American Evangelicalism and Islamophobia

On April 15, 2013 two young men placed explosives near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, walked away, and then the two bombs detonated. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his deceased brother, Tamerlan, murdered three people and injured nearly 200 more. Although recent posts by CNN and The Huffington Post report that the brothers likely did not have radical Islamic terrorist connections, Muslims in American have continued to receive alienating attention from certain conservative talking heads and their audiences since word got out that the boys are Muslim.

The fact that the brothers practiced Islam is all that some loud voices on television and radio need in order to blame such violence on a peaceful religion. But what makes this such a volatile issue is that the US and many countries around the globe have suffered great violence and loss at the hands of radicalized men who a very small minority interpretation of the Quran. However, irrationally generalizing hatred and prejudice for an entire religious population of the world remains inexcusably ignorant. And that is exactly what Islamophobia is.

As an extension of xenophobia (the irrational fear of that which is considered different or unknown), Islamophobia is any prejudice or hatred toward Muslims without cause or reason. Unfortunately for Muslims, people with prejudice against Islam often justify their position by conflating the heinous work of militant Islamist organizations (such as Al Qaeda) with the entire religion of Islam. But this is no more appropriate than conflating the views and behavior of NRA member Timothy McVeigh with the entire organization of the National Rifle Association.

In the wake of national tragedies such as the recent Boston Marathon bombings even political news pundits show how easy it is to discriminate an entire religio-ethnic population because of a minority of extremists. On April 22, on an episode of a show called “The Five” on Fox News, Eric Bolling and Greg Gutfield expressed their desire to install wiretaps and other secret listening devices in mosques around the country. Not only would that be an explicit act of illegal search and seizure as guarded against by the fourth amendment of the US Constitution, it is a gross distortion of nearly one-quarter of the world’s population, about 1.6 billion people.

The worst example of Islamophobia since the Boston bombings, however, comes from evangelical televangelist Pat Robertson. In his most recent tirade given on Monday, April 22nd during an airing of The 700 Club, Robertson denigrates Islam by calling it “an evil system that is bringing death and destruction throughout the globe.”[1] While trying to illustrate what a grave concern this must be for our country, Robertson compares Islam and its global influence to Hitler’s National Socialism. And Robertson thinks that remaining firm and speaking about these “truths” even when opponents label him a “fanatic” or a “bigot” is a work of great bravery. In fact, it is simply ignorant. And bigoted.

So is this the view of just one crazy man that we can ignore? Why does it matter (beyond the ethical ramifications, of course) that Pat Robertson slander Muslims? Or, why this article? Well the answer goes like this: Pat Robertson certainly is not the source for Islamophobia, neither in the church nor in wider society. However, he is one of the most visible evangelicals in America and he wields a great deal of influence in evangelical circles. Furthermore, Robertson represents the strong history that conservative Protestants have had in American politics.

There is a spectrum of influence that this has in evangelical circles. Very few will completely agree with Pat Robertson, while fewer will explicitly and publicly state the same things as Robertson. But a larger majority of his audience may be influenced by Robertson in many of the same ways that his 700 Club assimilates many stereotypically “evangelical” notions to a wider audience. In other words, explicit Islamophobia may not be part of larger American Evangelicalism, but the small doubts and the prejudice that it fosters can make its way into any congregation. This kind of influence is heightened when we consider the history that evangelicalism has had in American politics.

Many evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, James Robison, and Pat Robertson often registered as Democrats, but as Michael Lindsay puts it, “their uneasy alliance with the Democratic Party finally came apart when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1965.”[2] Situations like this would inevitably lead to the anecdotal relationship between the Religious Right and the Republican Party. In 1988 Robertson entered his candidacy for the presidency, and although his campaign lost all its strength after the New Hampshire primary, evangelicals were increasingly mobilized and encouraged. After the failed campaign Robertson created the Christian Coalition in 1989, a successor to Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority (founded in 1979). The Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority are conservative religious advocacy groups. Because of their interpretation of the Bible, evangelical members of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition generally agree on legislation for which they are widely known: strong traditional family values, anti-abortion legislation, and (in the ‘60s) opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. The Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority are two examples of solidified political organizations, products of the more general Christian Right which broadly encompasses Christian political groups characterized by socially conservative, right-wing policy.

So in general, evangelicals have been interested in conservative government policy for many decades – but in each and every instance they (as with the rest of the country) are simply responding to the circumstances of their day. Thus from the time of the Gulf War, Islam has gained increasing attention that ultimately came to a volatile and emotional head on September 11, 2001. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks Muslims have been viewed by Americans with more prejudice and hatred than at any other time in modern history. But this is not simply because of conservative Protestant advocacy groups. Indeed, President George W. Bush – admittedly, a conservative Protestant – addressed the nation after the 9/11 attacks and expressly stated that the terrorists who wish to harm Americans “practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.”

Even in light of such explicit statements marking the difference between the religion of Islam and the fringe extremists, many evangelicals, including Pat Robertson, still choose to equate the two. This is what makes me realize that the problem does not stem as much from politics and religion as it does from the fundamental inability or neglect of persons to think critically.

For more information concerning Islamophobia, check out some of the articles at Islamophobia Today.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/23/pat-robertson-islam-nazism-evil-video_n_3134711.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

[2] David Michael Lindsay. Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 53.

Evolution, Creationism, and the Church of the Nazarene

[The following is my final research project for a class called Reading the World, a survey course for all first-year master’s students at Boston University School of Theology]

Introduction

“Creationism” spans two nuanced views, “Young Earth” and “Old Earth”, though the “Young Earth” view is usually what people have in mind when they hear “creationism.” Nonetheless the central tenets of the two (except for #6) remain the same:

“1. The sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing;
2. The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism;
3. Changes only within fixed limits of originally created kinds of plants and animals;
4. Separate ancestry for humans and apes
5. Explanation of the earth’s geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood;
6. A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds.” [1]

Though scientific evidence from biology, physics, biochemistry, genetics, and many other disciplines support claims for the old age of the Earth and corroborate different aspects of the theory of evolution, over forty-three percent of Americans polled in June 2007 believe that God created humans in their current form at one time within the last 10,000 years.[2] CBS News, in a 2009 poll, reported the number to be higher – over 51%.[3] What accounts for such disparity between the scientific evidence and the religious views of the majority of Christians in America?

The purpose of this study, therefore, is not to prove the “rightness” or the “wrongness” of these differing views, but instead to account for the disparity between modern evolutionary theory and creationism, and finally to show that there are explicitly Wesleyan means of approaching these options. Our ultimate concern revolves around the following question: “Is scientific creationism a plausible Wesleyan position?” To answer this question and to illustrate a nuanced opinion, therefore, this paper will first orient the debate within the specific context of the Church of the Nazarene; after establishing this context we will consider the historical and theological nature of both evolution and creationism while reviewing the Wesleyan heritage of the Church of the Nazarene; finally, we will attempt to evaluate the evidence presented in order to make a case for a perspective that leans away from scientific creationism while striving for Christian unity.



Changing Views Within the Church of the Nazarene

Since its inception the Church of the Nazarene has worked to distance itself from the larger Pentecostal movement within the United States and also from fundamentalism while remaining traditionally evangelical. D. Shelby Corlett noted in a Herald of Holiness article on April 20, 1935 that Nazarenes are not “so-called Fundamentalists” for many reasons, including the Nazarene aversion to the “extreme positions [of fundamentalism] on the verbal inspiration of the Bible as differing from the plenary inspiration as held by our church…” The Church of the Nazarene professes the “plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures…given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation…”[4] Mediating between the extremes of fundamentalist inerrancy and rationalistic theories, the majority of Nazarene and Wesleyan scholars practice what H. Orton Wiley describes as the Dynamical or Mediating theory.[5]

The Church of the Nazarene also mediates between extreme views concerning Creation, as illustrated in its Statement on Creation from the Appendix in the 1993 version of the Manual:

“The Church of the Nazarene believes in the biblical account of creation (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” Genesis 1:1). We oppose a godless interpretation of the evolutionary hypothesis. However, the church accepts as valid all scientifically verifiable discoveries in geology and other natural phenomena, for we firmly believe that God is the Creator.”[6]

The first official statement on creation and science, this 1993 addendum is emblematic of the denomination in its thoroughly evangelical posture. The Nazarene Church believes in the “biblical account” of creation and opposes any “godless interpretation,” affirming that “God is the Creator,” and it therefore reflects the evangelical conviction that principally, “all spiritual truth is to be found in” the pages of the Bible.[7] More important for our present study is the mention of the evolutionary hypothesis, which reveals the inclusive nature of the statement.

Nuanced but fundamental changes occur in the 2005 and 2009 revisions of this statement, and therefore they shed light on the differing opinions within the Church of the Nazarene. In the 2005 statement, mention of the “evolutionary hypothesis” is changed to “the origin of the universe and of humankind.” Although specific mention of the evolutionary theory has been replaced, this revision still affirms that one can be a “good Nazarene” while believing in a literal six-day creation, progressive creationism, intelligent design, or theistic evolution.

The most shocking revision came in 2009. The statement in this revision is considerably shorter than the others, for the entire section concerning verifiable science has been removed:

“The Church of the Nazarene believes in the biblical account of creation (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” Genesis 1:1). We oppose any godless interpretation of the origin of the universe and of humankind (Hebrews 11:3).” [8]

In an interview with Dr. Thomas Oord, Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University, Tom expressed the dismay of many active Nazarene scientists and educators who felt that it was a shame to have the section about science completely removed. [9] Oord also expressed that “the vast majority of Nazarenes teaching in higher education are sympathetic to something like theistic evolution’s stance.” [10]  Thus, for many Nazarenes this revision indicates a major setback in an otherwise maturing denomination. We must ask, where in the history of the Church did such disparity of belief begin, and what can the Church of the Nazarene learn from it? An internal poll from October 2000, revealed that 93.1% of Nazarene clergy are opposed to evolutionary theory [11] – and yet there is nothing specific to this denomination or its theological heritage that requires or necessarily encourages such a position. We must now turn to the historical and theological developments behind evolution, creationism, and Wesleyan theology so that we might overcome this ecclesial and theological breakdown.



Historical and Theological Considerations of Evolution and Creationism

Thus far we have introduced our primary concern – whether scientific creationism is a plausible Wesleyan perspective – and we have made concrete the specific context and community engaging in this dialogue today, the Church of the Nazarene in America. Now we turn our attention to issues concerning the era of Modernity and the growth of the scientific worldview. This overview will reveal the hostile character of the debate between evolution and creationism.



Modernity & Evolution. The notion of “modernity” is confusing and complex; nevertheless we can, for the purpose of this study, succinctly but vaguely define modernity as a fundamental shift of mindset and culture occurring at least since the 16th century that essentially moved the locus of power from the powerful few to the hands, hearts, and intellects of the many. For example, the work of the Protestant Reformers in Germany and France moved power and authority within the Christian religion from the Pope to the “priesthood of all believers.” Similarly the philosophical movements within the Enlightenment produced the “turn toward the subject,” meaning the exultation of the experience and authority of individual human beings. [12]

For many, the Enlightenment critique of Christian theology was the direct precursor to the evolutionary worldview. Many Christians feared that evolution would “push God out” of the world just like liberal Protestantism was doing by critiquing the possibility of miracles, the Christian notion of divine revelation, and ultimately the identity and significance of Jesus Christ.[13] Thus the modern project created a culture in which religion became just one sphere among other spheres of society. Peter Berger explains this phenomenon of secularization characterized by “the decline of religious contents in the arts, in philosophy, in literature and, most important of all, in the rise of science as an autonomous, thoroughly secular perspective on the world.”[14] Additionally the growing emphasis on a scientific worldview began calling into question religious explanations of reality. Theological liberalism rose to meet the challenges of secularization by creating its own tools, such as the historical-critical hermeneutic, evidenced in the writings such as David F. Strauss’ The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined. The critical-historical method, after it critiqued the New Testament and Christology in the “quest for the historical Jesus,” began a critique of the historical veracity of the Genesis creation stories.

Between a growing secular culture and a doctrinally conservative Christianity, evolution was seen by many as a divisive and unwelcome threat. However, disunity did not happen overnight, Frederick Gregory explains, and truthfully, “Darwin led more to a renewal of old quarrels than to new debates.”[15] One such old quarrel arose with the publication of Jean Baptiste Lamarck’s 1809 Philosophie Zoologique. Lamarck argued that organisms change over time, and “even though his idea…was shown to be completely wrong,” it was the first major work that challenged the notion of the “fixity” of species.[16] Nevertheless, after Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle and the subsequent publication and review of the English naturalist’s 1859 classic, On the Origin of Species,[17] Charles charted a course for science that would effectively change human history. As the story of modernity goes, liberal Christians such as Henry Ward Beecher (1818-1887) and A. H. Strong (1836-1921) attempted to reconcile these maturing worldviews with Christian faith and biblical revelation. It became clear to liberal Protestantism “that the gospel had to be reinterpreted in terms of evolutionary thought.”[18]



Fundamentalism & Creationism. Conservatives, however, had a mindset more hostile to evolutionary thought, and thus began the crusade of the creationist worldview. By the turn of the 20th century, strict creationism had yet to crystalize, and it was far from the flavor of creationism espoused by the late founder of the contemporary creationist movement, Henry Morris. At the end of the 19th century there were biblical literalists but they were not “creationist” per se. Instead, the majority of theologians – liberal and conservative – desired to work alongside the scientific findings of geology and biology. Take, for example, the academic dispute between the geologist James Dana and the biblical exegete Taylor Lewis during the 1850s. Both men believed that the Earth is hundreds of thousands of years old; they simply differed on how to reconcile geology with their understanding of Scripture. Dana believed that, though the biblical writers could not have fully understood the natural phenomena about which they wrote, science nonetheless “proves the Bible’s veracity.”[19] On the other hand, Lewis argued that Scripture simply contains the record of human experience, not science, and therefore science is irrelevant to the nature and meaning of Scripture.

Fundamentalist Christians, however, had different theological opinions about what science says about Scripture. Published over a period of five years beginning in 1909, a set of essays known as The Fundamentals – expounding the “Five Fundamentals” – responded to the growing tide of liberal theology. The “Five Fundamental” beliefs adopted by the Presbyterian Church in 1910 are:

“1. Inerrancy of the Scriptures in their original documents;
2. The full deity of Jesus Christ, including the virgin birth;
3. Substitutionary atonement;
4. The physical resurrection of Christ; and
5. The miracle-working power of Jesus Christ.”[20]

“Biblically, fundamentalism is totally hostile to the notion of biblical criticism, in any form, and is committed to a literal interpretation of Scripture.” [21] Thus, of almost ninety essays, “fully one-third defended the Bible against Strauss and the higher critics.” [22] Interestingly, at the inception of the fundamentalist brand of Christianity, not one essay even mentioned a six-day creationist viewpoint. Peters and Hewlett explain the important difference between fundamentalism and creationism. The two perspectives, they contend, are not one-and-the-same. Fundamentalism does not necessarily entail creationist views, “because creation was not seen to be fundamental to the same degree that redemption and biblical inerrancy were.” [23] Furthermore, the fundamentalist doctrines were established in opposition to the higher criticism of liberal theology. In other words, “The enemies of fundamentalists are liberal Christians, not scientists.” [24] Though these differences are small, this is an important distinction to make, to understand that “although most creationists are comfortable thinking of themselves as fundamentalists, the two belief systems are not identical.” [25]



The “Open-Ended” Nature of Wesleyanism

As we saw at the beginning of this study, the Church of the Nazarene has recently made changes to an official statement that moves the church away from a serious consideration of evolutionary theory. In light of the above paragraphs on modernity and evolution, there are a few plausible reasons for this anxiety. First is the fear that evolution is simply the newest in a long string of movements designed to “push God out” of the world and to make a relic out of religion. Though the project of secularization had this as its goal, we have shown that this fear concerning science is unsubstantiated, and history actually reveals the opposite – for the most part science and the Church have worked harmoniously together.

The second possible influence behind the recent statement change and the general tendency of Nazarenes toward conservative views is the allure of the simplicity of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism offers security in the face of a complex world. When liberal theologians attempted to meet the challenges of an increasingly secularized culture by modifying their long-held assumptions and thereby discovering new ways of studying Scripture, fundamentalists saw this as unholy compromise with the world. But this, Randy Maddox notes, is not a Wesleyan approach. Maddox speaks of John Wesley’s “mature epistemic humility” that enabled Wesley to recognize the fallibility of theological claims so that he might discuss them further with modesty and openness. [26] Perhaps this was the same “epistemic humility” that assisted the Church in the task of adjusting their interpretation of Scripture after Copernicus and Galileo were proved correct in their heliocentric cosmology. As one parish minister put it, “because Wesleyans are not fundamentalists, we are open to readings of Scripture that allow us to embrace the discoveries of science while reverencing the profound truths of the Word.” [27] Perhaps that is the same “epistemic humility” that more Christians need to practice today in light of the overwhelming scientific evidence that points to the legitimacy of evolutionary theory.

Asking again the main question that began this study, “Is scientific creationism a plausible Wesleyan position?” To this we will again prescribe the nuanced answer from above, “yes, but mostly no.” Hopefully now, after deeper analysis, this answer is comprehensible. The slight answer of “yes” is given because there is no official statement of the Nazarene Church prohibiting creationism. As Robert Smith defines it, the spirit of Wesleyanism is one of openness in dialogue, patience and understanding in disagreement, and avoidance of doctrinal absolutes. [28] The difficulty with this approach, however, is that it cuts both ways – there is no denominational statement prohibiting creationism, nor is there a statement prohibiting theistic evolution. This illustrates the “open-ended” nature of Wesleyanism, or, as others have put it, Wesleyanism’s inductive nature.

In an unpublished paper Dr. Edwin E. Crawford outlines the differences between Calvinists and Wesleyans. [29] Much of Calvinist doctrine, Crawford describes, is the result of deductive reasoning, beginning with the premise that God is sovereign. Deductive reasoning can often be a powerful source for argumentation, but it generally makes for an unhelpful approach to theology. If just one piece of the argument – a premise or the conclusion, perhaps – becomes doubted or disputed, then either the entire argument loses its force or the defender of the argument must blindly deny any and all incriminating evidence. In my interview with Dr. Oord, Tom echoed this rationale, illustrating that on either end of the spectrum between fundamentalist Christians and scientific naturalism the loudest voices often adopt a deductive approach.[30] The Wesleyan tradition, however, is conventionally more inductive, meaning – at least in theory – we ought to be more open to evolution and other findings/theories coming from the sciences.



Conclusion

This study has introduced the contemporary debate over evolution and creationism, specifically as it is made manifest in the Church of the Nazarene, illustrated practically in the church’s Statement on Creation and its subsequent revisions. We have surveyed the era of Modernity and the growth of the scientific worldview that saw the birth of evolutionary theory as well as Christian fundamentalism. And finally this study has attempted to show the utter incompatibility of fundamentalism with the spirit of Wesleyanism.

What, then, are we to take from this study? First, Wesleyanism does not afford either the conservative or the liberal the space to absolutely dismiss discordant views. Most importantly, the unity of the Church depends upon the “cordial affection [of] neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies” no matter their differing opinions – what Wesley called the practice of “catholic spirit.” [31] Rather than accord in doctrinal absolutes, the Wesleyan spirit is a spirit of love and hospitality. The animosity between conservative Christians and their liberal siblings, and the ensuing animosity toward evolution must be put away. Any view that supposes a “war” between religion and science is historically and categorically mistaken.[32] Secondly, there is no Wesleyan or Nazarene position that requires believers to mold science to make it “fit” our interpretation of the Bible. Rather, history has shown (especially in the case of heliocentrism) that revisions and alternative interpretive approaches often need to be considered by the Church.

Therefore, let us finally and decisively answer the question that began this study, “Is scientific creationism a plausible Wesleyan position?” We briefly noted above that there is no statement against creationism (and certainly, the recent decisions of the Nazarene Church reveal its conservative sympathies). Therefore, is scientific creationism a plausible position? Yes. But is it the best answer? No. This study has shown that the specific view of scientific creationism is by its very nature reactionary, born out of hostile and anxious times, and is not the product of a faithful approach to Scripture. The Wesleyan spirit is one that takes all of the evidence seriously, practicing openness and welcoming dialogue with all conversation partners from the social and natural sciences. The Church of the Nazarene needs this in order to “avoid the adoption of a worldview that is totally out of touch with the natural world.”[33] Put another way, “Religion without science is confined; it fails to be completely open to reality. Science without religion is incomplete; it fails to attain the deepest possible understanding.”[34]

Finally, theologians and religious leaders must recognize that not all (read, no) solutions offer all the answers to every question. Theistic evolution itself (the implicitly assumed alternative to creationism in this paper) is a big umbrella that means many things to many different people – and it does not quell the anxious nature of the discussion. Quite often it actually creates more questions than it answers. Nonetheless, this study has shown the possibility of moving away from staunch scientific creationism while remaining true to a thoroughly Wesleyan, Nazarene, and therefore evangelical heritage.


[1]   Karl Giberson, Worlds Apart: The Unholy War Between Religion & Science, (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1993), 145. These tenets were taken from Arkansas’s Act 590, an attempt to introduce creationism into the Arkansas high school curriculum.

[2]   Gallup, “Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design,” http://www.gallup.com/poll/21814/evolution-creationism-intelligent-design.aspx (accessed May 3, 2012).

[3]   CBS News, “Poll: Majority Reject Evolution,” http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500160_162-965223.html (accessed May 3, 2012).

[4]   Church of the Nazarene, General Assembly. Manual: 2005-2009 (Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 2005), 31.

[5]   H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, vol.1. (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1940-1943), http://wesley.nnu.edu/other-theologians/henry-orton-wiley/h-orton-wiley-christian-theology-chapter-7/ (accessed April 20, 2012).

[6]   Church of the Nazarene, Manual: 1993-1997,  374.

[7]   David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A history from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge, 2005), 12. Note that Bebbington reviews three other key identifiers of evangelicalism which pertain to the Church of the Nazarene but not to this study.

[8]   Church of the Nazarene, General Assembly. Manual: 2009-2013. Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 2009. 373.

[9]       Thomas Oord, interviewed by author, phone, 3/12/2012.

[10]     Ibid.

[11]     Linda Beail and Greg Crow, “Wesleyan or Fundamentalist? Political and Theological Stances of Nazarene Pastors,” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association of Nazarene Sociologists and Researchers, Kansas City, Missouri, March 12, 2004).

[12]   Kirk Wegter-McNelly, “Enlightenment,” (class lecture, Boston University, February 7, 2012).

[13]   Alister E. McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1998), 223-26.

[14]   Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. (New York: Anchor Books, 1990), 107.

[15]   Frederick Gregory, “The Impact of Darwinian Evolution on Protestant Theology,” in God and Nature, ed. David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1986), 373.

[16]   Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett, Evolution From Creation to New Creation: Conflict, Conversation, and Convergence (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 37.

[17]   Full title, On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

[18]   Gregory, 383.

[19]   Nicholas DiDonato, “Science and Religion,” (class lecture, Boston University, April 4, 2012).

[20]   Peters and Hewlett, 73.

[21]   McGrath, 251.

[22]   Karl Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008), 60.

[23]   Peters and Hewlett, 74.

[24]       Ibid.

[25]       Ibid, 75.

[26]   Randy L. Maddox, “John Wesley’s Precedent for Theological Engagement with the Natural Sciences,” Wesleyan Theological Journal, no. 44 (Spring 2009): 44.

[27]   Rick Power, “Why It Matters: The Harmony of Science and the Christian Faith,” in Square Peg: Why Wesleyans Aren’t Fundamentalists, ed. Al Truesdale (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 2012), 110.

[28]   Robert Smith, “Wesleyan Identity and the Impact of the Radical Right,” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association of Nazarene Sociologists and Researchers, Kansas City, Missouri, 1996).

[29]   Edwin E. Crawford, “Fundamentalism and the Church of the Nazarene,” http://www.revivaltheology.net/1_cal_arm/crawford.html (accessed April 27, 2012).

[30]   Oord interview.

[31]   John Wesley, “Catholic Spirit”, in The Works of John Wesley, ed. Thomas Jackson, 14 vols., CD-ROM edition (Franklin, TN: Providence House, 1994), 5:503.

[32]   Cf. Peters and Hewlett, Chapter 1, “War, Really?”

[33]   Giberson, Worlds Apart, 99.

[34]   John C. Polkinghorne, Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding, (Boston: New Science Library, 1989), 117.

A fitting end (the end already?)

It is very fitting that at the end of my first academic year at BU I am working on a final project studying the nature of the evolution and theology debate and how it manifests in the Nazarene church. This issue, though complex, illustrates the enduring legacy of modernity on the life of the Church, both positively and negatively. All types of people have a stake in it, and it is easy to identify the two extremes of the debate, the “liberal” camp versus the “conservative” camp. But I am focusing on the religious and educational leaders in the Church of the Nazarene that are standing in the gap, trying to bridge the divide by careful conversation and serious education.

And that is perfectly illustrative of what I am trying to accomplish here at BU. I’m trying to reconcile the world of my traditional faith with the world of theological liberalism – trying to work out the hindrances and draw-backs as well as the edifying aspects of both. I have struggled over this since the first week of classes. There are ideas and theological affinities present here that I have never come across except in books – but now I am friends with people who hold these ideas that are radically different than my own. It’s difficult to confront ideas about God and Christianity that at first glance are contrary to what I’ve believed for a long time. But what I am beginning to learn is that I don’t have to give up my stance on certain issues to understand where those contrary ideas came from, and even to sympathize with many of them.

What this means for me is that I recognize that theological differences will always remain, whether starkly contrasted or lightly nuanced. For one, this realization gives me the confidence to stand where I stand and to not be ashamed of it. Second, it reminds me to always be humble in my position and patient when I hear other approaches. And following this second point, I am grateful that I am gaining the theological education, the logical tools, and the personal maturity to discern potential challenges, to recognize their sources and implications, and to feel okay standing strong where I have always stood or affirming the need for change.

It is my hope that in my role as a religious leader I will be able to foster this type of conversation within my own tradition, as well as within the Church as a whole. I want to learn how to make safe space for healthy conversation that emphasizes humility, patience, and understanding.

Must I Choose?

Must I choose between liberalism and…well, what other choice is there other than simply Conservative? Fundamentalism? I certainly will not choose fundamentalism. But there is no good term beside conservative. Conservative? Really?  Liberal and conservative are unhelpful categories beyond the stereotypical, as is “orthodox” for I fear it is too heavily burdened a term, if not a little bias.

Science…Cold hard fact…these things are good, and yet science can only go so far. I am in whole-hearted agreement with the use of biblical criticisms, and yet I love the Creeds. Science and reason can only go so far, and then I fear what is left is what a “thinking” world will only find unreasonable. Must I choose? Must I choose between the enchanted and the disenchanted forests? Must they be so starkly contrasted? In my mind I lambast Christians that disregard science and reason, and yet I have personally experienced a Church that prays for and heals the sick. I think people that call themselves “spiritual” haven’t gone far enough, but I see that rationalism goes too far.

There is specificity in the fully man and fully God Jesus Christ, and yet God’s Spirit goes before all people and all thoughts and does invade the farthest reaches of the earth, even unknowingly. God does speak and move outside the Church, outside of the religions of the people of God, and yet there is something special and unique about who Jesus is and what he has done.

A Beautiful Reflection

Here’s a thought-provoking and humble reflection from the everyday travels of my beautiful wife…

The Boston subway is a common place for vanity. Standing toward the windows at night or in the tunnels, there’s nowhere to look except at your reflection in the glass. It’s tempting during those times to critique yourself: my outfit looks stupid today, my hair is messy, I feel like I have a BIG nose, I’m lost, I’m a failure… Some days when I’m feeling exceptionally good, I just avoid the wisndows so I’m not reminded of the things I like the least about myself. But tonight was different, so different. Tonight when I looked in the window I saw the eyes of Jesus looking back at me. It was so real, it was as if He was admiring me from a passing train on the other side of the tracks. He was looking right at me through my own reflection. He saw all the things He loves about me, all the beautiful parts of me. And He reminded of what He has planned for me and how much more I could be. I’ve been in a slump these last few years, unsure about how to be myself, unsure of what was in store for me. Now, I’m beginning to realize that God uses our feelings of being lost and unsure as a way of reminding us that there is more to who we are. We are daughters & sons of the most loving, most holy God. It’s time to use this feeling of being loss to discover what’s missing: a devoted relationship to my Father. There is a purpose to our holy longing: to rekindle the love of an old friend.

New Testament Introduction

Week two of New Testament Introduction. Last week we tried to get a cursory look into the historical and political world out of which Christianity was birthed.

Starting back in the 6th century BCE, the Persians, upon conquering the Babylonians, allowed the Jews to return to Judea and rebuild the temple, though the Jews were still under Persian control, from about 539-330s BCE).  After Alexander the Great becomes King of Macedonia (in 332 BCE), his armies conquer the East (almost the entire Persian empire), but he dies very young (in 323 BC). His Hellenistic empire is then divided between four generals, and is eventually two long-reigning dynasties rule in the East: Ptolemies and Seleucids. During this time the Jerusalem Temple was desecrated by the Seleucids, thereby sparking the Maccabean revolt. Through the revolt the Jews recaptured and rededicated the Temple in 164 BCE. After the revolt the Jews, with a family line known as the Hasmonean Dynasty, briefly regained full independence from 141-63 BCE. However, in 63 BCE the Roman General Pompey led the take-over of Israel in 63 BCE, and thus we enter the Roman world of Palestine in which the Jesus movement was birthed.

One small note: the authors that we are reading and the language used speaks of the “Jesus movement” for a specific period of time before there was actually anything that resembles what we would call “Christianity.” This refers to the experience of the disciples and all during this time when Jesus was only known as a radical rabbi who doing and saying some amazing things.

This all gets very messy and complicated, and I don’t yet fully grasp all that was going on. But our purpose for revisiting these events and this world show that there is a great political power struggle between all of the groups in this region, including the Jews. It is a period of intense battle over power and territory. But during this time there is also great change occurring within the Jewish religion, for it is within this time that groups such as the Essenes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, along with many others. Importantly though, the very notion of “Judaism” was also emerging at this time.

I think what is generally thought is that Judaism is simply the continuation, the “modern” version of the Israelite religion. However, I’m learning, Judaism was one sect emerging from the Israelite religion at or around the very same time that Christianity emerged. Thus, the idea is that there is a lot more going on than the simple picture we see in the New Testament. This is not new, for the historical study of Scripture has been a central place in the study of Christianity, especially within the last half-century.

What we are beginning to see is that there is no simple one point in time that we can call the “beginning” of Christianity. Within all of the political and religious struggle there is a great debate over the question concerning what it means to be Jewish – and the Jesus movement starts out organically as one more answer to that question. And I find it just fascinating to realize all of the different things going on in the world at this time, because we can begin to see how Christianity came out of a very complex world!