Preaching science is all about bringing God’s revelation through creation into conversation with God’s revelation through the Bible in a co-illumining, mutually intelligible way.
Augustine said that, "Every good and true Christian should understand that wherever he may find truth, it is his Lord's."1 Martin Luther observed that, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.”2 John Calvin described creation as a theatre, filled with God’s revelation.3 Abraham Kuyper claimed that everything that exists was a thought in the mind of God before it ever came to be (and therefore has something to say about who God is).4 Herman Bavinck spoke of revelation extending to “the uttermost ends of creation,” and how creation and the Bible are meant to be read together, “General revelation leads to special [the Bible], special revelation points back to general. The one calls for the other, and without it remains imperfect and unintelligible. Together they proclaim the manifold wisdom which God has displayed in creation and redemption.”5
Preaching science has been a deeply compelling experience for me at my church. As I’ve preached on a variety of scientific texts over the years—radiation therapy, the knee, DNA repair mechanisms, the Giant Squid, the human microbiome, the theology of ice, neural stress reduction mechanisms, the biomechanics of a runner’s leg, river hydrology, honey bees, and much more—my congregation and I came to know God in ways we’d never imagined.
Through the death and resurrection of matter in supernovas, we better understood the cosmic scope of Jesus’ dying and resurrecting ways. Through the workings of epigenetics, we saw a biological context for God’s second commandment regarding the sins of parents being passed on to their children; we saw that he wasn’t capricious, but that he was giving us a heads-up about how our behaviors are heritable and that our parental choices impact future generations. Through the wildness of wolverines, we were introduced to God’s mysterious, risk taking, mountain-leveling, unstoppable nature.
Through each of these creation-based sermons, as they were preached alongside and through the Scriptures, God revealed himself in a deeper and more-present way.
If all things are made through Jesus,6 hold together in him,7 belong to him,8 and will one day be made new by him,9 then surely all things reveal something about who he is.
There is a long tradition among Christians of referring to God’s “two books”—the book of God’s word (the Bible) and the book of God’s works (creation). Both “texts” reveal something about God to us and merit careful engagement in the church.
Engaging science as a text had a profound impact on our church. Rather than starting with messages on the tensions between faith and science (evolution, origins, or ethics), we heard sermons that focused on God’s character through texts we already trusted (nobody had concerns with the science of tree branches, wound healing, or geophysics). Through these non-confrontational texts our community learned how to trust the language of science.
This way of preaching also honored scientists within our church. Their vocational gifts and passions were crucial for helping their faith community know God more. There was no way I could authoritatively preach on these complex scientific texts without their help. In order to preach science, the preacherhood of all believers is needed; science is best preached in community. While the research process was intimidating at times, it was also one of the most intellectually invigorating experiences of my ministerial life.
The process always began with me asking a scientist if they’d be willing to help me write a sermon based on their field of expertise. Once they got over their initial shock, most responded affirmatively—believers, agnostics and even atheists (faith status didn’t matter). Then I gave them a few exegetical questions (designed to unpack the essence of their research/work/scientific image bearing nature as scientists) and we’d schedule a meeting; two geophysicists at their downtown oil company, a University of Calgary hydrologist in his campus office and a former Oakridge National Laboratory molecular geneticist online.
Our meetings would always begin with the scientists responding to my exegetical questions, telling me what they loved about their scientific jobs (what was ‘just right’ about their research) and describing moments of ‘flow’ at work. As they spoke about what they loved, I’d take note of all of the ways they imaged God’s empirical, nature-loving, matter-mattering, data-sensitive, providentially-intervening, knowing-how-things-work, creation-naming ways.
When they described the nature of their field of study, I’d listen—with ears of faith. Holding the truths of the scriptures in mind, I would attentively wait for moments of connection—epiphanies where the scientist’s words connected to a particular attribute of God, a theological concept or some other facet of the gospel. When the epiphanies hit, I’d share them with the scientist:
As you spoke about how you discovered that mountains above the treeline store water like a bucket, and how that helps mitigate the effects of faster snow melts due to climate change, it made me think about how gracious God was to make mountains this way; tempering the impacts of our climatological sins.10
That self-regulating neural stress management mechanism you wrote about in your paper reminds me of how God said, ‘this far and no further’ to the raging torrent. Even as our brains have this built in mechanism to ‘turn down the noise’ and help with stress, God protects us and doesn’t let the waters overwhelm us.11
When you spoke about the deep joy you felt in being the first human being to ever see and begin to understand the nature of that protein, I had to wonder about the joy God must have felt when he came up with the idea of that protein in the first place! What do you think the healing power of that protein says about who God is?12
After sharing these connections with the scientist, they would inevitably pause and say that they’d never connected their faith and science in this way before. This was more than just an experience of awe, wonder or beauty. Scientific and biblical truths were co-illumining one another. They had the same author. Some scientists needed time to process this new data. Others were deeply moved. Even if they didn’t fully accept what I was saying, they were still deeply appreciative that a pastor would show this kind of reverence for the work they do, see the sacred in their lab and truly love what they love—what God loves.
Usually there would be one or two connecting epiphanies like these in our first meeting; more than enough for me to draft a manuscript. After running that draft by the co-researching scientist to double-check and edit my scientific facts, I would preach the sermon—often with the scientist preaching beside me.
It was in these preaching moments where things came together most eloquently; the Spirit synergistically enlivening and connecting God’s word in the Bible to God’s word in creation. Nothing was more compelling than those holy moments where everyone listening knew that the Author of both creation and the Bible was in the room. The God who made all things was recognized and praised for his work.
These sermons allowed those in our church to step into a new week with yet another scientific parable to hold in their hearts. Every time they’d walk by a tree they would be reminded of the plant science “remain-in-me” truths of branches. Whenever they’d pause and recall that their DNA was repairing itself trillions of times per second, they’d tremble at God’s amazing bio-grace. Looking into the night sky, now aware of the 30 supernovas that are occurring every second, they’d be humbled anew by Jesus’ universe-saving love.
It hasn’t always been easy. Honoring the complexities of science, alongside the scriptures, in a meaningful and applicable way—all within 30 minutes—can be a challenge. You learn quickly that you need to limit the scope of the scientific topic you preach about. You also learn to assign homework the week before a science-based sermon—a 10 minute video on how the human knee works, DNA repair, or the workings of hydrological system. You also learn that there are only so many science sermons a church community can absorb in a given year (6 in our experience). Despite these challenges, the blessings have been immense. The science sermons I’ve preached have been watched over 130,000 times. Last year I was able to teach a seminary workshop on preaching science (and other vocations).
While many in our church were blessed via the preaching of science, I think it was our scientists who were most profoundly impacted. Here are a couple of their responses:
The most beneficial part [of the process of preaching epigenetics]… was having the conversation itself. This is not something you get to discuss with colleagues or other people of faith… to go beyond the awe, and push myself to read between the lines was very important. Just like having an expert giving you a commentary on a book that makes you like the book more. – An Epigenetics Researcher
Having to actively wrestle to find out how God’s creation is represented in my work has been a very positive experience… having a theologian come alongside and provide the language to articulate my thoughts has been very affirming… [The] blending of disciplines is often where innovation occurs, because someone not trained in a certain area sees the value of something that no one else has before, since they are not constrained by a certain lens. For the Christian scientist, we need the lens of theology to see the beauty within our work, and shout “here, here is where God is. – A DNA researcher