Friday, September 04, 2009

Stepping Away From Fundamentalism, Step Five

Once I graduated from high school I had a choice to make about the kind of education that I would pursue to prepare for the ministry. Independent Baptists encouraged me to go to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Jerry Falwell was that schools most famous alumnus. BBC, however, was not accredited. That meant that a degree from that institution was worthless for anything but ministry in a fundamental Baptist church. That held no allure for me. The Apostle Paul told Timothy, "Study to show yourself approved unto God,"(2 Timothy 2:15). I presumed that meant that I should expect to meet and exceed the highest standards set by the world. Graduate study at a seminary was already fixed in my mind and I knew I would need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution to get in the door.

I enrolled at the University of Albuquerque, a small private Catholic school, and moved my membership to a Southern Baptist Church. I thought life in Southern Baptist churches would be more congenial than in those of Independent Fundamental Baptists. For a time, it was.

The most noteworthy difference between the two kinds of Baptists regarded literature. At that time, Independent Baptists produced none while Southern Baptists produced some literature of fairly high quality. My favorite was Student Magazine which was geared toward college students. Somewhere in its pages I learned about a series of pamphlets written by Southern Baptist educators that addressed the intellectual challenges that college students face. I ordered some of the pamphlets and read the one on faith and science because it dealt with the issue of evolution. I don't remember the author's name and I misplaced the pamphlet long ago, but it offered a fresh perspective about God and science that made a lasting impression on me. The earliest version of talks I have given about evolution and faith were based on perspectives that I first learned about from that booklet.

Evolution has always been a burning issue among fundamentalists. There is no way to reconcile the Bible and evolution as long as you insist on interpreting the opening chapters of the book of Genesis literally. All the Fundamental Baptists that I knew interpreted the creation accounts very literally. For them, the world was created in seven literal days six thousand years ago. Though the Bible itself says that with the Lord "a thousand years are like a day."(2 Peter 3:8), they refused to entertain any suggestion that references to the time of creation might be symbolic. "Creation Science" was the only kind of science palatable to them and I already knew that that was pseudo-science.

Young earth creationism is hopelessly inadequate for anyone who understands science and closely examines the mountains of factual evidence against it. Even modern fundamentalists have conceded this point. This concession is just about the only thing that distinguishes the modern proponents of "Intelligent Design" from the old "Creation Scientists."

On evolution, my step away from fundamentalism came when I realized that I needed to let God be God and stop trying to limit him. God is free to create any way wants. There is no requirement that God create human beings in a way that completely distinguishes us from the rest of God's creation. The question is not whether God could do so. He could do it that way if he wanted to, but he is not bound to do it that way.

Science indicates that we share most of our genetic structure with primates. What violence does that do to the Christian understanding of man? God is not an organism. He does not have a genetic structure. God is Spirit. The image of God in man does not refer to our physical form or body; it refers to our spirit. Our uniqueness is in our spiritual capacity to enter loving relationship with a God who loves us.

Ultimately, it makes no difference whether God decided to form our physical bodies through long stages of biological development or by a special creative act.

4 comments:

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Amen about evolution. Many people, in my Methodist Church, don't consider me Christian because I believe in evolution and I think that Intelligent Design is inadequate, to say the least. Fundamnentalist always seem to put a box around God in terms of creation. I hate arguing about it (doesn't do any good).

btw My Mother had several classes at the University of Albuquerque (however She, my brother, and I all graduated the same day from UNM). She enjoyed some of the Jesuit (I think that is right) professors she had there.

V. H. said...

Yogi:

United Methodist Church? Here is there statement on evolution:

“Whereas, "Scientific" creationism seeks to prove that natural history conforms absolutely to the Genesis account of origins; and,

Whereas, adherence to immutable theories is fundamentally antithetical to the nature of science; and,

Whereas, "Scientific" creationism seeks covertly to promote a particular religious dogma; and,

Whereas, the promulgation of religious dogma in public schools is contrary to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; therefore,

Be it resolved that The Iowa Annual Conference opposes efforts to introduce "Scientific" creationism into the science curriculum of the public schools.”

Passed June 1984, Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Of course, all Methodist churches may not be like those in Iowa, but I have found Methodists usually have no problems with evolution, unlike Southern Baptists.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Thanks!! I'm going to print this out, roll it up, and hit a creationist over the head with it next Sunday! (Just kidding.)

I find it very interesting and informative.

Widely Interested said...

Nearly all who claim the name "Christian", believes in God, God the Creator of all of reality. In the last 400 years, science has studied our world, the universe, reality. The discoveries of science have been very disconcerting to many Christians because the discoveries conflict with the worldview held by the biblical writers. Can Christians take scriptures seriously without taking scriptures literally?

Yes, Christians can! Christianity and science need not be in conflict with each other. However, rejecting confrontation requires that theology reject a fundamentalist premodern origin of the heavens and the earth that ignores or suppresses the results of science or a historical-critical exegisis of the scriptures. On the other hand, science must reject a rationalistic, modern model that evades fundamental philosophical and theological questions. Science cannot a priori declare religion as irrelevant.

Instead, christianity and science must embrace a critical and constructive interaction between science and religion.

Just as christianity must deal a with reality that started with a big cosmic explosion 13.7 billion years ago, science must also deal with ultimate questions. What is the ultimate origin of the universal constants of nature? Why is there something and not nothing? This is a primal human question. Can the scientist within the realm of human expereience answer these questions?

For a christianity which seeks to understand and explain reality, it must face the fact that mankind has discovered that 13.7 billiions years ago our universe began with a giganitc cosmic explosion. Our planet has existed for 4.5 billion years and complex life for 3.5 billions years. It was only 1.5 billion years ago that the first early human walked upright and humans such as present day man appeared only 200,000 years ago .

Paraphrase and Quotes from Hans Kung

I summarized the information above from a book by Hans Kung. I keep the summary to remind me that all mankind is part of the creation that science studies. Christians cannot put their heads in the sand and continue to deny what our God given ability has enabled us to see and discover. Without theologically dealing with science Christianity loses credibility in the present age.