Can we Understand Jesus without Science?
On the past two Sundays I preached on the Parable of the Sower and on the Vine and the Branches. For both of these messages I relied heavily on science (on what makes soil fertile and on the plant-science nature of branches). In each case science led to a deeper understanding of what Jesus was saying — in my mind, a truer understanding!
The communal nature of soil — with its hundreds of billions of bacteria per gram along with the incredible symbiotic work that microfungi do in enabling a plant’s roots to take up enough water — was a key pointer to the communal nature of achieving a life of faith that yields 30, 60, 100 fold.
The always-varying, ever-adaptive, never-the-same nature of branches turned my one-way view of what it means to remain in Jesus on its head. There are as many different ways for believers to remain in Jesus as there are unique branch-trunk connections on earth.
The communal nature of soil fertility and the ever differentiated nature of branches were only knowable through modern science. I am now beginning to believe that without science we can not (fully) understand what Jesus was saying.
Whenever I’ve preached on scientific topics in the past I’ve often felt I had to defend the engagement of science (i.e. if God speaks through creation then science is our ally and we ought to include it) but after these past two Sundays something has shifted in me.
Back in seminary I was taught that you always had to keep the authors original intent (along with the context of the original listening audience) in mind when unpacking a text. Given these exegetical rules, people 2000 years ago surely had no understanding of what science knows today. Even Jesus (most theologians would agree) didn’t know about the plant science nature of soil and branches when he taught his followers (although if you read his prayer in John 17 it does seem as though he has some recollection of his pre-incarnate state). But even if Jesus didn’t fully understand the science as he spoke about soil and branches surely God his Father did!
God the Father knew all there is to know about the science of soil and branches when he inspired Jesus to choose these metaphors for his teaching (Jesus didn't say or do anything apart from his Father's will).
So then, what if we are meant to engage Jesus’s parables with this greater sense of Authorial Intent in mind? Knowing that science would one day show us what soil and branches are really all about, did God choose these creational texts intentionally?
If so, how can we ever understand any biblical reference to creation apart from knowing what the Author clearly knew?