What a Young-Earth Creationist and an Evolutionary Creationist Would Like to Hear from Each OtherPosted by James K.A. Smith on October 27, 2012
I’m often asked just what The Colossian Forum is all about. I’m thankful that now, in addition to pointing people to our mission, vision, and values, I can also point them to a concrete example of the sort of conversation we want to foster: serious, respectful, charitable interaction between young earth creationists and evolutionary creationists, embodied in recent articles by Todd Wood and Dennis Venema.
But let me back up a bit.
The Colossian Forum on Faith, Science, and Culture was launched to foster a “new kind of conversation.” Unlike some other Christian organizations working at the intersection of faith and science, The Colossian Forum is not an advocacy group. We don’t represent any particular “camp” when it comes to the creation/evolution debate, nor are we trying to convince everyone to hold a particular position on human origins or stem cell research or global climate change. It’s not that we’re agnostic about these matters, or that we think they’re unimportant; it’s just that we think Christian convictions on such matters need to nested, and sort of relativized, in light of more fundamental convictions about the Gospel.
So what we do advocate is the central conviction that all things hold together in Christ (Col. 1:17). And we believe this makes a difference for how Christians have a conversation about matters that threaten to divide us. This is why The Colossian Forum is focused on the spade work needed to help the church be able to have such difficult conversations. Our task is not to provide information to settle a debate; instead, we want to foster formation in the requisite virtues of compassion, patience, humility, and charity so that the church can be a people who have such debates well–so that we can grapple with potentially divisive issues in a way that does not compromise the unity of the body of Christ, especially since our witness is tied to our unity (John 17:23).
This is also why The Colossian Forum places such an emphasis on worship and prayer: we believe these are the Spirit-charged practices by which we learn to “put on Christ,” and thereby put on love. That doesn’t make our disagreements go away. But it does place our disagreements in a new light.
It’s with all of this in mind that we extended two invitations. First, Todd Wood, a widely-known young earth creationist who teaches at Bryan College (you can learn more about Todd in a recent Christianity Today profile) shared “What I Would Like to Hear an Evolutionary Creationist Say.” Notice the posture here: it’s not, “What I Would Say to an Evolutionary Creationist,” but rather an expression of what he would like to hear. Of course, he has heard all sorts of things from evolutionary creationists–and trust me, not all of them have been edifying. Todd is used to hearing that he is backward, anti-intellectual, ignorant, and more. And in other contexts, no doubt Todd has defended himself, sought to win the argument. But in his article for The Colossian Forum, we were inviting him to something different: to place himself in a posture of receptive listening, while at the same time expressing hope.
Laying aside intellectual weapons sharpened for battle, Wood’s gambit is surprising: “As a young age creationist, let me take this opportunity to follow my own advice and publicly express my ignorance.” That’s not a very promising opening if you’re hoping to win an argument. But Wood is after something else here: you might say he hopes to win a brother. And so he continues:
How can this confession of ignorance ever hope to resolve the deadlock over science and theology? If you’re looking for one side (yours) to prevail over the others, then confessing ignorance is a guarantee of defeat. In an intellectual battle, you’ve got to have answers, right? Admitting that we don’t have answers just makes us look weak. Opponents will never concede that we’re right if can’t answer their questions!
Maybe that’s the point. Recall that the Apostles argued amongst themselves about which was the greatest. Undoubtedly, part of that argument must have entailed which Apostle had the most theologically correct understanding of Jesus’ teachings. What was Jesus’ response? He got up and began washing their feet, just like a slave would do. The time for words was past. In that final, living parable, Christ showed us what it is to be great. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted. To be great, become the slave of all.
When it comes to the origins fight, maybe the key is to follow Christ’s example. Maybe the only way we’ll ever resolve the war is through surrender. Maybe in surrender, we’ll find out what real victory is. Maybe we’ll find that confessing ignorance is the first step towards finding God’s truth. Maybe we’ll discover that asking for wisdom is just what God wanted us to do all along. Most important of all, maybe we’ll find that we can humbly ask for wisdom together, and in doing so, the world really will see something different about us.
This is the sign of a new kind of conversation.
So our second invitation went to Dennis Venema, a geneticist and evolutionary creationist at Trinity Western University who has been a longtime contributor to Biologos. Dennis offered a similar reflection: “What I Would Like to Hear a Young-Earth Creationist Say.” Now trust me, it’s not like Dennis has never heard from young-earth creationists before. No doubt he regularly receives angry emails in his inbox from YECers who have been all too happy to tell him exactly what they think of his faith and about the very status of his salvation. But once again, Venema adopts a different posture: not one of defense, but rather a stance of supplication. As Venema frames it, what he really wants to hear is not just a litany of agreements on scientific data:
the most important thing I would like to hear a YEC say to someone of my views isn’t a scientific statement at all – it’s a statement of unity in Christ. It’s the simple “brother” or “sister” that says – “we’re both part of the same family.” Even if we disagree on the mechanism of creation, affirming our unity in Christ needs to be the starting point for the conversation.
The Colossian Forum exists to foster space for just such a conversation. Ideally, we believe this is best pursued in spaces of embodied communication, which is why we are committed to hosting forums that provide an opportunity to “practice” the virtues necessary for a new kind of conversation.
But since Todd and Dennis have already demonstrated that, contrary to popular belief (and practice!), it might actually be possible to have charitable conversations via the web, we hope this venue might be a place for them to continue the conversation–to engage each other first-hand. And so we’ve opened the comments below, inviting both Todd and Dennis to respond. But we’re also opening the conversation to YOU: so take a look at our Forum Etiquette, and with the goals above in mind, join this new kind of conversation.
James K.A. Smith is a Senior Fellow of The Colossian Forum. He is professor of philosophy at Calvin College. He also teaches in the department of congregational & ministry studies and is a research fellow of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. He previously taught at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Villanova University in Philadelphia (where he earned his PhD in philosophy). Jamie has also been a visiting professor at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Regent College in Vancouver, and Trinity College at the University of Toronto. His numerous publications include Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?; Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation; Letters to a Young Calvinist and Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy. With Amos Yong he recently co-edited Science and the Spirit: Pentecostal Engagements with the Sciences. Jamie and his wife, Deanna, have four children.