Recently, Joel Houston, arguably the most influential Christian singer-songwriter in the world, tweeted that:
“Evolution is undeniable—created by God as a reflective means of displaying nature’s pattern of renewal in pursuance of God’s Word—an ode to the nature of the creative God it reflects—and only ever in part—not the SOURCE! Science and faith aren’t at odds. God created the Big-Bang.”
Following Houston’s tweet came a myriad response, some positive, others predictably calling him a heretic, and others seemingly confused as to why the discussion was being brought up, Houston should just stick to his songwriting after all, right?
We can be pretty quick to forget; however, that this discussion is nothing new.
Back in 2014, a showdown was brewing that would make every Christian millennial conflicted. The person heralded as the hero of young Earth creationism, Ken Ham, was to debate every child of the ‘90s science hero, Bill Nye the Science Guy (who is making a comeback with his new Netflix series Bill Nye Saves the World). I was asked to write a piece dissecting the debate, understanding the arguments and explaining them to those who may have missed the debate or found the discussion to esoteric.
The debate was pretty terrible by all accounts, and just like so many of the tweets that were being fired back at Houston recently, pretty pointless. (A previous post I wrote for RELEVANT on moving beyond the debate of evolution and creationism, discussing the idea of believing in evolution and being Christian—spoiler, you can—can be found here.)
So where does this get us?
I appreciate Houston’s tweets. As an assistant professor of theology, I am thankful for a few reasons:
- While Christian theologians and biblical scholars have discussed this for some time, it can often seem that mainstream Christianity easily misses these conversations. Houston’s tweets help mainstream Christianity recognize that, yes, theology and biblical scholarship is important and does have an impact within the world we live!
- Houston tweets show us that, as the Church, there is a struggle, not between Christians and Evolutionists, but between Christians who hold to various opinions on this matter. Before we can really engage with those who believe in evolution without God, we have to be better at understanding the issue.
Picking and Choosing
Rather than attempt to dissect Houston’s tweets for “correctness” or “proper doctrine,” as that would be antithetical to this post, I just want to attempt to point out one of the main reasons this topic can be so vitriolic. The struggle Christians have with evolution has less to do with the concept of evolution itself and more to do with how one approaches the Bible. You would be hard-pressed to find a Christian who would deny that God could have used evolution if He wanted to (even if He didn’t).
There are those who attempt to read the Bible in a purely literal way: Those who might say “The Bible says it, God did it, it is plain and clear, and that is good enough for me!” The problem here is that Christians who employ this literal approach to the Bible often pick and choose what they believe is literal. Genesis 1 and 2? Literal. Parts of Revelation with a woman riding a dragon and multi-headed monsters, horsemen bearing plagues? Well, those can be metaphorical.
There are those who attempt to read the Bible to understand it within more of its literary complexities: recognizing poetry, metaphor, narrative and the like. For many here the slogan has often been, “taking the Bible seriously, but not always literally.” The problem here? Christians often pick and choose what they believe is metaphorical.
Scott McKnight helpfully reminds readers of his incredible book on reading the Bible well, The Blue Parakeet, that all Christians pick and choose. Don’t believe me (or McKnight)? Read Leviticus 19. It is a list of rules and laws. Do a little experiment. After each law prescribed by God, answer honestly, would you follow that law? After you are done, pay special attention to verse 37. You may realize you pick and choose more than you first thought.
So where do we go from here?
Both types of readers of the text have something in common, they believe the Bible is true and inspired by God, authoritative and useful for teaching, correcting. Christians who hold to theistic views on evolution (meaning God-directed and initiated) and those who hold to young Earth creationism can take the Bible and their faith very seriously.
Both types of readers can look at the text and recognize something: Genesis 1 and 2 is really important to our understanding of humanity, our purpose, why God created everything (whichever way God chose to)—and, as we move on through the narrative in Genesis, the plight that all humanity finds itself in with relation to God. How we approach the text can differ, but this is why we need to have good discussions on them, not just ignore the complexity of theology and biblical scholarship.
Science vs. Religion: A False Choice
Though Houston’s tweets went through quite a few different concepts all connected to the idea of God using theistic evolution, the most important outcome came within his claim that faith and science are not at odds.
If God used evolution to get us here, then even if we cannot understand how that connects with our reading of the Bible, it is still God’s truth. If God used six literal days to create the world, then, likewise, it is God’s truth. No true and authentic scientific finding is a threat to God. He created science, after all. It is only an opportunity for us to learn more about Him.
My hope is that as Christians we can embody what the world needs: the love of Christ even amid differences. It could be that in reality, it is not the biblical text that has a problem, but the problem lies in how we actually attempt to read it.
I hope more popular Christian figures within mainstream Christianity take the time to understand some of these concepts well and theologically discuss them further. I hope that in a world where many concepts, thoughts and ideas divide people, Christians overcome with unity in the Spirit.
Thank you, Joel.