A Civil Disagreement

I recently received a copy of a new book courtesy of the publisher, Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation edited by Kenneth Keathley (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), J. B. Stump (BioLogos) and Joe Aguirre (Reasons to Believe). This is an unusual book – it isn’t a polemical defense of a view. The contributors, despite very real disagreements, regard each other as fellow Christians and treat each other as such. The book is a discussion (as much as a book can be a discussion) between individuals from BioLogos (Evolutionary Creation) and Reasons to Believe (Old-Earth Progressive Creation) moderated by Southern Baptist seminary professors (at least some of whom may hold a young earth view and all of whom represent conservative evangelicalism).

The book arose from face-to-face conversations between the participants over a number of years. (Jim Stump describes more of the background in a post Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation on the BioLogos blog.) These conversations move forward the best when we know and trust each other as human beings and as Christians.

The opening chapter by Deborah Haarsma (President of BioLogos), Hugh Ross (President of Reasons to Believe) and Ken Keathley lays the groundwork for the conversation in the subsequent chapters. I know Deb fairly well, met Hugh at the 2017 BioLogos Conference (Christ and Creation), and have had the opportunity to talk with Ken on a couple of different occasions including the first open BioLogos Conference in 2015. My meeting with Hugh was unexpected, although I knew that he would be at the conference (one of the breakout sessions was a conversation between Hugh and Deb) I did not know him by sight and sat next to him for lunch completely randomly. We had an interesting discussion and I thoroughly enjoyed the lunch. My conversations with Ken were also friendly and enlightening. This book should provide an excellent framework for discussion on this blog. I encourage you to pick it up and join the conversation.

Perhaps the best way to start this series of posts is with an excerpt from the introduction.

This book is not a traditional two-views debate. … Rather, this book’s purpose is to help lay readers identify science-faith issues, comprehend what the two organizations stand for, understand the nature of their dialogue and what the two organizations hope to achieve through it, and appreciate how they and the church at large can benefit from the conversation.

To ensure that this part of the dialogue between RTB and BioLogos does not veer from these purposes and that the two organizations truly engage one another, a team of Southern Baptist theologians agreed to moderate. Through initial and follow-up questions these theologians assisted the respective authors in developing their contributions to each chapter. They also provided theological commentary on the contributions.

Jesus declared, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:35) This love has not always been evident among Christians engaging one another on science-faith issues. The hostility and character assaults expressed by many creationists toward fellow believers have become a stumbling block for unbelievers.

A major purpose of this book is to demonstrate that two creationist organizations can strongly disagree with one another while still treating one another with Christian charity, respect, and a willingness to seriously consider the merits of an opposing position. Both organizations and the Southern Baptist moderators intend that this dialogue will serve as a model for how Christians can lovingly pursue reconciliation on this and other controversies threatening to divide the church. (p. 6-7)

A couple of points here. First, the idea that BioLogos and Reasons to Believe are “creationist” organizations may jar some readers. But all of the contributors agree that God created the world in which we live, that he did so intentionally, intelligently, and for his purposes. Creation is not on the block. The conversation is on the more subtle questions of science and theology.

Second, we live in a world where the response to disagreement is far too often to chew up and spit out the opposition. It is easier to attack, to ridicule and denigrate, than to listen, understand, and respond. True in politics, true in the church. We are called to be better than this. Most issues are not black and white – there are subtleties and complications. Even when the issues are clear, it is far more effective to listen and respond than to bludgeon and ostracize. Our witness is also more effective when we treat others well, in agreement and in disagreement. May we learn to practice patience and love and may our conversation expose non-Christians to Christianity.

Pick up a copy and join us as we dig into such issues as the nature of biblical authority, the original couple, death and natural evil, divine action, evolution, and human uniqueness. I’m looking forward to it.

What are your biggest questions about evolution and creation?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

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