Conversations in Creation … We Can Make a Difference! (RJS)

Scot put up an interesting post yesterday Among Creationists commenting on a book  Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line by Jason Rosenhouse. The impact that creationism with its focus on a culture war has within the church and outside the church is huge. We need to open a serious discussion of the issues – and it needs to happen within the church. But it is unclear to many how to even begin to start a fruitful conversation – especially given the background and training of most Christian leaders, both lay leaders and clergy.

In the post today I would like to highlight a new resource, a feature-length documentary by Highway Media, The Biologos Foundation, and Ryan Pettey, titled From the Dust. The film premiered in Palo Alto on May 31, and is now available for purchase from Highway Media, ($20 DVD, $25 Blu-Ray)

Although Palo Alto was a bit too far to travel and I was unable to attend the premiere, I was sent a copy of the film and have watched it a couple of times. It is an excellent resource for use in churches and by parachurch organization, especially campus ministries. A review of the film can also be found on Pen and Parchment Blog.

What do you think we need to start a useful conversation?

Who do you think needs to be involved?

The  subtitle of From the Dust is “conversations in creation” and this subtitle reflects the primary purpose of the film. The aim is to start a conversation and to open minds to the issues involved in the questions of evolution and creation, but to do so in a fair fashion. I don’t mean that the film takes no position on the issue – the film clearly intends to make a case for evolutionary creation as consistent with the Christian faith, and in fact as the preferred option. But it does so without misrepresenting or vilifying those holding alternative views. It includes interviews with and footage of young earth creationists from AiG, the Creation Museum, and Canopy Ministries, allowing them to explain in their own words the key issues in creationism from their perspective. Dr. Jason Lisle of Answers in Genesis provides a significant part of this perspective. Dr. Terry Mortenson of Answers in Genesis contributes as well – and the footage involving Mortenson illustrates the culture war view point observed by Rosenhouse and common among at least some who champion young earth creationism.

The majority of the film, however, features  scientist, theologians, and biblical scholars who reflect on the way evolutionary creation is or can be consistent with Christian faith. Because many of the questions concern the authority and reliability of scripture, especially the book of Genesis, a significant emphasis is placed on looking at the interpretation of scripture and the role it plays, or should play, in the discussion of evolution and creation. The film includes Peter Enns, John Walton, N. T. Wright, John Polkinghorne and several others discussing the nature of scripture.

To highlight just one contribution – John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, notes (about 18 minutes in to the film):

“We have to approach Genesis One for what it is. It is an ancient document. It is not a document that is written to us. We believe the bible is written for us like it is for all people in all times and places because it is God’s word, but it wasn’t written to us. It wasn’t written in our language, it wasn’t written with our culture in mind, or our culture in view.”  … “We are inclined by our culture to think of the creation narrative as an account of material origins, because we think of the world in material terms. For us that’s kind of whats important about origins. People come to scripture thinking that they need to integrate it with science and so they want to either read science out of the bible or they want to read science into the bible. That’s not the way to do it, because inevitably you end up making the text say things that it never meant to the ancient audience.”

… (23 minutes) “We’re well aware that people have to translate the language for us. We forget that people have to translate the culture for us. And therefore if we want to get the best benefit from the communication we need to try to enter their world, hear it as the audience would have heard it, as the author would have meant it, and to read it in those terms.”

You can also see an excerpt somewhat longer than the final cut including these comments by Walton on the BioLogos site: The Book of Genesis. Walton’s comments reflect the ideas found in his book The Lost Worlds of Genesis One.

From the Dust is designed to be a conversation starter, not a source for answers to all questions. The film is about 66 minutes long and the DVD contains another 60 minutes of bonus footage, interviews and excerpts grouped by topic that did not make the final cut. The film can be ordered from highway media and will make an excellent resource for churches and parachurch organizations, especially campus ministries, interested in exploring the issues and opening a conversation.

I think the film will work best when followed by open discussion over several sessions, preferably led by Christians with expertise in science and  theology. This is something I hope to be able to do as opportunities present themselves, but there are many scholars and teachers around the country capable of leading the discussion. It isn’t enough to simple select your resident scientist or scholar, however. I cringe when I recall some of the things I thought, and occasionally said, when I first began to explore the issues in earnest. This isn’t a conversation that will move forward without wise leadership and direction from those who have thought carefully and deeply about the issues.

But there is more … From the Dust is an excellent complement to another recent film, Test of Faith, put out by the Faraday Institute. From the Dust concentrates primarily on the questions of creation, scripture, and the church. Test of Faith covers these issues briefly but broadens the discussion to include a number of other issues of importance in the interaction between science and the Christian faith.

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Part 1 of Test of Faith looks at the Big Bang and the age of the Universe, Part 2 looks at creation and design, and Part 3 considers questions about humanity – does science prove that humans no more than biological machines? This last part explores some very interesting questions – one brief example:

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The DVD contains three ca. 30 minute episodes plus bonus footage grouped by topic and bonus interviews of the scientists featured in the film. I have watched the video and find it an outstanding resource. The course includes the DVD, a study guide, a leader’s guide, and a book of Spiritual Journeys with Scientists.

As with From the Dust, the Test of Faith course will work best if led by Christians with expertise in science and theology, who have thought about the issues and are prepared for the discussion. Again, this is something I hope to be able to do as opportunities present themselves, but there are many scholars and teachers around the country capable of leading the discussion. The Test of Faith material, however, is designed to be used by a broad group. The Leader’s Guide provides a great deal of useful information and guidance and can be used by leaders and teachers who are interested but perhaps not deeply involved in this discussion themselves.

I can recommend a dozen books, or more, and in fact I have – see the Science and Faith archive for a bibliography. But video presentations like From the Dust and Test of Faith are much better resources to open the discussion, to get people talking and interested in the questions. I recommend both without reservation.

Is there space and interest to start this conversation in our church today?

Is it an issue worth raising, or a controversial topic best left buried and ignored?

What do you see as the primary issues and questions?

If you would like to discuss how these resources or others could be used in a local church or campus ministry, or to contact me directly with other comments or questions, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Bev Mitchell

    RJS
    These videos sound like great resources. I agree, recommending books has serious limitations. As much as many would like to leave this issue buried, or make it only a problem for the youth who go to the big bad secular university, it will not go away and will have to be addressed by most people in the church. Resources like this will be essential. As you say, knowledgable leadership will also be essential. The sympathetic Christian scientist may well be the front person, but there needs to be pastoral backup to say it’s OK to think this way and even to question long-held views of Scripture. Any chicken-little antics, especially of the kind that says you can’t have your sins atoned for unless you have some particular interpretation of Genesis will be a killer. :)

    Does either film widen the view of creation in any way? The more I think about this issue, the more it seems that we do need a broad view of creation, and a sense of continuous creation. Not just in the biological sense, that is the least of it. What I mean is moving to a view that sees the Incarnation, the new birth, the “groaning for” that Paul speaks of and many more as part and parcel of what God has done, is doing and wants to do as very creative acts. They all require (and have required) the intervention of the Holy Spirit in very creative ways. It’s all part of God’s plan, it’s all his creation. I think this approach, up front as a sort of foundation, could be very helpful.

  • RJS

    Bev,

    You are right, it needs pastoral backup. We don’t need pastors to become experts in the science and faith discussion. But we do need pastors who will familiarize themselves enough and allow trusted experts to speak and be heard. I’d love to be able to participate in this, but the impact will be minimal (and opportunities almost nonexistent) without the involvement of pastors to cast the story and to acknowledge that evolutionary creation is at least a valid possibility.

    The powerful part of writing on Jesus Creed is that Scot has provided backup, with his reputation and impact, that at least acknowledges that what I have to say is worth listening to. The impact I would have off on my own would be a very small fraction of the impact this backup enables.

    For me to use my skills, abilities, gifts, education, for the good of the church there has to be a partnership. It has to involve mutual respect and a willingness to listen.

  • RJS

    I can add to my last comment an interesting observation. When Scot writes on the creation/evolution issue, which he has done occasionally (yesterday being one example), I can pretty much guarantee that the views, the readership, will be 50% to 100% larger than when I write. Although I get a good number of views, there are some who will overlook my posts, but consider his much more seriously.

    One of the best things I can do is educate those with more impact, Christian pastors and teachers, on the issues.

  • Jason Lee

    It’s so easy for people to only think their choices are: a) the faith-filled YEC, or b) the atheist evolutionist. This is a simple point, but I think perhaps the most powerful thing about the above resources is that they expose people to a different category of person than they’re used to– c) the faith-filled evolutionist. Simply exposing more people to “c)” may go a long way, which is why such videos need broad exposure.

  • Rick

    I think Jason #4 is right: people only think there are 2 choices/sides in this issue. So it is important to inform about other sides, while at the same time stressing the belief in essentials.

  • Bev Mitchell

    RJS #3
    Absolutely. It’s, for now and for churches, primarily a pastor education issue. When this leads to pastoral support, we are then off to the races.

  • scotmcknight

    RJS, now that’s something I’ve not even thought about … interesting.

  • http://Www.theparsonspatch.com Mark Stevens

    RJS, thank you for posting these I will take a look. As a conservative pastor, but not fundamentalist, I would agree with your views on this issue (and Scots). However, I get slammed on my views regarding Genesis and creation more than any other by other conservatives. Yet, it is my conservative approach to the text which tells me I cannot draw scientific conclusions from these passages. Also, I am not a scientist, I am an exegete. The attacks hurt and are, at times, downright rude. Nevertheless, I am grateful for people like yourself who can help me to understand the issues from the scientific point of view.

  • CGC

    Hi RJS, Scot and all,
    Some excellent thoughts (I especially appreciate the interaction between RJS and Bev). I have only two points:

    1. On the surface level, I think DVD’s like these can be helpful tools and resources since all the church is getting mainly is a strong dose of YEC resources. If Evolutionary Creationists are not willing to put their time and money into this fully, then they need to quit the hand wringing about the large influence of YEC in the church today.

    2. John Waltion gives an excellent quote of people trying to integrate science with Scripture and people want to read science into the Bible end up making the biblical text say things it never originally intended to say (I want to say “bravo”). But look at the context of all this: It’s doin on a DVD making the case for evolutionary creation. It is just me or does anyone else see the problem here?

    I simply think we are doing things backwards and trying to do too much all at once (change people minds about biological evolution and possibly the relationship between science and the Christian faith). What needs to happen first is how people interpret the Bible needs to be challenged, starting with Genesis.

    If people can’t think out of the box, only think in concrete literalistic terms, don’t understand the context in which the Bible was written, are given some broader and better tools in how to study and understand the Bible, I am not sure things are really going to change that much. The problem is not so much science as it is people’s readings of Scripture. If we get the cart before the horse, I think people may prematurely disregard the cart, or worse, end up losing the horse!

  • RJS

    CGC,

    I think you are right in a way – there is an impression that “science” is calling the shots and biblical interpretation has to respond. I don’t think this is really the case, the truth is far more complex. Old Testament scholars like Pete Enns, John Walton, Bruce Waltke, Tremper Longman, and more have become involved in the discussion – from a consideration of the Old Testament on its own, not because the natural sciences demands a rethink.

    Personally I would say that the biggest challenge to my faith was not science per se, but reading the Old Testament, especially Genesis, Exodus, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Job, etc. and finding it not the book I was taught that it was. We need to address the form, purpose, and content of scripture much more carefully in the church.

  • Jason Lee

    “Personally I would say that the biggest challenge to my faith was not science per se, but reading the Old Testament, especially Genesis, Exodus, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Job, etc. and finding it not the book I was taught that it was. We need to address the form, purpose, and content of scripture much more carefully in the church.”

    Yes.

  • Bev Mitchell

    CRC#9,
    You say,
    “What needs to happen first is how people interpret the Bible needs to be challenged, starting with Genesis”

    Yes, this is the heart of the matter. This is why I suggested in #1 and why RJS agreed – the pastor’s support in showing how our interpretations can change without doing violence to our faith, even strengthening our faith is essential. In fact, it may be that in most situations, the pastor should be the up-front leader, and interpretation issues the main topics. In most cases then, the cooperating scientist would have the support role, along with the types of resources RJS is highlighting today. 

    RJS also shares how she sees her role as educating pastors and other church leaders. This is important, in fact, central. As an aside to this, someone with her experience and background could take the lead role in a church setting (with pastoral support). Most sympathetic scientists, however, could not and would need the pastor to lead. This line of thought brings up another training issue. We almost certainly need resources (meetings, seminars, literature) for, let’s call them, cooperating scientists. People with the kind if experience that JRS has would be essential partners in such training exercises.

    Now the nitty-gritty questions. How many people do we have with the experience necessary to train the cooperating scientists? Can the same conferences/seminars/literature serve both the pastors and the cooperating scientists? Is is possible to think of teams of pastors-cooperating scientists being trained together? Is there anything like this already in existence? Would BioLogos be an organization that could offer such training? Would it be better done by a well respected seminary – say, for starters, a summer course, something like a faith-science camp (all day sing with dinner on the grounds :). Would a long-weekend be enough? a week?

    I’ll stop here before I scare everyone, including myself, into inaction. But something along these lines would at least be commensurate with the scale, scope and importance of the enterprise.

    aside to RJS:
    As you can see, I don’t think you are busy enough. Don’t you enjoy it when people keep adding to you to do list. :)

  • Bev Mitchell

    Oh yes. Maybe some denominational leaders could attend training sessions to support their pastors. Nothing is impossible…..

  • Juniper

    I would also suggest Did Darwin Kill God which showed on BBC.

  • CS

    I am thankful to hear that this movie was done in the way it was but I find it fascinating that the church continues to fear science. Have we learned nothing from Galileo and his peers?

  • CS

    (sorry for this additional post)

    Science should be one of the most rewarding fields for a Christian in that you get to understand God’s creation. In a sense, a profession not unlike other ministries where you get to see God’s work up close!

  • Patrick

    Did God have ANYTHING to do with the universe getting there? If a human thinks so, isn’t that person a creationist regardless of how they feel God managed it (evolution or not)?

  • Bev Mitchell

    CGC,
    Sorry for calling you CRC above. RJS will catch the source of the error –  you will too if you are a chemist/biologist/physicist. These initials are hard to keep straight. :)

    Patrick #17
    Yes, on both, or all three counts. Spot on!

  • RJS

    Patrick,

    Of course all Christians are creationists who believe in intelligent design. What we learn from science is simply God’s method in creating a world intelligently and with purpose. Hence the preference for the term evolutionary creation.

    But it does me no good to use the terms “creationist” or “Intelligent Design” in that fashion, because that is not how they are understood.

  • Merv Olsen

    Patrick #17

    Spot on!

    “In the beginning GOD created” – that’s the FIRST and surely also the last Word on the matter!

    For the life of me, I think we Christians have a lot more to do than worry about HOW God created the `heavens and the earth`… whether it be by divine fiat or evolution.

    I think it’s far more important we get back to the basic fact of telling people that the invisible God has made Himself visible and known to us by becoming incarnate in the person of His Son our Saviour Jesus, who is Lord of all creation… and always will be!

  • Bev Mitchell

    RJS,
    Just had a chance to watch all nine clips of “From the Dust”. This is impressive stuff. I encourage everyone who is even remotely interested in these matters to take the time to view these clips.

    Trying to imagine how a congregation or Bible study group with many who have no background whatsoever in thinking theologically, the way it’s presented here, brings up a variety of issues. You are correct, it will take a good number of sessions, probably a good number of viewings. I wonder if a transcript or other written study materials are available? 

    The nine clips (good sized bits, actually) are up at BioLogos under their Resources pull-down tab.

  • RJS

    Bev,

    I don’t think there is any other material. I am not sure if there are plans for any. The DVD does come with some study questions, but nothing more.

    The clips on BioLogos do give a good taste of the film.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Bev Mitchel, CRC- cyclic redundancy check to me :)

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Bev Mitchel, but JRS? hmmmm, perhaps a Dallas reference?

  • Patrick

    RJS,

    I just assumed all believers who felt God created the universe were “creationists”. How God managed it (evolution or not) at least to me doesn’t have any bearing. I don’t know how He made everything, but, I am confident He did make it somehow.

    If I am a creationist and I am although I am not a literalist, what term do you guys use to describe yourselves in relation to how everything came into existence?

  • Bev Mitchell

    DRT #23,24
    LOL, I didn’t notice the JRS, but I can explain it. The CRC too.

  • Clay Knick

    I ordered the DVD today.

  • RJS

    Patrick,

    Doing a quick websearch I find many definitions of creationist or creationism. Some take the position you give and would call all who believe that God created the universe and everything in it a “creationist.” Of course this is true.

    But more definitions limit creationist and creationism to describe those who hold that God created without using evolution and probably (but not necessarily) without using broad expanses of time. Young earth creationism or old earth progressive creationism.

    However much I agree with the first point above, if most people think creationist = anti-evolution then it doesn’t really make any sense to use the term differently. I’ll just call myself a Christian, as such I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

  • http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/ Michael Snow

    From the linked review, it seems that this film focuses on the two extremes: the evolutionists and the YECs…is this correct?

    As for the YECs being literalists, they certainly do not take the first two verses of Genesis literally.
    http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/in-the-beginning/

  • http://www.hmc.edu/academicsclinicresearch/academicdepartments/chemistry/facultyandstaff1/vosburg.html David Vosburg

    Bev Mitchell #21:

    I am working with BioLogos on small-group discussion materials around the film “From the Dust”. Contact me if you’d like me to share them with you. I’m currently beta-testing a draft with a group of Claremont Colleges undergrads.

    David Vosburg
    Harvey Mudd College
    http://www.hmc.edu/academicsclinicresearch/academicdepartments/chemistry/facultyandstaff1/vosburg.html

  • Scott Spiker

    Thanks for the great review. @Bev Mitchell – I noticed that the study guide is now available via link on the discussion page at the From The Dust site http://fromthedustmovie.org/discussion/


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