Prime Time Theologian
posted by Susan Stilley
There are currently four television shows which I record to watch with my husband in our very few hours of spare time. They are Monk, House, Numbers and Psych.
Notice a pattern? All four shows center on a main character with a genius ability to solve a mystery. Adrian Monk is an obsessive compulsive but brilliant detective who picks up the clues that no one else notices. Dr. House analyzes symptoms of patients with curious conditions and arrives at the correct diagnosis and treatment when all the other doctors are left shaking their heads. Charlie Epps is a twenty something math prodigy/tenured professor who uses mathematical formulas to help his brother solve crimes for the FBI. Shawn Spencer has a photographic memory and uses his skill of observation to solve crimes for the local police.
The television hero has come a long way. Back in the eighties and nineties we had the ‘action star’ such as Magnum P.I., T.J. Hooker, Walker Texas Ranger, and even Hercules. To catch the bad guy, one just needed a fast convertible for pursuit, a quick draw, a vicious roundhouse, or a muscled punch to the evil cyclops.
These days our hero is more cerebral, less brawn and more brain. This is an improvement I think (though I must admit a nostalgic yearning for Tom Selleck in his Hawaiian shirt).
What I would really like to see, however, is a theological hero. A champion for Christ with the genius ability to solve all mysteries biblical, philosophical, scientific. Even if such a hero could be found, it is doubtful he would receive much airtime on secular television.
But what about in our churches, our colleges and seminaries? Are there any twenty first century Jonathan Edwards out there, ready to lead us down corridors of thought largely unexplored? Who are the biblical sleuths in evangelicalism, the brilliant philosophers able to mine Scripture for truths which remain buried and ignored in most of our churches? Several names might come to mind, either rising stars or those established who have been shining brightly for quite a while. I believe one name that stands out is William Dembski.
Dr. Dembski is a graduate of the University of Chicago where he earned a B.A. in psychology, an M.S. in statistics, a Ph.D in philosophy, and a doctorate in mathematics. He also holds a doctorate in divinity from Princeton. He has done postdoctoral work in mathematics at MIT, in Physics at University of Chicago, and computer science at Princeton. He is a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute’s Center For Science and Culture in Seattle as well as the executive director of the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design.
I recently heard him speak in the chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (where he is now the Research Professor in Philosophy). As SWBTS President Dr. Paige Patterson made his introduction he commented that whenever he felt tempted to feel any sort of pride, he need only consider Dr. Dembski, a true scholar. On the two big screens in the auditorium appeared a list of his published works. The screen scrolled down further and further and further to display a seemingly endless list of books and journal articles as the impressed audience chuckled in amusement.
No one chuckled during Dembski’s address, however, which was entitled “The Reach of the Cross.” Most in the audience were probably more familiar with his work as a leader in the Intelligent Design movement and so it was a bit of a surprise, and an enlightening one at that, to hear his exposition on Christ’s suffering. He appealed to his listeners to see the Cross as a window into a much deeper reality of divine suffering:
The Scriptures teach that, “with God a day is as a thousand years”, but if a day is as a thousand years then each day in that thousand years is itself a thousand years, thus if you run the numbers, a day with God is also as 365 million years. Follow the math to its logical conclusion and with God an instant is an eternity. For this reason the mere six hours that Jesus hung on the Cross is no obstacle to God taking into himself the full suffering of humanity.
After hearing his message I was reminded again of how the gospel message is simple without being simplistic. I can explain to my five year old that Jesus died for our sins and she can grasp it, yet to fully appreciate the magnitude of that suffering and the Great Love that willingly embraced it, the atonement with all its intricacies of horror and sacrifice, it is good that we turn to those of brilliant intellect whom God has given us.
Should any of the major networks decide to produce the next ‘genius hero’ themed primetime television show, I would like to see them turn their attention to theology and solving the mysteries that really matter. If they need any ideas for a good character, I suggest they start looking in the Philosophy department at Southwestern.
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