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Posted By Randall D. Isaac, Wednesday, May 4, 2016

I’m still thinking about the link posted on the ASA website a few days ago (the twitter feed on the homepage features four links each weekday) about Genesis 1-11. It is a good start to a discussion I wanted to have here on concordism. This relates to the first meta-question I posed in my comments, reference in an earlier post and discussed in my remarks on April 8.

Every study of the Bible needs to address at some point the issue of what does the Bible teach about history and science and how does it relate to our modern science? The natural assumption of Christians seems to begin with a direct correlation. Countless questions about the Bible deal with how to understand a biblical passage in light of current science. Examples abound, often as legends that refuse to die.

One well-known example is that of the missing day. Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and it did until the Israelites won the battle. Bewildered at the implications of such a miracle, concordists have offered all sorts of explanations. On one side, skeptics note that the inertial forces due to the earth halting its rotation would have ripped apart the entire globe. On the other side, a myth continues to propagate that NASA astronomers have determined that there is a missing day in the history of the path of stars. The legend goes that as computer calculations have been done of the path of stars over history, that observations could not be understood unless a missing day was assumed in approximately the year of Joshua’s battle. No such observation or calculation has ever been nor could it be made. No stellar observations in those days were anywhere near precise enough for such a determination. Yet the story persists.

The stakes are high. If there isn’t a missing day, concordists have a hard time rationalizing the sun standing still. Fortunately, theories abound with alternative interpretations and ancient ideas. But it doesn’t stop skeptics from scoffing at a Bible with errors in it and mythical stories. What all of these have in common is the assumption of concordism, the basic idea that there is a correlation of biblical teaching and modern science. So a biblical teaching of the sun standing still must correlate with some scientific observations.

Some theologians will draw the line after Genesis 11, asserting that concordance is important only after Genesis 11 while the earlier passages have no claim to being historical. Others feel that no concordance is necessary in the entire Bible.

The sheer volume of articles and books on attempts to correlate biblical teaching with scientific observations indicates the strength of the assumption of concordism. But is it really true? Must it be true? If it isn’t all true and it isn’t all false, how do we decide what is and what isn’t historical? Let’s ponder these questions in the next few posts.

Tags:  concordism 

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Sara J. Miles says...
Posted Wednesday, May 4, 2016
I belong to a denomination that is a part of a conceptual tradition (Reformed) that draws on the work of John Chrysostom and St. Augustine and extends through Galileo, Calvinistic reformers, and many current theologians, the concept of God’s “two books:” God’s book of Scripture and God’s book of Created Nature. As an example, Article 2 of the Belgic Confession of 1561 states that we know God “first, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God.” This tradition implies that since God is the author of both books, they cannot be in conflict and should be read together.

John Calvin wrote in the Institutes:
“There are innumerable evidences both in heaven and on earth of [God’s] wonderful wisdom; not only those more recondite matters for the closer observation of which astronomy, medicine and all natural sciences are intended, but also those which thrust themselves upon the sight of even the most untutored and ignorant persons, so that they cannot open their eyes without being compelled to witness them. Indeed, [those] who have quaffed or even tasted the liberal arts penetrate with their aid far more deeply into the secrets of the divine wisdom…”(Book 1; Ch. 5: section 2, Notes from Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin).

Calvin went on to write that God’s providence shows itself more clearly when one observes the motion of the stars, when we measure their intervals and note their properties. When one observes these, Calvin wrote, “so the mind must rise to a somewhat higher level to look upon [God’s] glory.”

This tradition might be thought of as a kind of concordism, but it is not one that makes science adjust to Scripture. Rather it implies that the truth that each “book” speaks must contribute to the total truth. Human interpretation of Scripture (and the theology that both informs how we interpret Scripture and the theological doctrines that we derive from our interpretations) may (and most certainly do) contain errors. Too often that is the result of reading just one of the “books.”
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Randall D. Isaac says...
Posted Thursday, May 5, 2016
Thank you, Sara. I agree. I like the "two book" model and use it at the beginning of most of my talks. In fact, I like to explore the model deeper and show what happens when the model is distorted. I don't see that model as being concordism. Maybe I don't understand it correctly, but I see concordism as a distortion of the two book model in which the book of God's Words reveals and teaches us about the created world. In other words, the two books are in agreement because they teach the same things about the natural world. In that view, for example, there must be a definition of "firmament" that correctly corresponds to modern science and not to ancient three-tier cosmology.
The two book model is great but it doesn't tell us how the two books avoid being in conflict when each appears to tell a scientific or historical story.
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Denis O. Lamoureux says...
Posted Thursday, May 5, 2016
Two of my favorite people: Drs. Miles & Isaac. How about a non-concordist Two Books approach?
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Sara J. Miles says...
Posted Thursday, May 5, 2016
What if we look at non-science disciplines that can create problems for Biblical interpretation and theology. Linguistics and history can "interfere" with a particular interpretation. Do we have a method that tells us how to avoid conflict there? Maybe I'm just too naive, but I see the two books as the lens parts of a stereoscope. Our job is to look through the lenses and bring the picture into focus. But it isn't "our job" alone--the Holy Spirit guides our "focusing." BUT--and here is the crux of the issue as I see it--if we think the picture we see with just our right eye or just our left eye stands on its own, then we will not allow a changed vision of either photo. I also think that while we may have a better understanding of God through this re-focusing, we will never have things completely in focus. Maybe my right eye has an astigmatism that my "focusing" compensates for and the picture is still not focused for other people--or as it should be. Both science and theology must be "self-correcting," and the problem in the church is often that we act and maybe believe that our theology is what is "divinely inspired" and so it can never be changed.
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Randall D. Isaac says...
Posted Friday, May 13, 2016
I like your analogy of the lenses and the self-correction but I still feel there's a problem with the lack of info on how to make the corrections. Should our understanding of Scripture change or our understanding of science? What guides either change? If "both science and theology must be 'self-correction'" as you put it, is there also a cross-disciplinary correction? How would theology correct itself if it weren't for the feedback of science, at least in matters relating to science?

I agree with Denis that there can be a non-concordist two-book model as well as a concordist version. Perhaps in my next post I'll share some thoughts that I have used occasionally in my talks about ways in which the two-book model gets distorted.
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David E. Singer says...
Posted Saturday, May 21, 2016
Do you see any relationship between the "two-book model" and Steven Jay Gould's non-overlapping magisterium? Was he trying to resolve or at least allow space for the same areas of apparent conflict? And are these dualities reflected in Aquinas' argument that God is of a different and distinct essence--that any appearance of similarity between the divine and the created order is, as best, analogous?

It seems that the created order (aspects of which physics seeks to decipher) reflects only one realm of the divine. However, regardless of which book we read, we can know only those aspects of God which he chooses to reveal to us. That being said, the two books don't tell quite the same story in exactly the same language. In that sense the issue is not so much concord as difference. They tell different stories that sometimes include some the same furniture. We can infer qualities of the creator in what He he mades and how He sustains it, but not much more. Except perhaps that He awes us--He gives us reason--and not one, but two books, two languages, by which to apprehend Him.

Science attempts to discover the how -- the mechanics in the workings of the universe. Scripture reveals to us those aspects of who and the why. Take your example; Joshua commanding the sun to stand still. The story is not told to us for the sake of how--that's beside the point of the story and not the aim of that particular book. Rather the story reveals to us the who and why. The second book, that of nature, reveals to us the wonders of how things work. Only Scripture can help us to know "purpose" and author of all that is.

But challenges remain. For my faith to be meaningful, I must retain a space for miracles, especially the creation, incarnation and resurrection. And that, for me, begins to define where faith begins; it is beyond explanation. It is beyond understanding, it is beyond science.
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Sara J. Miles says...
Posted Saturday, May 21, 2016
I'm wondering why my response to Randy on May 13 is no longer showing. Any ideas?
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Randall D. Isaac says...
Posted Sunday, May 22, 2016
Sara, your May 13 comment is under a different post, the next one titled "Two Book Model".
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Randall D. Isaac says...
Posted Sunday, May 22, 2016
I think the Two Book Model is broad enough that Gould's NOMA could be a subset version of it. This is why I said the model doesn't help us figure out how the books are connected, just that they both exist and that they are fundamentally not contradictory. But that non-contradiction can be perceived in many different ways with NOMA and creation science being two possibilities.
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Paul H. Seely says...
Posted Monday, May 23, 2016

Biologos had an article some time ago which listed a number of different definitions of corcordism as the word is used in Evangelicalism.
So Randy and Sara are probably both right.
Bernard Ramm brought the word into prominence, using it in opposition to creation science. See Ted Davis,
The concordist approach is based upon the biblical idea that God’s written revelation is in agreement with his revelation of himself in nature: Creator, Sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent…. When modern science came along, the biblical paradigm was changed from nature to science, and more importantly from a theological revelation to a scientific one. The authors of the first URL above give as an example of concordism the interpretation of “Let there be light” as a reference to the “Big Bang.” Even Owen Gingerich at one time was espousing this interpretation—even though it is completely out of context. .
Ted Davis in the second URL above dismisses the idea that Creation Science is a form of concordism, because it is substituting an invalid interpretation of the scientific data for a legitimate interpretation. What Ted does not seem to realize is that Ramm’s concordism does the same thing in principle by substituting an invalid interpretation of the biblical data for a valid one. That is, his concordism interprets the Bible out of context, either its historical or biblical context or both.
The two hidden problems which beget both concordism and creationism are a commitment to full biblical inerrancy, i.e, inerrancy in science and history as well as theology, and being oblivious to the fact that the science in the Bible, especially in Gen 1-11, is in very close agreement with the science of the times. Harmony between the Bible’s science and modern science is thus highly improbable if not impossible.
As I see it, Concordism is only biblically legitimate when the nature of God is the subject.

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Randall D. Isaac says...
Posted Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Thank you so much, Paul. That is very helpful.
So there is a considerable range of usage of the term "concordism." If I take the definition of concordism to mean that any passage of the Bible that purportedly describes nature scientifically or describes events historically, then there still remains the question of the spectrum of passages to which this would apply. For some, it is all passages, while others exclude the first 11 chapters of Genesis, others exclude genres like poetry, etc. And it leaves open the question of what is the "correct" interpretation of the Bible--is it what the original audience would have understood or what the modern audience might understand or whatever brings agreement.
Whatever the definition may be, it does seem that much energy is being spent and many books written about virtually any passage in the Bible and finding an interpretation that is in agreement with modern scientific views. The only interpretations not allowed are those that claim the passage isn't teaching scientific reality or that it describes ancient science rather than modern science. These views bring harmony but not concord.
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Raymond J. Lewis says...
Posted Thursday, May 26, 2016
Back to Dave's comment on the relationship between the Two Books Model and NOMA:
I see the Two Books Model as distinct from NOMA, since the Two Books are both revealed by God (Psalm 19 is one of my favorite examples to illustrate this) and are thus both from the same source (could we say the same magisterium? – the magisterium above all others) while NOMA compartmentalizes science and religion as two separate human magisteria. The Two Books are then more like different ways of describing reality (going back to Richard Bube’s categories in his PSCF paper “The Relationship between Scientific and Theological Descriptions” or his book Putting It All Together). They are saying different kinds of things about the same thing. If they are saying different kinds of things, then it would not be helpful to try to bring them into concord at the level of the things being expressed, but they could be compatible with each other and could be integrated to provide a fuller understanding. To me, the compartmentalization in NOMA would not allow for a compatibilist approach or for really any kind of integration of Christian faith and science.
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David E. Singer says...
Posted Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Raymond, I agree the two books are by the same author but they are written about different subjects. Psalm 19 shares the vision of someone who already "sees," has made an assumption "on faith."
The two books describe different realities; one is a description of that which can be tested and the other about that which cannot be known apart from revelation and experience. The only way to integrate then is through a common authorship.
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Randall D. Isaac says...
Posted Thursday, June 2, 2016
Dave and Ray,
The comparison of the two-book model and Gould's NOMA is certainly worth considering further. I have long been a critic of NOMA for many reasons, one of which is that if the realm of nature has no connection with the realm of the theological and the spiritual, then of what value is the spiritual? At least in this life.
But a few years ago, I think it was at the Vibrant Dance conference in Austin about 6 or 7 years ago that Andy Crouch gave a talk about NOMA. He took a different approach and considered the analogy of two neighbors as being non-overlapping property owners. He pointed out that these neighbors have a lot of interaction despite having no overlap. His talk pointed out the kinds of interaction that neighbors have and drew analogies to the science and faith interaction. Unfortunately, the links to his talk on the Vibrant Dance website don't seem to be working now. I thought his talk made me rethink somewhat my opposition to NOMA. Not entirely, since I don't think the analogy is all that tight, but it helped me understand non-overlapping magisteria in a new way whereby it didn't really mean no interaction at all, but as adjoining regions that are different but have a lot in common.
Dave, I agree that at least the incarnation and resurrection are a point of intersection that connects both realities. Without that, faith dissolves. If those are illusions, then our faith is as well.
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