I am not sure.
I am not sure if the Genesis account of creation should be taken literally. I am not sure how it was understood by those who first received it. I am not sure if they asked the same questions I ask today. I am not sure if they cared about the same issues as those who sit in my congregation every Sunday morning, or those who sit in our Sunday school classes and Bible studies. Were they asking “How did God do this?” or were they asking “Why did God do this?” Which question is the story of creation answering?
I am not sure.
I am not sure about evolution. I rely on scientists to understand and interpret vast amounts of data and develop a coherent explanation. In some ways this is a fiducial relationship – I have to trust that they are honestly handling all the information available to them, and not simply cherry-picking data to confirm their own biases. And I know enough about human nature to know this is a tall order. And, to be honest, it seems scientists change their mind every few weeks about what is best for us to eat, or how to prevent disease. If they can’t get on top of those, how can I be sure they know about something that happened thousands – or millions – of years ago? When I visit Ken Ham’s Creation Museum I realize that the arguments presented there sound persuasive. I read articles by my good friend Karl Giberson, refuting Ham, and I am attracted to those. I can see both sides. And I know that I am not smart enough to decide for myself. I need help dealing with these dualing experts (or at least self-proclaimed experts).
I am not sure.
My lack of certainty about the whole evolution/creation question might not be a very big deal – after all it doesn’t really influence the way I live my everyday life. Except it does. I’m a pastor, and one of my roles is to help folks live their Christian lives in the real world. Thinking about the teens in my church. sitting in high school classrooms and preparing for college, I am aware that this is a big deal. Thinking about the new person, who just moved to our community to attend grad school, I am aware that how we deal with this issue matters. And that member of my church board who has been inviting his neighbor to worship – and his neighbor happens to be a scientist – I know this question matters.
And that brings me around to the problem of litmus tests.
Over the years, everyone from pastors to Sunday school teachers to camp speakers to youth leaders have offered our young people, and our not-so-young people, quick and easy answers as to how to know whether someone is one of “us” or one of “them.” All you need do is ask for their opinion on one or two issues, and you would know. Sure, they might say they are a Christian, they might say they follow Jesus, they might even go to church, but we cannot be sure unless they pass our test. Abortion? End Times? Politics? Alcohol? Creation?
As a Wesleyan, I’ve always been comfortable with a bit of mystery. We don’t claim to know all the answers to every question. We don’t demand adherence to one stance on every controversy to come down the theological pike. There’s room for diversity about many issues that other groups argue over, even split over. We talk about unity on essentials, and freedom on non-essentials. While we might even disagree a bit about what constitutes an essential, we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping the list short. And when we use a non-essential issue as a test, in order to figure out someone else’s spiritual state – well, the litmus test goes both ways. What happens when that same young person who was told that every good Christian always votes with the __________ party finds out differently in the real world? And what happens when that student meets a professor – at a Christian college – who does not match up to the litmus test? And what happens when our young person’s own views no longer match with the “correct” answers? Do we really want them to believe that to disagree with our opinion on a non-essential means they are no longer one of us – and that opinion separates them from the church, and from Christ?
You see, as a pastor in the Wesleyan tradition, I’ve tried to preach and teach that we look to the Bible to answer the most important questions of our lives:
“What must I do to be saved?”
“What constitutes a meaningful life, and how can I live it?”
“How am I to treat others, myself, and creation?”
This is different from going to the Bible to answer every question of life. Scripture does not answer every question, nor is it the source of truth for every issue. When I misuse Scripture by expecting it to answer every question, including questions it was not designed to answer, I not only disrespect Scripture, but I find myself drawing strange lines that separate people in places where a separation is just not necessary.
And for me, this issue is not just a philosophical question, or some abstract problem.
It has a face, several in fact.
It is the teenage girl in my church who will be attending a major, prestigious university next year – and majoring in science.
It is the young, intelligent husband and father who has been coming to my church for awhile, and wants to know if his head as well as his heart is welcome in our church.
And it is the young adult who wants to know if there is room in the church for people like him, who are not satisfied with simple answers to complex questions.
I am not sure.