Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Nazarenes Exploring Evolution Project

The BioLogos Foundation recently announced the recipients of Evolution and Christian Faith grants for 37 different projects that "address theological and philosophical questions commonly voiced by Christians about evolutionary creation." The project that is most relevant and interesting to me is the one led by Thomas Jay Oord - Nazarenes Exploring Evolution.

This project is timely and relevant today. In the "About the Project" tab on the projects website, Oord references Dan Boone, President of TNU, who says "the bulk of our Christian scholars/scientists are in a camp different from the bulk of our laity [on issues of evolution]." I agree with this observation.

I've spoken some of my beliefs on the matter of creation both directly and indirectly here on my blog several times. To summarize, I agree whole-heartedly with the Church of the Nazarene's official word on the subject:

903.9. Creation
The Church of the Nazarene believes in the biblical account of creation ("In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..." - Genesis 1:1). We oppose any godless interpretation of the origin of the universe and of humankind (Hebrews 11:3). (1,5.1,7) (2009)

IV. The Holy Scriptures
4. We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, by which we understand the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith.

In other words: The Church of the Nazarene believes the Bible is the center of our theological model. The Bible testifies to the story of God's relationship with Creation, specifically His redeeming intervention through Christ. The Bible is a theological narrative, and we're (I'm) open to any science or history that doesn't conflict the the theological truths of Scripture.

This means that much of science can be accepted as accurate observations of our world without conflict with any of our Christian beliefs.

As we continue explore evolution as a denomination and as a wider Christian body, I have four reflections for those engaged in the conversation:

1) As much as I like "being right" and being able to prove my points, I must remind us that we must make sure not to get so invested in these conversations (even though they are crucially important) that we forget to tell the story of the Gospel. I read today in Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible an important reminder for us all: "Christianity begins not with solving intellectual difficulties, but with satisfying the heart that longs for forgiveness."

To be sure, a church that is willing to engage in academic and intellectual conversations about tough issues will be much more effective at sharing the Gospel with those who previously felt they had to choose between science and faith. It's easy to forget this, though, in the midst of all the differing opinions and thoughts.

2) The Church of the Nazarene is a big tent. We have Articles of Faith, we have specific statements like 903.9, and we profess the ancient creeds of the church. Even within these, there is room for many many people. We must make sure that we do not alienate one another for how we explain the how of God's creation.

3) While scientific theories (such as evolution) may be viable explanations of how God has worked in our world, these theories sometimes have finer points that interact with peripheral aspects of our faith. While evolution as a creative process seems like it can be explained as a model for God's creation, it does have implications for doctrines of faith outside of creation. We must grapple with issues such as original sin, how death might be understood in a pre-sin world, how and when the Image of God was "given" to humanity, how a relational God existed prior to having interpersonal relationship with humanity, and more. We can't just take a scientific theory and fit it into a small part of our theological framework - we must ask how does this impact the entirety of our faith?

4) Finally, we must continue to understand that scientific facts are different than Christian doctrines. It's likely that in 20/50/100 years from now much of what we know will be considered outdated, elementary, or even incorrect. We shouldn't try to take Scripture and fit it into a box of a specific scientific theorem or theory. This is not to say that science should not impact what we believe. It should mean, though, that Nazarenes shouldn't make believing in evolution a requirement for church membership. If we do this, we will be in big trouble if/when evolution (or whatever theory we're talking about) is proved inaccurate. (I feel like the Church already made this mistake once or twice).

Dr. Oord, I'm excited about your project. I look forward to future essays and data to help us understand the ways in which evolution and the Christian faith overlap and enrich conversations about our God.


  1. Thanks for this good essay, Keith! You and I share very similar perspective on this. I think an open conversation is important, and I think the church tent is big enough for a variety of views on how God creates!


  2. I agree. I'm excited to continue following the project! I'm also glad that it's connected with BioLogos.


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