Should pastors be mentioning their science opinions from the pulpit?


#1

Obviously, I’m talking about taking strong positions on controversial scientific topics, such as on evolution and the age of the earth. (My question is an honest one and I’m not undertaking advocacy under the guise of a question.)

I just heard a well-known Bible expositor take a series of jabs at the Theory of Evolution in his radio sermon. It startled me a bit because I’d never heard him address such topics previously and I had no idea that he would repeat some of the most mind-numbing, scientifically naive misunderstandings of evolutionary processes that one regularly sees promoted by AIG, ICR, and CMI.

Frankly, my respect for him plummeted, not because he doesn’t understand basic science terms and the evidence which supports evolutionary theory. My concern is that he would unnecessarily (and recklessly?) distract from the truths of the Gospel and the trust of his listeners when there’s nothing to be gained from it and much to be lost.

And now it may always be in the back of my mind: Does he carefully check the facts of what he proclaims so dogmatically? Does he understand verification and qualification of sources? Is he often gullible about matters for which he is poorly trained and qualified to evaluate? Does he understand the Kruger-Dunning Effect?

I feel sad that I now am going to be much more skeptical of a man whose preaching I appreciated and a man I have greatly respected. Yes, perhaps it is good that I am now more cautious. (And it’s not like he’s some sort of spiritual hero of mine.) But I never expected him to presume to teach me science. I feel like a great sermon was spoiled by an anti-evolution rant—and I worry about non-believers who might be regular listeners of his radio program and who are now saying to themselves, “I guess the guy’s not as sharp as I thought he was. He’s probably just like that raving young earth youth minister I remember from Vacation Bible School long ago.”

I’ve often been tempted to praise God from the pulpit for the amazing evolutionary processes which built the marvelous biological world I observe each day outside my window. Yet, I rarely do so in my sermons because it would only serve to polarize and agitate my listeners at the very ;time when I most want them to focus on the greatness of God.

What do you think? Was the Apostle Paul warning us about the downside of preaching anything but “the cross of Jesus Christ”? Should distractions be avoided at all costs?


#2

My question also suggests an inevitable follow-up question: If a church sermon is being recorded for a later radio broadcast, does wisdom call for additional guidelines? Should origins topics be confined to the “home crowd” audience?


#5

The same thing happened with me. I was listening to a recorded sermon from a pastor that I respected and he took a tangent to rant on the evils of evolution. What made it worse was he tried to tie it into the point he was making and it just didn’t fit. My respect for him dropped like a rock. Like you I now find myself wondering how much I can trust him.


#6

I know of a Baptist pastor who is honestly torn about origins issues and he has privately been trying to sort out the evidence on his own and to determine whether it poses problems for his theology. So when I heard him make a not-all-that-relevant comment about the age of the earth in his sermon, I asked him privately why he included a position in his sermon which I thought he was not entirely convinced. He told me that the chairman of the church board of elders convinced the entire board that a set of “key doctrines” should be regularly presented in a kind of “rotation” in the Sunday morning sermons so that “Our people must be 100% clear where their church stands on the most controversial issues of our day.” He read to me the entire list but I only remember these:

(1) The earth is young: thousands not billions of years old.
(2) Evolution is wrong.
(3) The Big Bang is wrong.
(4) Changing the gender of one’s birth is wrong.
(5) Capital punishment is a must or else the land is given over to godlessness.
(6) Women in pantsuits are in rebellion. (Not quite sure if that causes the land to be given over to godlessness as a result but it sure is bad.)

Somebody keeps track with a tic mark, and if he misses one in the rotation they tell the pastor that mention of the topic is “past due”. These “reminders” in the Sunday Morning sermons are not meant to dictate the sermon topics. He’s just supposed to find little ways to sneak them in. (It’s sort of like product placement in a TV series.)

It seemed kind of humorous at first, but the more I thought of his situation, the more sad it seemed. Just imagine: Allow people to think that the Big Bang actually happened, and the next thing you know is this country becomes overrun by transgender women in pantsuits!

Please! Think of the children!

(@beaglelady may enjoy this one.)


(Jay Johnson) #7

What a sad and amazing story! Like a list of their core doctrines. I do feel sorry for the children in that church!

I am not a minister, but I think that I, too, have the Spirit of God. (Sorry. A little Pauline joke.) Anyway, I would suggest that topics such as origins are better dealt with in a seminar-like setting, where the congregation could ask questions and discuss the matter, and where the minister could make clear that a range of beliefs are acceptable. When it comes from the pulpit, the message is too easily misunderstood or taken for dogma.

Just my 2c.


(Phil) #8

I agree that it is sad, and sadly I can believe it is really what happened. As to discussions of origins, perhaps it should be confined to pubs.


(Preston Garrison) #9

I remember monitoring a Sunday School class for high school students in which their teacher, a teacher at a local junior college, spent an hour explaining how thermodynamics proved evolution couldn’t be right. I was in med school at the time and I knew that he was totally mangling thermodynamics, but what really felt wrong was that anyone was trying to teach thermodynamics in Sunday School at all. Scientific matters are, for most people, at most just matters of curiosity, not doctrine, and if a sermon or Sunday School class is being used to make a statement on these things, whoever is doing it is deeply confused about what church is about.


#10

I share your concerns, Preston. That teacher probably is one who claims that “evolution plants the seeds of atheism”----but I think what he did that Sunday in that classroom set at least some of his students on a path to unbelief, if not also full-fledged atheism.


(Jay Johnson) #11

Confined to pubs! Haha. Tru dat!

I don’t know if any of you looked at the “Bend the curve” discussion, but this plays right into it. The researchers in a 1993 study wanted to know why mainline Protestant denominations were losing members. The answer was a little surprising (italics mine):

“In our study, the single best predictor of church participation turned out to be belief-orthodox Christian belief, and especially the teaching that a person can be saved only through Jesus Christ. Virtually all our baby boomers who believe this are active members of a church. Among those who do not believe it, some are active in varying degrees; a great many are not. Ninety-five percent of the drop-outs who describe themselves as religious do not believe it. And amazingly enough, fully 68 percent of those who are still active Presbyterians don’t believe it either…”

So, based on the data, churches that spend their time indoctrinating their youth groups on the age of the earth and thermodynamics and sexual orientation and “controversial issues” instead of teaching the fundamentals of the gospel ARE, in fact, setting their kids up for failure.


#12

This is a non-sequitor. The fact that faithful churches preach Christ crucified, and that we are only saved thru Christ and the resurrection, does not preclude other items from being adhered to. The correlation between lack of attendance, participation and membership certainly relates to faith in Christ, but there is also a correlation to sexual permissiveness and a random approach to scriptural authority.

It may be possible for a church to have a belief in evolution and still grow, but they fight an uphill battle due to the struggle with evolutionary philosophy and world-view. The church has a difficult time to synthesize the evolutionary world-view that everything happens merely by chance, and that man is here by accident as a higher animal which may continue to develop into an even “higher” being, but still nothing more than an animal, with the scriptural account of man as the image of God, and the embodiment of Christ as fully human and yet divine.
This difficulty is particularly potent because of the total lack of even a smidgen of a hint of evolution in scripture.


#13

(For example, the Theory of Evolution no more states that “man is here by accident” than Newton’s theory of gravity somehow declares planetary motion “accidental” and outside of the sovereignty of God. And science in now way addresses whether man was created in the image of God nor whether man is “nothing more than an animal.” Individuals, both scientists and non-scientists, have in various individual ways developed their own personal philosophies derived from their opinions about the science but the obvious fact that theists, atheists, and agnostics have reached a great variety of conclusions even while agreeing on the science underscores the appalling error of presumptuously assuming that the Theory of Evolution somehow necessitates a particular philosophy/worldview. That sounds more like something one finds in the propaganda on a Young Earth Creationist website.)

There’s also not a smidgen of a hint of mitosis or the theory of relativity----or of alleged Noahic Ice Age which Ken Ham so adamantly claims was associated with the Great Flood despite nor a single shred of scriptural evidence nor geologic evidence. So whether or not their a smidgen of various scientific concepts in the Bible is largely irrelevant.

So you’ve done a good job of reinforcing a “No!” answer to this thread’s question: “Should pastors be mentioning their science opinions from the pulpit?” I agree with you. It’s not a scripture topic.


#14

We are not talking about science, but about evolution theory. Do not conflate the two. Even if they are related in some way. Science does not address the image of God, but evolution world view certainly denies it. EC to a certain extent are forced to deny this common world view as much as YEC do, even though they accept evolutionary concepts. But it is largely a forced denial except for the ID evolutionists who acknowledge that if evolution occurred, it could only have occurred through design and plan. But this is much different than the run of the mill evolutionary perspective.

So it remains an uphill battle to synthesize the two.


(George L. Murphy) #15

I was a physicist before I became a pastor. When I mentioned in an astronomy class I was teaching at church-related college that I would be speaking in chapel that week, one of my students asked me after class if I would be talking about astronomy, I said bluntly, “No!” That wasn’t the purpose of preaching.

Since I’ve been ordained (33 years ago) I’ve been a parish pastor & also heavily involved in theology-science discussions. My purpose in the latter area is to help the church to deal adequately with issues raised by science and technology. & as a result, I’ve become more nuanced about scientific references in preaching.

Certainly the purpose of preaching is to proclaim God’s law and (primarily) gospel. It is not to teach science. But there are at least two reasons why it’s legitimate, and perhaps even necessary, to refer to scientific matters in preaching.

  1. Law and gospel are to be preached in the real world, not some ancient cosmological model or fantasy land. Science tries to determine truth about the real world, and there are some things it’s determined beyond the point of any scientific (N.B.) controversy. The earth & universe are billions of years old, evolution (including human evolution) has happened, and anthropogenic climate change is real. References to those things shouldn’t be brought into a sermon arbitrarily, but if a biblical text (& I do generally stick to the lectionary) touches on issues for which they’re relevant, it’s appropriate to deal with them from the pulpit.

  2. Ideally, such matters are better dealt with in educational settings where there’s opportunity for questions, discussion, &c. I do a lot of adult education addressing theology-science matters. But the unfortunate reality is that a lot of adults just don’t attend classes or forums, and will never hear about these matters - & perhaps awaken from their “dogmatic slumbers” - if they aren’t at least mentioned in preaching.

Of course these matters ought to be introduced and dealt with in appropriately sensitive ways. I do NOT recommend that a new pastor come into a congregation and in his/her first sermon say, “Evolution is real. Deal with it!” Get a sense of the congregation and introduce ideas that may be challenging in small steps.

& it should go without saying that pastor shouldn’t get into these matters if he/she isn’t at least a reasonably informed layperson in the relevant area. OTOH I don’t think pastors should be uninformed about or indifferent to science.

I’ll also note that 20 years ago I developed, with a couple of colleagues (LaVonne Althouse & Russell Willis) a commentary on biblical texts that might invite science or technology reference in preaching. It’s Cosmic Witness: Commentaries on Science/Technology Themes (CSS, Lima, OH, 1996).


(Marlene Crowe) #16

As a kid in Sunday school, the Bible stories were given to us in literal presentations. At age 4 or 5, I soaked it all up, they had me hook, line a sinker relating to Genesis 1-2 the literal story.
Growing up in the church and beyond there was not one single mention of any other interpretation of the creation story.
You may think me naïve, and, well I think of me as naïve in that I continued to hold fast to the young earth creation story through my adult years up to the age of 50-ish, wholly and entirely because no one in the church with authority challenged that interpretation, corrected the early teachings, gave any indication that any other interpretation inside the acceptance of the church existed, or if it did, could possibly be worth researching.
The people in my church were so closed mouthed about the topic, that even my brother, who majored in biology during the time I was a teenager, never once broached the topic. We spent a great deal of time together during his time off from university, (Christmas and summer breaks) I cherish and appreciate those times, snow shoeing, cross country skiing with him, things I would never had the opportunity to do without him. He taught me many wonderful things about nature.
I’m now 52, and 2 months ago I struck up the conversation of evolution vs 6 day creation story with him, and he said: "Oh, I went through that when I was in university. There was just no way I could deny evolution once I began to study the data etc…“
I’m thinking…” So you just left me blithering about like an absolute idiot for the last, oh 40 - 50 years ! lol
I’m not angry at him at all, don’t get me wrong. I understand that he was conditioned in a church that has the understanding that no one speaks about those controversial subjects.
However, I am now so concerned that this type of scenario is still occurring to this day. Reams of people are being spoon fed young earth creationism in our churches. They are completely misled and blinded by a seemingly innocent Sunday School Bible story that just never receives a moment of further instruction, a follow up hint or some type of teaching later in life, that will show people that it is not imperative for one’s salvation that we believe that the world wide flood is literal etc.
The church is responsible for this, and needs to take responsibility to correct this horrible mess we find ourselves in today. Christians who do not have a biology degree plus seminary schooling need a way to find out that there are other acceptable interpretations of scripture in Genesis 1 - 2.
People believe young earth creationism because they were taught that by the church.
We are really needing the church to teach us tolerance of our fellow Christians who either choose old earth and creation via evolution, or choose the other, young earth creationism.
So yes, I believe that at least the perspective of tolerance should be preached from the pulpit. I believe it is just plainly the right thing to do.


(Jay Johnson) #17

Good point. The minister doesn’t necessarily need to “preach science” from the pulpit. This topic, instead, relates to interpreting the Scriptures, and a message about which doctrines are necessary to believe, and which doctrines have a range of “acceptable” interpretations, where we should be tolerant of one another’s opinions. Obviously, the latter list is quite lengthy, but a few good examples should serve to make the point.

I would be interested to hear from @George on this. Thoughts?


(George L. Murphy) #18

I agree that a preacher should avoid suggestions that people must accept specific scientific views in order to be Christians. In does not contradict any aspect of the Christian faith to think, e.g., that the earth is only a few thousand years old - though it is quite certain scientifically that that idea is wrong (by about 5 orders of magnitude). This might suggest to some preachers that they just shouldn’t say anything at all about the matter for fear of offending those who hold such a belief. But concern for them needs to be balanced by concern for other Christians (& especially for young people & others who may be interested in science) who need to hear that it’s alright to accept the conclusions of science about that issue. Too often, especially in very conservative churches, they will have gotten the idea that it isn’t alright to do that.

& I think this points up something I said above, that these questions are best dealt with in an educational setting rather than in preaching. There are reasons why that can’t always be done. But pastors concerned about faith-science matters ought to be sure that their congregations are giving adequate attention to parish education for all ages.


#19

What’s really important is that a pastor doesn’t talk about stuff he/she knows nothing about.


(Marlene Crowe) #20

I do apologise, because the wording is all wrong in this sentence. In implying we should be taught tolerance from the pulpit I totally gave a pretty good lesson in intolerance with what I wrote here.
To try explain what was intended, let me say that I was previously the type of YEC that believed YEC so whole-heartily that at times I felt it my duty to foist my YEC views upon others on various online forums. (trying to help others, you know lol) Therefore note that I was actually referring to myself the blithering idiot, not others, but I can see how this is actually transferred to those who are YEC. I do not mean this. It is a criticism, and I am wrong. I really need to be careful.
Will I ever learn that pride goeth before the fall?
I have no reason to be proud or arrogant about anything, and I am sorry if it came off that way. :frowning: I am so humbled by God’s grace, and grateful for the new things I learn here on Biologos.


(Phil) #21

I think we know what you meant, so don’t fret. I too am a little miffed that organized church does so little to teach theology, and instead teaches dogma for the most part.


(Christy Hemphill) #22

This. Pastors should be leading the way in showing grace to people who haven’t worked out all the details the same as they have, and they should be helping people understand the difference between essential doctrinal issues and areas where there are multiple interpretations and perspectives well within the bounds of orthodoxy and some humility is always in order.