Nazarenes Exploring Evolution

A Pedagogy of Hospitality

For many years, I have started my introductory lectures to both my major and non-major freshmen-level biology courses with a lecture titled, "Where do you draw the line?" The image being drawn upon here is one of friends or siblings growing up together and drawing a line in the sand or taping a line down the middle of the room that indicates to the other, "If you cross this line, we are going to have a fight on our hands." It is not just kids who do this, but it is also happening in our churches over a variety of issues, especially issues dealing with Creation and Evolution.

As bad as it is to see this happening within congregations, unfortunately it spills out into all sorts of relationships both within the Christian community and as our "witness" to a secular society. We see the battle played out on the freeways with bumper stickers of the symbol of the "Christian fish" growing legs to become the "Darwin fish." Not to be outdone, we have the "Jesus fish," with its ferocious teeth, swimming in to eat the "Darwin fish." We are tempted to smile at this clever example of "one-upmanship," but before we do, perhaps it would be worth the time and effort to count the cost that has accumulated thanks to the culture generated by the Creation/Evolution debates. While my essay could focus on a wide variety of issues at the interface of Christian Faith and science, I choose not to focus on the issues themselves but on the WAY we address the issues within the church and beyond.

Anecdotally, I have seen many friends and students who have been raised in the Church and have ended up jettisoning their faith because the views they were taught regarding Creation, portrayed to them by well-meaning people of influence, as "the Christian view" can no longer be reconciled with what they are learning about Creation from well-supported mainstream science. Given the choice of believing what they were taught as true versus accepting what they can clearly see as contradictory data, they are forced into either abandoning their faith or ignoring what to their minds seems to be compellingly clear information from their scientific studies.

I remember my first exposure to this when I went to graduate school. I had a fellow graduate student who had been raised in a Christian home and went to a Wesleyan undergraduate university. I approached her thinking that she would be someone I could talk to and discuss the faith/science questions I was having. I was not prepared for the story that she told me. She shared that she had gone through the questioning phase as an undergraduate and had turned to her church for help reconciling what she was learning with what she had been taught. Over the period of a couple of years, after being counseled to quit her scientific studies in order to preserve her faith, she came to a decision point after a church-sponsored seminar where the speaker indicated that one could not be a Christian without accepting that the earth was young. After the seminar, she asked one of the "dear old saints" of the church, as she put it, how she could account for the fossils of the dinosaurs. The lady told her that she believed that Satan had put them there to confuse and trick humans (a view you can find in books at the local Christian book stores lest you think this silly). At that point, my friend decided that if being a Christian meant that she had to believe as her church seemed to be telling her, she could no longer do this. She turned her back on her faith and became fully devoted to her search for truth as determined by her scientific studies alone. I was dumbfounded...I was angry...I was totally unprepared to contribute anything of value to the conversation (unfortunately my undergraduate training had ignored the issue to avoid controversy). All I knew was that something was not right with people rejecting their Christian Faith over disagreements on the mechanism of how God created...not over the Gospel message or teachings of Christ...but over the age of the earth. This was the defining event that started me on a long journey of study and engagement with this issue as a scientist and a follower of Christ.

My initial strategy, unfortunately, was motivated out of anger for what "those people" did that caused my graduate school friend to abandon her faith. So I studied and learned how to demolish and destroy the arguments of "those people," and when I first started teaching that was "the gift" I brought to my classroom. When the surveys given in my classes identified that 60-75% of my students identified themselves with "those people," you might guess that my attempts to "set them straight" did not go so well using my "demolish and destroy" pedagogy. This is when the second, and more important, defining moment happened in my journey.

My best friend that I had grown up with and knew for my whole life came down with his wife to visit us. It turned out that my best friend also identified his beliefs with "those people," so naturally I launched into my impassioned attempt to "set him straight." To my dismay, none of my arguments or evidences seemed to have any effect on my friend. He was well educated with a Master's degree in School Counseling, but he did not understand my arguments that were steeped in genetics, molecular biology or developmental biology–but then again, I am not sure why I expected he should. Finally, long after our wives had wisely gone to bed, my friend concluded the matter with an affirmation of his belief in me and the way God was using my life and ministry...and the suggestion that we would agree to disagree on these issues. He indicated that he had a simple faith that sustained him and that he just could not go where I was asking him to go. This was a turning point in my journey because here was someone who I knew was a "magnet" for Christ and had a profound ministry and influence on high school students. How could I justify holding this over his head in judgment and think of him the way I had come to think of "those people"? That is where I learned to separate the "ism" from the "ist"...the idea from the people who held the idea. I had conflated the two and in doing so had been taking out my anger over what happened to my graduate school friend on anyone associated with the ideas that contributed to her leaving the faith. I realized my approach would have to change, and I would need to offer my students the same grace that I was willing to offer my best friend. Up to that point, I had been content to enter into science/faith dialogue in ways that were defined either by the culture wars of the Creation/Evolution debates or the theoretical world of the academy through its scholarly pursuits. In my view neither of these satisfactorily modeled Christ in the classroom. So through trial and error, many interactions with my colleagues, and a lot of prayer, I developed a different pedagogy...a pedagogy of hospitality.

While I don't have time to go into the details of each step and how that played out in the classroom, the following 6 steps became the framework that, in my experience, modeled how to approach controversial issues like these in a Christ-honoring way.

  1. Begin by disarming/diffusing, which creates an openness to listen and discuss vs. feeding the flame that threatens others and causes them to be closed to real dialogue.
  2. Create a reason for the audience to be engaged or care about the topic by helping them understand why open discussion or dialogue about the issue might be helpful to them.
  3. Recognize the complexity of the issue and how an individual's faith can rightly or wrongly interact with it in foundational ways.
  4. Set the tone of discussion as one of mutual respect for individuals that honors right relationships above right answers.
  5. Set goals of education that promote greater understanding vs. advocacy that promotes winning the argument. This puts us in the uncomfortable position of being OK with others understanding our position without necessarily accepting or believing it.
  6. Honor the individual and their journey by remembering our own – It has taken years and a lot of study and thought to get where I am on this issue, so don't expect others to make huge leaps in their own positions...be gradual.

The principles upon which this pedagogy of hospitality are based are rooted in our core Christian beliefs about who Christ calls us to be in community with fellow believers and who Christ calls us to be as a witness to an unbelieving world (John 13:34-35, 1 John 3:14 and 4:20). It recognizes that the ultimate answers we arrive at in the discussion are not as important as how we interact with each other in the discussion. God calls us to righteousness, which is right relationship to Him. What makes us righteous is salvation through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we understand the Gospel message, everything changes (or should change) in how we interact with others. We recognize that we can no longer feel superior to others because our good works get us no closer to salvation than the misdeeds of the wicked, as all of humanity falls short of God's glory (Rom 1-3). Because our salvation is not based on our good works or even our right thinking, there is no room for arrogance or superiority in our dealings with others. As we approach brothers and sisters in Christ who hold different views than what we hold on issues not essential to our salvation, our first priority is to be in right relationship with them versus trying to prove who is right or wrong on these issues (1 Cor 8, Rom 14). Reversing these priorities runs the risk of "destroying the work of God over food..." or whatever the current non-essential topic of the day might be. This idea runs counter to the culture both inside and outside of the Church, which values right answers over right relationships...and it is a hard message to hear for both scholars and lay people alike because it runs counter to the default postures of our heads and hearts, which are inclined towards self. Nonetheless, the Gospel of Christ is a transforming Gospel that aims to renew both head and heart, fixing their inclination to self and aligning their posture towards Christ.

I close my first class by telling my students where I draw the line. I draw the line at "God Created." Of this, I have no doubt. While I may have ideas about how He did it, and it is interesting to talk about these ideas, they are not important enough to set as a stumbling block for non-believers or as something to split the body of Christ over. So, before we delve into the issues of faith and science regarding the mechanisms of God's creation in this upcoming conference, it is important that we recognize that according to our understanding of scripture, these are not issues that are essential to our salvation. Because of this, our approach should heed the scriptural warnings described above and the sage advice, whose origin is in question but was often quoted by Bresee, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."





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Comments (14)

  1. Mark H. Mann:
    Jul 22, 2013 at 01:09 PM

    Kerry,

    Thanks for this essay and for your personal model of hospitality in this conversation. You have been a significant mentor for me in this regard!

    Mark

    Reply

  2. Thomas Jay Oord:
    Jul 22, 2013 at 03:14 PM

    Kerry,

    Thanks for this fine essay. I'm especially happy that you identified the problem of young people leaving the church because they've been given a choice between just two options: young-earth creationism or well-supported mainstream science. The third option -- that God creates through evolution -- can be significantly more satisfying.

    Tom

    Reply

    1. Gerard R. Oppewal:
      Aug 18, 2013 at 04:35 PM

      It saddens me to hear of this undergraduate girl who abandoned her faith because someone told her that dinosaur fossils were put there by Satan. Did she not know Col. 1:16-17? God created dinosaurs as well! And Noah took a few pair on the Ark. Job 40:15-17. Why would God ask Job to behold, if there was nothing to behold? (A tail like a cedar is not a hippo or an elephant: it could well be something larger).

      It also saddens me to see that esteemed scholars in our church seem to think that 'evolution' is 'well-supported'.
      Any theory should be backed up by facts and findings, however this does not happen. Instead of adapting the theory, the 'scientists' bend over backwards to alter or discard evidence to the contrary.
      The list of examples is endless, some as plain as day, others requiring an understanding of DNA.

      Even an evolutionist says:"If modern molecular evidence would have been available a century ago, the idea of evolution may never have been accepted"(Denton, Evolution, a theory in crises).

      The story of creation is backed up by numerous facts from biology, geography, astronomy and chemistry.

      Good books to read are "Modern science in the bible" by Ben Hobrink and "Degeneration, the end of the Evolution Theory" by Peter Scheele.

      It does not say in genesis:"And God saw it was a faillure so He let it become extinct and tried again in another million years". Our God is able to created by just speaking ('universe' means 'single spoken word').

      The heresy of evolution is that it doubts God's omnipotence, His infallibility and the splendour of his creation by reducing it to mere chance. "Nazarenes ignoring evolution" would be more appropriate.

      Reply

  3. Hank Wyborney:
    Jul 22, 2013 at 06:19 PM

    Thanks for your well written discussion. I liked the "ism" vs. "ist" part. Recently, I found an old paper I had written for Dr. Ford in which my thesis was that God created and that was what mattered--not how he created. But now I tend to think it does matter and that creating through evolution is a beautiful, wondrous thing.

    Reply

  4. Al Truesdale:
    Jul 22, 2013 at 08:57 PM

    Kerry,

    Thank you for a most thoughtful and irenic essay. The six points of your pedagogy are obviously the product of careful reflection and experience. Leading a student out of "creationism" in a way that retains his or her faith is truly salvific.

    Al Truesdale

    Reply

  5. Thomas:
    Jul 23, 2013 at 04:09 PM

    The comments from Mark, Al, Hank, and others prompt me to invite you all to consider submitting a paper or workshop proposal to the upcoming Nazarenes Exploring Evolution conference. Here's a link to conference info and the call for papers:

    http://www.pointloma.edu/experience/...evolution-2014

    Reply

  6. Peter Migner:
    Jul 24, 2013 at 08:22 AM

    Well written article, but regardless of friendships, theories and how each one struggles truth is truth. The theory of evolution sooner or later will unravel theologically. Just sayings this with as much hospitality as possible. God calls us to live in Christ naturally supernaturally. The full scope of scripture contains countless records of supernatural occurrences that defy the natural sciences of man's observations and cannot be scientifically explained including the resurrection of our Savior. Yet the very thought of creation being a supernatural event in history that cannot be explained troubles so many who keep reviewing through the lenses of the natural when reviewing the events of the supernatural. Perhaps a paper submitted is in order!

    Reply

    1. Kerry Fulcher:
      Jul 24, 2013 at 06:55 PM

      Hi Peter,

      I am not sure I follow your posting. You mention that "truth is truth" and because of that the theory of evolution will crumble. You then go into a section on natural vs. supernatural from which I assume you mean that supernatural = God's involved and natural = God not involved? These terms are arbitrary human terms that don't have meaning in a Christian theology. If God is the creator of all and sustainer of all then natural and supernatural mean nothing in reference to His activity, whether it be at a point in time in the past or ongoing activity today. He is active in both what can currently be explained by science as well as what is beyond the reach of science. Knowing the structure of hemoglobin and how it works does not in any way remove God from the creation of or sustaining of that molecule or the systems in which it interacts. How does the natural/supernatural dichotomy find theological or scriptural grounding from your perspective? Am I missing your objection?

      Reply

  7. April:
    Jul 25, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    Kerry, I have several questions. Could you please tell me what the Gospel is? Also, you said these issues are not essential to our salvation. How do you know that these issues are not essential? Do I take your word for it? How can *I* know if you are right? How do *you* know that you are right? Where can I go to corroborate what exactly is essential to salvation? And how do you know that what you point me to is right?

    Reply

    1. Kerry Fulcher:
      Jul 26, 2013 at 07:57 PM

      Hi April,

      Thanks for the questions. I will do my best to respond to them as copied in below.

      You asked “Could you please tell me what the Gospel is?
      Of course literally the Gospel is “good news” but you are asking about what I refer to in my post as the Gospel message. The Gospel message, as I understand it from Scripture is this. Humanity is born into sin and therefore is separated from God and not able to have relationship to Him. We each have turned unto our own way…tried to be our own savior…our own God. The story of the Prodigal Sons illustrates two ways that we play this self-salvation project out. The rebellious way of the younger son who thinks he is above rules and can call his own shots and do whatever he pleases…and the moralistic way of the older son who dutifully follows all the rules and thereby “earns” his salvation through his good works. The third way, or gospel way, is the recognition that I am not my own Master…and nothing I could do on my own could ever measure up to the standards of God…which if left there would be pretty depressing. But the good news is that God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, as an atoning offering for my sin so that now, my sins are covered by the blood of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice and when God looks at me, He sees Christ in me and through Christ and His Holy Spirit, I can now have fellowship with the Father. Recognition of this truly good news drives me to my knees to ask forgiveness for not only my sin…but my righteousness (or perceived righteousness due to my good works). When that Gospel message of grace gets into my heart, I can no longer look down my nose at others…thinking I am better than them…because it is not my good works or right thinking or superior intellect or anything else from within me that makes me acceptable to God. It is the righteousness imparted to me by Christ through the sacrifice of His blood on the cross. That ought to free us from the destructive practice of comparing myself to others to see if I measure up…or if they measure up…and allow me to love others by extending them the same grace that Christ extended to me so that He can do for them, what he did for me. I am sure that this is an inadequate summary of the Gospel…but it is what I had in mind when writing my essay.

      You also asked about my comments that these issues are not essential to our salvation. How do you know that these issues are not essential?

      Within orthodox Christianity, we affirm that God speaks to us through His Scripture, through the Body of Christ both present and past, and through His Spirit in us that leads us unto all truth. The simple answer of the Christian Tradition would say the essentials are contained within the historic Christian creeds, which themselves point back to the Scriptures. Those creeds affirm God as the Creator or maker of heaven and earth but they don’t delve into ideas about how old the earth is or what mechanism God may have used by which to create. This is why I would stand with Christians past and present who affirm the historic creeds of the Church and indicated that a belief in God as author and creator of all things is essential…but a belief in a particular mechanism of how God created is a non-essential. Scripture tells us that salvation comes through believing on Christ and receiving the gift of His sacrifice for our sins and walking in fellowship and obedience to his teachings and Spirit in us.

      You Asked...Do I take your word for it?
      Please …no. Do not take my word for it. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit will lead us unto all truth… and will bear witness with our spirit…at to test the spirits behind a particular teaching. When I said that the mechanism of God’s creation is not and essential to our salvation, it is because that position aligns with the position of the historic Church and is consistent with Scripture

      You asked...How can *I* know if you are right?
      You can be assured of your position through your own investigation of the positions of the historic Church and reading of Scripture inviting the Holy Spirit to lead you into truth.

      You asked...How do *you* know that you are right?
      I can be assured of my position because of my investigation of the positions of the historic Church and because of my study of and being shaped by Scripture through the work and power of the Holy Spirit.

      You asked...Where can I go to corroborate what exactly is essential to salvation?
      As I have mentioned, you can go to the Holy Scriptures, to the Body of Christ both past and present, and through the invitation of the Holy Spirit to lead you into truth.

      Finally you asked...And how do you know that what you point me to is right?

      What I have pointed you to is what has been pointed to throughout the history of the Christian Tradition. To the degree this represents the Body of Christ and is in alignment with Holy Scriptures (which you must accept as being Scripture on faith), through the confirming witness of the Holy Spirit…then you too can be assured that what I point to is right.

      I hope this addresses the questions that you raise. My answers may not be perfect but I have tried to address your questions thoughtfully.

      Reply

  8. Dan Henderson:
    Jul 25, 2013 at 01:29 PM

    Nice sentiment Kerry. Here's my thoughts: less talk (especially of pedagogy), more action (do something).

    Reply

    1. Kerry Fulcher:
      Jul 29, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      Hi Dan,

      I do understand your desire for things to move beyond talk to actual action. However, there is wisdom in the old saying that we should "think before we act". Most people are not intentional about how they approach issues such as these and when they do tend to act, it is often a "react", which may or may not promote understanding or learning. My starting goal or foundational principle in this discussion is that this is an issue that should NOT divide the body of Christ. With that as a goal, "how" one acts when engaging with this issue is more important than "if" one acts. If one's action is going to set up the likelihood of division, then it is better for that person to not act at all, following the example of Paul when talking about whether or not eating food sacrificed to idols was OK. "Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. 1 Cor 8:13). So, while I agree that action is important, I still hold that a pedagogy that informs how one acts is more important in issues like these which can be divisive.

      Reply

  9. Debby:
    Jul 25, 2013 at 05:16 PM

    Lawrence Ford, Executive Editor of ICR's "Acts And Facts" correctly states:

    "Genesis 1:1 states, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." This is the first and foremost apologetic. If a person stumbles on this one profound truth, a lifetime of doubt and confusion lies ahead for him, full of uncertainty about the ultimate purpose for being alive. But when a Christian attempts to alter this ultimate statement of reality to fit the compromising philosophies of men--even scientifically-trained professionals--then woe to him for his unbelief and, even graver still, for teaching others that unbelief."

    Reply

    1. Kerry Fulcher:
      Jul 26, 2013 at 08:10 PM

      Hi Debby,

      I know of no one who has written an essay on this sight that does not believe Genesis 1:1. A belief in God as the Creator, Author and Sustainer of all things is resoundingly affirmed by me and by those who have written other essays. A belief in God as Creator is affirmed in the classic Christian Creeds and in the Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene. It is also specifically mentioned and affirmed in the Church's position statement on origins. We affirm Gen 1:1 that God is Creator.

      So, I am not sure what the posting of this quotation is trying to say in response to my essay. Do you care to ellaborate? I am happy to respond to specific concerns but I don't see your post as raising anything that I cannot affirm. It sounds as though it was meant to be a condemnation of my post...but I am not seeing why you think that it is, if that was your intention.

      Reply

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