Whenever I engage in conversation with people I meet for the first time I try to avoid being asked the question, “What do you do for a living?” But if I am asked I say, “I am a minister.” Generally, the one who asks then inquires, “What denomination?” or “What kind of church?”
Here is where I always have to clarify, depending on the most recent news headline involving Christian leaders: “I am a Baptist minister, but I am not a science-denying Baptist minister who thinks that dinosaurs lived alongside humans a few thousand years ago.”
What a strange irony that a 30-foot-long fossil of an Allosaurus will be on display at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky where Museum founder, Ken Ham, recently debated science educator Bill Nye. Ken Ham and his colleagues think it defends the book of Genesis and supplies evidence of Noah’s flood. Good grief!
Unfortunately, this is real life, not a Charlie Brown cartoon. According to a recent survey by the Associated Press, 77% of people who claim to be born again or evangelical say they have little or no confidence that the universe began 13.8 years ago with a big bang. And 76 % of evangelicals doubt that life on Earth, including human beings, evolved through a process of natural selection.
Evangelical university and seminary professors know better!
According to Newsweek 99% of America’s earth and life scientists hold to some form of evolution. Darrel Falk, a biology professor at evangelical Point Loma Nazarene University told Cathy Grossman of the Religion News Service that many biblical [evangelical] scholars do not see a conflict between religion and science.
“The story of the cosmos and the Big Bang of creation is not inconsistent with the message of Genesis 1.”
I suspect that many (if not most) evangelical biblical scholars who subscribe to some form of biblical inerrancy (and sign faith statements testifying to that fact) believe what professor Falk believes.
They know there are different kinds (genres) of biblical literature which call for different approaches other than a literal interpretation of the text. They know that the creation stories are parabolic in nature and are not chronicles of history or reports conveying scientific data. They know that these stories are spiritual, metaphorical, and theological stories, and while not factual, they certainly teach truth about God and God’s relationship to the world.
They know Ken Ham’s claim that “no apparent, perceived, or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record” is utter foolishness.
Harvard theologian Harvey Cox tells about the time the student leader of Harvard’s atheist group on campus took one of his theology classes. This otherwise bright student wrote a very weak paper in which he sought to discredit the God of the Christian and Jewish faiths by attacking and dismantling a literal interpretation of the Genesis Flood Story. He thought that by proving the story could not have happened the way the story says it happened, he would thus disprove the reality of God.
Dr. Cox said to the student, “Don’t you know a story when you read one.”
Evangelical professors know that the creation stories were never intended to be history lessons or science reports, because the Bible is not a history or science book.
They also know . . .
- That evangelical Christians need not fear or deny the enormous amount of scientific data supporting evolution.
- That the story of evolution and the biblical story are not mutually exclusive.
- That a healthy faith welcomes and is informed by science.
So why do so many evangelicals deny evolution and believe in a literal interpretation of the creation stories in Genesis?
Apparently what evangelical professors know and believe is not getting down to the people in the pew.
Why aren’t evangelical pastors trained by these professors teaching their churches these things? Are they afraid of being shunned or looked down upon by their peers? Are they afraid to rock the evangelical boat? Are they afraid of facing conflict in their churches or losing their jobs? Are the professors actually teaching what they believe and know to their students?
Whatever the reasons, it’s time for evangelicals who know the truth to come out and proclaim the truth. If the truth sets us free, as Jesus said, then many of our evangelical sisters and brothers need to hear a liberating word from their pastors.
Chuck Queen is a Baptist minister and the author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. Chuck blogs at A Fresh Perspective, and is also a contributor to the Unfundamentalist Christians blog on this website.