Todd Charles Wood
June 1, 2012
In my previous Colossian Forum essay, I concluded that the way forward in the culture war over creation and evolution is surrender. As I saw it then (and see it now), surrender follows Christ’s own example of radical humility and surrender in the face of death, a death that would bring eternal life to many. But even as I wrote about this surrender, I honestly had no clue what it might entail. How does one surrender in a battle over truth? How would that achieve anything? Are we supposed to just let heresy into the church, whatever we think heresy might be? I’ve given these questions a lot of thought, prayer, and study, and I can’t say that I’ve resolved anything too clearly yet. At this point, however, I’m pretty sure I know what surrender isn’t.
I know that surrender doesn’t mean that we can just pretend it doesn’t matter. For some folks, that might seem like an easy way out, especially when the issues are complicated. Why try to understand the intricacies of argon-argon dating or genetic coalescence if you don’t have to? Is Genesis really worth all the fuss? I have to admit that for many individuals, ignoring the problem is probably good enough. It really is a complicated subject, and it’s not something you can get a handle on by reading a blog post or a magazine article. If it doesn’t affect the way you live your life, why worry about it?
But is that really the way we as the collective body of Christ ought to deal with differences? Especially when the disagreements aren’t just about whether to serve juice or wine, but about what the entire narrative of salvation really is? The creation/fall/redemption narrative has been part of Christian theology for centuries, and evolution appears to pose a profound challenge to that narrative. We all know that there are many who claim that evolution is not compatible at all with Christian theology, and there are also those who seem happy to begin the task of re-imagining theology for this evolutionary age. That sounds like an important issue to me. Maybe it’s not a discussion that everyone can participate in equally, but the Church needs to collectively address this problem. Surrender cannot mean ignoring the issue.
I’m also sure that surrender isn’t just letting the “other side” win. That’s the most obvious meaning of surrender, but that’s definitely not what Christ did on the cross. He couldn’t possibly let the enemy win, especially when His surrender was the very key to victory. If we are to follow His example, we can’t just let the other side win, whoever the other side might be.
I also think we shouldn’t let one side win because the issues at stake are far too important. On the one hand, evolutionary creationists claim that young-earth and progressive creationists distort or even lie about scientific research and discoveries. On the other hand, young-earth and progressive creationists claim that making peace with evolution undermines the heart of the Christian message. These charges are far too important to surrender without careful evaluation, especially if there’s some measure of truth in the accusations of both sides. It’s too soon to just let one side win. Surrender must be something more.
Looking back at the passion of Christ, I think we can find some guidance for our own acts of surrender in His Gethsemane prayer, “Not my will but thine be done.” Christ’s surrender was not to circumstances, the Devil, or other people. Jesus surrendered to God and God alone.
I think first we need to surrender our own selfish desires. In academic debates, like any other argument, personal desire goes beyond just being right. When I’m in a heated argument, I want my opponent to admit that I’m right. If I didn’t, there wouldn’t be an argument in the first place. I would just present my understanding of things, and my opponent would do likewise. Then we might talk about the potential weaknesses or strengths of our ideas, but that would be it. We’d end the discussion with a better understanding of our positions. In reality, arguments get heated when we want the opponents to concede to our superior understanding. That’s a vain and selfish desire if ever I heard one. For us to move forward in this creation debate, we must surrender that desire.
But wait, this isn’t just any old argument here. We’re talking about potentially serious problems. If creationists really are distorting science and bringing shame on the gospel, that’s a big deal, and likewise, if evolutionists are fundamentally altering the basic message of Christian theology. Is this something we can just sit down and have a chat about? This is the future of the Church at stake. We need to take some kind of action. Right?
That brings me to the second ingredient of Christ’s surrender: acknowledging the sovereignty of God. In the debate over creation, there’s a lot of hand-wringing over what will happen to the Church if evolutionists or creationists win. The evolutionists will destroy Christianity, or the creationists will turn us into a cult! It seems to me that these exaggerations both ignore the power of God. He’s preserved His Church for two thousand years through some grim and horrifying heresies. Should we suddenly expect that He’s powerless to guide us through this debate on creation? Does He really need us to step in and help Him out? Or are we just betraying our own lack of faith?
I think that the God who created this universe is still God enough to help us work out our differences. I know that His Word will accomplish what He sends it to do. He doesn’t need my help to get the point across. He doesn’t need me to defend Him. If we believe that God is sovereign – if we really believe it – then we really ought to relax and let Him do His work. Surely He can sort out all these debates when we seek His guidance, but if we try to control things ourselves, to selfishly get the other side to admit we’re right, we really will bring shame on the gospel.
I confess that these acts of surrender will not be easy. I really do want to recognize God’s sovereignty and to give up my vain desires, but as a young-earth creationist, I have grave concerns about the mixing of evolution and Christian theology. I feel like I need to do something, but maybe that something is surrender. Maybe I should cast myself at Jesus’ feet and ask Him to help my unbelief. I hope you’ll do the same, and perhaps together we’ll see God move in a remarkable way.
I think He’d like that.
Todd Charles Wood is an associate professor of biology and director of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College. In his spare time, he enjoys classic movies, making pie, and traveling with his wife.