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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

A Weblog Series published on An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution

Contributors:

Douglas Hayworth
Dennis Venema
Terry Gray
Jim Kidder
Philip Wala
Keith Suckling
Murray Hogg
Allan Harvey

Edited by:

Steve Martin

Document Version: 1.0


Last Updated: December 28, 2010

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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

Table of Contents

I. OVERVIEW OF THE SERIES AND CONTRIBUTORS .................................................................. 3


II. EVANGELICALS, EVOLUTION, AND THE CHURCH: INTRODUCTION ....................................... 5
III. IS THERE AN EVANGELICAL CHURCH HOME FOR THE EVOLUTIONARY CREATIONIST?........ 6
IV. PROMOTING A POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN EVANGELICAL FAITH AND
BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION IN THE LOCAL CHURCH .............................................................. 8
V. BEING AN EVOLUTIONARY CREATIONIST IN A CONFESSIONALLY REFORMED
CHURCH: PART 1 ............................................................................................................. 10
VI. BEING AN EVOLUTIONARY CREATIONIST IN A CONFESSIONALLY REFORMED
CHURCH: PART 2 - REFLECTIONS AND BECOMING AN AGENT FOR CHANGE .................... 11
VII. GROWING UP SCIENCE-LITERATE IN THE JAPANESE CHURCH AND ENCOUNTERING
YEC IN THE AMERICAN CHURCH: A PALEONTOLOGIST’S PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE......... 14
VIII. ENCOURAGING CRITICAL THINKING IN EVANGELICAL CHURCHES: THE SCIENTIST AS
A BIBLE TEACHER ............................................................................................................ 16

IX. USING THE "TEST OF FAITH COURSE" TO EXPLORE THE COMPATIBILITY BETWEEN
SCIENCE AND FAITH ......................................................................................................... 17
X. ORIGINS AND THE PASTORAL TASK: THE PRIORITY OF LOVE OVER KNOWLEDGE ............. 19
XI. TEACHING A SCIENCE AND FAITH COURSE IN AN EVANGELICAL MAINLINE CHURCH:
LESSONS LEARNED .......................................................................................................... 21

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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

I. Overview of the Series and Contributors


Evangelicals who accept the scientific evidence for biological evolution face many difficulties in their church
communities. These Evangelicals, often self described as Evolutionary Creationists (EC), put their faith in the
Creator God who revealed himself through the incarnate and risen Christ. However, many of their fellow
Evangelicals cannot comprehend how the science of evolution can be integrated into an Evangelical expression of
the Christian faith. Thus ECs face a range of reactions from their spiritual community: from misunderstanding,
through mistrust, to outright hostility or exclusion.

The following series of articles examines the place of EC’s within the Evangelical church. Eight EC’s offer their
personal perspectives on living and serving within the Evangelical community. The series includes 10 articles
published between February 16, 2010 and April 12, 2010. Authors in order of appearance included:

1. Steve Martin wrote the series Introduction on February 16, 2010. He publishes the weblog An Evangelical
Dialogue on Evolution.

2. Douglas Hayworth contributed the article “Is there an Evangelical Church Home for the Evolutionary
Creationist?”. Doug grew up as an MK/PK (missionary/pastor kid) and lived in Iran as a child. He has a
PhD in evolutionary biology from Washington University in St. Louis. While in St. Louis, he was part of a
PCA church, where he served as missions committee chairman, deacon, and children's Sunday school
teacher. He currently lives in Illinois where he works as a protein research technical writer and content
specialist for Thermo Fisher Scientific.

3. Dennis Venema contributed the article “Promoting a Positive Relationship between an Evangelical Faith
and Biological Evolution in the Local Church”. Dennis is the Chair of the Biology department at Trinity
Western University. His article “Genesis and the Genome: Genomics Evidence for Human – Ape Common
Ancestry and Ancestral Hominid Population Sizes” was published in the September 2010 edition of
Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, and his essay-length review of Stephen Meyer’s recent ID
book, “Signature in the Cell”, was published in the December 2010 edition of the same journal.

4. Terry Gray contributed a 2-part article on “Being an Evolutionary Creationist in a Confessionally Reformed
Church”. In the first he provided background information on his church trial within the OPC while in the
second he provided personal reflections on that trial and how EC’s can be agents for change within their
church. Terry is the webmaster for the ASA and has written several helpful articles on the creation /
evolution dialogue including Complexity--Yes! Irreducible--Maybe! Unexplainable--No! A Creationist
Criticism of Irreducible Complexity

5. Jim Kidder contributed the article “Growing up Science-Literate in the Japanese Church and encountering
YEC in the American Church: A Paleontologist’s Personal Perspective”. Jim is a librarian,
palaeoanthropologist, and evolutionary biologist with an all-consuming interest in apologetics and
controversies in science and religion. He publishes the weblog Science and Religion: A View from an
Evolutionary Creationist/Theistic Evolutionist.

6. Philip Wala contributed the article “Encouraging Critical Thinking in Evangelical Churches: The Scientist
as a Bible Teacher”. Phil attended Assemblies of God churches for nearly 54 years, serving as elder,
deacon, and Sunday School teacher for teens and adults. He earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering as a
National Science Foundation Fellow at Stanford University, holds 17 U.S. patents, and presently works as a
research engineer for ADC Telecommunications. He and his wife (a licensed Christian therapist, and former
Assemblies of God licensed minister) recently moved to the suburban Minneapolis area, where they now
attend a “Spirit-filled” Lutheran church. He is the author of the blog Faith for Thinkers

7. Keith Suckling contributed the article “Using the ‘Test of Faith Course’ to Explore the Compatibility
Between Science and Faith“. Keith trained as an organic chemist and has published numerous scientific
papers. He worked in biochemistry and pharmacology in universities, and for nearly 20 years in the

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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

pharmaceutical industry where he led research into drugs to treat heart disease, two of which are now in late
stage clinical trials. He is also an ordained Anglican minister and a member of the Society of Ordained
Scientists.

8. Murray Hogg contributed the article “Origins and the Pastoral Task: The Priority of Love over
Knowledge”. Murray is the pastor of Camberwell East Baptist Church in Melbourne, Australia, and is the
Chair of the Victorian chapter of ISCAST. He trained as a Mechanical Engineer, worked in the area of
stress and vibration analysis, and then returned to school where he obtained a Master of Divinity at the
Bible College of Victoria. He is currently completing a post-graduate thesis on the relationship between the
modern philosophy of knowledge and the theology of John’s Gospel.

9. Allan Harvey contributed the article “Teaching a Science and Faith Course in an Evangelical Mainline
Church: Lessons Learned”. Allan is a Ph.D. chemical engineer who works at a US government science lab
in Colorado. He is on the Board of the Rocky Mountain local section of the American Scientific Affiliation.
Allan is an Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), has written several essays on the Science / Faith
Dialogue, and has made available online materials based on a class he taught at his church on Science and
Nature in Christian Perspective.

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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

But God has created us to be in relationships,


II. Evangelicals, Evolution, and relationships with both himself and with each other.
the Church: Introduction Falk quickly realized that he was missing out on
something essential; being part of the body is vital for
Published Feb. 16, 2010by Steve Martin both spiritual health and fulfillment and he longed to be
part of the evangelical community. He was able to
For those of us that are Evangelicals, the Church is not finally return to that community, and that return was
a cultural or ethnic club, an institution to provide moral surprising as it was joyous.
guidance, or even a religious organization. Although
each of these aspects can be true of the Church (for B) Eight Perspectives on the Relationship
better or worse), this is not what defines it. The Church between Evolutionary Creationists and the
is the corporate body of Christ, the collection of all Church
sinners saved by grace and mandated to further the
kingdom of God on earth. It manifests itself worldwide Over the next two months, 8 guest contributors will
and more intimately at the local level. We look to the discuss various aspects of the relationship between
Church to feed us spiritually, even as we as individuals evangelical ECs and their spiritual family, the
provide support to others in the body. We celebrate evangelical church. Starting next Monday, evolutionary
together, grieve together, share similar fears and biologist Douglas Hayworth will discuss his own
dreams, and help each other when in need. We share a challenge in finding a church home within the
common purpose and a common spiritual ancestory. evangelical community. Very few evangelical churches
welcome the active participation of ECs, and Doug will
In short, the Church is our family. provide some guidance on how an EC can approach
this search for a welcoming community. I believe his
And problems within this family affect us at that points will be helpful to other ECs, but I am also
deepest level. When the family rejects us, it can cause hoping other ECs can provide Doug with some
loneliness and despair. When the family is acting in a feedback of their own as his own journey has reached
way that is unhealthy, we want to intervene to change somewhat of a crisis point.
that direction. And when members of the family are
struggling in some way, we are eager to help. These The next two contributors will discuss how they have
problems are only too familiar for Evolutionary responded to anti-evolutionism within the evangelical
Creationists (EC) as we struggle to find our place in the church. TWU biology chair Dennis Venema will talk
evangelical family. about his experiences addressing unhealthy views of
science and God’s creation in the local church. He will
1. An Evolutionary Creationist Returns use the particular example of how he provided an
Home to the Evangelical Community alternative view to the “Focus on the Family Truth
Project” classes in both his own church community and
In a poignant article called Surprised by Joy, biologist in a neighbouring church. ASA webmaster Terry Gray
Darrel Falk recounts how he returned to the Christian will then consider the response at the denominational
faith, but felt he could not return to the evangelical level. In the 1990’s, Gray was an elder in the Orthodox
church. Presbyterian Church (OPC) and was put on trial by his
denominational body for his views on evolution.
So I got back on the road which leads to God—I Today, Gray is part of an effort within his current
began once more the life of faith. I never expected denomination (the Christian Reformed Church – CRC)
though that I could be a part of an evangelical to take a positive stand on the compatibility between
community again; the differences between the facts evolutionary biology and the Christian faith. Gray will
of biology and the views of evangelical Christians discuss both of these experiences in his article.
seemed too great. So I did my best to live the life of
an evangelical Christian without being in an The first half of the series will conclude with an article
evangelical fellowship. I had a deep and by palaeoanthropologist and evolutionary biologist Jim
meaningful personal relationship with God, but Kidder. Jim encountered Christ while in Japan, and
corporate evangelicalism, I was certain, would then anti-evolutionism within the American evangelical
have to be a thing of the past. church. He will provide some personal perspectives on
his journey and relationship with the church.

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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

The second half of the series will focus on how we as


EC’s can help our brothers and sisters in Christ develop We want to be part of the family; we want our family to
a healthy view of the science / faith relationship. be healthy; we want to see our family grow.
Engineer, scientist, and bible teacher Phil Wala’s
article will discuss how evangelical scientists can help Enjoy the series.
their fellow evangelicals in this area. Critical thinking
has never been a strong-point within our community (to
put it mildly!), but this skill (required by all good III. Is there an Evangelical Church
scientists) will be very helpful for evangelicals trying to
come to grips with a constantly changing modern Home for the Evolutionary
world. Creationist?
Two pastors will then provide their perspectives on the Published Feb. 22, 2010 by Douglas Hayworth
science / faith dialogue. Baptist minister Murray Hogg
will discuss the challenge of tackling this difficult and I think it's fair to say that evangelical churches aren't
controversial topic. If not handled with wisdom, care welcoming places for scientists whose areas of
and humility, EC’s “eagerness to help” may be expertise and research have anything to do with
counterproductive. Using the Apostle Paul’s approach evolution. Where there are exceptional churches, they
to Christian maturity and the “weaker brother”, Murray are primarily in metropolitan areas near large
will discuss how we can be helpful without being universities that provide a wide diversity of intellectual
hurtful. Keith Suckling, an Anglican priest, will then expertise. Unless you're fortunate enough to live in
discuss his experiences leading a Test of Faith course such a place, finding a church fellowship that values
in his church. "Test of Faith" has just released several and supports the whole of who you are may be
new curricula and teaching materials, and it will be extremely difficult.
interesting to hear some feedback from one of the early
users of this material. (Note: The material is not yet I know. I still haven't found a permanent church home
available in North America but should be available in “Springfield”, Illinois where I've lived for the past 10
soon). years.

The series will conclude with a post by church elder A) The Contemporary Evangelical Church:
and chemical engineer Allan Harvey. Allan taught a Culturally but not Intellectually
science and faith course in his Presbyterian church Welcoming
several years ago. His lesson on evolution contains the
best simplified overview of “definitions of evolution” Mind you, I have plenty of evangelical churches to
for Christians that I have seen. Allan will provide a post choose from in Springfield (Christian, Evangelical
on “10 lessons learned on teaching a science / faith Free, Evangelical Covenant, Assembly of God, Baptist,
course in the church”. Lutheran, etc.). And they aren't all tightwad
conservative churches, either. Some are cutting-edge,
C) Promoting Health in the Family Starbucks-biscotti, black-light, fog-machine, rock-n-roll
churches. Culturally relevant and progressive, to be
Many of the series published on this blog (with the sure...except when it comes to certain intellectual
exception of the student series) have been somewhat matters and the epistemological nuances that my
academic in nature – academic in the sense that one can scientific awareness requires me to take seriously.
interact with the posts without necessarily making a
huge personal investment. This one may be somewhat I commend contemporary evangelical churches for their
different. All of the posts will share very personal willingness to re-evaluate 20th century assumptions
perspectives on the science / faith dialogue, and about what the Bible really teaches (i.e., exegesis) and
challenge each of us in various personal ways. How how it applies to our generation (i.e., hermeneutics).
could it be any other way? The topic of evolution and Unfortunately, for the most part, they seem rather
the Church is about our relationship with our spiritual immature in their methodology. Simply put, the
family, our desire to help our family grow in its church's fundamental problem is its sophomoric
relationship with its Creator, and our longing to remove understanding of critical realism. Somehow, all truth
the stumbling-block of antievolutionism so that faith in claims, whether scientific or scriptural, are naively
Christ is considered both viable and desirable. understood as speaking the same language and

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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

competing for identical territory. C) Church-hunting Tips for the EC


I am a native evangelical, and those are the types 1. Apply the evolution "litmus test": Disclose your
churches that I've generally sought to join. (Mainline vocation and EC status to church leaders at the earliest
churches have different challenges, which I'm not opportunity (e.g., the first time you have the pastor over
attempting to address here.) My church experiences in for dinner). After first assuring them of your belief in
Springfield have varied in several ways, and my creation, ask point-blank if they have a major issue with
identity as an evolutionary creationist (EC) is only one your EC views. Don't expect them to be EC themselves;
factor that has affected the success or failure of these that's not the point of the test. You just want to assess
episodes. Yet, I've come to realize that the way in their response. Can they handle the challenge, or do
which a church reacts to my identity as an EC provides they suddenly regard you as an unbeliever and attempt
an accurate indication of how well my family will fit in to aggressively debate the point? Even if the pastor and
overall. Indeed, a church's suspicion of my Christian elders pass the test, ask if there are others on staff or in
devotion and essential orthodoxy based solely on my leadership who are passionate defenders of young-earth
EC views is a diagnostic marker for incompatibility in creationism (YEC). If anyone of established influence
other areas as well. in the church has such a passion for YEC, pursue
church membership no further. Your presence will
B) Becoming Unwanted: Parting Ways simply create division.
with My Local Evangelical Church
2. Apply the epistemology test: Ask the leadership
That’s my hypothesis: EC is a sort of litmus test for about baptism and communion. These are perfect topics
assessing an evangelical church’s theological maturity for assessing the nature of the church's critical realism.
about many things. No need to bring up controversial issues like abortion,
homosexuality, body-piercing or even women in the
I formulated this hypothesis as a result of my most church. A discussion of modes and meanings of
recent church experience. A few months ago my wife baptism and communion will immediately reveal if and
and I felt compelled to leave the evangelical church that how the leadership delineates between biblically sound
we had called home and had been actively involved in practice and absolute truth. If they cannot concede that
for more than a year. I wrote about this experience on there is a difference between these (e.g., if they cannot
my personal blog in a series called "Becoming accept as valid the fact that you regard your infant
Unwanted". In the first post I described the baptism as meaningful and sufficient for yourself), then
background and setting for the overall situation. move on.
Originally my family was optimistic about our
prospects at this church, but a change in leadership 3. Decide your level of engagement: Evaluate from
occurred that undermined nearly everything that we had the start if your goal is simply acceptance in the
come to value there. My second post provided a community of believers or if you also feel called to
detailed account of my evaluation by the new actively teach and promote serious consideration of
leadership (elders) upon submission of my completed science-theology issues. Some churches will marginally
"Questionnaire for Prospective Sunday School pass tests 1 & 2 and will accept your presence as long
Teachers". (I had wanted to help lead my son's as you don't plan to teach and openly discuss your
highschool discipleship group.) The evaluation became views. If that's acceptable, you can assure the pastor of
a mutual trial of the elders' and my beliefs. The verdict this when you conduct tests 1 & 2. If you feel called to
they reached was that I would not be allowed to teach have greater influence, then make that clear from the
in the church; the verdict I reached was that my family start. In deciding between these two paths, be sure to
needed a new church home. consider other aspects of your personal situation, such
as the impact on your spouse and children.
I may have exhausted my options for fellowship in an
evangelical church here in Springfield, but I think I've 4. Honor the cause: Don't speak up or speak out about
now developed a specific strategy and some guiding EC unless you're willing to live and demonstrate a
principles to help me evaluate my prospects at genuine Christian life. If you want to be an ambassador
evangelical churches that I visit in the future. Perhaps for EC, then don't give the church any cause to dismiss
you will find these tips helpful for your situation. your testimony. Commit to holy living, humble service
(e.g., help in the nursery) and having a gracious
demeanor.

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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

5. Love the church: Find some way to cultivate and Creation/evolution discussion was not a major focus of
maintain your love for Christ's church. Given my my local congregation, I felt no pressing need to voice
situation, this is a difficult thing for me to do at the my views on the matter. Rather, I discussed it privately
moment. Nevertheless, I'm intentionally reading and and informally with those who expressed an interest in
interacting with others to stir up this grace within me. the subject.
As infuriating as your church tradition may be, it is
your immediate family and part of the one holy, B) A Time to Speak Up
catholic and apostolic church, even Christ's bride. I
recommend a soon-to-be released book by John
Armstrong (I have read an advanced copy) called This situation changed for me last year when my local
“Your Church is Too Small: Why unity in Christ's church announced it would be running The Truth
mission is vital to the future of the church”. Project (hereafter “TTP”), a DVD series from Focus on
the Family. TTP covers a lot of ground, but my primary
concern was how the series handled evolution. TTP
D) Submitted for Your Approval very clearly presents evolution as a demonic lie that is
in direct conflict with the Christian perspective that
In part three of my Becoming Unwanted story, I humans are created in the image of God. Moreover,
attempted to draw some tentative conclusions and to TTP spends a significant amount of time discussing
ask some difficult questions about what to do next. Like evolution, identifying it as an example of godless
the Psalmist, I wrote that post with some degree of philosophy in several of the videos, including the
angst and unbridled emotion. My conclusions there “science” lectures (where of course it is the prime
were tentative; my assertions and hypothesis in the focus). For those not familiar with TTP, Mike Beidler
current essay are only slightly less tentative. is currently blogging his way through the series.
I welcome your participation in testing my thoughts. The concern I had then (and still have now) is that
May we proclaim to one another the words of the presenting evolution and Creation as a dichotomous
apostle Paul: choice is both false, and potentially dangerous for
believers and non-believers. I decided that it was time
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this to address the issue at the congregational level. One
world, but be transformed by the renewing of your email (among several) I sent to my church leadership
mind. Then you will be able to test and approve on this issue contained the following:
what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect
will.” I would hold that the “either evolution or God” is a
false dichotomy. I would also hold that it is a
dangerous one. In TTP, evolution and God’s
IV. Promoting a Positive creation are held out as mutually exclusive options:
Relationship between an in this mindset, then, evidence for evolution
becomes evidence against God. I have seen
Evangelical Faith and Biological students struggle with this issue as they study
Evolution in the Local Church biology. This is a mindset we would do well not to
saddle young people with (or anyone, for that
Published Mar. 1, 2010 by Dennis Venema matter).

A) A Time to Keep One’s Own Counsel Contrary to what you hear through many Christian
channels, there is ample evidence for evolution,
The creation / evolution topic can be very divisive human evolution included. When students
within a church community. Because of this, the encounter this evidence with the either/or mindset,
approach I’ve generally taken at my church is to it can shipwreck their faith. When outsiders who
discuss the issue only when asked, and only with those know Biology come into the church, they write us
who ask. Raising this topic can be unhelpful at times, off as ignorant and dismiss the claims of Christ
and cause problems for those not adequately prepared along with our flawed Biology. In both cases, our
to deal with the implications. As Steve has ably poor handling of science raises unnecessary
discussed here before, the choice on whether to engage barriers to faith.
in this discussion needs to be approached carefully and
with wisdom. Until recently, given that the I would suggest, especially for the science section

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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

of TTP, that there be a willingness to engage a fruitful discussions on faith, science and approaching
discussion in the church about the full range of Genesis on its own terms.
Christian responses to evolution, and even explore
some of the reasons why Christians in the The next day I received the following feedback from
biological sciences feel that evolution is a valid the church leadership:
scientific theory. I’m not normally one for pushing
these discussions, but we’ve never had the opposing Dennis, Thanks so much for an excellent evening. I
views taught through an official venue before have heard many express real appreciation not
either. only for the content but also for your grace and the
very interesting and understandable way in which
Later I requested an opportunity to present an you presented it. I think this will not only open up
Evolutionary Creationist viewpoint on biology at the thinking in the science realm but will help get us all
church, but that request was denied. As an alternative, a excited again about the early chapters of Genesis
church member hosted a unofficial evening at his home and what God is communicating there.
where I gave this presentation. The evening was a
pleasure – not because we were all in agreement Dennis, I would echo those thanks. Our community
(indeed, the material was very challenging for most is really growing in its ability to face these kinds of
attendees) but because of the charity that surrounded questions and you enriched that journey for us.
the discussion. If nothing else, the evening Thanks for taking the time.
demonstrated that constructive dialogue within an
Evangelical congregation is possible (and everyone still D) A Time of Transition
shakes my hand on Sunday; so, so far, so good).
A belief in God as Creator is a bedrock, non-
On the down side, however, our congregation is negotiable assumption of Christianity. Many
currently running TTP again as an adult Sunday School believers, however, conflate this belief with a
class. C’est la vie. specific mechanism by which God created.
Untangling those two ideas cuts to the heart of the
nature of Scripture and how it should be
C) A Tale of Two Congregations
approached. Perhaps the greatest tragedy in the
In contrast to the situation at my own church, I recently evangelical church is not that we, on the whole,
received an invitation from the leadership of another reject evolution: worse still, we have not prepared
local congregation to provide a presentation on our congregants to deal with the exegetical and
evolution and Evolutionary Creationism. This hermeneutical issues that evolution engenders,
congregation runs a “theology café” every so often at a despite the many opportunities Scripture itself
local coffee shop owned by some of their members. gives us for such preparation.
This allows them to engage in interesting and
controversial issues from a Christian perspective in a A second bedrock belief, however, is that God’s
public setting. works are also a form of His revelation. Since
Scripture and nature have the same Author, they
I’ll admit that I was a little wary when first approached cannot conflict with each other. Reading God’s
(wondering if perhaps they were looking for an ID/anti- words in nature clearly shows that evolution,
evolutionary view) but those fears were quickly laid to including human evolution, was part of His
rest. Over coffee (at the venue, of course) it became creative strategy. Given the overwhelming
clear that what they wanted was a discussion from an evidence for human evolution, it is only a matter
evangelical perspective that was accepting of evolution. of time before the evangelical church comes
Their motivation? Many in the congregation had read around to this method of creation. The only
Brian McClaren’s trilogy (A New Kind of Christian; question is how long this transition will take, and
The Story We Find Ourselves In; The Last Word and how much damage will ensue in the process.
the Word After That). The second book in the series
showcases a positive relationship between Christianity
While I don’t see this as a fast transition, I see
and evolution as a major plot component, and this left
good reasons for hope. More and more voices (e.g.
the congregation wanting to explore things further. I
Biologos) are chiming in to affirm that science and
presented essentially the same material as I had to my
Christian faith are not at odds, and that one can
own congregants, and the evening generated very
rejoice in God’s Word in nature and God’s Word

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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

in Scripture without falsely pitting one against the are from the perspective of one who is fully supportive
other. Resources to address this issue at a of the confessional viewpoint.
congregational level are becoming available as
well (e.g. Test of Faith). Already, there are rare
evangelical congregations that affirm a positive
B) My Personal Background in the Science
relationship between the science of evolution and / Faith Dialogue within the Reformed
the Good News of Jesus Christ. This affirmation Confessional Tradition
removes a potential stumbling block for believers,
and tears down a barrier to faith for non-believers. I grew up in the mainline Presbyterian denomination,
At the end of the day, these are part and parcel of but moved toward conservative Reformed
what being an Evangelical is all about. denominations in my adult years. This has meant
membership and/or involvement in the Reformed
Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), the
V. Being an Evolutionary Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the Presbyterian
Creationist in a Confessionally Church in America (PCA), the Evangelical
Reformed Church: Part 1
Presbyterian Church (EPC), and the Christian
Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA). I was a
Published Mar. 8, 2010 by Terry Gray also a faculty member at Calvin College, owned and
operated by the CRCNA, from 1986-1997. For most of
A) Evangelicalism and the Confessional my life I have been at ease with evolution as an
evangelical Christian. In fact I wrote a “tract” in 7th
Tradition grade for my fellow public school students explaining
how to reconcile the Biblical account of Adam and Eve
Evangelicalism is a big tent. It covers many with modern evolutionary biology.
denominations and traditions, including the more
conservative end of most mainline denominations. One While doing my undergraduate studies at Purdue
component of Evangelicalism is the confessional University, I attended an RPCNA church whose
tradition, where the teachings of a church are reflected “Testimony”, a contemporary commentary on the
in a creed or confession. Examples include Presbyterian Westminster Confession, is strongly anti-evolutionary.
and Reformed churches (Westminster Standards, The pastor at this church was staunchly YEC, and,
Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons knowing that I was studying biology, tried to convince
of Dort), Lutheran churches (Augsburg Confession and me of the young earth position. Although I neither
the Formula of Concord), and Anglican/Episcopal became a member at this church, nor active in church
churches (Thirty-Nine Articles). leadership, I appreciated the preaching, teaching, and
fellowship. The challenge to thinking Christianly about
Historically these confessional traditions take their my specific discipline was beneficial even though the
confessions very seriously. They believe that the pastor and I disagreed on some of the particulars.
confessions are accurate summaries of the teaching of
Scripture. They are not just historically relative In graduate school in the 1980’s at the University of
documents that “guide” the church, but represent the Oregon and during my years at Calvin College I was a
living confession of the church and are believed to be member, and eventually an elder, in the OPC. I was
time-tested guides to the church’s teaching and comfortable there with my old earth views and my
ministry. As time-tested guides, these confessions stand evolutionary science. After all, the OPC had been the
as “tests of orthodoxy” for pastors, elders, deacons, and home of Davis Young (Christianity and the Age of the
other church leaders. Earth) and Mark Noll (The Scandal of the Evangelical
Mind) and was the spiritual heir of B.B. Warfield who
This is different than for many evangelical churches, was able to see his way to reconcile evolutionary
which sometimes claim to have “no creed but Christ” or biology with the theology of the Westminster
to say that the Bible is their creed. In many evangelical Standards. Meredith G. Kline was an Old Testament
churches and denominations there may be a statement Biblical scholar in the OPC who advocated a more
of faith but it will often focus on the basic elements of literary view of Genesis 1 and in the process removed
the Christian faith. some of the Biblical foundation for the young earth
position. I also knew of one prominent pastor and
The stories I recount are almost all in the context of denominational leader who would carry a small fossil
Reformed confessional churches or denominations and

10
Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

in his pocket and ask prospective pastors during the first charge (stating that Adam had primate
theology examination for ordination how they ancestors)—I admitted stating so, but denied that it was
explained such things, pressing for an old earth view of contrary to the Confessions or to the Word of God. (I
creation if they responded with a young earth was found not guilty of the second charge concerning
creationist perspective. “subordinating Scripture to alleged empirical
evidence.”) I appealed the guilty verdict to Presbytery,
C) Ecclesiastical Charges Resulting from lost there, then appealed to General Assembly and lost
my Evolutionary Creationist Views there as well.

But the harmony between my position in the OPC and The censure was to suspend me indefinitely from the
my views on science and faith would not last. In 1992, office of ruling elder. I remained in that state until
while serving as an elder in the church, my EC views January 1998 when I was restored after recanting of my
were challenged. That spring I wrote a review of Philip views. My recantation was not a denial of primate
Johnson’s book Darwin on Trial for the Banner, the ancestry, but rather an admission that I did not know
denominational magazine of the CRCNA. In this article how to hold my views about human evolution together
I applauded Johnson’s critique of atheistic naturalism with the uniqueness of Adam as taught in the
but at the same time critiqued his critique of biological Confessions and in Scripture. This small step back from
evolution. As an aside, I suggested that the arguments my previous assertion was satisfactory to the church
for evolution might extend to human beings. A letter elders. I did not violate my conscience in this and
from the Presbytery of Northern California soon continue to this day to have no firm idea about how to
followed urging the Presbytery of the Midwest (our put all the pieces together.
church was in Grand Rapids, Michigan) to investigate
my views. This began a four year long process
involving our local church elders, pastors and elders VI. Being an Evolutionary
from the Presbytery of the Midwest, and eventually, Creationist in a Confessionally
Reformed Church: Part 2 -
pastors and elders from the whole denomination. Many
of the details of this process are recounted on the web.
Reflections and Becoming an
It should be noted that my views would not have been
scrutinized if I were not an officer in the church (i.e.
Agent for Change
had I been “just” as member). Like all elders in the Published Mar. 10, 2010 by Terry Gray
OPC I had expressed adherence to the Westminster
Standards – and it was charged that my views could not A) Reflections on the Church
be reconciled with these standards. I was accused “of Disciplinary Process
stating that Adam had primate ancestors–contrary to the
Word of God…and the doctrinal standards of the As I recounted in part 1 of this article, I was put
Orthodox Presbyterian Church” and “with regard to the on trial by the OPC church in the mid-1990’s for
process and method by which God created Adam, Dr. my Evolutionary Creationist (EC) views. This
Gray subordinates Scripture to alleged empirical resulted in my suspension from the office of
evidence.” church elder, and I was reinstated only after
admitting that I did not know how to reconcile
D) The Trial, My Censure, and human evolution with the uniqueness of Adam.
Recantation This process did not lead to any resentment on my
part. In fact, I was fully sympathetic and
The process ended up being fairly complicated. supportive with the disciplinary process.
Because I was an elder and not a pastor, the “court of
original jurisdiction” was the local elder board. A Why I Support the Process that led to my Trial
preliminary hearing was held to determine whether or and Censure
not the charges warranted a trial. Our local church
elders determined that a trial was not warranted. In my ecclesiology the church has the right and
However, this was appealed to the Presbytery and they responsibility to ensure that its leaders adhere to
overruled that decision and a trial was conducted. In the the church’s confessions. Also, church authority
meantime, the membership of the elder board had does not simply reside in the local church. Higher
changed, so that at the trial, I was found guilty of the

11
Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

assemblies such as presbyteries, classes, synods, There was some pain in our local church. Two of
and General Assemblies have the right and my fellow elders were committed young earth
responsibility to oversee decisions of churches and creationists and before this time had been
lower assemblies. As well, allegedly errant personal and family friends. During my trial they
decisions made in lower assemblies may be had difficulty keeping the disagreement from
appealed to higher assemblies. I believe that the becoming personal. This was painful for me and
church/denomination isn’t just a human for my wife and young children (at the time ages
institution. No doubt, it reflects the fallen, human 12, 10, 7, 3, and 1). My two three-year terms as
condition, and hence is splintered into elder ran out at the end of 1992 and I was never
denominations, carries errant beliefs, has sinners re-elected. I did, however, continue to serve in
among its membership, etc. However, none of this various other leadership roles (pastoral search,
negates the fact that it is a divine institution. new building committee, evangelism training,
etc).
The church faces new challenges and ideas in
almost every generation. Part of what happens in We moved from Michigan to Colorado about a
the process of facing these new ideas is that the year after the process was completed, so I never
church wrestles with its own confession. This I got to see the long term consequences of my views
believe is a good thing. We do not stand alone in for involvement in the local church.
our understanding of scripture. Confessions allow
the church of past ages to speak. This is one of the B) Becoming an Agent for Change in a
ways to protect ourselves and our churches from Confessional Church
being blown here and there by every wind of
doctrine. The church represents a broad body of One advantage of being part of a confessional
believers in which to test new ideas. There is an church is that there are specific processes for
inherent conservatism to this process, however, testing new ideas. On many issues there is also
and we must be patient with our fellow believers some denominational history (e.g. official church
in working through these questions. study reports, or the writings of church pastors,
theologians, and other denominational leaders).
I hope that expressing my beliefs about the So in the science / faith dialogue those of us that
church’s role in articulating truth and enforcing are conversant with science have mechanisms to
church discipline explains some things that many change popular erroneous ideas about science
people find difficult to understand about my which are neither scripturally nor confessionally
experience. It explains why I would suffer warranted. Thus I am now taking the opportunity,
through a heresy trial in the first place. Second, it with the support of my local elder board, to
explains why I think that the church should judge initiate a process to change what I believe to be an
me rather than vice versa. And third, it explains erroneous scientific conclusion contained in my
why I’m willing to submit to decisions of the Church’s position on Creation and Science.
church with respect to my level of involvement in
the church. Joining the Christian Reformed Church

Personal Implications of the Trial We eventually joined the CRCNA church in Fort
Collins, Colorado, and I became active in the life
In general, I was pleased to see church discipline and ministry of that local church in the elder
in action. I was happy with the treatment I board, small group ministry, adult teaching and
received in the process. I was treated respectfully worship. Our switch to the CRCNA had little to
and my ideas and arguments were taken do with my “problems” in the OPC, but rather
seriously. In the end my position was rejected, but figuring out which of the conservative Reformed
hardly any of the “attacks” were personal. It and Presbyterian churches in Fort Collins was the
turned out that while no one actually agreed with best fit for our family. The CRCNA is somewhat
me, there were those who defended me and broader theologically than the OPC and PCA (for
thought that my position should be allowed. example, the denomination allows women
pastors, elders, and deacons); however it remains

12
Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

evangelical and confessionally rooted. through the denominational procedures and may
be taken up in the 2010 Synod. We think that
Although in our particular local church Declaration F expresses a discordant note from the
faith/science issues are largely non-controversial, rest of the report, which generally is quite pro-
I did not seek to address these issues right away. I science. It also turns out that Declaration F is lifted
spent a few years teaching some courses on up as a significant part of the view of the CRCNA
theology and the Bible and being involved in on the topic of Creation and Science in some
various ministries including church leadership. denominational publications. We think this is
These activities allowed me to build credibility most unfortunate. We think that the rest of the
and trust within the local church community. report adequately expresses a Biblical and
Establishing yourself as a committed church confessional perspective on the issues involved
member and a faithful lay Bible teacher and without virtually forbidding someone from
theologian is an important prerequisite to holding a view that there is some kind of
addressing more controversial topics (after all, the evolutionary relationship between human beings
Christian faith and Christian discipleship is much and other living creatures (which is what
broader than the faith/science debate). Only then Declaration F currently does).
did I take up the faith/science topic in our adult
discipleship ministry. I have now taught a 15 An Opportunity to Work Together as the Body
week course covering many aspects of the of Christ
faith/science area, ranging from origins to
creation care to bioethics. Even establishing While re-opening this discussion may be
specific credibility in the faith/science area uncomfortable and controversial, it allows us to
through that class was an important step in being again ask the relevant Biblical and theological
able to proceed with the potentially more questions in community. In my opinion there are
controversial proposal outlined next. not any confessional issues at stake here.
Questions about the historicity of Adam and the
Initiating the Process to Change CRCNA Fall would bring up confession issues, but our
Statements against Animal Ancestry of Humans request is somewhat limited and does not ask the
church to address those questions. We believe that
As a denomination the CRCNA issued a Creation the church mistakenly adopted a Declaration on
and Science report in 1991 in the aftermath of this subject that was narrower than Scripture or
controversies involving the teachings of some the confessions and we are asking the church to
science professors at Calvin College. In general, correct that mistake.
this report, while cautious about the influence of
secularism and atheism in modern science, was What the outcome will be remains to be seen, but
pro-science, recognizing the possibility of an old this current situation illustrates ways in which
earth and universe and an evolutionary history ECs can work within the church to effect change.
for life on earth. Declarations B & C emphasize the This involves studying together, discussing
freedom of exegesis and the freedom of science, together, and sometimes participating in formal
respectively, although within the bounds of the decision-making processes where denominational
teaching of Scripture and the confessions. These positions are forged. In short, it is an opportunity
bounds were most clearly expressed in the to work together as the Body of Christ.
emphasis on the “event character” (i.e. the
historicity) of Adam and the Fall. Declaration F of
this report (recommended by a minority of the
study committee and adopted by Synod) made
strong statements against animal ancestry of
humans with some provisos allowing for further
study.

At my request our elder board has requested that


the Synod rescind Declaration F from the 1991
report. This request is currently making its way

13
Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

appeared to be. No, Punk-eek was in. Notably


VII. Growing up Science-Literate lacking in my science education and in the
in the Japanese Church and educational climate of the high school was recent
encountering YEC in the American earth creationism. I simply never encountered it.
Not from any of the faculty nor from my peers.
Church: A Paleontologist’s There simply was no controversy.
Personal Perspective.
B) Personal Spiritual Growth
Published Mar. 15, 2010 by Jim Kidder
I was born and raised in Japan and from my As my walk with Christ became more serious, I
earliest memories there was always science. My left the campus church and began to go to a Tokyo
father was an archaeologist who spent most of this branch of the Union Theological Seminary
time excavating the prehistoric sites that littered (TUTS). It became clear, after a few more years of
the area (including our back yard in the city of high school, however, that this church had a
Mitaka) and teaching about them at International somewhat liberal bent and that elements of New
Christian University. Dates like 35,000 years, or Age thought were quite prevalent. When one is in
older were part of the commonplace conversation high school, one does not initially challenge these
around our dinner table. In fact, my parents rarely things and I was no exception. Especially since
argued about anything other than when a TUTS was where most of the attractive girls went.
particular event had taken place. It simply did not Nevertheless, challenge them I did.
occur to any of us sitting around the table that
there was another interpretation of the geological I eventually left this church as well and began to
and archaeological record. attend house churches, based all over the city that
ranged from Pentecostal to Lutheran to your good
We attended church at the local university church, old fashioned non-denominational service. What
which was not the liveliest house of worship. The is remarkable about these gatherings in hind sight
ceiling was a good seventy feet overhead to make is how little discussion there was on science. The
room for the gigantic pipe organ in the front. focus was on the Lordship of Christ and even
Voices were, subsequently, quite amplified and when apologetics was studied, it was only in the
the general tone was quite solemn. This was context of defending one’s faith in the larger
probably a contributing factor in the lack of sense. Science simply never entered the picture,
spiritual growth during my preteens. almost as if it were a taboo subject. It may very
well have been but I was none the wiser.
A) Early Scientific Education
My senior year was spent with my academic
My school experience at the American School in interests neatly split between history and
Japan (ASIJ) based in Tokyo was comparable to palaeontology but, at this stage, history won out
that of a very good college prep school, with a and that is what I decided to pursue as an
considerable number of offerings in literature, undergraduate once I left the confines of ASIJ.
history and science. I took biology in the ninth One of the papers I wrote in my senior year of
grade from a man very passionate about science high school, however, dealt heavily with
and I came to love it as well. Along with a paleontological material and early hominids.
generous amount of comparative anatomy, there Although the human palaeontology bug did not
was a smattering of evolution, taking the form of bite me then, delving into that literature for the
systematics rather than actual instruction in the first time was exhilarating—especially since there
basic tenets of the theory, itself. Eldredge and was nobody to tell me that I shouldn’t. Even my
Gould had produced their seminal works on friends at school who knew of my interests and
punctuated equilibrium a few years before so the were Christians did not seem to have any qualms
science world was still abuzz with the possibility about it. I am convinced that learning about this
that evolution as espoused by George Gaylord evidence at a comparatively early age deeply
Simpson and Sewall Wright, names I did not affected my ability to accept it in light of my
know at the time but later became quite familiar Christianity.
with, was not the be all and end all that it

14
Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

Japan is a Christian mission field is probably a


C) Moving to America and Encountering factor here. While Japan has a vast history of both
YEC Ideas Buddhist and Shinto thought, Christianity was a
comparative newcomer to the stage and was not
I graduated from high school in 1980 and, in one accepted in any way until after the early 1900s. Up
of the more traumatic moments in my life, moved until that point, Christians had been persecuted in
from the safe confines of Tokyo, Japan to the the best Roman fashion. Nowadays the vast
unknown wilderness that was the United States of majority of Japanese are areligious. Consequently,
America. Fortunately, I made friends with a there is so much focus on evangelizing Japanese
growing group of Christians on campus and this with the basic sinner’s prayer that there is little
mitigated the jarring experience somewhat. Two time for other things. Even among the Christian
of these new friends invited me to go to church foreign community, however, there is little
with them in the nearby town of Knoxville. A few emphasis on science and how it should be viewed.
weeks later, I walked into the sanctuary and I have recently become aware that Creation
peered at a bulletin board, on which local job Ministries International has a chapter in Japan but
adverts and news items were posted. One in I never heard about it while I was there.
particular caught my eye. It was for the East
Tennessee Creation Science Association and they Today, I view myself as an evolutionary
were advertising a meeting at a local church. The creationist (EC) / theistic evolutionist (TE). My
bulk of the flyer was, however, composed of experiences in Japan are largely responsible for
several quotes from people that I have since this. To be sure, as with most people that take an
become familiar with—Henry Morris, Duane Gish EC perspective, I have many unanswered
and Gary Bauer, about how bad the fossil record questions about the historicity of Adam, the place
was, how good the evidence was for the world- of the “pre-Adamites,” and how the fall can be
wide flood of Noah, how the earth was only a few reconciled with the scientific data. I trust that
thousand years old and how evil evolution was. those questions will be answered in due time.

I just stared…dumbfounded. Sadly, I have had very little experience with


Christians who grew up in other countries where
In my years of growing into my Christian faith in these questions were asked. I know that, recently,
Japan, I had never encountered this mindset. I there have been many groups that are
remember thinking “people really believe this??” “evangelizing” the Old World (Ken Ham just
recently went to Japan) and that, as in the United
It had never occurred to me that what I came to States, the YEC perspective is more prevalent than
know as the primeval history of Genesis was to be it was even twenty years ago.
taken literally. I soon found that a great many
people, including some of my newfound Christian
friends, did read Genesis 1 as history and believed
that God created the world in 7 literal 24-hour
days. This began a lifelong interest in the different
approaches to interpreting the early chapters of
Genesis, the geological record, and evolution.

D) Reflecting on the Absence of YEC


ideas in the Japanese Christian
Community

In hindsight, I still find it puzzling that a


movement that is so prevalent in evangelical
circles in the United States, and has had such a
profound political impact here, was virtually
irrelevant in the Japanese Christian church. That

15
Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

doctrines can be strengthened, ambiguous ones


VIII. Encouraging Critical debated, and erroneous ones corrected.
Thinking in Evangelical Churches:
The Scientist as a Bible Teacher B) Teaching Evangelicals to Think
Critically
Published by Philip Wala Mar. 22, 2010.
A) The Danger of Unchallenged Beliefs The techniques of acquiring new information,
testing hypotheses, challenging the results, and
As a third-generation evangelical, I treasure the subjecting conclusions to peer review, are used by
faith heritage passed on to me, and the profound scientists to correct and advance our knowledge
influence many wonderful pastors, teachers, and of the physical world. Similar techniques can be
fellow believers have had on my spiritual growth. used to foster spiritual growth in the local church.
I am also intimately aware of the frustration of
being a scientist in a subculture that treats serious As a scientist who has had frequent opportunities
scientific inquiry with suspicion. to teach in a church setting, I enjoy finding
opportunities to challenge my students to rethink
This suspicion of science is only one aspect of an positions they assumed were unquestionable. Of
evangelical mindset that seems threatened by course, this teaching style must be approached
divergent opinion and comforted by conformity. with an abundance of patience and wisdom,
There is a supposedly “evangelical Christian especially when the subject is the science and
position” on political affiliation, gun control, theology of creation. Challenging dearly held
taxes, global warming and, of course, evolution. beliefs must take place in measured steps, in
And many evangelicals are incredulous that any keeping with the level of established trust.
sincere believer would ever think, act, or vote any
other way. Step 1: Inform
For those unaccustomed to hearing divergent
Pressure to conform can be especially strong for viewpoints discussed in church, the first step is to
evangelicals that recognize the Holy Spirit as an simply provide objective information about those
ever-present guide and illuminator of truth. After viewpoints. On the topic of origins, I find it
all, if everyone can hear from God, disagreement helpful to use a two-dimensional model of
must imply that somebody isn’t listening creation viewpoints that decouples the assumed
properly. Those with strong opinions will link between faith and young-earth creationism,
naturally assume the other party is mistaken, and and identifies respected evangelicals who hold
seek confirmation of their already arrived-upon widely divergent opinions on science. By
conclusions by saturating themselves with like- presenting such information in a non-
minded teaching. And for those whose personal confrontational manner, the student is given
convictions aren’t as strong, an assumption that permission to admit the potential ambiguity of
everyone else must have heard from God relieves issues they previously assumed were
them of the responsibility to independently think unquestionable.
through these issues on their own.
It is also beneficial to bring up examples of recent
The danger in this mindset is the ease with which scientific discoveries that they usually would not
a debatable opinion or interpretation of scripture hear discussed in church. Many evangelicals
can be elevated to the status of unquestioned blindly base their opposition to evolution on
doctrine, an error Jesus warned against (Matt arguments from the 1960s that are no longer valid.
15:9). To avoid this trap, the evangelical church By openly discussing recent observations of the
needs to foster an atmosphere of dialogue in Hubble telescope, or the sequencing of the human
which new information is welcomed, questions genome, the scientist/bible teacher can
are allowed, and critical thinking is embraced. demonstrate that subjecting ones beliefs to the
Such an atmosphere allows the opportunity for light of new information doesn’t have to be
believers to continually subject their own beliefs to threatening, but can, in fact, be a very Godly
reexamination and challenge, so that legitimate pursuit.

16
Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

mails. Online blogs are another venue in which


Step 2: Challenge the scientist/bible teacher can offer respectful
The next step in the process involves a more direct comments to help steer the conversation from
challenge: leading students into states of pontification to dialogue (see this link for an
“cognitive dissonance”, in which they are forced example).
to deal with logical inconsistencies in their belief
system. Comparing the cooperative lifestyle of the C) Conclusion
early church (Acts 4:32-35) to communism, or
asking if God’s gift to humanity of free will makes After 27 years in the same congregation, my wife
him “pro-choice”, always leads to double-takes and I recently moved to a new community where
and dropped jaws. The goal here is not to change we have found a wonderfully dynamic “Spirit-
beliefs, but to help people realize that there may filled” Lutheran church that is true to the
be subtle ambiguities in positions they assumed doctrines and worship style I cherish, but at the
were black and white. same time refreshingly more tolerant of ambiguity
and dialogue on the non-essentials.
When the subject is faith and science, an appeal to
historical precedent can be used to great The church I left behind is, I hope, better for
advantage. Without any direct reference to the having had a scientist/bible teacher in its
issue at hand, but using many of the common congregation. I am blessed by the ongoing
arguments used in the creation/evolution debate, dialogue I have with the pastor; I am saddened by
I lay out my case, appealing to the inerrancy of another church leader who broke off contact with
scripture, the teachings of the church, and the me and encouraged others to do the same, so as to
scientific theories (that are, after all, just theories) be protected from my supposedly heretical views;
that clearly contradict scripture. As expected, and I am touched by memories of a missions trip
most evangelicals take a resolute stand on the side to Ukraine in which an eager young bible school
of the church. I then calmly add something I had student told me, in all seriousness, “I am so glad
“forgotten” to mention: that the year is 1615, and to learn that scientists aren’t evil!”
they have all just taken a stand against the
heliocentric theories of Copernicus and Galileo. But for the most part, I am encouraged by the one
reaction I heard over and over again in reaction to
Step 3: Confront my teaching: “Thanks. You’ve made me think.”
The third step, direct confrontation, must be
handled with utmost sensitivity, and generally in To which I reply, “Mission accomplished.”
a one-on-one setting with someone with whom
you have developed a relationship of mutual
trust. I was fortunate to have such a relationship IX. Using the "Test of Faith
with my pastor, so that when the church decided Course" to Explore the
(in spite of my strong objections) to use the “Truth
Project” videos, we were able to discuss my areas
Compatibility Between Science
of disagreement in an atmosphere of respectful and Faith
and mutually beneficial dialogue.
Published Mar. 29, 2010 by Keith Suckling
Once again, the motive of confrontation should I am a minister in a church in the UK. Like most of
not be to prove who is right. I have resorted to Western Europe, ours is a predominantly secular
confrontation primarily to address specific society. Whereas the relationship between science and
behavior, statements, or teachings that, in my faith can be a hotly debated topic, one must often first
estimation, push away, or shut down healthy address the question “Is faith and religion even relevant
dialogue with, people holding diverse opinions on anymore?” As both a Christian minister and a scientist,
debatable issues. Because of their potentially wide I strongly support not only the relevance of the
distribution, it is especially important to confront Christian faith, but the compatibility between science
politically biased or scientifically inaccurate and this faith. The Test of Faith course offers a great
comments in church sponsored newsletters or e- opportunity to promote this perspective and I’ve had
the opportunity to lead this course twice in my Church.

17
Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

Genesis. Whilst this is a make or break issue for many,


A) Digswell Village Church: Background especially in evangelical circles in North America, in
the UK and Western Europe the wider question of
Digswell Village is a small community about 27 miles justifying a religious worldview and pointing out the
north of London, England. The village itself is very old, limitations of science require a much wider
but most of the housing was built in phases since the engagement. This is about as far as I think I can get
1930s and so the overall development has followed a when I do presentations in schools to 16 to 18 year
timescale similar to much of North America. olds. If the Christian faith can be shown to be
intellectually respectable and appreciative of science
Digswell Village Church, where I am the Church of the door is open for a fuller exploration.
England minister, is a little unusual in that we are an
ecumenical partnership, primarily between the C) Teaching the Test of Faith Course at
Methodist church and the Church of England, but we Digswell: Personal Experience
also have members with Baptist, Lutheran and other
church backgrounds. I mention this at the start because We have now run two Test of Faith courses in Digswell
I think it is particularly important in determining how and a third is being planned for April/May. We were
we approach complex issues in the church, of which the delighted that over half those attending the second
relationship between science and religion is just one. course came from outside our local church community.
The partnership approach means that we have to take a People are interested, but challenged by the topics in
broad view and look for strong common themes that the course. Will it strengthen my faith? Will it
will, as St Paul says, build up the Church. In other challenge it? Will it be too complicated for me to
words we have to identify what are the primary issues understand? These are just some of the thoughts that
in which clarity is required and those which may have arise at the start of the course.
their importance but are not essential, perhaps coming
from one or other of the traditions represented. (In fact, Some group building is needed at the start so that
I think there are very few primary issues). participants are comfortable in sharing their views. We
had one person leave because he did not have a deep
B) The Test of Faith Course enough scientific background, but everyone else,
whatever their level of scientific experience was able to
Test of Faith is a course developed by the Faraday find their way through. One of the most common
Institute at Cambridge University. It discusses a range reactions was how beautiful the science itself is, and
of important questions in science and religion and most people had no difficulty in connecting that to God
consists of a DVD documentary presentation with in creation, expressed for example in Psalm 19. Many
supporting background information and workbooks. were struck by how strongly people who are clearly
Evolution, human genetics and environmental issues distinguished scientists can hold a conventional faith. I
are covered in the second of the three presentations. know from experience that it can be very challenging in
The first deals with cosmology and origins while the the scientific community to be seen as religious. It can
third delves into recent aspects of neuroscience so as to feel as if one’s scientific integrity is questionable.
raise questions of the origin of individual personal Perhaps scientists who are Christians have kept their
identity and many related themes. The programmes are heads down too much, although this may be changing. I
illustrated with many beautiful and meaningful images believe that Test of Faith will help.
which link the contributions from scientists who are
Christians, and from Christian theologians who are also There are church communities in England where
scientifically qualified. A good sense of what is evolution would be a contentious topic, but this was not
provided can be gained from the website. really the case for any of our participants, so this did
not dominate discussion. There was intellectual
The course promotes the view that science and religion understanding of the arguments, but some were
are compatible. It does specifically acknowledge other challenged by the realisation that an evolutionary world
points of view, and many of these are outlined view requires a non-literal interpretation of the Garden
sensitively in the supporting booklets, but the basic of Eden. Perhaps they were sad to see that there may
position remains clear and is one that as a scientist and have been no golden age in the development of life on
a priest I support strongly. I think it is interesting to earth. One important question which can arise in any of
note that only about a third of the second unit covers the sessions is that of understanding why suffering
issues arising directly from the interpretation of exists. This year it was particularly emphasised by the

18
Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

earthquake in Haiti, which occurred around the same person might understand it on a straight forward
time as the course. Many found John Polkinghorne’s reading of the Bible. So the complexity involved in
ideas helpful here (See for eg. his answer to the efforts to reconcile evolution and Christian faith
question Was the Tsunami and act of God? and these tends to rub against the Evangelical grain. Yet this
reflections on divine action and evil). commitment to a simple Gospel message also
means that Evangelicals reject any suggestion that
D) Conclusion one’s views of origins can ever be fundamental to
salvation (see, for example, these remarks by Ken
From a position of caution and possibly confusion at Ham). For Evangelicals the origins issue isn’t so
the start, the participants ended the course stimulated much a question of science versus scripture as one
and much more confident in dealing with and of simplicity versus complexity.
attempting to integrate the insights of science into their
Christian worldview. This, I think, is probably the most One way of resolving this complexity is to dismiss
important thing the course can do. There are no final evolutionary science. This is a popular approach
and complete answers to many of the questions the amongst many Evangelicals. But others—
course raises, and this will also be true of the new particularly those working in the sciences—find
problems that are bound to arise. But if we can
this option entirely unacceptable. They accept
approach scripture and nature as two aspects of God’s
evolution on scientific grounds and seek to make
revelation, as the scientists and theologians in Test of
sense of it in a way faithful to their Evangelical
Faith clearly do, we will be more integrated in our
worship and prayer and in our lives as a whole. Christian commitments. Despite different
responses to evolution, however, there is a shared
desire to maintain a critical principle well
expressed in Martin Luther’s famous remark: “It
is neither right, nor safe, to go against conscience.”
Evangelicals disagree so strongly on origins
X. Origins and the Pastoral Task:
precisely because personal conscience before God
The Priority of Love over is a matter of utmost importance. To compromise
Knowledge on matters of conscience is neither right nor safe.

Published Apr. 5, 2010 by Murray Hogg


B) The Pastoral Task: A Principle from
A) Evangelicals and the Complexity of the St. Paul
Origins Issue
In the face of such conflicts, what role is the
For some, the question of origins is simple. For Christian pastor to play? How does the pastor
Evangelical Christians it’s complex. Evangelicals responsibly address a topic where Evangelicals
believe that the origin and development of the take so many different positions as a matter of
universe, including life on earth, is the result of conscience? Dogmatic pronouncements and
the purposeful act of a benevolent Creator. They disciplinary action can intimidate people to go
also take seriously the Biblical teaching on against conscience, but that’s hardly to be
creation in Genesis and elsewhere. This gives encouraged. On the other hand, teaching the
Evangelicals more options on origins than others. correct view of origins is difficult given that the
It also means more issues to consider in correct view of origins is precisely the point at
evaluating those options. Evangelicals want to ask issue. So what’s a Christian pastor to do?
questions which others might regard as settled, or
even entirely irrelevant. Questions relating to such Well, I think that Paul’s discussion in First
diverse topics as philosophy of science, Corinthians gives us solid Biblical ground on
theological method, and ethics, to name but a few. which to stand. The Corinthians had written to
Hence the complexity. Paul (7:1) for a definitive word on the divisive
issue of meat sacrificed to idols (8:1). But Paul
Complexity, however, can trouble Evangelicals. It seems to sidestep that question completely. “We
conflicts with their sense that the Christian know that an idol is nothing,” he writes in 1 Cor.
message is simple: so simple, in fact, that any 8:4, “but there is not in everyone that knowledge”

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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

(7). Fair enough. Not everybody knows the truth creatures and as such limited by finitude. The
about idols. But if we thought that some solid implication? We all have blind spots in our
Biblical teaching on idolatry is in order, Paul thinking and can therefore never assume the
surprises us by offering nothing of the sort. mantle of judgement over others (see Romans
Instead of educating the ignorant, Paul directs his 14:1-13). We need, in any case, to avoid falling
remarks to the knowledgeable and he urges them into a kind of intellectual “salvation by works”
to show restraint despite their knowledge; “if food where scientific, theological, or even biblical truth
makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat become the basis of our standing in Christ. Once
meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (13). Paul we go down that path then we become, as it were,
isn’t concerned with how much we know. It’s the “debtors to keep the whole law” (Gal. 5:3) who
impact of our behaviour on others which he thinks are allowed no errors at all. Better we avail
matters. ourselves of Christ’s grace which is sufficient for
all things, errors of belief included.
C) The Human Condition and Theological
Disagreement D) Conclusion

Underlying Paul’s discussion is the recognition of Such are only a few of the critical pastoral
a critically important truth (the “T” word: considerations which are often overlooked in the
Evangelicals take note!): the human condition, origins debate. There is no shortage of horror
even amongst those who know Christ and his stories concerning Christians whose views on
saving grace, is one of ignorance and error—“now origins have made them the target of attack by
we see in a mirror, dimly...now I know in part” (1 fellow believers—even to the extent that some
Cor 13:12). Indeed, 1 Corinthians is pervaded with have walked away from the church or lost their
the idea that love, not knowledge, is the greater faith altogether. The clear lesson is that our
virtue; “we all have knowledge, knowledge puffs response to a person’s views on origins can affect
up, but love edifies” (8:1) … “because of your their relationship with Christ far more than any
knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for error in their theory of origins ever could.
whom Christ died?” (8:11) … “though
I…understand all mysteries and all So, regardless of what you think you know about
knowledge...but have not love, I am nothing” the subject of origins, please try to keep in mind
(13:2) … “whether there is knowledge, it will Paul’s rhetorical question: “because of your
vanish away” (13:8). And I might only add that knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for
Jesus himself criticised his opponents on pretty whom Christ died?” (8:11) Remember that it’s the
much the same point (cf. Jn. 5:39-40; Mat. 23:2, 23). stronger believer, the one who claims to have
knowledge, who should give way to the weaker.
Now, lest people misunderstand me, I want to Our failure to do so—regardless of where we
make very clear that I am not dismissing matters stand on the origins issue—can have frightful
of truth as unimportant. But, when it comes to the consequences. There are all sorts of issues
origins issue, can we honestly pretend that there’s involved in the origins debate, but we should
any broad agreement as to what the truth actually never allow our views to destroy the faith of
is? Surely the Christian pastor ought to others. When we do so, our lack of pastoral
acknowledge that this is a matter upon which concern doesn’t commend us to God, but rather
Evangelicals can and do hold widely divergent brings us under the judgment of the greatest
views? And it’s an abuse, not a fulfilment, of the pastor of all (Mk. 9:42).
pastoral calling to behave as if it were otherwise.
Here the truth is “we don’t know all the
answers”—even if, perhaps, we think we should.

There is a great irony lurking here. Sometimes we


become so embroiled in arguments about creation
that we overlook a great theological truth that is
central to any view of origins: we humans are

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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

can make the case that Genesis shouldn’t be read as a


XI. Teaching a Science and Faith science textbook, and that natural processes should not
Course in an Evangelical Mainline be seen as competing explanations in opposition to
Church: Lessons Learned God, much of the basis for Christian anti-evolutionism
is disarmed before you even bring up “the E-word”.
Published Apr.12, 2010 by Allan Harvey
3) Establish common ground. It helped to begin the
My church is a little schizophrenic. We are in the class with some things everybody could agree on, like
PCUSA, the large “mainline” Presbyterian body. God as author of nature and of scripture. And ground
Congregations in the PCUSA vary widely; my church is rules like the need to avoid false dichotomies and to be
at the theologically (and politically) conservative end of charitable when evaluating other positions.
the spectrum. We are like a hybrid between a moderate
mainline Presbyterian body and a nondenominational 4) A few points, clearly made. I tried to cover too
Evangelical church. So our fairly large church (Sunday much ground in my first session; Barbour's four ways
attendance about 1000) has a diversity of viewpoints, of relating science and faith, nuances of the “two
ranging from a sizable minority whom one might call books” metaphor and a few other things. There wasn't
fundamentalist to some who are moderately liberal. time for all of it, and it detracted from the things I
really needed to get across. In subsequent weeks, I tried
This was the setting for a 7-week Adult Education class to limit the scope a little more and focus on fewer key
I taught in 2007 on “Science and Nature in Christian points.
Perspective.” 20 to 25 participants attended the
sessions, which is pretty typical for these offerings at 5) Don't be "one-sided". I think it is important not to
my church. I had hoped to attract parents of high be just the guy pointing out how some things within the
schoolers, college students, and lay leaders in youth church (like "creationism") are wrong, but also to make
ministries, but for the most part these were absent (this clear your opposition to those attacking the faith from
demographic does not tend to come to other classes, outside (like Richard Dawkins) who use science as a
either). weapon.

A) Ten Lessons Learned from Teaching the 6) Stick mostly to what you know. One Sunday I
ventured into something I did not know enough about. I
Course
talked about the eye as something that didn't seem well
"designed," and was corrected by a retired
Following, in no particular order, are ten “lessons
ophthalmologist. Whether his explanation was right or
learned” and words of advice for those who might teach
not, I shouldn't have tried to talk about something with
a similar class.
which I wasn't familiar.
1) Pre-existing credibility helps. It helped that I had
7) Be open to learning from people in the class. That
recently served a term as an Elder and otherwise had
should apply to any teaching. One man in the class
established that my orthodoxy and stature to teach was
came up with the metaphor "a tool that God uses" for
not in doubt. If this had been 10 years earlier, when I
natural processes, which I thought was so good that I
was just some unknown scientist fairly new to the
used it in the rest of the class and in my write-up.
church, it would have been easier for people to dismiss
what I had to say. If you already have some stature in
8) You never know what might cause trouble. I had
your church, you are ahead of the game. If not, you
a lot of trepidation prior to the week I focused on
might first build that by serving the local church (which
evolution, but the session was not contentious at all.
one should do anyway) in less controversial ways.
However, the week I talked about the stewardship of
God's creation, I was surprised that a few people were
2) Don’t dive into the deep end. It was week 6 before
quite hostile -- I knew our church had some Rush
I talked extensively about evolution. Discussions on
Limbaugh disciples but I didn't expect to be a target.
difficult and controversial issues go better once one has
laid a good foundation for thinking about them. I felt it
9) Support helps. I am grateful for the prayer and
was important to first talk about healthy ways of
encouragement provided by my wife and some other
reading the Bible and what sort of questions we should
people with whom I was in fellowship. Leading a
and should not ask Scripture, and also about how we
session on a controversial topic like this can be lonely
should view God’s action in and through nature. If you
and intimidating (especially for an introvert like me),

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Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church

and that support was essential. B) Postscript


10) Don’t assume enemies. Before the class started, I Writing this made me reflect on whether my class was a
was warned by an Associate Pastor that a member I “success,” and I realize I have no clue. If nothing else,
didn’t know personally (but whom I knew was very it helped clarify my own thoughts, and at least a few
interested in apologetics and involved with Reasons to people have found the material I put on the web useful.
Believe) had expressed concern about what I would be My church has never been a hotbed of “creationist”
teaching. I was afraid I was going to have hostile activity, but there are a number of ID fans and “Truth
opposition. But we exchanged email and eventually Project” advocates and that is still the case. I think at
spoke in person, and he ended up making constructive least a few people had their eyes opened to a healthier
contributions in class. Today I consider this man a perspective on science/faith issues, and more people at
friend, even if we still see some things differently. church are aware that I can be a resource when such
issues come up. But maybe I shouldn’t worry about
trying to measure the “fruit” and just be faithful to what
I think God calls me to do.

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