A Gracious Response (RJS)

Last week Ken Ham found reason to highlight the BioLogos grant program Evolution & Christian Faith. Needless to say he wasn’t exactly supportive of the effort: BioLogos Funds Projects to Undermine the Authority of the Word.  I didn’t see the original post (Answers in Genesis (AiG) isn’t on my routine reading list), but the response from BioLogos yesterday caught my eye. Ken Ham’s original post was particularly critical of a project undertaken by Diane Sweeney and Josh Hayashi in Hawaii to prepare resources for Youth Leaders and others. Diane is a high school biology teacher and Josh a chaplain at a private school. I had the opportunity to meet and speak with both of them last summer and they know the audience they are trying to reach. Their website The Author of Life contains links to the material completed so far with videos available for download.

But back to Answers in Genesis. The point I really want to focus on is this paragraph:

The people at BioLogos aren’t interested in promoting the authority of Scripture. Instead, they are declaring that man has authority over God’s Word to change it and fit the Bible with what the secularists are saying. Such compromise is rampant through our Christian colleges, churches, and seminaries. Sadly, organizations like BioLogos are using millions of dollars to undermine the authority of the Word. No wonder so many young people are leaving the church by the time they reach college age.

The BioLogos response (source)?

The difference between BioLogos and Answers in Genesis is not about the authority of the Bible. Instead, the difference is about which interpretation of the Bible is correct. And we believe that to interpret Scripture correctly, we must do more than look at the “plain” meaning of the words in our own cultural situation. Biblical interpretation – especially of Genesis, which was written so long ago in a very different cognitive environment – demands careful analysis across several disciplines if we’re to understand God’s revelation correctly.

So, to do the hard work of taking Scripture seriously, we have funded teams from all over the world to work out the implications of what God has revealed in his creation and in the Bible.

In many ways the claim that projects focusing on Evolution and Christian Faith undermine the authority of the Word hits dead on the point Osborn made in the chapter six of Death Before the Fall, discussed in Tuesday’s post Sola Scriptura Renewed and Renewing. The pushback from those who follow organizations like AiG is that we have the interpretation, we need no more discussion or scholarship here. We need only to stand firm on the intellectual commitment to this interpretation.  I don’t think that the real difference between BioLogos and AiG is which interpretation is correct, but more fundamentally how to interpret scripture and the role of scripture in Christian faith and life. This is so important, and it extends so far beyond only the issue of young versus old earth.

Just Say “Young” Isn’t the Solution. Education and effective modelling is the answer. We don’t lose youth when they reach college because we fail to hold to a specific young earth interpretation of Genesis. We lose people for these kinds of intellectual reasons when they discover for themselves the deep dissonance between the style of “critical” thinking that underlies the conservative interpretive framework and both the facts and the style of critical thinking that they learn in college or post college. They discover the dissonance and don’t have the tools to cope with the situation.

The compromise that Ham bemoans as “rampant through our Christian colleges, churches, and seminaries,”  especially in colleges and seminaries, really centers on this issue of critical thinking and the approach to scripture. Most of the so-called compromise arises from the need to wrestle with scripture afresh in each generation. Yes there are those who go too far, but the extremes rule in part because we are afraid to have honest conversations about scripture and its interpretation. We as Christians do more damage when we refuse to engage honestly than when we carry on a real conversation. There are satisfactory answers to the extreme positions, … both the extreme represented by those who claim that science has disproved the supernatural element of God’s work in creation and the extreme represented by Answers in Genesis.

We need to be teaching people to think deeply about scripture and about the whole sweep of scripture – God’s mission in the world. As Osborn pointed out we can only be true to the principle of sola scriptura if we are also committed to the principle that the biblical narratives draw us into a continuous dialogue. The first step to building a robust understanding of Scripture and the Christian faith is to hold loosely to our particular theological commitments and our doctrine of scripture while search for the core of Christian faith. The second  step is to follow the advice of N.T. Wright:

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We need to know the whole sweep of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. And this can only be known by reading the Bible. The Bible is meant to be experienced the way a great symphony is experienced not picked apart and defended scientifically.

What response would you give to Ken Ham?

What do you think of the BioLogos response?

The Evolution and Christian Faith projects span a wide range of approaches and topics. One of the ECF projects is a week long seminar designed to provide resources for young scholars embarking on a career in paleontology, geology, or other evolutionary earth sciences including evolutionary biology. More information can be found  here: Equipping the Next Generation of Christian Evolutionary Biologists and Paleobiologists: A Seminar for Early Career Scientists. If you are, or know of, a Ph.D. Student, postdoctoral scholar, or even a new professor and are interested, take a look. It requires a commitment of time – but expenses are paid by the ECF grant.

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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