I’m a person who notices bumper-stickers when I’m out and about and I enjoy making mention of the more interesting ones in my sermons. It seems that there are some of you who enjoy this kind of thing as well – in fact a few of you have approach me to ask me about the things that are stuck on the back of my car; i.e., two of those silvery “fish” emblems.
You’ve probably noticed that there are an increasing number of vehicles on the road with one of two symbols on their bumpers; 1) the Christian fish symbol, or 2) the fish with feet underneath it with the word “Darwin” in the middle (perhaps representing secular humanism). Lately I’ve been seeing fancier versions with the Christian fish aggressively swallowing, or humping, the Darwin Fish or visa versa.
It seems that there are two “competing truths” at war with each other. Either the literalized interpretation of the Biblical creation story is true (that God did everything “just as it says” in six days less than 6,000 years ago) or else the truth lies in the evolutionary theory of the emergence of the species over billions of years advocated by Charles Darwin.
To many of the unchurched folk in our society who see these bumper emblems on their daily commutes it would appear that all Christians are literal Creationists who ignore, and even attack, the fruits of critical thought and the contemporary sciences. This troubles me.
This perception can become yet another reason for them to write off Christianity as “antiquated and irrelevant” and thus, they miss out on the rich blessings of being involved with a community of faith – and possibly experiencing the deep joy of salvation and abundant life. Yet there are many millions of faithful believers who contend that being a Christian doesn’t mean being oblivious to critical thought. We aren’t called to turn off our brains when we enter a church, read the Bible, or let Christ into our lives!
As a United Methodist, I embrace John Wesley’s “method” of fully utilizing the tools of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. This means taking in and incorporating as much as we can from all fields and disciplines as we discern meaning in our lives. It is for this very reason that I subscribe to a wide range of magazines and have National Public Radio and a Christian Radio station right next to each other as presets on my car radio. As a result, it seems quite reasonable and faithful to many Christians to perceive that the processes of evolution were, and are still being, employed in the unfolding of God’s Creation. So, it’s not necessarily an “either/or” situation, perhaps it’s more of a “both/and” — these views of creation aren’t necessarily contradictory or mutually exclusive.
To be sure, there are truths that are essential to the Christian faith: that there is a God, and that the depths of God’s mercy and love for us were and are, uniquely (but not exclusively) manifest in the life (way, teachings, and example) of Jesus of Nazareth in a way that we’re invited to participate in. However, there are many things that are “non-essentials” – e.g., our understandings of the virgin birth, the miracle stories, stances on sexuality, whether the communion bread really becomes Christ’s body, etc. – and this is one of them.
John Wesley spoke to this saying, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity” (referencing Augustine); and, “Though we may not all think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart though we may not be of one opinion? If your heart is as my heart, give me thy hand.”
Moreover, my own father is a scientist and a Christian. He’s a chemistry professor (now emeritus) and has served in most every possible lay role and position in his local congregation and rarely, and I mean rarely misses a worship service. His specialty is radio-chemistry (elements that are radioactive) and he has great respect in the validity of carbon-dating in determining how old fossils and even the Earth itself are. If this man who I admire and respect doesn’t have any cognitive dissonance about any of this, then neither should I.
And so, during my seminary days back in Denver, I purchased both of these fish emblems, faced them toward each other, and show them “kissing” in order to witness to the world (both churched and unchurched) that there are other ways of being a faithful Christian. If nothing else, it might help shift things into a healthier way of playful dialogue. It’s a small thing, but who knows? It might make a difference.
Evolving in Christ,
XX – Roger
p.s. The above is a modified version of a letter that I published in the church newsletter for Delano UMC in Delano, MN in 1996, a few months after I started my first appointment as a pastor. It is now included as part of my book, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity (an introduction to progressive Christianity).
In this era of potential Qur’an burnings; people like Glenn Beck asking people to leave their churches if they hear their pastors speak of “social justice” & John MacArthur telling people that social justice is not part of the Christain Gospel; and Evangelical leaders minimizing the sexual assault of women – this debate about evolution vs. creationism seems almost quaint. I never thought I’d think of the era of the “culture wars” as the good ‘ol days. : P