Further thoughts from Trinity Western University
|Darrel and I with Arnold Sikkema, our host at Trinity Western University|
I'm just back from Vancouver where I spoke at Trinity Western University with Darrel Falk and Rob Barrett of The Colossian Forum. I had a pleasant time there, even though it was evident that few people in the various audiences we spoke to were "on my side," as it were. The Q&A was illuminating in many ways. I felt at times that the questions directed to me were antagonistic and confrontational. They repeated some very standard talking points for why creationists are wrong, and I got pretty animated with some of my answers. At one point, I even elicited gasps with my bluntness. As Darrel, Rob, and I discussed our experiences the morning after the meeting, Rob said he interpreted the questions as more honest curiosity. That's definitely possible, because my personal interactions were not confrontational at all. Then again, perhaps the more confrontational people simply avoided me? Who knows.
Some of the questions, as best as I can recall them:
- How can you claim to be a scientist if you don't accept scientific conclusions? Strange question - science is all about questioning and probing and pushing the limits of our understanding. Why should it be surprising that someone might question a scientific dogma for reasons unconvincing to the majority? And why should that be judged as inherently unscientific?
- If you accept that there's evidence for evolution, do you accept the evidence for the documentary hypothesis for the origin of the Pentateuch? No, because there isn't any. There are only the text(s) that we have, and there is no external evidence for any of the fanciful claims of higher critics. At best, higher critics have an interpretation of the text, one that I do not find compelling. That answer elicited gasps.
- If you're right, shouldn't God have made it clearer? At the time, I took this in a very personal way, because the wording sounded exactly like Richard Dawkins. I said how could I presume to say what the creator should have done? It's blasphemy (which it is). My voice got very strident, and I waved my arms a lot. My lack of sleep probably contributed to that particular response. In retrospect, the question might have been rephrased as, "If God created recently, as I assert, why does the creation look the way it does?" I have a couple more thoughtful answers: 1. I think our understanding of creation is vastly incomplete. We have become arrogant in the success of science, and there is much still to discover, especially in the life sciences. It's quite likely that new discoveries will cause us to completely rethink certain previous commitments. 2. Thinking about the importance of personal faith to the Faith, I question the validity of a world that unambiguously points to recent creation or any propositional truth of the faith. In such a world, there would be no need for faith, because the evidence itself would be coercive. I believe God makes it possible to reject him and feel intellectually justified in doing so. 3. I believe the evidence of Scripture is quite clear, so it's not quite as simple as saying that God left us no hint of the true history of creation. 4. I also believe that there are plenty of details in creation as uncovered by science that fully support the young-age creation viewpoint. I don't believe any of them are fully decisive without Scripture or faith, but there are enough clues to make an earnest and honest seeker curious, which is the nature of Jesus' miracles as well.
- Isn't there a difference between essential and nonessential doctrines, and creation is clearly a nonessential doctrine? I reject this dichotomy for two reasons. First, the division of essential/nonessential is mostly just used as a weapon or tool to perpetuate divisions by excluding those who are passionate about a particular doctrine that the other person doesn't feel the same way about. To be specific, I hear it most often as an attack against creationists: "The gospel is about Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. God's mechanism of creation is not the gospel, and therefore it's not important enough to fuss about." My second reason for rejecting essential/nonessential is my response to that first reason. It seems clear to me that there is a range of doctrinal importance in any theological scheme and that theological claims have a complex interdependence that is not easily described. Theology isn't strictly deductivist, such that certain claims are absolutely foundational to other claims, e.g., "If creation is not thousands of years old, then Jesus didn't really die for sinners." I don't think that's how theology actually works; however, I do think that doctrines influence other doctrines with a range of importance. In Vancouver, I used an analogy of a spider's web. Not all of the threads in the web are absolutely critical to the whole thing, but if you start pulling on some of the threads, the shape of the web will change in a very fundamental way. Other threads might cause the whole thing to come undone. So even though doctrine of creation is not itself the gospel, it does seem to occupy a very important place in Christian theology, touching on doctrines of perspicuity, inerrancy and authority, sin and the Fall, eschatology, and the entire sweep of the creation/fall/redemption narrative. That seems far more important than merely describing it as "nonessential."
- Being nice is fine, but I still can't forget that you're wrong. What happened to truth in this relationship? It's still there, and I have the same thought about Darrel! (Darrel responded that the greatest truth is love, which is practically straight out of I Corinthians 13. Good answer, brother.) After my experience with Darrel and the profound impact it's had on my life, my own discipleship, and my thinking about creation, I'd have to confess that I don't think truth is attainable alone. That seems heretical even as I write it (Where do I stop? Shouldn't I outright reject certain heresies? Should I not shun certain people? etc.), but I can't deny that Darrel has made me a better creationist, intellectually, ethically, and spiritually. As I look around and see people reacting against The Fool and the Heretic, I see how small the world is when you only ever listen to your own tribe. People can't even understand what Darrel thinks and believes, much less how to respond to it. I'm sure the same could be said of those baffled by me and my positions. I think Jesus' words on the eve of his crucifixion must revolutionize our thinking about truth: I am the way, the truth, and the life. Truth is not a concept or an abstraction. Truth for Christians is bound up in a person. You can't understand the world without Him, and He emphasized obedience more than anything else. He told us to love our enemies, and in that act, I have found more truth than I ever dreamed possible. I'm still puzzled why Darrel and I don't arrive together at the same truth, but I cannot deny the radical light of other, (dare I say?) more important truth that I could not have discovered if we were not together.
I'd like to thank everyone at TWU for a kind reception, especially Arnold Sikkema for his work arranging the visit. Darrel and I will be together again very soon, but I'll tell you about that in a different blog post.
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