I had the opportunity last week to attend the BioLogos Theology of Celebration Workshop. This workshop focused on learning from and equipping pastors who are wrestling with matters of science and faith in their congregations. On the final morning one pastor noted that he saw two powerful narratives at work today. There is a narrative in the secular world that views religion as a relic of a bygone age. There is a second narrative within our churches that views compromise on evolution, and even for some the age of the earth, to be the first step down the slippery slope to atheism, secularism, and all kinds of immorality.
The first narrative is exemplified by a post written by Richard Dawkins that appeared in the Washington Post on Faith blog as part of a publicity campaign for the Rally for Reason held in Washington DC last weekend.
Who Would Rally Against Reason (Richard Dawkins)
Reason, as played out in the grand cooperative enterprise called science, makes me proud of Homo sapiens. Sapiens literally means ‘wise,’ but we have deserved the accolade only since we crawled from the swamp of primitive superstition and supernatural gullibility and embraced reason, logic, science and evidence-based truth.
… Thanks to evidence-based reason we are blessedly liberated from ancient fears of ghosts and devils, evil spirits and djinns, magic spells and witches’ curses.
Dawkins, and others like him, have a message that they preach – and Dawkins is a powerful preacher. His message hits a resonance with many. He calls people to grow-up … to join those who have grown up … and cast away superstition and embrace reason.
Cast aside the prejudices of upbringing and habit, and come along anyway. If you come with open ears and open curiosity you will learn something, will probably be entertained and may even change your mind. And that, you will find, is a liberating and refreshing experience.
Although Dawkins is on the extreme end of the atheist spectrum, the views that he describes here are embraced by an increasingly large number of people within certain realms of our society. This is a compelling narrative that many people in varying degrees hold on to and buy in to. And who wants to be thought immature and primitive?
Is the narrative championed by Dawkins taking root in our world?
Do you think this is a serious challenge?
The second narrative is seen in extreme form in the work of Ken Ham and the young earth creationist view he has successfully brought to increasing prominence in the church through a wide variety of grass roots initiatives. There is the carrot of an appealing biblical narrative accompanied by a stick – the fear of secularism and compromise. In an article on the award winning Answers in Genesis web site A Young Earth – Its Not the Issue, Ham writes:
When someone says to me, “Oh, so you’re one of those fundamentalist, young-Earth creationists,” I reply, “Actually, I’m a revelationist, no-death-before-Adam redemptionist!” (which means I’m a young-Earth creationist!).
Here’s what I mean by this: I understand that the Bible is a revelation from our infinite Creator, and it is self-authenticating and self-attesting. I must interpret Scripture with Scripture, not impose ideas from the outside! When I take the plain words of the Bible, it is obvious there was no death, bloodshed, disease or suffering of humans or animals before sin. God instituted death and bloodshed because of sin—this is foundational to the Gospel. Therefore, one cannot allow a fossil record of millions of years of death, bloodshed, disease and suffering before sin (which is why the fossil record makes much more sense as the graveyard of the flood of Noah’s day).
This is the crux of the issue. When Christians have agreed with the world that they can accept man’s fallible dating methods to interpret God’s Word, they have agreed with the world that the Bible can’t be trusted. They have essentially sent out the message that man, by himself, independent of revelation, can determine truth and impose this on God’s Word. Once this “door” has been opened regarding Genesis, ultimately it can happen with the rest of the Bible
The culture war is front and center in the work of Ham and AiG. In 2009 Ken Ham and Britt Beemer published a book with a title and subject to incite fear and resolve among devout Christians if there ever was one: Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it. In a sequel, Already Compromised, published last year Ham along with coauthor Greg Hall look with alarm at the increasing compromised stance taken by Christian colleges. From a Christian Post article on the book:
“We’re well down the road” of secularism, Ham told The Christian Post.
Without the strong teaching of Genesis, it won’t be long before Christian students and faculty will be changing the Bible to accommodate other beliefs such as homosexuality and abortion, Ham argued. The young earth creationist asserted that the issue is really about preserving the Bible’s authority as 100 percent true. “Until you get back to that issue (the Bible’s authority), then you’ll never be able to shut the door [on those issues].”
The future of the church depends on rejection of science, evolutionary biology, and most forms of human learning. The Bible alone is the fount of all truth and understanding.
Do you think that this culture war narrative is growing in influence?
Is it a problem in your church?
Richard Dawkins and Ken Ham represent extreme views, but they are not alone and they exemplify powerful streams of contemporary world view. These narratives are at play in our church and in our world. One of the pastors at the conference last week related a rather poignant tale of the deep disillusionment expressed by one long time church member who discovered that her pastor did not take a young earth view. The experience of more than two decades of teaching was difficult to reconcile with the new insight that her pastor was one of the compromisers Ham warns of so eloquently.
On the other side we have the desire to reach a broad secular culture. This is an audience where many find it hard to believe that anyone can be intelligent and rational and still believe “an ancient superstitious myth”. While most don’t go as far as Dawkins in anti-religious rhetoric, the undercurrent of thought that aligns with his view of science and human progress is powerful. I am not sure most pastors and most Christians realize how implicitly and how deeply this sentiment is impacting our culture and how quickly it is growing.
The pastor who noted these two powerful narratives posed a question – one that I paraphrase here and would like to consider today.
What narrative will provide a compelling alternative to the secular materialism of Richard Dawkins and to the conviction held by so many in the church that AiG is correct and the gospel hinges on the rejection of evolutionary biology and human learning?
What narrative do we have to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ?
I think what we have to offer is the full gospel. This has to begin with reading the bible seriously from cover to cover. Not to find science and literal history in the early chapters of Genesis, but to recover the story of God’s work in his world. Of course this needs to be fleshed out a good deal more. Scot’s book The King Jesus Gospel and NT Wright’s new book How God Became King may help us on this path.
What do you think?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.