On Putting Our Hands to the Plow and Not Looking Back
BioLogos, unless we are careful, could evolve into a place for armchair philosophy. We could sit back in our comfortable chairs, coffee cups in hand, reading about biology, geology, biblical scholarship, theology, and the nature of science. We could dialog about this article or that blog and discuss ideas in a manner that leaves us feeling good about our intellect and frustrated with the intellect of those who can’t see it our way. BioLogos could easily become a sort of coffee club, where people drop in for a chat now and then, but have no real sense of urgency as they enter and leave the discussion chambers.
The fact is, however, that we in the BioLogos community are, above all else, followers of Jesus Christ. There is nothing pedestrian about being a follower of Jesus. We, all of us, are on a journey together and—because of who we are following—it is a journey like no other. There is nothing in this world that is more important to each of us than knowing Jesus personally. Our journey is also our reason for being and we believe that to know and experience life in Christ is to live life to the full—to live it abundantly.
I love the fact that a section of the gospel of Luke is placed in the context of the journey of Jesus and his followers to Jerusalem. As they travelled along, Jesus kept defining the parameters of what it means to follow him. The parameters were hardly pedestrian. No armchair philosophy, this, when in the ninth chapter of Luke we’re told:
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:57-60)
As the journey continues another man comes to him and says:
"I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (v. 61-62)
Further along, in the thirteenth chapter, we read this:
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. (Luke 13:22-24)
And, drawing closer to the destination, here is what we’re told in Luke 14:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (v 25-27)
Jesus was laying out the guidelines for each of us as we move through life together. Clearly this is not to be a pedestrian experience to be lived out virtually from the comfort of our armchairs. Life, we believe, is only lived to the full, when it is experienced in Christ. Although, grace is free, discipleship costs. It is the “pearl of great value” for which we give everything we own (Matthew 13:45).
To us in the BioLogos community it is with great sadness that we listen to a large group of very influential leaders seeming to tell people that Christianity stands or falls on the belief that the earth is young and that God created through a process that is instantaneous and not gradual. It is a travesty that young people who begin the journey of following Jesus are told that they have to believe something which, a little science education makes clear cannot possibly be the case. Jesus gave his life for these young people and he calls us to the same level of commitment. It is also a travesty that this barrier is placed along the roadside so that those who would otherwise love to join the journey end up staying by the wayside because they’ve studied the science or trust those who have. We in the BioLogos community have put our hand to the plow. No turning back. God calls us to stay focused for the task ahead.
There is a proviso however that must not be overlooked. Yesterday, Joyce and I called a very dear couple, friends who are now in the 80’s and in poor health. They get discouraged because of the pain and blindness that now encapsulate their lives. Sitting in a church pew is excruciatingly painful for her because of a badly deteriorating spine. For him, blindness has long since darkened his world; for seven years he has been deprived of that which brought him his greatest happiness—reading the Word of God. As we discussed their journey and what sustains them, they told us the name of the pastor who, through his radio ministry, serves as their source of inspiration, leading them on in their own journey to Jerusalem. The pastor who provides the spiritual nourishment that keeps them and hundreds of thousands others going leads a church known for its belief that the earth is young and that God has created through a process that is instantaneous and not gradual. My prayer is that his ministry might continue to thrive for the sake of this couple and the hundreds of thousands of others as they journey onward with Jesus to the New Jerusalem.
So God calls us in the BioLogos community to two tasks. The first is to help this leader and the hundreds of others like him see that they have one thing very wrong. Biblical Christianity does not stand or fall on the age of the universe or the mechanism God used to create life. The leaders themselves need not change their minds personally, but it is important that they stop telling people that biblical Christianity leaves us no choice but to discard scientific reality about past events. We in the BioLogos community have a second task and it is equally important. These leaders are shepherds, wonderful shepherds. They must be appreciated, loved, and sustained for their enormously important pastoral role in continuing to guide people in their own personal journeys as followers of Jesus. Their ministries, which provide such rich nourishment for others, must not fail. We need to work for the sustaining of these ministries.
So BioLogos is not armchair philosophy. It is a social movement to help the Church come to grips once and for all with the fact that people don’t have to choose between age of the earth and Bible-believing Christianity, nor between evolutionary biology and Bible-believing Christianity. How does a little band of people at BioLogos (there are only four of us who are full-time and five more who are part-time) catalyze change? The answer, of course, is that we can’t and we won’t on our own. The BioLogos community is growing rapidly. Growth is exhibited by the scores of people who have written blogs and scholarly articles on this site throughout the past sixteen months. It has grown through those who have participated in the BioLogos workshops for church leaders, for teachers in Christian high schools, for Christian college professors and others. It has grown through those who join in the conversation by engaging each other in discussion in our Comments section. And it has grown by fostering conversation at locations far removed from the internet. Together all of us need to sense the importance of the task. We have put our hands to the plow and we won’t look back. Given the importance of the task, we need to find new ways of building the BioLogos community so that the Church will finally accept that Christianity, biblical Christianity, doesn’t stand or fall on the age of the earth and how God created all of life. After all, how many people in your church have even heard of BioLogos? Not many, I’m sure.
The Church will change. But it must change by evolution, not revolution and the BioLogos community will, Lord willing, play a significant role in facilitating that change. This is the cross that we carry, this is the plow to which we set our hands, this is that for which we have no place to lay our heads, this is that for which we would even distance ourselves from mother, father, sister and brother if need be. The days of putting evangelicalism in a context that pits it against scientific reality about past events must end. We’re on a journey to the New Jerusalem and it is God who defines the parameters of what it means to take this journey, not the all-too-human shepherds who, although doing the best they can, don’t always speak for God.
Darrel Falk is former president of The BioLogos Foundation. He transitioned into Christian higher education 25 years ago and has given numerous talks about the relationship between science and faith at many universities and seminaries. He is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.