Great Stuff — Rev. Dr. Matthew Becker: Nature Interprets Scripture
Found on Scott Diekmann’s blog, Stand Firm:
As a professor at Valparaiso University, Rev. Dr. Matthew Becker wields a tremendous amount of influence on young minds. Dr. Becker is also a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) rostered pastor, concurrently serving as vacancy pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Michigan City, Indiana. While there are some things on which we would agree, at least on a superficial level, his crusade for women’s ordination wouldn’t be one of them. He is also an evolution proponent, rejects a literal six-day creation, and is a vocal critic of the LCMS positions on these topics. (At the end of the post is further information regarding Dr. Becker’s formal dissent with the LCMS, as well as references for further investigation.)
Dr. Becker has voiced his views in numerous forums, and submitted his formal dissent to the LCMS, which included two of his essays titled “A Case for Female Pastors and Theologians” (excerpted from the book A Daystar Reader) and “The Scandal of the LCMS Mind” (hereafter called The Scandal). One of the LCMS documents with which he takes issue is the 2004 Convention Resolution 2-08A. Questioning the qualifications of the responsible committee members, he opines “which members of Committee Two are experts in the sciences of geology, paleontology, biology, and genetics, to be able to speak so authoritatively about this scientific [evolution] issue.” And what are Dr. Becker’s qualifications? He is an Associate Professor of Theology. It seems reasonable to hold him to his own standard. He’s certainly no expert in any of the areas he mentions either, which renders him no more qualified than they to speak to the scientific aspects of the topic at hand.
Dr. Becker insists in The Scandal that
…Scientific data about the reality of physical death in the animal and plant kingdoms prior to origin of human beings (e.g., fossils of animals that lived long before the origin of human beings) must lead those who interpret the Bible in light of scientific knowledge to restate the nature of God’s good creation prior to the advent of human sin (e.g., such a good creation must have included the reality of death prior to the existence of human beings) and the character of the historical origin of sin (e.g., the advent of sin is to be traced to the first hominids who disobeyed God’s will but not necessarily to their having eaten from a tree in an actual place called the Garden of Eden several thousand years ago).
His reasoning allows him to ask such questions as these, quoted from his essay:
- “Was Adam literally formed from the ground?”
- “Did the snake really speak?”
- “Did God really walk in the garden?”
With this in mind, it becomes obvious that while Adam and Eve were the first hominids to disobey God’s will, they may not have been the first hominids, and they certainly had evolutionary precursors. In other words, Adam and Eve had parents – call them Jack and Jenny, and Barney and Betty. To ward off a potential problem, let’s just say that Jack, Jenny, Barney, and Betty weren’t homo sapiens. Though they looked just like Adam and Eve, they had some minute evolutionary disadvantage, a lack of some obscure or obvious mutation that Adam and/or Eve possessed, that allowed God to draw an evolutionary line in the sand. Adam and Eve surely proclaimed “Our parents may have looked like us, but we’re the dawn of a new branch on the evolutionary tree.” Thus, we can now honestly say that Adam and Eve were the first man and woman, because “everyone” that came prior to them weren’t hominids. Be careful though. From now on, when you read Genesis 2:7,
then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
you must read it with a wink and a nod in your heart. Of course, this means that St. Paul fouled up when he wrote his letter to the Romans. Apparently Paul wasn’t much of a metaphorical thinker. Writing “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—,“ what he should have written to cover his bases was
Therefore, just as sin ALLEGORICALLY came into the world through one manhominid, and death through sin though all non-hominids already experienced death,and so death spread to all men hominids because all sinned….
One point Dr. Becker uses to undermine the arguments of those individuals who reject evolution is to equate them with those who rejected the Copernican heliocentric universe in the 16th century. If you reject evolution, you’re a medieval rube. (My words, not his.) When J. Gresham Machen wrote his now classic book Christianity and Liberalism, perhaps he was presciently thinking of Dr. Becker’s ideas when he penned these lines:
By them this little book, if it ever comes into their hands, will soon be flung aside as only another attempt at defence of a position already hopelessly lost. There are still individuals, they will say, who believe that the earth is flat; there are also individuals who defend the Christianity of the Church, miracles and atonement and all. In either case, it will be said, the phenomenon is interesting as a curious example of arrested development, but it is nothing more.
Once the creationists have been dealt with, and evolution coronated, women’s ordination becomes all the more easy to tackle. A “figurative” interpretation of Genesis 1-9 is used to redefine the order of creation, and presto chango, women’s ordination is okey dokey. A figurative interpretation of Genesis and women’s ordination go together like peanut butter and jelly, like homosexuality and the ELCA. (If you don’t understand the relationship between women’s ordination and homosexuality, listen to Dr. Al Collver discussing it on Issues, Etc., and read the excellent CPH book Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Perspective.)
Dr. Becker calls evolution and its related subset of “truths” “venerable, commonly-held scientific theories” (quoted from ALPB Forum). Evolution is certainly a commonly held theory, but venerable it’s not. To base theological arguments as weighty as these on a theory as weak as that of evolution is risky at best, irresponsible or negligent more likely. Just because a theory is accepted by a broad swath of society doesn’t mean it’s correct. Faulty reasoning regarding nature should not be allowed to interpret Scripture.
…Dr. Becker’s essays reflect a view of and approach to Scripture that are clearly incompatible with the Synod’s doctrinal position on the authority and interpretation of Holy Scripture….
While Dr. Becker does not espouse materialism, his views on these issues are certainly synchronous in many ways with those who hold to a materialistic worldview, and bring to mind the words of G. K. Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy:
Scientific materialism binds the Creator Himself; it chains up God as the Apocalypse chained the devil. It leaves nothing free in the universe. And those who assist this process are called the “liberal theologians.”
We do not “walk together” as a synod in the LCMS by walking in opposite directions. Dr. Becker’s ideas steer him in a course that’s on the tail of the synodical compass needle, not its head. His acceptance of unproven scientific theory and subsequent faulty theologic reasoning is disheartening. What may be more disturbing is that we as a synod allow him to do so, apparently unmindful of our Constitutional duty as a synod to conserve and promote the unity of the true faith and provide a united defense against schism, sectarianism, and heresy, especially when it is within our own ranks. I’d encourage you not to take my word for it, but rather examine what Dr. Becker has to say and decide for yourself. As Charles Porterfield Krauth said in The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, “A Church which contends for nothing, has either lost the truth, or has ceased loving it.”
The response of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) to Dr. Becker’s dissent states in part:
Dr. Becker’s dissent does not provide a sufficient scriptural or confessional basis to support his claim that the doctrinal position of the Synod is in need of revision on the issue of the ordination of women to the pastoral office or on the issue of creation and evolution.
Their response continues,
…Dr. Becker’s essays reflect a view of and approach to Scripture that are clearly incompatible with the Synod’s doctrinal position on the authority and interpretation of Holy Scripture…
They further state:
The CTCR therefore appeals to Dr. Matthew Becker, by the mercies of God, to reconsider his dissent and to reexamine, on the basis of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, his positions on the authority of Scripture and the two issues concerning which he has expressed dissent, even as the Synod expects him to honor and uphold the doctrinal positions of the Synod.
The CTCR’s response concludes
A doctrine of Scripture remains a doctrine of Scripture despite the fact that it is formulated in synodically adopted resolutions. If a member cannot for conscience’ sake accept a doctrinal resolution of the Synod, he has the obligation and opportunity through mutually approved procedure to challenge such a resolution with a view to effecting the changes he deems necessary. Failing in that, he is completely free by reason of his wholly voluntary association with the Synod to obey his conscience and disassociate himself from the Synod. Meanwhile every member of the Synod is held to abide by, act, and teach in accordance with the Synod’s resolutions.
Dr. Becker’s essay “A Case for Female Pastors and Theologians” can be found in the book A Daystar Reader, available here:
Dr. Becker’s essay “The Scandal of the LCMS Mind” can be found here:
The CTCR document “CTCR Response to Matthew Becker Dissent of 6/29/11” can be found here:
The follow-up CTCR document “Statement of the CTCR Executive Committee Re: CTCR Response to Matthew Becker Dissent of 6/29/11” can be found here:
The ALPB Forum Online contains a 33 page thread titled “Commission on Theology and Church Relations’ Response to Matthew Becker,” which begins here:
Comments made by Dr. Becker’s can be found on pages 8, 9, 11, 12, 22, 28, 30, and 31.
The book Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Perspective can be purchased from CPH here: