can an omnipotent and good God of love allow (or dispense) ["toelaat (of beskik)"] so much pain and suffering? And: how can such a God allow (or dispense) ["toelaat (of beskik)"] that people are lost forever? These are deep, engaging ["ingrypende"] questions to which no cheap answers ought to be given.||6|
|The Christian faith still answers this with reference to God's promise of caring proximity ["sorgsame nabyheid"] and his love in Christ for a broken world, as well as man's personal responsibility. Regarding those who never hear the scriptures, theology makes no comment.||7|
|But the Christian faith also asks important questions of atheism. The first is about the origin of the universe: Where does it all come from? What (or who) existed before the big bang? Don't we (yet) know, or did everything come into existence by chance?||8|
|But if everything came about "by chance", then this event is a rather unreliable instance. You don't know what it is, can't address it, and also don't know where it leads.||9|
|I immediately have to point out that this argument cannot be held as evidence for God's existence. It merely serves to argue that it is more meaningful to believe in God as the origin of everything than in that everything came into existence by chance.||10|
|Another question: what is the destination of the universe? Here, too, the same questions are valid. If the future of the universe is open and can go in any direction, then humans are leading a hopeless and meaningless existence. Life of earth is then a freak.||11|
|The Christian faith argues that God, with his creation, is on a path of renewal and completion.||12|
|The third question follows from this: If God does not exist, what then is the meaning of life? Or is life meaningless and absurd (as existentialists argue)? As the Greek philosopher Menander said, "Let us eat and drink (and be merry) because tomorrow we die." Is pleasure (hedonism) the meaning of life? Or is serving the kingdom of God – in its widest dimensions – the meaning of life?||13|
|A fourth question concerns ethics. Where does atheism get its ethical code? How is good and evil discriminated, and where do norms and values come from? Assume that I somehow discover what is good and evil – where do I get the will-power and motivation to do the good thing?||14|
|The last question: why does the atheist choose mankind's reason as the highest authority (rationalism), and also that the only way of knowing is that all knowledge should necessarily be verifiable (positivism)?||15|
|Do these two models present feasible answers to life's deepest questions? Have they ever succeeded in solving humankind's problems meaningfully? Isn't this a case of working with a very reduced view of mankind (and a closed world view)?||16|
|Isn't post-modernism, with its search for spirituality and constant reminder of the provisional nature of human knowledge, providing powerful criticism of cold rationalism (and hence atheism)?||17|
|The Christian faith avails itself of another vast source of knowledge: the revelation of God, in nature and in the Bible, but also in Jesus Christ as God's greatest, last and highest self-revelation.||18|
|If He falls away, the whole edifice of the Christian faith collapses like a house of cards.||19|
Die Burger, Bylae, 2009 June 27, p9.
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