Connecting the Dots: the NAE, the PCA, and BioLogos

Over at WORLD Magazine, Marvin Olasky has an interesting piece about a new collaboration between the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE ) and the  American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for the purpose of building “better dialogue and understanding between the scientific and evangelical communities.” Dr. Olasky’s concern is whether there will be real dialogue or whether the goal of the collaboration is to sell evolution to evangelical holdouts:

Dialogue, sure: But let’s make it a real dialogue, with proponents of Intelligent Design not frozen out. Better understanding, of course: But let’s focus on God and not make Charles Darwin a god. ‘Collaboration’? Not if the goal is to sell evolution to the three-fourths of evangelicals who still keep faith with the Bible’s teaching that God made Adam from the dust of the earth. Is this overly critical of what could be a good thing? Not if we take into account the 2006 AAAS ‘Statement on the Teaching of Evolution,’ which sees critiques of evolution as ‘attacks on the integrity of science.’ Not if we take into account Templeton’s ‘Science for Ministry’ funding of ‘programs that will help ministers and the congregations they serve to move away from … simplistic solutions and polarizing stereotypes.’

Dr. Olasky points out that this new venture comes on the heels of the criticism that the NAE received for its $1 million partnership with an organization that promotes contraception for unmarried couples. He notes that the NAE has since announced that it will not continue that partnership. His question “is a collaborating NAE once again trying to sway evangelicals rather than represent them?” is a very good one.

Dr. Olasky doesn’t, however, connect all of the dots regarding the AAAS, the NAE, and the Templeton Foundation. Here are some things that I think are relevant and that explain my own concern with this new collaboration.

First, the AAAS does indeed have a grant from the Templeton Foundation. The Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion program (DoSER) is an almost $6 million grant program which “engages the public on a range of questions in science and religion, including evolution, cosmology, astrobiology, and human evolution. The program seeks to establish stronger relationships between the scientific and religious communities and promotes multidisciplinary education and scholarship on the ethical and religious implications of advancements in science and technology.”

Note the very important inclusion of “human evolution.” The AAAS has argued strongly against any attempt to teach Creationism or Intelligent Design in the classroom as part of a science program because, according to them, religion shouldn’t be taught in a science curriculum.

Second, in addition to funding the DoSER program, the Templeton Foundation also funds the BioLogos Foundation. This year’s grant from the Templeton Foundation for BioLogos is entitled “Celebrating the Harmony between Mainstream Science and the Christian Faith.” This new grant states it’s purpose:

A significant number of Americans hold views contrary to certain well-established scientific facts. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, 40% of Americans believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” Anti-evolutionary, young-earth views are even more pervasive among evangelical Christians than in the public at large. Many Christians believe evolution is inherently atheistic and therefore incompatible with their faith. This mistaken belief is frequently reinforced by militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and repeated by fundamentalist Christians like Ken Ham. In addition, the media repeatedly frame science/religion stories as though the two are at war. The BioLogos Foundation exists to turn the tide. In just two years BioLogos has made remarkable inroads into the evangelical community and broader culture by influencing key opinion leaders, scholars, pastors, and educators, and by reaching out to the general public.

This proposal builds upon those foundations as follows: First, we will sponsor a series of annual workshops for leaders of evangelical Christianity (scholars, scientists, pastors and para-church leaders) to dialogue about specific topics at the interface between science and Christianity. These will be patterned after the Theology of Celebration gatherings that we have hosted in 2009 and 2010 and will host in early 2012. Second, we will make significant improvements to the BioLogos website: 1) We will create a resource center with multimedia content to meet the unique needs of various groups such as pastors, teachers, parents, and students. 2) Through increased moderation of our blog comments, we will ensure that our website remains a place where people can gather to respectfully dialogue about topics of interest and relevance to science and evangelical Christianity. 3) We will better articulate our core beliefs and values to maximize our trustworthiness among Evangelicals.

I have previously posted about the Theology of Celebration gatherings from 2009, 2010, and 2012. At the gathering this year, the concern was raised that so many evangelicals reject evolution. Dr. Tim Keller, host of all three of the Theology of Celebration workshops, was interviewed afterwards:

Few Christian colleges or seminaries teach young earth creationism (YEC), participants noted during discussion groups. But less formal, grassroots educational initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, have won over the majority of evangelicals. ‘We have arguments, but they have a narrative,’ noted Tim Keller. Both young earth creationists and atheistic evolutionists tell a story tapping into an existing cultural narrative of decline. To develop a Biologos narrative is ‘the job of pastors,’ Keller said.

After the 2012 Theology of Celebration workshop, BioLogos announced a new grant program, Vision for Change, to focus on ways pastors and other church leaders can help their congregations learn to accept the “truth of evolution”:

As our regular readers well know, the majority of evangelical Christians reject one of the most well-established of scientific theories—evolution. Evolution lies at the heart of many scientific disciplines; it is as fundamental to biology as 2 + 2 = 4 is to mathematics or as E = mc2 is to physics. If these basic truths were found to be false, entire disciplines would collapse. To the majority of Evangelicals, however, an anti-evolutionary view of origins is equally fundamental. In their view, it affects how we read Scripture and understand the Gospel itself—the very heart of our identity as Christians. If evolution were found to be true, it would be disturbing indeed.

While Christian scholars and scientists have actively worked on evolutionary creation and related topics for decades, their work has mostly failed to leave the ivory tower, creating a vacuum in the church. Well-meaning public figures have moved into the vacuum to proclaim that much is at stake if Christians ever yield to mainstream science. These figures preach that scriptural authority, Christian theology, and Christian morals and values will all collapse if believers accommodate their thinking to the discoveries of ‘man’s historical science.’

It’s time for things to change.

The AAAS and the BioLogos Foundation, both funded by the Templeton Foundation, are actively working to promote the acceptance of evolution, including the common descent of man, by evangelical Christians. You may say that this is all well and good, but what difference does it make and why should I care? Well, that gets to my last point.

In addition to the fact that the best known pastor in the PCA, Dr. Tim Keller, is hosting these BioLogos workshops and is calling for pastors to promote the BioLogos view, the Stated Clerk of the PCA, Dr. L. Roy Taylor is the Chairman of the Board of the NAE. That means that my denomination, the PCA, is not only a member of the NAE, but has someone in the executive leadership of the organization. That makes their decisions, our decisions. In an endorsement statement by Dr. Taylor, he says:

The Presbyterian Church in America is part of the NAE because it is consistent with our doctrine of the Church. Fellowship and cooperation with other evangelical Christians is consistent with our theology. The NAE enables us to have a wider ministry, and it enables us to have a broader, more effective influence. Our fellowship, interaction, and cooperative ministry with our fellow evangelical Christians such as those in the NAE help us to serve Christ and the Church in our challenging times.

While I appreciate the usefulness of working together with other Christians in various organizations, it seems to me that the NAE is moving towards pushing certain views rather than representing the interests of the member churches.

PCA’s Stated Clerk Issues Statement on “Human Sexuality and Ordination”

Last year, after the mainline Presbyterian church (PCUSA) removed the “fidelity and chastity” requirement from their ordination standards, there was some confusion by the public over what the PCA believes regarding the ordination of homosexual clergy. In order to clear up this confusion, Dr. Roy Taylor wrote a paper explaining the PCA’s stance on the issue. The paper explains:

The PCA requires that all candidates for ordained office practice what we believe God requires of all persons; that is, that single persons are to live chaste lives, that “marriage is to be between one man and one woman,” and that fidelity in marriage is God’s will revealed in Holy Scriptures. The PCA has not changed nor is it considering any changes in its requirements for ordination.

Dr. Taylor goes on to explain the difference between the PCA and PCUSA and to give a brief history of the founding of the PCA. He then refers to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms as the Standards that all elders and deacons must affirm in their ordination vows to receive and adopt:

Although there are theological differences within PCA, these differences are along a conservative-evangelical spectrum and within the doctrinal parameters of The Westminster Confession, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. All PCA Teaching Elders (Ministers), Ruling Elders, and Deacons, affirm in their ordination vows that they “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scriptures.”

The paper concludes with references to relevant sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms as well as statements made by the General Assembly on various occasions that might be helpful in understanding the PCA’s position.

While I am thankful for Dr. Taylor’s work to clarify the PCA’s teachings on sexuality and ordination, I can’t help but wonder why we couldn’t have done a similar thing to clarify the PCA’s teachings on theistic evolution and the historicity of Adam.

A Meeting of Understanding: Secrecy, Non-hierarchical Leadership, and Blogs

Yesterday, byFaith published a report on an invitation-only meeting held by “denomination leadership” this week to “discuss charitably and forthrightly the cause for conflicts in the PCA that hamper our ministry and unity.” There has been a good deal of discussion over this meeting, and I thought I might share a few of my own thoughts on the subject.

The meeting was held under something called the “Chatham House Rule.” I had never heard of this myself, but a quick Google search turned up the following description:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

The world-famous Chatham House Rule may be invoked at meetings to encourage openness and the sharing of information.

What this means is that the byFaith report, and any other report about the meeting, can discuss what was said, but not who said it. The list of participants is also not to be shared. Because of this, those of us who were not present at the meeting have a limited amount of information available to us.

The meeting was called in order to address the various causes for conflicts within the PCA. While I certainly agree that this is an admirable goal, I wonder about the way they went about it. When there is a climate of distrust and suspicion, is the best answer to hold a semi-secret meeting and then publish a report with anonymous comments?

The comments reported in the article are grouped together under headings that summarize the concerns addressed. The headings: Civility and Theological Precision, Blogs and Protecting Reputations, Can We Still Champion One Another’s Ministry?, and Loving One Another and Matthew 18 cover various concerns that seem somewhat one-sided in the present debate. Interestingly, Federal Vision, theistic evolution, feminism, and inerrancy were not topics of discussion.

Those who are overly concerned with theological precision were encouraged to set aside the idolatry of precision and instead focus on love. Blogs were mentioned only as places that encourage name calling and destroy reputations. It was lamented that the various “camps” aren’t encouraged to support each other in their ministry. This last one reminds me of comments I’ve read in the past that we should not be so concerned about another pastor’s orthodoxy, but rather, how much good his ministry is doing or how quickly his ministry is growing. Lastly, a consistent application of Matthew 18 and a blogging code of ethics were recommended as the answers for what ails the PCA.

All of these comments seem overly representative of one side of the concerns within the PCA. This presents an interesting challenge to those of us not present at the meeting. There are two possible interpretations of the report. One, it’s possible that all sides were well represented at this meeting and that the report doesn’t reflect the full diversity of opinion. In which case, it would be ideal if someone who was present at the meeting would write a more comprehensive summary of the discussion. I would happily publish it here. Anonymously if need be. The other interpretation is that the report accurately represents the tenor of the discussion and that there was not a good representation of the diversity of opinions at this meeting, which leads me to my next point.

The report mentions that the Stated Clerk, Roy Taylor, called the meeting “in collaboration with other denominational leaders.” Twice in the article “denominational leaders” are mentioned. Who are the denominational leaders? The PCA does not have a hierarchy of leadership. There is a stated clerk of the General Assembly and various coordinators and presidents of the PCA’s permanent committees and agencies. These men were at the meeting according to the report. But there were an additional 50 pastors in attendance. Considering that the discussion was about issues that affect the whole denomination, who decided which pastors were the ones most representative of the whole? Are certain pastors from certain presbyteries “denominational leaders?” (Of course, it might be easier to answer that question if the list of invitees was available.) Don’t we already have a forum for discussion of denomination level issues? Why not discuss this at GA?

What are your thoughts on this “meeting of understanding”?