A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Darwin Trumps Jesus

This last Sunday was Transfiguration Sunday. It was also Darwin (or Evolution) Sunday. On Transfiguration Sunday we remember Jesus' glorification before his disciples Peter, James, and John-- a preview of his resurrection. On Darwin Sunday churches all over America focus on Darwin's theory of evolution which has forever changed the scientific and religious landscape.

I have hesitated to write this post because I have good friends who really get into Darwin Sunday. I also have good friends who reject evolutionary theory. I do not believe that the former have rejected the faith nor do I believe that the latter are dumb knuckle-dragging neanderthals (pardon the pun). In writing this post I risk offending both sides, but what I would rather see happen is some great discussion.

Before I comment on specifically on Evolution Sunday, let me set before you where I stand: I believe in macro-evolution because I think that is where the scientific evidence clearly leads us. It is a logical fallacy to assert as some atheists and Christians do that evolution denies the existence of God. Evolution is a process which God set forward and in which God participates. I do not think that evolution undermines the biblical texts, particularly the early chapters of Genesis. Indeed, I believe that those persons who read Genesis as a report of the "how" of creation misread those texts. Their hermeneutic is too restrictive and ill-informed of how the early Christians and Jews read Genesis specifically and biblical texts in general. I also believe that Christianity and science are not incompatible and those who believe so misconstrue both. My scientific interests are not so much in the areas of biology and paleontology, but astronomy and physics. The latter two disciplines also clearly indicate that the universe is quite old. We must never forget that many of the early scientists who provided the foundation of our current scientific disciplines were people of faith. One does not have to choose between Christianity and science, faith and reason. Indeed, those who draw a sharp line between faith and reason misunderstand the nature of both.

Now having said that, I must say that I am truly puzzled as to why a church would devote a Sunday worship service to Darwin and evolutionary theory? I have no problem recognizing Charles Darwin's birthday and remembering the huge contribution he has made to our understanding of ourselves and our world, but why devote a worship service to it?

I think Shane Raynor of The Wesley Report gets to the heart of the matter in reference to such motivation:

It's the religious liberal equivalent of evangelism. It's almost like they're saying, "Hey, we're one of you! We're not ignorant and intolerant like those other Christians. By the way, we also listen to NPR, shop at Whole Foods and drive hybrids. Please be our friend!

How true. I would also suggest that a fair number of pastors who so relish Darwin Sunday are former fundamentalists who have never been able to come to grips with their so-called "oppressive past," and Evolution Sunday is a cathartic experience which also serves as a way for them to "stick their finger in the eye" of a past they can no longer embrace.

I suppose what bothers me the most is that this past Sunday was also Transfiguration Sunday, a theologically rich event with much meaning for today's church. Instead of dwelling on that, some churches chose instead to use Darwin to trump Jesus. Evolution Sunday is one more example in the history of Protestantism in the twentieth, and now twenty-first century West, of relegating the liturgical calendar to the background in favor of pet issues. It is about time the church recover the liturgical calendar so that in worship the greatest story ever told will be told again and again in worship.

Fundamentalists may have lost sight of sound scientific evidence, but Mainline Protestants seem to have lost sight of the central character in the telling of the Gospel and in the church's worship. We do not need any more special or awareness Sundays, which are nothing more than special interest group politics working its way into the worship of the church. What we need is worship that clearly proclaims that Jesus is Lord by intentionally keeping Jesus at the center of our Sunday morning praise and preaching. I do not oppose dealing with evolution or any other controversial topic in various church venues. Neither am I unconcerned to raise the church's awareness over issues that have been neglected. I simply believe that worship is not the place for such matters. The church's worship needs to be reserved for the heart of the matter. In worship I do not want Charles Darwin, nor any other individual for that matter, trumping Jesus.

By the way, just because many Christians believe in evolution does not mean that religious sceptics and antagonists will all of a sudden find the gospel attractive. In my experience it just means for them that there is one less thing for us religious folk to be irrational about.
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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian


Andy said...

Great, great post. I share your feeling exactly. My background in is chemistry and need to stop the war between science and religion. In the end, they are not competing, they are just asking different questions.

Clay Knick said...


Robert Cornwall said...


Well, I guess I resemble the remark. I've been doing Evolution Sunday from the very beginning. I do it because I believe the faith/science conversation is important. Yes, it was Transfiguration Sunday -- and I did mention it.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on my sermon. I mention Darwin, but he's not the focus of the conversation. http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com/2010/02/job-381-11-liturgical-calendar-may-say.html. You are right, hard bitten atheists probably won't be turned around, but I had a young unchurched man interested in studying evolutionary psychology on Sunday -- for whom this sermon spoke directly. So, I believe that Jesus was honored by my decision!

Chuck Tackett said...

Allan I really appreciate your post. I sit back and think why we feel the need to couch our message in so many different ways, trying to "reach" people. I understand the idea of playing to different audiences but wonder why we feel we can do that better than the Holy Spirit.

Then, of course, someone like Pastor Cornwall brings up exactly why we try to talk about God and our faith in different ways, because it can have an impact.

I struggle with worship that places our ideas ahead of Jesus, but that includes the litergical calendar. Our religious structures can be as much a detriment to worship as special interests.

The answer that comes to me is that we just need to discern God's will and follow it to the best of our ability.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I was hoping you would comment. I will check out your sermon and respond. Hopefully, a good dialogue will follow.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. If you believe in macro evolution (evolution between species) then doesn't it mean that you believe in "survival of the fittest"? That our existance was not planned but a result of environmental factors? I don't believe in a literal 7 days, but saying that macro evolution would fit better with the understanding of the early Jewish and Christian people's understanding of the scriptures seems to be stretching it to me. Am I missing something here? And I read Pastor Cornwall's sermon, and think that it is an example of the thing you are concerned about, that we take one far side or the other. Wouldn't it be fair to present other views? Where is mention of the scientists who believe in micro evolution and intelligent design? Thanks!

Bruce said...

Thanks Allan for a great post.

Robert Cornwall said...

Anonymous -- While there is certainly room for multiple views on issues, in the time allotted for a sermon I don't have time, necessarily to review all the options, especially when I find them lacking in validity. Yes, I take a firm stand on the side of evolution.

As for the issue of "survival of the fittest," I like the idea presented by Bruce Sanguin that the future of the evolutionary process depends on the "survival of the most loving!"

Thesauros said...

Fine, fine post. Well written. thank you.

Chuck Tackett said...

I like survival of the most loving, Bob. I think our culture has gravely misconstrued the concept of survival of the fittest for power and profit. Evolution in the sense of survival is nothing more than how well someone (or animal or plant) adapts to their circumstance.

Jesus calls us to persevere regardless of our circumstance. To be in the world but not of it is an evolutionary call to understand and adapt.

Anonymous said...

Allan said that he would like to see a great discussion. But Pastor Bob said that he does not have the time to present options that he considers to be "lacking in validity." So doesn't that shut down discussion?

Instead of "survival of the fittest" perhaps I should have said "natural selection." Where does God fit in to natural selection in terms of macro evolution? Wouldn't by definition it mean that God could not be involved, other than perhaps putting the initial natural forces into motion? Allan, I would really like to hear your point of this.

Have any of you read "The Case for a Creator?


Pat said...

I wasn't aware of this day. I checked out the gbod website and there was no mention of it under worship helps. Personally, I don't see what Darwin has to do with a worship service and I am glad we focused on the transfiguration instead. Thanks for the interesting information.

Allan R. Bevere said...

OK... great comments one and all. Let me offer some response.

Anon, what I meant about the early Jewish and Christian reading of Scripture was not that they had any knowledge of evolution, but that in the history of interepretation on the Genesis text you see very litle of what we would call today, literal interpretation. In other words, the early Jews and Christians looked to these text for theological and moral explanations and understanding. They did not necessarily take it in the way some people insist upon today. There are folks out there who assume that the early biblical interpreters must have read it literally, but that is not the case.

As far as survival of the fittest, one need not conclude from evolution that human beings are required to act in such a way. Survival of the fittest is not really accurate, it is more accurate to speak of adaptability. By the way, we human beings experience surivival of the fittest all the time in business and government and in many other places in culture. We do not argue that the loser of an election should win the office because survival of the fittest is somehow unacceptable.

As far as fostering discussion, I was really thinking of what people thought of actually recognizing Evolution Sunday. I did not have the evolution debate in mind per se; however, I am more than willing to take the discussion in any direction that you the readers desire.

To get back to natural selection, and I like your qualification here, Anon, I think God is involved in the evolution of creation (remember we are also speaking of the evolution of the universe as well) in the same God God is involved in our daily lives. Yes, God is involved but God also allows us to move in free ways (remember I am a committed Wesleyan). The fact that I may go in a different direction from what God desires does not mean that God is uninvolved; it means that God has given me the freedom to move in contrary ways.

I think it can be argued that the very character of our relational God makes perfect sense in an evolutionary model. God desires to be in relationship with his creation, in the same way God desires to be in relationship with human beings. Since we are finite God must enter into our time and space to be in that relationship. This is not process theology that suggests that God changes, but that God must come into our time/space situation and journey with us. The Bible refers to it as walking with God. Why should the way we relate to God be somehow different in character from the way God relates to the rest of creation?

At the very heart of our faith is Incarnation. God with us and involved with us and also allowing us to do what is right in our own eyes. Evolution is not about an uninvolved God; it is about a God present with his creation and loving it enough to allow it to go in ways that are also truly free.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I really appreciated your sermon. I especially liked what you did with the text from Job. That is one of my favorite passages.

My issue is not bringing evolution into a sermon. I frequently bring critical issues and current events into my preaching as a springboard into a larger theological context, which you did quite nicely in the sermon.

What bothers me is why we feel the need to have a special Sunday. We mainliners have more special and awareness Sundays than we can shake a stick at and we are running out of Sundays to add more.

I have a UM colleague of mine who frequently criticizes evangelical and independent denominations for their lack of observance of the church year, and yet he celebrates every special and awareness Sunday to the hilt, not realizing that, while he is not ignoring the liturgical calendar, he is certainly undermining its storyline.

That is really what's got me troubled.

Robert Cornwall said...


Thanks for the kind comments. If you look at the 5 sermons I've preached on Evolution Sunday, you will see that I've tried to focus on keeping the balance. One year I even took a look at care for the environment.

I understand the issue of deviating from the liturgical calendar. There are a lot of special days, and we can focus all our attention on them. I don't do too much of that.

I'm really more concerned with how the civic calendar defines our worship. Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Mother's Day, etc. They can be bigger than Easter, and cause even greater angst in congregations than leaving out Easter or Christmas. I wonder how many sermons were preached this past Sunday on Valentine's Day. I expect quite a few, if my site meter is any indication. I had preached a sermon on the Power of Love two weeks earlier and it was getting a lot of Saturday hits!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. You certainly know how to encourage discussion.

Regarding the discussion of preaching evolution rather than the transfiguration, I ask this question: How does a sermon about evolution align with the vision of the church? In my opinion, all sermons should align with our vision. If a sermon about valentine's day talks about God as the origin of love, then it may align with our vision of teaching about the nature of God. If we preach about evolution in order to make a group of people feel included, we risk making an equally large group feel excluded if alternate views are presented. All of us who have been through public education have learned about evolution beginning in grade school. Alternate views such as intelligent design are not included in the public schools, so we rely on the church and sunday school to help educate us. But a 15 minute sermon presenting only one view does not do that. So I would propose that an adult Bible study would be a great place to discuss Evolution Sunday. It would give time to look briefly at alternate views, help those with different views to feel included, and if people wanted to know more a lesson plan could be devised.

Regarding other civil days that are recognized in the church, such as Veteran's day, I would again say does it align with the vision of the church? In the churches I have attended, including my current church, recognition of that day includes a prayer or some similar act. It is not the focus of the sermon.

Anonymous said...

Correction, I meant to say "we risk making an equally large group feel excluded if alternate views are NOT presented."

Allan R. Bevere said...


I am completely with you on the civic calendar. Too often it trumps the liturgical calendar as well.

These thing ought not to be.

Allan R. Bevere said...


While I think that the sermon can be educational in nature, I see it primarily as proclamation. I do not see it as an obligation of the preacher to present "all sides" in a controversial issue. I am sure that if a parishioner disagreed with Pastor Cornwall, he or she could approach Bob on an individual level and they would have a discussion. This has happened to me many times. I have an open door policy on my sermon. If I say something you don't agree with, come see me and we will talk.

Certainly any sermon topic should connect to the larger Christian narrative. I don't have problem using evolution or Valentine's day as a starting or jumping off point, but I do think the preacher needs to connect it to the larger vision of the gospel.

As far as using Sunday School and such venues to discuss controversial topics, I am all for that and have practiced such in my ministry. I always try to create a context where everyone feels comfortable in expressing their views.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good post. Yes, we remembered Transfiguration Sunday in our Evangelical Covenant church. And I was unaware that that was a special day in remembering Darwin. That would be anything but well received by our congregation, neither do I know where our pastors Jack and Sharon (married) stand on the issue. Our denomination is basically evangelical, though we're not part of the NAE, but we seem to have ties to evangelicalism and mainline Protestantism.

I like what Bob is doing, but I tend to side with you on this, Allan. And I agree there's a place in church, as in teaching times, to broach this subject in helping people see how science does not undermine nor trump faith. And how we can accept science while committed to the faith.

Dr. Tony said...

Interesting piece and I can see where there would be a discussion.

I did post a piece for Evolution Sunday (“That Transforming Moment") even though my interests are also not in paleontology or biology.

As you pointed out, the particular combination of events might have been confusing to some.

The choice of Transformation Sunday to be the Sunday for Evolution weekend came more because Darwin's birthday is fixed (2/12) while Transformation Sunday is driven by the liturgical calendar. For me, as I pointed out, it was also Boy Scout Sunday and that is a day of particular significance for me. I trust that I did justice to all three events.

For those who are interested in what Evolution Weekend and its sponsoring group, The Clergy Letter Project, are about, there is a link in my piece to the home page.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your comments. I will check out your post, and I hope others will as well.

Kurt Willems said...

Wow, this was very interesting to me. I come from an anabaptist and a bit too evangelical tradition. Never in a million years would we have Darwin sunday... i have never even heard of it. However, I am a 'convert' to theistic evolution over the past two years or so. I echo your stance presented in this post, but also appreciate your concern about missing out on an event of huge theological significance. The transfiguration is much more important to us than the modality God used to create and the celebration of the 'father' of evolution. Good balance on your stance. Thanks!