The Sorrows and Joys of Teaching Evolution at an Evangelical Christian University

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August 24, 2012 Tags: Education

Today's entry was written by Dennis Venema. You can read more about what we believe here.

The Sorrows and Joys of Teaching Evolution at an Evangelical Christian University

As I settle into the lecture, only I really know what is coming a mere few PowerPoint slides hence. The class is an upper-level course in genetics, and the topic is changes in chromosome structure. Starting with fruit flies as an example, I sketch out comparisons between closely related species for which complete genome sequences are available. Students learn about the evidence for chromosome fusions and fissions, the reordering of genes along chromosomes in different lineages over time (an issue of synteny which we have discussed before), and how these lines of evidence support the hypothesis that the various fruit fly species we observe in the modern day derive from common ancestral species in the past. Perhaps my using of the genuine estimates for speciation dates raises a few eyebrows, since “millions of years” is something of a byword for some antievolutionary groups, and fruit flies have been separating into new species for tens of millions of years. Still, it’s pretty clear that this isn’t really rocking anyone’s world: they’re all just fruit flies, after all, and I like to talk about them, since they’re the organism I do my research on.

After the “information dump” using the fruit fly examples, it’s time for a class discussion/application before the students drift off too much. Ok, here’s a slide that shows the chromosome structure of a group of organisms that other lines of evidence suggest are part of a group of related species. What do you observe? Do you think these species are related? If so, what explains the differences you observe?

What the students don’t know is that the slide shows human chromosomes, and those of our closest living relative, the chimpanzee. Oblivious to this knowledge, they easily arrive at the correct answer: yes, the evidence is strong that these are quite recently diverged species, and that a chromosome fusion or fission event explains the differences in chromosome structure between them. When I tell them that every other species in this grouping has the higher chromosome number/structure, they correctly deduce that the species with the lower chromosome number should show evidence of a fusion event in the form of “telomere” sequences at the fusion point and an inactive “centromere” at the location suggested by comparison to the other, related genome.

Easy.

As I look around the room, I see the students are satisfied. I cover some difficult material in this course, and the students are obviously pleased that this topic is so easy to handle. The lines of evidence are easy to follow, and it’s easy to predict and test one’s hypotheses. Then, only after they’ve seen the evidence at least once without the baggage that will inevitably come, I ask them if they know what two species they’ve just compared.

As a biology professor at a primarily undergraduate, evangelical, liberal arts and sciences university, I have the profound privilege of teaching the principles of evolutionary biology to a variety of students, both biology majors and non-majors. As one might expect, teaching this subject matter at times engenders controversy, crises of faith, anger and fear in students (and others). These types of sorrows are relatively well known and have been discussed here on BioLogos by several authors. Yet there are also great joys associated with teaching evolutionary biology in a Christian setting, and in this post I reflect primarily on these as a counter-balance to the more frequent stories of conflict and struggle.

The sorrows …

Lest anyone think that this post is an attempt to present an overly-optimistic or whitewashed view of teaching evolution in an evangelical setting, let me acknowledge and affirm that the pain that many (yes, most) evangelical students go through as they learn about evolution is substantial and real. I have had too many long conversations with students caught between their faith communities and the science to deny this reality. I have seen students struggle with their faith, close their minds to the scientific evidence, and even resolutely declare that no amount of evidence would ever be enough to convince them that evolution is real. I have seen anger, hurt and fear. I have seen students willing to discard the nearly the entirety of modern science in order to maintain a particular anti-evolutionary view.

For me personally, the most difficult circumstances to watch are students who feel torn between the evidence and their faith. In some cases these are extremely bright students, who easily see the strength of the evidence, but feel the need to remain unengaged and uncommitted because they fear a backlash from their churches, or (especially) their parents. While an evangelical university can be a wonderful, safe environment for students to explore these issues, that environment doesn’t follow them home. These struggles are painful to watch, and I’ve spent more than a few hours in prayer for students facing them.

… and the joys

Yet for all these issues, I thoroughly enjoy teaching evolution at an evangelical university. Of course I do not enjoy the anguish it can produce for some of my students – far from it! Fortunately, conflict and emotional turmoil are not the whole story, and many evangelical students report that learning about evolution was a valuable, enriching experience, regardless of their views after the fact.

One of the things I enjoy most is that teaching evolution is never dull in an evangelical setting. My students might snooze through a class on cellular respiration, or be tempted to surf Facebook when they should be applying their reasoning skills to problems in genetics, but whenever evolution is the topic I have everyone’s full attention. Whatever else, evolution matters. That intensity of student engagement is invigorating, and the students feel it too. Regardless of where students ultimately decide to “land” on the issue, many report that they enjoyed the process – the exchange of ideas, the discussions and debates, and the new understandings gained.

In addition to the electrifying interest the topic holds for evangelical students, learning about evolution is also by nature a multidisciplinary enterprise and opportunity for personal growth. Students are not merely gaining a larger perspective in biology, but fitting that new understanding into their knowledge of Scripture, church history, and their own faith journey. Often in class students will contribute what they have learned in other courses to the discussion: courses dealing with the setting and context of Genesis, courses on church history, and courses on hermeneutics and exegesis frequently are drawn upon. It is for this reason that I feel learning about evolution in a Christian liberal arts university is one of the very best places to do so, providing the institution treats the topics fairly. In this setting, resources are available for all of the questions that evolution engenders for Christians, not merely the scientific ones. Moreover, faculty are generally able to assist students with resources that address these extra-scientific issues, and provide a safe and non-judgmental environment for students to learn. The ability to learn what can be faith-shaking material in a setting surrounded by professors committed to the academic and spiritual growth of their students can make all the difference. To be sure, this environment can be one of personal turmoil for students, but with that turmoil comes a rare opportunity for intellectual and spiritual growth in a way that other areas of biology simply cannot provide.

Many of my students, regardless of whether they ultimately accept or reject the evidence for evolution, report that they have grown spiritually through their learning process. Contrary to popular opinion, in my experience most who do come to accept the evidence for evolution also report this growth. They feel closer to God, not further from Him. They feel that they have a deeper appreciation for, and understanding of, His creation. They feel that their faith is now more their own, rather than merely that of their parents. Most importantly, they feel free: that they need no longer be afraid of evolution, but celebrate it as the mechanism by which God has populated His world with “endless forms, most beautiful.”

Seeing students experience that freedom is something that one cannot test on an exam, nor encapsulate as a teaching outcome – but it is a deep joy of my teaching career.


Dennis Venema is Fellow of Biology for The BioLogos Foundation and associate professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. His research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signalling.


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Alan - #72175

August 24th 2012

Nice post!  I was a YEC from about birth to 23, an OEC from 23 to about 36, and now I have been an “evangelutionist” (my own homemade portmanteau for “evangelical evolutionist” : D ) for about two years.  Since I was older and more grounded in my faith than most Christian college kids when I moved into the EC “camp”, I probably didn’t have as much of a struggle as they do, but I definitely spent many weeks and months reading, thinking and praying (and honestly, I probably spent too much time reading and thinking and NOT ENOUGH time praying; perhaps my struggle would have been a little easier if I had spent more time speaking to my Savior about it!). 

After the Lord brought me throught the valley, however, I did find that my faith was stronger for the struggle.  In particular, I found myself much more confident than ever before that the case for atheism was weak.  Prior to being an EC, I had read “The God Delusion” by the request of my very close, atheistic/agnostic cousin.  Due to my personal reading in apologetics and theology over the years, I found many of the arguments Dawkins put forth to be rather weak; but I harbored the suspicion he and other atheists might just be right about evolution, and if evolution WAS right, then maybe Christianity was a sham.  This made me very fearful to read any books that might defend the theory of evolution, because I honestly feared that if I read them, I might end up being convinced by them, and losing my faith in the process; and let’s be honest - that was a legitimate fear, considering how many people HAVE lost their faith after accepting evolution!

Well, trying to keep this story as short as possible, one day it dawned on me that by purposely avoiding reading the case for evolution, and reading ONLY anti-evolution books by Hugh Ross or Jonathan Wells, I was ignoring the wisdom of the Biblical proverb that states “the one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”  I resolved to read Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True”, and found myself saying “Uh-oh”. 

But after much more reading (of writings by Ken Miller, F. Collins, Gordon Glover, BB Warfield, John Walton, to name a few) and pondering things in my mind (and prayer!!), it finally became clear to me that evolution in NO way disproves the existence of God or the truth and inspiration of the Bible.  And since I had previously always thought that evolution was really the strongest weapon in the atheist’s arsenal, now my fear was overcome.  After all, if it turned out that in fact evolution, while true, can not at ALL be legitimately used to disprove God, then what I thought was the atheist’s strongest weapon turned out to be nothing more than a decoy!  Ergo…my faith is stronger now…praise the Lord!  : D


Francis - #72178

August 24th 2012

“it finally became clear to me that evolution in NO way disproves the existence of God or the truth and inspiration of the Bible.” – Alan

Does the truth and inspiration of the Bible matter if one can’t be sure what the truth is that the Bible is conveying?

The book of Genesis, especially its first two chapters, has been much discussed on this website. Lots of attention given to verses about “days” and “death” and what the inspired truth might actually be about these things.

I just now thought of a couple other Genesis verses which to date have received little if any focus:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.” Gen 2:1-2

A straight-forward, rational reading of these words leads unavoidably to the emphasis on completion – completion of creation.

However, if God used evolution as his creative vehicle and evolutionary scientists say evolution is on-going, then doesn’t that mean that

1) God is still working on creation, that his creative work is NOT finished, and that

2) A straight-forward, rational reading of Gen 2:1-2 is in fact very misleading?

 

I’ve heard preachers say that Scripture is “perspicuous”, that is, clear and easily understandable. Certainly, many here would argue with that position.

But regardless, how many other verses does the Bible contain which might mean the exact opposite of what a straight-forward, rational reading would yield?


Joriss - #72179

August 25th 2012

Also these verses from Hebrews 4 confirm what Francis is saying:

3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,
“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”
although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way:   “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.”


Merv - #72188

August 25th 2012

Francis, you wrote:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.” Gen 2:1-2

A straight-forward, rational reading of these words leads unavoidably to the emphasis on completion – completion of creation.

 

Francis, isn’t this God’s work?

Psalm 139:13  “For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb.”    The psalmist goes on (in very present tense) to praise God for his present works, affirming Job’s sentiments on the same thing (in Job 10). 

 

Francis wrote:

However, if God used evolution as his creative vehicle and evolutionary scientists say evolution is on-going, then doesn’t that mean that

1) God is still working on creation, that his creative work is NOT finished, and that

My reply:  Yes

 

2) A straight-forward, rational reading of Gen 2:1-2 is in fact very misleading?

My answer:  Yes    (though I quibble with your editorial word “rational” if that is used to defend only the modern way reading our questions into such a passage.)

Francis wrote:

I’ve heard preachers say that Scripture is “perspicuous”, that is, clear and easily understandable. Certainly, many here would argue with that position.

I reply:   Indeed!  The Scriptures themselves give accounts of many misunderstandings and misapplications of the law and the prophets, not to mention disciples misunderstanding Jesus himself.    Was Jesus less perspicuous than the Bible in your hand?  Yet he even tells his disciples that he expects many will not understand his parables.  (Matthew 13:10…)

His disciples are told that they are the blessed and understanding ones who finally get to see what so many before them did not.  But while we eagerly consider ourselves as part of this now enlightened group, we should read on to see how clueless these ‘understanding’ disciples were about much of what Jesus said.  They had to have parables explained to them.  (And they, unlike us, were right there in the same culture with its native idioms and stories from which Jesus drew and taught).   So anybody that says the Bible is easy to understand needs to prayerfully pick up a Bible and begin some real study.

Francis asked:

But regardless, how many other verses does the Bible contain which might mean the exact opposite of what a straight-forward, rational reading would yield?

I reply:   Quite a few, apparently.  “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth ... but I tell you…”   Or Peter got this one:  Do not call unclean what I have made clean.   The Kingdom of God isn’t referred to as the ‘upside down kingdom’ for nothing.  It turned a lot of stuff on its head (including former understandings that were taken to be handed down from the law and the prophets.)  We want everything stated plainly to us (as the disciples asked of Jesus at one point).  But real study and struggle means work:  Much poring over Scripture, much pondering of God’s continuing work, much prayer, and exchange with other believers (Christ’s body), and finally after all that ... a humility that we may still not have it right and certainly still don’t know it all in any case.

-Merv

p.s.  Thanks for your link back earlier, reminding me of a previous post of yours with some of your own story.  At the risk of asking something you may have already answered there (though I couldn’t find it) I was curious to see you state that while the Catholic church hasn’t pronounced on this [origins] subject yet, that when it does, it will surely be right.  (or words to that effect)  Did I misunderstand something?  I thought that Pope John Paul II did essentially refer to evolutionary science as being more than a weak theory, and that the Catholic church had accepted evolution; or was that not official?  Even the current pope seems to have written favorably about it.  But I’m not a Catholic, and you apparently very much are.   Could these rocks upon whom Jesus is building his church be considered wrong by you? 


Joriss - #72192

August 25th 2012

Merv,

What does it mean then that God’s work was finished from the foundation of the world? Heb. 4:3
Of course God’s work is going on today and will go on forever I suppose. And Jesus said somewhere: my father is working up till now and so am I. (He healed a man on the day of Sabbath).
But I think that the work Genesis is talking about and Hebrews is referring to as finished, is about creation.

That the law of works that brought judgement was replaced by the law of the Spirit of life which pours love in the hearts of people, was the great change that Jesus gave; the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. So “an eye for an eye” was replaced by: love your enemy”.

But I don’t see relevance for the work of creation God did and finished at the foundation of the world. The Hebrews epistle was written after this great change, but still refers to this finished work of creation.

So also psalm 139 is not relevant to this matter imo. If this would be an indication that creation was still going on, why would the bible ever have said that creation was finished? Of course the author of Gen. 1 knew as well as the author of psalm. 139 that new babies were formed in the mothers’ wombs, that life was producing life as a work of God’s hands and that in that sense, creation was and is continuing every day.
The creation that was finished seems to me the coming into being ex nihilo of all the material of the universe, the earth, the biolgical world, the first living creatures. That’s also what Hebr. 11:
3 is referring to.

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of  things that are visible.


Francis - #72194

August 25th 2012

Merv,

Francis, isn’t this God’s work? Psalm 139:13 “For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb.”

No, this is not the work of creation. This is speaking to the reproduction and growth of the original creation.

Perhaps this may sound blasphemous to some, but I’d say God did not create my body. He created the first humans and their reproductive systems which led to me. He willed that I would come to life and knew when and where I would. However, this would just be a playing out of “a game” He created long ago.

 

“Francis asked: But regardless, how many other verses does the Bible contain which might mean the exact opposite of what a straight-forward, rational reading would yield?I reply: Quite a few, apparently. “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth ... but I tell you…” Or Peter got this one: Do not call unclean what I have made clean. The Kingdom of God isn’t referred to as the ‘upside down kingdom’ for nothing.”

I see nothing necessarily “upside down” about Scripture and God’s kingdom. Nothing is inherently wrong with “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Do you think God sinned when He commanded the Israelites to wage war, real blood and guts war? These things are representative of God’s justice, and he wanted the Israelites to reflect His justice. What’s more, His justice ultimately will be much more severe than losing an eye or tooth or earthly life. He’ll send people to an eternity of punishment, and for doing things that many today feel should be OK. No, nothing is inherently wrong with these things. They’re just not the best way, the way of mercy. For our God revealed He is not only a God of justice but also a God of mercy. (I pray for God’s mercy more than for His justice.)

Both “an eye for an eye” and merciful forgiveness are good. But the progression of Revelation showed the latter is better. And we’re called to get better, to put it mildly (cf. Mat 5:48).

So, no, I don’t see your examples as fulfilling my hypothetical (i.e. Bible verses which mean the exact opposite of what a straight-forward, rational reading would yield.).

 

“Did I misunderstand something? I thought that Pope John Paul II did essentially refer to evolutionary science as being more than a weak theory, and that the Catholic church had accepted evolution; or was that not official?”

Yes, you misunderstood something. Pope John Paul II recognized “evolution as more than an hypothesis”. As you know, a hypothesis is the earliest, least compelling stage of the scientific process. If scientists come up with some scientific support for how and why the hypothesis could be true, then the hypothesis graduates to a theory. Some theories are better than others. Alchemy was at one time considered a theory.  

 

“Could these rocks upon whom Jesus is building his church be considered wrong by you?”

Absolutely. Not everything that issues from the mouth of any priest or any bishop is necessarily true or true Catholic teaching. Even if the Pope tomorrow declared that he thinks anthropomorphic global warming is true, I’d say sorry, Benedict, I think you’re wrong. And he would agree I’m within my rights as a Catholic to disagree with him on this, something which might be considered a prudential judgment. When a “rock” speaks, it’s necessarily true only when it fully comports with historical, official Church teaching (e.g. the Catechism).

 


Merv - #72196

August 25th 2012

Thanks, Joriss and Francis.

I do think it is pretty straightforward in Scripture that God is still working and creating, but I won’t argue the point too much, Francis; because for one thing Joriss asks a good question that I am far from sure with any answer.  I can only speculate, Joriss; but it seems to me that the seventh day is symbolic of an eternal and escatalogical time.  And depending on how one views omnipotence and predestination, the future could already be seen as having been laid out and complete even if from our perspective it hasn’t happened yet.  All this to say, I don’t know what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote that phrase or what God wants us to understand from it (other than that “entering God’s rest” is a good thing and we should fear falling short of that as the exodus Israelites did.)

But I do maintain the conviction that God is still working (as you also mentioned, Joriss) and I don’t try to make the distinction as you do, Francis between his later and earlier creative work.  But I can appreciate (if not agree with) the distinction you see in the earlier work as special in an ex-nihilo sense. 

It’s good to hear you can keep leadership opinions at an arm’s length when you need to, Francis.  I guess the Catholic schools pretty much took the Pope’s affirmation as official permission since they go ahead and teach it.

Regarding things being turned upside down—my point was not that God did a complete “about-face” on something (though some could do a good job of arguing from Scriptures that He did exactly that); I am just challenging any preacherly notion that Scriptures are clear and “perspicuous” by pointing out that smart people in the past have read the same law and come to opposite conclusions.  The Pharisees were pretty clear that you don’t work on the Sabbath (and I’ll bet they could cite chapter and verse).  Jesus retorted that his father continues to work so therefore he works too.  (John 5:17)  Just for one example.  Or they tried to test Jesus with “can a person get divorced” (because they knew full well that Moses had permitted this).  But Jesus pretty much nixed the accepted attitude on that one too.  And bring it to our time (now with New Testament in hand) and we can still find disagreements over what Scripture permits or endorses regarding say ... “how much allegiance do I owe any particular government?”  Some cite Romans 13 and have no problem even bearing the sword, wearing the uniform with a sense of Christianized honor.  Others say they owe the government no such allegiance when it commands them to do things Christ would not do.  (I’m a Mennonite  —-probably the worst of the bunch as far as you Catholics were concerned; we weren’t just mere reformationists, but among the ‘radical’ remformationists at that!   Which puts me in the latter camp of that last example.)  But we all read the same Bible more or less.  Obviously a lot of Scriptural details are far from clear or we wouldn’t have such a brouhaha over it all.

-Merv

p.s.  I’m glad so many enmities have been mended in the last centuries.  My sister and her husband were relief workers in Haiti in the eighties and had a very good working relationship with the Catholic priest in their village.  To hear my sister describe it, the Mennonites and Catholics had a lot of respect for each other there.


Dunemeister - #72197

August 25th 2012

We all need to be reminded that the bible says exactly what we want it to say because the human heart is, at bottom, self-deceived and mired in sin. That’s why we need three elements: the bible, the church/tradition, and the Holy Spirit. Evangelicals in particular (but not only them) tend to pronounce a tad too confidently about what the bible says/means without paying much attention to what saints of yesteryear (e.g., most importantly, the patristic writers) said, not to mention what rival traditions currently say. We tend to uncritically support certain writers/pastors, making them a kind of magesterium. Much better, I say, to lay our assumptions aside for a while and really listen to other people. We might learn something and, God be praised, repent just a little bit deeper and inch just that much closer to a better resurrection.


wesseldawn - #72218

August 27th 2012

Well then, it would be a cruel God that asked us to follow commandments that we were incapable following!!

And what does that say of God? It presents Him as a mean, smug, overbearing, pompous dictator! 

How can we “obey” God and escape damnation if we’re self-deceived and so cannot apply by faith the knowledge of how Christ made propitiation for our sins?


Jon Garvey - #72198

August 25th 2012

Merv

Maybe some light on the 7th day - the Genesis 1 creation account is about God commanding chaos into shape. I’d argue further that it’s about his designation of the whole cosmos as his temple with mankind as his priests and viceregents, but the first sentence is sufficient for my argument.

Then, on the 7th day, having subdued the chaos (tohu/bohu) he comes to occupy his temple and reign unchallenged over his creation. Sabbath rest is a dynamic concept - not at all incompatible with God’s continuous sustaining and renewing of creation as in Psalm 104 (note v30’s use of “bara” = “create” in particular). That’s why Jesus said “My Father is working to this very day,” and why the creation has been seen by all branches of the Church since early times as a combination of past and present activity of God. Note also there’s no room for a set-it-and-forget-it view of creation here either: God’s reign is active and involved throughout. He’s a king, not a constitutional monarch.

A good parallel to that active idea of rest is the story of King David, who having finally subdued the Philistines etc was given rest from his enemies by the Lord - it didn’t mean he was no longer active in reigning (or in his case, unfortunately, in sinning).

This isn’t the place for it, but that idea of sabbath makes sense of all the sabbath teaching in Scripture: the strict regulations of the Law, Jesus’s apparent relaxing of them, his Lordship of the Sabbath, the future Sabbath rest of Hebrews, the nature of the “rest” we have in Christ ... very rich theology indeed. It also leaves room for a process of evolution, as distinct from a once-for all job in the past, to be compatible with the doctrine creation, though it needs to be fully shaped by that doctrine.


Merv - #72200

August 26th 2012

Amen, Dunemeister.  And when we inevitably fall short in the new opinions we form after careful listening and consideration, Christ still welcomes us with our pig-headed flaws.  Thank God for His grace sufficient.

Good morning, Jon  (at least it’s morning on this side of the puddle.)

I’ve heard that Sabbath explanation before and it sounds very sensible to me though I don’t know it well enough to articulate it like you did.  Thanks.

The 30th verse in Psalm 104 that you mention ... are you saying that is the same Hebrew word (‘bara’) as was used in Genesis 1?    I don’t have any Hebrew lexicon in front of me or the skill to use such, but that sounds like a gem.  Its plain English translation “they are created” means enough to me.  I’ve probably heard that verse mentioned in this context before too, but I had forgotten about it.  Thanks for the reminder.

-Merv


Jon Garvey - #72203

August 26th 2012

Hi Merv - afternoon here at present.

Yes, it’s “bara” OK. A few other interesting uses of the word are:

Ps 51.10 - a clean heart

Isa 43.7 - everyone called by God’s name

Isa 54.16 - blacksmiths and destroyers

Amos 4.13 - wind (present tense - interestingly paralleled with a present tense of “form” for mountains: that puts plate tectonics under his control).

Walton points out that its use is primarily functional rather than material, which is why it is also used of people groups; of Jerusalem; righteousness, purity and and praise - so even in Ps 104 it’s better to understand it as God’s restoring the order and utility of life to the beasts through his Spirit having reduced them by “hiding his face” to the unproductiveness of death, rather than in the sense of manufacturing them as objects or mere organisms. Both are God’s active management to renew the face of the earth.

But all these uses indeed show that God’s ongoing work of creation is not incompatible with his sabbath rest on the 7th day.


wesseldawn - #72205

August 26th 2012

To me it’s nothing short of cruel that Christian students are taught certain things at home only to end up in university and suddenly be confronted with evidence that directly contradicts those beliefs. 

The unchanging God that the Bible speaks of would not have conflicting ideas.

Evolutionary evidence can pretty much speak for itself, which obviously must mean that the teachings the students were getting prior to university were wrong!


Merv - #72206

August 26th 2012

If I am correct to take Walton’s ‘functionality’ approach as meaning this [creation] is a past (and present) function of God, then that seems a sensible way to avoid getting caught up in definitional squabbles about what form or material method must be involved.  After all I can just imagine the farmer Amos, if he were around now reading all this saying:  “Jumpin Jehoshaphat, fellas!—I was just saying God made (and makes) all that we see around us, so we better mind him!  I had no idea I was entering your future science debate.”  (have to guess at their interjections since Amos couldn’t very well have said “Gees, fellas!” —although on the other hand he was a prophet!)

Thanks for the other examples as well, Jon.

Wesseldawn, it seems to me the cruelty would have its sharpest edge present when anybody (family or university) uses their interpretation of creation issues or Scriptural understandings as the mast to which they lash themselves and their children/students.  I.e.—if this ship sinks, we’re going down with it.  Christ is the one person for whom we should reserve such an abandon of self, but I think a lot (most?) of us add a lot of accretions to that core of our faith (Christ) and end up having undue allegiance to an accretion that may crumble off at a later time.  Then what is anybody else to do?   If something turns out not to be true, then the best love to offer may be to, as gently as possible, try to untie the cords dragging them away.  But if we know Christ, then whatever our particular or faulty take on other academic issues may be, those should all fade away when at the end we cling to Him who we know.

-Merv


wesseldawn - #72217

August 27th 2012

Merv,

If something turns out not to be true,

The students’ dilemma is not that their ideas are found to be wrong - but rather that God is found out not to be true!!

Do you have any idea how truly shocking that would be, especially to people that are very dogmatic!! I don’t care how gentle you or anyone else is, it’s still cruel!! I have read of Christian university students having committed suicide because the shock was just too much to process!

God will not be inconsistent at any time. It’s this aspect of God’s unchanging nature that is continually ignored on this site!


Jon Garvey - #72208

August 26th 2012

Merv - the interjection of choice seems to be “So do Yahweh unto me and more also…” Like functional creation models, that seems a bit more alien to us than Jumping Jehoshaphat!”


Merv - #72209

August 27th 2012

So it would be (really).  I was adding a bit of interjection humor with the notion of how Amos might respond to us in this discussion if he were here using our English idioms and exclamations. 

But your serious response rightly highlights the depth and import of the prophet’s exhortations to stubborn audiences of his (and our) time.

-Merv


Francis - #72214

August 27th 2012

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” –St. Jerome

“ it seems to me the cruelty would have its sharpest edge present when anybody … uses their interpretation of creation issues or Scriptural understandings as the mast to which they lash themselves and their children/students … But if we know Christ, then whatever our particular or faulty take on other academic issues may be, those should all fade away when at the end we cling to Him who we know.” – Merv

If Merv is right, then

1) Are we in essence sinfully wasting our time here?

2) Shouldn’t we be spending our precious and limited time on truly important matters, such as knowing Christ?

 

How does one come to know Christ?


wesseldawn - #72219

August 27th 2012

Francis,

I would agree with St. Jerome, though not his interpretation of scripture.

The usual method is “us” instructing God (and the reason for inconsistency), rather than God instructing us.

So many people think they are lead by the Holy Spirit but inconsistency still results (Evangelicals can’t agree with each other). The evidence that God is not in it is inconsistency.

God is big enough to explain Himself without any help from us whatever! Afterall, He is all-powerful!! Let God explain Himself through the process of finding repetitive information (all verses that speak of a particular subject), and you will be shocked by what God says.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #72215

August 27th 2012

Joriss wrote,

What does it mean then that God’s work was finished from the foundation of the world? Heb. 4:3
Of course God’s work is going on today and will go on forever I suppose. And Jesus said somewhere: my father is working up till now and so am I. (He healed a man on the day of Sabbath).
But I think that the work Genesis is talking about and Hebrews is referring to as finished, is about creation.

Hebrews is talking about the “Sabbath Rest” as a theological concept and not about a six day creation.

How many of you who take Genesis 1 literally celebrate the Jewish Sabbath?


wesseldawn - #72220

August 27th 2012

Evolution is really anti-God as natural processes are (and have been throughout the ages) self-propogating/sustaining.

Even though I think it’s a smokescreen kind of effect I don’t mean that evolution (natural selection, adaptation, etc.) is evil per se because it’s simply the way things work. I mean in the evolutionary sense that God is not needed.

It would therefore, be counterproductive to mix religious theology into this very physical process as students are often shocked by the physical evidence that is contrary to their previous thinking.


Merv - #72225

August 27th 2012

Francis wrote:

1) Are we in essence sinfully wasting our time here?

2) Shouldn’t we be spending our precious and limited time on truly important matters, such as knowing Christ?

My reply:  On (1); knowing Christ is / should be the center of our focus.  The way to do this then is by using every avenue the Spirit has opened to us.  That includes revelation (study of scripture—and maybe even direct spiritual revelation, though that must always be checked through other avenues including scripture to make sure it really is the Spirit and not just us.)  It includes mediation and prayer, interaction with others of the body of Christ (the church), and it includes study of God’s creation.  All of these are ways for us to grow closer to Christ.  But if we become too focused on any one or two of them to the exclusion of others, then we may have lost our central focus that this is/should be about Christ.  And knowing Christ doesn’t mean inactivity in the world ... in fact it means we will certainly be sent actively into the world.

Regarding (2)—yes.  And to do that means, perhaps, engaging in discussions just like this one with other believers.  Hopefully not a waste of time (at least I don’t think it is for me.)

-Merv


Merv - #72227

August 27th 2012

Now that I posted, I notice my answers are not clearly delineated between answering your #1 and #2, but was more of one whole rambling answer.

Also—I didn’t copy or manufacture some official ‘checklist’ on how to know Christ.  That list will surely not be exhaustive, but was just a few things that came to my mind as a short response here & now.  I probably should have included ‘learning from authority’ which for Francis probably includes the vatican and other Catholic authorities, and for most of us would include local and regional church leadership (folks who presumably have formal pastoral training.) As well as learning from extra-biblical or patristic writings that others here have already been referencing.  The point is ... focusing on just one (even if that one is Scripture) will, imnsho, prove inadequate to really know Christ.

-Merv


wesseldawn - #72228

August 27th 2012

Merv,

I agree that one scripture is insuffient to base an entire doctrine on. The Bible says there must be “two or three witnesses” but the witnesses (I’m not speaking with any kind of Jehovah’s Witnesses intent) must be “God’s” words (collective, as in all “corresponding” verses).


Francis - #72229

August 27th 2012

“That’s why we need three elements: the bible, the church/tradition, and the Holy Spirit.” – Dunemeister

 

That almost sounds Catholic!

The Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ, has three pillars: The Bible, Sacred Tradition, and the magisterium (teaching authority). Each of the three is in agreement, never in conflict, with the other two. All three are needed.


Dunemeister - #72264

August 29th 2012

Roman Catholic “magesterium” assumes that it is always right when it makes doctrinal pronouncements and anaethematizes all who demur. So its main problem is its inability to correct errors in judgments. But there have been many such errors (true of all denominations, by the way).

That’s why I recommend substituting the magesterium pillar with the pillar of the Holy Spirit. Magesterium and tradition have got it wrong many a time (and as we all know, the bible contains contradictions, historical and scientific errors, and many an obscure passage). The only thing the church truly has to lean on is Jesus, the Son of the Father, and the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father. By submitting to the Son in love and the Holy Spirit in humility, we can look back on our tradition and “magesterium”, notice where the errors have been made, and make corrections.


Merv - #72236

August 28th 2012

Thanks for that response above, Eddie.  Charitable words are always a welcome touch of grace even (no especially!) when you yourself don’t entirely agree with the person you defend.

-Merv


Merv - #72237

August 28th 2012

Regarding our prior discussion -I remember when our Sunday school class was discussing the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” which has at each of its corners:  Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience.  My first reaction to that was ... Where is the Spirit?  But then it occurred to me that it would be inappropriate to put the Spirit in one of four corners as if it must compete with the other three.  Because in fact, if the Spirit is not undergirding (in fact supplying) all four of those things or if any of those four becomes devoid of the Spirit then it is lost anyway.  I suppose one could say the same for church involvement since church authority is not explicitly listed there unless one sees that embedded in tradition.  I think a healthy Spirit-led church is active in all four of those corners too, however.  So the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated the call to recognize the variety of avenues the Spirit can use to get through to us.

-Merv


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