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A Morbid and Boring Christianity

A Morbid and Boring Christianity

The quote above comes from chapter 1 of S. J. Hill’s book, What’s God Really Like?, and I’d like to spend some time with this, looking at it from different angles. The first angle is one of worship.

I was in a church committee meeting some years back where a room full of people were discussing young people and the worship service of the church. The question under consideration was why young people weren’t attending our worship services.

After about 45 minutes of (fruitless, in my opinion) discussion, I asked the question: Might we instead discuss whether we can think of any reasons why the young people would attend our worship service?

I, and every other person in that meeting, attend church out of ingrained habit. We have done it for years, it’s what we do, and come Sunday morning, come hell, high water, or several feet of snow, we’re going to find a church service and attend it.

I don’t mean that that’s the only reason I go to church, but it is something I tend to do. If I don’t like one worship service, I’m going to attend another.

But many people, oddly enough (!), require a reason to get up on Sunday morning and go to church. They want to accomplish something.

At this point some of my friends start talking about “dumbing down” the worship service, or want something “relevant.” The tone indicates that “relevant” is some sort of weak effort to replace “real worship” which will involve actual pain and require grit and determination.

“I barely stayed awake through that service,” says the parishioner, looking and sounding holy. Going through a boring worship service is a test of our commitment to God.

Well, perhaps not.

As I read passages like 1 Corinthians 14, I see the word “edify,” which is just a churchy sounding word for “build up” or something similar. The worship services at Corinth sound a bit chaotic, and, well, interesting. Paul encouraged them toward order, but in the end, if you apply all his rules, you still have something very different from what we do today.

Our problem with 1 Corinthians 14 is that we try to apply the solution without having the same problem. We put a straight-jacket on a corpse. The corpse, in case you missed it, is our time of worship.

Now a morbid, boring, and unattractive Christianity is not just about the worship service, but I think we might start there. You see, I think all those complaints about young people wanting relevant service are just whining. Whining because the young people don’t like what we did all our lives.

But if you look at the state of Christianity in America today, I think you’ll see evidence that was we did all our lives—and I’m talking to my generation (I’m 61)—hasn’t worked all that well. Perhaps we need worship that is actually relevant.

Relevant in several ways:

  1. In expressing our relationship with God. (Subtext here — we might need to have a relationship with God and not just a set of theological reflections.)
  2. In preparing us for actual service. (We tend to use the word “ministry” a lot. I think that allows us to separate ourselves from the word. How about “every member serving others” instead of “every member in ministry”?
  3. In help us to build our relationship to God.
  4. In helping us learn to relate to one another. (Hint: sitting in pews listening to a preacher, then heading out to beat the Baptists [or whoever] to lunch doesn’t build your relationships with other people.)
  5. In encouraging us in our lives as they are in this world.
  6. In helping us realize that “worship” doesn’t occur in a “service,” nor does it follow an “order of service,” but is a lifestyle. In fact, it is our lives (Romans 12:1-2).
  7. In helping us learn new and useful things.

Is that what happens when you go to church?

This just barely touches on this question. I’d like to discuss it some more. S. J. Hill is definitely right about one thing: The way we think about God is going to impact everything. If we think of God as interesting, involved, and yes, cool, we will thing that interesting and exciting things are part of worshiping God. If we think God is vindictive, we’re going to look for the right set of rituals to appease him.

If we’ve really forgotten, as I think many of us have, to think about God seriously (serious and joyful are not contradictory!) at all, that’s also going to impact the way we worship.

If God showed up on Sunday morning, would God enjoy what was going on?

Is Your Worship a Joy

Is Your Worship a Joy

As I’ve been setting up a series of posts on thinking about God, I’ve discussed a little bit what our theology can do, and what it cannot. For example, in a video yesterday, I talked about how our theological knowledge cannot save us.

Yet at the same time it can mess us up. I was told that Stanley Hauerwas started a class on liturgy by saying: “Lousy liturgy makes lousy Christians.” I’m not sure he was right on it, and of course that’s second hand, but I do think our liturgy may well say something about how we think about God.

I was reading one of my own articles from several years ago, titled Dance Floor Worship. Here’s a line:

Our problem, I believe, is that we want to make sacred things, while God wants us to make things sacred.

I’d like to suggest reading my entire essay. It’s from a number of years ago, and I hope my thinking has grown, but I think I was pointing to a few things that can be important for us.

I’m going to embed my advertising video for S. J. Hill’s book. The reason I’m doing so is that I think I have illustrated here some of the problems in what we think about God and how that will impact our actions and our worship.

If you believe God is about to hammer you because you’re not so wonderful, then you may well either be afraid to be in God’s presence. If, on the other hand, you are aware of God’s grace and God’s gifts, you may be aware that even though you are a minute speck in this universe, the God of the universe cares about you.

How can you join the chorus? When you believe that the God whose power is displayed throughout the universe is also one who cares about you.

Toward a Strategy of Worship

Toward a Strategy of Worship

Credit: Openclipart.com
Credit: Openclipart.com

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a great deal about strategy in connection with Christian living. It started when I was invited to preach the Sunday after Veterans Day, which was also the Sunday after the election. I used the first chapter of Colossians to talk about our identity and the means that we, as Christians, have to impact our culture. We have an identity in Christ, an authority in Christ, and a mission in Christ. The key is “in Christ.”

There are some keys to thinking strategically about anything. First, you have to know what it is you are trying to accomplish. Second, you need to know what resources are available. Third, you have to know what limitations there are in how those resources are applied. Use of resources without reference to purpose is largely waste. Anything accomplished is random.

I’ve noted over the years that one can tell whether a church is alive and active by asking a couple of members what the mission of the church is. This can apply both generally (the Christian mission of the Gospel Commission), and specifically (what is the mission of this church). Tactics is more specific and local. Individual tactics can be successful in a strategic failure. This usually results from improperly planned overall strategy. To see some excellent application of tactics in a mission that was a strategic failure, watch the movie A Bridge Too Far. In my sermon I quoted Gen. Robert H. Barrow, commandant of the Marine Corps from 1979-1983 who said, “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.”

Here’s some tactical thinking about worship:

  • We had good attendance today for our special service. We should do that more often.
  • Lots of people complimented me on my sermon after the service. I must have done something right.
  • Some people walked out. We need to fix it.
  • If you didn’t like the service, it’s probably your attitude.
  • Worship’s about God, not about you. Forget about your desires.
  • I realize that nobody remembers what I say in my sermons even until next week, but I’m still preparing for the same sort of sermon next week.

I know the second to the last statement, “worship is about God” is repeatedly stated with great piety. I disagree however. Worship is certainly all about God, but it’s all about the worshipers as well, in that 100%-100% sense that orthodox theology brings. Usually “it’s all about God” is used as an excuse by people who are putting on a worship service (and I use putting on, in the sense of a performance intentionally), and doing so badly. It’s there excuse for leaving the worshipers behind. I don’t like “I have to be fed” or “I need music that I like” any better. All of these are narrowly focused and frequently selfish in orientation. In all cases they’re very much tactical. Did we get what we wanted out of this week’s service?

Our starting point for worship must be to ask what worship is. Let me quote Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World:

… But this [cultic] is not the original meaning of the Greek word leitourgia. It means an action by which a group of people become something corporately which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals–a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It means also a function or “ministry” of a man or of a group on behalf of and in the interest of the whole community. (p. 21, Nook edition)

There is a function of the gathering of the saints in worship, but worship does not occur exclusively in this “worship service.” There is a purpose in our gathering, which is to constitute and reconstitute ourselves as a community ready to be Christ in the world (our identity in Christ), to understand the reality of what Christ has done through his death and resurrection and how we are incorporated in that (our authority in Christ), and the empowering and impetus to carry that result back out into the world. (I highly commend Alexander Schmemann’s work, whether or not you are a fan of Orthodox theology. For the Life of the World is a powerful little book. I may develop some of these ideas further on this blog, but for now I’m just assuming them due to space limitations.)

So at the starting point of our search for a strategy of worship is to realize that it is not a teaching event, or a singing event, nor is it necessarily a ritual event. It may be partly all of those things, but as long as we don’t consider what our real goals are, why we gather for this event, we may carry out every worship service over “a bridge too far.”

Here are some things to consider, I think:

  1. How do we gather the people together? Questions of music, format, buildings, PowerPoint presentations, pews, advertising, and so far can occur at this point, but all must be subordinated to the overall purpose. And we might want to ask a more important question: Have the people who gather in the church experienced becoming the church? Have the experienced the presence of God? Have they sensed the reality of that community? If they experience none of these things, I believe that in time no matter how entertaining you may make the time, it will still be a failure.
  2. What do we do to make people a community? Schmemann works through the meaning of the liturgy, and I find his interpretation powerful. Yet I don’t think what he outlines is the only approach that can be authentic and successful.
  3. What do we do to engage people as a community with God? This would require many words. I’ll just leave the question open.
  4. What do we do that helps us leave empowered to be Christ in the world?

If we aren’t accomplishing these things I question whether we are truly engaged in full Christian worship. We may be taking stabs at it. We may be doing a great job getting across the bridge that’s in front of us, but are we becoming the body of Christ?

I think our general failure is made evident by the way in which we depend on Caesar’s methods to accomplish cultural goals. We sense that our witness to Jesus Christ is not accomplishing what we believe we need to see. Perhaps we need to reconsider whether our witness to Jesus as the Anointed One is genuine and whether our activities on a Sunday morning are more about keeping the church calendar moving than about being Christ in the world.

What do you think?

Sunday School: History and Feasts

Sunday School: History and Feasts

Source: OpenClipart.org Gerald_G
Source: OpenClipart.org Gerald_G

I’m going to be teaching my home Sunday School class for the next four weeks, and it happens that the topics are all from the Israelite feasts. Tomorrow I’ll be talking about Passover, the next week about the Feast of Weeks, then the Day of Atonement, and finally the Feast of Booths. I’m using the titles from our Sunday School curriculum. I will doubtless ignore the curriculum other than for setting the topics. I always do.

Though each feast has certain special elements of meaning, there are a number of things that I’d like to emphasize from these feasts in general.

  1. God acts in history. This is foundational to application of the scriptures in any way, I think. Whether this action is what we would describe as a supernatural intervention or a subtle presence is something to be discussed, but if God doesn’t act, we don’t have a subject.
  2. A feast or commemoration not only celebrates a point in time when we, as humans, have recognized God in action. It also magnifies that event and helps it resonate through the future. It becomes a lens through which we see the past, and a filter through which we understand our time. The Passover is not only a moment of salvation. It also explains what led up to it and drives what comes after it.
  3. A feast or commemoration is part of bringing ourselves in line with a saving event. Some of the “saving” that is to be accomplished through the event comes by bringing us in line. The wilderness experience of Israel shows the possibility of mentally and spiritually living in Egypt while physically traveling toward the land of the promise.
  4. God’s people extend not just through space in the present but through all time. I benefit by recognizing my place in this community that is not bound by time or space.
  5. God’s next action doesn’t negate his last one. We can commemorate receiving of the Torah, a return from exile, and even God’s presence with us in Jesus Christ without losing the value of the passover. The meaning of a commemoration or feast can be many-faceted.
  6. While we see new and different meaning, in that we have a different perspective, it’s good to move back to the event. Passover may look different to someone who also celebrates Easter, but also look at Passover for what it was for Israel and what it is for the Jewish people now.
  7. Feasts and celebrations have a history and setting. Without the story, the ritual loses power.

Exodus 12 is a very important chapter to read when thinking about celebrations, feasts, and commemorations in general. How do we remember these events and participate in them as a people, as the body of Christ in the world?

Ellen G. White was an important figure in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in which I grew up. While I’m no longer SDA, I can still appreciate many of the things she said. Here’s an applicable quote:

We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.

 

Thoughts from the Energion Tuesday Night Hangout: Stewardship and Worship

Thoughts from the Energion Tuesday Night Hangout: Stewardship and Worship

books tuesday 020216I enjoyed interviewing three different Energion authors last night. The first was Rev. Steve Kindle who talked about stewardship and the importance of starting from an understanding that everything belongs to God. Steve provided some practical steps that a church can use in caring for all of God’s creation. Steve’s book goes into this somewhat more: Stewardship: God’s Way of Recreating the World.

At about 7:30 pm, a half hour into the program, Dr. Jon Dybdahl joined us. Jon is the author of a newly released book Hunger: Satisfying the Longing of Your Soul. When he experienced this longing as a young missionary he started to pursue the presence of God and co-taught a class in college in spirituality. Jon’s PhD is in Old Testament, but he has a passion for serious worship.

For the last 15 minutes, he was joined by Dr. David Moffett-Moore. Dave is author of Pathways to Prayer, and has two doctorates, both a PhD and a DMin. It was interesting and challenging to hear two men with so much education of the mind nonetheless tell us that the intellectual paradigm of religion was not enough. Prayer is an essentially. Coming to know the reality of God’s presence and power is essential.

When I asked Dr. Jon Dybdahl how one would start this in a church as a pastor or other church leader he said the best way was to see your own need and start practicing it yourself. People will sense when your activities in leadership are powered by prayer and time with God whether you’re telling them all about what you’re doing or not. He also suggested a change in terminology that struck me, suggesting we might use “lead worshipper” rather than “worship leader” to take away the separation of the one on the platform from the ones in the pew.

The video is embedded below:

Church as a Social Occasion

Church as a Social Occasion

Or perhaps as the social occasion.

Thom Rainer has a post titled Seven Things Church Members Should Say to Guests in a Worship Service. It comes complete with a header picture of people who, to me, look like they’re forcing excessive smiles. I probably see it that way because I’m an introvert. I suppose that there is nothing wrong with these seven things, though I must note that I prefer that the restrooms be well-marked with signs so that I don’t have to ask someone where they are, and I’m very likely to be the guy who forgets who you are even though you’ve been down the pew from me for months. In fact, I’d just as soon you let me sit there, think, and pray as come try to make a social occasion out of it.

There’s nothing wrong with being the social person. There’s very much right with being a friendly person. Yet I’m left with several questions. The most important question is just what it is we’re trying to accomplish.

It seems to me that all of this is aimed at getting more people to attend your church service. The goal is to make people “church-going” and to make sure that an adequate number attend your church. In order to accomplish this we try to make church a great social occasion with a friendly atmosphere (provided one likes that sort of thing).

I confess that I may be hypercritical here. But all of these lists, and in fact a huge percentage of the talk about church growth seems to center around how many people we have in church. So if you have a church that is a very strong social club, you’re a successful church.

But in reading the gospel commission I can’t seem to find the part about making sure large numbers of people attend church once per week. That isn’t even mentioned, much less presented as a goal.

Someone’s going to say that this is the goal. We get them into church and from there we make disciples of them. But I don’t seem to see as many lists of ways to make disciples out of the people you manage to get to attend your worship service. I don’t see nearly as much about getting the people who are good, church-going people to go out and make those disciples. I don’t see nearly as much about getting those people to observe the things Jesus commands.

I recall a pastor recently who said to the church: The only excuse for a church to exist is to be a witness to Jesus Christ. I’d refocus that to this: The only excuse for us to have a church service is to help us be and become better disciples of Jesus.

This means that there is a good reason to get people to attend church, provided that church is about becoming better disciples. As I’m been reading about fellowship, I think there’s much more to the idea of communion as a shared meal celebrated regularly. Our church gatherings are not so much services as training and motivation to become active servants. In order to do that we need to be reminded of who we are and of how we are part of a body.

Perhaps if we built these times around a common meal where interaction involved more than greeting and attempting to remember names, singing a few songs, and listening to someone lecture, we might be able to build the body of Christ as a community that serves, and in fact embodies Jesus Christ for the world. That might mean we need to break up some of our huge congregations and spread out into the community in smaller groups.

I’m no expert on church organization or church growth. I’m pretty sure that, despite my own tendency, Sunday morning isn’t designed as a time of individual prayer and meditation for me. I can do that many other times. Yet I can’t help but get the impression that our church activities are centered around that Sunday morning worship service. If singing hymns and listening to a lecture of variable quality doesn’t light up your life, you’re just the wrong type of person.

But do these worship services really help us to be Christians? Do they carry out the gospel commission? Are the spaces in which we do these activities well utilized in pursuit of the gospel? Despite being a person whose habit it is to be in church every week almost without exception, I’m seeing it as less and less productive.

Perhaps our problem is that the goal is the wrong one. Filling our church sanctuaries on Sunday morning was never the aim of the gospel commission. Making disciples was.

Is it?

Energion Google Hangout on Air Tonight – Creation and Christianity

Energion Google Hangout on Air Tonight – Creation and Christianity

creation-5Tonight at 7:00 pm central time for the weekly Energion Google Hangout on Air I’ll be moderating a panel of four authors. You can find the event information on our Google+ page.

The participants are:

This event is not a debate about creation and evolution. While I vary the content from hangout to hangout, I avoid outright debates. Each of these authors accepts the theory of evolution but also believes that God is the creator. Dr. Herold Weiss started the series, which also includes Creation: The Christian Doctrine by Dr. Edward W. H. Vick, who is unavailable for this panel. What I have asked them to do for this panel is talk about how their beliefs about creation impact the way the read scripture, teach, worship, and live.

The YouTube embed to view the event is below. If you want to ask questions of the panel using the Q&A App, you’ll need to sign into Google+. There should be a link on the YouTube viewer at the time the event starts for you to do so.

 

Dance Floor Worship

Dance Floor Worship

I have been working on cleaning up some of my old web site articles and reposting them were appropriate. I found one I forgot I’d written, titled Dance Floor Worship. I said regarding a moment looking out over the Gulf of Mexico:

I can call this a secular moment, and wonder when I will be in church so that I can experience the presence of God. But God is not nearly so bound as I am. God doesn’t need me to wait.

I’d like to remember this idea of seeing the sacredness in every moment, rather than waiting for the special, sacred ones. I need to do it more often!

Of Resources and and Mission Priorities

Of Resources and and Mission Priorities

I received two requests for help today. One was from a pastor overseas. He didn’t ask for money. He asked for prayer. I happen to know he needs money. But his most earnest desire is that Jody and I pray for him.

I also got another request in the mail. It comes from an organization that does much good. They are raising money for a substantial building project that will make things more convenient, even much more convenient, for people in this country who are preparing to be missionaries. The amount is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe a thousand times the amount that would relieve the pastor’s need.

What am I to do? I am not naming any organizations, because I don’t want to criticize them. I don’t know what the needs are or whether the kingdom will be built by this particular expenditure. But I do have to look at where I put my very limited resources. (In case you’re wondering, being in the Christian publishing business, at least in the manner in which I practice it, is not the road to great personal wealth!)

But it’s not just this particular project that concerns me. It’s the proportion of our resources that go to providing for our comfort, for making it easier for us to do whatever we do, as opposed to the amount we put where it’s needed. I think of this when I see large recreation centers attached to churches that are empty most days of the week. Now I understand the need for places for sports and social interaction. In fact, a great deal of ministry can be carried out by providing a place for young people. But I know of more than one church that closes its facilities to outsiders. They want to avoid “those people” getting in there and perhaps damaging things or causing an increase in their insurance rates.

I understand liability issues. I really do. But I don’t recall Jesus saying to do good to the least of these only when there was no risk. As a matter of fact, the gospels record that Jesus did it at a rather great risk. So many times we have facilities built that are just to entertain those who are already in the church.

Again, I understand that people need rest and recreation. The church does need to provide for its members. But the ultimate purpose of providing for members is building the kingdom, and that means getting those members to go out and serve others.

And so we come to church sanctuaries. In many churches the only use of the sanctuary is for a worship service on Sunday morning. That has to make it the most wasted piece of architecture around. One or two additional meetings a week may make it a little bit better, but it’s still underutilized space, space we pay a great deal of money to have.

This isn’t the complaint of someone who doesn’t appreciate church architecture. I really like a majestic church sanctuary. I enjoy being in it. I enjoy sitting in the pews. If it has stained glass, it’s even better. A pipe organ? I’m in ecstasy. Just play it and let me look at the windows.

But that’s the problem. I like it. It’s for me. The question is, just how much money should go to pipe organs and stained glass as opposed to feeding the hungry. I’m not saying we should put an end to all church music, or eliminate all church architecture, but what are the priorities? Where is the balance?

In doing ministry in southern Mexico in the 1960s, my parents lived in a building with rough concrete floors (just try to sweep them), with a tin roof and walls that were not solid, so rain could blow in. My dad was a doctor (MD), and my mother a registered nurse. They could have had a great deal more, if they’d chosen to go to work in Canada (their home) or in the United States. But most of the time they didn’t, and when they did, they sought underserved areas. There were many things they wanted that they could not have. My own life is not without its problems, but I keep comparing it to theirs. What were their priorities? What are mine?

I have had wonderful times of worship in fine church buildings, but I’ll never forget worshiping with a small Gypsy congregation in eastern Hungary on the first mission trip I led there. I was to speak. I had been a bit disoriented, because while I had been overseas before both as a child and young person with my parents and on mission trips, I had never been to a country where I couldn’t speak a word of the language. My Hungarian was such that the couple of words I had learned were potentially dangerous. I didn’t understand what people were saying.

The room was small, too small for the number of people. The floor was concrete. The building was not beautiful. They had a small electric keyboard that would have been discarded had it been in one of our churches here, or probably even in a home as a child’s toy. Someone started playing it, and the people started singing. I didn’t know the words, but I felt the Spirit that was in that place. In fact, I have rarely felt the presence of the Spirit more than in that particular meeting.

They didn’t need the things that we all think we “need.”

Do we?

 

Of Creation, Evolution, and Worship

Of Creation, Evolution, and Worship

There are few topics that get Christians more angry at one another than the subject of evolution. Those who accept a young earth (or young age for the universe) tend to think that those who accept the theory of evolution do it simply because they lack the faith to believe the Bible. To them, this is the first step toward rejecting Christianity and becoming an atheist. Those who accept the theory of evolution often think the young earthers are ignorant, perhaps willfully so. (All of this ignores the broad sweep of views between young earth creationism and a purely materialistic view of origins. There are many nuances on the line between the two. But that is a subject for another blog post.)

I disagree with both those viewpoints. Irrespective of my own beliefs (and I’ll get to those in a moment), I have met too many dedicated Christian believers whose faith is nurtured by Scripture and also accept evolutionary science to imagine that acceptance of evolution is necessarily the first step on the road to unbelief. I have also met too many intelligent and capable individuals who accept a young earth to believe that they are all ignorant or stupid. As a matter of principle, I never want to imagine someone is stupid because of their view on a single issue, nor do I want to think them immoral because of their view on one moral issue. Someone who is intelligent, competent, and functional, and yet believes something I find ridiculous, does not thereby become generally stupid.

As an example, my dad was a doctor (MD), and an excellent one. Yet he believed in a young earth and a literal creation week his entire life. I’m not going to go down the route of believing that he was somehow less capable of carrying out his profession in a competent fashion, which he did all his life, because of one issue. There’s the family connection there, but I know a number of other people in similar situations.

In spite of this, I  am not arguing a middle of the road position. I have a firm position on creation and evolution. I was raised with young earth creationist literature. I devoured the literature written by George McCready Price and Frank Lewis Marsh, icons of my Seventh-day Adventist upbringing, as well as many others. I did not begin to doubt this view because of studying science. In fact, I changed my position through a study of Scripture. It all started when I wrote a college paper examining the text of the genealogies of Genesis 5 & 11 and looking at the resulting chronology. Archeology did enter into it, as I looked at the dating of events that would be required to match that chronology, but characteristics of the text itself first suggested that we did not have literal history there. Nothing I have studied since has changed my mind on that point.

9781938434723mBut I’ve written on this subject many times before. Just try typing “evolution” in the search box. I’m writing this because I’ve just sent a book off to the printer titled Worshiping with Charles Darwin. That’s a provocative title. Carol Everhart Roper designed a provocative cover to go with it. That was intentional. It’s not actually the most controversial book I’ve published, even on this topic, but I’ve focused on the controversy. That’s marketing, but it also comes from conviction.

I look at this from two perspectives. First, as a Christian and a church member, I believe that this is a non-essential. That God is creator is an essential. How God created is not. I think we should have tolerance and respect in the church on this issue. But my belief in tolerance and respect does not mean that I don’t have a firm position on the issue myself. I believe that God is the creator of heaven and earth and that through the study of the world by the methods of the natural sciences we can learn how creation was accomplished and how the physical world functions. I believe we are in error both in theology and in science when we try to impose our theology on the findings of science. It’s bad theology because to claim that what we learn from the natural world is not reliable we make God a liar. It’s bad science because it imposes a conclusion prior to the data.

Thus I would be called a theistic evolutionist, though I object to the label. I am a theist, in that I believe in God. But my theism is not a characteristic of my acceptance of the findings of evolutionary science. Though I am strictly an amateur in any scientific endeavors, I do not modify the findings of science by saying “and God.” This is not because I do not see God in the natural world. It is rather because I see God everywhere in the natural world and not more so in one place or another. I do not see God more in my cat’s purr than I do in a pencil falling. Both things result from God. Science tells me how. Science does not discover God at some specific point. Science is studying God through studying God’s handiwork. But science does not improve its study of the handiwork by trying to pretend to find God at some specific point. That is why I don’t like linking the word “theist” to “evolutionist.”

But I also object to the word “evolutionist.” Evolution is not my philosophy. It is not my religion. It is not an article of my religious faith, though the fearless pursuit of accurate knowledge is. I am not an evolutionist any more than I am a gravitationist. I believe that gravity functions as science describes. I believe that evolution functions as science describes. I believe we will discover more about how each of these works. Neither gravity nor evolution is an object of my faith or trust. My trust in science is based on the method, a method that has proven functional repeatedly. It is not a matter of perfection either. Science will produce new results and alter previous understandings. But it has proven effective at correcting its own errors.

Now people who believe what I do about evolutionary science have tended either to keep quiet in church or to simply say that we believe the Bible teaches that God is the creator and the how doesn’t matter. I don’t agree with these approaches. What I think we need to do is think about how the discoveries of natural science impact what we believe about God and how they change how we tell the story of God the creator. Genesis 1 & 2 told the story to the ancients. We can listen in to that story and learn theology and generate our own liturgy. But I think to tell the story as faithfully as it was told so long ago we need to tell the story of the creator in the light of what we know about cosmology and origins. Belief that God has used evolution as the means of diversifying life here on earth, and presumably elsewhere in the universe, is not a withdrawal from an area of faith. Rather, it is a new look at the expanding story of God and our knowledge and experience of God. We need to tell that story faithfully and vigorously.

And this brings me back to the title of this recently released book. We could pretend that the discussion doesn’t matter, but that would not be faithful to the search for truth or to the integrity of the way we proclaim the gospel. I know of people for whom this issue has been a stumbling block. It’s time to talk about it openly. We’ve been arguing about it vigorously, but that’s not what I mean. We need to start looking at the implications and talking about how we tell the story of the gospel faithfully in the world God created and is creating. I think that is something worth celebrating.

Bob Cornwall has taken up one part of that task. I hope the conversation continues to grow.