What Do We Have to Offer? (RJS)

What Do We Have to Offer? (RJS) March 29, 2012

I had the opportunity last week to attend the BioLogos Theology of Celebration Workshop. This workshop focused on learning from and equipping pastors who are wrestling with matters of science and faith in their congregations. On the final morning one pastor noted that he saw two powerful narratives at work today. There is a narrative in the secular world that views religion as a relic of a bygone age. There is a second narrative within our churches that views compromise on evolution, and even for some the age of the earth, to be the first step down the slippery slope to atheism, secularism, and all kinds of immorality.

The first narrative is exemplified by a post written by Richard Dawkins that appeared in the Washington Post on Faith blog as part of a publicity campaign for the Rally for Reason held in Washington DC last weekend.

Who Would Rally Against Reason (Richard Dawkins)

Reason, as played out in the grand cooperative enterprise called science, makes me proud of Homo sapiens. Sapiens literally means ‘wise,’ but we have deserved the accolade only since we crawled from the swamp of primitive superstition and supernatural gullibility and embraced reason, logic, science and evidence-based truth.

… Thanks to evidence-based reason we are blessedly liberated from ancient fears of ghosts and devils, evil spirits and djinns, magic spells and witches’ curses.

Dawkins, and others like him, have a message that they preach – and Dawkins is a powerful preacher. His message hits a resonance with many. He calls people to grow-up … to join those who have grown up … and cast away superstition and embrace reason.

Cast aside the prejudices of upbringing and habit, and come along anyway. If you come with open ears and open curiosity you will learn something, will probably be entertained and may even change your mind. And that, you will find, is a liberating and refreshing experience.

Although Dawkins is on the extreme end of the atheist spectrum, the views that he describes here are embraced by an increasingly large number of people within certain realms of our society. This is a compelling narrative that many people in varying degrees hold on to and buy in to. And who wants to be thought immature and primitive?

Is the narrative championed by Dawkins taking root in our world?

Do you think this is a serious challenge?

The second narrative is seen in extreme form in the work of Ken Ham and the young earth creationist view he has successfully brought to increasing prominence in the church through a wide variety of grass roots initiatives. There is the carrot of an appealing biblical narrative accompanied by a stick – the fear of secularism and compromise.  In an article on the award winning Answers in Genesis web site A Young Earth – Its Not the Issue, Ham writes:

When someone says to me, “Oh, so you’re one of those fundamentalist, young-Earth creationists,” I reply, “Actually, I’m a revelationist, no-death-before-Adam redemptionist!” (which means I’m a young-Earth creationist!).

Here’s what I mean by this: I understand that the Bible is a revelation from our infinite Creator, and it is self-authenticating and self-attesting. I must interpret Scripture with Scripture, not impose ideas from the outside! When I take the plain words of the Bible, it is obvious there was no death, bloodshed, disease or suffering of humans or animals before sin. God instituted death and bloodshed because of sin—this is foundational to the Gospel. Therefore, one cannot allow a fossil record of millions of years of death, bloodshed, disease and suffering before sin (which is why the fossil record makes much more sense as the graveyard of the flood of Noah’s day).

This is the crux of the issue. When Christians have agreed with the world that they can accept man’s fallible dating methods to interpret God’s Word, they have agreed with the world that the Bible can’t be trusted. They have essentially sent out the message that man, by himself, independent of revelation, can determine truth and impose this on God’s Word. Once this “door” has been opened regarding Genesis, ultimately it can happen with the rest of the Bible

The culture war is front and center in the work of Ham and AiG. In 2009 Ken Ham and Britt Beemer published a book with a title and subject to incite fear and resolve among devout Christians if there ever was one: Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it.  In a sequel, Already Compromised, published last year Ham along with coauthor Greg Hall look with alarm at the increasing compromised stance taken by Christian colleges. From a Christian Post article on the book:

“We’re well down the road” of secularism, Ham told The Christian Post.

Without the strong teaching of Genesis, it won’t be long before Christian students and faculty will be changing the Bible to accommodate other beliefs such as homosexuality and abortion, Ham argued. The young earth creationist asserted that the issue is really about preserving the Bible’s authority as 100 percent true. “Until you get back to that issue (the Bible’s authority), then you’ll never be able to shut the door [on those issues].”

The future of the church depends on rejection of science, evolutionary biology, and most forms of human learning. The Bible alone is the fount of all truth and understanding.

Do you think that this culture war narrative is growing in influence?

Is it a problem in your church?

Richard Dawkins and Ken Ham represent extreme views, but they are not alone and they exemplify powerful streams of contemporary world view. These narratives are at play in our church and in our world. One of the pastors at the conference last week related a rather poignant tale of the deep disillusionment expressed by one long time church member who discovered that her pastor did not take a young earth view. The experience of more than two decades of teaching was difficult to reconcile with the new insight that her pastor was one of the compromisers Ham warns of so eloquently.

On the other side we have the desire to reach a broad secular culture. This is an audience where many find it hard to believe that anyone can be intelligent and rational and still believe “an ancient superstitious myth”. While most don’t go as far as Dawkins in anti-religious rhetoric, the undercurrent of thought that aligns with his view of science and human progress is powerful. I am not sure most pastors and most Christians realize how implicitly and how deeply this sentiment is impacting our culture and how quickly it is growing.

The pastor who noted these two powerful narratives posed a question – one that I paraphrase here and would like to consider today.

What narrative will provide a compelling alternative to the secular materialism of Richard Dawkins and to the conviction held by so many in the church that AiG is correct and the gospel hinges on the rejection of evolutionary biology and human learning?

What narrative do we have to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ?

I think what we have to offer is the full gospel. This has to begin with reading the bible seriously from cover to cover. Not to find science and literal history in the early chapters of Genesis, but to recover the story of God’s work in his world. Of course this needs to be fleshed out a good deal more. Scot’s book The King Jesus Gospel and NT Wright’s new book How God Became King may help us on this path.

What do you think?

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

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  • phil_style

    this is slightly off topic, and doesn;t really address RJS’s questions.. but..

    “Thanks to evidence-based reason we are blessedly liberated from ancient fears of ghosts and devils, evil spirits and djinns, magic spells and witches’ curses.”

    Dawkins reads just like the protestant reformers who were saying the same thing 500 years ago.

    “Superstition, idolatry, and hypocrisy have ample wages, but truth goes a-begging.” Martin Luther

  • Josh T.

    I find it annoying that Dawkins can’t seem to see that even he has his own philosophical assumptions and prejudices of upbringing and habit that color his view of the world, just as religious people do. Why does he think he’s exempt from the human condition and can see the truth more objectively and clearly than everyone else?

  • RJS

    Sure Josh, Dawkins doesn’t see that – but neither does Ken Ham. I’ve put these two together as a contrast for a reason.

    But dismissing Dawkins is no more productive than dismissing Ham – depending on the context you find yourself in.

    I will not convince fellow Christians by ridiculing Ham, and I will not convince secular friends and colleagues by ridiculing Dawkins.

    So where should we go from here?

  • Scott Gay

    Josh T:
    Philosophically, Dawkins is a positivist. I believe that answers your question.

  • Josh – I’m not aware of Dawkins claiming to be free of prejudices. But I think he’d say that in some areas, at least, we can deal with facts rather than opinion and assumption.

    Why does he think he’s exempt from the human condition and can see the truth more objectively and clearly than everyone else?

    Do you believe in God? Why do you think you’re exempt from the human condition and can see the truth more objectively and clearly than everyone else?

  • Scott Gay

    To try to answer RJS’s questions in this post is harder. Barth turned from liberalism because of the empirical fact that this world is definitely not on a progressive trajectory(Chesterton observed that the one empirical fact about Christianity is sin- on that note one should read Bernard Ramm’s “Offense to Reason”). Tillich’s “The Protestant Era” should have been titled the end of the Protestant era. He really did describe the situation we find today in that book(1949). I really like Newbiggin’s “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society”. Just one quote to emphasize why- “By concentrating on the fate of the human soul after death, it abstracts the soul from the full reality of the person as an actor and sufferer in the ongoing history of the world…This reductionist move is as misleading as the corresponding move of the materialists and behaviorists who want to explain the human person as a bundle of physical… if we refuse both these forms of reductionism, then the question we have to ask is..”What in the end gives meaning to this person’s story as part of God’s whole story?” Part of our answer must be a turn toward an inclusivism that hasn’t been a part of us historically.
    To be totally truthful to this topic I must turn toward an opinion extremely unpopular in churches. I honestly believe that existentialism has been a minority way of thought, primarily in Europe, but that it is a wave of the future. To me both positivism and creationism are deterministic forms of Cartesian thought. Yes, I believe in evolution, but in a Whitehead sense as an organic process with purpose. In the existential world, God gave us free will to chart our own destiny. Christ’s conception was immaculate, but His birth surely was extraordinarily not. The longer one uses previous circumstances as a cruth or a beard for stasis, the more remote the possibility of authentic existence(Jaspers). So my addition to the question is reformed and always reforming. With a heavy dose of get in the fight, instead of thinking we are separate. It is ridiculous to me that churches are not multi-voiced, and really don’t exist to build up members for their “existence” in the world.

  • Norman

    I wish there was a simple answer but there isn’t. These two competing narratives that RJS presents between Ham and Dawkins must be met head on with a better narrative. Both of theirs are simplistic and somewhat emotional laden and I think many of us who deal with the Biblical narrative realize how difficult it is to move people educationally away from these overly simplistic explanations. A huge problem is that people can be moved if they study and interact but that requires an enormous time sink that most people simply aren’t willing to invest in and it’s hard to blame them when it gets right down to it.

    So the competing narratives that need to be put in play will have to trickle out little by little until they develop a new cultural synergy that permeates our collective awareness. In other words the narrative must be robust yet explainable enough that it sits more easily in the human consciousness and doesn’t require extensive individual study. It becomes part of the cultural fabric and that is what many of us are hoping to achieve but it will be a generational movement at best.

    There is an old saying about the process of moving a local congregation forward which is “we are a couple of funerals away from being able to do so”. Generational attitudes die slow deaths but I have confidence that enough people believe in a Creator God that the lights will be kept burning.

  • Cal

    I think it’s funny that the early Believers constantly appealed to evidence. It just seems that Dawkins doesn’t trust the study of history. I think the evidence can conclusively show that Jesus rose from the dead, but it takes faith to say ‘My Lord and My God’, kneeling before His feet. I find it a tad funny though that I sometimes find more common ground with agnostics (both weak and strong forms) than with other religions 🙂

    Also, Scott, I am an existentialist at heart (for better or worse) so I resonate with your comments! The path of freedom, made so by the Son, is quite frightening and exhilarating. It is a hard path to walk by love, which is the counterpart to walking free. Only in authentic love (not morals) can we indeed be authentic.


  • Cal

    For clarity:

    By evidence, I mean in the terms of it being conclusive that Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Senate House in 44BC. Historical evidence not empirical.

  • Alan K

    Bishop Lesslie Newbigin was fond of saying that the best witness to the good news of Jesus Christ was the community that believes it. This is the narrative. Jesus does not say “you will be my apologists” but rather says “you will be my witnesses.” To fight a culture war is to ignore the words of Paul: “For our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

  • RJS

    Alan K (#10),

    So what do you think it means to say “you will be my witnesses”? Certainly there was teaching, preaching, and evangelism in the early church. They did not “just live it out.”

  • The thing is, while on the surface these appear to be competing views, in reality they are both clinging desperately to the same basic belief: Peace comes through right knowledge. Under the surface both are reacting in fear to the threat of ideas that tell them that what they know is not enough. The only difference is what physical evidence they claim is valid.

    These aren’t competing views where the answer lies in the middle somewhere. Like socialism and libertarianism: in a perfect world they would both be true, but the ultimate answer doesn’t lay in compromise, it lays in a different realm. The realm of love.

    What we have to offer is freedom from the need to know everything. what we offer is the peace of being able to be wrong and still be loved.

    God isn’t another fact to be known and valued above other facts, He is The Reality that changes the way we see and interact with the things we know.

    When you learn something new are you humble, teachable, and loving to the person sharing?or are you reactionary? In Christ we have the freedom to act in faith that we can be wrong and yet loved. We can know very very little and yet love others more than we love ourself. We can have peace in the midst of conflict because we know we have nothing to prove because we have nothing to fear.

    Perfect live casts out fear.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: “Thanks to evidence-based reason we are blessedly liberated from ancient fears of ghosts and devils, evil spirits and djinns, magic spells and witches’ curses.”

    The weird thing is that there’s a remarkable asymmetry here, and Dawkins might be actually saying precisely the opposite of the truth. As Bulgakov points out in his book ‘The Master and Margarita’, you can liberate yourself from God and the angels, but you actually can’t liberate yourself from the devils, however hard you might try. God and His angels respect our free will, and if someone doesn’t want to believe in God, then He won’t interfere in our lives. But there’s no logical reason to believe that the devils are under any such self-imposed restriction, and it’s possible that a society which persuades itself not to believe in the supernatural, will find the supernatural coming back in some much darker and disturbing form.

  • RJS

    Nate W.

    That sounds good … but I think there is something lacking. The two greatest commandments are to Love God and to Love Neighbor. Sure we don’t have to have perfect knowledge – but we do require some real understanding (within our capacities) to love God. And the call of Christ is to repent and follow him… this also requires more than simply love.

  • Robert A

    Well RJS, this is another compelling post. Thanks for the that. How we engage with the rising generation is more important than ever. I don’t know if anyone was paying attention to the “Reason Rally” but of the people that gathered there were more young adults (under the age of 30) than ever before. That should give us pause.

    How do we (that is the church where I serve) engage in the cultural discussion and offer a narrative to balance both Dawkins and Hamm. Well it isn’t easy. Obviously Dawkins doesn’t get much traction in a church (or reasonable communities outside…I’ve had numerous agnostic scientists apologize for him.) The bigger problem is Ken Hamm. There is something very tantalizing about his proposition. A firmly “evidenced” faith built on taking the Bible literally. Well he’s wrong and way too extreme, but that is the kind of thing that engenders followers.

    Essentially we try to discuss these things authentically (sounds ridiculous right?) We note that when discussing cosmology everyone is a theologian and there is simply no way to know what happened at our beginnings. It is all faith statements. The other thing is that we need to realize there are mountains (pun absolutely intended) of evidence about the age of the creation. That it is intellectually honest to admit we live in a complicated, though designed, creation that doesn’t yield direct evidence for “absolute knowledge.” (which is never truly available.)

    Humility is what we try to always steer back towards. Humility for all sides to admit grandiose statements aren’t helpful and sweeping generalizations are usually not accurate. We talk about how there really is no way for science to honestly say there are, e.g., billions of planets that could contain life. Just like it isn’t honest to say that if we only hold a literal read of all the Bible then our children won’t wander from the faith. (a literal read not being possible for the entire Bible…but that’s another subpoint.)

    At some point we try to equip our people with the tools and honesty to discuss things with grace and gracefulness. 1 Peter 3:15 is linked to 16 which has more to do with how we say it than it does what we say.

  • C

    I’m a bit off topic here, but it’s interesting that you bring up Ham’s “no death, bloodshed, disease or suffering…before sin” argument.

    Although I sense there’s something that doesn’t quite add up, this is, to me, one of the most compelling arguments for a literalistic young-earth view (though I disagree strongly with his claim it was God who “instituted death and bloodshed because of sin—this is foundational to the Gospel.”) That aside, however, how do you answer this argument?

    Or maybe, better put, if indeed there were “millions of years of death, bloodshed, disease and suffering before [humanity’s] sin,” how do we view the fall and the theology that seems so tied to this literal narrative?

  • AHH

    One issue, alluded to in #7 above, is that both Dawkins (and his ilk) and Ham (and his ilk) share a common view of the Bible. The view that it has to have absolute perfection, including perfection when viewed as a science text, in order to have value — that if this perfection is lacking the only other option is to dismiss it all as meaningless ancient fables.

    So, one of the most important things we can do in the church is wean people away from the sort of fundamentalist Biblicism that undergirds the narrative of Ham. Not only for the sake of steering the church away from Ham’s harmful narrative, but so that the picture the church gives to the world outside is less easily tied to the narrative of Dawkins.
    But that’s easier said than done in an environment where to question terms like “inerrancy” and “absolute perfection” can get one run out of Evangelicalism on the proverbial rail.

  • Luke Allison

    Ham’s comment on homosexuals and abortion betrays his true purpose for doing all that he does.
    It’s interesting that he doesn’t say “next they’ll be allowing women an equal place in society”, or “pretty soon they’ll be treating divorced people well!”

    Here are the three shifts that I’m trying to make in my ministry setting:
    1. Articulating the “Gospel” story differently. Dwight Pryor, an old family friend (he passed away last year) and scholar, used to say we need to back away from the meta-narrative up to the meta-meta-narrative. In other words, instead of “creation, fall, redemption, consummation” (I think Wright says “creation, fall, israel, Jesus, church”) we need to say “creation,blessing,covenant,consummation”.
    This gives us a better idea of what it is God is ultimately doing. He’s more than a redeemer, and Jesus was doing more than redeeming during his time on earth.
    2. However we talk about the Genesis story, we have to begin introducing new ways of explaining it. I have to do this subtly in my evangelical context, but I’ve found that young people respond very well to it. They don’t buy Adam and Eve as first couple anyway, so there’s no point in repeating it over and over again. This isn’t mind-blowing, but I try to speak in storytelling or narrative style when bringing this story to them. I frequently say things like: “whatever you believe about this, what really matters is that God created”, and then deal with whatever questions or confusion that brings. The point I’m trying to introduce somewhat nefariously to my students is that there isn’t a long historical Christian consensus on much of anything. That’s the myth they labor under.

    3. I try as best I can to articulate a “New Creation” eschatology rather than an escapist or apocalyptic story. I try as best I can to highlight the beauty and ugliness of the world, and show how manythings are getting better while other things are getting worse. This paints the picture that the world is worth fighting for, and then Jesus can be seen as the one who models and leads what that fight looks like. I try to portray the Sermon on the Mount as marching orders, and Jesus’ miracles and actions as foretastes of the New Thing God is doing and will do.

    Those three things are what I’m trying to be consistent on. This is a slow process, but I’m seeing little bits of fruit. Luckily, young people aren’t steeped in the “fear of works” that so many older Christians are, and they aren’t afraid to question precious interpretive choices.

    None of this is new or original, but it’s what I got.

  • Rick

    This interesting, and related story has appeared:

    “Conservatives, particularly those with college educations, have become dramatically more skeptical of science over the past four decades, according to a study published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review. Fewer than 35 percent of conservatives say they have a “great deal” of trust in the scientific community now, compared to nearly half in 1974. “The scientific community … has been concerned about this growing distrust in the public with science. And what I found in the study is basically that’s really not the problem. The growing distrust of science is entirely focused in two groups—conservatives and people who frequently attend church,” says the study’s author, University of North Carolina postdoctoral fellow Gordon Gauchat….In fact, in 1974, people who identified as conservatives were among the most confident in science as an institution, with liberals trailing slightly behind, and moderates bringing up the rear. Liberals have remained fairly steady in their opinion of the scientific community over the interim, while conservative trust in science has plummeted.
    Interestingly, the most educated conservatives have led that charge. Conservatives with college degrees began distrusting science earlier and more forcefully than other conservatives, upending assumptions that less educated people on the whole are more distrustful of science.
    Gauchat attributes the changes to two forces: Both science and conservatives have changed a lot in 40 years. In the post-WWII period, research was largely wedded to the Defense Department and NASA—think the space race and the development of the atomic bomb. Now the scientific institution “has come out from behind those institutions and been its own cultural force.” That has meant it is increasingly viewed as a catalyst of government regulation, as in the failed Democratic proposal to institute cap-and-trade as a way to reduce carbon emissions and stave off climate change.”


  • RJS


    Interesting. There are many different factors at play here. The issue of climate and warming is one – but only one – of them. I am not sure how it will all play out.

    What do you think is the significance of this study?

  • Rick


    I think the climate change is a good representative symptom.

    Off-hand, the lines of the article, for me, were:

    “The growing distrust of science is entirely focused in two groups—conservatives and people who frequently attend church…”

    “People are now viewing science as part of government regulation,” Gauchat says.”

    For political conservatives, that is obviously a negative development. For church-goers, that could be seen as a threat against the faith- especially in light of the modernist controvesies of the 20th Century, and in light of the more hostile atheism of the past decade. For conservative church-goers, it is a double whammy (so to speak).

  • DRT

    I am greatly disappointed in the trajectory of US society in my life time. I always assumed that people would get more rational, cooperative, big minded etc as time goes on. I suppose I was a true progressive.

    But what has happened is that partisanship seems to have become the M.O. It pervades politics, work, church, pretty much everything.

    And, I think that it is primarily the conservatives who are doing it particularly since that is a big part of being a conservative, preserving and establishing in-groups. Most that I talk to don’t believe that, they equally blame the liberals, but the trouble is that suspicion by one group (conservatives) creates a self fulfilling prophecy for their opponent.

    Another major dynamic I see playing out has to do with growth, or the lack of it. When things are growing and opportunity abounds people don’t fear as much (suspicion) but when things get scarce the competitive nature starts to take over, and the competition involves groups competing.

    As I said, I am quite disappointed in the state of humanity in this country, and hope that I can somehow find a better picture or accept it before my time is up in this world.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    If the youth under thirty is the focus of such groups and that is exactly the group that the church is losing and has the largest number of atheists within that group, what does that say about the future of the church? What does that say to us if our discussions is not too the younger generation but we are just preaching to the choir that is getting grayer faster and earlier?

  • Rick

    So much of this is about trust.


    When people you meet, particularly Christians, first realize that you are a Christian who is a scientist, do you think they primarily think of you as a Christian, or as a scientist?

  • Rick@19
    “Liberals have remained fairly steady in their opinion of the scientific community over the interim, while conservative trust in science has plummeted.”

    I think the conservative trust in the scientific community not science has plummeted. But there is a big difference between these two.

    The science that created medicines and builds planes and rockets is not distrusted. The community that has a world view of naturalism and removes all things super-natural calling all who believe in such things ignorant is not trusted.


  • Rick

    Mike B #25-

    That is a good point. The article shifts from one to the other.

    The study states:

    “Two interesting patterns from these supplementary
    analyses are worth mentioning. First, the public defines “what science is” in three distinct ways: (1) as an abstract method(e.g., replication, empirical, or unbiased); (2)as a cultural location (e.g., takes place in a university or is practiced by highly credentialed
    individuals); and (3) as one form of knowledge among other types such as common sense and religious tradition (see Gauchat 2011). Interestingly, conservatives were
    far more likely to define science as knowledge
    that should conform to common sense and religious tradition. Relating to the second pattern, when examining a series of public attitudes toward science, conservatives’ unfavorable attitudes are most acute in relation to government funding of science and the use of
    scientific knowledge to influence social policy
    (see Gauchat 2010). Conservatives thus appear especially averse to regulatory science,defined here as the mutual dependence of organized science and government policy.

    Here is the study in more detail:


  • RJS

    Mike B (#25),

    I think that is a factor, but not the whole problem.

    Rick (#24),

    I think Christians – at least those I know fairly well – think of me as a Christian who is a scientist. And that gives me some credibility and at least a disposition to allow me to give a position. I wish I had more opportunity to make use of it.

    Without that trust and credibility though, it is hard to even gain a hearing.

  • Rick


    That is why I think it falls greatly on true scientists, such as yourself and Collins, who are part of the Christian community, to help build that bridge of trust with science. You represent someone in both communities.

    Likewise, it is important for people who have experience, expertise, and leadership in both arenas, such as Polkinghorne and McGrath, to further strengthen that bridge.

    Finally, it falls on ministers, such as Keller, who openly speak out about not being hostile to science, to really bring it home to the congregations.

  • Tom Howard

    Nothing happens until long term education happens…enlightenment of sort….more YOU, more MCKNIGHT, more WALTON so folks see it as viable thinking, even reason, and logic. Public dialogue in larger settings that won’t get somebody from either side fired

  • RJS

    Rick and Tom,

    I think people like Scot and John Walton as Tom suggests, and Tim Keller as Rick suggests can do a lot – although it is still only a drop in the bucket.

    I’ve spent a great deal of time over the last seven or eight years studying, writing, and thinking to try to learn how to deal with these issues both intelligently and faithfully – but I don’t really see an effective approach or path giving me a direction to go from here. It takes an opportunity to teach and interact – and those appear to be drying up rather than increasing.

    Of course I can keep writing – and that I expect to do.

  • Luke Allison


    The joke of all of this is that young people don’t really believe the young earth creation story told to them at church. It makes no sense to them, and it doesn’t connect to their life experience in any way.

    For many of them, the trials and hardships of life have been what’s made life meaningful and interesting. Positing some return to a past perfect Edenic state is simply not a compelling vision of the future to them.

    Now, an inaugurated New Creation full of justice and mercy and beauty and creativity and joy and acceptance will get their heart racing. So we have to figure out how to tell the story in a way that highlights what God is doing and will do, rather than how bad everything is and will continue to get.

    Young people are coming to believe in evolution as a rule, from what I can tell. They get confused when they hear from their conservative evangelical parents that evolution is Voldemort.
    What a silly waste of time we make trying to convince them of a 16th century Gospel presentation, when the way forward is sitting wide open to us in theistic evolution. And yet, it’s the tightrope all of us in evangelical settings must walk.

    It reminds me of the hubbub over Harry Potter (I think this makes sense, at least). The opportunity of a lifetime is presented to us on a platter: millions of kids bought into the story, found resonance in its themes, loved its heroes, and hated its villains.

    WE spent all our time arguing whether or not they should be allowed to read it in the first place. And the opportunity goes drifting by.

    Let’s hope we grasp this current opportunity before the lines get drawn in the students’ lives and they come to believe that the sides cannot ever meet.

  • Yes, both of these narratives have their constituencies in my Presbyterian (PCUSA) church, and both have affected our church life and health. The secularist/agnostic/atheist group has currently been the more forthcoming, but they are not aggressive or intentionally threatening. In some ways they’ve been good for us, because they have prodded us to give more serious thought to the legitimate critiques they put against beliefs and doctrines to which we’ve given too little thought.

    Still, when we want to determine a course for the future of our congregation, our leadership shies from declaring spiritual purposes grounded in scripture, because they don’t want to alienate the secularists/agnostics/atheists. (I’m not kidding.)

    On the other hand, the more hardened fundamentalists, akin to the new-earth creationists, are also more easily alienated, even when no stand is taken with regard to their point of view. They tend to be both aggressively accusatory toward others and defensively sensitive about anything that implies contradiction to their point of view. They constantly let others know they’re not happy and show enough anger about it to draw the conclusion that there will be a price to pay.

    The consequence of it all is that we have people either pealing off at both ends of the spectrum. Unless they don’t peal off, in which case they stay and present the aforementioned dilemmas. The rest (I’m not sure if it’s accurate to say they’re the moderate center, but they at least see a point to being thoughtful, careful and appropriately accommodating) are kind of frozen in their tracks. I don’t know what a fiercely resolute moderate would look like, but I think we need to nurture more of them in order to march forward in to some kind of meaningful future.

    Occupy Coffee Hour!

  • AT

    Dawkins worldview is the new challenge in the western world. The previous – New Age and pluralistic (everyone’s on their own journey to God and heaven) worldviews are dying because they aren’t logically consistent.

    I work in a school. Last year I met a year eight girl who was wearing an ‘A’ badge. I asked her what it meant and she said that she was a proud atheist. I was a bit stunned that a child could be so sure of atheism that she’d wear a badge to promote it.

    My prediction is that in the west there will be four predominating worldviews in the next ten years. Christianity, Atheism, Islam and No religion (influenced by Atheism, whereby the chances of God being real are seen as so slim that people just don’t care).

    the church needs to engage with better apologetics like ‘Reason for God’, and ‘Mere Christianity’ to engage with these challenges because I believe many will be influenced by simplistic materialist worldviews.

  • RJS


    I think you are right in some contexts, and especially for youth who are not deeply in any church. But there are others where this is an issue for youth.

    But even for those who don’t really care the way this is discussed in churches leads to an ironic and skeptical approach to faith.

  • RJS


    I am not quite so sure that more open spiritual approaches are disappearing – but they may be losing influence (or press).

    I do think that atheism and “none” influenced by atheism/naturalism are growing and are becoming “the air we breathe and the water we drink.” This is the default “well of course” in much of our culture.

    But an 8 year old can be as confident of atheism I expect as my kids at 8 could be confident of Christianity. They are learning from those they trust.

  • Kendall

    Fascinating discussion. Both sides have central flaws. That the “The Bible . . . is self-authenticating and self-attesting” is unsustainable, a virtual non sequitur. That religion is merely “ancient fears of ghosts and devils, evil spirits and djinns, magic spells and witches’ curses” is the specious claim that, in effect, 10% of the history of religion is a accurate reflection of all religion. The obvious answers of moderation and tolerance are so unfashionable in today’s politics their mention risks excoriation, but they are still as obvious to truth-seekers as as they are anathema to truth-guardians. When the last hand comes down, extremism collapses its own house.

  • RJS– This is a very helpful post and gives much clarity as to the statements being made by both extremes. Thanks.

  • Just wanted to give an update regarding that survey on distrust of science/science community among conservatives. This article posts some interesting reasons.


  • Ken Ham and that museum in Kentucky/Cincinnati area has serious fans, a strong following. One quite intelligent person I know holds to his views quite strongly. Any deviation from that is a deviation from the gospel, or more accurately put, is setting up one to be removed from the foundation essential for the gospel.

    I tire of that drumbeat so lately I’ve been steering clear of them. Perhaps we just have to keep telling the story as we understand it, and here I’m thinking of the story of God from scripture. Of the King Jesus gospel.

    I know one family raised I think on the Ken Ham telling of the story, and one of their children has departed the faith thinking they are an atheist, Richard Dawkins being one of their favorite people. It appears to some people that logically you accept one extreme or the other. What we call extreme. To accept evolution and the possibility of a less than literal reading of Genesis is to capitulate to the world against the faith.

    It is tiring. I was told by someone never to speak a word about my faith to their children, when I was unwise enough to voice my views on evolution and the early chapters of Genesis. There can be no discussion here. Door is closed and locked.

  • AT –

    I was a bit stunned that a child could be so sure of atheism that she’d wear a badge to promote it.

    Nobody wears crucifixes there?