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The Election is Over: Long Live the King!
November 8, 2012 | James K.A. Smith
The Election is Over: Long Live the King!
The morning after an election can be a difficult time for Christians, no matter who is elected.  Inevitably, there will be some who are elated, others who are dejected, and if Facebook or Twitter are any sort of barometer, the relation between the two is not exactly a model of Christian unity. Locked in the echo chambers of our fragmented "tailored-for-me" society, we too easily tend to assume that brothers and sisters in Christ share our partisan loyalties, and thus become shocked--shocked!--when we hear a fellow Christian who seems to disagree with us.  It turns out that what seems a straightforward relationship between our Christian confession and our political leanings is not so straightforward after all.  And our inclination is to then call into question our sister or brother's Christian faith! There is, of course, another option on the table here, which is to perhaps reconsider the supposedly straightforward overlap between our Christian confession and particular partisan loyalities. It doesn't take too much imagination to realize this case of political division within the body of Christ is analogous to the "party lines" that often separate us when it comes to matters of faith & science, creation & evolution.  And addressing such divisions is exactly why The Colossian Forum was launched. While we don't often articulate this, in fact The Colossian Forum is called The Colossian Forum because we believe Paul's letter to the Christians in Colossae diagnoses a situation similar to our own.  The factions and divisions that beset the church in Colossae were a result of Christians allowing secondary matters to trump the primary conviction that all things hold together in Christ.  You might say their problem was disordered allegiance: they had let their allegiances to particular parties and factions--which emphasized certain "positions" on matters of secondary concern--to effectively trump their common and core allegiance to the risen Christ who was to "have first place in everything" (Col. 1:18).  Instead of "holding fast to the head," the Colossian Christians were clinging more tightly to partisan identities (Col. 2:8-23). Into this situation, Paul wrote his letter, admonishing the Christians in Colossae to find their center--their primary allegiance--in the One who is "before all things" and in Whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17).  That's the admonition--and invitation--that The Colossian Forum wants to bring to the contemporary church in North America.  And it's a timely word when our partisan loyalities--whether political, or positions on origins--threaten to trump our common confession in Christ. I had opportunity to be reminded of this on election night this past week.  On November 6, 2012, the day of the presidential election, I  was at St. Andrew's Church in Mount Pleasant, SC.  I had been invited to speak on the theme of the church and the sacraments at the Ridley Institute, their marvelous venture to equip the body of Christ through sustained theological reflection in the local church.  The invitation came a long time ago, and as we were a couple of months out it dawned on me: they had scheduled this for the night of the election!  I emailed Rob Sturdy, associate pastor and overseer of the Ridley Institute, to see if this had perhaps been an oversight.  "Did you realize," I asked, "that you've asked me to come to speak on the night of the election?"  "Yes," he replied, "it shouldn't be a problem."  OK, I said, a bit intrigued. On the evening of the election, as polls were closing and first returns would begin to stream in, I was amazed: here were 200 parishioners at church on election night, eager to learn about ecclesiology, baptism, and the Lord's Supper.  What kind of place is this?, I asked myself. Rob then stood up to introduce me, but first began with this announcement: "I know it's election night, and I have some very important news that you'll all be interested to hear: Jesus is still the risen King!"  Brilliant.  And true.  And just the kind of centering confession the body of Christ needs to hear in fractious times. My lecture, as I said, was on the sacraments.  Following St. Augustine, I emphasized that the sacraments are really the "civics" of the City of God; they are the school of charity for citizens of the heavenly City.  This is why The Colossian Forum is committed to the centrality of worship as that practice which trains us to keep the ultimate ultimate, and the penultimate secondary.  It is in worship that we are re-centered in our primary allegiance to Christ, which should trump all secondary, partisan loyalties.  In the disorienting animosity that can follow an election, it is good to be reminded that all things--even nations--hold together in him.
Ecumenical Dialogue - A Waste of Time?
November 6, 2012 | Rob Barrett
Ecumenical Dialogue - A Waste of Time?
If I were invited to participate in a formal ecumenical dialogue, a big part of me would start scrambling for an excuse not to go. What could be more bland and disheartening than trying to eke out a sliver of unity from a group of disagreeing (and possibly disagreeable) Christians? So when Matthew Lundberg mentioned to me that he has been surprisingly enriched and challenged by his work with the National Council of Churches, I wanted to know more. Like me, Matt worried that the world of ecumenical dialogue might be filled with “watered-down Christianity where orthodox doctrine is cast aside in favor of left-leaning political advocacy.” After all, if we focus on what we have in common, we might well be left with a mere hollowed-out shell around some vacuous Jesus-concept. Surely there is nothing to be gained and much to lose! It would be easy to think the same of The Colossian Forum. Imagine a young-earth creationist and an evolutionary creationist talking to one another with respect. What could they possibly say to each other without getting angry and stomping out of the room? Is there anything beyond “let’s just agree to disagree”? As it turns out, a conversation marked by love and hospitality is far from empty. In the same vein, Matt found something surprising at the NCC: “robust, meaningful theological conversation in which historic Christian orthodoxy is highly valued and contributions from particular confessional traditions are taken seriously because of, rather than in spite of, their distinctiveness.” Matt even found it a gift to have his own views “critiqued probingly by folks whose theological vision is tuned to a slightly different frequency than mine, yet who have also invariably treated my own theological perspective with respect, appreciation, and grace.” But as with our forums, Matt was enriched by more than the exchange of ideas. He found shared, robust worship and new (and surprising) friendships to be much more than fringe benefits. So now I’m wondering: how I can get invited to one of these things? Read Matt’s full article. Matthew Lundberg is Associate Professor of Religion at Calvin College. Rob Barrett is the Director of Fellows and Forums at The Colossian Forum.  
What Can an Expert on Marriage Teach us About the Health of the Church?
November 5, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
What Can an Expert on Marriage Teach us About the Health of the Church?
There’s no question that relationships have parameters and boundaries. Despite the common notion that intimate relationships like marriage are unconditional, we all know that there are conditions for being trusted and maintaining the desire to stay in the same room for more than a few seconds. Over at the blog Barking up the Wrong Tree, Eric Barker has recently written on University of Washington psychology professor John Gottman’s work on marriage, the research of which yields four signs that a marriage is at a precarious tipping point: Criticism – Complaints are fine. Criticism is more global — it attacks the person, not their behavior. They didn’t take out the garbage because they forgot, but because they’re a bad person. Contempt – “…name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In whatever form, contempt – the worst of the four horsemen – is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.” Defensiveness – “…defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying, in effect, ‘The problem isn’t me, it’s you.’ Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, which is why it’s so deadly.” Stonewalling – Tuning out. Disengaging. This doesn’t just remove the person from the conflict, it ends up removing them, emotionally, from the relationship. Of course, these “four horsemen” are not the final word on what makes relationships break down, but there are obvious insights here from a scholar of psychology that can be applied to a church full of embodied, relational creatures with human psyches. And given that the focal point is marriage, there are significant comparisons to be drawn between the scenarios of marriage and the scenarios of church families. After all, both groups enter into covenant relationships with each other, and both encounter differences among themselves. But those differences should never be the problem (differences are a given!); rather, how we handle those differences can become the real problem. Here Gottman has given us some examples. When do you see criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling in the church? Do you see it happen when members respond to other members’ positions on evolutionism or young-earth creationism? Do you see it when a member takes a particular position on climate change? There are going to be differences – that’s a given. But as the body of Christ, it’s important that we can maintain the desire to stay in the same room for more than a few seconds. What other insights could the church gain from marriage counselors? Where does the analogy break down?
What a Young-Earth Creationist and an Evolutionary Creationist Would Like to Hear from Each Other
October 27, 2012 | James K.A. Smith
What a Young-Earth Creationist and an Evolutionary Creationist Would Like to Hear from Each Other
I'm often asked just what The Colossian Forum is all about. I'm thankful that now, in addition to pointing people to our mission, vision, and values, I can also point them to a concrete example of the sort of conversation we want to foster: serious, respectful, charitable interaction between young earth creationists and evolutionary creationists, embodied in recent articles by Todd Wood and Dennis Venema. But let me back up a bit. The Colossian Forum on Faith, Science, and Culture was launched to foster a "new kind of conversation." Unlike some other Christian organizations working at the intersection of faith and science, The Colossian Forum is not an advocacy group. We don't represent any particular "camp" when it comes to the creation/evolution debate, nor are we trying to convince everyone to hold a particular position on human origins or stem cell research or global climate change. It's not that we're agnostic about these matters, or that we think they're unimportant; it's just that we think Christian convictions on such matters need to nested, and sort of relativized, in light of more fundamental convictions about the Gospel. So what we do advocate is the central conviction that all things hold together in Christ (Col. 1:17). And we believe this makes a difference for how Christians have a conversation about matters that threaten to divide us. This is why The Colossian Forum is focused on the spade work needed to help the church be able to have such difficult conversations. Our task is not to provide information to settle a debate; instead, we want to foster formation in the requisite virtues of compassion, patience, humility, and charity so that the church can be a people who have such debates well--so that we can grapple with potentially divisive issues in a way that does not compromise the unity of the body of Christ, especially since our witness is tied to our unity (John 17:23). This is also why The Colossian Forum places such an emphasis on worship and prayer: we believe these are the Spirit-charged practices by which we learn to "put on Christ," and thereby put on love. That doesn't make our disagreements go away.  But it does place our disagreements in a new light. It's with all of this in mind that we extended two invitations. First, Todd Wood, a widely-known young earth creationist who teaches at Bryan College (you can learn more about Todd in a recent Christianity Today profile) shared "What I Would Like to Hear an Evolutionary Creationist Say." Notice the posture here: it's not, "What I Would Say to an Evolutionary Creationist," but rather an expression of what he would like to hear. Of course, he has heard all sorts of things from evolutionary creationists--and trust me, not all of them have been edifying. Todd is used to hearing that he is backward, anti-intellectual, ignorant, and more. And in other contexts, no doubt Todd has defended himself, sought to win the argument. But in his article for The Colossian Forum, we were inviting him to something different: to place himself in a posture of receptive listening, while at the same time expressing hope. Laying aside intellectual weapons sharpened for battle, Wood's gambit is surprising: "As a young age creationist, let me take this opportunity to follow my own advice and publicly express my ignorance." That's not a very promising opening if you're hoping to win an argument. But Wood is after something else here: you might say he hopes to win a brother. And so he continues: How can this confession of ignorance ever hope to resolve the deadlock over science and theology? If you’re looking for one side (yours) to prevail over the others, then confessing ignorance is a guarantee of defeat. In an intellectual battle, you’ve got to have answers, right? Admitting that we don’t have answers just makes us look weak. Opponents will never concede that we’re right if can’t answer their questions! Maybe that’s the point. Recall that the Apostles argued amongst themselves about which was the greatest. Undoubtedly, part of that argument must have entailed which Apostle had the most theologically correct understanding of Jesus’ teachings. What was Jesus’ response? He got up and began washing their feet, just like a slave would do. The time for words was past. In that final, living parable, Christ showed us what it is to be great.  Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted. To be great, become the slave of all. When it comes to the origins fight, maybe the key is to follow Christ’s example. Maybe the only way we’ll ever resolve the war is through surrender.  Maybe in surrender, we’ll find out what real victory is. Maybe we’ll find that confessing ignorance is the first step towards finding God’s truth. Maybe we’ll discover that asking for wisdom is just what God wanted us to do all along. Most important of all, maybe we’ll find that we can humbly ask for wisdom together, and in doing so, the world really will see something different about us. This is the sign of a new kind of conversation. So our second invitation went to Dennis Venema, a geneticist and evolutionary creationist at Trinity Western University who has been a longtime contributor to Biologos. Dennis offered a similar reflection: "What I Would Like to Hear a Young-Earth Creationist Say." Now trust me, it's not like Dennis has never heard from young-earth creationists before. No doubt he regularly receives angry emails in his inbox from YECers who have been all too happy to tell him exactly what they think of his faith and about the very status of his salvation. But once again, Venema adopts a different posture: not one of defense, but rather a stance of supplication. As Venema frames it, what he really wants to hear is not just a litany of agreements on scientific data: the most important thing I would like to hear a YEC say to someone of my views isn’t a scientific statement at all – it’s a statement of unity in Christ. It’s the simple “brother” or “sister” that says – “we’re both part of the same family.” Even if we disagree on the mechanism of creation, affirming our unity in Christ needs to be the starting point for the conversation. The Colossian Forum exists to foster space for just such a conversation. Ideally, we believe this is best pursued in spaces of embodied communication, which is why we are committed to hosting forums that provide an opportunity to "practice" the virtues necessary for a new kind of conversation. But since Todd and Dennis have already demonstrated that, contrary to popular belief (and practice!), it might actually be possible to have charitable conversations via the web, we hope this venue might be a place for them to continue the conversation--to engage each other first-hand. And so we've opened the comments below, inviting both Todd and Dennis to respond. But we're also opening the conversation to YOU: so take a look at our Forum Etiquette, and with the goals above in mind, join this new kind of conversation.
Bill Nye, Creationism, and Our Take
October 19, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Bill Nye, Creationism, and Our Take
Bill Nye (yes, the science guy) has received some attention for his recent comments on evolution and creationism. We appreciate and commend Mr. Nye’s passion for science and learning; indeed, his concerns for academic honesty, scientific coherence, and, even more significantly, the future of our children’s intellectual welfare, are deserving of our admiration. Our concern, however, lies with the all-too-familiar rhetoric of polarization. When these two accounts are placed in fundamental opposition as though they represent totally contrasting philosophies on life (notice Nye’s use of the term “worldview”), people typically perceive them as foes without any mutual concerns. Is it any wonder, then, that some Evolutionary Creationists have accused Young Earth Creationists of dissenting into “cultic groups” all because they don’t adhere to the supposed authority of “reason”? (Whose reason are we referring to, anyway? And who deemed it canonical?) And isn’t it typical, given this polarization, that some Young Earthers often conflate evolutionary theory with naturalism (an actual worldview), such that an evolutionist cannot possibly be thought of as a Christian? Imagine the predicament for the church: an Evolutionary Creationist sits in her church pew on Sunday, and during the moment at which the congregation passes the peace, she glances over at her neighbor, a Young Earth Creationist. Now what? Will the saintly evolutionist have communion with the cult-follower? And will the saintly Young Earther pass the peace with the pagan? Apparently they’ve forgotten the brotherhood and sisterhood they share by virtue of their baptisms. What a tragedy. We believe Young Earthers hold some theological concerns that Mr. Nye has neglected to mention (or, perhaps, that he doesn’t understand). This is not an insignificant claim, because many of these theological concerns are shared by Evolutionary Creationists. What’s more, these theological insights can speak to science. If the universe is held together by Jesus and infused with His divine presence, we need not and should not say that science alone has a monopoly on nature. Rather, since Jesus is always “behind” the details of nature, theology necessarily informs our explorations of this universe. That is why Stephen Jay Gould’s “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” – the notion that science and religion have autonomous and separate “domains” – is simply untenable for Christians who believe nature is held together and infused by Jesus. While Nye believes the rejection of evolution renders one’s worldview a silly “mystery,” we would submit that Christians – YECs and ECs alike – already believe the world is undergirded by the Mystery and points beyond to the Mystery. If this is true, then Nye’s criteria for knowledge should be called into question. Finally, Evolutionary Creationism is not a worldview, nor is Young Earth Creationism. Despite what Mr. Nye says about worldviews hinging upon scientific outlooks, Christians’ worldviews are shaped by the Spirit-infused practices of the church (i.e., our worshipping practices). In fact, those practices are our worldview; passing the peace and sharing the communion table mark a proclamation and embodiment of the truth that all things hold together in Christ. And as Todd Wood, a Young Earth Creationist, has recently said, the embodiment of this truth often takes the form of surrender. While the principalities and powers try to pry apart YECs and ECs into partisan categories, we believe Jesus draws all things to himself, including seemingly contradictory insights. To hold to the mystery of the faith, as Paul tells Timothy, is to expect the Spirit to surprise us. In the end, we might be surprised to find that the Truth encompasses insights we’d previously fashioned into enemies. As YECs and ECs pass the peace and embrace the mystery, may the Spirit surprise us with a new thing.
An Atheist Reviews a Christian Philosopher
October 18, 2012 | Daniel Camacho
An Atheist Reviews a Christian Philosopher
Thomas Nagel, University Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, has recently reviewed Alvin Plantinga’s book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. As someone “who cannot imagine believing what he believes,” Nagel is, nevertheless, appreciative of Plantinga’s book and admits: “his comprehensive stand is a valuable contribution to this debate.” Read the rest of this thoughtful and engaging review at The New York Review of Books.