Saturday, April 17, 2010

Evolution: America's Biggest Barrier to Christianity?

It's not every day that you read an essay that changes the way you see everything. But that's exactly what happened to me this week. And I wanted to present some of it's ideas to you. I'd like to paraphrase some of the ideas that Ken Wilson shared in his essay entitled Science & The Evangelical Mission In America. You can read it here.




Wilson suggests that America is divided into two main groups:


RED SENSIBILITY
• Votes Republican
• Considers Earth 10,000
• Typically a Creationist

BLUE SENSIBILITY
• Votes Democratic
• Considers Earth 4.5 billion years old
• Typically an Evolutionist

Science and religion are the two most powerful forces in the world today.

I think most of us would agree that this is a fair representation of America. Of course it is not exact, what generalization would be? But let's add one more characteristic to this group division.

RED SENSIBILITY
• Votes Republican
• Considers Earth 10,000
• Typically a Creationist
• High church attendance

BLUE SENSIBILITY
• Votes Democratic
• Considers Earth 4.5 billion years old
• Typically an Evolutionist
• Low church attendance

This is not a political post, so please don't get bogged down in that detail. The number of democrats in or out of church is not a factor of this blog.

Rather, evolution is.

The question that we should be asking is, where is the mission field in America? What massive people group are not being reached? The science community.

Picture the science community as concentric circles.


In the smallest innermost circle are those with advanced degrees, whose education depended heavily on biology, physics and chemistry.

The next, slightly bigger circle includes people who read periodicals like Scientific American, Discover, Nature, and National Geographic without thinking, “I wish they wouldn’t put so much stock in evolution and climate change.”

The next circle, the widest circle, encompassing roughly half the population of the United States, includes those who identify culturally with those in the inner two circles.


We’re not just talking about a small group of science fanatics; we’re talking about half of America, a massive mission field.

The Theory of Evolution is highly influential to this people group.

Evolution has always been a barrier for people to believe in God. How could they believe in a literal Genesis Creation account if their worldview is founded on the evidence of creation's antithesis: Evolution? Everything about their worldview hinges on the Theory of Evolution.

So let me ask this very difficult question:

Is the a Literal Creation account of Genesis, one that calls Evolution a lie, a theological hill that we will die on?

There are some theological beliefs that I would die for:

The Trinity. The deity of Christ. The authority of Scripture. Salvation by grace through faith.

These are foundational and essential parts of the Christian faith.

But there are some theological issues that matter less to me. I have my own opinion, and other Christian friends share different opinions:

Calvanism, Open Theism, Post/Pre/Mid Tribulation, Young Earth, Dispensationalism, Ceasationalism.

So here, I ask, both myself and you, is a Literal Creation account of Genesis, one that calls Evolution a lie, is this a belief that we will refuse to compromise?

What about Theistic Evolution?

Theistic Evolution is the theological idea that God sparked and guides the work of Evolution.

Historically, in the church, the idea of Theistic Evolution has been rejected. It has been seen as a compromise of Biblical beliefs for the sake of scientific evidence.

If the barrier for half of the US population is Evolution, and if a literal creation account is not a theological hill to die on, then
can we both allow this idea of Theistic Evolution AND embrace those who want to believe it.
Few pastors or biblical scholars in the United States, when pressed, would insist that rejecting evolutionary science is part of the cost of following Christ.

I am NOT asking you to change your view from a literal creation to Theistic Evolution. I am asking you to reconsider the fact that Theistic Evolution is not the compromise that we all thought it was.

Ken Wilson shares this story from his church,

"A year after listening to my sermon series on science and faith, Susan approached me in the church lobby with tears in her eyes and the following story. After wrestling through the material, Susan gathered her adult children together. None of her children were active churchgoers, though they were raised in a strict fundamentalist Baptist setting. In prayer, Susan had discerned that her approach to evolution had unnecessarily alienated her children from the gospel. Susan apologized to her children for insisting that they had to accept her young earth creation views. Susan told them that she didn’t accept evolution herself, but she deeply regretted insisting that they accept her views as the only view a faithful Christian could accept. Susan was never more evangelical than when she engaged in this soul-searching work."


Are we unnecessarily alienating people from the Gospel?

Here is my main point:

Maybe you have strong convictions that Evolution cannot coexist to the Literal Creationist Account. Maybe Theistic Evolution can be the first step of an atheist's beliefs towards a Literal Creationist Account. No Christian doubts the Holy Spirit's power to work on our theology after we become followers of Christ.

This proposal may come as a shock to many of you. I know it was for me. Process this new information for about a week or so. Test it, try it, pray about it. If you feel that my paraphrased presentation was not convincing enough, I ask that you read Wilson's
full essay. Wilson also acknowledged that this is an unpopular, even destructive to our reputation.

"In order to be truly evangelical in American culture today, we may have to risk our reputation with some fellow evangelicals. That is the sad but painful truth. Which is more important though, reaching the lost or maintaining our reputation with the found?"

Now the hard part: what do we do next?

Restore credibility.

And that takes initiative. A non-Christian evolutionist is probably not going to approach you to talk about this. In the past, Christians have been intolerant to the idea of evolution. I believe that your approach of Theistic Evolution will be a breath of fresh air.

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What do you think? Is a Literal Creationist account a theological essential to the Christian Faith? Or is openness to Theistic Evolution a valid option for non-believers? What are ways that we can restore credibility among the science-influenced community?


20 comments:

  1. Good word man! Again you hit on a topic that gets neglected all to often.
    I for one tend to be much more scientific/rational and I personally believe in Theistic Evolution. And while i believe the core of the bible is true (God created the earth/man, man fell God sent his Son to save us, etc) I also tend to believe many parts of the bible are not literal, including the genesis account. i have seen and heard so much hostility toward these ideas from the church that I have stopped attending church altogether. And thats coming form a brother in Christ. i can only imagine how non-believers get put off and alienated from religion. please anyone who reads this pray about the message and think long and hard about your beliefs/openness to the beliefs of others.

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  2. this one's a toughy.... im not sure how i feel about it. I mean I 100% believe that God created the world and us... that is the foundation that we are created in his image and we are his... the reason he loves us so much that he died for us...
    on the other hand i do believe that beings can change over time due to their culture and environment. i will have to think about this one... ::MALORIE

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  3. @Anonymous
    thanks for your openness and honesty, Mal.

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  4. A few questions that come to my mind:
    - by allowing a view of Theistic Evolution, what am I doing to the authority of the Bible? What do we make of Genesis 1-2? If it is not literal, then what other portions of the Bible are not literal? For example, science commonly rejects the idea of a global flood; does that mean that we now must re-interpret the flood account? where does it stop?
    These are questions that we all must ponder I think. I'm a Young-Earther myself, though I agree that it's not a hill worth dying on. I just want to be careful to not cast doubt on the authority of the Bible. I have seldom found, though, that evolution even comes up when talking to unbelievers - most that I've spoken with deny God based on all the evil and suffering in the world. I think that's the thing we have to be ready to defend - God's goodness in a world gone mad.

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  5. Charles.. i agree with the authority of the Bible part. What validity does it have then? that's why im having a bit of an issue

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  6. @Charles R. Higham

    you make a lot of valid points, Charles.

    "I have seldom found, though, that evolution even comes up when talking to unbelievers - most that I've spoken with deny God based on all the evil and suffering in the world."

    evil and suffering is probably equally as common as evolution. and you are right when you say "I think that's the thing we have to be ready to defend - God's goodness in a world gone mad."

    i would also add the lack of integrity displayed by some christians (how christians act). these 3 arguments are the 3 strongest arguments that prevent people from becoming christians.

    remember to take into account Richard Dawkins, a mega-successful author who specializes in the area of evolution.

    as for a 'literal' Genesis 1-2 interpretation, this would be affected strongly by you being a Young Earth and I being a Day/Age (a debate we can just skip and continue to respect each other's stances). but me being a Day/Age, i believe that the first 2 chapters of Genesis are poetic, and do not have to be taken as a scientific account.

    3 things,

    1) please keep in account my main point:
    "Maybe you have strong convictions that Evolution cannot coexist to the Literal Creationist Account. Maybe Theistic Evolution can be the first step of an atheist's beliefs towards a Literal Creationist Account. No Christian doubts the Holy Spirit's power to work on our theology after we become followers of Christ."

    and 2) if i haven't explained this idea in clear enough terms, i'd encourage you to read the entire essay. for the sake of space, i had to keep out a lot of his info.

    3. miss you man.

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  7. Keep in mind the Bible was written by man and thus subject to errors. Ill start with the one point everybody Ive talked to agrees on: the bible has gone through several translations and its hard to decipher exactly what word translates best.

    As for examples of what i dont believe is literal here are two i can think of off hand (excluding genesis)
    1. Lots wife. i dont believe she physically turned her head and POOF God turned her into a pillar of salt. i believe that was metaphorical. She was "looking back" as in longing for the evil and wickedness that took place in Sodom and that God dealt with her accordingly.

    2. the story of Job. I dont believe Satan just strolled up and made a bet with god where he allowed him to kill Job's whole family just to win a bet and prove Job would stay loyal. Again i believe its just a parable, not a literal account.

    Please look up the apocrypha. these books were in the bible, then taken out but some are still in there in the current versions of the Catholic bible. if the bible to so perfect what happened there? Answer: its not perfect. Read the different accounts of the birth of Jesus In Matthew and Luke. they are pretty different. If people want to interpret everything in the bible literally then they are more than welcome to, I just disagree, but that doesnt mean we have to condemn each other and accuse people of not being "real Christians". just food for thought...
    Vaughan

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  8. 1. Yeah I think in the process of my comment I kinda lost track. I tried to emphasize why it's difficult for some of us creationists to make allowances for others. As far as open the door of conversation for theistic evolution, "Darwin's Black Box" by Michael Behe is a great read (well, very academic and difficult at times, but still). He promotes the idea of "irreducible complexity," thus arguing that the process had to be helped and guided along.
    2. Your idea was clear, I just kinda got off topic...sorry again.
    3. Miss you too man (even if you are a Day/Age-person...j/k)! Hope ya'll get back soon.

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  9. @Charles R. Higham

    your comment was huge though. because other people will read my blog and have the same questions that you have. so their thought process can follow along via our discussion.

    also, your questions/comments had me go re-write some of my points to make them clearer.

    thanks man.

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  10. @A Boy and his God
    Glad I could help!
    Something I was thinking of that makes this so difficult to do: It's scary to stand at the edge of our own beliefs with arms wide open inviting those who disagree in. It's also hard to allow the possibility for there to be an option other than our own. I think pride has something to do with that...
    Anyway, it would be good for us as Christians to not hinder evolutionists from coming to Christ because in the end, beliefs about creation will not affect eternity. Beliefs about Christ will. So we can argue Day/Age, Young Earth, Theistic Evolution, Gap Theory - whatever - but it doesn't matter in the end where I come down on these. The question is: where do I come down on Christ? Is he my only hope and savior? And, if so, is he important enough for me to be open to other possibilities so that someone else may be able to believe and be saved?
    That's where humility comes in. I think back to the post you wrote about needing to be right. The question is do I need to be right, or do I need to offer Christ? In the end, I hope that we offer Christ.

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  11. Tim Keller gives an interesting and FREE sermon on this subject at http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/evolution-and-science

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  12. @New Life West

    thanks. i just downloaded it and will listen to it tomorrow.

    thanks matt.

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  13. @New Life West

    thanks matt. i listened to the sermon today. it's weird that tim keller was talking about this stuff 9 years ago. talk about ahead of his time.

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  14. I think your main point is awesome. No where in the bible does it say that in order to go to heaven, "we have to believe the earth is only 10,000 years old". We just need to focus on JESUS! If someone has a hard time with the thought of the earth being "young", that does not mean Jesus is not their redeemer.

    I personally have studied much about evolution, and have seen far too many errors in the theory to have it begin to disway me. I personally believe in the "young" earth (through my studies, that is my personal belief). But it is possible the earth is much older, Peter states this: "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day."
    So that could very well mean that the days in Genesis 1 & 2 are the like the Lords days.

    But getting caught up on this topic can and does get in the way of Jesus. No matter what you believe in this topic, point to Jesus first! We don't get cleaned before we take a shower, we take a shower to get clean; in the same way, we just need to go to JESUS, and he will begin the cleaning process

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  15. Colton, i'm completely agree. thanks for the feedback.

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  16. @ A Boy and his God

    Your welcome, it was my pleasure. I'm a fellow blogger, and I have to say I'm really impressed with your site!

    Keep up the good work! God Bless

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  17. I know I'm a bit late throwing my hat into the ring on this one, but life gets busy sometimes...

    Anyways, the issue of creation and evolution, and the larger issue of faith and science, has been something I've taken great interest in personally. It pains me to see the divisions and arrogance that accompanies both sides of the issue (I'm not talking about anyone here, just the general attitudes of the most outspoken within the two groups). Personally, I have come to the conclusion that both can live harmoniously, so long as both sides approach it with humility.

    On the most basic level, I firmly believe that the Bible was never written as a science book, that its role as the "word of God" is meant to be a written account that points to the TRUE "word of God", Jesus. It was not meant to be the end all and be all to every possible question man could ever conjure up (again, it's a pointer to Jesus, who is the TRUE and most perfect "word of God" - John has a lot to say about that), and it's ill-equipped to handle details about science for the fact that when it was written, the concept of science as we know it was non-existent (in fact, our form of science and historical knowledge is fairly new in relation to human history).

    In ancient times, the most popular way to pass down teachings and wisdom was by stories. Every culture, every people group, every religion had its stories, stories about the origins of the world, about life and why things are the way they are. This was the same for the Jews, who although very different in so many ways from the rest of human civilization because of God and their practices, still had their stories as well. Whether the creation story is literally true or not, I honestly don't know, and it doesn't bother me one bit. An interesting thing about the creation story was that it subverted every other ancient "creation story", which all tended to have bloody battles between gods, betrayals, murders, and all kinds of chaos resulting in the creation of the world and humanity. The creation story the Jews presented showed a loving God who created his world with love, care, and not a single bit of malice. He created a good world, and set up the crown jewel of his work, humanity, as stewards of his beautiful world(meaning that we're responsible for caring for his world, not just using it for our own means). Unlike the other stories out there, it wasn't the gods/God's fault that things went awry, it's humanity's own selfishness that messed things up for us. In that light, it tells a very powerful story of our origins, regardless of whether or not what we have in Genesis is completely literal, or just a parable. Jesus used parables very effectively, and there are plenty of other parables all throughout the Bible, so it's not a stretch for me to consider the possibility that the beginning of Genesis is another parable. The Bible's just as authoritative either way.

    The idea that everything in the Bible has to be completely literal - parables included - is a human construct, something that man came up with dozens of centuries after the Bible was completely written and even put together. Unfortunately, the way it has been taught from so many pulpits, one's faith is often tied to a belief in this idea that everything in the Bible is absolutely literal, something that is never in the Bible itself. In fact, in this way, the Bible has often inadvertently been used to divide the church rather than unify her. In some circles, some people's approach to the Bible even borders on idolatry.

    (more coming...)

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  18. (continued...)

    But in the same way that the Bible is ill-equipped to be a science book, science is just as incapable (if not more) of making any conclusions about the existence of God, his role in our universe, or the meaning of life. The most anyone can ever rightfully say (and I want to emphasize "rightfully" - those who try to say anything negating God through science are just as arrogant as those who say science is wrong because it's not in the Bible; we're all ants compared to God and his ways) is that something out there caused our world to come into existence. Even if their theories regarding the big bang and evolution are right, they still have no way of truthfully saying "God does not exist, it is all a coincidence." The best they can do at any point is observe God's handiwork. I'm crazy enough to believe that it's possible that evolution and the scientific theories about the origins of the universe could be at least somewhat correct and that what we're really observing in science is God's hand as it was at work shaping and molding his world and universe.

    I've studied quite a bit of astrophysics (I'm a huge nerd, I'll not deny that), and there are some very interesting things about the way even our solar system works that makes our existence a huge wonder. For one, the molten metals that move around inside the earth's core create a magnetic field that keeps the most dangerous radiation from the sun from completely destroying all life here. (Mars doesn't have that, and thus has intense amounts of radiation bombarding it and making it sterile. That same radiation destroyed any chance at having a breathable atmosphere, and thus systems to regulate temperatures across the planet.) Jupiter's position in the solar system and its gravity acts as a shield to keep the most dangerous asteroids out there from hitting us - they either slingshot around and get sent back away from us, or they get captured and become a "moon". There are plenty of other examples, but the point is that there are some pretty awesome features that science has made us aware of and that make me think about just how awesome God really is.

    I mean, it's entirely possible that what science is observing about our existence is God's handiwork. I mean a millennium is like a second to him, a second like a millennium. I believe that God's big enough to do things either way, through a literal Genesis account or over billions of years.

    As a guy who follows Jesus first and foremost, I believe that I'm just a human, unable to fully comprehend the things of God, thus that I'm not in a position to say with 100% certainty which "version" of our origins is correct, when it comes to "how" it happened. I do know that God did it, that it is good, and that's it's humanity's fault that evil exists, not God's, but for me, the battle between science and faith in this regard is both pointless and extremely arrogant. We're humans, and while we're the most intelligent beings on earth, we're like ants compared to God. If spoke and poof everything just happened in a literal seven-day period, I don't think he's offended by those who say it happened different. Likewise, if he did it over billions of years, and is handiwork is what scientists are observing, it doesn't shake my faith in him nor affect the validity of the Bible one single iota. In fact, that would just make it easier for me to be able to reach out to others who hold science in high regard.

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  19. @Lucas.

    Yeah. i agree. its pretty incredible to contrast our creation story to the many others. apparently, one story is that one god vomited, and the universe is what came out. with ours, we get an eternal loving God who created us as invitation to experience his love.

    i think people like Ken Wilson and Tim Keller are giving us permission to have a more rounded creationist story: one that coexists with the science community. it's a powerful step forward.

    i cringe at the times when the church took such strong scientific stances only to be embarrassed later, i.e. the world is flat/the sun revolves around the earth/the earth is the center of the solar system(even universe). oops.

    and now because of these guys, we have the permission to avoid looking scientifically ignorant...again.

    and you're right about the astrophysics too. every time i listen to evolutionists or watch documentaries on the origins of the earth, i love to hear them say how life is practically impossible here. that we really 'lucked out' by getting such a safe place for life to exist. i smile every time, because our beliefs are justified by them saying 'lucky'. they can't avoid that fact.

    when we enter in our All Loving All Powerful God as the instructor behind all of their science, it makes perfect sense.

    thanks for the discussion, lucas.

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