I grew up submerged in the ‘Evangelical Culture’. I was raised in an evangelical home and went to an evangelical school and church. There are a great many things I am thankful for from my upbringing and I would consider myself ‘evangelical’ to this day.
There is definitely diversity in every culture- variety in opinion and practice… However the things that make a culture distinct are the things it’s people generally have in common-common beliefs, common values, common methods. One of the things that has seemed a part of evangelical culture is a common rejection of evolution.
While ‘Evangelicalism’ isn’t centered on the creation/evolution debate, it has definitely been one of the main sub-plots of the last 100+ years. If I got any message about evolution growing up, it was that it is bad science and anti-Bible. Evolution was generally seen as an affront to the reliability/inerrancy of the Bible and human beings created in the image of God.
My school wasn’t some uber-fundamentalist Christian school. It was non-denominational, which forces such an institution to be a bit more broad in how it presents things like theology and science. They didn’t push seven day creationism as the only option when it came to the origin of the universe. They would say maybe days are actually ages and we have an old earth and presented other similar options. We also learned reasons why evolution was, in their opinion, an untenable scientific idea.
As a side note, in all honesty, I am very glad to have gone to a school that was non-denominational, with many churches involved. It helped teach me about the diversity among churches and how we are one body of Christ, even in our disagreements.
That said, when it comes to the ‘evolution’ issue, as I got older, several years out of high school, I really started to question more. I really can’t even tell you what first helped lead me in the general direction of reconsidering evolution as both a viable scientific and theological possibility.
Maybe it was the movie ‘Expelled‘… which is ironic, because it was about the suppression of professors who advocated Intelligent Design. Even while watching the movie I realized ‘these professors aren’t anti-evolution, they just believe it took a supernatural act to initiate life.’
Maybe it was listening a lot to Dennis Prager (a conservative, religious Jewish, talk show host), someone who is has been very critical of certain scientific claims but takes no issue with evolution and saw no reason it should conflict with the Bible.
Maybe it was hearing people like Greg Boyd and NT Wright, theologians and scholars I respect, take time to work with organizations like Biologos.
Maybe it’s that the defensive mind set behind the most militant Young Earth Creationists helped drive me away from both their science and their interpretive lens. (Sorry, Ken Hamm… but I’m totally serious.)
And heck, let’s be real- maybe part of the reason I felt compelled to re-evaluate evolution is because I just love controversial topics. I do. I know it’s not every one’s shtick, but for better or for worse, it’s how I’m wired. If there is a debate- I want to get the scoop, hear all sides, and likely, much to people’s chagrin (and sometimes to my own regret), jump in the conversation myself.
Anyways, so I start reading. I start watching Biologos and Peter Enns videos. Being theologically minded, I pursued this angle first: Is evolution theologically viable? I came to the conclusion that ‘yes, it is’. I can’t possibly address all the reasons here, but to sum it up, I will just say that reading about the genre, context, and purpose of the beginning of Genesis led me to believe that Genesis was likely never purposed to be a scientific/historical account of creation (or probably the fall). Rather, I came to believe that the Biblical creation account was largely written for the purpose of showing the hearers theological truths about the purpose of creation, the nature of people, and most importantly, to point us to the one, true, sovereign Creator God. At the same time, if biological evolution is true, it DOES raise new theological questions in regards to issues like pre-human death & violence, the nature of original sin, and the nature of our being made in God’s image. I actually think some or all of these questions exist even if one is a young-earth-creationist, but a long drawn out process of evolution makes them more obvious and definite. So yes, I’m saying that evolution is, in my opinion, theologically possible and workable, and that at the same time does in fact raise questions and problems that need to be worked out. (Edit: Many theologians, scientists, and pastors HAVE been wrestling with these issues. I find many of their answers and ideas very well thought out and valuable.)
Next I moved on to the science part… and well, I’m still there. Still sorting through the evidence for evolution. Again, I read, I watch videos and debates… I compare evolution’s claims to the list of ‘reasons evolution is wrong’ that is in my head. I’m not there yet, but evolution is winning. Honestly, I watched this one video about the genetic evidence for evolution and parts of it blew my socks off. But still, I’m looking into it. I don’t feel compelled to ‘die on that hill’… But I do find it fascinating and much of it very compelling.
So lastly, let me tell you why I think this issue is important and then ask a few questions:
This issue matters to me for two main reasons.
First, I believe it puts a massive and un-necessary stumbling block in front of non-believers when (if) we insist that belief in evolution is essentially at odds with Christian faith. For people who believe that evolution is basically an un-deniable scientific fact, they find that we are asking them to check their brains at the door in order to get in on this Jesus thing. We need to ask if it good or fair or necessary to ask people to jump over that hurdle.
The second reason it matters to me is because I believe that too many in the church are taking un-tenable postures towards both the Bible and Science. It’s really not that I think every Christian needs to swallow this evolution thing hook-line-and-sinker. Really. It’s that we have started to use the Bible as a science text-book that we need to defend. I do not believe this is what the Bible was meant to do. The Bible, a book inspired by the Spirit, is ultimately meant to point us to Jesus and to train and teach us. It is a way God reveals Himself and guides us. Nowhere in the Bible is a self-claim to science text-book status or accuracy in all the descriptive details about nature. I actually think we lose much of the beauty of the creation story when we allow the focus to become ‘defending’ the literalness of it. On the flip side, when we approach science with the primary goal of ‘defending’ a pre-conceived belief at all costs, we will fail to see the truth God reveals through nature. We quite literally could still be insisting there are ‘corners’ of the earth and that there is waters above the sky and below the earth or that the sun goes around our planet. Now, by all means, if one looks at the science and finds a six thousand year old earth or good reason to dis-believe evolution, then I genuinely want to know about it. True story. I just want us, as believers, to be able to be responsible with science.
Some questions to ponder (and answer any or all in the comments section if you would like):
1. What are reasonable expectations to put on the Bible- especially in regards to science? Should the Bible inform science? How?
2. What are good expectations to put on science itself? Can science inform the Bible? How?
3. Why might God allow ANY ancient descriptions of the universe to make it into the Bible? Does this undermine Biblical inspiration?
4. I feel many evangelicals are getting a bit more open-minded and open-handed with this issue… Do you agree? Is this good or bad?
*The views expressed here are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of my church, church network, friends, family, or extended family. No joke. Some of them probably think I’m crazy. *