Survey Says… These Are People We Love Listening To

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A few Novembers ago, at a conference of theologians and biblical scholars (the American Academy of Religion), I heard a fascinating lecture from the world-class, New Testament scholar N.T. Wright. Wow. I love his work, and so I ran up to him afterward and asked a burning question, “Dr. Wright, I’m excited that you’re now writing about faith and science, what’s next?” Given his reputation as a prolific author, I half-expected him to reply, “Wait a minute, I’m just about to finish my next book on evolution and the Bible.” Instead I was a bit crushed to hear this: “I don’t have plans to do more—it was just something Francis Collins asked me to do.” I’m thankful this isn’t the whole story and that, since then, Collins (and others) keep asking him how to bring faith and science together.

And so, as the title suggests, this week (and next) I’m focusing on a pair of your highest rated thinkers from our summer survey.

N.T. Wright

“My point is this: if you’re trying to have a discussion about God’s involvement in the world—creation, science, whatever—while living and breathing a system in which God has been disinvolved with the world by definition… there is this opposition set up, deep within the structure of how people think, that is going to make it very difficult.”

Wright, arguably the greatest New Testament scholar today, has stated, “I make no claims to know anything about science.” And yet, because of an invitation by Collins (and who among us would turn that down?), Wright has maintained an ongoing relationship with BioLogos and thus with science and faith issues. Worth noting is his most recent book, God and the Pandemic, which emerged from an article Time asked him to write on a Christian response to the coronavirus.

His most extensive direct comments on science and the Christian Faith are in Surprised By Scripture. These comments—for Wright, who can be prolix—are quite succinct. I know because I read and savored his 740-page The Resurrection of the Son of God, which is in fact my favorite book of Wright’s. Thankfully, in Surprised by Scripture, there’s a shorter version, “Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?” His answer is yes, because, though not exactly like scientific research, there is compelling historical evidence for Jesus’s rising from the dead.

Wright’s contribution to the dialogue with science focuses on what we might call metaphysics or worldview and thus the way some scientists wrap their thought around a philosophical materialism that never had a place for God—e.g., Richard Dawkins—and therefore don’t find God in their work. “The real problem ought not to be posed in terms of faith on the one hand and science on the other, but in terms of worldview that splits faith and science (held, and trumpeted shrilly, by creationists and Dawkinsians alike) and one that does not.”

To use a Britishism, Wright thinks “Christianly” about a host of topics, including science. He brings not simply the technical skills of New Testament exegesis, but the framework and imagination of God’s grace-filled interaction with creation and how that’s revealed in Scripture. Because of his faith, Wright has the ability to see everything, including science, beautifully. He embodies the well-known line form C.S. Lewis that I’ve heard him quote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”


 


Rachel Held Evans

“Science challenges us to rethink the notion of us being at the center of everything. And if we’re willing to let that humble us, I think that can be a good thing.”

An earlier project Drew and I collaborated on, Science and Theology for Students and Emergent Adult Ministries (or STEAM) helped fund the promotion of an amazing documentary by Lee Camp and his variety show Tokens on the 1925 Dayton, Tennessee “Monkey Trial.” It’s called Dichotomies in Dayton, and in it, Camp posed this question to the famous daughter of Dayton, Rachel Held Evans, “What do you mean by calling yourself an evolutionist?” Among other things, Evans replied with the quotation above. We aren’t the center of the universe and that makes us open to learning. Or, as she mentioned in an earlier interview—a particular scientist played a key role, “I’ve already mentioned Francis Collins’ book The Language of God, but I cannot adequately explain how dramatically this book changed my perspective.”

Evans was a leading voice for progressive Christians and found that integrating science was critical for keeping her faith. And that word “was” is key. Any comment about Evans has to underline that she died far too young—at age 37 in 2019. Her final book, Inspired, is essentially an overview of, and introduction to, the Bible. Evans loved the Scripture and knew its power. (And, by the way, she cited N.T. Wright eight times, as a scholar who helped her to engage the Bible more thoughtfully.) Her comments on the creation texts in Genesis—specifically on what she discovered these chapters of the Bible intend to address (and what they don’t)—are significant: “Contrary to what many of us are told, Israel’s origin stories weren’t designed to answer scientific, twenty-first-century questions about the beginning of the universe or the biological evolution of human beings, but rather were meant to answer then-pressing, ancient questions about the nature of God and God’s relationship to creation.”

I’ve had several, generally younger, friends tell me how much Evans meant to them and how deeply they mourn her loss. When I read Inspired a month or so ago, it struck me as remarkably orthodox for this voice of “progressive Christianity,” a title that to many means “heretical.” To me, it’s fairly simple—her words teach me more about Jesus and how to appreciate God’s Word in a scientific and technological world. And that’s orthodox enough for me.

All in all, we’ve learned a lot from Evans and Wright, and by identifying them on our survey, the SftC team has learned about you. Next time, I’ll continue looking at the list of “important voices in your journey of faith.” To close this week, let me congratulate our five survey prize winners: Siri Erickson, Mary Sweet, Marty Folsom, Stacey Lundy, and Dan Herbert!

Greg

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