TCF recently hosted the third in a forum series on the origins of human existence, this one held at the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, TN. The four-day event included a private gathering of scholars in related fields, as well as a public forum at the Rhea County Courthouse featuring TCF Fellows Todd Wood and Darrel Falk.
During our time in Dayton, TCF and our partners were also invited by Bryan College to lead a chapel service for their faculty, staff and students. You can read about the service on the student news site here. The college has also made available an audio recording of the event, posted online here.
We are grateful to Bryan College for creating space for this important and difficult conversation.
You may have noticed how quickly conversations can get contentious when politics come up, even (or especially) among Christians. In a bold effort to change the way we go about these difficult issues, friend of TCF Harold Heie has just released a book that models a way of holding respectful conversations in the midst of political disagreements.
In Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues, Heie addresses concerns ranging from immigration to marriage to gun control to foreign policy. In a unique approach to these issues, he begins by drawing on posts from an online conversation he hosted at respectfulconversation.net. Over the course of nine months, Christians who hold a broad variety of perspectives on these matters interacted with one another thoughtfully and respectfully, modeling a civil mode of engagement. As the online conversation drew to a close, Heie collected these contributions and worked to synthesize them, highlighting commonality or majority opinions and proposing next steps in working together for resolution. The result, Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues, invites the reader to follow the example of these thinkers, and to engage in difficult political conversations with grace and respect.
While TCF has not yet hosted forums on the topic of political discourse, we realize that the church desperately needs tools to engage this challenge more fruitfully and charitably. Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues presents an approach that complements our work for hospitable conversation, and suggests a variety of entry points into this difficult arena. We are grateful to our friend Harold for modeling a better way and for challenging Christians to a more respectful conversation.
TCF recently hosted the third in a forum series on the origins of human existence, this one held at the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, TN. The four-day event included a public forum, featuring TCF Fellows Todd Wood and Darrel Falk. Friend of TCF Don Huizinga graciously agreed to share the following reflections on his experience that evening.
Recently I had the privilege of listening in on a thoughtful, gracious conversation between a young earth creationist and an evolutionary creationist, a rare treat indeed. One can quite easily find debates between the two, but respectful dialogue is rare. Questions were answered head on, no evasion, no trying to score points, no reciting the party line. I simply experienced two people being authentic with one another, seeking reconciliation and seeking truth. Those who attended recognized this is the way things are supposed to be and were inspired to go and do likewise.
Surprisingly, this particular conversation took place in Dayton, Tennessee, inside the very courthouse where the Scopes Trial was held eighty-nine years earlier. Although the courthouse crowd was large enough to be standing room only, they were not drawn to what they expected to be a circus-like, hyper-adversarial, media-pleasing conflict. Rather, they were drawn to something spectacular, perhaps one could even say historic: a virtuous conversation between two individuals whose common allegiance to Jesus trumped their strong convictions to opposing truths about the nature of Scripture and the scientific origins story.
Two Christian scientists engaged in this conversation: Todd Wood and Darrel Falk, each committed to following Jesus, each committed to the authority of the Bible, each committed to doing good science. Nevertheless, their common foundational commitments led them to draw quite opposite conclusions about the age of the universe and the nature of God’s creative processes.
Why have this conversation then? The answer begins with confession. Unfriendly Christian divisiveness has been the norm concerning origin issues. Defending turf with more passion for one’s position than for civility has been the norm. Humility—the willingness to admit one may possibly be wrong—has been absent. Expressed dire consequences of holding the opponent’s position have been exaggerated.
Besides, they both love truth. Could it be possible that conversations between those who hold opposing views could advance truth? May seeking truth together with those who hold divergent ideas have significant advantage over a more parochial approach?
They also both love Jesus. They believe Jesus is through whom and for whom creation was made. They believe Jesus is reconciling all things to Himself, and they need to be part of that reconciliation process. They trust that He is at the center of the truth. All things hold together in Him.
This was the third of three extended conversations these two scientists have had. I’ve had the privilege of listening in on portions of the first, which occurred last July, and the third, this month. The difference was striking. Their first interchange had a raw edge to it; this one did not.
Todd Wood, a young earth creationist, impresses me with his vulnerability and transparency. In July, Todd confessed that many creationists find it easy to see Darrel, an evolutionary creationist, not as a Christian brother, but as a ‘dirty rotten compromiser.’ As one who claimed to be evangelical only to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is difficult, Todd explained, to refrain from stereotyping when you don’t know someone personally. He wondered, “If Darrel is a Christian, why doesn’t he agree with me?” He asked the attendees, “I don’t know how to pray for Darrel, help me.”
At the same time, he complimented Darrel on his answers, praising him for appealing to Scriptures rather than to science as the final authority. Later he professed that after intense interaction with Darrel, he had come to a place where he could tell his friends that there are real true evangelicals who believe in evolution. (Emphasis his.)
Darrel Falk recognized Todd as a bright scientist, one who published in peer-reviewed journals. So he asked Todd, “With all your knowledge of the science behind evolution, why don’t you just accept it?” Todd was an enigma to him. He listened carefully to Todd’s answer and respected it. In fact, Darrel’s response was, “I admire your willingness to be non-mainstream. Your answer enables me to pray for you.” Darrel emphasized more than once that conversation about origins without the presence of young earth creationists is unhealthy; in addition he believed that the headship of Jesus expressed in Colossians 1 demanded inclusive conversation.
In contrast to their first conversation, during the third Todd and Darrel seemed much more relaxed with one another. They used the word “friendship” to describe their relationship. I witnessed a profound trust I had not seen the first time. That atmosphere of trust enabled tough questions to be asked without the need to “tiptoe.”
Todd asked of Darrel, “Do you feel the primary problem underlying Young Earth Creationism is ignorance? What do you think about the lack of progress evolutionists have had in finding satisfactory natural answers for the origin of life from non-life?” At the same time, Todd felt safe enough to admit to sometimes thinking he may be wrong, that some of the best evidence for his position remains to be found. And he acknowledged that even among creationists, for example, there remains some disagreement about the Fall, the curse, and death. Wood agrees with other creationists that the curse resulted in physical death for humans and some animals – but in some senses the “jury is still out” as to whether there may have been death among some in the animal kingdom before the Fall.
For his part, Darrel felt free to ask Todd for the best scientific evidence for ‘no macro-evolution’ rather than asking for his biblical reasoning. He felt safe enough to admit that he does not doubt the ‘overwhelming and beautiful’ evidence for biological evolution even though tough theological questions are raised and remain unanswered as a result. Darrel boldly stated that physical death was not necessarily a result of the Fall, although spiritual death was.
All three conversations between these two Christian scientists were hosted by The Colossian Forum, this last one in partnership with the Core Academy of Science. The Colossian Forum is committed to facilitating charitable conversation among opposite though Christian points of view on controversial topics such as origins. The Core Academy works to help Christians better understand science, including – but not limited to – educating about young-earth creationism. This co-hosting is evidence of a reconciliation, a building of trust that honors Christ. Many of those who attended this conversation were students at Bryan College. For these young people, and for the rest of us who were present, the model of friendship and trust that has grown between these two men, and the respectful but difficult conversation they had were powerfully inspirational!
The evening began with worship. We listened to Scripture, not as proof text, but with encouragement to submit to its teaching, allowing Scripture to shape us rather than us manipulating it to prove a point. Then we prayed, bound together by the Spirit of Christ.
At the end, Rob Barrett, representing The Colossian Forum as moderator of the event, asked this question of each of the participants, “What good is coming from this kind of conversation?” Darrel emphasized that Christians on any side of this issue benefit from worshipping together. “We owe it to each other to ease misunderstandings,” he said. “We need to work through issues differently than those not in the body of Christ.” Wood explained that Christians must let go of the need to win: “[We] have to trust the outcome of this process to the Lord.” He recognized that the difference between six thousand years and thirteen point eight billion years was too great for both of them to be right.
This irreconcilable but very pragmatic difference, this recognition that one perspective is closer to the truth than the other, points to something else we hope from these events, which does not yet seem to have happened. Has progress been made toward increased understanding of origins? Todd and Darrel have accomplished amazing things in their relationship, but has the content of their understanding of origins changed? Maybe it’s too early in the process. Maybe it’s not a proper goal? Can we hope that this conversation/friendship will lead to an understanding of the truth about our origins that is a step forward, taking advantage from but not identical to either of their current positions? These tensions were alive and well at the end of this conversation, and will continue to demand the attention of The Colossian Forum and its partners. However, as Todd reminded the audience, this work can move forward with confidence and hope: “The Spirit of God won’t let us go! He is bigger than wrong answers.”
We listeners experienced all that Todd and Darrel hoped for: Easing of misunderstanding. Letting go of a desire to win. Trust that the Holy Spirit won’t let us go because He is bigger than our wrong answers. Thank you, Colossian Form; thank you, Core Academy of Science. Thank you Todd Wood; thank you Darrel Falk. You are the models we need. You are an inspiration!
TCF recently hosted the third in a forum series on the origins of human existence, this one held at the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, TN. A central part of each forum is joint worship, and participants are invited to contribute short meditations on each day’s lectionary reading. The following reflection was offered by Iain Provan, who serves as Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College.
Luke 23:26-56 tells the story of Christ’s final hours on earth (see the full text below). A famous and important passage from Luke’s Gospel, and there are many things that could be said about it. Our focus in all our Scripture reading this weekend, though, has been on the question: How does this passage help us to become the kind of people who can engage difficult problems well? And if we ask that question of the passage, let me suggest that this is a passage that, in the midst of difficulties, gives us perspective, and also gives us hope.
It gives us perspective because most of our problems in life are remarkably small when compared with the problems faced in this passage by our Lord himself and also by his followers. Here is Jesus, crucified with criminals at the place called “the skull” – Jesus who had only a little while ago entered Jerusalem with cheering crowds lining the streets. Now he walks to his place of execution, still followed by a crowd – but this crowd is mourning and wailing. They had hoped for so much, and now all their hopes seem to have come to an end. On the cross Jesus endures cruel taunting about his powerlessness, and biting sarcasm about his claim to be a king. Even one of his fellow criminals hurls insults him. And all of this even though he has done nothing wrong – as the other criminal reminds us. This is a devastating ending, it appears, to his story, and the darkness that falls on the whole land seems to suggest that all of creation has empathetically entered into the disaster. The last that his own followers see of him is when his body is laid in a tomb. It is a very bleak moment.
When we consider this apparently final act in the life of our Lord and Saviour, we realize among other things just how trivial are so many of the things that we refer to as difficulties, or problems, and just how much we make of them. That is not to say that we do not genuinely suffer – of course, we do, sometimes directly because we are disciples of this same person, taking up our own cross and following him, and sometimes in very painful ways. Some of us suffer greatly for much of our lives. But all too often, if we are honest, we make an awful lot of quite small matters – a disagreement; a slight, or a hurt; an angry word. And whereas our Lord, even in great distress, moved outwards in generous love, even toward his better enemies, asking the Father to “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” we often make no such moves, outward, toward understanding and reconciliation, even with those who are not really our enemies, but are only irritatingly different from us in their opinions, or who have criticized us in some way, or have misrepresented us to others. Small matters! We take up our cross, but only as a weapon, either to defend ourselves or to attack others. We are called to do better, surely, by the one who laid down his life for all of us. We are called to a Gospel perspective, centered not just on the life of Christ, but also in this narrative about his death. And we become the kind of people who can engage difficult problems well, essentially, by first becoming the kind of people, in Christ, who can engage small problems well. We cannot run unless we first learn to walk.
Beyond perspective, this passage from Luke’s Gospel also gives us hope. We all need hope. One of the reason we need hope is because we so often fail, and failure leads to discouragement, and soon we stop trying, because after all, what is the point? We open our hearts to our neighbor, and even to our enemy, and what happens? Do things necessarily get better? Well, not necessarily! In this narrative from Luke, Jesus opens his heart to others, including his enemies. And what follows is sneering, and mockery, and insult. And after all these, painful death. The life of the disciple of this same Jesus is no different, often. Christian faith does not guarantee that if only we put enough cash in the great Coke machine of life, great Coke cans of success will come tumbling out of the machine and into our hands. Opening our ears and our hearts to others can be excruciatingly difficult and painful. The ministry of reconciliation to which we are called in Christ can be tough. It can appear hopeless. And we need hope to keep us going – the hope that is centered on this same Jesus, who not only died, but also rose from the dead to reign over the entire cosmos. Out of death came life, and we ourselves are caught up into this life, knowing that every seed of reconciliation and understanding that we sow, even if it appears to result in nothing at all, will one day bear fruit, and that all our small actions in following Christ are caught up in his big actions, and in his entire person, and that they cannot ultimately fail. How do we become the kind of people who can engage difficult problems well? We need a hope that is grounded in Christ’s death and resurrection.
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
Late last year a high school teacher approached TCF with an idea: he wanted to host a lunch-time forum with his students about the interplay of faith and science. After a conversation with our president, he began to make plans, and wrote recently to tell us about their first gathering: a dozen high school students gave up their lunch break to talk with their science teacher about creation and evolution. Stepping back from some of the more standard (and heated) starting points of this particular conversation, he introduced the notion of “unexamined presuppositions”: what are the things we believe to be true before we even begin to make a scientific claim? This kind of thoughtful approach gives students the tools to engage potentially difficult issues with patience and confidence.
Shortly after the teacher announced this gathering, he began to receive requests from other students to join the lunchtime conversations. So many young people crave a safe space in which to ask questions about issues that matter deeply to them! Part of TCF’s founding vision was to help young people move from fear of these controversies to a sense of freedom for exploring God’s world. We’re not at all surprised that this friend of TCF has found a ready and anxious audience, and we’re deeply grateful for the time and energy he’s investing to create a safe space for his students to ask difficult questions.
Dear friends of TCF,
This week’s lectionary reading includes Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” – a sometimes perplexing passage that presents a striking vision of life in God’s kingdom. Jesus describes the counterintuitive fruit of faithfulness: loss becomes gain, poverty becomes wealth, emptiness is filled to overflowing. His words confront our everyday ways of seeing, and call us to live in light of a very different Way.
“Blessed are the peacemakers.” We all know that peacemakers on the global stage don’t have an easy time of it. Their work can be physically risky, emotionally grueling, and unrewarding for weeks or even years at a time. Peacemaking closer to home isn’t all that different. It requires of us hard work, courage, and patient yet unrelenting persistence. Peace isn’t something we stumble into, it’s something that we make as we participate in God’s Way. God has in fact gone before, breaking down barriers, inviting us into the peace He’s already established. So our work to make peace is a grateful expression of our identity as God’s children; when wemake peace we are in fact revealing a sort of family resemblance.
At TCF, I’m deeply honored to work side-by-side with Christians who are committed to this difficult business of making peace. In the thick of intense disagreements, I watch brothers and sisters exercise courage and patience and intense effort to pursue Christ’s peace together. And paradoxically, among children of God who see a great many things very differently, the peace of His kingdom is strikingly revealed.
Thank you for praying with me for God’s peace in the Church.
When we introduce folks to TCF’s work, it doesn’t take any time at all to convince them that our work for unity in the body of Christ is sorely needed. It takes a bit longer to persuade them that this is more than an idealistic dream. But as they begin to grasp that it’s actually possible to carry on difficult conversations in a way that draws us together rather than forcing us apart… well, beautiful things begin to happen.
As this vision continues to spread, we want to equip Christians to work with us for reconciliation in the midst of divisive issues. We’d of course love to host forums for any group, anywhere, who’s ready to take on this work. But we realize that often, the most effective leader will be someone in the community—someone who already knows the particular issues, the people, and the history. So, we’ve worked to develop a booklet to help leaders run their own forums (and soon, we’ll offer a forum leadership to accompany the book).
Start a New Kind of Conversation lays out a step-by-step process for setting up a forum: how to bring together the right group; how to identify and articulate a pressing issue; and how to host a fruitful and charitable conversation on a difficult topic. The process itself is relatively simple, and we hope this little book encourages Christians to engage a challenging issue with courage and grace.
If you share our vision and hope and are considering hosting a forum in your own community, we’d love to hear from you! Drop us an email or call us at (616) 328-6016, and we can talk about how you, too, can Start a New Kind of Conversation.
The Adam Quest, recently released by Tim Stafford, has shown itself to be both a source of conflict and an opportunity for transformation. One of its featured interviewees, TCF fellow Todd Wood, blogged yesterday about his response to the book, including his disappointment over what he feels is a misrepresentation of himself and of his young earth creationist perspective.
Wood’s frustration with this project—the book was initiated and supported by TCF—leads him to question his ongoing collaboration with our efforts to facilitate dialogue about divisive issues. We’ve been grateful for his willingness to enter into conversations, hosted by TCF, with scientists who openly support an evolutionary theory of creation. We also understand, however, that any attempt at such dialogue is fraught with fear and defensiveness, and that motives on all sides are apt to be questioned.
Which is why this post is such a beautiful picture of God’s in-breaking kingdom. Wood doesn’t shy away from the pain and fear that characterizes much of this difficult work. But in the midst of his frustration and disappointment, he embodies the persistence and hope without which we can’t possibly participate in God’s work of peace and reconciliation.
If you read one piece online today, it should be Wood’s post.
Dear friends of TCF,
As the holiday season slowly winds down, the church calendar leads us into a time of reflection and of renewed insight. Epiphany reminds us that there’s much more going on than “meets the eye,” that sometimes it takes quite a lot of effort on our part to discern what God is up to. It’s a season that calls us to look carefully, with openness to the surprises which God may hold in store.
One of the gifts of my work with TCF is the opportunity to watch, first-hand, as Christians catch a glimpse of the surprising unity we already share in Christ. In our forums, former opponents suddenly “see” one another in a new light—as brothers and sisters, as faithful followers of Christ. While those who were adversaries still maintain their differences, they nevertheless discover the deeper commonalities they share in pursuit of God’s kingdom. The difficult work of disagreeing well begins to open our eyes to how in Christ, all things truly do hold together (Col 1:17). And that vision is compelling indeed!
It is TCF’s goal to help Christians prepare for Epiphany year-round. We work to cast a vision and create space for unity in the church, to help Christians see one another not as threats but as gifts. And as we earnestly seek God’s truth, with honesty about our differences yet still in love, we come to see God’s gifts revealed in surprising ways.
Your prayers support this work, and I thank you for sharing with us in the joyful revelations of Epiphany!
Please note: if you would like to pray for TCF on a regular basis, please contact admin@colossianforum and ask to receive our monthly prayer letters. Thank you.
As 2013 comes to a close, our friends over at RespectfulConversation.net conclude their seven-month project with an exploration of the future of American Evangelicalism. Throughout the series, contributors have offered a wide range of perspectives – and of course this month is no different. There is, however, a recurring theme in this final set of posts that resonates with the work of TCF. As these writers look toward the future of evangelicalism in America, many of them express a deep hope that the church will find ways to pursue reconciliation across difference.
Amy Black writes longingly of a church that, in its unity, presents a compelling vision of God’s love for the world. A church united, she suggests, will create a welcoming space for the many young people who are leaving the faith. She suggests:
Our faith communities should seek to build the strong and lasting multigenerational friendships that are so essential for helping young people learn the faith and continue to follow Christ into adulthood.
Sarah Ruden calls the American church to pursue unity with the church worldwide. She describes the ways in which US Christians might learn from – and be challenged by – their brothers and sisters in the majority world.
In a similar vein, Amos Yong writes of the impact on the church of globalization, migration, and post-denominational Christianity. He suggests that as the body of Christ comes together to pursue obedience in the face of these significant shifts, the church will continue to grow and bear much fruit.
Kyle Roberts contributes the final post, in which he calls on the Evangelical church to find both its identity and vocation in the Gospel – the “unparalleled story of God’s project of reconciliation.” He writes:
The vocation of evangelical Christians, then, is to proclaim by word, deed, and life the story of reconciliation and to witness to that story of redemption. On the corporate, communal level, reconciliation with God becomes, by natural extension, reconciliation with others.
For us at TCF – a ministry of education and reconciliation – these posts present a hopeful call to the church. Differences abound, to be sure – but ultimately, the call on our lives is to respond to God’s love. We do this by pursuing the truth in love, and while this is no easy task, it does indeed hold out hope for our future together.
Worship is more than a form of expression to God – it’s also nourishment to form us as God’s people. Craig Dykstra describes worship as, “a tangible, embodied, communal rhythm that is a conduit for the Spirit’s transformative power.”
We encourage you to take time during this last week of Advent to reflect on the coming of our Savior. One resource you may find helpful is this 10-minute selection of The Advent Project called “Zachariah’s Song.” Drawn from A New Liturgy, this compilation of scripture and music attempts to create space to honestly engage with God and each other.
Click here to follow along with “Zacariah’s Song”:
TCF recently hosted a gathering of scholars whose vocations have led them into the arena of the creation/evolution debates. This very diverse group represented a broad range of perspectives, most of them articulated with a great deal of conviction. These folks have made significant career and church decisions based on their understandings of the interplay of faith and science, and many of them have suffered for the stands they’ve chosen.
It was nothing short of astonishing, then, to see these scholars articulate their hard-won perspectives with patience and selflessness, drawing on their differences as an opportunity to work for unity in the body of Christ. Over shared meals and joint worship and deep conversation, participants worked hard to listen well, to assume the best about each other, to seek to understand before being understood. They extended God’s love to one another in very real ways – from asking insightful questions to sharing chocolate.
Our gathering coincided with the second Sunday of Advent, a day to celebrate and anticipate the coming Prince of Peace. As we worshiped together with a local congregation, we were reminded that our efforts are in fact grounded in God’s work – that as we struggle to reconcile with one another, we are joining in the peace which God offers us in Christ – and then sharing this same peace with one another.
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)
The opportunity to work for peace in Christ’s body was indeed a gift to each of us. As we concluded our time together, talk was of “what’s next”—this may have been hard work, but participants were energized to continue and extend it! Just as this event grew out of an earlier gathering, we expect to be surprised by where this latest encounter might lead.
At one of our TCF Discovery Events this fall, I was introduced to a biology teacher from a local public high school. This past summer, he traveled with his geologist son to investigate the oldest rock in the world, considered to be billions of years old. Unlike his son, this teacher is uncertain about the age of the earth, but inclined to espouse a young earth view; as a result, he found himself in wonderful yet sometimes strained conversation with his son. He is confident in his son’s faith and confident in his own. They have a strong relationship, but they have lacked a framework for talking about their differences. After hearing about The Colossian Forum, he felt like he had been given the gift of a new vocabulary for exploring Christian faith. He now had a way to explain why the tensions he had experienced with his son didn’t threaten their relationship or their faith, but served as an opportunity to learn to love God and one another more deeply.
Excited by this possibility, not only for his son but for his students as well, he asked me to consult with him on how he might run “Colossian Forums” with his students during his lunch hour. Many of his students share a young earth creation perspective, but because he teaches in a public school setting, he finds teaching about evolution and Darwinism to be a particular challenge.
I invited him to join me for a conversation about his experience with teaching the Bible in a non-Christian setting, and we discussed a number of ways in which Christians might be able to have this conversation in unique ways, since we confess that “all things hold together in Christ.” I shared a draft of an upcoming publication that outlines some TCF methods for engaging divisive issues while deepening our Christian virtues, as well as a number of web resources and forum examples to support his work. He left our meeting exhilarated and empowered to run the kind of conversations we have been inviting people to join. We look forward to staying in touch with him to hear how these conversations unfold and to support him in prayer.
The Colossian Forum is pleased to announce that we have been awarded a generous grant by the Equitas Group, whose focus involves “Seeking justice for the vulnerable and oppressed as well as encouraging holistic and responsive thinking toward that end.” This grant will support our work to foster communities of sustained and hospitable dialogue, rooted in the practices of the faith. In particular, it will underwrite a project to gather church leaders and academic experts to explore holistic expressions of Christian faithfulness regarding human sexuality. As TCF learns from scholars and practitioners, we will develop resources to help equip the church to receive cultural challenges like this one not as threats that divide but as gifts by which the Holy Spirit deepens knowledge, builds community, and strengthens faith.
[God] will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
…Let us walk in the light of the Lord.
In this week’s lectionary reading, the prophet Isaiah paints for us a rich picture of life in the kingdom of the Prince of Peace. He instills in us a longing for this vision of shalom—of peace and wellbeing, of a world where all is well. And as Christians, we are invited to participate directly in its coming to be. While we trust in hope that one day this vision will be fully realized, we also give thanks that in Christ, this kingdom is already “in our midst”! (Luke 17:21)
We at TCF are profoundly aware that our project depends entirely on God’s work to “settle disputes for many peoples.” We realize that our efforts cannot bring about this shalom, but that as we walk in Christ’s light, we are invited to share in the peace that God brings. And we rely on our sisters and brothers—that’s you—to walk with us in prayer, asking together for Christ’s peace amidst the conflicts we encounter day by day.
Over the past month, I’ve been inundated by requests to continue the conversations begun at our local Discovery Events. These new friends have enthusiastically embraced the vision of TCF, and are eager to join us in this work.
Their gracious reception of our work affirms my conviction that Christians not only long for God’s shalom, but they also actively hope for it! I’m grateful for a growing circle of partners committed to this work.
Thank you for your prayers throughout this year. We trust that as the church enters the season of Advent, you will enjoy time to stop and reflect on all that Christ’s coming means for us.
Peace of Christ,
Note: TCF sends out a monthly update for those who wish to support our work in prayer. If you’d like to receive this directly, please contact email@example.com.
We welcomed historian Steve Nolt from Goshen College for a recent gathering of local leaders. Drawing on his research into Amish culture and tradition, Nolt introduced our group to one particular model for the adoption or rejection of new technologies.
As was also the case with the 19th-century Luddite movement, the Amish approach does not reject new technologies out of hand. Instead, the tradition maintains a strong sense of priorities which influence if or how new tools will be adopted. A new technology is not ignored, but closely scrutinized for the likelihood that it will either reinforce or undermine the values of the community. Over time, and on the basis of observation and intentional communal discernment, the community will then decide to reject, adopt, or perhaps even adapt the new tool. As one Amish writer summarizes, “Plain people [the Amish] do not oppose all new ideas and practices. There is a need to choose only those that will be of genuine benefit, and to reject those that break down the values we uphold.”
As we discussed this approach, one element that stood out was the communal nature of discernment. So often, we as Christians try to make the best decision we can—individually—and trust others—on their own—to do the same. This might get us a good distance down the road. But what would change if we found a way to invite one another into the discernment process? How could we help one another to make wise choices – and then support each other’s efforts to live faithfully?
The Amish no doubt live a life very different from most of ours. But they hold out for the rest of us a vision of life that draws on the riches of community and the wisdom of deliberate discernment. As the rest of us juggle the competing buzzes, dings, and flashes of a digital age, we can perhaps in some small way learn from their model, helping one another to more thoughtfully “reject, adopt, or adapt.”
 The Amish and Technology, p. 333.
Educator and author Kester Brewin recently wrote a piece for HuffingtonPost.co.uk about the need to discern wisely how and when to adopt new technologies. He describes the ways in which much of Western society has now joined the rank of “geeks,” as we increasingly inhabit a world that is technologically mediated and dominated. By uncritically adopting new “tools,” he warns, we run the risk of overlooking the significant (if unintended) side effects of their use.
One corrective, Brewin suggests, is to also incorporate the wisdom of the Luddites. This implies not so much a naïve rejection of technology, but a well-informed decision to intentionally structure its use. Luddites, in this sense, aren’t those who blindly refuse to adopt technology, but the visionaries who foresee some of its riskier implications and take precautionary steps to establish healthy parameters.
We tend to think of geeks and Luddites as inhabiting different ends of the spectrum, but it’s perhaps more accurate to say that both draw different conclusions from their intense focus on technology. In fact, Brewin suggests, elements of each can inform healthy decision-making in the technological arena. As we at TCF work to help Christians make wise choices in their adoption of technologies, we also strive to find the gifts inherent in diverse and even conflicting perspectives. Brewin’s insights help highlight the ways in which all of us—even, or especially, the geeks—can benefit from the wise legacy of the Luddites.
As I sat down to write a different post, this news flashed across my screen: “Facebook Down: Users Unable To Update Status Or Post Pictures.” I was at work, so of course had been blissfully unaware of the catastrophic event. The headline caught my attention, though, so I jumped over to Facebook to corroborate the story. Apparently it’s true, so the post I was planning to write will have to wait for another day. Facebook does have an uncanny way of derailing my plans.
I’ll be honest: I’m happy to be counted among the legions of Facebook users. In fact, if my kids are right about this, I’m a little too happy about it. (“Too many posts, Mom!”) There’s no question, in fact, that I struggle to find a healthy balance of facetime vs facebooktime. No doubt, my appreciation for fb’s gifts is not an unproblematic one.
That’s why I welcome insights that help me think through how to get better at this social media thing. Even from folks with whom I don’t see eye-to-eye. In a recent post on his Study Hacks Blog, Cal Newport writes, “My philosophy [is] to only adopt tools that solve a major pre-existing problem.” This rationale has kept Newport from joining Facebook – in fact, from even marginal interest in doing so.
That same rationale, on the other hand, confirms my decision to join up. I’m an extrovert with friends on multiple continents, and as a result – for better or for worse – many of my relationships will always be technologically mediated. I want to know when a friend has a baby or gets a new job, and my joy is multiplied by sharing in hers. A couple generations ago, my great-grandmother would have heard news like this while she stood in line at the market. But I don’t live in a small town in Kansas – there’s no single “public space” like the market where I go to hear the news and share my own. FB solves my contemporary conundrum of a geographically-distributed community, offering a digital version of the by-gone market queue. Geographic distance from people I know and love has been a problem for me since my family moved overseas when I was three years old. FB helps solve that problem.
FB solves another problem for me, as well. I’m an organizer. I like people, and I also like to get them together around causes that matter. My Franklin planner was great in the 90s, and email still works pretty well. But fb events and messages coordinate and streamline, and spare us all the curse of “Reply all” threads that never end. FB solves more than a few of my organizational problems.
By Newport’s standard, then, using FB makes good sense for me. However, his thoughtful “sieve” suggests some ways in which I might re-evaluate just how I use this tool. He suggests, implicitly at least, that technology essentially creates a demand for itself. In what ways, I wonder, have my own uses of FB been changed in service to FB’s needs, rather than vice versa? In other words – what problems is FB creating for me, so that I will then turn to FB for the solution? Furthermore, can I find ways to limit my use to just those ways in which FB actually does solve my problems? Can I use it to maintain friendships and keep things organized, without pouring hours of my time into pointless browsing?
Hm. Kind of makes me wonder if there’s a tool out there to help solve my FB problems…
Note: one of the issues we’re exploring at TCF is the need to discern well how we employ new technologies. This post is intended to present one (personal) perspective on a complex issue.
Around TCF, we devote quite a lot of attention to the ways in which we can develop an “unanxious presence.” By this we mean simply the ability to live faithfully, trusting in God’s goodness and redemption. This does not mean that we ignore our worries or stifle our fears—but that we entrust these to God in such a way that we can live in freedom and peace in their very midst.
This theme surfaces repeatedly in RespectfulConversation.net’s topic for November: “Evangelicalism and Higher Education.” Professors, administrators, and church leaders write about ways in which they are working to sort out a healthy relationship between robust evangelical faith and the challenges of rigorous academic pursuit.
In the comments section of Sarah Ruden’s post, she describes the capacity of Christian students to resist the temptation of academic hubris, instead humbly acknowledging their human limitations:
[A] great strength in Evangelical institutions seems to be a student attitude along the lines of “I’m just a person, but God is God; so it doesn’t shatter me to admit when I’m wrong or need help.”
As these students acknowledge their dependence on God, they are freed up to take risks and admit their mistakes—their egos aren’t tied up in the obligation to get everything right. Ruden explains that in her experience at secular institutions, her students are less likely to exhibit this sort of “unanxious presence,” as they lack the robust foundation provided by a vibrant—and humble—faith.
On the administrative side, John Hawthorne provides a striking example of “unanxiousness” as well. Whereas the questions and challenges of young students can often be perceived as threats, he chooses to interpret these instead as gifts to the institution:
Christian universities need postmodern students because they will help us address the central questions these students have. This is not to provide them with easy answers but to enable them to engage the questions with the complexity the world sees. This means that Christian universities will have to wrestle with all of the difficult questions the broader society is wrestling with, maybe even wrestling harder and earlier than the rest of culture.
In a sense, Hawthorne explains, evangelical schools are equipped with the resources to lead our society in working through difficult cultural issues. And he suggests that among the key assets are students themselves: thoughtful, honest, and question-asking young people who can encourage their institutions to fearlessly engage academic and cultural challenges. It takes remarkable “unanxiousness” on the part of an administrator to invite students into such a role!
As we at TCF work to foster a sense of “unanxious presence,” we are grateful for these brothers and sisters who willingly engage difficult issues with humility and grace. Their embodied “unanxious presence” transforms potential conflicts into striking opportunities for the church and academy to pursue the Truth together.
“I pray that God … may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that … you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” Ephesians 1:17-19
“I pray that God … may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that … you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”
Dear friends of TCF,
This weekend brings us to the traditional celebration of All Saints Day. On this day, we are reminded of the rich inheritance we share with countless Christians who have gone before us. And we are invited to join in their faithful obedience, strengthened by the hope we find in God’s great power.
Our Christian history of working through conflict and disagreement has no doubt been a sketchy one, characterized by an unpredictable mix of success and failure. Controversies have sometimes contributed to beautiful manifestations of unity, and at other times have bitterly fragmented the body of Christ. Our work at TCF fits right into this stream, as we strive to honestly recognize the ways in which the church falls short – and to hopefully persevere in this hard work of reconciling our lives to the reality that in Christ, all things hold together. Amidst discord and conflict, we are called to remember God’s faithfulness to generations past, and to trust God’s goodness toward generations yet to come.
As we consider our place among God’s many saints, we are grateful that you too share a part in Christ’s body. We rely on the wisdom and revelation of God’s spirit to guide our work, and we rely on your prayers on our behalf. Thank you for the part you play in our participation in God’s good work.
Peace of Christ,
Please note: if you would like to pray for TCF on a regular basis, please contact admin@colossianforum and ask to receive our monthly prayer letters. Thank you.