Monday, November 29, 2010

Science in Our Churches

Most pastors have a clear goal for topical and stylistic emphasis in their preaching and the direction their educational programs should travel. For that clarity of vision, they should be affirmed and commended. Willingness to expand outreach and improve ministry effectiveness is also a characteristic of effective church leadership.

At the recent Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science Symposium, Deborah Haarsma, Calvin College Chair of Physics and Astronomy, offered many useful suggestions for strengthening faith by using science in various ways within our church congregations. Her encouragement transcended the spectrum of differing views expressed at the symposium on the interpretation of various science data and centered instead on the usefulness of employing science-related topics in ministry.

Could using science in our local churches possibly overwhelm some of our members? Applying science within our assemblies would demand a “mature unity.” There are prudent ways to avoid being overbearing in our use of science within the church program, according to Haarsma. The pulpit should not be the forum for a science lesson. But occasional science-related references could be included in pulpit expositions as meaningful illustrations. Some church officials may resist making use of science in ministry because they believe the church must deal with other missions and has little time for topics not deemed to be relevant.

With respect to the important question of origins, we should offer age-appropriate instruction at all levels in our church education ministries. In preschool and the earliest elementary grades, we focus on the highlights of the Genesis 1-3 narrative. Older elementary children should learn that the pagan cosmology of the cultures surrounding the Hebrews (earth and sky “gods”) is untrue. Genesis declares the pre-eminent truth that the one true God of the Bible created all things in the beginning. Middle School students will begin to distinguish between who/why and how/when questions and should receive instruction concerning the primary purpose of the creation account and the authority of scripture. High School young people could discuss different Christian points of view on origins, learning the pros and cons of each and establishing which issues are essential to the Christian faith and which issues are not.

Haarsma stressed the dangers of saying nothing concerning science within our churches. The natural world is God’s revelation of Himself as is inspired scripture. All age groups should experience the joy of discovery as a gift of God. To neglect or ignore science in our church programs, therefore, is to make our church young people ill-equipped or even misinformed. If they later discover the church is silent or in error in the realm of science, they may wonder if the error extends to matters of personal faith.

The faith/science interface is not only about origins. Many other science-related topics inhabit the boundary between faith and science. Ten different scientists at Calvin were asked to list “What I Wish My Pastor Knew About.” The list included rocks and fossils, ecology, sustainability (energy use), medical ethics, biological development and stem cells, responsible use of technology, psychology/brain chemistry and the soul, mathematics and beauty, and multiverse and string theory. Many other topics are matters of concern, such as species extinctions, pollution, natural evil (earthquakes), bioengineering, and food supply. The Creation Care mandate originates in the first chapters of Genesis, but we must avoid becoming political about these issues.

Worship is enhanced by our awareness and understanding of events in the natural world. For example, it is easy to acquire a sense of the divine by observing the dark night sky. Creative illustrations, applications, and imagination-stretching challenges could amplify a sermon’s effectiveness. Science should not be used in such a way to suggest it could replace God. Rather, it draws us closer to the Creator by helping us focus on His many wonderful works. Our model comes from the counsel Elihu offered Job: “Stop and consider God’s wonders” (Job 37:14).