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The Deconstruction of David Roberts

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

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Episode 16: The Typecasting of David Roberts

We live in the age of the superhero, cinematically speaking.

As a point of reference if, in the age of Billy Madison, you weren’t cool until you pee’d your pants, then in this current age you’re not a legitimate actor or actress until you’ve assumed the guise of a famous Marvel or DC Comics property.

Or, in the case of The Guardians of the Galaxy, an obscure property.

But I’m old enough to remember a time when famous thespians were often slow to sign onto costumed crime fighting roles for fear of being typecast, forever associated with the then-laughable label of the superhero genre.

And they certainly had reason for pause, two reasons at least in the case of George Clooney’s nippled bat-suit.

To wit, Chris O’Donnell, who played Clooney’s boy wonder in the irredeemable Batman and Robin, resurfaced from his two-film stint as Robin only to play Meredith Grey’s ultimately rejected distraction from McDreamy in the early seasons of Grey’s Anatomy (don’t ask me why I know that).

Donning the cape and tights was a career defining role for him. But not in a good way.

For every Chris Evans (he was Johnny Storm before he was Steve Rogers) there’s a Chris O’Donnell.

For every Ben Affleck (Daredevil, anyone?) there’s a Topher Grace (has anyone heard from Eric Foreman since he tryst with the symbiotic Venom goo? Is he alright?).

For every Ryan Reynolds….you and Brandon Routh get the idea.

Labels have a tendency to take on a life of their own. The same can be true in other professions as well.

Sticking with the superhero theme for a moment, I was labeled the “nerd pastor” early on in my tenure at my former church.

And to a point, the label fit, as they often do.

One needn’t spend more than a few minutes on this very blog to discovery that I am a tad nerdish in my affinities. And in the year 2017 ATDK (After The Dark Knight), nerd is the new Miles Davis.

But in leaning into the “nerd-pastor” label, a relatively narrow facet of my greater identity became larger than life.

So much so that I was later able to theme an entire sermon around the scandalous reality that I actually also like sports. Imagine that.

Fair or not, labels can become all or nothing ventures, exercises in missing the point.

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Since starting this blog I have come to be associated with the “Progressive Christian” label. This isn’t terribly surprising, especially since I have claimed the moniker (noun: a name) more than a few times.

And many of the doctrinal stances I have articulated certainly correspond with those of the larger, albeit often vaguely defined movement dubbed progressive Christianity.

But I don’t love the term “Progressive Christianity”, and long before I begrudgingly claimed it for myself, it was placed upon me, unsolicited.

If it fits though, even if imperfectly, what’s the big deal?

On the one hand, there is a lot of hubris in assuming that one corner of the ideological spectrum has a monopoly on progress.

On the other, it must be acknowledged that progress in itself has historically proven to be something of a fickle and subjective savior. One person or group’s “progress” so often comes by the silencing or stifling of another.

There is also the presumed association between the term “progressive” and the term “liberal”, a correlation that problematically ignores the precise ideological, theological, political, and philosophical categories and movements that have been historically associated with the latter term.

Put simply, the term “progressive” has too much baggage to be so neatly tied to a movement that is in itself far too diverse to comfortably rest under a single label anyway.

Any number of professing Christians might be identified with Progressive Christianity who, apart from a (presumably) novel rejection of (actually novel) evangelical orthodoxy, may actually demonstrate an incredibly diverse spectrum of doctrinal positions.

But there is a yet greater reason that I dislike the progressive label, one that brings me back to my own journey. And that’s the assumption that “progressive” stands in contrast to “orthodox”.

A few friends noted, early on, that my blog didn’t seem all that progressive to them.

In fairness, these remarks came before I publicly denied the inerrancy of scripture and called for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the Church.

But most of the pushback I have received (and it honestly has not been much) has come from readers who feel as if I am embracing the progressive label uncritically.

Their charge to me is that in following my convictions on one topic, evolution for example, I am unreflectively taking on so-called progressive positions on a number of other topics – such as LGBTQ affirmation – when a more nuanced stance would be more appropriate.

The suspicion here is that some of my positions are being held because I wrongly assumed I have to hold them to fit within a particular ideological group or to adhere to the expectations associated with a certain label, in this case, the progressive Christian label.

I guess that makes sense.

For many in my life, the content of this blog has probably come as something of a shock. I very consciously (and I’d argue, tactfully) withheld my convictions – at least publicly – while employed at my former church.

And I don’t say that to disparage my old church.

Most of my journey was known privately among the pastoral staff. And I greatly appreciated their willingness to navigate the tension of employing a pastor who wasn’t doctrinal aligned with the rest of the church. Being tactful about my convictions was the least I could do.

Until I couldn’t. And neither, any longer, could they.

So I left, friendships in tact.

But the presumption that, in my new found freedom, I’ve taken to a sort of unrestrained progressive gluttony, shamelessly discarding the faith of my past for the shiny, edgy new faith of tomorrow does violence to a long, cautious, prayerful, and still ongoing journey.

And that same presumption carries with it additional assumptions about the nature of right Christian belief (i.e. orthodoxy) that are – ironically – themselves uncritically taken for granted.

The problem is a historical one, manifesting in two related but ultimately unique ways.

The first is simply an ignorance to the long and diverse history of Church (big ‘C’) doctrine. Many of the positions that modern (western evangelical) Christians assume as simply given are actually historically novel, having come to prominence in the last century or so, if that.

In many instances it is the evangelical position that is more revisionist and/or (ironically) “liberal”, at least in the proper, academic sense of the term. But that’s a topic for another post.

The point here is that the first mistake many Christians make when they throw around the progressive label, usually pejoratively (adverb: expressing contempt or disapproval), is a failure to realize that many so-called progressive stances have rich histories in the early, medieval, and/or pre-modern Church.

But there is a second mistake, also related to history, that is more sinister. And that is the utter failure to account for history itself.

This issue is more nuanced than the first, though I have introduced it a few times before (namely here, here, and here).

The idea here is that many Christians equate history and/or tradition (and by extension, scripture) with divine revelation itself.

To be sure, in distancing myself from this stance I am planting my flag in a very particular theological camp.

There are many Church historians and theologians who would have no issue identifying divine revelation with some combination of history, tradition, and/or (a particular interpretation of) scripture.

Some of these thinkers pull it off more consistently or compellingly than others. And many of them would (and do) certainly garner a progressive label of their own were their work examined alongside what generally passes for evangelical theology these days.

But I want to be very clear that I do not count myself among their ranks.

I am, in protesting (spoiler alert for the next post) their stance, of the opinion that revelation can never be directly identified with its historically bound medium.

More simply, God transcends the means by which we come to hear or experience God. Or, rather, God speaks God; everything else it witness.

And witness is always filtered through a lens, a culture, a context. No one witnesses neutrally.

Which means every historically bound interpretation of God’s revelation is open to re-interpretation in a different time and place.

That’s not license to say anything goes. Nor do we just pick and choose from scripture and bend doctrine to fit our culturally influenced whims.

But it’s an acknowledgment that the traditional is conditional. 

I’ll say that again so you can fill in the blanks there in your sermon notes. In will also be up on the screens. The traditional is conditional (a little mega church humor).

It’s also, ironically (there’s been a lot of irony in this post), evidence that perhaps some of those accusing me of uncritically adopting certain positions to fit a perceived label are actually guilty of that very misstep themselves.

But to hear me unpack that claim, you’re going to have to wait until the next post.

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In the mean time, check out these excellent Twitter threads by my blog’s unofficial resident professional theologian, David Congdon.

These are on the academic side, but they are also presented in 140 character or less intervals for easy reading!

On Tradition – This is basically a smarter version of a lot of what I wrote above

Leaving Evangelicalism – Thoughts on why people (like me) become disenchanted with the faith that was passed onto them.

Evangelicalism and Postliberalism – This thread discusses different movements in the modern (western) church and spills into a lot of what my post above addresses.

Universalism, God-talk, and Appropriation – Not directly related (though not unrelated), but if you enjoyed the first few, might as well keep going.

Evangelicalism, Authority, and Exclusion – More loosely related to my post, but definitely on theme with the rest of these threads.

Evangelicalism, Sexuality, and Christ – I’ve already posted on this one here, but it’s worth another look (or a first look if you missed it).

And if you’re enjoying this Twitter thread format, check out these great posts by Richard Allen. We’ll call him one of the blog’s adjunct theologians and compensate him accordingly.

Tillich, Event, and Revelation – This one actually touches on the some of the same content and my post.

Evangelicals, Apocalypse, and Ideology – This one does more loosely, but if you’ve made it this far, finish the set.

Episode 5: And Then I Chose to Walk Away: On the Calvinism of David Roberts (part 2)

Have you ever had a great idea that you just couldn’t shake? But then when you finally get the chance to see it realized, you come to find out that it was a terrible idea that only made sense in your head? That’s sort of how it went for me and Calvinism. It made sense on paper when when I start to apply it in real life, it began to fall apart.

I remember sitting in a church service and the pastor said something to effect of, “every person you have ever seen is a person who Jesus loves, who he died for.”

Wrong! 

Or at least that’s what I thought at the time. I realize that plenty of self-described Calvinists differ on this point. But in that moment, inspired by the Calvinist pastors and theologians who were most influencing me, I could not agree with the claim that Jesus loves and died for everyone. Or at least I couldn’t agree that he loves everyone in the same way.

And that scared me.

I mostly worked with students at the time, and I found myself wrestling with what to tell them, how to pastor them. The God I believed in was great. But I wasn’t sure he was good. If good meant something different for God than it did for us, then good didn’t actually mean anything at all.

But as far as I knew, Calvinism was the only intellectually rigorous game in town. And beyond that, I was pretty convinced the Bible taught it.

So I was stuck.

Quite ironically it was a blogger at The Gospel Coalition, the prior-discussed Calvinist super-site, who (inadvertently) bailed me out. This particular blogger, Trevin Wax, liked to live on the wild-side. And by that I mean he actually engaged with non-Calvinist theologians and authors and wasn’t entirely critical in his engagement.

At the time, Trevin was working his way through Scot McKnight’s book, The King Jesus Gospel. And he actually (mostly) liked it! With Trevin’s implied endorsement, I figured this McKnight fellow must be alright and decided to dig a little deeper. I soon found myself perusing McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed on a daily basis.

Now, McKnight is a pretty avid blogger and he covers quite a bit of ground on his site, reviewing numerous books, offering copious (adjective: abundant in supply or quantity) amounts of theological and social commentary, and bringing in a lot of interesting guest writers. He even devotes two days a week to posts about science and faith!

My blog roll at the time still mostly consisted of a laundry list of Crossway authors. But in McKnight I had found more than a smart, intellectually stimulating non-Calvinist.

I found an inviting gateway to an entire world of compelling Christian thinking that I never knew was out there.

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My shift away from Calvinism didn’t happen over night; it would be a few more years before I stopped self-identifying as a Calvinist. But it definitely began with my disenchantment over how to pastor well as a Calvinist and my subsequent discovery of the wide world of non-Calvinist history and theology.

People often ask me how I came to a more progressive expression of Christianity. I usually reply that I just kept reading. And while there is obviously more to it than that, in the case of my Calvinism, that’s more or less exactly what happened.

The more I read from historians, scholars, theologians, and pastors outside of the popular Calvinist movement, the more I realized how narrow my thinking had been and the more sure I became that there are better, more life-giving articulations of Christianity.

Becoming convinced that a Calvinist interpretation was not the best reading of certain key biblical passages played a big part as well.

I maintain a great appreciation for many of my old Calvinist influences. Tim Keller remains a pastor and preacher I greatly respect. And I’m still a big fan of John Calvin himself.

But my post-Calvinist faith is so much more vibrant, so much more hopeful, and so much more willing to embrace the mysteries of God than the icy certainty I had before.

And so in an ironic sort of way, I am incredibly grateful that God in his sovereignty led me away from Calvinism.

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There are a lot of reasons that people embrace Calvinism. For some it’s as simple as the accessibility of the resources which promote it. The new Calvinist movement that so enamored me has done a truly remarkable job of making their theology practical and accessible for the masses. They have leveraged social media, blogging, and their influence with prominent publishers to maximize the reach of their written work. Meanwhile, events like the Passion Conference serve to pass Calvinistic theology onto masses of young people.

And that’s all before we even get to some of their celebrity preachers like Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, and the ever-controversial John Piper and Mark Driscoll. Many an aspiring pastor has drawn from (or straight up copied) the sermons of these four men.

Even those who vehemently disagree with their theology would do well to take a page out of the Calvinist promotional play book.

Others are attracted to the certainty that a Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty offers in an increasingly chaotic world. It’s no coincidence that the rise of Calvinism in America followed soon after the September 11th attacks.

But for many, an adherence to Calvinism is as simple as being convinced it’s what the Bible clearly teaches. Passages like John 3 and 6, Romans 8 and 9, and others can appear, at first glance (and often out of context) to clearly teach a Calvinistic notion of salvation.

Unpacking why I think the Calvinist’s reading of these passages is faulty deserves it’s own post. So I won’t attempt to make that argument here.

But I would encourage anyone who is convinced of Calvinism on the assumed strength of some of the aforementioned passages to explore the work of Roger Olson, Greg Boyd, Austin Fischer, David Bentley Hart, Brian Zahnd, and the countless other Christian pastors and thinkers who, though they respect it, have chosen to reject Calvinism. The aforementioned Scot McKnight and previously highlighted Richard Beck would be great resources as well.

So don’t take my word for it. If this topic interests you, dig into resources on both sides and see what you think for yourself!

And don’t forget to contribute to this discussion by commenting and sharing!

Episode 4: God Made Me Do It: On the Calvinism of David Roberts (part 1)

It can be fun to go into a Chipotle or a Pei Wei (Starbucks is too easy) and pick out the dudes who work in vocational ministry. It’s not a terribly challenging endeavor. If their attire doesn’t give it away, the Underoath sticker on the backs of their MacBooks will, a remnant of their youth pastor days (feel free to substitute Underoath with Emery, Further Seems Forever, Mewithoutyou, Thrice, or Norma Jean).

While styles have shifted subtly over time, we’re still in the era of skinny jeans – though ripped jeans are making an inexplicable comeback. Flannel remains timeless and the plaid button down seems to have miraculously outlasted the v-neck in most circles (but make sure the top button is buttoned). And I’m pretty sure it was worship pastors that invented to t-shirt/hoodie mashup…though they might have stolen the idea from Bill Belichick.

Also denim. Lot’s of denim.

Meanwhile, hair styles seem largely inspired by an unholy union of European Soccer and Japanese Anime, though you might see the occasional rebel insisting the faux hawk is still a thing.

And if you want to tell which dudes are the worship leaders, take everything I described above and then picture it in its most advanced form. Worship leaders are the pinnacle of ministry-dress evolution. Plus the non-prescription glasses they wear are a dead giveaway.

But if you want to add a smidgen of difficulty, try to guess their denominational affiliation based on minor stylistic differences. Sure, regional variants exist. And many local networks have unique offshoots. But spend a little time in a particular region and you should be able to tell the non-denoms from the mainliners.

But there’s one group that requires literally no skill to decipher. Big, envy-spawning beard? Congratulations, you found yourself a Calvinist.

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There is no intra-Christian rivalry greater than that which exists between progressive Christians and Calvinists. The Catholic/Protestant divide has nothing on the Twitter induced war stories that are shared between these two groups. Christian blogging is largely subsidized by ad revenue gleaned from their exchanges. Rumor has it that said revenue funded the creation of the ESV Study Bible.

To be fair, much of the disagreement between progressives and (usually male) Calvinists has less to do, at least directly, with the theology most closely associated with Calvinism (predestination/election, more on this below). Rather, much of the rancor stems from the stance many Calvinist theologians and pastors publicly take on the roles of women in the home and in ministry, and/or LGBTQ inclusion in the life of the church. Nevertheless, with some laudable exceptions, there remains a great deal of tension.

I need to clarify here that there isn’t any one, all-encompassing definition of Calvinism. And so my discussion of it here cannot to be said to have fairly described all who might self-identify as a Calvinist. At the risk of grossly oversimplifying things, Calvinism is a particular offshoot of Reformed Theology (another diverse category) which is especially associated with the Canons of Dort (a funny name for the results of a council of sorts from which the infamous T.U.L.I.P. acronym arose – more on that below as well).

For many, the above paragraph raised more questions than answers. There is a lot of church history to navigate here, which I have no intension of exploring at this juncture. In the present discussion I wish to narrow things even further and focus on a particular public and popular expression of Calvinism that has gained popularity and momentum in the past decade or so. This movement, sometimes dubbed “New Calvinism” (among other things), is most closely identified with the likes of John Piper, Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, Al Mohler, and a host of other pastors and theologians often associated with The Gospel Coalition, including the ever-controversial Mark Driscoll. And not too long ago, I counted myself among their ranks.

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A brief aside (nouna remark that is not directly related to the main topic of discussion):

Despite the snark that opened this post, my relationship with Calvinism, as a self-identifying progressive Christian, is not entirely antagonistic. As I mentioned prior, there isn’t any one Calvinism. In fact with an ample amount of qualification and clarity, there remains times when I might still self-identify as one. But those details will have to wait for a future post.

What’s more, I have many dear friends and family members – some of them pastors themselves – who are Calvinists. This post isn’t directed at them. It’s my story. Nothing more.

It’s also important to understand that there isn’t any single definition of a progressive Christian. Think of it more as a loose affiliation than a militantly bordered sub-group. Nevertheless, that is also an exploration that must await a future post.

Today I simply mean to describe my relationship with the aforementioned popular expression of Calvinism that has become so prevalent in the American church, even among those who do not self-identify as Calvinistic or even Reformed in their theology.

Now back to the story….

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I became a Calvinist after college, soon after I moved to Arizona. To be sure, I would have likely claimed the mantle prior that point. My parents had become Calvinists not long after they became Christians. And many of the pastors and mentors in my life affiliated themselves with Calvinism to lesser or greater degrees.

But I didn’t take ownership of the theology until adulthood.

At the time I was living with my uncle, himself a committed Calvinist. And through his influence I was exposed to a steady avalanche of popular Calvinist thinkers. I’d known John Piper and, to a lesser extent, John MacArthur. But the work of Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, and especially Mark Driscoll were new to me. It was like drinking out of a fire hose. But I loved it.

You see, I have always been attracted to theological expression that engaged the mind above all else (which I’m sure comes as a huge surprised to everyone). That was especially true immediately following my college graduation as I was still wrestling through some personal brushes with atheism (as alluded to here).

In these “new” Calvinists, I found a bold, intellectually robust faith expression that – at the time – instilled within me an excitement towards my faith like nothing I had ever experienced. I couldn’t get enough.

Blogs were read. Podcasts were consumed. And most of all, books for purchased. My Amazon Prime account bent under the weight of my fervor. It helped that Calvinism was experiencing something of a resurgence at the time. The “Young, Restless, and Reformed” movement, as it had been dubbed, was sweeping the nation and its reach had grown long. Even pastors who didn’t consider themselves Reformed or Calvinist found themselves reading Tim Keller books, listening to Mark Driscoll and Matt Chandler sermons, and encouraging their youth pastors to blast the music of John Piper-approved Lecrae during student events.

My favorite book, however, which was more of a tome (nouna book, especially a large, heavy, scholarly one) really, was Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I literally carried it around with me everywhere I went which, I assure you, looked ridiculous.

But it was my Bible.

And I was a fanatical evangelist for its gospel.

This was also about the same time I began my journey into vocational ministry. I had been serving as a middle school leader at the church I has been attending and soon after was invited to take on an internship at that same church.

The church itself was not explicitly Calvinist. But so vast was the movement’s reach at the time that our church inevitably drew heavily from some of its biggest names. That wasn’t enough for me though, and I actually contemplated requesting a meeting with my church’s lead pastor to exhort him both to be more explicitly Calvinist in his theology and to urge him to adopt an exclusively expository (verse by verse through books of the Bible) preaching style, which was one of the stylistic hallmarks of the ongoing Resurgence.

Calvinism defined me for nearly three years. But around the time my internship ended, my mania had begun to wane and I had even begun to entertain the notion that there were other viable expressions of the Christian faith. My journey out of Calvinism had begun.

So what happened? Well if you truly must know, then you’ll just have to check back tomorrow for part two of this story!

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It occurs to me that some of you might have read through this post without really knowing what exactly Calvinism is. If that’s you, I encourage you to click some of the links earlier in the post that will take you to some basic definitions.

But for the tldr (too long, didn’t read) crowd, know that Calvinism is most associated with its doctrine of Salvation, which argues that before the creation of the universe, God ordained (predestined) that some (the elect) would be saved and that he therefore predestined (be it actively or passively) that the rest (the reprobate) would be damned.

Chilling, I know. But not without some (apparent) biblical support.

Calvinists (in)famously follow a set of salvation-related doctrines which they (boldly) dub “the doctrines of grace”. They are represented by the aforementioned T.U.L.I.P. acronym which stands for:

Total Depravity – the notion that humans are totally sinful at birth, lost on account of Adam’s original sin.

Unconditional Election – the idea that God elected (predestined) some for salvation based on no merit of their own but purely based on his loving grace.

Limited Atonement – the claim that atoning power of Christ’s death was limited to the elect and therefore effective and final in securing their salvation. There is no potentiality in Christ’s work, therefore ruling out human effort in salvation.

Irresistible Grace – the notion that God’s grace, bought in Christ and mediated by the Holy Spirt, cannot be rejected my those whom God had chosen.

Perseverance of the Saints – the idea that because salvation is wholly a work of God who guarantees its effectiveness, that it cannot be lost or abandoned if one is truly elect.

This sort of theology raises big questions about the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human free will, which usually forms the crux of any debate over Calvinism’s viability. We’ll explore some of that tomorrow.

Until then, share, discuss!

Episode 3: The Evolution of David Roberts (part 2)

In what is likely the most controversial statement I have made in this blog’s infancy, I must admit that I did not care for the movie “God’s Not Dead”. That’s actually an understatement. I thought it was awful, and not just from a production standpoint (check out this review for a more complete explanation of my disdain).

Some of my favorite movies of all time are either explicitly or thematically religious (“Tree of Life”, “Donnie Darko”, “The Lord of the Rings” adaptations, to name a few) so please don’t take my thorough dismissal of “God’s Not Dead” as some sort of cliche or trendy antipathy (noun: a deep-seated feeling of dislike; aversion) towards Christian movies.

But in addition to the sub-par production and and thematic challenges (again, see this review), it also struck me as deeply untrue, at least on a personal level. While my college years brought about the onset of my embrace of evolutionary theory, they hardly followed the stereotypical narrative that paints the secular university as a predatory adversary to faith.

Now, to be fair, I didn’t take a lot of science classes. But I was a liberal arts major (English and Communications). And if any discipline has the reputation of being hostile to faith (particularly Christian faith) on a level that rivals that of the physical sciences, it’s the liberal arts/humanities. After all, the word liberal is literally in the name (this will be funny to some).

And yet my professors seemed to have an – albeit occasionally bemused – appreciation for how my faith informed my academic work. Jeff Metcalf, a professor for a handful of my literature courses, actually insisted that I make my faith a central part of my analysis. Vincent Cheng, who advised me on a handful of larger research projects (and instilled in me a love of James Joyce) saw faith as a powerful muse for the life of the mind. And I still, to this day, use insights taken from Howard Horwitz’s critical theory class in my theological studies.

So while the expansive reading and critical thinking I engaged in during my undergraduate years may have conditioned me to ponder my faith and its relationship to science anew, it certainly didn’t seek to undermine my beliefs, nor did it send me whimpering into the waiting arms of secular humanism.

But I did have two close friends walk away from faith while we were in college.

So while their apostasy  was prompted by more than just a reconsideration of Charles Darwin’s infamous theory, the immediate fall out for me centered around the viability of God in light of evolution.

And it didn’t take me long to decide that choosing between them was a false choice, and that anyone who insisted on pitting one side against the other just has his or her head in the sand. All I needed to find was a few decently respected Christian intellectuals who affirmed some form of evolutionary theory without abandoning their faith. Not a difficult endeavor in the age of Google.

And just like that, my defense was made. With a few clicks of my keyboard I had become functionally agnostic to the “how” of creation and merely dogmatic about the “who”. After all, who cares how God made things as long as he’s the one who made them?

I think it’s human nature to react defensively when our guiding narratives are challenged. For Christians, especially the ones raised on nostalgically cartoonish depictions of the Genesis creation accounts, those guiding narratives are often instilled early. And while I saw my position as an enlightened, nuanced, and reasoned middle way, my response – at least at the time – to the existential crisis at hand was championed just as uncritically as that of those with whom I disagreed. It would actually be a few more years before I took on a more informed stance.

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While serving as a pastor in Arizona, no issue got me “called into the principal’s office” more often than evolution. To be clear, I was given quite a bit of space to explore my personal convictions while at this church. And I was allowed to hold to my beliefs openly, provided that I was willing to present all sides of an issue and self-aware about the context in which I was sharing. No problem there, at least on this issue.

But, and perhaps understandably, it still caused some tension. The great irony is that I left far more firm in my position than when I arrived. And I may not have arrived at the strong stance I hold today had I not been pressed while at my former church.

It all started early in my time there when I was hanging out with one of the other pastors, a man who was and remains a very dear friend. I don’t remember how, but the topic of evolution came up and I expressed my ambivalence (nounthe state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone) towards taking a strong stance one way or another. My friend, who is a staunch supporter of a very conservative position on the topic, challenged me on my causal stance, arguing that it was a very important issue for the church.

I took his exhortations to heart and resolved to give the topic a much deeper look than I had in college.

And here’s where the irony comes into play. As I studied the interplay between Christianity and evolution with greater fervor, I came away convinced of not only their compatibility, but also the veracity of evolutionary theory.

Oops…

And that’s honestly as far as the story goes. In the four or five years since I began to study the topic more thoroughly I have become progressively more confident in my position, to the point that – as I mentioned at the onset of this discussion – I really don’t think about it much anymore. It’s a given for me.

But here’s the most important detail and one I stress anytime this debate comes up:

The theory of evolution could be disproven tomorrow (it won’t) and I would still argue that the Bible does not promote a literal, seven day creation account as advocated by many conservative Christians.

It’s not lost on me that this is perhaps the most provocative statement I’ve made yet, even more so than my categorical refusal to acknowledge “God’s not Dead” as a valuable cinematic achievement.

So let me be clear, I am of the opinion that not only the Bible itself, but Church history as well, gives us ample reason to doubt a literalistic reading of Genesis 1 (and 2) before the natural sciences are even taken into consideration.

That science then offers what appears to be a contradictory account of creation need not confuse or alarm us. We are instead free to be intrigued, excited, even awed by the natural wonders of creation, confident that God’s self-revelation to us through his Word (a big theme for future posts) is secure.

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So to recap: I affirm evolution full stop. Human, macro, micro, all the categories. And I do not believe there is a true tension between Christianity broadly and the Bible specifically when it comes to this issue because I actually believe the Bible, properly considered, does not call for what I’m calling a literalistic reading of Genesis’ opening chapters.

Again, for some, these are big claims. And so I’ll devote a third (and for now final) post tomorrow unpacking them further. Hope to (metaphorically) see you there!

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