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Our Blog
April 18, 2013 | Lori Wilson

Celebrate the Challenges: a guest post

Anyone who works with traditional undergraduate college students is well aware that they are on a transitional journey as emerging adults. As a biology faculty member at a Christian liberal arts university, I view my role in this process as not only a guide in their understanding of biological concepts but also a provider of resources and learning opportunities that develop them holistically. In my classes, I intentionally expose my students to some of the challenging cultural concerns for Christian believers within the context of science and faith. These relevant issues provide them with rich opportunities to examine, evaluate, and reflect on faithful Christian perspectives that may differ from their own; they also hold the potential to augment my students’ spiritual formation process. As we engage in these issues as fellow believers in Christ, I remind them of the importance of recognizing that since “Christ holds all thing together” (Colossian 1:16-17), there is ultimately nothing to fear in searching for truth wherever it may be found.

In my attempt to fulfill my courses’ learning outcomes for both critical thinking and faith/learning integration, I search for resources from Christian organizations who model a reconciliatory approach to the conflicts within science, faith, and culture. While conducting a web search for appropriate resources, I discovered The Colossian Forum.  I was not familiar with this particular organization but was intrigued by particular phrases on their homepage such as liberating truth, a safe place for the riskiest questions, and a new approach to a new kind of conversation.

In reviewing some of the material available online, I first read their Manifesto which described their aim to equip the church to engage culture in a way that does not fragment the body of Christ. I also discovered that two Christian biologists, Todd Wood and Dennis Venema, had each written an essay at the request of The Colossian Forum. I was intrigued because of my awareness that these two individuals approached their specialty area of genomics from differing Christian perspectives.  Both essays expressed a refreshingly gracious rather than argumentative tone and modeled postures of humility, hope, and receptive listening. The intentionality of both these individuals to model Christ-like virtues in this context was inspirational.

Study on the lawnI decided to assign all three of these readings as the last “integration” assignment for the semester and asked my students to summarize, evaluate, and reflect on the content. Since this particular assignment would serve as the pinnacle of our integrative learning together over the course of the semester, I specifically asked them to reflect on 1) the future orientation of the church in its approach to science and faith and 2) the impact of this biology course on their Christian faith.

In their reflections on the future orientation of the church, the responses were mixed. Some of my students described a newfound hope that the disharmony over science and faith issues would fade:

I hope that churches will begin to have organized meetings where this topic is discussed in an open way and differing perspectives are accepted.

Some students were uncertain:

Unless there is a new generation of theologians and pastors that step up into leadership and address these issues, the church will remain the same.

Still others expressed a pessimistic outlook:

I believe the evangelical church will eventually split. As we can see now, it is impossible to get people to think as one.

Overall, their thinking was unified in the desire that future generations of believers will nurture the unity that is found in Christ.

In reflecting on the influence of this course on their faith, the overwhelming majority of them described a positive effect.  One student commented that

my faith has been strengthened greatly by this class because I have realized that no matter what science uncovers about how God brought about life, all truth is God’s truth and because of that fact I can engage in scientific learning without fears. Seeming conflicts are only a misinterpretation of either the general revelation from God that science provides or the special revelation that God gave us in the Bible. I take comfort in the fact that God works in ways which are different than ours, and which we may not be able to comprehend.

Another student summarized her thoughts by stating:

After being in this class, I think that the most significant point I’ll be taking away is also the most comforting – that science and faith are not in conflict. It was what I’d always subconsciously known, but never really hoped to believe. This makes me feel loved by a very great God, who I can see revealing himself in a way that goes far beyond the box to which I had confined him.

Education is intended to be transformative, and these comments illustrate why I consider it essential for my students to be exposed to not only the challenging questions for the Christian faith being raised by science in our world today, but also to this posture of reconciliation based on the unity amongst believers in Christ, who is Truth.  In my experience, most Christian college students today are seeking a new way forward in these often contentious conversations that come at the intersection of science, faith, and culture.  As a holistic educator, I celebrate these challenges as opportunities for faith development in my students’ journeys to an adulthood in which they will love God and serve others.

 

Mrs. Jane Beers is Assistant Professor of Biology at John Brown University, Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

Suggested Posts
On Loneliness and Resurrection Moments
June 12, 2018 | Michael Gulker
On Loneliness and Resurrection Moments
A year ago, I wrote a prayer letter in response to a surprising outcome of Christians engaging conflict together in the presence of God as an act of worship. Over and over, leaders trained in The Colossian Way tell us that they’re not only discovering the ability to live faithfully amidst conflict, but also how just being together through conflict reveals a deep and abiding loneliness afflicting their lives.    In a spate of recent news articles triggered by a health report, loneliness is back in the spotlight (see e.g., USA Today, US News & World Report, and Comment). In the report, the physiological effect of loneliness is equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is a disease ravaging our nation, churches, and families. Especially concerning is the reality that the primary victims of loneliness are those most awash in an endless stream of digital communication—our youth.  I was struck by these articles, in part, because just the week prior my wife and I confessed to some of our closest friends that one of our deepest spiritual hurts is indeed loneliness. This seems a strange affliction for two people who constantly feel overwhelmed by endless email, tweets, posts, texts, and phone calls. How can we be lonely amidst all this noise? Loneliness, disease, poverty, sickness. These are not words we associate with America or the American church, but they afflict us nonetheless. We feel vulnerable and silly even saying them out loud. Perhaps we’re not the only ones feeling alone—oddballs who need to get it together. According to Jamie Smith’s Comment editorial: “You are alone. Except there are hundreds of thousands of you. You’re not alone in being lonely—not that that makes you any less lonely. Loneliness—often a factor of social isolation—has become a societal epidemic in late capitalist societies. The Centre for Social Justice provides a succinct snapshot in the United Kingdom, for example:       As many as 800,000 people in England are chronically lonely and many more experience some degree of loneliness. 17 percent of older people interact with family, friends or neighbours less than once a week, while 11 percent do so less than once a month. It is linked to cardiovascular disease, dementia and depression and according to some researchers, its effect on mortality is similar to smoking and worse than obesity. One study revealed that it can increase the risk of an early death by as much as 30 percent. In addition to this there is a strong link between isolation and poverty: having two or more close friends reduces the likelihood of poverty by nearly 20 percent.” So, what’s the relationship between conflict (our fear of it and our incapacity to engage it well) and loneliness? My own experience and the experience of hundreds of Colossian Way participants has been that despite ubiquitous digital communication, we are cut off from communion with those we love because of our fear of getting conflict wrong. Ironically, we are most in need of fellowship and friendship at the very places we are most afraid. Hence, we suffer spiritually, emotionally, and even physically from a poverty of friendship. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Mother Teresa said years ago that, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty—it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” When asked by an American reporter to name the poorest country she’d visited, Mother Teresa responded, “I have been to many countries and seen much poverty and suffering. Everywhere I go people tell me of their hardships and struggles, and ask for help, and I give what I can. But of all the countries I have been to, the poorest one I have been to is America.” Somewhat shocked, the reporter informed Mother Teresa that America was one of the richest countries and questioned how it could be the poorest. “Because”, she replied, “America suffers most from the poverty of loneliness.” Let’s face it, our engagement with conflict as an act of worship won’t fix the world any more than Mother Teresa’s cup of water for the dying. Yet, as captives of hope we believe these small acts testify to a reality bigger and more beautiful than we can imagine. Even though we only see “as through a glass darkly” these little eschatological foretastes of what will be enable us to participate more fully in the deepest truth of the world, in contrast to the endless news cycle of violence and conflict.  We can say this with confidence because we’ve seen the kingdom break forth already through our Lord’s death and resurrection, and in multiple iterations of that resurrection in our own lives of worship and witness. As we risk laying down our lives, or at least our arguments, we become a cup of water to a dying world—marking the inbreaking of the new world. And what better way to quench the thirst for relationship hidden at the core of our deepest conflicts.
A Faith and Science Teaching Resource: Expanding the Promise for STEM Education
March 28, 2018 | Michael Gulker
A Faith and Science Teaching Resource: Expanding the Promise for STEM Education
This post originally appeared on the ACSI blog (Association of Christian Schools International). Thanks to ACSI for the chance to share our passion for faith and science learning! Since the beginning of The Colossian Forum (TCF), we’ve used the conflict between faith and science as an opportunity for virtue formation in the midst of often-heated debate. In Christian schools, this debate takes on added emotional intensity because biblical reliability, historical reality, and human value seem to be in question. It is easier to avoid these pressured conversations altogether or charge into them, guns blazing. Much is at stake when believers engage science in either of these unproductive ways. That is why TCF, along with the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, launched the Faith and Science Teaching (FAST) Project, which focuses on the productive relationships found at the intersection of faith and science rather than on the polarization that often occurs in Christian schools and faith communities. Faith and Science Teaching (FAST) According to project co-lead and director of Kuyers Institute, David Smith: “Teaching FASTly means allowing both faith and science to remain in play, each with its own integrity, neither canceling out the other” (CEJ, 5). Such an approach expands the conversation, allowing other interesting and fruitful questions to be explored, such as: What are the character qualities needed to be a good scientist, a good colleague, and a good learner? What virtues are involved in doing careful lab work, in measuring and writing accurately, in observing well, and in thinking rigorously? Are any of these related to Christian virtues? If so, how do we grow in them? What about collaboration? Since professional science is usually practiced in teams, what virtues are needed for collaboration and how might we teach them? How much time is given in school to considering ethical issues that arise from scientific practices? How about the impact of science and technology on society? How do applied science and technology fit into faith-framed visions of human flourishing and love of neighbor? Is there anything about how science is taught that leads students to beauty, wonder, and gratitude, rather than just task completion, deadlines, and grades? What kind of relationship between the Bible and science do we implicitly model in the classroom? Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the FAST Project produced a website that offers free faith and science teaching resources, to equip high school teachers to broaden the faith-science conversations beyond Genesis. It guides teachers in the many ways to look at how faith and science intersect. Considering the Intersections of Faith and Science Most often we relate to the intersections of faith and science according to the truth claims each makes about the world and whether the claims conflict or are in harmony. When these claims align, we celebrate the wonders of God’s creative work and our human capacity to explore and understand it. When they don’t seemingly align, Christians often begin from the conviction that since God is the Creator, faith and science cannot, ultimately, conflict. Therefore, any current disputes between the two must be due to human error and sin. This approach encourages a tendency to think that faith and science only interact when they make conflicting claims. It also offers us little remedy for the error or sin that is causing disharmony and provides little help for relating to non-Christians who reject Christianity because it seems to conflict with science. Relating faith and science based on their truth claims is of obvious importance, but there is a larger context that must be considered if we are to do justice to either faith or science, for both are more than sets of propositions about the world. As Christians, our primary calling is to love God and our neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40), and science is one of the many arenas in which we have the opportunity to live this out. Thinking FASTly means relating faith and science not only according to their truth claims, but also as a way of practicing the virtues called for in these “greatest commandments.” The concept of virtue is a rich area to explore. We often think of virtues as moral traits, like humility, patience, or courage. But the term virtue, in its broadest sense, refers more generally to capacities or abilities acquired through repeated practice to accomplish a particular goal. Considering virtue forces us to also think about practices and our motivations. Read the full post on the ACSI blog.

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