In another research project that I’m working on that is looking at the relationship between science and faith, a recent survey study indicated that 12% of Catholics, 12% of mainline Protestants, and 29% of conservative Protestant say that science and religion are in conflict (and that they are on the side of religion). These findings were encouraging to me because I thought the numbers were much higher! What this does point to is that religious ways of knowing do not necessarily conflict with scientific or naturalistic ways of knowing. This is evident when I look at some of the data from the flourishing congregations data.
Recently, I went through a number of pastoral leader interviews from the first phase of our flourishing congregations research project and noticed the types of language they used to describe a flourishing congregation. Oftentimes, these pastoral leaders painted a picture of what they thought a flourishing congregation looks like by using supernatural discourse to distinguish religious organizations from secular ones, and to help explain why they thought flourishing occurs in their congregations. More specifically, many of the pastoral leaders described the role of the Holy Spirit as a catalyst for congregational flourishing. As I ponder these things, I asked myself: Do these supernatural descriptions necessarily have to contradict an empirical or scientific explanation of a flourishing congregation? The brief answer is: of course not.
Although differing worldviews or perspectives, either in the science and faith or supernatural or natural discourse of flourishing congregations, principles such as building common ground, increasing collaboration, and/or ensuring civility might be ways to move forward in all ways of knowing.
Perceptions: Scientific and Religious Communities: Final Report (Washington: American Association for the Advancement of Science/Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion, March 2015). American
God Speaks Science
John Van Sloten is a Calgary-based pastor, teacher and writer
Scientists are good at seeing unseen things. If we let them, they can teach us how to better see an unseen God.
Taking in the news on the Event Horizon Telescope’s first ever image of a black hole, my first thought was, “What does this say about you God?”
University of Waterloo scientist Avery Broderick responded to the image in near mystical terms, “We’ve now seen the unseeable…. Black holes are made real - they’re not just the scribblings on theorists’ chalkboards any more, but they are out there…”
According to the bible, right now we only see a reflection of God, but one day we shall see face to face. Every time science sees what was previously unseen we have a reminder of this fact.
Every time science sees something new it teaches us something about the mind of Jesus -through whom all things were made. Scientists are made in the image of a cosmos creating God. Their empirical, interdependent, ever discovering, data driven, needing to know, cosmos naming, beauty appreciating, creation caring ways reflect God’s ways. The creation they unpack reveals something about its maker - the Great Physicist, Chemist, and Biologist.
Theologian Abraham Kuyper believed that every single part of the universe was a thought in the mind of God before it ever came to be.
If this is true, if God reveals himself through creation, and the science that unpacks creation, then shouldn’t the church be first in line to celebrate, teach and preach each new discovery?
Over the past 10 years, with the support of three John Templeton Foundation sub-grants, I’ve preached on God’s creation via a wide variety texts; supernovas, the knee, epigenetics, the Giant Squid, the human microbiome, the theology of ice, wolverines, neural stress reduction mechanisms, the biomechanics of a runner’s leg, honey bees, and much more.
Through these messages my congregation and I came to know God in ways we’d never imagined.
The unmerited goodness of God’s grace was made powerfully evident through the biological parable of DNA repair mechanisms. Right now the DNA in your body is repairing itself hundreds of trillions of times per second, without you even knowing it.
The passion and precision with which God seeks to eradicate sin and brokenness was more clearly understood as we engaged the technological icon of radiation therapy; with its ever-increasing capacity to kill cancer cells with minimal damage to healthy cells.
When University of Calgary hydrologist Masaki Hayashi described how he discovered that the Rocky Mountains above the tree line store water like a bucket (for a sermon on the Bow River), thus enabling water to be slowly released during times of drought, or quick snow melt, our sense of God’s providence overflowed. Did God build this climate change mitigating design into mountaintops knowing that we’d be in the climatological mess we’re in?
Through all of these science sermons, as creation was preached alongside and through the Scriptures, God revealed himself in a deeper, more-present way.
This had a profound impact on our church. By preaching non-confrontational science topics (as opposed to evolution, origins, or ethics) our community learned how to trust the language of science.
This way of preaching also honoured the scientists in our church. Their vocational gifts and passions played a key role in helping their faith community know God more. I couldn’t preach science without their help - without the collective wisdom of the preacherhood of all believers. While the research process was intimidating at times (for a non-scientist like me), it was also one of the most intellectually invigorating experiences of my ministerial life.
I’ll never forget those numinous sermon moments where things came together in, what felt like, holy ways; the Spirit synergistically connecting God’s word in the Bible to God’s word in creation, both texts co-illumining one another and together pointing to God from different directions. In those moments it was as though everyone listening knew that the Author of both creation and the Bible was in the room.
All it took was a more serious engagement of creation as a revelatory text - made possible only through a more serious engagement of revelatory nature of science.
Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship
In Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship, N.T. Wright provides an answer to the question, “What now?”, with regards to a person encountering a relationship with Jesus. How does one follow Jesus? What does it look like to follow Jesus today? The book is a result of N.T. Wright’s sermons, some preached to his church while in leadership, some to classes or schools, but all for the same purpose: to look at what the authors of the Bible saw as following Christ, and how we can translate it into our world today. Wright illuminates the answer in two sections: the first being a bird’s eye view of entire books in the New Testament, and the second focusing in on smaller passages or themes. Both sections work in concert with each another in drawing the reader to understand the compelling and life-altering call of following Jesus.
Section one consists of six chapters, all pertaining to their own book in the New Testament. Wright begins with Hebrews which gives us a great portrait of the one we follow, Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, our high priest who can sympathize with all it means to be human, and the one who walks the path ahead of us. In Chapter 2, Colossians is seen as our answer to what it means to follow Christ in our world today in the midst of powers that work against God’s. Christ has stripped the power of the world and gives us His power, enabling us to live for the Kingdom of God. Chapter 3 looks at Matthew as showing us that Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. We are called to follow Christ within us to the ends of the world and teach others how to follow Him. In Chapter 4, Mark is seen to be Christ’s invitation to love and serve rather than make enemies of others. Christ became the scapegoat so we no longer have to make that of others. In Chapter 5, Wright gives us the image of the end in Revelation. The world will be made right again and, in this world, we get to join Jesus.
Section two looks more at concepts found within the New Testament to give insights in what following Jesus looks like. He begins with resurrection. In dying and rising from the dead, Christ defeats death. If death has been defeated, then a disciple of Christ does not need to fear death any long but can follow Jesus with boldness. What else does a being disciple look like? In chapter 8, Wright looks at how Jesus transforms our thinking so that life becomes nothing but worship to our God. This is what a disciple’s life will look like: worship. But what do we do about Sin? In chapter 9, Wright speaks of our ability to deal with temptation. We can use temptation as a way to reflect on what we actually need that is good, rather than settle for the wrong use of the good thing. Wright then moves on to Hell. If Jesus invites us to see and feel heaven, and live in a way that brings its first fruits here now, then is there an alternative if we do not? Yes, and it is a dire warning. We can just as easily live in a way that makes Hell a dimension of earth, bringing it here as well. This makes the call of following Jesus that much more imperative. The final two chapters speak of heaven and the new world, the end result of following Jesus; a place where God has full reign and the world is renewed. Wright gives us the grand picture of what a disciple can see at the end of the path towards which Jesus is leading us.
- Reviewed by Justin Bills
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Register and find out more about the Global Leadership Summit for October 17-18th at: globalleadershipnetwork.ca/summit2019
Church Planting Canada Congress 2019 for October 22-24. Theme: Planting the North: Celebrating the Stories of New Churches in Canada. Click here for more information and to register.
The Canadian Council of Churches celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2019.To mark the event, they are hosting “CHRISTIANS TOGETHER IN CANADA TODAY” on October 26th—a cross-Canada live-streamed event in English
and French featuring prominent Canadian Christians in dialogue with one another and with you and your community. For more information click here.
YYChurch: Does Church Matter?- Ten speakers from church and non-church backgrounds have ten minutes to answer the question: Why church? Or, why not church? How is church relevant or irrelevant today? Speakers include Calgary blogger Mike Morrison and CBC Radio host David Gray, as well as leaders from United, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Evangelical churches in Alberta. Date: November 1; Click here to register.
The 2020 Pastor’s Conference in partnership with The Flourishing Congregations Institute at Ambrose University: Life Together: Discipleship in an Age of Distraction; Save the date for February 19, 2020.
The New Leaf Project is a podcast that shares the stories of Canadian Christians who are instigating new things, innovating in our post-modern Canadian context, planting new churches and starting missional minded conversations, conversations, and communities here in Canadian soil. Click here: newleafnetwork.ca/podcasts
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