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Reflections on Unity
May 24, 2017 | Josh Webb
Reflections on Unity
As a soon-to-be college graduate who is looking forward to heading out into the world, I’ve realized that I’m inheriting an American society that is more polarized than ever. Republicans hate Democrats, Democrats hate Republicans, and all of us are suspicious of those Independents. As I think about where I may find my next church home, I often read the statements of faith that many churches now publish on their websites. I ask myself if it’s a liberal church or a conservative church. I wonder what position their members and leadership take on gay marriage or evolution. Sometimes, from just a simple glance at a church web page, I uncharitably conclude that, “These aren’t the type of Christians I want to worship with”. I assume that I am not alone in this. Yet are we not one church? Do we not eat at one table, kneel at one cross, praise but one name? Across political, socioeconomic, and geographic divides, all Christians claim the same good news: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us and was resurrected. How, then, do we account for the incredible differences in opinion among Christians today and what exactly do we do about it? The Apostle Paul compares the church to a human body. Like a human body, the body of Christ is made up of many parts. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul writes, “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit”. Each part of the body brings a different perspective, a different understanding, and has a different role to play. But no part can function on its own and all must work together to survive. Even in the tremendous diversity of the body, by God's power there is unity. This unity in Christ has been hard to see in recent times. Christians of differing theological understandings have resorted to schism and isolation rather than attempting the hard work of confronting conflict. And while it may seem easier for rival factions to simply go their separate ways, where is the Christian witness in running from difficult situations? Is our belief in God's power so small that we cannot fathom the bridging of our differences? Is our commitment to Jesus' command to love one another really so weak? Paul's words admonish our actions: "The eye can never say to the hand, 'I don’t need you.' The head can’t say to the feet, 'I don’t need you.'" Our Christian witness is not found in our ability to agree on all things. We are not called to be a church of mindless clones. That is the witness of human culture, which forces individuals to choose between agreement or exclusion. Instead, our Christian witness is found in the fact that we are one body of many disagreeing parts. Our witness is found in our diversity, in our humility, in our graciousness, in our love for God, and in our love for one another. This is something the world cannot offer, for only God can hold together such a messy, marvelous body. As it is written in Colossians 1:17-18 (TCF’s namesake verse), “in Christ all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church ….” Even with Christ as the head, disagreements will still exist among believers. But Christians have a choice when it comes to conflict in their churches. And when we choose to let Christ hold us together, we choose to receive the blessing of his saving grace and the power of his resurrection. The spiritual death that is enmity, division, and suspicion can be turned into a renewed life of love, unity, and understanding. I've seen it happen in my own life. I work at a church whose theological and political leanings differ from mine. Over the years, I've found myself becoming more critical and less gracious in my thoughts toward my church. But God has been working on my heart, and while I still don't agree with some of my church family, I've started loving them in a new way. Instead of loving my church family despite our disagreements, I've somehow come to love them because of those disagreements. I'm beginning to realize that my brothers and sisters who disagree with me are not some sort of trial or hardship, but an example of God's grace in my life. How else are we to experience God's grace and power if not through his ability to renew our lives in the midst of conflict and disagreement? I have been blessed with the time I've had as an intern at The Colossian Forum. My experience here has helped me come to a new understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. As I move forward into this next chapter of my life, I pray for opportunities to put this new perspective into practice, trusting that all things truly will hold together in Christ.
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.
Upcoming Event: Evolution and the Fall Panel Discussion
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!
Global Reflections on Loneliness
May 3, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Global Reflections on Loneliness
Dear Friends, A humbling and rewarding aspect of writing and sending these prayer letters each month is hearing your feedback. Last month’s letter really struck a chord with many of you, as I shared about the underlying issue of loneliness that rose to the surface during a recent experience with The Colossian Way. A lot of our fear of conflict is rooted in our fear of loneliness. Interestingly, we also see that conflict can create and reinforce loneliness. In conflict, many of us tend to either withdraw from relationships and situations thereby becoming isolated, or fight with others who have different perspectives resulting in alienation and separation. One of the responses I received to last month’s prayer letter framed this matter through a global lens. Sandra Costen Kunz, a friend of TCF, recently taught Christian Education at Trinity Theological Seminary in Ghana, West Africa. Here are her international reflections on loneliness: It’s incredibly refreshing to have you name one of the primary “demons” driving the departures from “traditional sexual morality” in Ghana and the U.S.: fear of loneliness. It’s not just departures from that “traditional sexual morality” that are becoming the norm in Ghana and the U.S. now, but also departures from traditional understandings of the ties that bind children, adults, and the elderly together in long-term extended family networks through day-to-day relating, face-to-face time, and mutual care. In both the United States and Ghana, fear of loneliness also seems to be driving the frantic tone of both the ecclesiastical and political contentiousness around the following issues: How people form and fund household economies Where sexual activity fits into household economies How much face-to-face time the young and elderly (who don’t earn wages) enjoy with relatives who do earn wages How our society will support, via tax cuts, various configurations of household economies Naming the fear of loneliness as the root of much of the suffering driving ecclesiastical contentiousness reminded me of the powerful conversations that took place in my youth ministry courses in Ghana. My deeply thoughtful students connected the fear of loneliness with many kinds of suffering Ghanaian youth are experiencing due to changes in economic and sexual norms in that nation. We’re grateful for partners and friends, like Sandra, who help us stay connected with our deep theological core and challenge us to reframe and broaden our vision of a more beautiful church centered on the love of God and love of neighbor. This post is excerpted from our May prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
A Striking, Intelligent, and Respectful Dialog
April 26, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
A Striking, Intelligent, and Respectful Dialog
Last fall, we participated in an event at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI, called Beyond the Creation Wars. It featured talks on origins from our partners Darrel Falk and Todd Wood as well as expanded conversation about their journey together in friendship. We stumbled on this blog post written by Andrews student Mykhaylo Malakhov. He talks about the event, how it shaped him as a scientist, and how it embodied what universities stand for: Here was a roomful of scholars who hold vastly different views on a very controversial issue, yet they were engaging in intelligent, respectful dialogue, viewing each other as both real scientists and real Christians. To me, this was striking. All too often controversial issues such as origins are either approached through a debate format where each side tries to prove the other wrong or through an ecumenical, let's-forget-our-differences-and-focus-on-Jesus approach. It is either a battle to determine who is right or an utter disregard for truth as if it doesn't matter what we believe as long as we can agree on something. I always found both approaches unsatisfactory. The debate approach leads to anger and division, and both sides leave even more determined to keep fighting for their preconceived opinions. I cannot agree with the ecumenical approach either, because being a scientist myself I cannot say that it does not matter what one believes. Either 2+2=4 or it doesn't. Either a theorem is true or it isn’t. Either the earth is young or it is old. To set aside all controversial issues, especially ones as fundamental as the question of origins, would be to commit intellectual suicide. In other words, neither one of these approaches leads to any progress. Neither one leads its participants to a fuller and more accurate understanding of the world, and neither one will ever lead to a knowledge of truth. The Andrews Autumn Conference on Religion and Science, however, took an entirely different path. All attendees acknowledged that truth does matter, yet all agreed to seek that truth together in an open-minded approach where we not only respect each other, but sincerely acknowledge that each of us is a legitimate scientist and a sincere Christian. You can read the entire post here. Thanks for your insight, Mykhaylo!
TCF Welcomes Jan Stump as our new Director of Development
April 19, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
TCF Welcomes Jan Stump as our new Director of Development
The Colossian Forum is thrilled to welcome Jan Stump to our staff as our new Director of Development. Jan is continuing a 30-year vocation of advancing the missions of nonprofit organizations through fund development. Most recently she served as Executive Director of the ACSI Education Foundation, a supporting organization for the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), Colorado Springs, CO. Prior to that she served for ten years as ACSI’s Director of Development and Public Relations and for twelve years as Director of Development at Grace Christian School in Anchorage, AK. Over the years, she has had the privilege of training and mentoring hundreds of school leaders worldwide in fund development and student enrollment. Fueling her work is a passion to better understand what it means to educate students with the mind of Christ, embodying the love of Christ within their classroom experience and beyond. The mission of The Colossian Forum resonated deeply with her desire to see Christian schools increasingly adopt a winsome posture in the world—a posture of generosity, curiosity, and grace. In 2016 Jan joined TCF’s Board of Directors and was soon drawn to this exciting opportunity of partnering with the team in furthering TCF’s transformative vision. Jan received her bachelor’s degree from Seattle Pacific University before moving to a remote Indian village in Alaska where her husband, Don, taught all elementary grades in a one-room school. She earned a master’s degree in literature from the University of Alaska Anchorage, focusing on postmodern contemporary fiction. She has maintained continuous recognition as a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) since 2001. Don and Jan have three sons, three daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. She reads widely, enjoys long walks and treasures the blessed and beautiful monotony of hand quilting. Jan will be based in Colorado Springs, with significant time spent with TCF staff both virtually and in person. You can reach her at jstump@colossianforum.org. Welcome, Jan!