Faith and Science

Church Worship BackgroundsAs many of you know, last month I had the opportunity to take part in a week-long workshop on Faith and Science at Gordon College. Twenty pastors from various parts of the U.S. and Canada (and one from Europe) came together to learn about various scientific concepts, all with an eye toward bridging the gap between the faith community and the science community.
I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I didn’t consider myself scientifically literate and was a bit anxious about finding myself “in over my head”. On the other hand, I’ve also seen and heard the ways that Christians often talk about science and have been concerned with the disconnect. In fact, it is a disconnect that I have felt as well (more on that below). So here are a few of my reflections from my time studying science:

 

Our world is quite remarkable

Honestly, when we look out into the vast universe in which we live and down to the microscopic world that makes up – well – everything, it is unfathomable. The intricate nature of God’s creation is utterly fascinating. Throughout the week, we talked about astronomy and supernovae, DNA, genomes and atoms. We talked about the simple (yet remarkable) fact that we can even study and understand the world around us. And yet, how much more there is that is outside of our understanding, yet to be discovered.
As Christians, when we begin to look at the world around us we are really able to get a glimpse of God’s glory. And although it may not “prove” his existence to a non-Christian, it can certainly give testimony. But for us, scientific discovery and understanding doesn’t diminish (or explain away) God. To the contrary, it helps us understand a bit of his character. Think of it this way: we do not have a God who threw together a simple, paint-by-numbers world, but a vast, complex universe to explore! And he invites us to understand it and to use that understanding to glorify him by what we, too, can create and imagine. And so, as remarkable as this universe is, we have a God who is infinitely more remarkable.

 

A false dichotomy

I have to admit that I have lamented the “secular scientist” who is out to disprove God. And while there are those scientists that would love nothing more than to disprove Christians, science itself does not have that aim (science, in fact, cannot disprove God). And contrary to popular belief, there isn’t “secular science” and “Christian science” – just science.
One of the more fascinating things that we watched was a documentary – a sort of “day in the life of a scientist” documentary. It followed a group of Ph.D. students who were all working on various scientific projects in a biological research lab. Each student is desperately trying to solve some scientific riddle in order to get published and graduate. One student in particular is working on crystalizing a particular protein in order to create at 3D structure that can be mapped and studied (exciting, I know!). Day after day (year after year), he tries a variety of methods in order to map this protein.
What was interesting about the film was that there was really no room for religious bias. He wasn’t doing secular science or Christian science. He was simply trying everything he could in order to ask questions, observe, and seek to understand (and do it quickly, lest someone else does it first!). And within the scientific community are faithful committed Christians, atheists, and everything in between. And they are continually developing new technologies and medicines that we use every day.
Yes, there are those that interpret certain scientific discoveries to claim that religion in general (or specific religious interpretations) are untrue. But much of science is an attempt to discover the undiscovered; to understand as much as we can about this world and to put that knowledge to use. I don’t believe God laments this process of discovery. Rather, I believe that he delights in our desire to understand what he has given us.

 

Room for dialogue

As Dr. Peter Anders (professor of Theology at Gordon Conwell Seminary) put it, “I want us to do really good theology, and do really good science, and have really good dialogue.” This statement was a pretty good summary of the week, for me. Over the last year in particular, I’ve had several discussion with Christians who hold a variety of views and interpretations on science and scripture. These are Jesus-loving, faithful evangelicals who are committed to the mission of Christ. Sometimes we unnecessarily paint other Christians and their views as a threat to the faith. This is unfortunate. Sometimes (whether we recognize it or not) we act as if the Christian faith is some fragile thing that may get destroyed merely by having dialogue with someone with whom we disagree. I confess that this has been my own attitude.
Whether in the area of science and faith or some other “hot topic,” I believe that the church has wonderful opportunity to create safe spaces where faithful Christians can have open, honest conversations – where we can seek to understand each other’s perspectives in order to grow more deeply together.

 

Hopefully, this little recap is insightful (or at least mildly interesting). In the end, the world we live in is a gift from God – one that is immense and full of mysteries to be uncovered. Rather than being suspicious of unwrapping that gift, may we delight in its exploration! Many blessings!
 


Some Post-Canvassing Reflections

I have to say, I was surprised and delighted by the interest and participation in neighborhood canvasing. Not that I would underestimate the people of our congregation, but because I know how hard it is for folks to go door-to-door. We have certain negative associations toward those who go knocking on random doors.
And I assure you, this is not the most comfortable thing for me, either. Nor do I see it as the most effective way of drawing people into the church. But it is helpful in other ways. In fact, it is perhaps more helpful for those doing the canvasing than those receiving the canvasing. In many ways, it stretches us outside of our comfort zones and forces us to see our neighbor.
And so Elias and I embarked on our own canvasing tour, armed with nothing but door hangers, invitation cards, and open minds. I believed that we were going out with a message about Christ and his church, but I came away with a few things learned that I would like to share with you.

First: It’s easy to miss the fact that there are a lot of people who live in Winthrop, many of whom live within blocks of our church.

When you start walking the street, you realize that it doesn’t take much walking in order to give out/hang nine door hangers. In fact, a quick demographic search shows that there are roughly 213 people (comprising 50 families) that live within three blocks of our church.
We quickly and easily drive by these houses without taking much note, or thinking about the people living there. After going door to door (which forced me to intentionally notice the houses and look for the people), I found myself noticing much more on our way home. The people are there. Some go to church, many don’t. There is a mission field here.

 

Second: Of the four personal connections we made during our canvasing, three of these were pleasant interactions.

We can quickly assume that we are unwanted guests who are risking our lives by going to someone’s door. But if we are friendly and non-threatening, most will be friendly back. Sure, we may take them away from their show for a minute, but most people won’t mind if they have a friendly interaction at the door.

Even more broadly speaking, we may assume that people will be offended if we bring up our faith or church in conversations. But you’d be surprised to find that people are actually fairly receptive to such conversations. In fact, some are very intrigued by religious conversations! Perhaps they grew up with a very different church experience and they are curious about how others approach or understand their faith. Trust me: people are intrigued by those who take their faith seriously, and especially if they find that they can have those conversations in a friendly, non-threatening way.

And lastly: Of the four personal connections we made, only one was…awkward.

To be clear, this wasn’t a bad interaction, per se. It was just one in which the person made it clear that they already had a church and gave me every non-verbal cue possible that she wanted me to leave. So I thanked her (I forgot to “shake the dust from my feet”), and moved on. Of course, others may have had more difficult interactions with people and that is also to be expected. In fact, some people have had such painful experiences with the church that they would be more than willing to express to you their most honest frustrations, perhaps using very expressive language. But even in those moments, we can hear and empathize with the pain. Even if for a moment, we can be a new experience of Christ for them. It’s good for us to sit in those moments, and it’s good for them. It is not a wasted interaction.

As we continue to look at the beginnings of the early church, we see a church that did not have the luxury of sitting around, waiting for people to show up on Sunday mornings. Filled with the Holy Spirit and a passion for what they have experienced in Christ, they shared their experiences with others. In certain parts of the world, the church has been seen as a respected institution for a long time, and has been able to rely on its cultural standing in order to maintain itself. But (for a variety of reasons), this is no longer the case. This is difficult, but I also believe that it is setting the stage for something new and profound. The church that survives this is going to be a church that is passionate about the message and is willing to share it, even at the risk of…awkward doorway conversations (or even actual persecution). We hold within us the Good News of God’s Kingdom. May God bless us as we serve our community together!



Post-Radical Reflections

Hands And Leaf Worship Background Image

As you know, over these past several weeks in adult Sunday School we’ve been going through the Radical study, by David Platt. As with any study, there are some inevitable differences of opinion, as the materials strike people in different ways and we may pick up on things differently. That’s the difficulty if any material and, frankly, the difficulty with any sermon I preach, for that matter. In the end, we pray about it, we filter it through scripture, and we discern whether we need to change our perspectives in response. Of course, we do not merely ask the question, “Do I agree with this?” but rather “Does God agree with this?” Over several years of both formal and informal Biblical study (roughly the last 16 years of my life!), reading a fair amount of information from a variety of perspectives, I have learned the importance of hearing various perspectives. In the process, we need to recognize those places in which we need to change or to simply disagree and move on.

With that in mind, I want to help by boiling some things down which have been important, common themes of the study. Setting aside his personal style (he can come across as a bit abrasive to some) or the mountain of information he presents (sometimes very quickly), here are my main takeaways:

Becoming a Christian means having a change of heart.

When it comes down to it, Christianity is not a matter of going to church, reading your Bible, doing certain good works (or avoiding the bad works). While these are important things (see below), they are not the heart of the Gospel. The heart of the Gospel is not merely an external change, but an internal change. This means that, just because somebody sits in the pew on Sunday morning, does not mean they have turned their life over to God (Jesus encounters many who are very good at the good works, but have failed to miss the point). The Old Testament is the story of a people who have external commands to follow without the work of Christ and the Spirit. The New Testament is the story of an internally changed people. See: Ezek. 11:19-20; 18:31; 36:25-28; Jer. 31:31-34; Matt. 23:23 Luke 22:20; 2 Cor. 3:6.
 

Having a change of heart means having a heart that reflects the heart of God

This is, of course, a process of growth. Never the less, God progressively, intentionally, and continuously works on our hearts. Think about it this way: The Bible describes the Holy Spirit as an advocate. We often think of this from our perspective (the Spirit advocates to God on our behalf; prays to the Father with wordless groans), but I think the Spirit is also an advocate to us from the Father. It is through the Spirit’s advocacy that we are convicted and led and changed from the inside, out. If our actions change, but our heart does not, we’re missing something. In addition to the above Scriptures, see Gal. 5:16-26; Rom. 12:2.

Having a God-reflecting heart means caring for the lost, the broken, the vulnerable, and injustice (just as he does).

Dare I say, this is kind of the whole point? This is the simplicity of the Gospel: Gen. 1-2 gives us a picture of God’s good desire for us – a good world of peace, justice and righteousness. Gen. 3 gives us a picture of how that world was broken into a world of injustice, unrighteousness, pain, and oppression. I believe that God’s heart breaks at this – more than we can realize. And if we believe that God desires to change our hearts to reflect his, that means that we – as a community of believers who are conforming our hearts to Christ – cannot stand idly by while we watch the world around us live in (and live out) the brokenness of Genesis 3. The problem in many of our lives is that we live in a context that allows us to ignore the great brokenness of our world or pretend that it doesn’t exist. We can live comfortable lives, we can turn off the news, and we can entertain ourselves with all sorts of pleasures and forget that we live in a Genesis 3 world. But this is never the Biblical vision of God’s people (it is, in fact, God’s critique of Old Testament Israel). God calls us to see the truth around us and engage in the work of God. We do not do this work merely by our own efforts or desires (and certainly not simply because we are “supposed to”), but by the Spirit’s gifting and by the transformation of our hearts and minds. See also: Psalm 9:16; 33:5; 37:6; 103:6; Isa. 58; Amos 5:24; Micah 6:8; Luke 15; 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:14-15; Eph. 2:10.

Regardless of how you felt coming out of the Radical series, my prayer is that these three things are not lost on us. Whether you had a hard time tracking with Platt’s style or delivery or disagreed with his approach, this what it comes down to: Out of God’s love for his creation, he desires to bring restoration and reconciliation. And he wants us to be a part of that. Blessed to be a blessing, brothers and sisters. And this is not meant to be a burden or obligation. Because we were created to live in that good creation, our hearts should burn with excitement to live it out and to see where the Spirit will use us and gift us for his good purposes.

Praise be to the God who loves us just the way we are, but loves us too much to leave us that way!



Mission Friends

FellowshipFinal

Long ago, even before there was a Covenant denomination, there were those who called themselves “Mission Friends”. It was this Mission Friends movement that eventually gave birth to the Evangelical Covenant Church and helped create an ethos – a culture – within the denomination. Through this phrase, these believers sought to communicate two important aspects of their shared identity, something that the Covenant continues to pursue today.

 

Friends

First, they saw themselves as “Friends”. One of the key passages that early Covenanters used was Psalm 119:63: “I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts.” From beginning to end, the Bible provides a consistent message: those who follow God are bound together. Although we separate into denominations and various church traditions and subcultures, we are inherently bound to one another in Christ. We share a common baptism, a common Holy Spirit, and a common mission. And the more we hold to this in a mere theoretical way (while practically, we are divided and suspicious of other Christians), the more that common mission is undermined. Thus, they understood that the Christian faith is inherently a relational faith.
 

Mission

They also recognized that the Christian faith is not merely a social club. Rather, our Christian fellowship is a missional friendship. The whole purpose of our being bound with one another is because of our mission! In Christ, we are sent out into the world with the Good News of the Gospel. Without that, we are merely a group of friends with a common Savior. Instead, we are bound together as a body is bound together – working in order to be Christ’s continuing presence here. Because of this, the church needs to be both internally and externally focused. Internally in that we are called to continually feed that fellowship, through friendship and mutual discipleship. Externally in that our ultimate goal is to glorify God and see people come to know this Savior.

Thus, I want to encourage us to harken back to that early Covenant focus on being mission friends together. Take some time to consider that phrase. Consider what it means for our church body to be mission friends. And may we live into that reality.
 

“I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts.”

–Psalm 119:63



Gathered Together

Youth Ministry Christian Stock Photos

If you’ve been through my membership classes, you are perhaps familiar with the word “conventicles”. Although not a particularly common word for us today, conventicles have a particularly important part of our Covenant history. You see, back in our denominational roots, Christians in Sweden (as well as other places throughout Europe) began to meet together on their own outside of Sunday morning worship. They read scripture, sang, and offered mutual encouragement. Today, these groups are known by various names: small groups, bible studies, cell groups, etc.

Unfortunately, these groups were not always seen in a positive light.

Many within the established church, in fact, worried about such groups, how they might misunderstand Scripture or subvert the church. In England, for instance, the Conventicles Act of 1670 imposed a fine on individuals who were caught meeting together for such a purpose. In part, there was a fear of having the Scriptures in the hands of lay people. Historically, the church has wanted simply to tell people what the Bible says, rather than have people read it for themselves and risk mis-interpretation.

Encouragement for today

Fast-forward to today and we find churches that are actively trying to encourage these gatherings! Today, we find that there is much to be gained by meeting together in a smaller setting in order to develop deeper relationships, to encourage one another and to dig into God’s word more fully. We recognize that, as much as there is to be gained from gathering as the church on Sunday mornings, there is also something about gathering as a small group that we don’t get during those Sunday morning times. So rather than trying to shut these down, churches are now trying to encourage people to be in one (or more!).
 
And this is the case for our church, as well. It is our hope that everyone find their way to engage in a small group. The benefit of deepening relationships and further biblical growth is what we want our church members to experience. We are currently seeking to assist in implementing these small groups by connecting people together, training leaders, and resourcing with materials. And so, if you’d like to know more about opportunities for small groups, please connect with Delaine Elseth. We’ll also be getting information out soon about new groups that will be getting started. But please be encouraged (and challenged): Christians have historically found ways to meet together even when these groups were discouraged and illegal. So please don’t feel like you have to rely upon the structures of the church in order to begin meeting with fellow believers. Get out there! However you can find opportunity to encourage one another in your faith, do it. We want to facilitate those opportunities, but I want to encourage us to find opportunities wherever we find them.



 

 

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