April 30, 2021

Science and the Gospel: A Dialogue

A closer look at how the two engage.

Martin Hanna

Introduction: The Dialogue of God Talk

What does the “everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6) of the three angels’ messages (verses 6-12) have to do with science-theology dialogue? In this dialogue, do science and theology undermine each other or support each other?  As a framework for answering these questions, I’ll offer the following broad descriptions of science and theology.

First, in addition to being an academic discipline, theology (Greek: theos, logos) is God talk. God talks to us through Scripture and nature; and we talk to Him in prayer and talk about Him with words or actions (which speak louder than words).1 Second, science (Latin: scientia, knowledge) includes the academic disciplines of formal, natural, applied, social, and theological sciences. Many “thoughtful scientists and philosophers have recognized the correlation of academic disciplines, and the potential unity of science and the humanities.”2

From this perspective a person may be professional in some sciences and amateur in others. In addition, it is evident that we are all involved with science and theology on some level and, therefore, can engage in science-theology dialogue to some degree.

From Premodern to Postmodern Dialogue3

As we wrestle with questions about the gospel and science-theology dialogue, let us consider the biblical instruction to “remember the days of old, [and] consider the years of many generations” (Deut. 32:7).

In the premodern period theology was queen of the sciences because the church founded the universities where science was cultivated. At times there were conflicts between traditional theology and new discoveries in science. However, some essential assumptions of modern science may be traced back to the premodern period, when theology provided the context for the development of the scientific method.

In the modern period various sciences became mature, and natural science was regarded as king of the sciences. Many ceased thinking of theology as a science and trusted science as the solution to all human problems. Nevertheless, Friedrich Schleiermacher (the father of modern theology) defined theology as a positive and practical science.4

In the postmodern period many scholars recognize that there are serious limits to both science and theology, and that both can be used for good or for evil. Some persons respond to this by cultivating anti-science and anti-theology attitudes. Others respond by proposing that science-theology dialogue can minimize their potential for evil and maximize their potential for good.

It is important to note that premodern, modern, and postmodern perspectives currently coexist. While some persons identify exclusively with the values of one perspective, we should recognize the positive and negative features of each approach. Rather than premodern theology as queen or modern natural science as king, we need a biblically informed postmodern strategy for science-theology dialogue.

The Everlasting Gospel: A Call to Dialogue

Science-theology dialogue should be informed by Daniel’s message about God’s “everlasting kingdom” (Dan. 4:3), which is described by Jesus as the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 24:14) and by John as the “everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6). This gospel undergirds all aspects of the three angels’ messages: the judgment hour, worship of the Creator, Babylon’s fall, the mark of the beast, the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus (verses 6-12).

The gospel is not irrelevant for science-theology dialogue, since Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18-20).5 We catch a glimpse of the extent of this authority when we consider the scientific calculation that the universe is 93 billion light-years wide—the distance light travels in 93 billion years at 186,000 miles per second.6 That is a lot of universe for science and theology to dialogue about; and the gospel promises eternal life (1 John 2:25), which allows time for everlasting cosmic explorations.

“The current postmodern period presents a challenging and exciting opportunity for science-theology dialogue.”

Therefore, we will understand science and theology more completely when the gospel kingdom “shall break in pieces and consume all . . . [other] kingdoms” (Dan. 2:44) so that “the saints” “possess the kingdom” (Dan. 7:18). Nevertheless, we can also engage with the dialogue now, since God’s “kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,” existing “from generation to generation” (Dan. 4:3), and “the Most High rules in the kingdoms of men” (verse 17). Furthermore, God’s “kingdom . . .  is within” us (Luke 17:21), guiding our participation in science-theology dialogue.

Daring to Dialogue Like Daniel7

Valuable insights are contained in the instruction given to Daniel to “shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; [when] many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (Dan. 12:4). Daniel desired knowledge about historical events and their timing (Dan. 8:14; 9:24-27; 12:5-13), leading up to when “Michael shall stand up” and God’s people “shall be delivered” (Dan. 12:1). In contrast to Daniel, we can now look back at events that he desired to see: for example, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Peter 1:10-12).

God uses this increased knowledge to enhance our efficiency in sharing the gospel. As shown to Daniel, “none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand” (Dan. 12:10); and the “wise” are “those who turn many to righteousness” (verse 3). Like Daniel, they will “rest” in death and then “arise” to their “inheritance at the end of the days” (verse 13), to “shine like the brightness of the firmament,” and “like the stars for ever and ever” (verse 3). Even now, “the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day” (Prov. 4:18).

The benefit of increasing historical knowledge parallels the benefit of an increase in all kinds of knowledge. This was demonstrated when “God gave” the Hebrew youth “knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Dan. 1:17). They were “gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand” “the language and literature of the Chaldeans” (verse 4).

In our science-theology dialogue, we must reject “what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Tim. 6:20). At the same time, our dialogue is encouraged by the fact that with God’s help (Dan. 1:17) the Hebrews graduated from the university of Babylon “ten times better” than others “in all matters of wisdom and understanding” (verse 20). Clearly God is not intimidated by increasing knowledge; and His people should not be intimidated by it either.

Dialogue Until He Comes

Jesus taught “parables” on the “mysteries of the kingdom” (Luke 8:10), which include the “gospel” “mystery” (Rom. 16:25). As we contemplate science-theology dialogue, we should consider the “parable” in which Jesus corrected people who “thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately” (Luke 19:11). Jesus instructed them to “do business till I come” (verse 13).8

The business this kingdom parable encourages includes the business of increasing knowledge through the spiritual gift of scholarship.9 As Jesus said on another occasion: “Every scribe [or scholar] instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old” (Matt. 13:52). This teaching is relevant for motivating every student in our schools, from kindergarten to university, including our Sabbath Schools.

Genuine science-theology dialogue is motivated by Advent hope. We should always “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44). We really have no time to focus on figuring out how much time we have left to get ready. Redemption draws near at the speed of now! “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11). Therefore, the authentic Adventist is committed to doing kingdom business as if Jesus were returning today to evaluate our science-theology dialogue.10

Dialogue That Makes Laodicea Hot

Ellen White points out that one cause for Laodicean lukewarmness (Rev. 3:14-22) is intellectual laziness. “ ‘What need is there,’ say they, ‘of an increase of knowledge . . . ?’” This explains it all. They feel that they are ‘rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.’ ”11 Nevertheless, “the book of Daniel is now unsealed,” and “by the increase of knowledge a people is to be prepared to stand in the latter days.”12 “Every grain of knowledge is to be regarded as of high value”; and Christians “should improve every moment to increase their knowledge.”13

This increase of knowledge includes science-theology dialogue, since “a knowledge of science of all kinds is power, and it is in the purpose of God that advanced science shall be taught in our schools as a preparation for the work that is to precede the closing scenes of earth’s history. The truth is to go to the remotest bounds of the earth, through agents trained for the work.”14 “In the study of the sciences also we are to obtain a knowledge of the Creator. All true science is but an interpretation of the handwriting of God in the material world.”15

Genuine dialogue avoids a false science that places satanic “ideas of science and nature” above God’s Word. Similarly, it avoids a false theology that ignores the “connected chain of truth” and manifests “a disjointed medley of ideas” supported by Bible texts “woven together into a tissue of falsehood.”16 Those who study nature and Scripture should learn from each other. “The book of nature and the written Word do not disagree; each sheds light on the other. Rightly understood, they make us acquainted with God” and lead to “intelligent trust in His Word.”17

Today, as in the time of Daniel, students “rooted and grounded” in faith should enter “leading institutions” with “a wider field for study,” “different classes of minds,” and “popular methods of education,” and “theology.” This would prepare them “to labor for the educated classes,” to correct “errors of our time,” and “do a good work, even while gaining their education, in sowing the seeds of truth in other minds.”18 Clearly we are not to be lukewarm about science-theology dialogue. We are to be on fire to preach the gospel in a way that is relevant in our science-dominated culture.

Conclusion: Growth in Grace and Dialogue

In summary, many Christians are involved with science and theology; and the current postmodern period presents a challenging and exciting opportunity for science-theology dialogue centered in the everlasting gospel. Daniel predicts an end-time increase of knowledge; and Jesus calls scientists and theologians to dialogue until He comes. This dialogue helps overcome Laodicean lukewarmness and facilitates the finishing of our mission. So let us not shun science-theology dialogue. Instead, let us enthusiastically engage in this dialogue as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:18), “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

  1. See Roger M. White, Talking About God (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2010), pp. 1-10.
  2. Valentine Belfiglio, Correlations Between the Physical and Social Sciences (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2011), p. 7.
  3. Martin Hanna, “The Use of Science in Theology” (Ph.D. dissertation, Andrews University, 2004), pp. 17-46, discusses this issue.
  4. See Stanley Grenz, ‘‘ ‘Scientific’ Theology/‘Theological’ Science: Pannenberg and the Dialogue Between Theology and Science,” Zygon 34, no. 1 (March 1999): 159-166.
  5. Jonathan Pennington, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (Leiden: Brill, 2007), pp. 193-216, considers this question.
  6. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, J. Richard Gott, Welcome to the Universe (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2016), pp. 17-25, cite these overwhelming numbers.
  7. On which, consider Jacques Doukhan, Secrets of Daniel (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2000), pp. 13-23.
  8. Earnest van Eck has this, and much more to say, in The Parables of Jesus the Galilean (Eugene, Oreg.: Cascade, 2016), pp. 276-299.
  9. Martin Hanna, “The Spiritual Gift of Scholarship,” Current: Faith Meets Life and Culture 3 (2015): 46, 47.
  10. Martin Hanna, “Who Is an Authentic Adventist?” Current 8(Fall 2020): 21, 22.
  11. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 5, p. 265. (Italics supplied.)
  12. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958, 1980), book 1, p. 105. (Italics supplied.)
  13. Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1981), vol. 13, p. 145. (Italics supplied.)
  14. Ellen G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 186.
  15. Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890. 1908), p. 599.
  16. Ellen G. White in Signs of the Times, Mar. 27, 1884.
  17. White, ibid.
  18. E. G. White, Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 583, 584.

Martin Hanna, systematic theologian, teaches at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.