This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/guest/5-tips-for-going-public-as-an-evolutionary-creationist
Will Mario be available to answer questions?
Yes, I will be available through out the day to answer questions and have discussions.
Churches that react that way need to have their Origins view in their statement of faith. It’s up to all parties to speak clearly in this regard.
I know a few of the wonderful folks at RTS, where you got your master’s, but they don’t seem very open to evolutionary creationism. I’m wondering about your experience with going public (if at all) at Reformed Theological Seminary, and what advice you might give to someone who is about to embark upon (or is in the middle of) theological studies.
EDIT: RTS is the seminary that famously “offered Bruce Waltke the opportunity to tender his resignation” after he appeared in a 2010 BioLogos video. Waltke has described the situation quite graciously here, but I suspect that, even if he would have carried out all of his “could haves,” the end result would have been the same. Would you agree with that, Mario?
Excellent article. Personally, as I am at the point in life where others opinions are less important, it has become less of an issue. My main concern is for the welfare of the local church and pastor, not wanting to cause division or problems. I am sure my views are “out there” as I routinely like and share Biologos posts on facebook, where many see it, I have never been asked about those views in the church setting. Evidently, no one really wants to discuss issues that are difficult, including for the most part women’s issues, sexuality, etc. Heaven forbid a minister or member actually saying they struggle with lust, or greed, or cheating on their taxes.
While this issue is fairly easy for me, I realize it is not for those in ministry. Having just seen the movie “Silence,” I am sort of focused on the questions faced by the priests there. I hesitate to use that example, as do not want to trivialize the persecution suffered, yet the issues are similar on a different level.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at RTS and appreciate the quality education I received. I never openly discussed evolution or interpretations of Genesis. Douglas Kelly’s position was clear enough, and I didn’t feel like I needed to openly disagree. While no one at RTS (Faculty, Staff, other students) ever discouraged open discussion about views on evolution or interpretations on Genesis, the environment at the time didn’t feel like they encouraged it.
My advice for current students would be this: hold to your positions, but don’t do anything that will compromise your studies. If people ask you about your views, share them. As long as you are respectful toward others, it is perfectly reasonable to assume you will receive respect in return.
So a couple of years ago I was interning at a church where I knew most (if not all) people were anti-evolution. I went to an elder meeting to ask if I could teach a sunday school class presenting different views of creation. I told them about my EC beliefs, and passed around a Christianity Today editorial which laid out the basics of that position. I remember there was a long silence in the room, and one of the elders leaned over to me and said, “Brad, I have one question. If you were to die today, do you know where you would go?”
So that was that. 7 years of volunteering and interning at this church, and being part of the life of the community, and it took one conversation to cast extreme doubt on my salvation. It was a rough experience. And yes, I left that church.
That was harsh, and must have taken a lot of courage for you to do. Did the response totally surprise you, though? You must have known you were putting something out on the line there. And the sad thing is … had another elder or two in the group been secretly sympathetic to what you were standing for, they then witnessed the results with you and would have thought to themselves …“okay --there’s a place I can’t go.” So another sad upshot of that is that such a group has given away its opportunity to know the truth about what people in their own midst might be thinking.
I hope your last line, though, was meant to read as: “I left that church” --you didn’t leave the church, did you?
Yes, because I never imagined my beliefs on creation would throw doubt on my status as a Christian, in that context. These were people I had served with in church leadership for years. I thought they would say, “well, we strongly disagree with that view, and we don’t want you spreading it at the church.” I was prepared for that response.
I think is probably accurate. I don’t think the one elder spoke universally for the whole group. I think this group of elders had never encountered an EC before and wasn’t sure what to say or do.
Yes, sorry, that’s what I meant to say. If I had left the faith, I wouldn’t be employed at BioLogos.
I don’t know if only staying in like-minded communities is always a good thing. I like places with a diversity of thought, although I don’t think I would call my church place intellectually diverse, but I’m not sure what exact positions do the younger and older people in my church have. I think there is a mixture of young-earth and old-earth creationists in my church, but I know one of my pastors is pretty YEC, and I had some disagreements with him in the past. Not to worry though because we always had a good relationship.
Thanks for your heartfelt and wise response, Mario.
One conclusion I would draw from your response is this: if you share Waltke’s views on Genesis, and you think they are important, and you want a Biblical/theological education in an environment in which you can initiate respectful conversations about important issues even if they are controversial, do not bother to apply to RTS or a seminary like it.
On the other hand, dropping any one of the conditions in my extended if clause would allow a student to enjoy the quality education at RTS.
EDIT: I also want to express my admiration for the courage of conviction and faith you have demonstrated, Mario.
Of course I figured as much, but just didn’t want to take that for granted. There are those who claim to be Christian but also claim to “leave the church” usually meaning by that their disapproval of organized religion. And there are those who like church but don’t claim the Christianity and all manner of views in between.
How much diversity? Most of us have our limits. There is a trade-off I think between a powerfully active unity (whether powerful for good or for evil or for truth or for falsehood –that’s not a trivial question), and a more cautious, perhaps even paralyzed diversity in which nobody says or does anything too forward because nobody wants to tread on anybody else’s toes. We can celebrate diversity (as well we should), but sooner or later people do have to agree on actually doing and committing to some things if anything will ever get done at all. At those points, somebody will be biting their tongue either a little or a lot just for the sake of unity because they recognize good work going on and don’t want to impede that.
I would say that everything you said (to a somewhat lesser degree) could have been true while I was there. But I cannot speak to what the culture is like now. A lot has changed since I was there. The situation could be much different now. If you are looking for a quality, well respected, and reformed/Presbyterian education, RTS is a great school. If that is not all you are looking for, you may want to shop around.
This is a really helpful article.
I personally have a number of things that I’ve found helpful. First of all, I allow YECs the option of the omphalos hypothesis if they absolutely insist on it. This is admittedly a bit of a compromise, and I point out that it has theological problems—it requires the creation of extensive evidence for 4.5 billion years of detailed history that never happened—but it’s surprising how many YECs prefer that to the idea of evolution.
Secondly, I make a big thing of the need for honesty. I point out that while denying the scientific consensus may be faith, claiming that science supports you when it does not is lying. I also make it clear that claims about science can and will be fact-checked, and demonstrably untrue or misleading claims just undermine your credibility in the eyes of anyone who checks you out.
Finally, I give them specific examples of problematic YEC claims. The RATE project is one in particular to cite: even many YECs seem to think that accelerated nuclear decay is a pretty tall order, and when I point out that the RATE team themselves admitted that it would have released enough heat to vaporise the earth, even the most super-spiritual YECs think I’m describing some kind of atheist parody to “discredit creationism.”
I’ve generally found that the appeal for honesty goes down well with a lot of folks at church, though we do have a YEC contingent who have unfortunately been getting increasingly vocal in the past couple of years or so. One guy started bombarding me on Facebook with just about every crazy YEC claim imaginable. However he quietened down round about October last year, after he unwittingly posted the most blatantly dishonest example of quote mining I’ve ever seen and I called him on it.
After my matter of fact EC answers to questions about biblical creation at a church men’s group, I was “outed” to a pastor. He caught me in his office and proceeded to lecture me about evolution as a “dieing theory” and spouted other YEC talking points. It was very uncomfortable, but I did not defer. Looking back, it revealed much about that church’s culture which I wish I could have seen at that time. They were very narrow minded and anti-intellectual. My wife and I left a couple years later, sorry to leave our friends in the congregation, but looking forward to a new worship experience.
We found a new church just down the street from us that celebrated using both our hearts and minds in living our Christian faith. I was encouraged to teach a bible study on Genesis using Dr. Peter Enns “Genesis for Normal People”. Dr. Peter Shaw, the pastor of CrossWalk Community Church in Napa, CA even has had one of his sermons on the Noahic flood featured here on Biologos. (It seems to have been left unarchived)
If you are challenged at your church about your EC views you have a choice to make. Stay and see of you can be a positive influence if your church is open to that or leave and put your energy and gifts to use where you would be supported. My former church was not the least open minded and I felt demeaned there. Now I can express myself freely, and even though not everyone agrees, there is space for me.
I really appreciated the emphasis on grace for other people in this article. I think sometimes we underestimate how threatening our ideas are to people who have been told forever that if they let go of their literal Genesis, they lose their hope of the resurrection being true. If we are right, lots of foundational beliefs will come crashing down for them and will need to be rebuilt. This is a scary and potentially painful process for a lot of people.
I was first exposed to EC after I had already re-evaluated my approach to Scripture around other issues that were more central to my identity than science. So for me, the hard part was already done and the EC conversation was just interesting ideas that didn’t squeeze my soul. For a lot of people it would be a worldview (or maybe more accurately a Bible-view) earthquake and I think we need to be sensitive to that. Being loving is more important than being right.
I really like this editor’s quote from the How I Changed My Mind About Evolution book that CT highlighted: "Some questions are obviously scientific, and some are obviously religious. The difficulty comes when both seem relevant, as in the question of humanity’s origin. For cases like this, the best way forward is to allow science and faith to dialogue with each other. Learn the best science. Talk to religious thinkers you trust. Give grace to everyone.”
This sums it up best. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so glad that you found an affirming community where you can serve others.
Thanks Christy, grace is definitely key to every area of the Christian life. Most people don’t just “jump ship” to a new way of thinking. Grace is a key component in leading others to change the way they think.
Iv’e had a couple of incidents in the past year where I’ve found it difficult to sit on the sidelines. I’m currently a member of a great Christ focused LCMS community, having moved there from the ELCA and before that Roman Catholic. I’m aware of the LCMS position on this topic, but in 8 years I haven’t heard much on the topic during sermons.
Last spring during a Q&A session for the confirmation I understand someone asked if evolution was true. I wasn’t present but I heard the answer was pretty much if your teachers are telling you evolution is real then they are lying to you, and evidently there were a couple of reasons why it wasn’t real sited.
Last fall my son attended a high school youth gathering put on the Fellowship of Christian Athletes where at the end of the guest speakers talk he gave a short anti-evolution rant.
In the first case I think don’t a question about evolution being real can be adequately addressed with a two minute response. If it was that easy to disprove it then we wouldn’t be having these conversations. This also applies to the second case, but also it was not the time and place to bring up the topic - the speaker was there to share the Gospel, not address science.
We don’t need to put youth in a position where they need to choose. Its so important that they know there are members of their Christian community that embrace science.