I asked this mainline pastor if he was still engaging science regularly. We were in the midst of evaluating the Scientists in Congregations program (SinC) back in 2018. He had been part of one of the pastor/scientist teams from about 35 churches in the United States and beyond. Since finishing his SinC project, he had moved from church on the edge of Appalachia to the Boston suburbs.
Not really, was his reply. It is just not an issue for us here. He went onto describe his new congregation as one that takes science seriously and does not feel a sense of conflict. However, he noted that the SinC program they had designed at his last call—both the structure and the dialogue style—was something he continued to use. Specifically, he had been applying it to divisions exposed by the 2016 election.
Tools That Translate
Last Wednesday, I was geeking out about entropy and time—the subjects of the newsletter I intended to send you this morning. Then the news broke. Protesters had breached the Capitol while Congress was in session to certify the Electoral College results. Order turning to disorder—the second law of thermodynamics—was definitely apropos of the scene. Still, I kept thinking, Do science and faith have anything to offer the church right now?
Then I remembered what that Boston-area pastor had done after the last election. I recalled the important work by our friends at The Colossian Forum helping the church to leverage divisive cultural issues—such as origins, sexuality, and politics—as opportunities for discipleship.
That is to say that while faith and science debates—such as the Intelligent Design paradigm, an old vs. young Earth, or a literal Adam and Eve—seem peripheral to our political division, the experience of having those conversations offer us tools that translate to our current predicament.
- Spend some time with The Colossian Forum to learn about how they equip Christian communities to navigate some of the most divisive issues.
- What can we take from these ten theses on creation and evolution for evangelicals and apply to our political division?
In God’s Story
Let me make this a three-point newsletter of what I have learned from working with churches and Christian ministries as they engage with science. I think they apply to conservative and liberal churches alike and, while I have not tested them in the deeply contested space of politics, I expect they will translate well.
1. Ideas matter, but people matter more: So often religion and science is about ideas—the right understand of Genesis, getting our history correct about the Galileo affair, or understanding the limits of science. Obviously, these are important—we send you our ideas every week in this newsletter.
But ministry and the church are first and foremost about people and relationships. God’s call on our life is not perfect understanding. We are all flawed and such perfection is impossible. Rather God calls us to be in relationship; it is in right relationships with God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit that we receive salvation.
So, as we attend to ideas around divisive issues like faith and science or politics, we must remember that those ideas are mediated through people, each of whom bears the image of God. We’ve seen churches flourish when they listen and understand one another’s ideas and perspectives. Even when church members vehemently disagree on ideas, they come to value one another as an integral part of the body of Christ.
2. Be honest and humble: To truly engage difficult and divisive issues, we ultimately need to express our perspectives. We want people to understand where we are coming from and why we think what we think. If we are valuing people more than ideas, we should be able to be honest, even when we express polar opposite opinions. Our unity in Christ, as Jesus himself prayed for in John 17:20-23, should allow that.
But it is really helpful—probably essential—to be humble about it. All of us are fallen. All of us are susceptible to confirmation bias, groupthink, and self-righteousness. On these difficult issues, no one has it all figured out.
More importantly, true humility includes an eagerness to learn. I think Sir John Templeton was right with the catchphrase used by his Foundation and my past employer: How little we know, how eager to learn. For him, that was the humble approach needed to tackle difficult and divisive topics like religion and science.
3. Don’t confuse essentials with non-essentials: All too often, these divisive issues are NOT essential for the Gospel. Nowhere does Jesus say salvation comes to those who accept evolution by natural selection. God’s grace is not dependent on whether we read Scripture literally or metaphorically. Judgement day will most certainly reward faithful Republicans, faithful Democrats, and faithful Independents. Much of what divides us is non-essential. What is essential, as I read Scripture, is how we treat other people. We show a right relationship with God by how we love our neighbors. How do we treat the atheist scientist? What about those on the other end of the theological spectrum or those who vote differently? That love for one another—those in our in-group and in our out-group—is what God, through Jesus Christ, reveals to us as essential.
The division in our country is not going away anytime soon. The start of 2021 did not heal the open wounds of 2020: COVID-19, racism, and polarized politics. Our hope this year is that this newsletter can use science to help the Body of Christ better engage many of the issues that divide our churches, nation, and planet. May we trust in the unity that is given to us by Christ confident that in Him and in Him alone, as Colossians 1:17 states so clearly, “all things hold together.”
Together in Christ,