Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lord, make me a better enemy

A while back, I posted an article about the anthropology meeting that I attended in Atlanta, where I wrote this:
I suppose some might think that I should be more indignant because of all these evolutionists undermining the truth or some such, but I'm far more unsettled by fellow evangelical Christians promoting evolution than by non-Christians doing it.  They really should know better.
Almost immediately, I got an email from a guy challenging me to explain what I meant and recommending that I check out the BioLogos website where I could learn more about Christian approaches to evolution.  This week, Jim Kidder posted a response on his blog, and he also took me to task for the very same phrase.  Jim wrote, "My initial reaction to this statement was to think that I had been insulted."  I must have hit a nerve.

I suppose I should apologize or defend myself, but as usual, I see bigger things here.  I didn't set out to insult anyone, but people took umbrage anyway.  The reactions led me to wonder why anyone who's been involved in this creation/evolution debate would ever expect anything different?

Let's just lay all the cards on the table.  Everyone in the creation/evolution debate insults everyone else all the time.  I can't see how it's possible not to.  Young-age creationism is an intellectual embarrassment, a scandal of the evangelical mind.  It's bad science and bad theology.  The strident commitment to this pseudoscience brings shame on the gospel and drives people away from Jesus.  Sound familiar?  Well, that's pretty insulting when you're on the receiving end.

Evolutionary creationism is a lie.  It's an ungodly compromise with the world.  It's promoted for the approval of people not the approval of God.  It's basing our thinking on man's fallible opinions rather than God's unchanging Word.  Evolutionary creationism undermines the authority of God's word, and it's an attack on the very person of Jesus Christ.  Any of that sound familiar?  Well, it's pretty insulting, too.

Here's the problem: We don't say these things just because we want to hurt people.  These are deeply held convictions, and we believe them.  Most of us have come to our beliefs through soul searching and (sometimes agonizing) effort.  Everyone has sacrificed something for these beliefs.  Some of us have sacrificed a lot.  Maybe we find more tactful ways to say these things, but most of us can still read between the lines.  No matter how we express these convictions, we're bound to insult someone.

But it's worse than just personal insults.  We have entire organizations dedicated to spreading their views and undermining everyone else.  They all have basically the same sort of message: "My ways of reading the Bible and science are the only correct ways, and everyone who disagrees is absolutely wrong and dangerous."  One organization might be "nicer" than another, but that doesn't change the underlying message.  These organizations are all trying to get the evangelical public to accept their view as correct and to ignore that other guy (who is totally wrong and destroying the church).

Think about it.  Imagine that a group of Christians thinks you're so dangerous that they band together to oppose you and thwart your work.  How could you not be offended?  Maybe they try to be nice about it, and they don't really mean anything personal, but that doesn't make it any better, does it?

Sometimes I sort of wish it was just a matter of perspective.  It might be nice to say, "Hey, Jesus is our saviour, so let's just not fight over these secondary issues."  We don't do that though, because none of us believes that these are secondary issues.  For most of us, these issues hit on our very ability to know anything.  For me, I can't see how we separate a straightforward reading of Genesis 1-11 from all its doctrinal richness that touches directly on the nature of sin, the purpose of salvation, and the coming judgment.  If I can't believe what seems so obvious in Genesis, why should I believe what seems so obvious in Matthew?  Likewise, an evolutionary creationist looks at nature and thinks that evolution is so obvious that to question it is to question our ability to understand anything.  It's so obvious that if it weren't true, God would be guilty of falsifying evidence.  If evolution is wrong, either God is a liar, or all of science collapses.  These are not secondary issues.

As disturbing as it is to admit, the body of Christ is at war.  That's just incomprehensible, but there it is.  Other Christians have become my enemies.  I've written about this before, and I still won't sugar coat it.  We're battling over fundamental, irreconcilable differences.  We can't all be right.  We can't all win.  We won't agree to disagree.  It's just too important to let it go like that.

That war, more than anything I've written here, breaks my heart.  How did we get here?  How did the church go from the thrill of Christ's resurrection to shrill accusations of heresy?  How could the world ever know we are Christians by our love for one another?  Does it really boil down to "I'm right, and everyone else is wrong?"  How is that not sinful pride?  What can we do about this?

I've thought about this a lot.  I've written about my ongoing conversations with Darrel Falk, who is an evolutionary creationist and strongly disagrees with my position on young-age creationism.  Last year, we had a little exchange on my blog (parts I, II, III, IV, and V) and that seemed to hit a nerve with a lot of people.

After all my experiences with Darrel, I can say that I still have no idea what to do about this war.  We get together for a weekend, and we pray together.  We read scripture together, and we talk about our differences.  Then we go our separate ways, and I always feel a gnawing, nagging ache.  Even though our personal relationship grows, the intellectual divide is still there.  I wish that were not the case.  I wish that we would see the light, whatever that light is.  I pray that the Spirit would guide us into truth, whatever that truth is.  But the differences seem as strong as they were when we started.  To be honest, I sometimes despair that we'll ever be able to work out even the smallest of differences.  And if we can't do that, with all our intense effort, then what hope is there for the rest of the war?

More than anything else in this war, in those moments of despair I find what it is to trust Christ.  As I work so hard to explain why my beliefs are important and compelling, I know Darrel will not be convinced.  Darrel won't convince me either, and he knows it, too.  The situation seems hopeless, and that's just the kind of situation that Jesus loves to put us in.  After all, if this were just a misunderstanding, we could work it out ourselves, but this isn't just a problem we can figure out on our own.  There will be no progress here without intense prayer.  Only Christ can break this deadlock.

So the war drives me to Christ, and I pray the strangest prayer I could imagine:

Lord, make me a better enemy.

I don't know what that means exactly, but if I have to be in this ideological battle, then I need to be a better person for it.  Heaven knows I haven't done a very good job in the past.  I need to figure out how to love my enemy, even if I don't want to.  I can't change anyone else, but I can let Christ change me.  So I need to find Christ in the struggle.  In those moments of hopelessness, I have nowhere else to turn.

To those offended by my "really should know better" crack, I'm sorry I offended you.  I'm sorry we're even in this war.  But I'm not sorry for my convictions.  I believe what I believe.  I believe God wants me to believe what I believe, and I don't think I can say much about my beliefs that won't offend you.

Maybe we should pray about it?

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.