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July 12, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill

Todd Wood on “Surrender”

Todd Wood has recently written an essay that reflects on the church’s attitude of surrender. As he has said in a previous article, the way to sustain the unity of the body of Christ in the midst of a culture war over creation and evolution is to follow the surrendering humility of Christ. Dr. Wood spends a portion of this essay disclaiming the notion that surrender implies a passive and lethargic disregard for the matters at hand. Surrender is not synonymous with nonchalantly ignoring the issues or refusing to understand the deep grammar employed in these conversations.

The posture taken by some Christians who do rigorously deal with the issues is often rather dismissive, despite their passionate research. On the one hand, a person’s intense study of what he or she takes the biblical text to mean might lead this person to eschew the scientific inquiries that appear to contradict or disrupt this person’s interpretive paradigm. On the other hand, a person’s scientific commitments might lead this person to ignore biblical and theological tenets that have been held by the church for millennia (Wood’s example of the dynamic between the creation/fall/redemption narrative and evolution illustrates the point). Both scenarios offer examples of the kind of surrender Dr. Wood does not propose we embody.

Dr. Wood’s notion of surrender takes a cruciform shape. That is, he looks at the passion of Christ as a model of surrender, particularly as characterized in his Gethsemane prayer: “Not my will but thine be done.” As Wood goes on to say, “Christ’s surrender was not to circumstances, the Devil, or other people. Jesus surrendered to God and God alone.”

And then, Wood asks the pivotal question: “How could that work in this debate over creation?”

When we surrender to God and God alone, says Wood, we surrender the selfish desires that are at the root of our aspirations of winning arguments. This reminds me of a story I once heard about a professor who debated another revered scholar on a topic I cannot recall at the moment. The first professor, who was a Christian, happened to believe he’d gotten the best of the other scholar, so he later called another Christian colleague (a theologian), and told him he’d won. “I won! I did it. I finally beat Professor So-and-So!” To this his colleague responded, “What are you talking about? Jesus already won two-thousand years ago!”

Dr. Wood, like the wise colleague, reminds us that the point of pursuing truth is not to have opponents “concede to our superior understanding.” If surrendering is to take on a cruciform shape, this kind of selfishness has no place in discipleship.

Surrender, according to Wood, also assumes that God’s sovereignty is acknowledged. There’s a latent assumption that we are saviors of the world when we think our evolutionist or creationist positions will save Christianity and, hence, the world. The austere crusading mentality amounts to nothing but idolatry, a worship of oneself, because it assumes that God is not (and cannot) sustain the church and hold all things together. As Wood says, “the God who created this universe is still God enough to help us work out our differences.”

Are you currently engaged in a conversation with someone on these issues? If so, good! – These conversations are worth having. But as you have this dialogue, what can you surrender? And how?

Comments (5)
IRBaboon on July 14, 2012 at 9:53 am

Well, you surrendered all the time.
As a very small portion of the creation movement you actually know the sciences and you are HONEST even if it contradicts your views.
You know science disproved young earth creation a long time ago but you think you can comfortably stay undecided.
Not gonna work!

Didn’t you wonder why young earth, flat earth come from certain minority groups?
Why groups and not parts?
What do you think are the chances of those mostly scientific illiterate folks to be right?
You even fight those guys for being dishonest.

What if primitives interpreted gods words mixed with myths calling it the bible? (The koran is a good example with it’s many burned variants.)
How would you know and how should those primitive Christians know?
Why are there so many different christian nominations with different books and myths?
Why is your nomination right?
Because of research?
You just carry your bible like a talisman.

I red you have a mental handicap. Maybe you just can’t adapt to changes

Robinson Mitchell on July 14, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Dr. Wood:
I want to address my note this way in order to respect your academic achievements, which are considerable. But I also want to address you as brother Todd, because we are brothers in Christ, who died for us, suffered God’s wrath on our behalf, and rose from the dead demonstrating his victory over death and sin.

The tone of the blog post on your own blog, and that of this article on Surrender here in the Colossian forum, demonstrate to me the genuineness of your concern for our most important apologetic as followers of Jesus: manifesting his character and charity even toward interlocutors who hold widely differing opinions and who may even be hostile. Your appeal to God to be the one to help us work our our differences is one point on which I think we can agree no matter what perspective we may come from.

You correctly point out that there are internecine debates regarding science, hermeneutic, and theology in both the YEC and EC camps. The broad spectrum of views on both sides should give us cause to check our own motivations and examine fearlessly those areas where we may be feeling fearful or stressed, causing us to act out in ways that may not be helpful to the end of advancing the discussion and finding areas of resonance even when we may differ on important questions.

No one can fail to appreciate your candor toward the scientific evidence supporting evolution as a biological process – you see clearly and acknowledge honestly the challenges current science poses for the YEC position and your willingness to say you sometimes don’t know how to harmonize all of the science with theology.

Having a degree from a conservative theological seminary and great warmth toward my professors and fellow alumni not only of my seminary but other evangelical seminaries, I think I know something of what you feel. A lifelong curiosity about science and decades of reading has brought me to the conclusion that the scientific evidence of physics, astronomy, biology, genomics, and other fields makes more than just a compelling case for inflationary cosmology with the creation of the universe some 13.7 billion years ago, the formation of the Solar System about nine billion years later, and the formation of the Earth about four billion years ago and the development of life along evolutionary lines, all under the providential superintendence of the Creator.

Theologically I also believe that the Creator is also the one who consciously sustains and upholds all of creation moment by moment, and so all of the processes that take place in creation do so under the watchful eye and guiding hand of his providence.

This does not mean I know how to reconcile a billion years of physical suffering and death, of predation, disease and parasitism, and manifold examples of what appears to be the utter indifference of nature toward the suffering of living things long before it looks like there were human beings with God’s benediction, “It was all very good.”

Biblically I want to believe in a literal, historic Adam and Eve and a literal, historic Fall. This makes better sense of the reality of sin and the human need for redemption along with the depravity and fallenness of the world we observe all around us. But science appears to show an emerging population of hominins that at no time was lower than tens of thousands – there is good genomic evidence for the absence genetic bottleneck 6,000 years ago at the time of Eden. I don’t know how to reconcile what appears to be overwhelming absence of evidence for a global flood in geology with the story of Noah, nor again the absence of genomic evidence for a genetic bottleneck 4,500 or so years ago.

I don’t know. The scientific evidence seems strong, has tremendous explanatory power and even beauty, but how then do I approach Scripture hermeneutically? I don’t know. The reality of sin’s pervasive hold on us and our need of redemption seem beyond question: the biblical view of man as a sinner and the power of Christ to redeem have as much explanatory power with regard to human behavior and ethics as does evolutionary theory with regard to biology.

The existence of a community of Christian believers who share my views under the rubric of Evolutionary Creation is gratifying, but the spectrum of theological views in that community includes many views I find distressingly close to heresy. I don’t think that we have any brief to redefine Christianity any way we want to – I want to remain faithful to the authority and infallibility of Scripture, but I don’t know what to do.

Regardless of the position we take in the debate, we ought to desire to be committed to truth, and unafraid of where it leads us, knowing that all truth honors God. In the meantime there are believers who hold differing positions for good reasons. I for one am grateful that there is someone like Todd Wood on the other side of the table. A table, where we can share fellowship – not a battle line across which we must feel compelled to hurl invective and destruction at one another. No need to demur – Our positions are contradictory and irreconcilable, but our shared reliance on Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, on God our Creator and Sustainer, compels us to love one another as brothers and as neighbors. We are also commanded to love our enemies, but we can hope that despite our differences this admonition need not apply in the current debate.

With respect, I extend my hand in Christian fellowship from the other side of the table.

Preston Garrison on July 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Like the previous commenter, I appreciate Dr. Wood’s accomplishments and his spirit in approaching the controversy. What I want to say is that I find his apparent perception that what is at stake rises (or descends) to the level of heresy rather puzzling. I don’t see how evolution threatens the creation-fall-redemption story, since there are ways of imagining a definite fall at some transition point in human development, even if those who fell were not the exclusive physical ancestors of the human race at that point. There is no way of knowing the details, so we would have to agree to admit our ignorance to some extent, but that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

As far as I can see, the big problem for a lot of people is animal death and suffering before the Fall, but I can’t see that as a matter of doctrine. I haven’t looked into it but I have seen it stated that there were those among the Fathers who thought death always existed for animals. At any rate I’m fairly sure that the point was never raised to a matter of doctrine by any branch of the church.

I am a biochemist who was raised an inerrantist evangelical, and I was convinced that evolution happened by long study of the evidence and the conviction that God wouldn’t falsify the evidence. I guess my being convinced was facilitated too by the fact that I didn’t think evolution created any problem for the gospel, although it may produce some intriguing puzzles. Given the history of Christian thought and the Copernican episode, the prolonged evolution controversy isn’t surprising, but I find it frustrating because I see its main significance as presenting a large hurdle to those who might consider Christ but are knowledgeable about biology. For that reason I do think it is important that the matter not be perceived as a matter of heresy – that those of us who think evolution happened, humans included, not be regarded as heresiarchs.

May Jim on July 22, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Dr. Wood says this: “That brings me to the second
ingredient of Christ’s surrender: acknowledging the sovereignty of God. In the
debate over creation, there’s a lot of hand-wringing over what will happen to
the Church if evolutionists or creationists win. The evolutionists will destroy
Christianity, or the creationists will turn us into a cult! It seems to me that
these exaggerations both ignore the power of God. He’s preserved His Church for
two thousand years through some grim and horrifying heresies. Should we
suddenly expect that He’s powerless to guide us through this debate on
creation? Does He really need us to step in and help Him out? Or are we just
betraying our own lack of faith?”

Surrender. Surrender the issue to God and let Him work out
His will and protect the church. And while surrender has some appeal, is that
really what God wants us to do? He tells us to be ready to give an answer for
our faith and to defend the faith.

II Tim. 4:2, 7 preach the word; be ready in season and out
of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 7
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

I Peter 3:15 “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as
holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a
reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”

I don’t think we are betraying our own lack of faith when we
seek to defend God’s Word. I think that is what God intends us to do. God gave
us His Word. He tells us it is truth and will never pass away. Jesus believed
it and the NT writers and the early Church all believed it and I think God
expects us to believe it as written as well.

I agree with you that in the end, God will protect His
Church from destruction. He has a plan for the Church and we will not be free
from blemish until we stand before His throne, but I don’t think that means we
take a passive approach and just say “Let God work out His will.” He
has ordained to work out His will using us, His people.

While the two brothers who posted previously here have a
different view of how to match science with God’s Word than I do, still I have
no trouble accepting them as brothers. Mr. Mitchell said “Regardless of
the position we take in the debate, we ought to desire to be committed to
truth,…” I respect that desire. I think we just have a different
understanding of how we arrive at truth, of how we know something is really
absolutely true.

YECs too believe that all truth does indeed honor God, but
at the same time, if something contradicts God’s Word, then we feel that it
cannot be truth. There must be some missing pieces of the puzzle that we don’t
have yet. We are talking about history – what happened in history that none of
us has observed and that is where the testimony of God’s Word becomes
essential. There we find some of the missing pieces of the puzzle. For
instance, there we find a big clue as to how to interpret the geological record
– the global flood. It is as clear as can be and God gave us His Word expecting
us to believe it. So when things don’t add up scientifically, could it be
because we just don’t know enough about the past to make accurate assessments
of what happened?

Could it be that the eyewitness account of the Bible(after
all the Holy Spirit inspired the writers) is more accurate than science? After
all, if you reject the truth God has given us before you even begin to do
science, then who would ever expect that science could come up with the right
answers when you are working with the distant unobservable, unrepeatable past?

Mr. Mitchell said that our positions are irreconcilable and
unfortunately, I’m afraid they are as long as we use different methods to
interpret God’s creation and God’s Word. I Peter 3:15 says we need to defend
the faith with gentleness and respect, but in the end, I do believe that we
need to defend it, not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of future
generations as well.

The EC view makes God responsible for death, suffering,
disease, and bloodshed in the world as Mr. Mitchell clearly understands. This
idea doesn’t fit with how the Bible tells us how God chose to create the world,
nor does it fit with what the Bible tells us about God Himself. It plays havoc
with the meaning of “very good” in Genesis 1:31.

Plus it means that God did a terrible job of communicating
His truth to us because we have all been misled for all these years, thinking
the earth is young, etc. And only now, thanks to evolutionary science based on
naturalism, do we finally have the right answer to how to interpret Genesis.
Once you open that door, even if you go no further and remain true to God’s
Word, the next generation is at great risk. They can see what we are doing and
they don’t have as clear a commitment to God’s Word as we do. They are
evaluating it all and trying to figure out if they can believe it.

Reality is that YEC views help many people to reconcile
science with the Word and EC views help others. The other side of things is
that both YEC and EC views have had negative effects on people as well. My
guess would be that YEC views have been helpful for more lay people than
scientists while the EC view has been more helpful for scientists than for lay
people, but I really don’t think that has anything to do with which is right.
It all depends on our approach to scientific interpretation(of nature) and
biblical interpretation.

Mr. Garrison says “I was convinced that evolution
happened by long study of the evidence and the conviction that God wouldn’t
falsify the evidence.” I understand what he is saying, but how can God be
accused of falsifying the evidence if He tells us clearly in His Word what
happened. I think He would expect us to believe that and use that information
to help us arrive at an accurate understanding of His world. So, to me, God is
not falsifying the evidence. It is just a matter of how we interpret the
observations we make in nature. I know that is a bit simplistic and there are
things that are hard to explain on both sides, but I would rather take this
view of God and His Word than the EC view.

So, Todd, I will keep an open ear to what you are saying,
but I’m not convinced yet. I can’t understand what surrender has to do with
truth or what it looks like in this scenario. Personally, I believe that in the
long run, because it erodes the foundation and authority of God’s Word, the EC
view is more dangerous. Neither side has all the answers either theologically
or scientifically. Faith is required for all of us by God’s design, so I prefer
to stick with the YEC view.

MattDodrill on July 25, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Hi May Jim,

I’d like to clarify some points made by Dr. Wood on “surrender” that I’m afraid might be missed in your recent comment.

I don’t believe Dr. Wood would disagree with giving reasons for the hope within us, but these “reasons” can take on different forms. One defense of the hope within us is simply our witness of unity in a fragmented world. That kind of defense precludes partisanship within the body of Christ, and it rejects the “defenses” given in culture wars.

Furthermore, Dr. Wood certainly would *not* posit that we take on a passive posture in our common pursuit of truth. That was a major point in his article, as it was in my explication of it. In the second and third paragraphs of his article he provides two examples of what surrender is NOT: it’s not the disregard for the scientific data, nor the eschewing of the biblical and theological tenets held for millenia by the Christian tradition. Word for word, Wood says that “surrender cannot mean ignoring the issue”. Also, “I’m also sure that surrender isn’t just letting the “other side” win. That’s the most obvious meaning of surrender, but that’s definitely not what Christ did on the cross. He couldn’t possibly let the enemy win, especially when His surrender was the very key to victory. If we are to follow His example, we can’t just let the other side win, whoever the other side might be.” That seems to me to be the exact opposite of a lethargic passivity.

Take notice, too, of his assertion that “Surrender must be something more.” Indeed, it’s something more than the kind of passivity you spoke of in your comment. Wood is in total agreement.

If you follow the thrust of his article, you’ll notice that the surrender we should embody is the cruciform surrender of Jesus — it means we surrender the selfish desires that are correlative to positioning ourselves on a partisan spectrum. To position oneself on a side of an “isle” is to participate in the fracturing of the body of Christ, That’s not to say that we shouldn’t take our positions seriously — an evolutionary creationist should take her view seriously, and her disagreements with the young earth creationist should be rigorous. The same is true the other way around. But what *should not* happen is the demonization of one or the other. The disagreements between the evolutionary creationist and the young earth creationist should be a *means to* the pursuit of truth rather than a means of fragmentation. One hope of The Colossian Forum is to cultivate the kinds of virtues that enable us to extend ourselves across the differences between these positions, such that our disagreements become gifts rather than sources of strife. So your voiced concerns are good ones, and some are even shared by staff members of The Colossian Forum. But my question for you would be this: can those concerns be paired with the concerns of the evolutionary creationist, such that you and, say, Mr. Mitchell can work together in the pursuit of truth, situating your disagreements in what you hold in common — Christ crucified, the resurrection, and the unity of the body of Christ?

To do that, one must surrender. That’s what Dr. Wood is getting at.

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