An Excerpt from
The Fool and the Heretic: How Two Scientists Moved beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue about Creation and Evolution
Todd Charles Wood /
Paperback: Zondervan, 2018
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This book is the story of a disagreement. It’s a disagreement that held all of the normal promise for ugliness. It still holds that possibility. But so far, in this case, the well-worn patterns of division have given up some ground. A couple of small, amputated pieces of Christ’s body have been rejoined. This happened not through anything innovative but through some meager attempts to live into the simple, and terribly difficult, patterns of childlike Christian faith. It is the story of finding a surprising— and frustrating—friend in Christ on the other side of the dividing wall.
This particular disagreement is about evolution. For some of us, the warfare between Christians over the origins of life and humanity is painfully obvious. For others, it may come as a shock to learn that there are Christians on the other side. If that’s you, it’s a testimony to how effective the dividing walls are. Many Christians read the early chapters of Genesis as straightforward history, with God accomplishing his creation in six days. For them, the idea of a Christian accepting evolution is as ridiculous as, well, an amoeba turning into a monkey. For Christians who long ago accepted scientific orthodoxy on any number of things, including evolution, believing in a young earth is as ridiculous as doctors bleeding patients to balance their humours. But there are many earnest Christians on both sides of that dividing wall.
If we’re no longer surprised by the walls, we also shouldn’t be surprised when Jesus destroys one. He has a history of doing that. Paul rejoiced at the collapse of the wall between Jews and gentiles. Jesus made something possible that was otherwise unthinkable: Jews and gentiles eating together as family. “[Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14). If Jesus triumphed over this hostility with his peace, what about the hostility between Christians who accept evolution and those who reject it?
The Colossian Forum was born of the hope that Christians might do better with their conflicts. It’s not just about gritting our teeth and playing nice. It’s about experiencing the difference the gospel makes and showing the possibility for something new and beautiful in a world divided by conflict. Jews and gentiles eating together was a powerful display of God’s wisdom (Eph. 3:10). So much effort has been put into looking for solutions to the problems at the root of our conflicts. (Does science say the earth is young or old? Is Genesis 1–3 to be read as historically precise?) But the problems remain. Worse, the war remains. Maybe it’s time to try something new, or perhaps to listen anew to the ancient call of the gospel amid today’s wars. Maybe we’ll discover that the logs in our eyes are keeping us from seeing that the way we’re engaging the war is damaging us, those we oppose, and those watching us. Jesus warned that fixating on the speck in the other’s eye might reveal our own hypocrisy (Matt. 7:3–5).
The problem isn’t that we disagree about things. The church has always struggled with and fought over important questions. There has never been a time when Christ’s church has been pure in the sense of not being pressed by important questions where people arrive at different answers. It’s exactly in such pressured disagreements that our Christlikeness (or worldliness) is most clearly revealed. While these divisive issues are important, that importance shouldn’t distract us from the importance of our obedience to Christ in the way we engage our disagreements. What if the way we handle ourselves in our disagreements is a test of our Christian character? What if our failure to live out the gospel in the midst of these challenges is an opportunity to openly confess, repent, seek forgiveness, and try again? What if Christian disagreement provides a beautiful opportunity to proclaim not how right we are and how wrong those other people are but how good and gracious God is and how committed we want to be to putting off the old, destructive ways and putting on new, life-giving ways (Eph. 4:22–24)?
I attended an origins conference where one of the opening speakers suggested we speak humbly as we work on the divisive questions surrounding evolution. That’s a great idea! After all, Paul tells us that humility is a fundamental part of living a life worthy of Christ: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). But isn’t it a bit naive? We’ve tried being decent to the other side. We’ve learned that our efforts at gently correcting them lead nowhere. All those things we learned in children’s Bible lessons are fine for children, but now we’re in the big leagues and the problems are tougher. When we’re tempted to set aside Jesus’ teachings as foolishly simplistic, maybe warning bells should go off inside us. What if Jesus’ way isn’t naïve but harder and more demanding than we realize? G. K. Chesterton famously wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”1
That conference speaker made it sound so easy to be humble and to reap the fruit that grows out of Christlike humility. It’s far from easy. Living out these virtues might even be harder than understanding biology and deciding the truth or falsity of evolution. Like learning biology, learning to live like Christ takes discipline and practice. And if we’re going to make any progress, we know that the real work must be done by the Holy Spirit deep in our hearts. Heaven knows we’ve tried and failed time and time again on our own.
As you read the story in these pages, you’ll encounter two people who took up this challenge. We invited two accomplished scientists who disagree on this topic to meet each other and try to do something better, something marked by Christian love. We invited them to become friends in Christ, trusting that he had broken down their dividing wall. We were unsure how it would go, but we wanted to see whether their shared love of Jesus could make a difference even when they are so divided over an important issue. What might happen when we commit ourselves to remembering what we learned in Sunday school, even as we face grown-up challenges?
These two men are as deeply divided about the age of the earth and the theory of evolution as two people could be. As you’ll read, they sincerely believe that the other one is harming the church. But they live in a single, shared world of devotion to Jesus. They know deep in their bones that they are called to love each other. Even more than this, the Holy Spirit has placed within each of them a deep desire to love each other. This love they are called to is not some fluffy, gooey thing. It is the kind of love that leads to—and through—the cross. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Taking up a disagreement like this isn’t for the faint of heart. It has not been an easy journey. In many ways we’re still nearer the beginning than the end. But our two new friends have been courageous pioneers in moving out from the comfort of their camps to meet in a no-man’s-land where no one knew what would happen. They have been willing to open themselves up to someone they viewed as an enemy.
After they had gotten to know and care for each other, the work stalled. We were avoiding topics when we knew the sparks might fly. To go to a level deeper, I asked them both if they truly wanted to hear the other speak honestly. One answered quickly, “Yes, I want to hear what he really thinks.” The other paused and said something critically important: “Yes, I am willing for him to hurt me.” Our journey together has been marked by little moments like these, when the way of Jesus has come to the surface. The world turns upside down, the loser becomes the winner, speaking truth in love isn’t a contradiction, and death changes into resurrection.
Still, the challenge facing these two scientists remains. A lot is at stake, as supporters of both still want a decisive win. When will the other break down and change to join the winning team? But in God’s kingdom, what does the winning team look like? To many eyes, Jesus’ path looks much more like that of a loser. The way of the gospel is filled with surprises. I hope by reading these scientists’ words, you will find new and surprising—perhaps even frustrating—insights into how we might learn to address our differences in ways that are worthy of Jesus.
Taken from The Fool and the Heretic by Todd Charles Wood and Darrel Falk. Copyright © 2019 by Darrel R. Falk, Todd Charles Wood, and the Colossian Forum Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.