My friend and colleague Jim Stump is a highly valued member of the BioLogos staff, serving as our Content Manager since 2013. He is an active scholar in the philosophy of science and the author or editor of several articles and books, including editor of the Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity. At BioLogos, he has communicated our message to evangelical audiences with warmth and clarity, convened key scholars to write on important topics for our blog, and held a central role in our ongoing dialogues with Reasons to Believe and Southern Baptist scholars. During this time, he has also continued his work as a Professor of philosophy at Bethel College in Indiana, where he is an award-winning teacher. Jim recently resigned from Bethel in response to changes in policy there. He plans to continue in his BioLogos role.
Bethel College is affiliated with the Missionary Church denomination. The denomination’s Articles of Faith and Practice include the line “We believe that the first man, Adam, was created by an immediate act of God and not by a process of evolution.” Until recently, Bethel faculty have not been required to subscribe to the views of the denomination, but to a separate, brief faith statement. After a few years of discussion between the college and the denomination, the Bethel Board of Trustees approved a new policy on June 9, stating that the denomination’s view on Adam “should be advocated as the official, meritorious, and theologically responsible position of the College, without disparagement.” Because of this change in policy, Bethel faculty may no longer advocate for, nor do scholarship supporting, the view that God used an evolutionary process to create the first humans.
We at BioLogos are disheartened by this decision. It put Jim in the painful situation of having to choose between the scholarship to which he feels called and the academic community to which he has belonged for decades. We are deeply aware of the challenges of discussing human origins in an evangelical context. We also respect the Board’s right to set boundaries on that discussion at their institution. Yet we are concerned that a decision like this effectively sets faith commitments in opposition to clear scientific evidence in God’s creation. We would like to see Christian colleges encouraging their scholars to engage the scientific evidence that humans evolved, and acknowledge that this can be done without letting go of biblical authority. The issues are complex and interdisciplinary, so the evangelical church needs to hear the insights of many Christian philosophers, biologists, theologians, and other scholars. We are also concerned that Christian college students, especially those who feel called to scientific careers, will see policies like this as a sign of conflict between Christianity and science and feel forced to make an unnecessary choice between them.
For many Evangelicals, the evolutionary creation position is unfamiliar and even seems impossible—they see no way that a person could love the Bible without rejecting evolution. But at BioLogos, we do not see evolution as inherently atheistic. We love the Bible and we make the case for evolutionary creation: that God used the natural process of evolution to create all of life’s diverse forms, including humans, as supported by abundant genetic and fossil evidence. This position is in harmony with the teachings of the Bible and Christian doctrine. For example, there are multiple ways that the biblical accounts of Adam and Eve can be understood in the context of this scientific evidence, including as real historical people. And even though God used the natural mechanisms of evolution to create humans, he also made us spiritual beings and established a unique relationship with us by endowing humans with his image.
Despite the regrettable change in policy at Bethel, there may be opportunities for continued conversation. The stated commitment of the Bethel Board and the Missionary Church is that faculty and students should explore all aspects of General Revelation, especially in the classroom. The new policy makes a point of stating that “faculty are affirmed to teach any and all matters … including viewpoints which the college may not hold but which students may face in the future.” Thus, it appears that faculty may still tell students that some Christians see God using the process of evolution to create humans. Moreover, the statement specifically avoids putting restrictions on teaching about animal evolution.
On June 26, Bethel President Gregg Chenoweth and Jim Stump released a joint open letter to the Bethel College community. In Jim’s portion of the letter, he writes: “In considering this corporate commitment, I decided to resign from my position at Bethel in order to pursue alternate work, rather than remain under the new Statement and bring tension to the Bethel community.” Jim also writes that “many Bethel leaders have been extraordinarily supportive of me throughout this lengthy process.” President Chenoweth in turn affirmed Jim’s teaching and professionalism. Disagreements within the body of Christ are never easy and a painful parting of ways is sometimes required, but both of these men are to be commended for the gracious way in which they have worked through a difficult situation.
The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in the discussion of evolution and human origins in the evangelical world. Bethel College is only one of many Christian colleges and universities that are wrestling with how to address origins on campus. At BioLogos, we aim to be a resource for the church and the campus, presenting the evidence and arguments for evolutionary creation and providing online forums where all are welcome to ask their questions. There’s a lot at stake for the church in this conversation, not just in doctrine but in evangelism, discipleship, and the church’s impact in the public square. Jim’s departure is an unfortunate loss for Bethel College and its students, who will no longer be taught and discipled by this fine scholar and committed Christian. We all owe it to the next generation to keep engaging the evidence in God’s world, even the evidence for the evolution of humans, while upholding the authority of God’s word.