Can you defend your faith when challenged by others? Our Veracity blog founder, John Paine, has been thinking about this question, courtesy of J.I. Packer. But what are some of the obstacles that you and your fellow Christians face when given the opportunity to defend one’s faith? I have been meditating on these type of questions lately, as our Facts & Faith Symposium wrapped up about six weeks or so ago in November, 2013. I would like share some of the things that I have been learning.
Our Symposium, sponsored partly by Veracity over three nights (#1, #2, and #3), covered the topic of Creation and how Science and the Bible relate to one another. OK, hang on for a minute. I admit that I am a bit of a science-geek. This is no surprise, as I am a computer engineer, so it comes with the territory. I know that there are a lot of friends of mine who could care less about science. As long as they can use their iPhones and work the microwave oven, technologies that have been brought to us by the miracle of modern science, then that is just fine with them.
I get that. Not everyone can be totally into “science-ish” type stuff, and I am no expert either. I still can not figure out how to connect a DVD player to a television screen easily, so if you ask me to help you hook up your home theater system, I will just end up staring at the puddle of wires for as long as you did. So, please do not get disappointed if I act like I have no clue as to what is going on.
Because you know what? I do not have a clue.
That’s what Google and YouTube videos are for.
But you do not need to be a science-geek to talk about the God of the Bible with your neighbors, friends and family. Working through our own theology of what it means to say that God is our Creator, that we are created in His image, the question of how we are to view the problem of suffering, death, and evil, and that we are fallen and in need of healing is crucial to the journey of personal discipleship. Our contemporary world is built on the foundations of modern science, and that scientific outlook presents challenges to the Christian faith were not there a couple of hundred years ago. So, it is difficult to avoid these challenges.
However, here is the interesting part. Thinking about the relationship between Science and the Bible with respect to Creation is but one example of the type of work Christians need to be able to do in order to effectively communicate the Gospel to a world today that finds it easier to ask Google instead of God for the answers to their questions. I have come to learn that the “Creation issue” is merely a case study illuminating a larger set of issues. Here is what I have learned:
Clarke’s Lessons Learned
- Thinking about Science/Bible issues is new to a lot of people. Most folks in our churches have simply never thought very deeply about Science/Bible issues. People in the working world are busy with their careers. Parents are busy raising their children. Children are busy with school and sport activities. But we are learning that many people, particularly young people, are rejecting the faith because they do not think that Christians are able to answer a lot of their questions, particularly about Science/Bible issues. If that is the case, and the faith journeys of so many people hang in the balance, are we perhaps a little too busy with some things that are not really all that important?
- A lot of Christians are confused about Science/Bible issues. In the Symposium, we introduced people to the theories of a Young Earth (thousands of years) versus an Old Earth (millions, if not billions of years) regarding our planet’s history. I have had numerous conversations with folks who get confused between being an “Old Earth” Creationist or being a ….uh…”New Earth” Creationist??? …. Those who said “New Earth” really meant to say “Young Earth”. It is evident to me that Christians need to gain some clarity on what the conversation is all about …. Just for the record, the Bible does talk about the New Heavens and the “New Earth” that will be ushered in at the end of time.
- The diversity of Christian approaches to Creation that prevent the church from having a “united front” is a deep concern. In some of my conversations in recent weeks, I find that some Christians are concerned that the vast plurality of approaches to Creation; like Young Earth, Old Earth, Evolutionary Creation, Intelligent Design, etc., could be impairing the witness of the church. Is there some common ground that we can share with other believers as we all together face a skeptical world?
- Everybody is different — even Christians. Some are mildly curious about Science/Bible issues. Many do not understand the issues involved. Some are frankly rather bored with the whole thing. As for me, I almost lost my faith over this stuff about 30 years ago. So when I tell some of my Christian friends about my experience, they look at me like I am from Mars or something. I just want to shake some people and say, “DON’T YOU SEE WHY THIS IS A PROBLEM?!!” These dear friends have no clue as to why someone would be driven to possibly abandon their faith over issues like this… OK, so everyone is different. Not everyone is like me.
- Everybody is different — even those who shy away from Christianity. I have some friends who think that modern science has made it simply impossible for any rational person to accept the existence of God. I have other friends who find modern science to be challenging, but instead of getting rid of God, they would rather redefine God into some way that transcends the limitations they see of both science and Christianity. The first group denies the idea of a “Creator”, and the second group sees the “Creator” as simply being a part of the “created” world itself. With the first group you are challenged with showing that God does exist and with the second group you are challenged with showing that their God does not exist. You can not even get non-believers to agree with what the real problem is with respect to “God as Creator”!
- Biblical authority matters. It has become quite common in our culture today to casually dismiss the authority of the Bible. “Science proves that the Bible is not true“, as some would say. “Genesis is outmoded and outdated“, others contend. But for the Christian who thinks seriously about why and what they believe… which should be every one of us, but which does not really happen with every Christian unless one is seriously challenged by a critic… the question of where we get our understanding of Truth is of fundamental importance. Christians need to be able to speak about the reality of God as Creator in a way that is grounded clearly in the Holy Scriptures. To fail to do this is simply not good enough.
- The inerrancy of the Bible IS a big deal (at least for many evangelical Christians). True, we as Christians derive our understanding of God’s Truth based on the authority of the Bible. But sometimes this is not always the easiest thing to do when we actually sit down and try to read and interpret the Bible. When Christians disagree amongst themselves, we can sometimes become suspicious that the other person really is not accepting the authority of the Bible. When I have had discussions about Creation issues with Christians, inevitably someone in a group… let us call him “Bob”… would say that he believes what he believes because this is what the Bible says. So if “Susie” disagrees with Bob, then Susie is going against the Bible and therefore denying its inerrancy. But Susie does not agree with how Bob has interpreted the Bible on this particular point. So Susie challenges Bob and says that she upholds the inerrancy of the Bible but disagrees strongly with his interpretation of the Bible. Everyone in the conversation then scratches their heads in confusion. So, is what Bob saying correct or is what Susie saying correct? How can what Bob is saying be reconciled with what Susie is saying and still have Bob and Susie both believing in the inerrancy of the Bible? …Mmmmm….Some people then start to wonder if the Bible is really clear in what it teaches. So, is the problem with the Bible itself? Or could it be, that these people, like Bob or Susie, or perhaps both of them, are not interpreting the Bible correctly? Is your mind spinning yet?
- An obsession with the “inerrancy” of the Bible is too much of a big deal (at least for some other evangelical Christians). Yes, oh yes, for these other Christians, they still see the Bible as their infallible authority. So do not get me wrong here. But for these folks, drilling down into the nitty gritty of how to line up the details of the Genesis text with the minutiae of scientific observations is as about as inspiring as sitting around and watching the grass grow on your lawn. Why bother with all of that? Does it really matter? Instead, what about the theology of Creation as beauty? What about the idea of Creation as giving us an imaginative story of what it means to live, what it means to be broken, what it means to die, and what it means to trust in the promise of new life? For these Christians, the heated debates over Young vs. Old Earth, etc. simply miss the point. Can we PLEASE move on??
- Bringing things in from outside of the Bible into the discussion is fraught with difficulties. Most Christians find it challenging enough simply to read their Bibles and understand what the scriptural text is saying. So it can be really threatening when someone starts talking about things that are not directly in the Bible as an aid to help us to better understand our Bible. For example, what do the words in the original Hebrew and original Greek say and mean? I have a hard enough time reading the Bible in my native English tongue. What about the discoveries of “modern science”? What about the historical research done on Ancient Near East literature? Do these things support the Bible’s case or do they work to compromise it?
- The role of presuppositions is really important. When people are not able to agree on something, such as what the Bible says or does not say about Creation, it highlights the problem that different people are often working with different assumptions, or presuppositions. How do our presuppositions impact how we view the world? What role do presuppositions play in how we understand the Bible?
- The role of evidences is really important. How do our presuppositions impact the way we view the evidence? Do we simply ignore evidence that does not fit our own presuppositions? Or do we highlight other evidence that confirms the bias of our presuppositions?
As I look back on these lessons learned, they touch on “Science/Bible” issues, but they fundamentally raise questions that go much deeper than the Creation controversies. They deal with how we go about thinking Biblically about our faith, how we think about the Bible, how we go about approaching others, fellow believer or non-believer, with respect to defending our faith and our understanding of the Bible, and even how we handle our own doubts.
In other words, you do not really need to “care” that much about “science” to know that the questions that I bring out from these lessons learned touch us in ways that are spiritually very deep. In the coming weeks, I hope to examine some of these questions in more detail here on Veracity. In some cases, I will dig into some of the more “science-ish” type stuff, but I hope you might get the idea that there are things underneath the surface that point to even bigger questions. If you want to dig deeper, be sure to follow the links embedded in our blog posts here at Veracity.
These are difficult questions. But the Good News is that the God that we worship is big enough to handle these type of questions. Do I get an “Amen” to that?