Yes, you have to love the stubborn too

Two weeks ago, I posted some thoughts for young creationists attending ICC this year.  You can read that letter right here.

I was hoping to inspire the young people attending ICC (some for the first time) to think beyond just the intellectual or logical appeal of what happens there.  I wanted them to think about Christian virtues of loving God and loving neighbor.  I especially wanted them to think about loving neighbor in spite of their neighbor's stubbornness.  It's easy to brush people off who don't agree with you, but following God's command to love each other is most important when it's difficult.  And it can be quite difficult.

Reactions were, not surprisingly, all over the map.  The vast majority of people who wrote or responded were very positive and appreciated the reminder.  Thank you for that.

Others were more negative.  Some people think I'm a hypocrite because I of all people have no business encouraging people to try to get along.  Some people think I'm clueless about the real nature of the culture war.  Some people think I'm dangerous and leading people astray.  I hope that those reactions are unfair, but they are concerns I share, to be honest.  I don't want to be sinfully unkind to people I think are kooks, but I don't have a lot of practice with that.  I genuinely don't know how to interact with people that I am sure are utterly and fundamentally wrong about the creation/evolution debate.  I have to work on that.

I also pray fervently that I'm not leading people astray, but given the statistics of young people leaving the faith, it would be naive to say that none of my former students have fallen away.  When you expand that sample of students to include the thousands and thousands who have read things I published on my blog, then there are certainly former Christians who probably point the finger at me as part of their journey to unbelief.  That's true of everyone, really: ICR, AIG, CMI, etc.  Being a public voice risks misunderstanding and speaking into people's lives that aren't quite ready to hear or comprehend what we say.  It's tragic, but there it is.  God help us all.

As to being clueless about the culture war, that's really where we all disagree, isn't it?  I'm really sure I'm not wrong, but I don't want to be cocky about it either.   How about you?

There was one reaction in particular that I heard from several people, and I wanted to add some thoughts to maybe clarify what I wrote.  I said that the Christian community shouldn't have to deal with the rough and tumble world of truth debating as practiced in secular graduate schools.  Some people thought that was incorrect.  We should be able to stand up for truth and speak to error even in the Christian world.  Especially in the Christian world.

That's definitely true.  Looking at the letters of the apostle Paul, I see plenty of time that he forcefully confronted error, even to the point of calling out Peter himself.  He didn't pull punches either.  He delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan, so they would learn not to blaspheme.  He wished that those who insisted that converts had to be circumcised to become Christians would emasculate themselves, which in context means, "Don't stop with the circumcision.  Keep on cutting!"

But Paul got worked up for very specific reasons.  He demanded that the gospel of the grace of God not be hindered with trying to earn God's favor through keeping the Law (which is futile).  He insisted that we do nothing to threaten the unity of the church where Gentiles and Jews worshiped together.  Other issues weren't so important to him.

His famous "love chapter" in I Corinthians 13 was given in the context of disputes over spiritual gifts and how one should behave in a church gathering.  He gave fewer strong condemnations there, only admonishing us to practice our gifts wisely for the sake of other people.

In the same epistle, he addressed the controversy of eating idol meat.  On the surface, this sounds like a very simple issue: In Corinth, it was possible to purchase meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  To me, it sounds like eating such meat would be participating in idol worship, but there were Corinthians believers who did not see it that way.  Perhaps idol worship was so pervasive, it was hard to even know when you were getting meat sacrificed to idols?  Perhaps they just thought, idols aren't real, so what's the big deal?

Paul has some interesting things to say about idol meat.
...we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know (I Cor. 8:1-2).
That's a pretty strong statement about knowledge: If you think you know something, you don't know as you ought to know.  Our knowledge is incomplete.  In I Cor. 13, he says that we see through a glass darkly.  We don't know everything.  So what does that mean for standing up for truth?

Paul's reaction seems to be tied up with the reactions of the "weaker" Christians.  Paul said we were free to eat whatever meat we wanted, as long as we eat it with gratitude to God, but if it offended a weaker Christian, Paul says we shouldn't eat it.  According to Paul, "... if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (I Cor 8:  If Paul's freedom in Christ threatens another believer, then he is willing to give it up for the sake of that other believer.  When he says we must bear one another's burdens, he means it.

What does that mean in the context of creationism?  Does this mean I should never say anything that might offend someone?  That seems impossible.  This is a debate.  Someone, somewhere is going to be offended by anything.  More importantly, I don't think Paul is talking about just any old offense.  He's talking about making a weaker Christian fall away from the faith, or as he says, " your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died" (I Cor 8:11).  That's where we need to watch out.

First, let's be careful how we express enthusiasm for our ideas.  We all have a tendency to inflate the importance of our beliefs about creation, but nobody's soul is worth having the right or wrong idea about creation.  If you can't agree with me about creation, don't let that put you off from the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The gospel is far more important than agreeing with me about created kinds.

So what do we do about the guy who insists that the gospel is damaged if we don't accept and preach the whole truth, including geocentrism?  This is what I was talking about when I said that the Christian community should not have to practice or tolerate the secular, scientific attitude toward truth discovery.  In the academic world, we would repeat the many reasons why the earth orbits the sun and not vice versa.  We would bury them in logical, rational arguments based on evidence.  We would probably do it loudly.  We'd likely get angry when the other person doesn't listen.  It would probably descend into jokes, mockery, and scorn.  I speak from experience (on both sides).

I remember my first ICC when the name of a dinosaur hunter came up.  I don't even recall exactly what the dinosaur hunter was presenting at ICC, but it had to do with discovering living dinosaurs.  I remember a trusted colleague told me, "Oh him.  He's a nice guy.  Got some weird ideas though."  My colleague's kindness made me angry.  I remember thinking, "Weird ideas?  He's damaging the church and the testimony of Christ with his nonsense!"

But what if the real damage to the church comes not from our odd scientific beliefs but from the broken fellowship that they cause?  After all, the New Testament emphasizes over and over again that our Christian testimony is tied directly to our obedience to the Lord's command to love one another.

Even more, if we really want to claim that false scientific beliefs harm the gospel, then every Christian who ever lived has harmed the gospel.  Does that even make sense?  Has the gospel lost its force or power because Theophilus of Antioch believed in a flat earth?  Or because Augustine of Hippo believed in spontaneous generation?

Back to Paul: Since Paul discussed the issue of idol meat in I Corinthians, we may infer that we are permitted to talk about issues over which Christians disagree.  We shouldn't interpret loving the weaker Christian as a total gag order.  We can continue talking and perhaps even debating the correct answer to the great questions about creation.

But we must also follow Paul's lead in first considering the needs of the other side in the debate.  What motivates them?  Why do they choose to believe what they do?  Do we have shared values on the points about which we disagree?  How can those shared values inform the disagreement we're having?  Perhaps most importantly, how will my response to our disagreement reflect on the gospel of Christ?

I've tried to practice this recently with at least one person, and I've found it quite fascinating.  I disagree strongly with this person's take on creationism, and I know the work he's done contains errors that invalidate his conclusions.  While reading one of his articles, I was amazed to find a personal anecdote that helped me understand his entire approach to science and creationism.  No wonder we disagree!  Suddenly I found myself much less interested in the minutia of his errors (which I still think are important) and much more interested in addressing the yawning philosophical differences that probably prevent any meaningful interaction in the first place.  I still don't have a clue how to move forward from here, but I can at least see better why we disagree.  Seeing that deeper need kind of took the fight out of me.  That's got to be a start, right?

In the Resurrection, we'll all find out about all the wrong, weird ideas we believed while we were still in corruptible flesh.  Remember: Now we see through a glass darkly, but then, face to face.  If God can extend grace to cover our ignorance in the here and now, shouldn't we do the same for others?  And if God can cover us with His grace while leading us into greater understandings of truth, shouldn't we follow that example as well?

The tone of Christian debates must be different from the way the world debates things.  Somehow the call to bear each other's burdens must apply to academic debates as well.  I'm the first to admit that I haven't even tried to do this.  So maybe I should start.  How about joining me?

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.