Thomas Jay Oord and Sherri Walker, editors.Nazarenes Exploring Evolution. Part 2 Lexington, KY: SacraSage Press, 2013. 376 pages. ISBN: 978-1937498412
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2016. Volume 34.
Posted June, 2016
Let a man question the inspiration of the Scriptures and a curious, even monstrous, inversion takes place: thereafter he judges the Word instead of letting the Word judge him; he determines what the Word should teach instead of permitting it to determine what he should believe; he edits, amends, strikes out, adds at his pleasure; but always he sits above the Word and makes it amenable to him instead of kneeling before God and becoming amenable to the Word.-AWTozer
When wrestling with inerrancy in the 80s, John D. Woodbridge's Eiblical Authority: Infallibility and Inerrancy in the Christian Tradition was particularly anchoring for this reviewer. J. I. Packer noted it laid bare the "shoddy scholarship" behind two faulty theses. Faulty thesis one: The Scriptures are authoritative in areas of faith and practice, but not in non-salvific matters like historical minutia, chronology, geography, zoology, or other scientific details.
Faulty thesis two: Inerrancy is a novelty of the nineteenth century. Once, when pressed in an interview for my stance on Scripture, I recall a curmudgeonly gatekeeper at a confessional school labeling my inerrantist view as "a late nineteenth century Princetonian construct." I'm guessing it wasn't meant to flatter, and in the ensuing fifteen years at this college I encountered allies for both faulty towers above; artful dodgers very clever at quarantining their personal credo from "handbook dogma;" and camouflaging their true convictions from easy detection. How this comports with any meaningful integrity is a question to be picked up below.
Packer praised Woodbridge's book as a series of "knock-out blows" and a "nasty job" that needed doing. A Woodbridge or two would be needed to tackle the diverse topics, misconceptions, distractions, and camouflage in Nazarenes Exploring Evolution (NEE). This reviewer is no Woodbridge — a deficit amplified all the more since a review can't counter a work 100 times larger. Compounding matters further is the fact that our fieriest emotions seem to incubate in wait for exchanges on origins. That's a confession more than an accusation. No one likes "nasty jobs" and I genuinely have no intent to alienate, hurt, demean, oversimplify or misrepresent. Where I fail, please extend forgiveness. Spoiler alert: straight talk, generalizations, and inelegant lopping off of corners ahead.
First off, the term "evolution" (and "Darwinism") is hotly debated, so it's unfortunate that NEE leaves the burden on the reader to cobble together a definition. It seems the writers hold to a God-ordained evolutionary process as the best explanation for all the diversity of life we see. And that the creator has providentially achieved his purposes via Darwinian pathways, meaning that humans and beasts are the same biological continuum. Thus, what separates the NEE's model of origins from secular university textbook orthodoxy is NEE leaves room for a divine foot in the door; though unfortunately it's never explained how "divine agency" is ferreted from the raw scientific data. Here NEE basically asserts that, "It doesn't matter HOW God created ... as long as one affirms THAT God created" (pp. 16,45,53,64, etc). But as we'll see, the "how" factor is deeply relevant for a number of reasons.
Many in NEE and Church of the Nazarene [COTN] higher education don't hide their embrace of evolutionary ideas nor their denial of inerrancy. This transparency is rare and refreshing for progressives in confessional schools. But those who've fallen prey to the aforementioned two faulty towers don't always stop there. A denial of inerrancy is so often followed by the "monstrous inversion" noted by Tozer. No one familiar with Wesley can conceive of him invoking scientific dogmas to determine which Scriptures are binding or how they're to be exe-geted. Early Wesleyan tradition is not perfect, but who would doubt that the key thinkers in those days were characterized by a complete submission to the incarnate Word and inscripturated Word—striving to submit to the best exegesis of special revelation, and not beholden to the imprimatur of extrabiblical entities.
The COTN Manual doesn't have a commitment to strict inerrancy, though many in the rank and file do. And thus many COTN academics who defend neo-Darwinism bristle at any suggestion that the denomination ever held to anything like full inerrancy, wanting to put as much daylight as possible between themselves and fundamentalism. Square Peg: Why Wesleyans Aren't Fundamentalists, edited by Al Truesdale, is dedicated to this point. But being embarrassed by or denying fundamentalist roots and inerrancy-like commitment to Scripture does not mean they are not there, as shown in McCarthy, "Nazarenes and the Authority of the Bible, 1908-1988: Eighty Years of Changing Definitions in the Church of the Nazarene," and Reasoner, The Importance of Inerrancy. If any NEE authors hold to full inerrancy, they hide it very well. If any draw a line in the exegetical sand defending a literal Adam and Eve, or a literal primal act of disobedience in a literal garden, followed by a literal curse (resulting in things like thorns that didn't exist prior to the fall), their voices are drowned out. For the most part, evolutionary creationists don't go out on a limb to defend Adam and Eve as literal persons. And when theydo, they hasten to qualify that the Edenic pair weren't created out of dust and a rib, but in fact had hominid "parents" who had evolved via some Darwinian pathway. Adam and Eve are at best reduced to a Neolithic couple on whom God chose to stamp His imago dei and establish covenant. The growing trend in TE (theistic evolution) is to see Adam and Eve as mere metaphorical representations instead of real people. Many recent books grapple with the quest for a historical Adam. This is a watershed issue for today's church, and NEE is a wake-up call for the looming crisis in Wesleyan circles. The matter is critical simply because it is tethered to larger issues of soteriology, hermeneutics, theodicy, and the authority of Christ.
In the ivory towers of COTN the claim that Genesis 1-3 is "a mythological version of a historical reality" seems to have moved past mere exploring to now being considered the better part of theological valor and so-called "settled science."Thankfully, as NEE acknowledges (and laments), the laity is acting as a firewall against such encroachment. But how could a denomination historically known for its faithfulness to Scripture shift so quickly? A partial answer to this mammoth question must reckon with the long shadows of influential professors at COTN schools - those often and fondly referred to with gratitude in NEE.
Trevecca Nazarene's Fred Cawthorne contends elsewhere that, "Evolution by no means contradicts" Genesis, and "it should strengthen, not threaten, our faith."
Olivet Nazarene University scientist Rick Colling once referred to those who "aggressively ignore or deny many scientific concepts and principles, especially in the domain of evolution," adding that in so doing, they "squeeze God into small, rigid boxes." He believes God "cares enough about creation to harness even the forces of [neo-Darwinian] randomness."
Darrel Falk, Professor Emeritus of Biology at Point Loma, and past president of BioLogos, believes the mass of data across the scientific disciplines for the past 150 years "is absolutely clear and equally certain. The earth is not young, and the life forms did not appear in six twenty-four-hour days. God created gradually."
Lastly, Thomas Huxley seems to be enjoying a brief reincarnation as Karl Giberson, formerly of Eastern Nazarene, who thinks evolution is not only true, but ac-tually"an expression of God's creativity. "He has famously stated that "genetic evidence has made it clear that Adam and Eve cannot have been historical figures, at least as described in the Bible. More scientifically informed evangelicals within conservative traditions are admittingthat the evidence is undermining Creation-Fall-Redemption theology" [italics added]. He has even said that he is "happy to concede that science does indeed trump religious truth about the natural world."To be clear, he did not contribute a NEE chapter, but his long-time promoting TE ideas in Nazarene academia is evident in the pages. Consider this excerpt from Saving Darwin, where he gloats:
Most evangelical colleges teach evolution, albeit quietly, carefully, and often tentatively, although there are exceptions.... Those of us teaching evolution at evangelical colleges are made to feel as if we have this subversive secret we must whisper quietly in our students' ears: "Hey, did you know that Adam and Eve were not the first humans and never even existed? And that you can still be a Christian and believe that?"
This reviewer found precious little in NEE challenging this subversive tactic, and a good deal that dovetails with it. One wonders, with Al Mohler, whether donors, uninformed constituencies, and "parents who send their offspring to Eastern Nazarene College have any understanding of what is taught there - and with such boldness and audacity." Having doubts is part of growing up, but deliberately promoting and instilling doubts is beyond subversive. It is sinister.
In a 2009 BioLogos article, Giberson claims he knows of "no one who has ever lost their faith" in his classes. But elsewhere he actually boasts of the many students he's "converted" to evolutionism. He then adds that these "scientifically informed" graduates often became so dissatisfied with their home churches that they withdrew, "taking their enlightenment with them." He admits that his best students "have completely abandoned their faith traditions," and yet blames the churches! One can only marvel at the shunt across his critical pathways, willfully oblivious to the impact of his secret subversion for twenty-seven years at Eastern Nazarene University. It's bitter-sweet when subversives part ways with their schools; a blessing that new students have one less proselytizer for neo-deism, but incalculably bitter when thinking of all those who've already had traditional views of Genesis purged from their minds. Giberson's over-reach contributed to his ousting. In outing themselves, NEE may also alert university applicants, parents, apologist-pastors, God-fearing board members, and donors that the trumpet's clarity has waned (Matt. 7:15; 1 Cor. 14:8).