The Importance of Gracious Dialogue in the Origins Conversation
A Southern Baptist theologian reflects on “why” and “how” Christians should engage questions of faith and science.
INTRO BY SENIOR EDITOR JIM STUMP: The book Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation? is the culmination of many years of meetings. These meetings were initially between just BioLogos and Reasons to Believe (RTB), and a separate dialogue was occurring between BioLogos and some professors at Southern Baptists seminaries (which generated a big blog series). By 2013, we decided to combine these two dialogues into one three-way dialogue. Ken Keathley played a very important role in this, connecting us with his colleagues and hosting us at his institution. I remember one pivotal point in the dialogue in which both BioLogos and RTB recognized that in order for a book project to move forward, we would have to submit ourselves to the leadership of someone outside of either organization. Ken was the obvious choice for this. He assumed the role of lead editor for the book, and performed this duty with distinction. I was very pleased to work with him on the project (as well as with Joe Aguirre, the RTB editor), and I’m proud to call him my friend. In this post Ken reflects on the process.
I consider it a great privilege to have taken part in the multi-year conversation between BioLogos, Reasons to Believe, and members of the Southern Baptist denomination. The meetings allowed me to foster relationships with evangelical scientists, theologians, and biblical scholars across the creation/evolution spectrum with whom before I had had limited contact. Deb Haarsma and Hugh Ross are genuinely delightful Christians, and so are the other folks from BioLogos and Reasons to Believe (RTB). This theologian enjoyed getting to rub shoulders with science-types.
Each of our times together began with worship, and a spirit of worship permeated the proceedings. This doesn’t mean we didn’t have times of intense and frank disagreements. On occasion, the conversations took me out of my comfort zone. This is a good thing. We endeavored to conduct the discussions with charity and patience and I think, for the most part, we succeeded. However, we were reminded at times that we have differences and disagreements that are very real and very deep and perhaps are beyond complete resolution. RTB has a narrower mission and doctrinal stance than BioLogos. This accounts for some of the differences between the two groups. However, other differences between RTB and BioLogos run deeper. A complete resolution to all these disagreements may not be possible. But the members of each respective organization have a real affection and appreciation for those belonging to the other. Both sides consistently manifested the love of Christ.
Southern Baptist (SBC) professors from four different SBC seminaries took part in the proceedings. During the sessions we posed the initial set of questions and moderated the conversation after the representative from each organization made his or her presentation. The discussions were sometimes frank but always affectionate. Jim observes that the SBC profs sometimes operated as a Greek chorus, and that’s probably a pretty good description of the role we played. I think the SBC profs represented a portion of evangelicalism to which both organizations want to speak. We are conservatives who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture. We are mindful of the modernist/fundamentalist controversy of 100 years ago that set the stage for so much of the current difficulties. Yes, we view the Scopes Monkey Trial as an embarrassment. But we are also convinced that modernism’s complete capitulation to Darwinism did incalculable damage. Both William Jennings Bryan and Harry Emerson Fosdick have cast a long shadow.
I have a few take away thoughts. First, the conversation revealed how the creation/evolution discussion impacts so many other important issues. One can play a theological version of the Kevin Bacon game with the doctrine of creation. It is foundational and interconnected with so many doctrines—the Fall, the nature of sin, divine action, biblical authority, the purpose of Christ’s Atonement—the list goes on.
Second, we need to give more attention to eschatology—our theological understanding of the future. How does the doctrine of creation relate to and inform our eschatology (and vice versa)? No theology of creation is complete without an understanding of the purpose and goal of the world. Some good work is being done in this area, but we are just scratching the surface. The current scientific consensus is that the cosmos is destined for heat death. Just as the world’s ultimate origin eludes a naturalistic explanation, so does its ultimate purpose. As Christians, we find the world’s origin in the will of God and believe that he has a good purpose for all that has transpired and is transpiring. When Christ returns the world will experience another transformative event. How the end relates to the beginning deserves more attention.
Last, I am more and more convinced that this conversation is important to the mission of the Church. Our Lord has commissioned us to witness for him in every endeavor. Given the rancor generally associated with this type of dialogue, it was encouraging to see all the participants pursuing dialogue with a spirit of goodwill and reconciliation. I come away from the project with a cautious optimism. We have a real opportunity to present sound reasons and evidences for the Christian faith to unbelievers.
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