Sophisticated Theology: Final Thoughts on Polkinghorne

So, I finished reading “The Polkinghorne Reader”, and overall it was a decent book. It lost me a bit in some of the later stages, especially since it seemed that I needed to know more about both science and theology to not only understand what Polkinghorne was concerned about, but to even care about what Polkinghorne was talking about. For the most part, a lot of the concerns raised are things that don’t really bother me one way or the other, although I think that there are ways to solve the problem. It’s also not written for the average reader, as even I struggled with some parts and I know something about the issues.

A few comments:

1) Polkinghorne talks a lot about how we should do scriptural interpretation, and at one point he talks about how we can — and potentially ought to — take events that made sense in context in the Old Testament (say) and translate them to having new meaning related to the current context. I think that this is risky, as it implies that that event or passage should have events that make sense across contexts. But there’s really no reason to assume that. If something really seems to, it wouldn’t be smart to ignore that, but how do you easily tell when you’re adding meaning to it or reading what it has? At the very least, we shouldn’t really expect this to occur.

2) Contrary to assertions from a few incompatibilists, Polkinghorne is clear about the relation between normal, experiential religion and theology. Theology cannot strongly conflict with experiential religion; in some sense, the religion described by theology must align with that that the ordinary religious person experiences. But it is not bound by it, and so does not have to accept the naive interpretations of that experience by ordinary or folk religion. Thus, if it conflicts with those interpretations it must have a reason for it, but is allowed to say that the interpretations are uneducated, in much the same way as science cannot simply dismiss common sense experience without reason. Thus, if someone is interested in whether or not God exists, or if religion is true, one cannot split religion and theology and say that they are interested in the former; if they do that, then they are not interested in the truth of the proposition, but in something else entirely.

This is a book that I might have to revisit, since there’s a lot there but I’m not at the theological level to care enough to get through it yet.

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3 Responses to “Sophisticated Theology: Final Thoughts on Polkinghorne”

  1. Crude Says:

    I’m actually surprised to hear your complaint is that, apparently, the book gets into too intricate theology. It sounded like it was supposed to be a lighter piece of work than that. Interesting.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      “Questions of Truth” was certainly supposed to be that, and it succeeds. “The Polkinghorne Reader”, it seems to me, was supposed to be more about gathering together all of Polkinghorne’s view in one place, but since a lot of that was written for journals and academics — and nothing, as far as I can tell, was written in addition to that — being “lighter” in the sense of not being too intricate wasn’t going to happen. It is lighter in that you can get a sense of what Polkinghorne means as a complete system without reading all of those different books and papers, but not always lighter in terms of what it talks about.

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