Monday, April 13, 2015
I'd rather NOT be swallowed by a giant fish
What do you do when your mortal enemy asks for help?
I suppose we Christians could duck the question by pretending that we don't actually have any enemies. I think that's a convenient and common excuse for why Christians hold grudges. We just try to convince ourselves that it's not really a grudge or it's not really unloving. That person I don't like isn't really my enemy. I just don't like him. I can love someone without liking them, right? I think it's really interesting in the gospels that when Jesus says to love your neighbor, He's asked almost immediately to explain who my neighbor is, but when He says to love your enemies, no one has to ask who that is. We all know who our enemies are.
Back to the uncomfortable question: What do you do when your mortal enemy asks for help? Maybe not just the person you don't like, but maybe the person who is actively campaigning against the work you feel God has called you to do. Maybe that person even runs an organization dedicated to opposing the work that you're doing. It's no small rivalry over your Bible study curriculum or who gets to run Vacation Bible School.
So what do you do when your mortal enemy asks for help?
Today's culture makes it quite clear what you do: You don't help them. That's insane. If your enemy needs help, they can get it somewhere else. If they're in desperate need, this could be your opportunity to win and defeat them! Or maybe it's more subtle than that. Maybe your enemy is setting a trap, trying to prey on your sympathy so they can get some dirt on you to publicly shame you. Or maybe they're just trying a more crafty method of spreading their poisonous doctrines. Seriously, can you imagine the NAACP helping out the KKK? Or PETA helping any hunting club of any kind? It's ludicrous to even imagine it.
I can understand that. If I was asked to help my enemy advance their own cause, I would refuse. If I was asked to help my enemy do something immoral or against my core Christian beliefs, of course I wouldn't do it. But what if they asked for a different kind of help? What if your mortal enemy just asked you to help them understand you better? What if they came to you with no agenda and just wanted to figure out what went wrong? What if they just asked you why you're so opposed to them? What if they just wanted to figure out why we became enemies in the first place?
The Bible has a lot to say about this, and most of it makes me very uncomfortable. Love your enemies (Matt 5:44). Bless those that curse you (Luke 6:28). Jonah certainly learned the hard way, didn't he? Talk about helping your enemies. The Assyrians were a brutal and violent culture, and God had the nerve to tell Jonah to go preach to them. After careful consideration, Jonah decided that wasn't a good idea, and he went the other direction. When you think about it, Jonah had legitimate reasons for not going to Nineveh. Let's face it, they could have killed him outright. They certainly had that reputation. He was wise to fear for his life. But we all know how that turned out for him. "Love for enemy" is not an opportunity for us to debate what love is or who my enemy is. "Love your enemy" is an opportunity for obedience.
So what do you do when your enemy asks for help?
Some of you know that I've been chatting with Darrel Falk for almost two years now. Darrel used to run BioLogos, which is the leading evangelical proponent of accepting evolution as God's mechanism of creation. They like to use the term evolutionary creation, but most of us know this as theistic evolution. I am a young-age creationist, and I don't think evolution is compatible with Christian theology. Mortal enemies? It would seem so.
We began our discussions in response to a request by a third party looking to carve out a place for ministry in the midst of the creation/evolution debate. Colleagues warned me that they're just looking to push a pro-evolution agenda. This is a common tactic, I was told. First you start talking and being nice to them, and the next thing you know, the Christian culture accepts their heresy. I was personally taken aside by another creationist concerned about my "compromise." My compromise? This relationship with Darrel Falk, of course. I was told that my reputation would be ruined, and that my discernment and theology are already corrupted. Another creationist was more blunt: There's no point in trying to reach evolutionists, because they'll never listen. They're a waste of time. The message I've gotten has been quite clear: We don't talk to those people.
But Darrel still wants to talk. My mortal enemy has asked for my help. He wants me to help him understand me and young-age creationism and the evolution debate. Well, what else can I do? He doesn't ask me to endorse his position, and I don't. So I'm not compromising, and on top of that, I have the ear of a very influential evangelical. I don't have to pull any punches, either. I get to ask him all the hard questions I want. I get to stand up for what I believe to be truth, but more importantly, I get to do it to a person who is actually listening and trying to understand. Why would I squander this opportunity? So we talk.
You know what I've learned? Sometimes things that bother me about theistic evolution bother him too. Not always, of course. It's not like he's secretly worrying about fitting evolution and Christianity together. Quite the opposite actually, he's maddeningly comfortable with his position, but there are theological compromises that he won't make. So when I try to hit him with my zingers ("Evolution requires X. X is incompatible with Christian theology; therefore, evolution must be rejected"), sometimes he agrees that X cannot be sacrificed. He just disputes that evolution requires it. He's a lot smarter than a straw man, and he's forced me to think more carefully about why young-age creationism is so important.
Another thing I've learned is that he doesn't know what I think he knows. Just recently I heard someone say that there was no point in making arguments to theistic evolutionists "because they already know them all." I don't think that's true. He doesn't understand my position, just like I don't understand his. Some of my arguments he's heard, and some are totally alien to him. Just like some of his ideas seem new and outrageous to me. I guess that's what happens when you do cross-cultural ministry: You find out that "those people" don't really think like that at all.
As I'm learning these things, I continue to hold up what I consider to be essential parts of the debate. I maintain that you cannot carve out Genesis 1 or even Genesis 1-11 from the rest of the Bible, as if the history of Genesis doesn't matter. I maintain that this debate is a much bigger hermeneutical and epistemological problem than just the science of evolution. Start picking at the threads of Genesis history, and the whole tapestry of Christian theology begins to unravel. Maybe not today, but it will happen. It's already happened in many denominations and organizations that have chosen to "re-imagine" Christian theology to make room for evolution.
Darrel still doesn't agree with me, but he's listening. That's got to count for something. So we talk, and I will keep talking as long as he keeps listening. I'll continue to listen as long as he wants to explain his own thinking. I am not a compromiser, and this is not a waste of time. God's Word is powerful. It will accomplish what it was sent to do, even if you have to bring it to your enemy. Because Jesus made it clear that when your enemy is in need, you have to help. If you'd rather not help your enemy, Jonah's example should speak volumes.
After all, I'd rather NOT be swallowed by a giant fish.
Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.