I received a new book in the mail today How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science. In this book twenty-five Christians reflect on their journey to and around the intersection of evolution and Christian faith.
The contributors come from a range of perspectives including pastors (e.g. John Ortberg, Daniel Harrell, Ken Fong), biblical scholars (e.g. N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, Tremper Longman III), scientists (e.g. Francis Collins, Jennifer Wiseman, Denis Lamoureaux) , and philosophers (e.g. James Stump, James K. A. Smith, Richard Mouw) and a wide variety of backgrounds. Some became Christians in high school or college, others were raised in conservative Christian homes (the kind where evolution is a dirty word). The title is a little misleading. Some of the authors reflect on a changed mind, starting from an anti-evolution, even young earth perspective. Others never had a deep personal struggle with the relationship between evolutionary biology and Christian faith. All, however, have found it necessary to grow in their understanding of the relationship between Christian faith and science. A number still have open questions (most often concerning Adam and Eve).
Although the book is due for general release on June 9th (Kindle) to 13th (paperback), it is available now direct from IVP Press. Today I’d like to highlight one incident that struck me in Ken Fong’s essay. Ken opens his essay with an illustration … a game they would play in a swimming pool where the goal was to take a beach ball down to the bottom of the pool (the deep end!) and hold it there. “The ball would never stay buried for long. It belonged on the surface. Despite our best efforts at holding it under, its emergence back on the surface was inevitable.” (p. 34) Now keep that image in mind.
Ken Fong grew up in a Christian home, studied biological sciences at UC Berkeley, and then as he puts it “I gave in to the crazy notion that the God of the universe was calling me to be a pastor.” (p. 36) He went to seminary and for twenty five years has been pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of LA in Rosemead, CA. Early on (in college and seminary) he submerged the issues raised by evolution, leaning on young earth creationism, but struggling inwardly. “Looking back, it’s clear to me now that my primary issue wasn’t the veracity of the science as much as the veracity of the Bible. Whenever I sensed that the Bible’s authority was at risk, I would unleash a barrage of attacks against the threat to discredit and dismiss it, and I would submerge the disturbing thoughts and feelings in the deep end of my mind.” (p. 35)
A turning point came a few years later.
A pastor I served with had also been a life science major. One day when no one else was around I asked him if he believed in the theory of evolution. “Sure, well, at least within species. But I will never say that from the pulpit. When I’m preaching, I will always promote young-earth creationism and intelligent design.”
I stammered on. “But, if you actually see evidence for God using some forms of evolution, why would you never talk about that?”
Confidently, he replied, “Because I don’t want to confuse people.” (p. 37)
Ken Fong continues …”I ultimately decided that I was going to surface my doubts and embrace solid science, even if it cost me.” (p. 38) He has found it possible to preach, even from Genesis, in a way that honors both the veracity of scripture and the age of the universe.
The doubts will surface. More importantly, the strain and damage that comes from holding them under the surface is costly in its own right.
The turning point incident related here struck me because I think it highlights a problem in our churches, one that impacts the discussion of the relationship between science and Christian faith, as well as many other issues, including the occasional contradiction, inconsistency or anachronism in Scripture. When did the fig tree wither? Did Abraham really have camels? Did God make man before or after the plants and animals? And many more. None of these hit at core issues, but they do cause problems for some approaches to scripture as the Word of God. I have had occasional e-mail conversations with Christians who have been disturbed by such questions as these, but even more deeply disturbed by the realization that the complexities are well known among Christian scholars, but never to be discussed in the church. It is considered more important to present a simple clear story. Complications are brushed under the rug (or given brush-off answers, Cain married his sister, Satan buried the dinosaur bones, and such …)
But the doubts and questions will surface. Perhaps they surface more readily in our increasingly secular or post secular world. Where information galore is only a click away. There are plenty of people eager to point them out to the unsuspecting Christian. It is important that we deal with all of these questions honestly in the church. Not always from the pulpit, perhaps. But honestly and openly, and in the church, in a forum where it is possible to enter into discussion.
Two questions to finish – both concerning stories.
First, what story should we be preaching in the church?
In telling this story, is it necessary to gloss over the complexities to avoid “confusing people?”
Second, what is your story of struggle (or not) as you reflect on faith and science?
How have you grown in your understanding of the relationship between Christian faith and science?
Next week I’ll dig into a few of the other stories in more detail.
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.