INTRO BY DEB: Some readers will already know Greg Cootsona from his leadership in bringing scientists and churches together in the “Scientists in Congregations” initiative. He is a scholar and former pastor with a heart for reaching one of the most important audiences for BioLogos: emerging adults. And now is the project director of a new initiative aimed at emerging adults. If you have a great idea on how to reach 18-30 year olds on science and faith, I encourage you to apply to this new grants program hosted by Fuller Theological Seminary. Below, Greg answers some questions about this new project, and tells how to apply.
BioLogos: What is the STEAM Project? What’s the story behind Fuller Seminary and the John Templeton Foundation getting involved?
Greg Cootsona: “STEAM” stands for Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries. It’s a project for ministries targeted at 18-30 year olds (emerging adults), which offers grants of $10,000-25,000 and subsequent training in integrating Christian faith and mainstream science. For a number of years, I have been in discussion with Drew Rick-Miller and Paul Wason of the John Templeton Foundation (JTF) about their Religious Engagement’s Science for Ministry initiatives. STEAM fits JTF’s charter of engaging religious communities (and thus churches); emerging adults represent a key demographic in the strategy of integrating religion and science and to use JTF’s phrase, “increasing spiritual information.” As I began to write the proposal for this project, I realized that Fuller Theological Seminary has amazing resources with their Office for Science, Theology, and Religion Initiatives (STAR), which includes Justin Barrett, Rebecca Dorsey Sok, and Brandi Weaber, as well as the support of their president Mark Labberton.
BL: What has contributed to your passion for helping others understand the intersection of science and faith?
GC: I come to this intersection as a theologian who wants to grasp, to fullest extent possible, the truth and mysteries of Christ. As John Calvin commented, “If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.” Truth brought me receive Christ as a first year student at UC Berkeley (yes, that should sound like an oxymoron), and God’s truth is what continues to compel me. That’s why I’m constantly researching contemporary science and in conversation with scientists. Science brings insights and discoveries that have enhanced, sometimes challenged, and ultimately complement my theological and pastoral work.
BL: Why emerging adults as the focus of this project? Why not produce resources for all ages?
GC: Because I first confessed faith at age 18, I have a passion for emerging adults. They were always part of 20 years of church ministry (both in New York City and in Chico, California), and are now essential in my teaching in a public university and through Fuller. That’s also why it’s the focus of the STEAM project. Nonetheless, this topic is certainly relevant for all ages, which was true for my previous grant project, Scientists in Congregations, which ran from 2011-2014. Nonetheless, engaging the Gospel with science is critical because, according to Barna's David Kinnaman, one primary reason that one-third of 18-30 years olds are leaving the church is that it's seen as "anti-science". Finally, on the topic of resources, in addition to what will appear in the future on the STEAM website, I should note that I have just signed a contract with InterVarsity press for a book, Emerging Adults, Christian Faith, and Science, which will essentially present an overview of the Whys and Hows of STEAM.
BL: What does the STEAM Project hope to accomplish? How can young adult ministries benefit from the project, even if they are not involved?
GC: This may sound a bit grandiose, but we hope to change the conversation. 69% of emerging adults don’t buy into the conflict model of science and religion and want the two to get along (see this blog post for more on that). STEAM hopes to catalyze projects in emerging adult ministries that will have a wider impact in the culture generally and in the church specifically. Emerging adult ministries not involved in the project can certainly learn from the STEAM through the website (as I noted above), and, we hope, through involvement in future conferences, any additional resources we will produce, and perhaps future grant projects.
BL: What is the ideal applicant for a STEAM Project grant? Can you point to any examples?
GC: There are two paradigmatic applicants: a thriving college ministry that’s part of a congregation and a parachurch ministry at a college or university. As examples, in the “planning grant” project for STEAM (called SEYA), Ashley Byrd facilitated some small group discussion groups on science and faith using the Faraday Institute’s Test of Faith DVD resources through the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Columbia University, and a similar project with post-college emerging adults was headed up by Abby McHugh at Menlo Church. Having said that, I realize there may be other, entirely fundable ministries that don’t exactly fit these paradigms.
BL: If someone wants to apply for this project, what are the steps they should take?
GC: Go to the website (http://thesteamproject.org) to read about the grant and apply! It requires some key items like formulating a two-year project with an emerging adult ministry, putting together a leadership team (including a science professional), creating a budget, and most of all, truly caring about the integration of faith and science. It’s important to note that we knew many potential applicants wouldn’t be familiar with the world of grants, and so we made the application really simple. Finally, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 626-304-3766. We are happy to help!
BL: The project homepage discourages applicants from dealing with “advocacy” issues, which include “Intelligent Design” and “creationism”. Yet these issues are often the ones that are most difficult for emerging adults—which is partly why BioLogos exists. What was your reasoning behind this limitation?
GC: One crucial component of our grant is to engage mainstream science. As I imagine most of readers of BioLogos materials will know, ID (or Intelligent Design) and creationism (especially young earth creationism) have not convinced the vast majority of the scientific community. At the same time, we aren’t focusing solely on the interface of evolutionary science and the doctrine of creation—though that will often be a topic with our grantees—but on all the ways that science and faith interaction. For example, can a college ministry set up the conditions in which science majors or those going into science-related professions can be encouraged and sent in their work as a calling from God?
BL: If churches and young adult ministries could do one thing to better address science and faith, what would it be?
GC: Wow! Just one thing? How about one phrase which might have three components? Here’s my attempt: Bring mainstream science to church, create communities that discuss the integration of faith and science, and there God will be revealed. The pursuit of science is really just an extension of our appreciation of the natural world which “declares the glory of God,” to cite Psalm 19. As Francis Collins (no stranger to BioLogos!) put it so well, “I find that studying the natural world is an opportunity to observe the majesty, the elegance, the intricacy of God's creation.” So we bring “science to church” because it’s part of discovering the glorious world God created. This conversation needs to happen in community because—as both Scripture and science indicate—we are created in relationship. And ultimately, in this pursuit, we will find God.