I recall a conversation I had with one of my junior high friends one hot Sunday afternoon, in the church parking lot, while we were waiting for our families. He wanted to understand how dinosaurs could fit in the whole sequence of the world when they were not mentioned in the Bible. I have no memory of where or when I had learned my answer to him, but in my sophisticated junior high way I told him that the "days" in Genesis 1 could be any length of time. Thus, the Genesis 1 story could actually have taken place over billions of years (very, very long "days"). Furthermore, there is no detailed listing of every species God created in Genesis 1, so there could have been time for God to create dinosaurs, for them to die, and God to create more land creatures.
What strikes me about that memory (among many things) is that there was never a time when my Nazarene family members or my Nazarene church tried to indoctrinate me to believe I had to pick between my Christian Faith and the discoveries of science. It was possible to be a Christian and a scholar, no matter the academic discipline.
Perhaps my experience was abnormal; many of my relatives and I have loved learning and have shared that love at some point in our Nazarene colleges and universities by teaching in the fields of education, physics, athletics, mathematics, biology, computer science, and religion. Perhaps my experience was abnormal given that my childhood church (College Church of the Nazarene in Bourbonnais, IL) was full of people who gave their lives to study and teach in so many fields of inquiry. No matter the reason, "Nazarene" never meant anything different to me than generation after generation of people wholly devoted to the doctrine of entire sanctification and higher education. To hear my grandparents' generation talk, the faculty and students at our Nazarene colleges and universities were seeking the highest level of excellence in their studies in the same way they were unwavering in seeking the highest reaches of holiness in the Lord. Piety and scholarship both were to be conducted wholly unto the Lord, with integrity and excellence.
Just because I do not remember experiencing a disconnect between the realms of piety and scholarship does not mean I have not struggled to understand the relationship. One of the first papers I remember being assigned as an undergraduate at NNU was on the relationship between faith and reason. Thanks to rigorous professors, I was made painfully aware of how much reflecting I still needed to do!
When talking to my junior high friend in the church parking lot, I had tried to listen to the voices of academic study and then make the Bible follow details of science. Thus, I was reading Genesis 1 as having really long "days" so that the story could be saying the same thing that scholarship about the Big Bang and the processes of evolution was saying. In wanting the Bible and science to say the same thing, I was allowing that thing to be dictated by science.
When I began taking biblical studies courses in college, I realized some important issues that changed my approach. First, the ancient worlds of Israel and the early Church were very strange compared to the customs, beliefs, and understandings of today. Until college, I had never read the Old and New Testaments as a cross-cultural experience. I had been understanding Scripture according to my worldview. Second, while God had certainly used biblical texts in formative ways in my life, I had been reading them with the sound of my own voice. It was as though the words were an extension of me (my world) through which God would touch me. When the world of the texts became foreign to me, the text itself became distinct from me and my own voice. Whatever the texts were saying, it was different from me and my categories. Third, the more I understood that the worldviews of the ancient world were not mine, the more I struggled to do what I had done in junior high. I could not just make the Bible fit my categories by saying, "The Bible says 'A'. That must mean it is claiming what I heard in my interpersonal communications class, my science class, or business class." Fourth, I had to get to know the Bible anew, on its own terms. It has its own voice (or, more accurately, voices). I had to understand its claims in the realm of its own time and location. Only after getting to know what it said in its own world could I begin to imagine what those kinds of claims would look like in my own world. That means that in the radical way God's self-disclosure disturbed people across time, it must disrupt me now (in the same Spirit), in ways peculiar to my own context.
In coming to respect the voices of Scripture, I could no longer mold them to my world. At the same time, I could not force my world—informed by centuries of scientific discovery—back thousands of years to take on ancient customs and worldviews. One option I tried was letting the worlds of faith and reason—Scripture and modern scholarship—have their own separate realms of authority. If Scripture is revelatory of "all things necessary to our salvation," I could let it govern matters of the soul and let scholarship speak authoritatively on matters of living in the world. Yet, that kind of dualism is dangerous (as I soon enough began to learn). It is exactly what the radical Enlightenment thinkers wanted. They wanted to split "the facts of life" from questions of religion and morality. Rational arguments about politics, economics, law, technological advance, or any other public issue were the only arguments that came to matter in the West; religion increasingly became an interior private matter. That way religion would get out of the way by having jurisdiction over only invisible spiritual matters and let non-theistic human reason govern our everyday affairs.
Scripture and science (or any other academic discipline), religion and reason cannot just separate from each other and have separate realms of authority. God's self-revelation and redemptive work has significance in our everyday engagement within the world (beyond much more than in our inner spiritual life). Yet, people who are going to do the scholarship to hear and reflect on the Church's canon are likely not trained to be scholars in the array of other academic disciplines. If our best readings of Scripture and theological reflections on the Christian Faith are going to speak into everyday living, they have to be in conversation with the front-edge of our present world. But conversation from the biblical-theological side does not mean dictating what other scholars must say in their disciplines. It means hearing and reflecting together where the living God, revealed preeminently in Christ Jesus, might continually be discerned in these experiences and discoveries of God's creation.
At the same time, it is not up to other disciplines to dictate "the facts of life" upon which religion must append itself in order to help us cope and be good people in that world. Data does not interpret itself and give itself a name. Human beings give names and meaning to what we discover. Our Nazarene scholars, in the full spectrum of academic disciplines, should be in conversation with the people in the theological disciplines regarding naming and theologizing about the data with which they are working, in light of the triune God revealed to us. Robust conversation and discernment within the entire Body, across the spectrum of specializations, is the only way for us to proceed with a non-dualistic witness of and participation with God's creative-redemptive engagement in the world. Our vision of and cooperation in full-salvation and holiness, as New Creation is begun and awaited, may hinge on this interdisciplinary dialogue more than we have yet come to acknowledge.