Epiphany for a Small Planet: Christology, Astronomy and Mutuality

By Padgett, Alan | Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Epiphany for a Small Planet: Christology, Astronomy and Mutuality


Padgett, Alan, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith


This published lecture builds upon a mutuality model for the relationships between theology and science. The basic idea is that theology and science (natural and social) are colleagues in helping to develop a Christian worldview. Because both use informal reasoning, there are avenues in which they can reasonably influence each other. I also discuss what it means to "redeem reason" since this lecture was originally part of the Redemption of Reason conference. These preliminary moves set up a focused example, drawn from Christology and astronomy. Accepting the view that the cosmos is bio-friendly, and assuming there may well be intelligent life on other planets, I discuss what the implications of this are for Christology. I conclude that we do not need to alter our orthodoxy Christology, but we do need an expanded Christian imagination.

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One of my passions as a theologian and someone who loves science is reflection on the current debates and dialog between theology and the sciences. What I propose to do this afternoon is talk about the science and theology relationships from the point of view of Christian thought or from the perspective of Christian theology. I will present a mutuality model. This replaces the old medieval idea that theology is the queen of the sciences and the other disciplines are handmaidens. I propose that today we think of theology and science as working together as colleagues. What we are working on together is reforming and developing Christian worldviews that are spiritually deep and scientifically sound. This is an ongoing task, and what I am interested in as a theologian.

Redemption of Reason

The topic for our conference is the redemption of reason. But we have not said that much about what we mean by the redemption of reason. So I thought at the beginning I would address that from my perspective. After a general discussion, and as an example of this kind of mutuality, I am going to discuss astrobiology and Christology.

Theologians and Christian evangelicals of all kinds are rightly interested in the teachings of Scripture as the Word of God, so we will begin with two verses from the Bible. One that is not so well known is 2 Cor. 10:5 where Paul says in addition to destroying the enemies of God, they are destroying speculation and every lofty thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. That is maybe one metaphor about what it is to redeem reason--to take it out of slavery and bondage. You are buying it out, you are redeeming it, you are liberating it, you are going to bring it from obedience to other powers, other spirits, and other goals and bring it into a Christian perspective. But I think my favorite verse comes from Jesus' teaching about what is the greatest commandment in the whole Old Testament. "Jesus replied, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind'" (Matt. 22:37, NIV). To love the Lord with your mind is something that any scholar can do.

One of the things I noticed in our conversations over dinner last night is this idea that some people may have a special calling from God, a "religious vocation." I agree with that but I would just like to remind everyone here that all of us are called by God. All of us have a religious vocation. It is one of the fundamental breakthroughs of the Reformation and the evangelical tradition that all activities are equally spiritual when we do them unto Christ: car mechanic, astronomer, pastor, or theologian. There is nothing more spiritual about being a theologian than there is about being a computer scientist. Both can be spiritual when they are done in the right Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit. At this conference, we are all academics, we are all interested in the life of the mind, and so we are all called by Christ to do this as a way of being obedient to the greatest commandment. …

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