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Science and the Evangelical Mission (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

Last Friday David Opderbeck introduced Ken Wilson’s essay Science and the Evangelical Mission in America. Wilson’s message is that the approach we take to issues of science and faith will have a profound impact on the willingness of people to consider the gospel. He was driven to consider the impact of conservative evangelical attitudes toward science as he set out to plant a church “in Ann Arbor, home to the University of
Michigan, a major scientific research center and a community with
decidedly blue leanings.
“  (Picture to the right from wikipedia)

Wilson’s essay starts with an anecdote relating a conversation where he asked a biology student “We have grad students in English, social work, and engineering–why aren’t there more science and biology students in our church?” – her answer was prompt “Ken, it’s evolution, what did you think?”  and then makes he the following observation:

The evangelical posture toward modern science has missional consequences. We have inherited a defensive posture toward science that serves as a roadblock to faith for many people. The question is: what are we going to do about it?

If the essence of evangelicalism is a singular passion to see the gospel of Jesus embraced by as many people as possible, we must learn to think again like missionaries sent to a mission field. 

Read Wilson’s essay – and while you are at, it read this essay by Stephen Blake, A Plea to My Shepherds. Speaking as one who has been a grad student, scholar, and professor, a blue leaning thinker in a red thinking church for decades, I find Wilson’s observations right on target. As a “tolerated minority” (see his essay for definitions)  I would not risk inviting friends or colleagues to church. My attempt to discuss this with the pastor after one particularly troubling sermon led to a defensive response – and a comment that the church must stand against the secularism of the university.

This is a massive mission field: roughly half the population of the
United States leans blue, either directly or through cultural identification with the scientists and thinkers who lean blue.

Wilson has the key question dead on…directly to pastors and those in campus ministry:

What
effect does your approach to science have on your ability to have be a missional witness in your communities? Will people set foot in the door
and feel welcome?

Does it matter?

Lets start a conversation.

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



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Rick

posted January 26, 2010 at 7:57 am


The main resistance to (some) science is fear and anger. We need to bring down that automatic defensive posture.
Therefore, pastors and lay leaders should become familiar enough with the issues, and key players, so they can begin to introduce a more welcoming stance.
Second, the leaders need to stress the essentials of the faith to their churches. Let’s remove the tendency to promote secondary issues to the top. Even if one disagrees with some of views of some scientists, the priorities (essentials) will still be in mind.
Third, the leaders need to incorporate scientific findings in church discussions (sermons, seminars, small group studies, etc…). That does not mean they have to be only science focused, just that science is welcomed as part of discussions on most any topic.
Fourth, draw attention to the more prominent Christian leaders who are also well-versed in science, such as McGrath and Polkinghorne. Have their faith, and expertise, become examples. This not mean one has to agree with all their positions, but one will be able to see that barriers can come down.
Fifth, have church leaders attend science functions. This will help educate, and will show that there is not a barrier between faith and science (this brings to mind a Christian pastor who, many years ago, attended a scholarly seminar on post-modernism. Those at the seminar were amazed that a Christian pastor would be interested in such a topic). Likewise, the church leaders can inform the church of what they learned, thus lowering the barriers further.



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RJS

posted January 26, 2010 at 8:56 am


Rick,
Feelings matter more than position – Wilson makes that point as well. The defensive posture, the “ridicule of the other,” the fences. Feelings matter. Pastors who react defensively, he says, must bring these feelings before the Lord in prayer. Until this is dealt with – nothing will happen.



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Scott Eaton

posted January 26, 2010 at 9:44 am


I think it matters a lot. Every few weeks I meet with a man who is an atheist. His wife is a part of our church and came to Jesus through our church. But I don’t think he’d feel welcome.
Why? Simple – he is an ardent evolutionist and definitely thinks this puts him at odds with the gospel. I’ve been trying to break this barrier down by explaining to him that thoughtful evangelical Christians disagree on this issue and that it is not essential to faith in Jesus. This has opened continued dialog for us. We’ve been able to talk about what is most important in the Genesis narrative and move beyond Genesis to Jesus and the gospel.
However, this has put me at odds with a few in our congregation and if more knew it I’m sure eyebrows would be raised. To even suggest that Christians could believe in evolution has some in our church wondering if I am not a closet liberal (this is genuinely absurd and really stinks when you’re the pastor).
So, yes, I do think this has missional implications.



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dopderbeck

posted January 26, 2010 at 9:53 am


I love this article because it puts a finger on why I’m passionate about this issue, as well as about the Church’s posture in the broader culture wars. RJS, I think you’re right — it’s beyond an embarrassment, it’s a sin, that people should feel unwelcome and estranged in our churches simply because they are trying to understand the truth of how the physical world works. It’s equally a sin that any Christian raised in the church should feel even the least bit uncomfortable exploring such truth openly.
Now, there is some pushback here that I think is fair: though “all truth is God’s truth,” there nevertheless is an “antithesis” between the Spirit of Christ and the spirit of the World. Part of the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel is the prophetic word that the powers of the World, which stand in opposition to Christ, have been decisively defeated by the cross and Resurrection. The powers of the world are no less operative in the institutions of the natural sciences than in any other social institution.
So, there ought to be a sense in which a non-Christian scientist — just like a non-Christian lawyer, politician, banker, mechanic, dad, mom, or whatever — should feel some tension upon entering a Christian church. The Church’s proclamation of the Gospel is necessarily a word of condemnation over the powers of sin and death that hold them captive.
The trick is that this word of condemnation is not a condemnation of the person qua human being, nor is it a condemnation of truth wherever it may be found, nor is it a claim by the human beings that comprise the Church to higher knowledge or higher moral ground inherent in them as persons. This is because it is simultaneously a word of condemnation and a word of freedom and grace.



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Bryant

posted January 26, 2010 at 11:02 am


Most too often society is divided over the issues presented, one will be churched (what I mean is that one forgoes all the things of the worlds ways including science, think Mennonites for example) in the grace of the gospel forgoing any further attempts to understand the physical natural order of things including evolution and the other, everything has an answer attitude because science is the tool for discovery (reasoning that the bible can be discovered from the nuggets mined for the name of science). I find very few people in the middle. Though, I wonder, perhaps there is a place where the merging of thought and faith could meet unhindered by overarching types from both camps.
If I can I will explain (at least from my opinion) what I feel is the bridging to cohesion that bonds humanity. The bible will never ever be a science treatise for discovery in the scientific sense, yet it is a place of beginnings, of origin and of the demise of an all good world begat by a fallen few (Lucifer and company). In this case I believe this can align with the two schools of thought, there is good and bad. Science (studies in sociology, psychology, philosophy and theology) and the Scriptures affirm this.
On the other, we should never take off the table man?s innate ability to unravel mystery via scientific discovery, this is god given, and we have more of our intellect revealed to us as time goes on. If it were not so I would not be writing (typing) this email for the WWW; Can you imagine Oppenheimer?s thinking about the destructiveness of the atomic bomb its effect on the world.
The merging of thought ?God given? and biblical doctrine, should never deny any possibility that God is behind all things, things that are known and the things that are not known. Evolution (I pick this topic since it is a big divider of humanity) does not have to be ignored from a biblical sense. We do not or may never know what events God put into motion. Should we say God is not the author of evolution? Certainly not. There is and will always be that missing link of information that will bind all together one day. That is God?s timing, we are left we truth discovery and faith. We can all believe that God is responsible for all things including evolution, both can agree on this and not feel unwelcomed at either camp. commonality is key, a beginning to reach out from.



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RJS

posted January 26, 2010 at 11:05 am


David,
Any person should feel some tension in entering a church and wrestling with the gospel.
Toward the end of the essay Wilson relates an experience where a scientist noted that he used to think that the major problems facing the world could be solved by science but now he realizes that … “The major problems facing us are greed, selfishness and apathy and for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. We scientists don?t know how to do that.”
This is where people should be challenged and leave with a tinge of discomfort (or more than a tinge of discomfort). It should not be over the evidence for evolution or global warming. Problem is the defensive attitude toward science eliminates the likelihood that the gospel message will get through. It ties a millstone to the message and throws it overboard.



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Jordan

posted January 26, 2010 at 11:10 am


I wonder if how scientists and theologians go about this new reformation of the evangelical church is going to be more important than the actual reformation itself. There is an incredible amount of momentum to overcome. In science we live off of shedding new light on old problems. In the church we tend to brand that heresy.
I think RJS’s post points out something very important. Above all, including thoughts on how we all got here, a Christian *should* value the gospel and the spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to those who would hear.
The problem I can sort of see forming is that this new wave of Evangelical evolutionary creationism (largely holding to traditional Evangelical theology while fully embracing science) is that it can quite easily lead to a sort of “holier than thou” attitude. EECs (that’s what I’ll call them anyway, for lack of a better term) are rightly, IMO, excited that they can be faithful to Scripture and faithful to Science and not “give up” much of either. But it’s important for them to also remember, in humility, that not everybody is at the same place in their journey of faith and understanding of truth and how we come by it.
While we shouldn’t be turning away the biologists from the church, neither should we be turning away those who have serious concerns about evolution and the effect science has had on Christianity over the last 150 years or so. You simply can’t tell someone who has heard over and over from people who they trust that evolution is simply incompatible with evangelical Christianity that “it’s all good” and “there’s no problem with evolution”.
The main thing I’d like to see is open, humble discussion of the hard issues at a local level. Church’s rarely talk about science even though it’s a huge part of modern culture. How often do you see a scientist at the pulpit expounding on the wonders of Creation or about how science is a Christ-worthy pursuit for the young mind? The Church largely treats science as pandora’s box, instead of wonder of creation in itself.



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RJS

posted January 26, 2010 at 12:23 pm


Jordan (#7),
Wilson discusses three levels of churches (actually 4 – but those who do not accept any form of evolutionary thinking are Level 0 – and not under discussion here).

Level 1: Tolerated Minority In these churches, people with blue sensibility are met with little direct confrontation regarding their scientific views, yet there is no doubt that they are in the cultural minority. Those who have blue sensibility perspectives on science tend to leave them at home when they come to church. They are part of these churches in spite of their views and they are extremely unlikely to invite any friends with similar views to attend their church.

Level 2: Accepted Minority The pastoral staff and some key leaders actively support the blue sensibility person?s right to hold their views on scientific matters, even though they may disagree with these views. The church leadership however, clearly and openly views these matters as secondary and not an integral part of the Christian message. … Level 2 churches are able to retain some ?already committed Christian science people? (for example the science friendly spouse of a devout believer committed to the church), but these are also unlikely to invite like-minded friends to church.

Level 3: Integrated Minority In these churches there is open if infrequent vocal acceptance for science friendly views … The pastor and key leaders hold or support science friendly views themselves so that these perspectives are respected in the congregation, even if a majority does not hold them. The culture of such churches represents a significant missional advantage because those with blue sensibility perspectives will more freely invite like-minded friends to church. Over time the church culture may shift to include a majority of blue sensibility people while remaining accepting and friendly toward red sensibility people.

I would say that most churches I’ve belonged to have fit in level 1 – “tolerated minority” although the church I currently attend is moving through level 2 to level 3.
Where do you think a missional church should be located along this continuum?



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Jordan

posted January 26, 2010 at 12:57 pm


@RJS:
To be honest, I’m having a hard time dealing with the “red” vs. “blue” thing. Wilson is mixing up a whole lot of things in to this including equating scientific views with political views.
In terms of science in general, Level 2 seems pretty fitting to me. Though science is an important part of modern life, I would consider it secondary.
However, as I said, I kind of take issue with Wilson’s “red” and “blue” list. They are a classic example of why Evangelicals are so anti-evolution. They have firm beliefs that put then in the “red” category and so they can’t imagine that anything from the “blue” category is any good. I think it will be important for us to decouple science from the political as we seek to build this scientifically-relevant missional church.
My experience is that most evangelicals are not anti-science, rather they are against what they see as “bad” science and hold special revelation above general revelation. I think what is needed humility in saying that both science and theology are prone to interpretation problems and so we should constantly be pursuing a “correct” understanding of both the Word and the World. Rather than non-overlapping magisteria as Gould called it, I’d like to see something where science and faith inform, support, and critique each other in humble, loving, and ultimately edifying ways.



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MattR

posted January 26, 2010 at 1:37 pm


Yes, this is an important question for mission.
As a church planter in a primarily ‘blue’ area I’m glad we’re discussing this!
And I like the approach taken here. To me, the issues aren’t primarily scientific, or theological, but rather missiological. We have a cultural divide… ie: what people value and the way they see the world. We need to cross divides and build bridges for the Gospel. We need to evaluate any unnecessary barriers to people hearing and entering into the good news of the Kingdom.
Being against evolution and global warming, etc. seems largely a cultural/political stance in most contexts, not a core Christian conviction.
And having grown up in a ‘red’ conservative evangelical environment, and now serving in a ‘blue’ community I can say from my experience… you begin to take a hard look at what is core ‘Gospel’ and what were merely cultural assumptions.



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Daniel mann

posted January 26, 2010 at 1:57 pm


Jesus and Darwin are simply incompatible. Here are several considerations:
While the Bible claims that the creation represents the ideal of goodness, evolution claims that life was a dog-eat-dog bloody mess from the beginning. Peter speaks of the ?restoration of all things? (Acts 3:21) as a worthy goal. However, according to evolution, restoring things to the original state of life means blood and gore.
Evolution allows no room for Adam and Eve and a Fall, since life always entailed blood and gore. If there is no Fall, then we are left to question the various teachings about Jesus which teach that Jesus will reverse the effects of the Fall. Meanwhile, the writers of the NT, including Jesus, all affirm the historicity of the Genesis accounts.



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AHH

posted January 26, 2010 at 2:41 pm


I live in a largely “blue” city that is pretty similar to Wilson’s Ann Arbor. Maybe more high-tech than Ann Arbor due to some govt science labs in addition to the university.
And he does describe a serious obstacle to mission in such a community — the implied (and sometimes explicit) message from many Evangelicals that following Jesus requires one to believe scientific positions that are about as plausible as a flat earth.
In the moderately Evangelical church I attend, we have made a little progress and those of us accepting of common descent and other established science are usually in the “accepted minority” category. As a commenter pointed out, Wilson’s “blue” and “red” are oversimplified and other “blue” positions are less welcome (I’d say in my church an Obama voter would be a “tolerated minority” and approval of gay marriage would put one in the “unwelcome” category).
Somebody early in the comments mentioned the need for pastors to avoid saying things that are flat-out ignorant and would drive scientifically literate people away. I remember my (former) pastor saying in a sermon that the 2nd law of thermodynamics disproved evolution. At that time he didn’t know me and certainly did not know that I had a Ph.D. specializing in thermodynamics. But in our fairly large church in a high-tech community there were probably 30 other members who could have told him that argument was bogus. Yet he apparently didn’t consult anybody who actually knew the issue, instead relying on some Evangelical source material from somewhere.
A question to the pastors out there — how often do you consult experts in your congregation rather than blindly using some science-related material you find on the Internet or in some sermon resource publication? If you don’t make use of expertise in the local body, why not?



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RJS

posted January 26, 2010 at 3:31 pm


Jordan (#9)
I agree – the political and scientific aspects of this discussion should be decoupled. I know of a number of scientist who are decidedly “red” in their politics on most issues. Personally I am quite conservative on moral issues (requires discussion though), middle of the road on economic issues, and liberal on the science. A blue vs red separation just doesn’t cut it.
Level 2 may be the best for many at this point – simply a recognition that there is a broad range of views with Christian thinking and that science is not “the enemy” would be a good start. If the church leadership clearly and openly views these matters as secondary and not an integral part of the Christian message this can work. More often though the accepted minority is made aware that they are theologically suspect and not welcome in leadership.



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Your Name

posted January 26, 2010 at 3:43 pm


Jordan,
I think there has been a pretty clearly established link between political affiliation (red/blue) and posture towards science. There have been many studies done which show conservatives to be more skeptical of science. Newsweek has a nice article discussing this:
http://www.newsweek.com/id/226324
obviously there will be execeptions to every rule but as a general principal i think its fair for wilson to talk about the red/blue divide in the context of an approach to science.



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dopderbeck

posted January 26, 2010 at 4:01 pm


AHH (#12) — excellent, excellent point about the need for leadership to seek out and consult with people in the congregation who have expertise. I would say the same in regard to pastors commenting on legal issues, health issues, and so on.
I’m very blessed right now to be in a church in which I’m a “Level 2″ person on these issues and perhaps there are some inklings of movement to “Level 3.” It is not an easy balance sometimes, either for the leadership or for me personally. Something that I think (hope) has been helpful is that (a) I’ve developed enough theological expertise to speak knowledgeably to the leadership; (b) there is some underlying degree of trust, based on prior relationships, family history, and so on, that allows for fruitful discussion. In other words, it’s a two-way street — if I have expertise that I think the church leadership should be made aware of, I need to be willing and able to make that known to them, clearly but humbly.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted January 26, 2010 at 4:33 pm


#4 Dopderbeck
“So, there ought to be a sense in which a non-Christian scientist — just like a non-Christian lawyer, politician, banker, mechanic, dad, mom, or whatever — should feel some tension upon entering a Christian church.”
I think that is an important addendum. There is an opposite danger of being needlessly hostile to values shared by those we want to reach. We can “go native,” uncritically accepting unhealthy postures from those we are trying to reach.
MattR #10
“Being against evolution and global warming, etc. seems largely a cultural/political stance in most contexts, not a core Christian conviction.”
Bingo!
I’d also say that evolution and climate change play two different roles in the culture wars. Evolution is (falsely) perceived as a threat to Bible. It only has an indirect impact on the culture insofar as those who believe morality will be undercut because the biblical authority is discredited. It has few public policy implications.
Climate change poses no threat to the biblical authority that I can see. That the climate might be changing or that there is a human component to it is not that threatening to many in terms of biblical authority. The threat is to the social order. Red staters see climate change as a trojan horse for radically curtailing human freedom and implementing totalitarian governance. Just yesterday the BBC ran Economic Growth ‘cannot continue’, which illustrates that these concerns aren’t total paranoia.
I suspect that a great many red state young earthers and blue state evolutionists came to their views of science with little knowledge of science. They came to their views because the communities they identify with … and the narratives those communities tell … support those views. Some have come to intensely hold their views as an act of protest against the other group … they are adamant because they know it distinguishes them from their opponents.
There was much I liked about Wilson’s piece but I’m not buying his idea that our missional context is people with blue state sensibilities. That may be entirely true for some congregations in some contexts but not all of us live in Blue State worlds (though my neighborhood certainly is.) This framing of missional seems to suggest that high church attendance means no missional work needed. The majority of folks in Red State locales do not attend church and many attending church in Red State locales need release from captivity to various forms of civil religion.
Our mission is to the whole culture and we minister wherever God plants us. While need to be sensitive about congregations minister in blue state contexts I’m not will to say the blue contexts are THE mission field.



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pds

posted January 26, 2010 at 4:42 pm


The Design Spectrum
“Why aren’t there more science and biology students in our church?”
I know this is getting away from the “missional” question, but this raises the issue of how open biology departments are to those of faith. I know in many places, any skepticism towards the complete Darwinian story, including evolution as the “Grand Theory of Everything” is not tolerated. Many kids who are “ID curious” choose another field knowing the hardships they will encounter.



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Jordan

posted January 26, 2010 at 4:45 pm


@ #14
I’m not arguing that there isn’t a correlation between “red” political leaning and science skepticism, clearly there is. But what I have an issue with is the idea that those of us with red sensibilities are fundamentally anti-science.
I think the vast majority are anti-science because of one single issue, evolution. “Red”s are skeptical of science because they don’t trust an important piece of modern science. If one thinks that scientists have gotten biology wrong, what prevents them from thinking the similar hasn’t happened with climatology and environmental science (the sciency items on the list)?
The point is, I think “red”s are anti-science out of necessity (to preserve other deeply held beliefs) not so much out of a fundamental hatred towards the idea of science. If you decouple evolution from being red or blue and I think the red/anti-science correlation will start to go away.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted January 26, 2010 at 4:49 pm


#14
Thanks for the article link (whoever you are.) :-)



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MattR

posted January 26, 2010 at 7:52 pm


Michael W. Kruse (#16),
Agreed, though one could argue issues of science from a social/political stance, these do not necessarily go against biblical authority or Christian faith.
“They came to their views because the communities they identify with … and the narratives those communities tell”
Right on! Well said (and applies to both ‘sides’).
What I find the article, and me and others I know, are concerned about is… then shouldn’t we have indigenous ‘blue’ churches & ministry to ‘blues’ in more predominantly ‘blue’ areas?
And shouldn’t we be intentional in established congregations that ‘blues’ (and their values and concerns) are welcome here?
Those of us who are trying to do mission in these contexts get a lot of push back… and a lot of churches in those areas assume part of conversion to Christ will eventually = conversion to a ‘red’ point of view! (or they become essentially ‘Unitarian,’ and eventually stagnate and begin the death cycle… but that’s a different conversation :) )
Leaders need to constantly teach that, though discipleship to Jesus should challenge everything in our lives, one can be a follower of Jesus in a ‘blue’ culture (holding some of it’s narratives and social concerns) just as faithfully as a ‘red.’ And try to preach the gospel in a way that connects primarily to ‘blues.’



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Michael W. Kruse

posted January 26, 2010 at 10:00 pm


#20 MattR
I live in a neighborhood that votes 95% Democrat, I serve in the hierarchy of the PCUSA which is very “blue,” and I attend a congregation that has people across the political spectrum. I too can relate to some of the dynamics. :-)
I agree that any congregation has to be sensitive to the context in which they do ministry. Our mission is not to create more reds and blues but rather to form communities that worship God and love each other well. While we can be sensitive to the narratives it strikes me that a common focus of ministry that needs to occur in a red and blue contexts is that we learn not to define ourselves over and against the other.
It is quite proper to have strong convictions but how will we address those with whom we disagree. Are they merely our opponents or will we make them into enemies? This gets back to what I was saying in dopderbeck’s post on this article. MLK Jr. didn’t just seek to secure rights. He sought the good of the oppressor. Whether red or blue, what motivates our responses to those who differ? If we truly care about those who disagree, we will be honest about where we are at but we will stay in community. In so doing, we may persuade others, we may be persuaded ourselves, we may find a mutual alternate path, or we may simply learn to love those that are “other” from us.
What if the competition between red and blue became a competition to see who could love the other better? That is challenge that needs to be heard in read and blue contexts.



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Joey

posted January 26, 2010 at 10:04 pm


I visited Ken’s church once. He wasn’t preaching because he was on a tour of Antarctica learning from scientists about global warming so he and his congregation could better address the issue for what I assume are missional purposes.
I heard later that he invited one of the non-Christian scientists to speak instead of their normal Sunday sermon. I think he is genuinely trying to learn how to bring Jesus into the lives of folks for whom evangelicalism isn’t always friendly.



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MattR

posted January 26, 2010 at 10:32 pm


Michael W. Kruse, “Our mission is not to create more reds and blues but rather to form communities that worship God and love each other well.”
Couldn’t agree more… and to those who are followers of Jesus in our congregations we should be emphasizing the “ministry of reconciliation.” Loving others well, and welcoming them into reconciled community, including those on the other side of the political spectrum :)
My only push back might be… but what about those who AREN’T yet in our churches?
For sure, they need to see the Gospel in action through a community of diversity that loves each other… but that’s part of the point I hear being made in the article… we have a ‘blue’ mission field, but many evangelical contexts that are largely mono-culture (mostly ‘red’-ish), and marginalize those who lean ‘blue.’
To me, there is a basic missionary principle… you don’t ask someone to change culture first in order to hear and experience the Gospel (come to us). You go to them with the Gospel, on their terms… learning, contextualizing and proclaiming along the way.



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Jordan

posted January 26, 2010 at 11:26 pm


So here’s a question, how should the “mission” and “doctrine” of a church related? In this context I’m thinking, does being “on mission” in blue communities or reaching out to blue communities mean that a church can’t be red-leaning in doctrine?
I ask because it seems to me that many churches don’t mind reaching out to where people are “at” but they may expect something different out of the normative Christian worldview of their body.
The thing I’m honestly getting hung up on in this discussion is that I can’t for the life of me see “red” and “blue” as equals in the church. Sure, there’s a lot we can agree on (the Gospel hopefully) but it’s like expecting a Catholic to feel right at home in an Assembly of God congregation.
There are sort of two different parts to “mission”, it seems to me. Part of our mission is evangelism, going out to proclaim and explain the good news of Jesus Christ. It seems clear to people here I think that we need to be open to where people are at currently, not where we want them to be in the end. But the other part is growing up disciples and this is where I see a reasonable disagreement between red-leaning and blue-leaning folks.



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RJS

posted January 27, 2010 at 6:53 am


Jordan,
I don’t think that Christian doctrine is tied to most of the issues that lead to red or blue type thinking. One can be libertarian, socialist, or capitalist working out the ways to best follow Jesus in the world today. A “Christian” view of society can lean toward authoritarianism or individualism.
Michael Kruse is clearly conservative on economic issues and I am definitely to the left of him. On the other hand my husband is somewhere to the right of Michael. This intersects with our faith as we all try to work out how we should live as Christians – but there may not be one clear right answer (or one answer that is right at all times in all places). Michael and I likely agree on most of the science issues – or if we don’t agree on the conclusion today (eg. global warming) at least we agree that scientific evidence is a valid approach to investigate the problem.
A missional approach will not tie non-essentials to the faith, but will enter into the local culture and spread the gospel.
Where does “red-thinking” (or “blue-thinking”) become coupled to discipleship as the only appropriate way to grow up disciples?



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amy collman

posted January 27, 2010 at 8:31 am


#14 here – just figured out how to put my name in :)
Jordan,
So I don’t think we can de-couple evolution from the science debate. I think that would be like decoupling homosexuality from the gay marriage debate (no pun intended). I’m not a scientist but am married to one and what he tells me is it is pretty much impossible to really understand the science behind evolution, reject it, and then accept the science behind other things (like climate change). Yes, people may do that but it just speaks to them not really understanding the science behind either. At the very least, in order to reject evolution you have to be comfortable disregarding overwhelming scientific consensus and the process of peer review and if you reject that for one theory you find inconvient (evolution) why not reject it for another inconvenient theory (global warming). Global warming is WAY more annoying then evolution as accepting it requires either feeling really guilty about your lifestyle or deciding to make decisions that involve some level of personal sacrifice.
Next, on to the high church/missional point. My scientist husband and I moved to the east coast 2 years ago after having had the luck (?) to have spent the prior 10 years at a level 3 evangelical church that both him be his scientist self but also let us both be at a church with a worship style we loved, contemporary and inspired preaching, and just a church that was the best of what the evangelical church can be–vibrant, contemporary and consistently reaching out to the lost while discipling the found. So, we moved out here and started church shopping. All the evangelical churches we tried were level 0-1 and honestly it was not going to be a place where either of us could feel comfortable–even if we could get over it we knew we’d never be able to invite our new blue state friends–especially since most were scientists working at the pharma company that was the original reason for our move. So w settled on a mainline church that didn’t have the worship style/heart for the lost we loved but did let ben be a scientist and a Christian. We basically felt it would be easier to bring some evangelical flavor to a mainline church then to bring a respect of science to an level 0 church. I started a small group ministry and the group I lead not, 6 out of 10 are scientists. When we shared life stories all of them recounted in some way how they had been told at some point by a Sunday school teacher, a pastor, a teacher or a parent that evolution and Christianity were incompatible. They all were so turned off by this and are now all at this church because it doesn’t preach that. The caveat of course is that all of them were pretty churched so it was just a matter of moving from one relatively high church setting to another as an adult. I point this out because our church does NOT currently reach the lost and unchurched. We’d love to bring our friends but know they would be turned off by the trappings of this traditional church?so we are working to bring change from within but what I really wish for is a level 3 evangelical church out here because I am telling you there are so many people hungry for God but without a place to get to know him.



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Jordan

posted January 27, 2010 at 9:30 am


RJS
To be clear, my point wasn’t that we should have a one-size-fits-all Christianity that is red-thinking. My point was more that I don’t know that we can expect to get red-thinking and blue-thinking people in the same place, feel comfortable, *and* have much depth or conviction of doctrine. Certainly in Christian essentials we can agree, but once who move to non-essentials (which can often be incredibly important nevertheless) it becomes harder and harder to stake out a position without making some people uncomfortable.
So I don’t think that red-thinking or blue-thinking are tied to discipleship in the sense that “there can be only one” but rather that perhaps it makes sense for red-thinkers to be discipled by other red-thinkers and blue-thinkers to be discipled by other blue-thinkers.
Some of what I read in Wilson’s post and in the original one sounded a bit like “red-thinkers should start thinking purple lest they turn blue-thinkers away” when maybe it should be more along the lines of “red-thinkers shouldn’t bash blue-thinking churches who want to be missional too”.
I’m a scientist, not a pastor or theologian. I’m totally open to being wrong here so don’t hesitate to tell me I’m nuts. :-)



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Jordan

posted January 27, 2010 at 9:54 am


Amy,
I totally agree with your first paragraph. That was largely what I was trying to say (maybe somewhat unsuccessfully). I was trying to suggest that because things like global warming *are* coupled to evolution through a distrust of scientists (not so much science) if you can deal with evolution as the root, you can essentially change the whole thing. I don’t think being anti-science is fundamentally a red-thinker principle. I think it’s more about valuing tradition and faith, for Evangelicals anyway, more than science (on the positive side) and a distrust of a 90% blue-thinking group telling them what’s what (on the negative side).
Interesting, I recently moved to the Boston area from the mountain West. In the west I mostly went to what I’d say were red-leaning Level 1 churches. You might consider the church I grew up to be Level 0. I will note that it was pastored by a missionary but the size of the church hasn’t changed a ton in the last 20 years. Now in Boston I’m going to a solid Level 2 church that’s kinda red-leaning for New England but pretty blue for me.
What I would passionately like to see is this seemingly new wave of Evangelical scientists bring the appreciation and respect for science back to fairly traditional churches. The question in my mind is, do you have to abandon red-thinking in order to do that? Getting back to the original post, I see the science issues as being capable (and IMO properly) extracted from the politics/denominational differences, it’s just really hard so it’s going to take a lot of work.



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Andy W.

posted January 27, 2010 at 10:17 am


Amy #26,
I can sure relate! I live in the Northeast and find the same dilemma. We’ve settled on a Level 2 church (that may be generous). It’s level 2 simply because we have a lot of ex-RCC folks that don’t bring the evangelical baggage with them to church. Honestly, my church has no context to even ask these questions. In fact, the leadership has no clue this conversation is even out there! I find this very frustrating. My wife and I see so many people looking to find answers to life’s difficulties, wanting to be better people and parents to their kids, etc. but they would not think to look to Christ or the church to find these answers largely because of what is said in this article. To make this even worse many (most) evangelicals aren’t broken hearted about this, but instead are proud to be “fighting the culture war” and secular world view. Boy, I sure wish I could find a 3rd way church in my area, but that’s another problem in the northeast…very few churches to choose from.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted January 27, 2010 at 11:01 am


#23 MattR
I agree. I think the point I’m getting to is dopderbeck’s notion that church should feel a little uncomfortable to come in some respects. I think one way a blue person might need to be made to feel uncomfortable is to see that a body of worshipers is open and accepting of many blue sensibilities but doesn’t constantly trash red folks. (Same for ministry in red contrasts toward blue.) I have been in some congregations … both red and blue … that just pile on with demonizing dismissive attitudes of community they are trying to reach. Simply adopting the us vs. them culture war mentality as missional strategy is not appropriate.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted January 27, 2010 at 12:06 pm


#25 RJS
I think you’re assessment is on target. The world is frequently more nuanced than we care to admit.
I also go back to an observation by John Stackhouse about war. Many of us buy some version of just war while a minority believe complete pacifism is the only option. Both can’t be right yet maybe as a just war person, pacifists are God’s gift to me. How easy it is to be sucked into legitimizing violence that might not be justified. The pacifists among us may serve as an irritant to remind us that Jesus did challenge us to be something different as we drift toward violence. I think this can be true in other areas. Differing views in among Christ followers committed to relationship may actually be a gift.
I think we are in agreement about science and that the way we solve disputes about global warming is through science. As I’ve noted before, my dad was a scientist, and while I’ve tried many different ways of relating science and scripture (and still am) science has never been a significant stumbling block for me.
Curiously, my skepticism of science came not from the church but sociology. A seminal book in my formation was Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman’s “The Social Construction of Reality” which I read in college in the late ’70s. How do we really know anything we say we know? My view is that science is frequently influenced more by human considerations of the scientists than many in science will care to admit … and this becomes racially more of a problem when scientists begin to blur lines between science and public policy development/advocacy. I’ve read enough history to be deeply suspicious of science as an unassailable authority for sweeping social changes. If anything, my concerns would be along the lines that agendas have directed our scientific efforts in particular directions not that science is wrong. There is a tension between listening to science and still being critical thinkers.
What I find curious in all this is that many with blue state sensibilities would share my skepticism of “experts” in a host of fields … even in many areas of science. Think of the new-age Gaia environmentalists versus the cold materialism of many scientists. Yet when it comes to climate science the new-age Gaia environmentalist becomes a scientific fundamentalist with incontrovertible evidence that the plant is about to fry. Climate change alarm is embraced because it meshes well with a pre-existing narrative. Again, I suggest that for many (probably the majority) science is only the presenting issue that dovetails (or not) with underlying narratives.



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pds

posted January 27, 2010 at 12:40 pm


The Design Spectrum
Amy #26,
You said,
“I’m not a scientist but am married to one and what he tells me is it is pretty much impossible to really understand the science behind evolution, reject it, and then accept the science behind other things (like climate change).”
This strikes me as condescending, insulting and narrow-minded. This is one reason why so many in the church are skeptical of scientists.
Anyone want to define “science” for us all? Carl Sagan’s definition? Richard Dawkins’? Richard Lewontin’s? Stephen Jay Gould’s?
I accept what is well-established in evolutionary theory, and am skeptical (because of the contrary evidence) of what is speculative. Sounds like your husband would write me off. Is there a place for me in your ideal church?



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amy collman

posted January 27, 2010 at 3:47 pm


jordan, sorry, i misunderstood you. and yes, i think it would be wondeful to bring a love for science back to traditional churches–becuase until maybe 45 years ago the two were certainly not mutually exclusive (for heavens sake CS lewis accepted evolutionary theory!). so i definately think its possible but i think what we will all have to leave behind is this idea of culture war and that being a christian means fighting against the godless liberals who are trying to ruin everything :)and of course, it would be great to see some of our more liberal churches embrace some of the treasure from our conservative ones without running screaming from anything that looks mildly pink :)
design spectrum–you are correct, my husband is condescending, insulting and narrow minded. crap. i’ve got to talk to him about that.



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pds

posted January 27, 2010 at 5:38 pm


Amy #33,
LOL. But seriously, I am not saying your husband is all those things.
Do you at all understand how that kind of comment comes off to someone who is skeptical about aspects of “evolution.”
I agree with Michael Kruse #31 about the sociology of science. But my skepticism comes from more than that. It comes from repeatedly hearing scientists making exaggerated claims that don’t follow logically from the evidence cited.
If you were a pastor with honest doubts about aspects of evolution, and your husband said, “It is pretty much impossible to really understand the science behind evolution, reject it, and then accept the science behind other things,” how would you react?



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R Hampton

posted January 27, 2010 at 7:13 pm


A pastor with honest doubts about aspects of evolution is not necessarily a pastor without prejudices. Suffice it to say that it’s not the Science that bothers most religious people, but that some part of their faith might be in error. And rather than rethink their understanding of the Bible, they find it much easier to say that Science must be wrong – especially if they don’t understand it.
This is best exemplified by the conjecture that macroevolution is somehow a different biological process then microevolution. Although categorically false, the purpose of the argument is to provide room for Christian apologetics; God could still have created each unique “kind” of animal (species). Again, this is not a rationale based in Science, but a belief in a personal God who actively intervenes in the process of life.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted January 27, 2010 at 7:54 pm


And just for record, I’m thoroughly and unabashedly convinced of evolution. Climate science is vastly more complex field that is in its early stages comparatively. I don’t find conclusions drawn about evolution illogical at all.
I watched a program on the History Channel about the Little Ice Age a couple of nights ago … certainly supportive of the AGW view. But in this episode they talked about the sudden emergence from the ice age in the 1850s. They interviewed three separate scientists about the cause who gave widely varying views. Mind you, this was not about forecasting future events but explaining relatively recent events that have already happened. The episode concluded acknowledging that no one really knows what will happen but there are risks, the extreme scenarios are worrisome, and human behavior appears to have at least some impact.
The issue “There is global warming” is conflated with the claims “It is almost entirely human caused,” “It will have almost exclusively or primarily negative consequences,” “Radical immediate carbon reduction outweighs any opportunity costs.” I can readily affirm scientists as the best for determining temp change. I can readily endorse that they are using the methods of science in the studies they do on each isolated aspect they study. The problem is that there is no one guiding theory of CO2 induced climate change like there is with evolution. (ex. I’ve seen survey’s of climatologists that show the great majority believe in the human element but they are all over the map on how much the element plays.) There is a sense based on the scientific pieces we know that we may be a serious problem.
As I’ve said before, we are struggling with managing risk in the midst of uncertainty. Only more science can help us sort out our risks and options.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted January 27, 2010 at 8:04 pm


#35 R Hampton
I really think for some it is hard think in terms of millions and billions of years. Rather than wrapping your head around the imponderable it is easier to believe in a creator with a relatively short time frame. What are the practical consequences of not believing in evolution for most folks, even if they’re wrong? Not much. So there is little downside to being wrong and a strong psychic benefit.



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amy collman

posted January 28, 2010 at 8:24 am


PDS,
Well I’d exepect I was a pastor with honest doubts and someone like ben said that to me i’d think a few things:
1) i’d think to myself, “well thats one of the least offensive/critical things i’ve heard this week”, i only say that as a daughter of a pastor who has witnessed many a crazy tirade (made all the more frequent with the invention of e-mail) by some inflamed congragant.
2)I’d also think “I guess since I’m not a scientist and this person (who, as a side note is married to a brilliant woman and therefore must himself be brilliant) is a scientist that i should maybe engage with this person and see what he means. see what i may be missing in the science. ask questions without fear or defensiveness, read a couple books he reccomends and then meet to talk for coffee again…even if what he is saying is crap at least i’m being a good pastor, really listening to and responding to the concerns of my flock–i’m not putting a stumbling block about the inessentials based on limited knowledge– and i’m getting bonus humility points for not pretending to be an expert in ways no one could expect me to be an expert”
3)i’d think to myself, “i’m so glad I’ve been called to the role of a pastor in a church where i get not only to share the gifting God has given me of teaching and caring for others. I’m also pretty dang lucky to have people in my congregation who I can talk to about issues i’m not expert in and in doing so learn more about who God is and this World he created”.
4) “i deserve a raise”



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Unapologetic catholic

posted January 28, 2010 at 2:47 pm


“I love this article because it puts a finger on why I’m passionate about this issue, as well as about the Church’s posture in the broader culture wars. RJS, I think you’re right — it’s beyond an embarrassment, it’s a sin, that people should feel unwelcome and estranged in our churches simply because they are trying to understand the truth of how the physical world works.”
I agree that it is more than an embarassment and it is definitely a sin. The sin of pride, the sin of bearing false witness and the sin of idolatry.
Even when science is misreresented from the pulpit without malicious intent,it’s still sinful. It is wildly reckless.
Here’s just oen example of what I am talking about:
http://pastorstahl.blogspot.com/2010/01/more-darwinian-idiocy.html
There is no way that this misguided attempt to evangelize can be condoned. The internet is replete with similar misrepresnetations by various “ministries.”
This issue affects me personally. My son, a PhD physics candidate, rejects Christianity becasue if it is so wrong on the one thing he knows somethign about, it’ls likely wrong on so many other things as well.
We lose vast numebrs of people becaue others are so prideful, so deceving and so idolatrous. Ye shall know them by their fruits.



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