“SOMETHING POWERFUL is sweeping through evangelical America …” we wrote two weeks ago, referring to a remarkable convergence of evangelical and scientific voices in response to Darwin’s 200th birthday.
Since that time, the conversation has continued on many levels.
DIANA BUTLER BASS‘ new “A People’s History of Christianity” was just released by HarperOne this week. We published an in-depth Conversation With Bass just yesterday. In her book, she touches upon themes related to faith and the natural world and the historic conflicts between faith and science. But, her section on Christianity and evolution — like most of the subjects touched upon in her book — points out that the relationship between Darwin and Christian leaders was far more complex than most people recall today.
In the final analysis, Bass argues, we are in a period right now of great transition. “There is a palpable longing for hope and change these days,” she writes. This is a time when past wounds could be healed and historic chasms crossed.
J. Philip NEWELL, the neo-Celtic pastor and teacher who we also have featured in a Conversation here, sent us a note this week from an airport as he was traveling between speaking engagements.
Philip pointed out that Celtic streams of Christianity have never been disconnected from the natural world. He wrote: “I give much attention to the Celtic view of nature in my
book, ‘Christ of the Celts,’ but the symbol that speaks most profoundly and
simply about this matter is the Celtic cross with its combination of
images, namely the cross pointing to the mystery of Christ and the
orb/circle pointing to the mystery of Creation and the whole realm of
“The extraordinary thing about the Celtic cross is that the
Christ image (the cross form) and the creation image (the circle) share
the same centre. This is one of the ways in which the Celtic tradition
celebrates that Christ and Creation both come forth from the heart of
“The deeper we move in relation to Christ, the closer we come to
the One who is the heart of Creation. The deeper we move in Creation,
the closer we come to the Presence that Christ embodies.”
KEN WILSON, an evangelical pastor and author who we wrote about in our earlier story on peacemaking over Darwin’s legacy, sent us a further reflection this week.
Ken also is one of our daily Partners offering reflections during each day of the Lenten season.
But he wanted to talk more about the historic potential in new efforts to build bridges between evangelical pastors and scientists. Here’s what he had to say:
Lent is a time for repentance.
But repentance comes in many varieties, some of them, the best ones, surprising. Would you believe American Evangelical Christians who for the last century have been in a culture war with evolutionary science repenting of their ways and evolutionary biologists who have been annoyed with said evangelicals repenting of theirs? To each other?
On Darwin’s birthday (Feb. 12, 2009) I posted an invitation to my fellow evangelicals to apologize for the way we have besmirched the name of a decent man, Charles Darwin. It seemed the decent thing to do for his birthday. I suggested that Darwin’s dangerous idea wasn’t dangerous to biblical faith. Darwin simply thought species were not forever fixed from the beginning, but that they changed over time by natural breeding practices. He called it, “natural selection” to contrast it with the artificial selection that pigeon, horse, dog and plant breeders practice.
I invited them to say, “I’m sorry for not practicing the love that my master bids me to practice — which requires that I listen to others as I would want to be listened to.” And they did — scores of them. I received 170 comments on my modest little blog, http://kenwilsononline.com.
Many of the comments were from self-confessed evangelicals saying things like this from “another Mark”: “I am sorry for being mean and not always giving science the chance to speak and tell the story the way science tells the story… As an evangelical I want to learn more about our mother earth and care for it scientifically and spiritually. It matters. It is part of the story. I am listening…”
Or this from “Jack”: “I do apologize! I simply did not embrace ‘Darwin’ as a person. My murky conception of him would be something that had two horns and a tail. Thanks for briefly sharing about him from a compassionate point of view.”
It prompted expressions of gratitude from biologists and the spouses of biologists who have run into evangelical hostility from time to time.
And it provoked this email to me from an evolutionary biologist from a secular University, who read the blog comments with wonder.
He wrote: “I also need to do a ‘mea culpa’ for my ‘tribe.’ One of my graduate students mentioned that his major advisor was criticizing him and his fellow graduate students for believing in God. Apparently this advisor has done so repeatedly and has caused a fair bit of stress among his graduate students. I know that there are others in ‘my tribe’ that do this, and I have to therefore apologize for their behavior. It is wrong to criticize others’ beliefs, but especially so from a position of ‘power’ like that of a major professor!”
The culture war is not over. It takes a long time to wind down a war. But the culture war is losing momentum. Soon it will be a sideline skirmish on the landscape of American religion. We just can’t afford it anymore. We have a culture that is frayed to the breaking point and needs to be repaired. It needs to be repaired by people of faith working hand in hand with anyone willing to get to work. All hands are needed on this deck at this time.
Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand! Lent is as good a time as any.
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