Original Research - Special Collection: Wentzel van Huyssteen

A ‘transversal’ dialogue with Wentzel van Huyssteen’s theological approach

Klaus Nürnberger
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 42, No 2 | a2243 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v42i2.2243 | © 2021 Klaus Nürnberger | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 10 March 2021 | Published: 31 May 2021

About the author(s)

Klaus Nürnberger, Department of Systematic and Historical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Tshwane, South Africa


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Abstract

In this essay, I compared notes with Wentzel van Huyssteen, one of the most prominent theologians in the science–religion discussion. I followed the topics dealt with in a casual interview with Frits Gaum, in which Van Huyssteen responded to set questions: on his academic journey, God, the Bible, creation and evolution, human uniqueness, original sin, eternal life, Jesus and the relation between faith and research. Whilst there was considerable consensus between us in most respects, I would change the focus from an ‘apologetic’ agenda (science and theology were describing the same world from equally valid vantage points using comparable rationalities) to a ‘missionary’ agenda (making the Christian faith more accessible to scientists by following the approach of ‘experiential realism’). Science confined its operations to different aspects of the reality that was accessible to human observation, explanation and manipulation, whilst theology concentrated on our relation to the transcendent Source and Destiny of all of reality. To make sense to a scientist, theology must shun unsupported postulates and speculations and confront the scientist with the basic alternative of claiming to be the ultimate authority over the immanent world (presuming to be the owner, master and beneficiary of reality) and being derived from, and responsible to, the ultimate Source and Destiny of reality. The confusion between immanent transcendence (aspects of immanent reality that were not accessible to our observation, explanation and manipulation) and transcendent immanence (immanent reality as a whole was open towards a higher Source and Destiny) bedeviled the interface between science and faith. Science challenged theology to provide experiential evidence; theology challenged science to be responsible to ultimate authority.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: Both Wentzel van Huyssteen and I have worked consistently on an interdisciplinary basis. However, whilst Wentzel focused strongly on the natural sciences, I spent most of my time on the relation between the Christian faith and the human sciences (economics, ecology, cultural anthropology, politics, etc.) and concentrated on the natural sciences only after my retirement. In my essay, I highlighted the difference between trying to demonstrate the comparability and compatibility between theology and science on the one hand and highlighting the challenge that science posed to faith and faith posed to science on the other hand.


Keywords

creation and evolution; human uniqueness; original sin; eternal life; immanent transcendence; transcendent immanence.

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