In this series, we’ve covered a lot of ground discussing the science of evolution – how evolution works as a theory in the scientific sense, the multiple lines of evidence that support it (from biogeography to genetics to paleontology and more), and how evolution, like any good theory, continues to expand out from a largely settled core into frontier areas. As such, I hope that it has become clear why many Christians accept evolutionary biology as the best scientific explanation for how God brought about biodiversity on earth.
Unfortunately for most Christians who accept evolution, understanding the science is only part of the equation. The reality is that holding to an evolutionary creation view is likely to be a source of significant friction with fellow believers who view creation differently. Though the number of Evangelicals who accept evolution is growing, the majority of the evangelical church still rejects evolution, thinking it to be shoddy science, atheistic in nature, and contrary to proper biblical interpretation. As such, those who hold to evolutionary creation are often viewed with suspicion, thought of as “compromising” on Scripture, and at times even viewed as not really part of the church, but rather wolves in sheep’s clothing.
For the average Evangelical, accepting evolution comes with a whole lot of grief – and though things are improving, it looks as though this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. In the interim, what is an evolutionary creationist to do? For me personally, Paul’s admonition to “speak the truth in love” frames my thinking on this issue – that there is a need to speak out truthfully on these matters, but love and a desire for Christian unity must be foremost when doing so.
A time to speak…
In many cases it’s easier to remain silent than to speak up. Perhaps someone makes an offhand comment at your weekly Bible study about how evolution is ridiculous, or your church recommends books that promote an anti-evolution view. It’s a lot easier to let those things go without engaging them. For some believers it would almost be impossible to object, even charitably, to these situations – perhaps they are new believers with little standing in the church, or young people who dare not contradict an elder or a pastor. It also depends on the church setting – if one’s church adheres strongly to an anti-evolution view, these sorts of conversations are, of course, going to be more difficult.
For those of us with standing in a church setting, however, it is important that we engage on these issues. Are you a pastor? Discuss from the pulpit how there is a range of views on creation among genuine believers, and, if your setting permits, include evolutionary creation within that range. Are you an elder or respected, long-time member of your congregation? Encourage your pastor and other leaders in your church to become better informed about science in general, and perhaps evolutionary creation in particular. In so doing, you are creating space for those in your congregation who accept science but are not confident enough to voice their views. You are also creating awareness that there are Bible-believing Christians out there who accept mainstream science – even evolution – a fact that can be incredibly valuable for Christians who learn about the strength of the evidence, and might otherwise feel that they have to choose between science and their faith.
Standing up for evolutionary creation, in whatever way appropriate for one’s church setting, also has the effect of drawing whatever condemnation there might be onto oneself, and away from those members with less standing. It is easier by far for a member with less standing to say they agree with a certain elder or other respected leader than it is for them to take a stand on their own. In this way, speaking the truth can be an act of love for others who lack the means to take a stand alone. And if – despite one’s best efforts – there is conflict, the ensuing discussions that take place can be an opportunity for modeling gracious dialogue with those we disagree with.
…but always in love
Of course, in our truth-speaking, speaking in love and desiring unity are paramount. We are called to love and be patient with those who disagree with us, even as we need their love and patience in return. Consider the early church, and the divisive issues they faced – the issues of Gentiles following the Jewish food laws, circumcision, and the like. Paul knew that division over these issues threatened the unity of the church, and he was passionate about not letting secondary issues divide that unity and compromise the gospel. As I have written in another setting, I see parallels between those issues and the ones we face over creation:
These were issues that threatened the gospel by bringing division and separation where God desired unity. Not unity of opinion, but rather the unity of sitting together and eating the Lord’s supper as one people of God, despite holding differences of opinion on disputable matters. For Paul, that unity cut across all social classes that divided people in his day – slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female – and he was not going to allow secondary issues to undo what God had done in Christ and through the Spirit. Such division would hamstring the church and raise an unnecessary barrier to those outside the faith.
For me, I see similar themes with the evolution – creation discussion. Is it an important issue for Christians to discuss? Yes. Does the issue serve as a catalyst for a wide-ranging discussion on exegesis and hermeneutics? Certainly, and that in and of itself can be very healthy. Is it acceptable for believers to hold either opinion and be within the people of God? I would say yes. It is my conviction that the mechanism by which God created is an issue of secondary importance compared to the underlying primary issue of holding God as the Creator and sustainer of all things. As a secondary issue, then, the only danger is making one of the options an essential, and dividing over it. Is it a problem if my brother or sister at church is a YEC [Young-Earth Creationist]? No. Is it a problem if I won’t share fellowship with them because of their views? Absolutely. Our difference of opinion on the mechanism of creation is not a gospel issue, but breaking fellowship over a secondary matter is a gospel issue. It hinders the love and fellowship that we are called to be known for, and raises an unnecessary barrier to those who would consider joining us.
In closing, consider the words of Paul to the Ephesian church. Though our situation is different, and far removed from that of the Ephesians, Paul’s admonition is no less relevant to us.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Eph. 4:1-6 (NIV)
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