The Power and Influence of an Ill-Researched Sermon

In 591, Pope Gregory (The Great), preached a sermon in which he conflated three NT women into one. He identified Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalene with the immoral woman of Luke 7, forever casting the image of Mary Magdalene as the immoral woman. To add weight to his argument, the Pope stated that the “seven demons that were driven out of Mary Magdalene” were obviously the seven deadly sins — which only demonstrates that the homiletical practice of “making broad and unsubstantiated assumptions” is nothing new!

His incorrect identification of Mary Magdalene as the sinful woman persisted throughout the Western Church, and western art and literature, right up to the popular “Jesus Christ Superstar,” by Andrew Lloyd Weber, and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ,” where Mary Magdalene is again, the “loose” woman-turned-convert. Such misinformation makes good copy and good theater, but it’s just false! Fortunately, the Eastern Church never made this mistake, always honoring Mary Magdalene as the faithful follower of Jesus that she was. It was only in 1969 that the Roman Catholic Church corrected their view and established July 22 as the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene, from the Sea of Galilee town of Magdala, which is not far from Jesus’s primary center of activity, Capernaum, is named twelve times in the NT, far more times than any of the twelve disciples except for Peter, James, and John. She is the first in the list of women who supported Jesus out of their own means. She is there at the crucifixion, when most of the twelve men had fled. She is there when Jesus is laid in the tomb. And she is there on that first Easter morning, the first to see the risen Christ and the first to go and tell the others. This led St. Augustine to call her the “Apostle to the Apostles.” Think of how much better and stronger the church would be if it had elevated equally Mary and Peter as its co-leaders!

All this to say that careful work on the text is of utmost importance. What seminaries teach, what pastors learn and proclaim is vitally critical, and can have long lasting implications. We might not have the influence of a Pope Gregory, but we can perpetuate a misconception very easily. Let us be careful in our work; sometimes it can take centuries to undo the damage that has been done.

The Power and Influence of an Ill-Researched Sermon

In 591, Pope Gregory (The Great), preached a sermon in which he conflated three NT women into one. He identified Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalene with the immoral woman of Luke 7, forever casting the image of Mary Magdalene as the immoral woman. To add weight to his argument, the Pope stated that the “seven demons that were driven out of Mary Magdalene” were obviously the seven deadly sins — which only demonstrates that the homiletical practice of “making broad and unsubstantiated assumptions” is nothing new!

His incorrect identification of Mary Magdalene as the sinful woman persisted throughout the Western Church, and western art and literature, right up to the popular “Jesus Christ Superstar,” by Andrew Lloyd Weber, and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ,” where Mary Magdalene is again, the “loose” woman-turned-convert. Such misinformation makes good copy and good theater, but it’s just false! Fortunately, the Eastern Church never made this mistake, always honoring Mary Magdalene as the faithful follower of Jesus that she was. It was only in 1969 that the Roman Catholic Church corrected their view and established July 22 as the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene, from the Sea of Galilee town of Magdala, which is not far from Jesus’s primary center of activity, Capernaum, is named twelve times in the NT, far more times than any of the twelve disciples except for Peter, James, and John. She is the first in the list of women who supported Jesus out of their own means. She is there at the crucifixion, when most of the twelve men had fled. She is there when Jesus is laid in the tomb. And she is there on that first Easter morning, the first to see the risen Christ and the first to go and tell the others. This led St. Augustine to call her the “Apostle to the Apostles.” Think of how much better and stronger the church would be if it had elevated equally Mary and Peter as its co-leaders!

All this to say that careful work on the text is of utmost importance. What seminaries teach, what pastors learn and proclaim is vitally critical, and can have long lasting implications. We might not have the influence of a Pope Gregory, but we can perpetuate a misconception very easily. Let us be careful in our work; sometimes it can take centuries to undo the damage that has been done.

Downton Abbey, John Wesley, and Disruptive Grace

I made the claim this past Sunday, an outlandish one I might add, and would like your opinion, too. I stated in my sermon that Eph 2:8-9 (“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast,” NIV) is the basis for (1) western civilization, (2) democracy, (3) equal rights, (4) voting rights, and (5) civil rights. Let me substantiate.

Here in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul (or someone else, if that’s your view), is addressing both Jewish and Gentile Christians, as he is in Rom 1-4. The fact that Jews and Gentiles can both share in the promises of God has raised enormous questions about God’s promises to the Jews as God’s chosen people. If non-Jews are now allowed in, then what does that say about God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness? Paul navigates these waters by asserting that the sole basis for a relationship with God is that of grace through faith — for both Jew (first) and Gentile.

This was revolutionary, although in reality it is as old as God’s love for creation and for the human beings he created. In Paul’s day, it removed the notion of ethnicity as the basis for being a recipient of God’s grace. The religious leaders didn’t take kindly to this “betrayal,” and worked to get Paul killed, something akin to what was done to Jesus — for essentially the same reasons.

Fast forward to 18th century England and the man named John Wesley. After his heart-warming experience at Aldersgate, he began to preach with fervor out of this experience of grace, so much so that he was turned out of nearly every Anglican Church in England, and told never to return. Strange, isn’t it? Someone preaching about “grace as God’s sole basis for acceptance” — why wouldn’t everyone be overjoyed? But the Anglican Church had become the provenance of the upper echelon of society. By implication, Wesley’s focus solely on grace meant that all people were on the same level, both in their sinfulness and need of grace, and in their being recipients of grace. This did not go over well, to say the least.

Fast forward to 1920’s England and Downton Abbey. My wife and I love this program, as do millions of others — even though I am against most everything it stands and stood for! Position by birth, hierarchy, “m’Lord and m’Lady,” enormous inequality, with those upstairs having privilege and honor while those downstairs having food and labor, and stations restricted because of a system meant to keep them so.

Fast forward to 1997. Our son did his junior year abroad at Oxford University. It was a most remarkable and wonderful year. He was a member of Mansfield College, where he got along splendidly with the principal of the college or headmaster (I don’t recall the exact title) — until his second semester when our son decided to earn a little extra money by working in the kitchen. All conversation with the headmaster ceased! When my son asked why, the answer was this: “Because now you’re working in the kitchen, and we don’t converse with servants.” My American, democracy-oriented, “all are created equal” son couldn’t believe it, and pressed: “You mean that before I worked in the kitchen you would be happy to talk with me, but just because I am working in the kitchen you won’t?” “Yes.”

Fast forward to 1964: Selma, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr., and the march. King called our country to live into our historic documents — the Constitution and Declaration of Independence — and the reality that “all men are created equal” — just as Jesus and Paul called on their listeners to live into God’s word that all are equal before God; all have sinned and fallen short; all are in need equally of God’s grace!

The reason John Wesley got turned away from churches is the same reason Paul and Jesus were rejected: grace is an unsettling thing. Grace is a wondrous gift — one that implies, nay, requires equality; one that says our relationship with God, our innate value is not dependent on birth, ethnicity, skin color, sex, status, caste, etc., but on grace alone!

And the reason John Wesley, according to many historians, helped England avoid the bloody revolution the French experienced is because his message of grace to all was embraced by thousands of disenfranchised persons who were lifted by this message into the reality of equality, fraternity, and liberty in a most profound way, both personally in their relationship with God through Jesus, and collectively in their emerging role and status in society.

So, you see, I trust, that the Christian faith, far from being an irrelevant relic of the distant past as many “nones” and “dones” believe today, is, and continues to be, the basis for the very things “nones” and “dones” hold dear; the very things we all cherish when we embrace our freedom from the tyranny of birth, station, ethnicity, skin color, or sex as the determinative factors in our lives. And you can see why I embrace the unlimited possibilities of being “a new creation in Christ Jesus.”

It Is Well with My Soul

Jim was a dear friend. We shared our lives together; stayed in his home in the mountains, played golf together, talked about our growing up on a farm — his here in Florida, mine in Ohio. Jim died this past Saturday. It was sudden and shocking. He had lived a good life, with a strong faith and generous spirit.

When I got to their house, his beloved Connie met me at the door, tears filling her eyes, and these words: “It is well with my soul…the rest of me is a total mess, but it is well with my soul.”

If the reality of faith in the midst of tragedy has ever been more profoundly articulated, I don’t know what it is. Their strong faith in the One who is the Resurrection and the Life gave a peace and grounding that nothing could shake. It is well with her soul, as she knew it was with Jim’s.

At the same time, everything, everything else was a total mess. For 43 years Jim was her closest friend, confidante, lover, and soul mate. Now he was gone. The shadow of death had crept over their lives and into their home and into every corner of their existence. It was awful.

And yet, the deeper truth: it is well with her soul. For at the center of her being was the living Christ around whom the center does indeed hold.

This Advent season we will read Scripture passages about the Light that shines in the darkness. Both are real. Oh my, the darkness of this weary world is much too real. (Thank God for Pope Francis and his beautiful, relentless call for peace, for the proponents of Christianity and Islam to join voices in proclaiming the best, the peace advocating aspects of their respective faiths, as he did on his recent trip to Turkey. And oh, yes, thank God for the beautiful humility he showed in asking the leader of the Orthodox Church to bless him, thus beginning a healing of the breach that goes back to the 11th century!)

As real as the darkness is, the Light of the Christ Child, is stronger still, and the darkness cannot and will not overcome the light of Christ. It is still and always “well with my soul.”

If Connie can proclaim that in her moment of greatest loss, then so shall all of God’s people in the midst of the darkness of this world. And the wonder of wonders is that this “wellness with our souls” shall spread, bringing hope and healing and peace to our troubled world, for the wellness of one’s soul is more contagious than the darkness of any night.

Amen.

My Top Twelve Books

A few weeks ago, one of my clergy buddies posted his list of 10 “books that have stayed with him,” that “have shaped his life.” It was an intriguing idea, which prompted me to make my own list of 12 books, in addition to the Bible, that have shaped me, that have had a formative influence on my life. I share them with you here:

  1. Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi: An Autobiography
  2. St. Francis of Assisi, The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi
  3. E. Stanley Jones (any and all of his books)
  4. Eugene Peterson, The Pastor
  5. Patrick D. Smith, A Land Remembered
  6. Richard Lischer, Stations of the Heart
  7. Jim Collins, Good to Great
  8. C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
  9. Thomas H. Johnson, ed., The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
  10. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals
  11. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy
  12. Paul Tournier, To Understand Each Other

I invite you to make your own list, and I would enjoy seeing what you come up with. I would also appreciate your sharing any reflections on the process, and what you learned about yourself in creating your list. I have these observations:

To Understand Each Other is a book given 43 years ago to my wife and me by the pastor and friend who married us. It’s a book that has served us well, calling us back to it again and again. It was foundational in how I interacted with our two children. As a pastor myself, it became a model for facilitating dialogue and understanding, both between two persons, but also between large groups of people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. It occurs to me that this book may have been influential in my taking a lead in our city’s “Gathering for Peace, Understanding and Hope,” bringing together persons of Islamic, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, and Jewish faith in the positive alternative to Terry Jones’s inflammatory and hateful remarks about Muslim persons and his vow to burn their holy book.

I remember E. Stanley Jones’s writings as the first positive portrayal of Christianity I ever read, and written with such vibrancy and compelling insight. They forever changed my own understanding and hence my preaching.

Eugene Peterson’s book is the only book I’ve read and then immediately read again. It gave words and description to the person I have striven to become.

Richard Lischer’s book is unparalleled (except perhaps by Nicholas Wolterstorf’f’s Lament for a Son) in its honest journeying with his grown son into the unrelenting grasp of cancer, all the while being enveloped by the grace of the church, its sacraments, and the community. Exquisite, deep, moving — even now I feel tears welling up. And if one ever wonders if preaching and theology matter, this book provides a resounding “Yes!”

On the one hand, reading Emily Dickinson is terribly intimidating. On the other hand, her work can do wonders to eliminate banal preaching and platitudinous theology. She simply won’t let you get away with it!

St. Francis, oh how grateful we are that we have one after his own heart, as well as name, in the current pope. As a pastor, I resonate with both men’s ability to live a loving theology in every aspect of their lives and ministry. Such instruments and voices of peace are desperately needed in our world today.

The Divine Conspiracy helped me to see, for the very first time (after already 30 years in ministry!), the meaning Jesus intended in the Sermon on the Mount, for which I shall be forever grateful.

In their own ways, Collins and Goodwin helped me to be a better leader in the church. The intricacies of Lincoln’s ways with people is so remarkable. And Collins did what many have attempted and failed, because he did the solid research to learn what moves an entity from good to great, and when his research led to the unexpected qualities of a level-5 leader (humility and iron will), he didn’t fudge, but acknowledged and celebrated them.

I realize that the act of choosing just 12 books caused me to see again “what really matters” to me. It has challenged me to view myself through the lens of the books I have placed on this list. And it has been immensely rewarding for me. I hope it will be for you as well.

Hearing Isaiah

I did something last Sunday I had never done before in all my 40 years of ministry. For my sermon I put on my “prophetic” robes and did a dramatic character presentation of the prophet Isaiah, beard, mantle, and all. Why I waited so long, I don’t know, because I have spent a good chunk of my life with this noble messenger of God.

My PhD dissertation at Princeton was on the “Little Apocalypse” of Isa 24-27, where I sought to identify the unknown city, and in the process discovered two wonderful phrases: mesos ha’aretz (“joy of  the earth”) and beqerev ha’aretz (“center of the earth”), both descriptive of Jerusalem, and indicative of the Hebrew people’s view of this holy city. I also for two summers was privileged to participate as “recording secretary” for Bruce Metzger’s team working on the NRSV, and part of our task was Isa 28-35. In preparation for that task, my major professor, J.J.M. Roberts had me and his other graduate students translate those chapters. We worked with the Syriac, LXX, other ancient mss., and mostly with the Dead Sea Scrolls. What an amazing experience to read those scrolls and witness firsthand the care that was taken by the ancient scribes in transcribing the Scriptures. When friends and acquaintances say things that suggest the unreliability of the Scriptures, I happily point out that the correspondence between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the eighth century masoretic scrolls that we have is strikingly close. On a recent trip to Israel, while at Masada, we saw again this ancient art being carried out, this time by a modern day scribe who was copying the Hebrew Bible, again, with extraordinary care. I’m also happy to report that a few of my translations made it into the NRSV.

One of the things I noticed this time in Isaiah, after these many years of ministry, is the truth of something Isaiah said, or rather, that God said to Isaiah, whose meaning in my younger years only eluded me and gave me great pause as to why God would say such a thing. I’m referring to Isaiah’s call in ch. 6, and more specifically to God’s response to Isaiah’s willingness to go. God says, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing but never understanding; be ever
seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused, make their ears dull and close their eyes” (vv. 9-10). How strange, I used to think, and yet, when I look out on our world, and bring the bright light of history to bear, it seems clear to me that so many “hear but don’t understand, see, but don’t perceive, due to the callousness of their hearts.” Our penchant for going to war, our acceptance of the gulf between the rich and the poor, our comfort with inequities and injustices.

On our way to our visit this summer with our daughter and her family in Blacksburg, VA, we stopped for a visit in Charleston, SC. What a magnificent city, and yet, one can’t help but be struck by the odd juxtaposition of grand churches built during and alongside the horrific slave trading places of this community. Except for a few exceptions, there seemed to be no disconnect for these Christians. It all seems so obvious to us now, but it does cause me to wonder: What will they say about our “blindnesses” 50 years from now!

I ended by sermon soliloquy by quoting Isa 61: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because The Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion” (vv. 1-3). And then I took off my prophet’s mantle and placed it on the processional cross in our chancel area, as a sign of my placing this mantle on Jesus (or Jesus taking it on himself in his inaugural sermon in Luke 4:18-19), and of Jesus’ ministry to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the prisoners. Then I held out the mantle, sweeping it across one section, then another, of the congregation asking, “Will you take up this mantle?” And thus I ended.

And while this blog isn’t a sermon, it is, nevertheless, a good question for all of us, isn’t it?

A Day in the Life of a Pastor

As I write this, I’m sitting on our church bus with other members; we’re returning from a dedication of a “Director’s Home” that our church funded, the first building on the site of a new UM Children’s Home (Madison Youth Ranch). It was a glorious time – such an important, life-impacting work.

Later tonight I’ll take three men from our church to their Walk to Emmaus experience. Yesterday, I was in Orlando all day for meetings to develop a plan to raise a substantial endowment to fund faculty positions for the UM Seminary in Moscow, where my friend Sergei Nikolaev is the President. Because I was a John Wesley Fellow – A Foundation for Theological Education helped me to get my Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary – I have had doors open to teach in seminaries oversees: West Africa Theological Seminary in Lagos, Nigeria, and our UM Seminary in Moscow and its off-campus site in Kiev. This led to my being asked to serve on their board and to chair the USA portion. It’s a really important work and I’m happy to support it.

On the drive down to Orlando, I spoke with one of our church members whose son was struck by a bomb in Afghanistan, causing him to lose both his legs, one of his arms, and three of his fingers on his other hand, with the remaining two being paralyzed, and lots of other complications. Months and months of surgery, rehab, etc. Two weeks ago he began to drive his own car into Walter Reed hospital for rehab. His name is Eddie Klein and his story was on ABC’s World News this past Monday. For 30 minutes his mother shared her heart and soul about their journey. Another member called to share that he would be conferring later that day with hospice about his ailing mother who had had a stroke and wasn’t recovering. On the way home, a member called about her daughter who needs to be admitted into a mental institution but she didn’t know how she could make that happen; could I help?

I arrived home exhausted, but it was a good exhaustion: this calling to try to incarnate God’s love and compassion and understanding and grace. I continue to pray for each one of these dear folks. If you’re reading this, you’re probably involved in the lives of others, some of whom are in great need, and you’re a “means of grace” to them, and they to you.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7, NIV).

Pay Attention to What (or Whom) You’re Following!

A year ago, our grown kids in Virginia invited us to go with them and our two grandkids on a Disney Cruise to the Bahamas. Well, I’ve been to the Bahamas several times and I live in Florida, but this was “with our grandkids,” so, of course, we said, “Yes!” A few weeks ago, January 5, my wife, our daughter, and I followed our son-in-law and their two children from Gainesville to Port Canaveral. We made it down I-75 fine, the Turnpike fine, and through Orlando fine. Somewhere on the B-Line expressway, I said to our daughter, “How many miles do you have on that van,” pointing ahead to the van in front of us. She said, “Dad, that isn’t our van. That one has a Florida license plate, and ours has a Virginia plate. That one is a Toyota and ours is a Hyundai, and that one is green and ours is blue!” Oh my, was I embarrassed! I had been following the wrong car! So, I hurried ahead to catch up with the right car.

Doesn’t it seem that so much of our world is “following the wrong car”? The movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” is based on a true story: one of millions of dollars stolen, fraud, debauchery, indecent excess, and the guy gets 22 months in jail and is now on the speaking circuit! A headline in our newspaper on Thursday: “Nearly 50 per cent of black men and 40 per cent of white men are arrested at least once on non-traffic related crimes before they’re 23″! We’re following the wrong car, and we don’t even know it! And look at Syria, Iraq, Sudan.

It’s easy, so easy, isn’t it, without even realizing it, to begin following the wrong car? This is true even for “followers” of Jesus. That’s why Paul warned: “Don’t let the world…squeeze you into its own mold” (Rom 12:2, Phillips). That’s why worship is so important, for in worship, with a community of other followers of Jesus, we are reminded through word, song, symbol, and fellowship where the “Lead Car” is — to figure out if we really are still following the right one, or if we need to change and catch up to the One that leads to life, life in all its abundance.

And that’s why theology is so important. How many of us know persons who are following a God who is viewed to be angry, ready to pounce, ready to send people to hell if they don’t say just the right words in just the right ways, who is capricious and mean? They’re following the wrong “car.” I’m so grateful for the Wesleyan message that God is a God of infinite love, or as John Wesley put it in his famous hymn, “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown”: “Thy nature and thy name is love.” Or, as his brother Charles penned: “Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me? My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” He was following the right car. Thanks be to God.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Tim 1:7, NIV)

Whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. (Phil 4:8, NIV)

A Christmas Devotional

As a pastor, I take special delight in the fact that a lot of the passion for the poor and disenfranchised that Pope Francis has, seems to come from his life as a priest. There is something about being “with the people,” walking among the poor, and the physically and developmentally challenged that brings a dimension of Christ’s love and life.

We have a wonderful member of our church named Andy Jasperson. Andy is developmentally challenged. He is also an amazing fund raiser for worthy causes. Each year, during Advent and Lent, we invite our congregation to contribute devotionals for the season. And every year Andy contributes one for each, and every year, his is among the most heartfelt of them all. My blog today is essentially Andy’s devotional. I believe you will agree to its intrinsic power. Here it is:

My mother is now in a nursing home in Starke. She’s losing her memory. It’s so hard to watch her fade away. She loved me when everybody else thought I couldn’t make it in life. When I was taken from my family in Savannah, institutionalized, and then placed in a group home with an evil man, she rescued me. She believed in me. But now she’s losing her memory and might forget who I used to be and how far I’ve come. In some ways, that’s okay. That little boy is gone, and in his place is the independent man who led my mother to God a long time ago. She won’t forget God. And God won’t forget me.

My mother’s situation has been stressful. It comes at the same time that there are some hard transitions at work. I have a new supervisor, my hours have been cut, I have different responsibilities, and some of my coworkers have quit. I’ve been really scared. I’ve done a lot of crying and praying, reaching out to God. He comes to me and takes it all away.

Through all this change, I’ve learned to rely on things that are the same. I still go to work and church, run my food drive, and raise money for March of Dimes and the American Heart Association. I rely on my friends, my support team, my counselor, Rebecca Jackson, and my doctors. This year the walls of my house are covered with new certificates that remind me that I still have important work to do for God. That hasn’t changed.

A week before Thanksgiving, Rebecca and I are taking dinner with pumpkin pie to my mother. And I’ve already been Christmas shopping for her. I used a gift certificate that I got from the March of Dimes and bought her two beautiful sweaters that my counselor Kathy will help me wrap.

Even though I can’t go home to my mother for Christmas anymore, I’ll decorate a tree in my apartment here in Gainesville. The angel on top will remind me that Christmas isn’t a time to be sad about loss and change; it’s a time to be grateful for miracles and wonders, and things that will never be forgotten.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank you for bringing us through rough times and giving us friends and family for help and guidance as we make memories together and keep them safe for each other. Amen. (Andy Jasperson)

Finding Space for Faith and Science

David Kinnaman, a best-selling author and president of the Barna Group, addresses the factors that contribute to teens and twenty-somethings leaving the church in his recent book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011). Among his observations is this one: “Millions of young Christians perceive Christianity to be in opposition to modern science.” He quotes someone named Mike: “To be honest, I think that learning about science was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I knew from church that I couldn’t believe in both science and God, so that was it. I didn’t believe in God anymore” (p. 131).

Recently, I invited the more than 150 academics in our congregation, and other interested parties as well, to join me in creating at our church a “Center for Faith and Knowledge.” Our premise is that we, as a church, should live into our calling of being a community where “embracing one’s Christian faith and pursuing one’s field of knowledge” are seen as complimentary and collaborative endeavors, rather than being at odds with each other.

When I asked our group to share why they were interested in this project, the dean of a school of pharmacy said, “Where we used to live, our 13-year-old daughter, on hearing a ‘7 days creation’ declaration by her science teacher, stated that she didn’t believe that, but rather held to a type of evolution. And she was ridiculed and berated by fellow classmates for her views.” The dean indicated that this is why the family relocated to our community.

I’ve always been blessed with a wonderful sense of curiosity, which I believe is a gift from God. And, fortunately, I have successfully resisted attempts by well-meaning Christians to thwart that inquisitive nature. I’m grateful for my high school math teacher, Mr. Morrow, who often proclaimed, “Seek the truth though the heavens fall!” I had parents who were steeped in their Christian faith, and were confident that their God was fully competent and able to embrace truth wherever it was found. I had professors in theological school who safeguarded the integrity of our work as theologians and biblical scholars in our pursuit of “faith seeking understanding.” And I will always be grateful for the openness of the Methodist tradition that welcomes faithful inquiry. All of these and more have allowed my soul to breathe and to breathe deeply.

From the extraordinary energy in the first meeting of our Center for Faith and Knowledge, it’s clear that I’m not alone in this appreciation. Indeed, the young people in Kinnaman’s survey need not have been turned away from the church had they been aware that there are in fact deeply committed Christians who embrace the wonder of science and the enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge, believing that they are becoming, in the process, even more faithful followers of the One who was the Truth.

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