The Risks of Love and Life’s Big Questions
A few weeks ago, I was asked to give a public lecture on a complex set of subjects: evolution, evil, and Christian theology. As I prepared for my address, I thought about the importance of seeking plausible answers to life’s biggest questions. And I pondered the risks involved.
Northwest Nazarene University’s science and religion club sponsored the event, and I felt honored to be asked to speak. A professor from a nearby university addressed evolution and evil from a Hindu perspective. It was my task to lay out possible Christian responses.
I began by saying that Christians believe Jesus Christ is central to understanding God, living life well, and to understanding something about creation. This kind of beginning may seem strange and perhaps a bit off topic, given that I was supposed to be talking about evolution and evil.
I think it important, however, to keep Christ central in a Christian response to evolution and evil. After all, Christians cannot claim to follow Jesus’ first commandment – which involves loving with their minds/intelligence – if they ignore intellectually challenging issues. Issues of evolution and evil are among the most challenging of our day.
As I prepared for my presentation, I realized that engaging intellectually challenging questions requires courage and humility. Too often, Christians shrink from asking the hard questions and dealing with the realities of their possible answers. So they need the Spirit and community of faith to in-courage them. But Christians can be sometimes tempted to think their own particular answers are obviously the correct ones. So they need the humility exemplified best in Christ.
Mature Christians are humble and courageous enough to allow diverse opinions on how best to answer life’s most challenging questions. Smart and loving Christians can responsibly disagree. We must learn to live well amidst our different Christian perspectives.Smart and loving Christians can disagree. We must live well amidst our different perspectives. Click To Tweet
In my presentation, I laid out several Christian responses to issues of evil and evolution. I talked about advantages and disadvantages of each, because I respect each. I also proposed my own answer, one I find most attractive given all of the various factors in this complex set of questions. My answer relies upon a view I call Essential Kenosis. (Those interested in knowing more about Essential Kenosis can read other blogs I’ve written or several of my published books. My forthcoming book, The Uncontrolling Love of God, explains Essential Kenosis more fully than any I’ve written previously.)
After offering my own proposals about how to address evil and evolution from a Christian perspective, I reminded my audience that I don’t have all of life’s answers. Like everyone else, I see through a darkened glass, to use the Apostle Paul’s analogy (1 Cor. 13). Despite only knowing in part, however, I feel called to seek answers that I find most plausible in light of God’s love and life’s most challenging questions.
In the midst of difficult days in my personal life and in our world more broadly, I pray that we are both courageous and humble. Above all, I pray that we put on love, which can bind us together in unity, despite our real and genuine differences (Col. 3:14).I pray that we put on love, which can bind us together in unity, despite our genuine differences Click To Tweet
Tom: I’m reminded again how the core of our Christ-centered gospel seems so hard to grasp by so many. Honestly, it’s sometimes discouraging how hard it seems to live the texts of our sacred book. Thanks for your continued call to be better, be wiser, be careful, and be bold. Blessings on your day!
Very good post. It reminded me of a book by Daniel Taylor, “The Myth of Certainty” which speaks about the risks of being a reflective Christian. Excellent book if you have not read it. And BTW, I am really looking forward to your book!
I think this centrality of Christ is at the heart of John’s teaching to the church in 1 John. As they are struggling with tough theological questions and how to stay unified he comes back over and over again to the centrality of Christ and his lordship. John seems to argue that our true knowledge of Christ as Lord will be displayed in our actions to each other. The only reasonable outcome of fellowship with Christ is fellowship with each other. Whenever i encounter those who disagree with me significantly on questions of life I look to their ability to live in community with others in healthy and redemptive ways. If I see evidence of grace, mercy, and robust community I am far more eager to here their views on Christ.
In the midst of all the discussion wrapping around you & all these current issues, I wonder how certain this claim is that “[Christians] cannot claim to follow Jesus’ first commandment – which involves loving with their minds/intelligence – if they ignore intellectually challenging issues. ” Surely, there are ways of loving with ones mind that does not involve puzzling the hardest concepts to reach answers? Although I feel compelled to puzzle about somethings, most of the issues that you wrestle with have NEVER occurred to me (and many I get stumped for plausible answers after only a few minutes.) Is my love somehow less if I stop there? How much must we push students, fellow congregation members, etc., to delve into the areas that scare them?
Thanks for all of the responses. Jennifer – I almost put in a paragraph that addresses your good concerns. In that paragraph, I talked about different levels of intellectual engagement. I certainly don’t think all Christians will be engaging the same questions or at the same levels. But my point is that those who say something like, “X issues are too uncomfortable to discuss or too difficult intellectually, so Christians shouldn’t address those issues,” are not engaging their minds or allowing others to engage their minds in ways I think Christ would have us engage.
Great read. Tom, too few want to address the intellectually challenging questions because they don’t see the need for doing the hard work of actually examining their own beliefs. They would much rather feel good about things and just love Jesus. Unfortunately, that love seldom a lasts beyond the first difficult season. When they no longer feel good, there is no other basis for their beliefs, so they just move on to the next feeling. Why should our commitment to Christ be any deeper than it is with that hook up last night? Both make us feel good for a time, but did we even bother to get there number for tomorrow?
Doc … I’m having a really hard time understanding why so many believe you are so far off-base in your thinking.
What a fascinating set of topics – evolution, evil, and theology. I’ve been wrestling myself recently with integrating these concepts bc of what seems to be irreconcilable differences. For instance, if evolution is true, and I think it is, then how do we explain evil and death before the Fall? If the Fall introduced sin into the world, does it look different than the natural evil that was already present? Can we hypothesize that by searching history, archeology, and the fossil record that somewhere between 6,000-12,000 years ago, something occured that empirically made all of nature behave differently, i.e, the Fall? Furthermore, if there is an afterlife, at what point in the evolutionary process did it begin, i.e. when we were evolving into homosapians, when did God determine that these livings beings over here will have an afterlife but not these? After 2,000 years of waiting for the return of Christ, at what point do we give up hope – 10,000 years? 100,000 years? 1,000,000 years? If the world has been around for 4.5 billion years and that our sun still has another 4+ billion years of life left in it, what does the Christian faith look like in a billion and more years from now? Does it just eventually fizzle out? What is Sin and is it measurable and observable? I don’t mean evil behaviors, but Sin with a capital S, the ubiquitous force inside us that bends us towards evil/disobedience. How also does Sin integrate with psychology? Where science seems to produce more and more natural reasons for deviant behavior, what role does theology play?
These are all questions that are racing thru my mind begging for answers that sometimes I think using Occam’s Razor is the simplest solution: there is nothing divine and life is better and more easily explained without God than with Him. I hate to say that though bc I have been a believer my whole life but I struggle very much to reconcile theology, evolution, and evil. So, thank you for your work to address these topics.
Dear Tom: as so much controversy swirls around you I want you to know that none of my concerns are personal. You seem like a great guy and a reputable scholar. However, as a pastor on the ORPAC district, I am seeing some of the fruit of your ministry coming out. A near-colleague of mine just told me yesterday that his two teen children came back from a youth-group meeting where their NNU youth pastor told them all that the Bible could not be trusted as historically accurate. His statement is already creating controversy. I am trying to imagine what would happen in my pulpit this coming Sunday if I told the congregation that they could not trust the Bible as accurate history. I would be asked to leave pronto. However, you can tell your students exactly that or write it in a book and face no consequences. I don’t know. Yes, we should have the freedom to explore and even disagree on the non-essentials, but to deny the historical accuracy of Scripture…? Would Martin Luther be in favor, or John Calvin or even John Wesley–I just don’t think so. The inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture is just key in a topsy-turvy world where anything goes. Our young people are leaving the church because there is no solid ground from which they can stand. I still contend that that solid ground is the holy Bible. It can and must be defended against all attacks, and it must be used and revered as God’s word for His people–then-and today. I hope all goes well for you. I am a NTS grad of 1988. We may have had some classes together.