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A Plea to My Shepherds

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February 27, 2013 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Stephen Ashley Blake. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

A Plea to My Shepherds

Note: Originally posted January 25, 2010.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m deeply troubled by my fellow conservative evangelicals’ skepticism – even hostility – towards much of modern science, and believe that barring change, this disposition will prove spiritually catastrophic to our children and grandchildren, who are today being taught that assertions of an ancient universe and macro-evolution are unequivocally incompatible with the Cross of Christ, and tomorrow will enroll in universities that powerfully demonstrate the integrity of these scientific claims, thereby setting the stage for devastating crises of faith for countless thousands of young believers.

That said, I genuinely empathize with those who are reluctant to abandon traditional theological concepts for newer, still- developing ones. Given spiritual leaders’ biblical mandate to protect their families and congregations against error, a responsibility for which God will hold them strictly accountable (James 3:1), I respect their refusal to expose their flock to ideologies they regard as conflicting with the Word of God.

I further understand pastors and theologians’ resistance to tethering theology—which is meant to provide a solid epistemological foundation—too closely to that intrinsically dynamic endeavor called science. All humans need ideological stability, perhaps especially so with respect to spiritual matters. Recognizing this, pastors rightly ask why they should abandon or substantially revise an internally-consistent systematic theology that has served the church with relative stability for many hundreds of years. Science, on the other hand, is a realm for adventurers, groundbreakers, and ideological athletes intent on not just polishing or expanding today’s body of knowledge, but shattering it when necessary. Resounding with the jousts and clashes of competing ideas and arguments, and the stunning reversals of ideas once widely held, science often appears to be a messy–even tumultuous–business. Spiritual shepherds are insistent that the epistemological dynamism that necessarily characterizes science never become the mainstay of the Christian experience, which must be fundamentally stable and dependable. They see wisdom in maintaining a safe distance between the Church and the choppy waters of science.

The question, then, is whether the waters of scientific thought, particularly with respect to the age of the earth and evolution, have sufficiently smoothed out to warrant conservative thinkers’ taking a deeper look. Of course, the catch-22 here is that this can’t be answered without actually embarking upon an expedition of exploration and investigation, much as I recently did. Once undertaken, however, the conservative explorer will likely be confronted by a formidable problem:

As I can personally attest, navigating the crowded forum of wildly-differing ideas as to how to resolve the faith-science divide can be terribly daunting. Making this especially disconcerting for the conservative is the sobering reality that amidst the chorus of conflicting theories, one finds very little substantive published input from respected conservative theologians. As a result, the conservative seeker is sure to find herself awash in an ocean of seemingly novel theological “solutions” that are fundamentally antithetical to her evangelical sensibilities. This is likely to result in the impression that there is in fact no way to reconcile the findings of modern science with the key doctrines of orthodox Christianity, and hence the termination of the endeavor. Not only was this dynamic a constant challenge to me, but has proved a stumbling block to many would-be seekers that I personally know.

Whence then change? I believe the breakthrough will begin with a particular subgroup of conservative evangelical pastors, elders, and theologians. I know firsthand that there are many who, truth be told, have not been entirely at peace with their fellow conservatives’ summary rejection of—and apologias against—the findings of mainstream science. They have a gnawing sense that devastation looms for the Church and her children unless detachment yields to engagement, and rhetoric to substance. These have likely admitted to themselves that despite stridently asserting anti-evolution/old-earth views, they actually don’t understand these views in depth (nearly every conservative pastor and elder I’ve spoken with has conceded this). To date, these shepherds and thinkers have remained silent about their misgivings, reluctant to be perceived by their congregations and peers as betraying true Christianity. Given the astonishing fruitfulness of modern science and the comparative barrenness of young-earth creationism, I believe these evangelical leaders may now finally regard themselves as justified in stepping forward and publicly questioning whether the latter is in fact the view that a truth-revealing God would have His people believe.

Indeed, if I may, I would exhort these, my fellow conservative evangelical shepherds and thinkers, to set aside all reticence and fear, emerge from anonymity, and storm the forum of discourse, engaging this most pressing matter with vigor, equanimity, and humility. In doing so, know upfront that there will be few handrails to guide; you will not be building upon an extensive precedence of published conservative thought. Rather, you will be pioneers, with the open prairie of contemplation and consideration before you and the Word of God as a faithful, orienting star. The journey will be at times confounding, often scary, and never without challenge. Yet only through such robust, self-critical analysis will you find yourself in a posture where God can correct and refine all that He would, and only after which will you be able to pass on to your flocks a cogent, truly harmonious portrait of our Lord and His Creation that finds rich consistency between His written and natural revelations. I firmly believe that the fuller, more deeply informed portrait of the Lord and His universe that emerges from this investigation will fill your congregations with an unprecedented new sense of awe at our beloved God as Creator, and profoundly enhance their worship of Him. This has certainly been the result of my own journey.


Stephen Ashley Blake is a filmmaker and President of Realm Entertainment in Los Angeles. After making his mark as a music video Director and independent feature and television Director of Photography, he is now gearing up to produce a slate of motion pictures of a variety of genres that tell powerful stories from a distinctly Christian worldview.

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Steve - #3589

January 29th 2010

Martin,

I see that our posts crossed.  Just a brief word about your last entry:

Certainly, God can do whatever He wants whenever He wants, and the events of Genesis 3 can indeed be literal.  My point is: Which interpretation more perfectly depicts both God as He has revealed Himself to us in the totality of Scripture, and which is more consistent with the ontological reality that we grasp here in our universe (which God superintends and calls on us to examine)?

continued…


Steve - #3590

January 29th 2010

...continued:

There is a tremendous difference between these competing views: One offers a beautiful consistency between God’s Word and that which we learn by exploring His creation; the other simply does not.  To the one who would say to me that the young earth/anti-evolutionary view also offers a beautiful consistency between the two, I would say that I am actually willing to be corrected.  However, I would need to be shown how this “true” position has in reality (beyond apologetical lectures and sermons) actually born real and invaluable scientific fruit.  Show me plainly how God is in fact richly prospering young earth science and proving the old earth/anti-evolutionarily view to the misleading lie that it is said to be, and I will revise my position.  But the key is: This needs to be demonstrate that go beyond beyond theory, rhetoric, apologias, and sermonizing.  It’s simply not enough for scientific theories to be proffered; credibility requires real fruit.

Steve


Steve - #3594

January 29th 2010

Martin,

Pardon the rushed, error-riddled clunkiness of my last post.  It’s been wonderful conversing, and I wish God’s blessings on you, your family, and your endeavors!

In Him,
Steve


Denis O. Lamoureux - #3595

January 29th 2010

In response to #3464

Dear Mr. Arago,
I don’t expect people to agree with me, but I would appreciate that they at very least describe my views accurately.

First, I do not hold a chair in science and religion. I hold the first tenure track position in Canada. I am not sure if you understand the academic world, but this is not a chair.

Second, regarding my purported “flip-flopp[ing].”  My views on intelligent design have been static since 1980, when I became a Christian. My hermeneutics of Genesis 1-11 have been the same since 1986, after I completed a masters degree on these biblical chapters.  And my views on biological evolution have been the same since 1994, toward the end of a PhD on evo-devo. By anyone’s standards, that’s not flip-flopping.  That’s called “growth,” which occurs after one opens the Book of God’s Word and the Book of God’s Words . . . something it seems you have not done.

It never ceases to amaze me how fundamentists like you read whatever you want into my work. Maybe a course in remedial reading is in order? These are offered at high schools in my city.

Regards,
Denis

Denis O. Lamoureux DDS PhD PhD
Associate Professor of Science & Religion
St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta


John VanZwieten - #3620

January 29th 2010

From Dr. Lamoureux’s website, I’m sure he meant to say “the Book of God’s Word and the Book of God’s Works,” i.e. nature.  Very helpful stuff in his lectures and handouts, by the way.


beaglelady - #3622

January 29th 2010

...Very helpful stuff in his[Dr. Lamoureux’s] lectures and handouts, by the way.

Amen to that, John!  I would like to add that his book Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution is excellent.


Gregory Arago - #3623

January 29th 2010

Montes,

Thanks for your fair responses. I won’t answer Denis if he persists in being impolite.

Perhaps the term flip-flopper was strong. D.L.’s position *has* shifted several times, from atheist to evangelical YEC, to PC, to TE, to EC. Some may call this ‘growth;’ others may call it regress. The most important thing is he’s found his home on a Rock of Ages!

Maybe D.L. could have ‘progressed’ from TE into ID? He & others here of course disagree. He’d know a lot more @ INFO if he’d turned the other way!

“I’m confused about what you mean about letting evolution run wild into an ideology.  Are you implying that the human-social world does not evolve?” - Montes

You’re on the right track here. & yes, I’m asserting that the human-social world does not ‘evolve’ like it is ‘mere biology’. It changes, but the changes are predominantly guided, goal-oriented. In human-social sciences, which are more complex than biosphere, we call this ‘development.’

Denis need have little to say about ‘human-social change,’ I agree.


Martin Rizley - #3627

January 29th 2010

Steve, One further thought.  As a non-specialist in the field of science, I realize that it is difficult for me to judge the relative merits of the different arguments used by creationists and evolutionists to defend their interpretations of the data in the natural world.  Therefore what influences my interpretation of the Scripture more than anything is not the data of science, but what I believe to be the perspicuous meaning of text in keeping with authorial intent.  I know this about mainstream science—that it has a prior commitment to interpret all the data found in nature according to uniformitarian principles, using Occam’s razor to “shave off” any explanation of phenomena that involves appealing to supernatural forces as “special pleading.”  This bias against the supernatural is what makes me suspicious of the competence of mainstream science to give a fully accurate picture of a world which the miracle-working God created.  Since God is known to have intervened supernaturally in the past, how can any scientific method which refuses to consider the possibility of supernatural causation be considered Christian?  (cont.)


Martin Rizley - #3629

January 29th 2010

(continued)  I know that the very methods used by creationists in studying the data are anathema to mainstream science precisely because they abandon strict methodological naturalism (in this, ID proponents share in the opprobrium of the mainstream scientific community).  It does not surprise me, therefore, that creation research has not advanced further than it has since its inception.  Given the lack of funding for such research and the widespread animosity of the scientific community to the whole endeavor of seeking explanations of natural phenomena that appeal to realities found outside of nature, what would you expect?  Consequently, I can’t help but wonder if, given more adequate funding and more time, creationist researchers might not develop a more comprehensive model for explaining the data than they have at the present time.  Meanwhile, as a pastor, I still see my calling as that of expositing the teaching of Scripture according to the perspicuous intent of the human authors, without being unduly influenced by fallible scientific theories of any sort that might be overturned in a hundred years time as new data or better interpretations of the data come to light.  At least, that’s where I am now.


Steve - #3638

January 30th 2010

Martin,

I appreciate your commitment to expositing Scripture as faithfully as possible, and understand that per James 3:1, you will be held to account for having done so (or failed thereof).  I recognize that as long as these claims of science don’t persuade you, you would be patently irresponsible to proclaim them as God’s truth.

That said, let me take a departure and ask you this:

With your current faith-science perspectives, is there enough of a tension within your thinking with respect to even the potential credibility of the claims of evolution and an old universe that if, hypothetically, there were some sort of national evangelical conference called for pastors and elders at which these issues would be deeply explored and discussed, would you be likely to attend?  And for that matter, is there anyone else reading these posts that might consider attending such a conference?

(Again, this is completely hypothetical and self-generated; I have no formal affiliation with BioLogos.  But inasmuch as I’m eager for conservative evangelicals to begin deeply and probatively engaging this matter, and I’d like to somehow gage what interest in such an event might be among our numbers.)

continued…


Steve - #3639

January 30th 2010

...continued:

Incidentally, regrading your comments about science’s slant general towards uniformitarian assumptions: Even as I began my own journey of exploration, I was aware of this, and was prepared to use it to discredit certain conclusions wherever necessary.  But what actually persuaded me that God really is showing us that He created gradually via an evolutionary process were the astonishing evidences (primarily within genetics) for which I found anti-evolutionists have no satisfactory explanation whatsoever (the issue of pseudogenes is just one glaring example).

By the way, if you haven’t already done so, I would highly recommend reading Darrel Falk’s excellent Coming to Peace with Science, which in my view is, particularly for evangelicals, one of the most concise, intuitively written, easy-to-read explanations of the cumulative evidences for an old earth and evolutionary processes.  Whether or not your views ever change, you would certainly walk away from the read with a solid understanding and appreciation for these spheres of modern science.

Best wishes.

Steve


Martin Rizley - #3650

January 30th 2010

Steve, I would be interested in attending the type of conference you propose, depending on the cost, location, and scheduling of the conference.  Personally, I think such a conference would draw more people if well-informed representatives of diverse viewpoints were allowed to interact with one another, to give their personal stories of how they arrived at the views they now hold, and why they see their views as totally compatible with belief in orthodox Christianity and the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.  That is why I commend the Biologos website for allowing Dr. Stephen Meyer to publish a full response to Darrell Falk’s review of Signature in the Cell.  I think that is the right approach—to allow for real dialogue on these issues between outstanding representatives of differing viewpoints.  The cause of truth can only be served by such dialogue, since truth never has anything to fear from error.  “Naked truth is too hard for armed error” (Francis Burkitt).  Let me also respond to your statement that “as long as these claims of science don’t persuade you, you would be patently irresponsible to proclaim them as God’s truth.” (cont.)


Martin Rizley - #3651

January 30th 2010

(continued from above)  In response, let me say that, even if I personally found the claims of evolutionary science persuasive, in my opinion, it would be wrong of me to proclaim such views from the pulpit as “God’s truth,” for two reasons:  (1) first,  the only thing that preachers are ever called to proclaim dogmatically from the pulpit as “God’s truth” is the Word of God, and I take the phrase “the Word of God” to be a reference to God’s special revelation—that is, the inspired words of Scripture (what Psalm 19 calls “the law of the Lord“).  Scientific theories are based on general revelation, and therefore, do not constitute a part of that verbally inspired Word which preachers are called to exposit and proclaim as God’s infallible, divinely revealed truth.  I am not denying, of course, that a preacher may affirm from the pulpit his personal belief in particular scientific theories based on general revelation; if he does so, however, he ought to clarify that his personal belief in those theories does not form part of the verbally inspired message that he is called to exposit and proclaim dogmatically as God‘s Word to the people   (continued)


Martin Rizley - #3652

January 30th 2010

(continued from above)  Second,  if a preacher affirms from the pulpit any scientific theory as true in his opinion, he ought to be able to demonstrate why acceptance of that theory does not cancel out the clear and perspicuous meaning of the biblical text.  That is very easy to do when it comes to the theory of heliocentrism (for which there is overwhelming evidence), since everyone can see how biblical language can be “phenomenological” in character, yet still be literally true; but I find it impossible to do in the case of evolutionary theory, since to accept that theory, you have to give up so many clear teachings of the Bible—the special creation of man, the divine order of creation (the man being created before the woman, on which Paul bases the doctrine of male headship in marriage and male leadership in the church), the unity of the human race as descended from “one blood,“  the historic fall of man, the doctrine of original sin, the historic flood, which Peter says confirms the certainty of Christ‘s second coming and the final judgment, the division of languages at Babel, etc.  That is a high price to pay for the acceptance of any scientific theory.


Steve - #3704

January 31st 2010

Martin,

I respect your pastoral stand, and appreciate your exploration of this matter via BioLogos and in these posts.  Please pardon the discursiveness of and redundancies in this post; I’m dashing off church and redundancies and am therefore going to briskly extemporize…

If I may, I’d like to get your personal take on the following:

Let’s say that we are currently indeed in a catch-22 scenario, in which the reason you as a pastor couldn’t endorse evolution (or a view of scripture that would accommodate it) is that it would overturn several long-held doctrines without replacing them in a way that would appear biblically perspicuous, but that at the same time the reason that there is little by way of truly satisfactory theology is that conservative evangelicals are generally not publishing thought to this matter.  In your view, how should this catch-22 be resolved?  Would it would serve the conservative evangelical community if pastors and theologians were to more concertedly - and openly - explore and investigate the matter both scientifically and biblically, with an eye to actually determining whether there is in fact a deeply satisfying, biblically perspicuous theology to lay hold of?

continued…


Steve - #3705

January 31st 2010

...continued:

What about the children of evangelicals who are being taught from the pulpit that evolution can’t possibly be true, but are slammed with overwhelming evidence at university and find themselves at a crisis of faith (by the way, the same phenomenon has happened with many adults I have known who have endeavored to actually read up on evolution, and found themselves staring at a truly robust, very well substantiated theory - something they had been utterly unprepared to discover)?  Since these peoples’ opinions are formed by instruction they receive from pastors, and since God doesn’t seem to be in the process of shutting down this line of inquiry (i.e., evolution) anytime soon, how should pastors best and most responsibly prepare their congregations for this tension that many are certain to face, so that tension does not become crisis?  I’d be curious to know if you find yourself in agreement with those pastors who, when teaching on Creation, emphatically and categorically rule out evolution (I don’t ask rhetorically; I’d like to know your view)?

continued…


Steve - #3706

January 31st 2010

...continued:

Let me momentarily suspend my firm belief that God is in fact clearly showing us that He employed evolutionary processes to create us, and ask, “hypothetically”: What if we are indeed in one of those many “interim” periods that the Church has historically faced, in which God is indeed going about fine-tuning our understanding of His Word and of doctrine?  Of course, as was evidenced at Nicea and in the Galileo/Church matter, these transitions of understanding rarely seem to be “neat handoffs,” in which the former view neatly segues into the newer, fine-tuned one once all of the epistemological ducks are lined up.  It seems to me that these transitions tend to be inheritantly difficult, and often painful.

continued…


Steve - #3707

January 31st 2010

...continued:

Given these historical realities, what if we are indeed in one of these recurring interim periods?  How should pastors be preparing their flocks for this possibility (after all, again, the evidence for evolution just keeps getting stronger, as did the evidence for a heliocentric solar system)?  And in your view, could it be truly responsible for pastors to take the hard-line stand before their congregations that there can never and will never be any revision of the anti-evolutionary perspective, as if God had never before redirected the church in such substantive areas?  (I know this is a sensitive matter and I’m sort of putting you on the spot with this question, but I would genuinely like your take on this.)

Martin, thank you for entertaining these questions; I would really like to get your thoughts and hear whatever else you might have to say about this.

Have a rich Lord’s Day!

Steve


Gregory Arago - #3709

January 31st 2010

Hi Steve,

If you’ll excuse me jumping in on your conversation with Martin, there is indeed already much ‘Christian’ thought on these issues. The need to seek *only* ‘evangelical’ voices seems disunifying. Do you not seek unity?

“It seems to me that what we would all agree on is that irrespective of how God made man, at some point in time He imbued that which was unconscious and amoral with consciousness and morality.” - Steve (3480)

Yes, this is exactly the point Martin is raising. You say ‘imbued,’ but biological scientists don’t. There’s the rub!

I asked: “do you set any kind of ‘limit’ on the concept of ‘evolution’? Are there things in your mind that simply do not ‘evolve’?” (3475)

You have not responded to these questions.

Heartily I support your desire to reconcile science with faith. They are not necessarily opposed to one another. Please recognize, however, that ‘universal evolutionism’ is a great challenge to religious faith!

Naming ‘things that don’t evolve’ opens a new door to help ‘put science in its place’ and thus to recover the importance of philosophy and theology as knowledge sources.

Some ‘evolutions’, but not *all* evolutions. Where do YOU draw a line?


Gregory Arago - #3713

January 31st 2010

Martin wrote (3501):
“to accept that [evolution] theory, you have to give up so many clear teachings of the Bible—the special creation of man, the divine order of creation (the man being created before the woman, on which Paul bases the doctrine of male headship in marriage and male leadership in the church), the unity of the human race as descended from “one blood,“  the historic fall of man, the doctrine of original sin, the historic flood, which Peter says confirms the certainty of Christ‘s second coming and the final judgment, the division of languages at Babel, etc.  That is a high price to pay for the acceptance of any scientific theory.”

Accepting ‘biological evolution’ requires giving up what?:

Special creation of man - No. Creation in an evolutionary scenario, cf. Lamoureux.

Man created before woman - Yes.

Unity of humanity - No. But polygenesis challenges this.

Historic fall of man - No. Covenant ‘man’ is he/she who ‘falls’.

Original sin - No. Doctrine comes much later.

Historic flood - No. But was it local or global or regional or…?

Division of languages - No. ‘Evolution’ is NOT an explanation of ‘origin.’

To Martin: when is it possible to read Genesis with a non-literal interpretation?


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