Colossian Blog
June 19, 2013 | Lori Wilson

Limping Towards Charity: From Fear to Anger

Evangelical Faith Cover ArtToday we welcome Dr. Christopher Hays, biblical scholar and friend of TCF, as a guest author. In this 3-part series, he reflects on the formative process behind his writing of the book Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism, which is being released this week.  His story illustrates that the ways in which we engage controversy can ultimately serve to shape us in the image of Christ.

I have a rather classic Napoleon complex. Short, belligerent guy with something to prove: that’s totally me. Granted, I never tried my hand at pan-continental military conquest; my overcompensation tends to manifest itself in an almost principled commitment to conversational contrariety. I’m really the last person who should be writing a piece for The Colossian Forum. (Take a look at the vision statement; it’s all about “reconciling the unreconciled” in the Church.)

I’ve got a book coming out on the subject of “historical criticism” of the Bible. (It’s co-edited by my buddy Christopher Ansberry and collaboratively authored with a bunch of our friends.) Historical criticism is basically a way of asking whether or not things actually happened the way the Bible says they did. It deals with questions like “Was there an exodus from Egypt?” or “Did Paul write all of his epistles?” or “Did Jesus really do miracles?” At the risk of stating the obvious, historical criticism is super controversial among traditional Christians. A lot of the debates over historical criticism have been downright rancorous. And I have to admit that, when I started drafting my book, I also scooped up a lot of rhetorical mud and set to work slinging it at everyone who disagreed with me.

In the end, however, I don’t think the book my colleagues and I produced is another specimen of internecine hostilities. We have been trying to deal with controversy without getting nasty. This post is something of a diary of how I have been learning to disagree differently. Perhaps more accurately, these are the first couple pages of notes on a subject about which I need to learn a whole lot more.

I did my undergrad and a couple of MAs at a WONDERFUL evangelical school, brimming with brilliant professors and students who made me love Jesus a lot more than I had before. I also got a killer education in the Bible there. But we didn’t deal with historical-critical issues in a lot of depth. I think this is probably because the particular way that their Statement of Faith characterizes the inspiration of Scripture (“verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing”) doesn’t leave much room for the sort of awkward historical-critical questions that can really gum up the tenets of Christian belief.

The problem that I ran into, however, is that when I went to Europe to do my doctorate in New Testament studies, I didn’t know how to think about historical criticism. On the one hand, I felt like there were compelling reasons why less-conservative scholars had come to their critical conclusions. On the other hand, I had an inchoate but nauseous sense that these problems might unravel the fabric of my faith in God. Rattling around in the back of my head was the somewhat acerbic rhetoric of conservative pundits who warned against the worldly wisdom of the liberal university. The whole thing was pretty scary. What made matters worse is that I didn’t feel like the evangelical quarter was terribly helpful to me when I was dealing with these problems. There was lots of literature telling me why a given critical perspective was true or false, but I couldn’t find many people to help me think through what would happen to my Christian faith if the historical critics were right.

Fortunately I had a lot of great friends at the Universities of St Andrews, Oxford, and Bonn, and with their help I found my way out the other side of fear. I plotted my views on some of the basic critical issues, and in the end my faith was no worse for the wear (indeed, it was probably stronger than ever). But then, instead of being afraid, I was angry. The emotional energy of fear was transmuted into a self-righteous outrage. I was ticked off at evangelicalism because, instead of endowing me with intellectual resources to deal these significant problems, I felt like the conservative church simply frightened me with warnings that I’d lose my salvation if I ventured into historical criticism. To make matters worse, I was suddenly at risk of angering the fundamentalist momma bear, and I watched aghast as one Christian scholar after another was fired for adhering to critical views that I now shared.

So I decided to put a book together. Its goal was to explain that evangelical Christians don’t have to be afraid of historical criticism, that historical criticism need not jeopardize the cherished tenants of our faith. But in those early days of writing, rolling around in my Napoleonic preconscious was a savage desire to nail to the wall every jumped-up fundamentalist who had ever shot his mouth off about historical criticism. The language of the pages I contributed to the volume was sharp, sarcastic, and self-righteous. And I didn’t apprehend how my pugnacious and bigoted arrogance was rotting my writing from the inside out.

Mercifully, a number of experiences conspired to bridle my temper before the book went to press. In the next post, I’ll explain how fighting about evolution, writing about eschatology, and engaging in missiological pan-handling (i.e. fundraising) have convinced me to try to act like less of a jerk.

*******

Dr. Christopher M. Hays (DPhil, University of Oxford) is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow on the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Oxford. A specialist in the subject of Christian wealth ethics (i.e. how to be moral with money), he is the author of Luke’s Wealth Ethics: A Study in Their Coherence and Character (Mohr Siebeck, 2010). He also takes occasional breaks from theological navel-gazing as an associate of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics. He is a member of the Theological Education Initiative of United World Mission, and in the autumn of 2013 he will be moving to South America to serve as a missionary-scholar in Argentina.

Suggested Posts
Schools Bridging Faith and Science
May 17, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Schools Bridging Faith and Science
This article originally appeared on May 8, 2017, in Convivium, a publication of CARDUS: www.cardus.ca. Thanks for the mention! Controversy over religion and science is nothing new. That’s certainly true in the world of education. Indeed, a recent commentary in the Washington Post lamented 60 examples of what the author called “anti-science education legislation” that could affect what American students are taught regarding the evolution-creation debate and global warming. We may even see the odd flare-up of such conflict in Canada. So, it’s not surprising that public skepticism abounds regarding the ability of religious schools – evangelical Christian schools in particular – to teach science. However, new research by the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative (CRSI) at the University of Notre Dame offers evidence that such skepticism is ill founded. In their newly released paper, Blinded by Religion? Religious School Graduates and Perceptions of Science in Young Adulthood , researchers Jonathan Schwartz and David Sikkink examined religious school graduates’ orientations toward science. Using the latest Cardus Education Survey data from Canada and the United States, they analyzed graduates’ views on a range of subjects, including science, creation vs. evolution, and the number of science courses taken. They found that graduates of religious schools do sometimes hold distinct views on science as compared to public school graduates. But these distinctions aren’t uniform across the board. Neither are they the kinds of distinctions that would inspire popular caricatures of religious school grads as simpletons who believe in a flat Earth. In fact, when it comes to taking science courses, you’d be hard-pressed to find much difference between Canadian religious and public school graduates. Controlling for family background and parental education, Schwartz and Sikkink found that “students at private religious schools enroll in science classes at a similar rate to public school peers in Canada.” The distinction in the United States, meanwhile, is that only homeschoolers (religious and non-religious) were the least likely of all students to have taken courses in biology, chemistry, or physics, or to have had at least three science courses throughout high school. There was little to distinguish American graduates of private Christian schools from their public school counterparts in that regard. What about attitudes toward scientists? You might expect some animosity towards them from religious grads, but you wouldn’t find it in Canada. “Generally speaking, Canadians hold scientists in similar esteem regardless of their high school educational context,” say the researchers. It’s a slightly different picture in the United States. There, graduates of evangelical Protestant schools tend to be less trusting of scientists and assign a lower value to their social contributions than public school grads do. That’s a difference to be sure, but hardly a unique or problematic one from a social point of view. The battle over whether to teach creationist critiques of evolutionary theory is certainly sharper in the United States than in Canada. And that seems to emerge in the research as well. “In Canada, school sector does not on its own increase an individual’s belief in literal versions of creationism, but the U.S. case differs,” write Schwartz and Sikkink. American grads of evangelical Protestant high schools were found to be “more likely to adhere to a literal version of creation than their public high school peers.” What they couldn’t determine, though, was whether this was the result of teaching in science class, or an indirect result of the students’ religious and social lives. In short, it will take more research to draw conclusions about whether these schools actually make much difference in graduates’ creationist views. What about perceived conflicts between religious beliefs and science? On this question, both in Canada and in the U.S., there is little evidence to show that the type of school a student attended affects their likelihood to sense a science-religion conflict. However, the researchers did find that the more high school science courses Canadian students take, the more likely they are to perceive a conflict between science and religion. Notably, though, that holds regardless of which type of school they attended. So, this could be the result of a cultural difference between Canadians and Americans. While the science-religion conflict does not come up in a big way in this research, that’s not to say that perceptions of conflict don’t exist. Some educators are taking steps to equip themselves to handle such issues in the classroom, as evidenced by the creation of the FAST (Faith and Science Teaching) Curriculum developed by the Kuyers Institute and The Colossian Forum. The curriculum aims to help teachers lead their students into studying the intersection of faith and science, possibly reducing perceptions of conflict in the process. Meanwhile, William T. Cavanaugh, DePaul University theology professor, and James K. A. Smith, editor-in-chief of Cardus’s public theology journal Comment , have co-edited a new book that tackles related issues from a different angle. Evolution and the Fall examines the implications for a Christian understanding of creation and the entry of sin into the world if the widely accepted view of humanity’s evolutionary origins are true. Its provocative premise lays bare issues that Christians will inevitably have to deal with. All in all, we do see some differences between graduates of private Christians schools and public school graduates. But they aren’t all that stark or as shocking. If anything, this latest piece of CRSI research is perhaps our strongest indicator yet that Christian schools in Canada and the United States don’t have as troubled a relationship with science as many would expect. What’s more, there are efforts within the wider Christian community to bridge what perceived gaps do exist between faith and science.  In time, the research and bridge-building efforts may increase understanding and support for the vital place that religious schools hold in the education systems of both Canada and the U.S.
Stewarding Conflict
October 29, 2014 | Lori Wilson
Stewarding Conflict
As churches across America wrestle with difficult conversations - sometimes poorly and sometimes well - there is a great deal we can learn from one another. TCF is grateful for the many Christians we encounter who are willing to share their experience and wisdom in transforming conflict into an opportunity for spiritual growth. From time to time, you’ll find those resources posted here to encourage your pursuit of faithful discipleship in the midst of conflict. At the recent Annual Session of the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, Pastor Mark Schloneger introduced the Unity and Variance Discernment Task Force, a small team charged with exploring ways to engage difference in a constructive and transformative way. His talk inspires listeners to develop the capacity to “steward conflict” well, as a way forward in the midst of painful issues that threaten to divide. Mark then introduces Michael Gulker, President of TCF, who reflects on the nature of Christ’s sacrificial love for us – and how this love gives shape and meaning to our own work to love one another, even in the midst of difference. The IN-MI Mennonite Conference has generously offered to share the audio of these messages with you, in hopes that it will encourage you to work in your own context to transform conflict and division into an opportunity for faithful discipleship.