In order to start any conversation about evolution & religion and whether or not the two are mutually exclusive, I believe we need to start with matters of Biblical Authority and Biblical Interpretation.
Biblical Authority is the conviction about what is accurate about the Bible. Sometimes words like “inerrant” (without error), “inspired” (coming from God), are used to describe a position. The church body I belong to says that “the canonical (those books the church has agreed upon) Scriptures are the written Word of God. Inspired by God’s spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.” It continues that we accept these books as the “inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of (our) proclamation, faith, and life.”
For many of my Christian brothers and sisters, this isn’t enough. They lay claim to the “inerrancy” of scripture and that scripture is literally true in all matters. What is at stake for them is that if any one part of scripture “is not true”, it calls into question all the rest, or at the very least, opens Biblical interpretation to the need to first determine whether something is true before we decide what it means for us. This is no small problem. For the most part, those who hold that evolution and religion cannot peacefully coexist are those who hold this very high standard for scripture.
While I believe that the “inerrancy” claim goes too far, those who hold this position are right when they say that questioning inerrancy leads to additional questions for interpretation. But for me, it adds depth and meaning to the text.
For example, scattered through this posting are colloquialisms and ways of saying (writing) things that are particular for our language and culture. I’m acutely aware of that in my common speech when I’m in conversation with non-native English speaking persons, or people from other cultures. Some of what I say, using “figures of speech” have to be nearly incomprehensible. The more I study scripture, the more I see this same complication to communication at work. In fact, some parts of scripture are simply being playful when making a point.
An example I use often is the book of Jonah. Jonah is given a task by God that Jonah wants no part of. In fact, he opposes God and does everything possible to avoid following God’s direction. That’s where the fish (it is not a whale in scripture) comes in and swallows him, placing him back on God’s task. It is a delightful and funny story about how God’s purposes will be accomplished, and that unexpected events in our lives might just be God’s had at work. I encounter the story of Jonah as a parable … a teaching story … a legend. Is it true? Yes. Is it historical? I doubt it. Did it happen just the way it is told? Probably not. Jesus told parables … only the people, situations, and outcomes were made up. The heart of the story, what it meant was true.
This is where I begin with scripture. There will be many who will not accept this starting place, and as a result, there will be no real common ground available. So be it. Those who continue this path with me will find some very helpful ground covered. From here, we can begin to look at the creation stories (yes, plural!) in Scripture from a little different perspective.
I’ll leave that for the next time.