Colossian Blog
May 9, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen

Upcoming Event: Evolution and the Fall Panel Discussion

If there was no historical Adam, what happens to the doctrine of the Fall? How does the evidence for evolution change our understanding of the origin of sin—and does it even matter for Christians in their everyday lives?

If you’re in the Grand Rapids area, join us on May 11th at 6:30pm for a panel discussion hosted by Eerdmans Bookstore and The Colossian Forum. The discussion will center on the new book Evolution and the Fall and its implications for Christian education and discipleship.

Our panelists will be James K. A. Smith from Calvin College, Michael Gulker from TCF, Pastor Ken Lucas from Crossroads Bible Church, and Rev. Dr. Stephen Holmgren from Grace Episcopal Church.

If you attend, you can purchase a discounted copy of Evolution and the Fall. We will provide a free gift with each purchase of the book at this event.

For more information, visit this event page. Hope to see you there!

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The Unpredictable Practice of Showing Up
May 31, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
The Unpredictable Practice of Showing Up
Today we welcome Jeremy Bork to The Colossian Blog. Jeremy is a 2017 graduate of Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Living into his call to youth ministry and love of creation, he will serve this summer as the Assistant Chaplain at Camp Fowler, an RCA wilderness camp in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. He recently accepted a call to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, and will transition into that role in the fall. He participated in a Colossian Way pilot group earlier this year. Last spring I was asked to participate in a small group at Fellowship Reformed Church to test out and offer feedback for a curriculum that sought to engage church conflict around human sexuality. Without much consideration of what they were asking and what I’d be getting into, I said yes. I would later learn that small yes was a greater yes to The Colossian Way, and that yes would come with a cost. For the next ten weeks I gathered every Thursday with members of Fellowship to listen, wrestle, pray, play, apologize, testify, and give thanks. Resisting the world’s seduction toward division, we showed up, sat around one table, read the same sacred texts, prayed to the One we all follow, told our stories, and shared our visions for the future and present of the church. We chose community over tribe, hospitality over hostility, empathy over judgment, and compassion over fear. The Colossian Way insists that participants speak their truth in love. Both words matter. First, truth: say what you need to say. Don’t water it down to get everyone in the room to agree with you. At best that leads to a superficial, integrity-lacking illusion of unity. Instead speak fully and boldly the truth you need to say. Second, love: speak kindly and compassionately. Never say something to intentionally hurt another person. Be aware of the effects your words might have on another, and be ready to receive how someone else experiences your truth. During these ten weeks, we tried our best to speak our truths in love, but too often our gentle, West-Michigan-nice fronts walled us from faithfully speaking our convictions. During our last meeting, Brian broke the barrier. He turned to me and shared about how badly he wants to love me but how his traditional convictions about biblical texts that address same-sex behavior haven’t changed. He genuinely wanted to know how his beliefs affected me and what he could tangibly do to make me feel loved. I thanked him for his honesty and responded transparently. I shared about my sincere thankfulness for our friendship and that he loves me best when he listens to my story to understand and not to respond. I also shared that while I would perhaps worship at Fellowship sometime, I would never bring my boyfriend. Our vulnerability opened others in the room to share what they had wanted to for nine weeks. It was sloppy and beautiful. Let’s Talk LGBTQ With current denominational and institutional divisions around beliefs about LGBTQ people, the student counsel at Western Theological Seminary (my very recent alma mater) felt like this was a needed topic to address. Considering I had been at Western for three years without a single public conversation about something that affected me so directly, I felt like this was long overdue. Together we pitched a community conversation to the seminary leadership. Once the event was approved, it only made sense that it would be facilitated by representatives from The Colossian Way, considering they are what we hope to be: a community that creates space for people to willingly, bravely, and hopefully enter into conflict trusting that Christ holds all things together. Their vision is honorable but uncommon: Christian communities that behave like Christ. On Tuesday, April 25, the Student Counsel of Western Theological Seminary hosted a community conversation titled Staying in the Dialogue in the Midst of Difference: Let’s Talk LGBTQ. As a result of student counsel’s organization, Stacey Duensing’s tenacity, and my pestering, the seminary took an important first step: breaking the silence. I was a panelist for the discussion, along with Brian, the pastor of Fellowship and fellow participant of the TCW group the year before. While on the panel, Brian asked if I felt like “The Token Gay” during last year’s pilot. I grinned and spoke my truth: “Absolutely! But it didn’t bother me, because I knew going in that that’s what I would be. It was important enough to me that an actual LGBTQ person was part of the pilot that I was willing to be that person. It also didn’t bother me, because it was only for 90 minutes a week. At the end of our meeting, I could walk away. That has not been true during my three years at Western. I don’t get to walk away. I am the token gay always. As much as I wear my pain-avoidant smile, being me here is exhausting. I hadn’t realized just how depleting seminary has been for me, and I don’t think I’ve completed grasped how long it will take to heal, to be restored, to return to being just Jeremy.” For a moment I was heard, I was seen, I was known. Unlike the countless walks through the halls wondering who affirms my presence and who wishes I wasn’t around, I sat grateful for the chance to name what is true and hopeful that in opening myself others might do likewise. The conversation continued. Rob asked more questions. Brian and I stayed in the dialogue. We listened curiously, shared truthfully, and questioned genuinely. Our words were unscripted yet deeply formed by our love of God our love for one another. Some who attended the community conversation were upset that Brian and I hugged after we shared such blatantly opposing beliefs on the panel. Noticing the power difference between the two of us, they were uncomfortable that our gesture implied all LGBTQ people should be reconciled to their non-affirming elders to the point of physical embrace. While I understand where they are coming from, Brian and I didn’t fabricate a friendship on April 25. We are actually, authentically friends. We drink coffee and talk about church leadership. When we run into each other at the gym, we sacrifice a squat to catch up with one another. We hugged after the panel, because we have a past, we will have a future, and we are grateful for one other in the present, despite all the ways our friendship is complex. I believe in The Colossian Way, because I believe in the way of Jesus. The ideas of The Colossian Way are not new, but they are radical. It is the simple and unpredictable practice of showing up. It is a foretaste – not a glimpse but a first taste – of the life to come where there’s enough, where everyone belongs, where all of life is connected. It’s an invitation to a way of peace, unity, and empathy rooted in the disciplines of Jesus, and saying yes to this lifestyle will come at a cost. For me, it has required bravery, vulnerability, fierce truth telling, and active listening. At times it has been tiring, irritating, and lonely. But it has been worth it. I have felt the Spirit move in surprising ways. I have seen God’s image revealed in unexpected people. I have heard a fuller telling of the good news of God’s love. I have tasted and seen that Christ truly does hold all things together.
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.