I hope everything is well with you and that everything has gone smoothly with your visa application.
You wouldn’t believe how excited we are to have all of you guys visiting us here in South Africa. Some of the people who have seen the topics that you are preparing to engage on are very eager to hear and learn from what you have to say. It really is a blessing to have you as part of the team.
The topic of science and Christianity is one in which I personally, also have a keen interest. I try to read as much as I can on the subject and I think I have gotten a sense by now of what the important issues are and how one should approach them. There is one topic, however, which I find particularly and frequently hard to deal with, because it seems to have this inherent capacity to cause serious division amongst Christians whenever it is brought up. This is, of course, the issue of how to understand Genesis 1 regarding such big questions as origins.
Let me lay my cards on the table by saying that I believe that this is an issue where serious scholars of the Bible (and by this I primarily mean evangelical, spirit-filled Christians) do come to different conclusions as to what God has revealed in the Bible (especially in Genesis 1-2) concerning his creative acts (that He is the one that created, being the common denominator). Interestingly enough, and this establishes my point, by the very fact that I have stated this belief in the way I just did, I will have given some Christians enough reason to immediately label me as a compromiser or at least they will have the uneasy suspicion that I don’t really have a very high view of Scripture. The sentiment is often that it is only the stubborn or those who unwittingly read their own agenda into the Bible, who could possibly read anything else than what it so clearly stated that even a child can understand it in, for example, the opening chapters of the Bible. But I take exception to this superficial view of approaching scripture (or of approaching any text, for that matter), which sometimes (though not always) reveal a disregard for the intricacies and complexities of hermeneutics.
So far I have only mentioned trying to understand the Bible from literary point of view. It is when one brings science into the equation that things get really interesting and often very heated. And science has its own interpretive complexities and difficulties. But I need not try and explain myself further, for I merely want to state the two concerns I have regarding how Christians generally approach these issues. First of all I am convinced that we as Christians should educate ourselves regarding all the relevant facts and different points of view on this subject if we want sceptical people to take us seriously. Too many Christians make simplistic and ignorant statements after they’ve seen some DVD series or read a few things on the internet, unwittingly showing that they don’t really understand the issues and unfortunately thereby damaging the credibility of Christianity as an intellectually robust belief-system. Secondly, and this is more challenging, my wish is for Christians who are well informed, to make room for other, also well informed Christians, but who have different points of view. The challenge is to be able to recognise and appreciate the strengths of the other’s point of view, while at the same time not regard the weaknesses of that point of view as some sort of indication of a degenerate faith or wilful compromise of Biblical truth. I really believe that Christians can have deep and meaningful discussion on where they differ on these matters, but many Christians mostly manage only to create suspicion and call names (there are exceptions, for e.g. I like the way the contributors of Three Views on Creation and Evolution [eds. Moreland & Reynolds] have discussed the issues).
It seems to me, from looking at the content of some of your topics, that you are sensitive regarding these issues and that you are very much concerned with helping people to understand the facts as well as the underlying issues. This is something that we seriously need here in South Africa. Thanks for you willingness to help us sort through some of these issues.
Thanks for this email – I am blessed to be part of the team visiting South Africa, and very excited about it. Thanks also for articulating your concerns, which are legitimate and well-founded. You hit the nail on the head – there is not only disagreement regarding the question of origins and what science and Genesis have to say about it, but unfortunately also a lot of division between Christians over it. I’ve seen my share of it.
Due to this state of affairs, a rich variety of issues pertaining to the interface between science and Christianity often go unexplored, and this is unfortunate because studying some of these issues can add strength to our overall apologetic and also deepen our worship of God. Let me say that I for one don’t believe that any of the views held by believers, including the scholars among us answer every question and every shred of evidence there is. Each view leaves important facets of the issue unanswered. That is something I hope to show in my speaking sessions or during the QA. Genesis 1 & 2 contains very brief statements about scientific matters, and there is much we are not told, since the purpose of the text is really theological. I also believe that the issue of the age of the universe should not be a test for orthodoxy or even for assessing if one has a high view of Scripture or one’s devotion to Christ. For one thing, it promotes an attitude contrary to Christ, and for another, the facts show otherwise – many devout as well as scholarly Christians whose faith and service to Christ are beyond reproach believe in an old universe.
I am definitely in agreement with you that as Christians we need to understand the various points of view well before we attempt to address unbelievers. As an example, I have often seen well-meaning believers characterize evolution as “silly”, mainly because it sounds ridiculous, without actually understanding the claims of the theory, much less knowing what its weaknesses actually are. Likewise, taking the time to learn the differing views held by Christians is necessary if we are going to truly value unity and fellowship amongst ourselves. When we disagree, the spirit in which we do so speaks louder than the arguments we lay out.
To be effective while also walking charitably towards one another, I’ve found making certain key distinctions helpful. For one thing, the content we present should be a function of our primary task, and this primary task itself should be determined after making a distinction between audiences. For believers, we assume the indwelling of the Spirit, and our task is primarily to edify, promote familiarity with the text of Scripture, and equip for evangelism, and the content should be geared accordingly. For non-believers, our task is primarily to remove perceived obstacles to the Gospel from the paths of seekers and respond to attacks, and this may include demonstrating God’s existence, the scientific accuracy of the Scriptures, and so on. We just can’t uncritically get into an argument with an unbeliever over the age of the universe, when we could be using that time to help demonstrate why God’s existence is a rational belief.
I know personally what its like not be shown sensitivity to my doubts and questions regarding spiritual things – in fact, it was one of the reasons I slipped into agnosticism as a kid. I hope during this trip to embody that sensitivity while doing my part in promoting better understanding of the various viewpoints on this and other subjects. Thanks again for this email, because it helps to exchange our concerns well in advance the events that have been planned.