<Warning: Just some speculative mental wanderings. If it seems imbecilic or pointless… you are probably correct.>
Long ago, I used to be an engineer. I was a mechanical engineer and (for awhile) a nuclear engineer. As such I had a certain fascination with “techie” things, and with the boundaries of physics. As I transitioned into full-time Christian ministry, my readings moved more towards practical ministry, theology, and philosophy. I kind of wish now that I had kept up with physics, because it sure seems like there are areas in Modern Physics that brings up interesting ways of looking at God and the Church. Take the concept of Space-Time.
Einsteinian Physics focuses on Space-Time. Newtonian Physics assumes that time is constant, an unchanging ticking of a universal clock (it is interesting the Newton recognized that this was merely an assumption he was making, but did so since he had no way to prove or disprove it). But with Einstein, this changed. We see time as a vector tied to the three vectors that we are more comfortable with (length, width, and depth). In the past, one might look at the universe as a big (very big) ball. The ball may be changing (growing, shrinking, oscillating, whatever). However, with the new understanding it might be better to look at the universe as a giant hotdog. Hotdog? By that I mean, if one looks at the universe at a moment of time (an admittedly questionable concept of itself, but never mind) it might look like the giant ball, but as it interacts with the time dimension one could see it as a series of balls forming a sausage shape with the curved surface at one end being the beginning (in the beginning) and the other side being the end (FIN).
With space-time, time and space interact in strange ways. Not only does change of position in space and time result in velocity, but velocity affects space and time (in space-time). Because of this, the concept of “the present” becomes muddy. The past and future become different parts of the hotdog. Modern Physics tends to downplay the perception of the passage of time. How MIGHT this affect theology?
1. God’s position regarding the Universe. We often describe God as omnipresent and timeless. These could be described as God’s relationship with space and time. Some add immutability. This would be God’s unchanging nature (with respect of time). I am not particularly convinced that immutability is an accurate characteristic of God, based on the Biblical record. “God and Time: Four Views” is a book showing four different Christian views (based on four Christian philosophers) of God’s nature regarding time. I will let others fight the details, but if God created space-time, then one could argue that God is outside of space-time, or at least not affected by it. God would be like a person looking at a hotdog (space-time). God is (from our perspective) in an eternal now. That does not necessarily mean that God is in a static existence where time does not exist. Rather, it means that God is timeless from our perspective (living as we do in the space-time “hotdog”). God can be said to be omnipresent and timeless by existing and permeating all points of space-time, but have existence that goes far outside of its boundaries.
2. Prophecy. We often looked at prophecy (the foretelling-type of prophecy at least) as peeking into the future and writing it down beforehand. The question that resulted from that was whether prophecy violated freewill (or is there freewill to violate in the first place?). However, if one looks at the Universe in terms of space-time, prophecy is putting a note about what is seen in one part of the hotdog in a different part. As such, it loses, to some extent, its predictive quality. Space-time seems to allow for the idea that the future can affect the past. The principle of causation seems to prevent it, but a valid prophecy could be the result of an iterative process between past and future, which in the final point does not affect causation. Prophecy is simply writing down what is seen as happening in a different part of the space-time continuum (much like writing down in one place what is happening in a different geographic location). The effects of causation of a prophecy would affect instantaneously (if one could use such a term) space-time. A prophecy from divine perspective would affect other events, affecting the prophecy and so on until a stable loop results.
3. Calvin and Arminius. This really relates to prophecy. Calvin saw salvation is imputed in the past (prescriptive) by God. Arminius saw it as based on divine foreknowledge (predictive). Since the Bible has passages that support both sides, Calvinists and Arminians tend to build their theology on the verses they prefer and downplay the theological significance of the verses of the opposition. There should be a better way. It seems as if the concept of space-time allows for a reading of scripture where the prescriptive and predictive meet. If God exists outside of Space-time, then God working with and respond to us now is not in conflict to God working for us in the past from our perspective since both are in the eternal NOW.
4. The Universal Church. If we talk about the Universal Church, we talk about churches in the Americas, in Asia, in Africa, in every part of the world. But from the space-time concept, it is equally valuable and important to think of the church in all points of time, not just space. I am an evangelical, and evangelicals tend to be ahistoric. Some other groups are highly focused on the past… on tradition. But both kind of miss the point. The church of North Africa died close to 1200 years ago. This is a sad thing. But they are not gone. In space- time, they are equally part of us. They exist in history, so they exist. They are an active part of the Universe as much as we are. As such, to ignore them or fail to interact with them is as foolish as ignoring churches today in Southeast Asia. When Jesus noted that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we need to remember that God is our God now as well. If we are connected to God in the eternal NOW, as is the patriarchs, then we are connected to them as well. If this is a valid way of looking at things, it is an awesome thing to meditate upon.
5. The spirit world. Attitudes differ as far as ghosts, angels, and demons. There are even arguments as to whether we are simply flesh and blood (the mind/soul/spirit simply being a simplistic model for describing the chemical-electrical interactions of the flesh and bolood) or if there indeed is a ghost in the machine… a driver inside, but unique, from the vehicle. The space-time Universe allows for the idea of the Multiverse. Many Universes. These may be independent, but could, potentially, interact. Phenomena that do not fit well into the naturalistic (repeatable and predictive) phenomena of our space-time may be due to unpredictable interactions with other universes. It might be a bit like the ghost images one might get on a signal due to problems of multiplexing signals. Don’t know. Just something to think about.
So what does this all have to do with Missions? I have no idea. However, Christians should not fear science (nor get to impressed by its strongest supporters). God put us in a place more amazingly complex and interesting than we have even allowed ourselves to dream. We should be prepared, as Newton, Kepler, and many others, to understand ourselves and understand God, by understanding His works. If the heavens do indeed declare the glory of God, we need to listen to that declaration.