Registering for the Genesis and Evolution Conference in the Buffalo Area (September 18-19, 2015)

Back in April I mentioned an upcoming conference in the Buffalo region called “Genesis Recast,” featuring Old Testament scholar John Walton, along with New Testament scholar Craig Evans, scientist Steve Schafner, and director of Mission Advancement for Christianity Today magazine Skye Jethani.

My previous blog post gave more information on the speakers, including their bios and a tentative schedule for the conference.

The purpose of the conference is to examine what the Bible says about creation (both of the cosmos and of the human race) in a manner that would free us from thinking that these ancient texts are in conflict with evolutionary science. A close reading of biblical creation accounts in their ancient context (and how later Jewish and Christian readers understood these texts) suggest that they are not attempting to teach science at all, but rather how the cosmos is meant to function, including our role in that functioning.

Indeed, the hyper-focus of many Church people on the Genesis creation accounts as a scientific alternative to evolution inhibits us from being grasped by the immense power of these biblical texts to speak to our contemporary lives and our journey of discipleship.

When we begin to understand the real purpose of biblical creation texts, we are freed up to investigate the evolutionary history of the cosmos and humanity, without thinking that such investigation is a betrayal of orthodox faith. Indeed, the scientific investigation of the development of creation over eons of time can be an awe-filled exercise in which Christians both stretch their minds and are amazed at the wonder of God’s creativity.

It is not an intrinsic contradiction at all to think that our Creator used evolutionary processes (which we are only beginning to understand) in bringing about the complex reality of our world.

The conference, however, is not focused on addressing evolution, although there will be an informative talk on what the fossil record and genetic studies tell us about human evolution.

Rather, the “Genesis Recast” conference is meant to bring the best resources of biblical studies to bear on helping ordinary Christians see the scriptural creation accounts in a new light, one that bears fruit for our ordinary living in God’s world. An important byproduct of this “more excellent way” is that we can begin to envision a relationship between faith and science other than the classic “warfare” model.

To that end there will be a concluding talk on implications of this new way of seeing for the Church today, especially how we can get beyond the infighting among Christians (and between Christians and scientists) on this issue.

The “Genesis Recast” conference will be held September 18-19, 2015 (Friday night and all day Saturday) at The Chapel at Crosspoint in Getzville, NY.

Tickets range from $7.00 for students registering in advance (on the website) to $30.00 for non-students registering both for the conference and for lunch with the speakers. You can see the full range of registration options, as well as more information about this important event on the dedicated conference website.

To register in advance (for the best rates), click on this link.

Genesis Recast: The War with Science is Over

The end of the semester has been particularly busy, so it’s been a while since my last blog post. I’m planning on doing a number of posts in June, but until then I can announce some upcoming events.

Conference in Western New York on Evolution and the Bible

The event I want to focus on here is a major conference being planned for western New York state addressing how the biblical accounts of creation might be compatible with contemporary evolutionary accounts of the cosmos and humanity.

The conference, entitled “Genesis Recast: The War with Science is Over,” is scheduled for September 18-19, 2015 (Friday evening and Saturday) at The Chapel at Crosspoint in Getzville, NY.

Jim Walton of The Third Choice

The conference is organized by Jim Walton (brother of Old Testament scholar John Walton); he will host the conference and introduce the speakers. After having been involved in pastoral ministry in Buffalo, NY for over twenty years, Jim became Founder/ President of The 3rd Choice, an apologetics/ evangelistic/ discipleship website designed to engage people in conversation about matters of faith.

The rationale for the conference is that Genesis 1-2 is a huge obstacle to faith in our country right now. Millions of students are turning away from faith because of “science,” and they think that the early chapters of Genesis have been proven to be fictional. Millions of Christian students are struggling to reconcile Genesis 1-2 with contemporary science, and it’s an unnecessary tension. This conference intends to help change the conversation.

Keynote Speaker John Walton

The keynote speaker is Dr. John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. He will give two talks, Friday night and Saturday morning, which will focus on the material from his books The Lost World of Genesis One (IVP Academic, 2009) and The Lost World of Adam and Eve (IVP Academic, 2015).

John Walton’s interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 is informed by contemporary biblical studies and how creation accounts functioned in the ancient Near East. His approach has been immensely significant in helping evangelical Christians understand Genesis 1 and 2 better, which does not predispose us either for or against evolutionary science; that needs to be studied on its own merits. Walton has just completed a world lecture tour, to a very positive response on the part of the attendees.

Other Speakers on the New Testament, Science, and the Church

Walton’s presentation on Saturday morning will be followed by Dr. Craig Evans (a well-respected New Testament scholar from Acadia Divinity College, in Nova Scotia), Dr. Steve Schaffner (a scientist working in the area of genetics at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT), and Skye Jethani (a pastor, consultant, and executive editor of Leadership Journal).

You can find short Bios of the speakers here and longer bios here.

This is the tentative schedule for the conference.

Conference Sponsors and Registration

The event is being co-sponsored by The Chapel at Crosspoint, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Ambassadors at the University of Buffalo, and the Biologos Foundation.

Because the organizers/ sponsors are very excited about the conference and its potential for raising awareness of the compatibility of biblical faith and contemporary science in the entire Western NY area and possibly beyond (Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio), they are keeping the cost of attendance ridiculously low for an event of this caliber, in the hope that many students, professors, pastors, and others can attend.

The cost for registration is $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and only $10 for students.

I will post information on how to register as it becomes available.

Tell your friends about this event, and let’s pack the auditorium.

See a follow-up post on the conference here.

Debunking a Myth: This World Doesn’t Matter to God

Back in 1983 when I was a campus minister and grad student in philosophy at the University of Guelph, I teamed up with two fellow-students and another campus minister to write a short booklet called Ten Myths About Christianity. The purpose of the booklet was to engage—and debunk—some of the most egregious misconceptions about Christianity that we had encountered.

When I recently re-read the booklet, the way we addressed some of the myths seemed a bit outdated to my ears. Indeed, myth #5 was originally entitled “Christianity is otherworldly and irrelevant to life in the twentieth century,” and we’re now in the twenty-first century! But it struck me that our response to this myth is still a central and much-needed theological affirmation, and it continues to function as a foundation for my worldview.

A few years after we wrote the booklet our response to myth #5 was published under the title “Are Christians Other-Worldly?” in an anthology called Exploring Apologetics: Selected Readings (1992).

What follows is my updated and expanded version of what we wrote thirty years ago.

Is Christianity Otherworldly and Irrelevant to Life in the Twenty-First Century?

There’s no doubt that many Christians seem otherworldly and even irrelevant by their attitudes and actions. Some Christians seem to care nothing for the suffering of others in situations of injustice; others seem to think the earth is a disposable commodity that will be destroyed when Christ returns.

But this does not reflect the main emphasis of the Bible, which is the foundation of Christian teaching. Far from being otherworldly, biblical Christianity emphasizes the importance of this world in three main ways.

Creation

First of all, the Bible claims that the entire universe is created by God and is therefore good and important. Far from negating or devaluing the world, the Bible teaches that God loves his creation and providentially sustains the world as a good place to live. The world (both human and non-human) exists to manifest God’s glory, and God rejoices in what he has made.

Incarnation

But the importance of the world is supported also by the doctrine of the incarnation, the Christian teaching that God became man in Jesus Christ. The authentic humanity of Jesus is constantly affirmed by the Bible. He was not some spiritual manifestation or temporary avatar, but a real-life, flesh-and-blood person, located in a particular time, place, and culture. The coming of God in the person of a first-century Galilean peasant was deeply contextual. Indeed, the incarnation was the culmination of God’s revelation through centuries of Israelite history.

But why the incarnation? Why did God get involved with the world in this way?

Because creation went wrong. Humanity has chosen evil in rebellion against its Creator, and the world is no longer totally good. Corruption has set in, evident both in the individual heart and in the social systems and institutions we have created.

Yet God has not given up on the world. This is the tremendous message of the Christian gospel. God loves us to the point of becoming a human being, even suffering death on a Roman imperial instrument of torture, to free us from evil, to bring salvation.

Salvation

The salvation God offers constitutes the third way in which biblical Christianity affirms the importance of this world.

Though Christianity is often characterized as a pie-in-the-sky religion, concerned with a hereafter of disembodied existence in an ethereal heaven, this is a gross distortion of its message. There is certainly a future hope of the “kingdom of God.” But this kingdom is also present in the midst of history. Jesus proclaimed the presence of the kingdom (God’s coming rule to restore the world) and enacted this kingdom by healing diseased bodies, casting out demons, challenging the oppressive social order of his time, and offering forgiveness and hope to those in bondage to sin.

Beyond the radical in-breaking of the kingdom into the midst of history, the Bible describes the ultimate goal of this kingdom in the most concrete terms. Scripture promises the resurrection of the body and the renewal of the social order—indeed, the renewal of the entire cosmos (“a new heaven and a new earth”).

Biblical salvation is consistently holistic. Christianity’s final vision is of the eradication of evil from the universe. Christ came to restore the created order to what it was meant to be, and that includes every aspect of human (and non-human) life.

Christians must be otherworldly, in one sense

This means that there is an important sense in which Christians must be otherworldly. Precisely because they envision a world free of evil—as God’s intent from the beginning and as the goal of history—they cannot accept this world at face value. They are otherworldly in that they look beyond the distortions and pretensions of this world (the present age) to the world that is to come. They know there is something better.

Christians are called to be fundamentally this-worldly

But that means that Christianity is fundamentally this-worldly. Christians are called upon to oppose evil in all of its individual and socio-cultural manifestations. They are to work toward healing, love, and justice in this world. In the context of our modern (and increasingly postmodern) civilization of violence, oppression, and narcissism, this calling is certainly neither otherworldly nor irrelevant.

Some Background on Ten Myths About Christianity

When we wrote the booklet Ten Myths About Christianity, all four authors were part of Guelph Christian Fellowship, a local branch of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) in Ontario, Canada. We were commissioned to write the booklet for use in a week of Christian outreach at the University of Guelph in Fall 1983.

We kicked off the outreach week with a panel discussion in the Student Centre on four of the myths (one of which was myth #5), and throughout the week we distributed hundreds of copies of the booklet to those interested in reading further. We also had an artist in our IVCF group design a set of ten posters, each representing one of the myths. These posters were on display in a public thoroughfare on campus throughout the week.

The week of outreach, which we called “There Must Be More” (a line taken from a Bruce Cockburn song, “More Not More”), included public lectures and workshops on faith and science, faith and social issues, faith and history, faith and art, faith and philosophy, etc. as well as various cultural/artistic events and a culminating multimedia presentation that used music and visuals to explore questions of ultimate meaning in contemporary culture. The point of the week was to address how the Christian faith could impact life in the real world with integrity and in a holistic way.

The outreach week was so successful in engendering meaningful conversations about Christianity (not to mention some actual conversions) that we did it again the following year, and other campuses in southwestern Ontario followed suit. This led us to revise the booklet in 1984 and we turned the original set of hand drawn posters into a durable set that could be reproduced and owned by different campus ministry groups. Then in 1988 one of the original authors (Gord Carkner, together with theologian Michael Green) expanded the booklet into a short book with the same title (which is now out of print).