Todd Wood on “Surrender”Posted by Matthew Dodrill on July 12, 2012
Todd Wood has recently written an essay that reflects on the church’s attitude of surrender. As he has said in a previous article, the way to sustain the unity of the body of Christ in the midst of a culture war over creation and evolution is to follow the surrendering humility of Christ. Dr. Wood spends a portion of this essay disclaiming the notion that surrender implies a passive and lethargic disregard for the matters at hand. Surrender is not synonymous with nonchalantly ignoring the issues or refusing to understand the deep grammar employed in these conversations.
The posture taken by some Christians who do rigorously deal with the issues is often rather dismissive, despite their passionate research. On the one hand, a person’s intense study of what he or she takes the biblical text to mean might lead this person to eschew the scientific inquiries that appear to contradict or disrupt this person’s interpretive paradigm. On the other hand, a person’s scientific commitments might lead this person to ignore biblical and theological tenets that have been held by the church for millennia (Wood’s example of the dynamic between the creation/fall/redemption narrative and evolution illustrates the point). Both scenarios offer examples of the kind of surrender Dr. Wood does not propose we embody.
Dr. Wood’s notion of surrender takes a cruciform shape. That is, he looks at the passion of Christ as a model of surrender, particularly as characterized in his Gethsemane prayer: “Not my will but thine be done.” As Wood goes on to say, “Christ’s surrender was not to circumstances, the Devil, or other people. Jesus surrendered to God and God alone.”
And then, Wood asks the pivotal question: “How could that work in this debate over creation?”
When we surrender to God and God alone, says Wood, we surrender the selfish desires that are at the root of our aspirations of winning arguments. This reminds me of a story I once heard about a professor who debated another revered scholar on a topic I cannot recall at the moment. The first professor, who was a Christian, happened to believe he’d gotten the best of the other scholar, so he later called another Christian colleague (a theologian), and told him he’d won. “I won! I did it. I finally beat Professor So-and-So!” To this his colleague responded, “What are you talking about? Jesus already won two-thousand years ago!”
Dr. Wood, like the wise colleague, reminds us that the point of pursuing truth is not to have opponents “concede to our superior understanding.” If surrendering is to take on a cruciform shape, this kind of selfishness has no place in discipleship.
Surrender, according to Wood, also assumes that God’s sovereignty is acknowledged. There’s a latent assumption that we are saviors of the world when we think our evolutionist or creationist positions will save Christianity and, hence, the world. The austere crusading mentality amounts to nothing but idolatry, a worship of oneself, because it assumes that God is not (and cannot) sustain the church and hold all things together. As Wood says, “the God who created this universe is still God enough to help us work out our differences.”
Are you currently engaged in a conversation with someone on these issues? If so, good! – These conversations are worth having. But as you have this dialogue, what can you surrender? And how?
Matt Dodrill is a Junior Fellow of The Colossian Forum responsible for blogging, editorial work, research and writing. He holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Calvin College, and is pursuing an MDiv at Duke Divinity School. His convictions continue to be shaped by the cultural and theological concerns of the Southern Baptist Church, which was the tradition of his upbringing. His interests include Patristics, ethics, and 19th and 20th century Roman Catholic theology. Given his Baptist roots, he is also interested in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit within the Free Church tradition, especially as it concerns the Spirit’s role in reconciling conflicting members of Free Church congregations. Before coming to the Forum, Matt worked as a hitting and fielding instructor for youth baseball players, as well as an umpire. He and his wife, Abigail, have newborn twin daughters.