Thomas Jay Oord and Sherri Walker, editors.Nazarenes Exploring Evolution.Lexington, KY: SacraSage Press, 2013. 376 pages. ISBN: 978-1937498412

Thane Ury

THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1-2. Spring & Fall 2015. Volume 33.
Posted Sept., 07, 2015

The word "heresy" not only means no longer being wrong; it practically means being clear-headed and courageous. The word "orthodoxy" not only no longer means being right; it practically means being wrong. G.K. Chesterton

Nazarenes Exploring Evolution (NEE) could be accompanied by a subtitle, "The merger of Neo-Wesleyanism and Biologos." The work is a compilation of 62 brief chapters by various members of the Church of the Nazarene (COTN). While degrees of conviction vary, the authors all embrace the truth of the neo-Darwinian synthesis. And as such they speak with one voice in endorsing the compatibility of evolution and traditional Christianity in general and Wesleyan-holiness theology in particular.

The verb "embrace" is used here because readers of NEE will soon realize that all contributors have made peace with some form of what we might call "hard Darwinism" or transpeciation; vs "soft Darwinism," or what is often labeled micro-evolution (e.g. mere variation within finches). The point is there no pretense of exploring. In whatever areas the essayists may differ, such are inconsequential to their unified "clear-headed and courageous" apologia for evolutionary creationism. No dissenting voices will be heard in this collection (e.g. Dr. Paul Madtes). In fact, not a single reference is made to scholarly works that seriously challenge the theses of NEE [e.g. Should Christians Embrace Evolution?, ed. Norman Nevin; Coming to Grips with Genesis, eds. Mortenson and Ury]. Unfortunately, Stephen Meyer's phenomenal book, Darwin's Doubt, came out just a few months before NEE. Meyer's work is a sure antidote for anyone over-enamored by NEE. A list of suggested resources will be forthcoming in part two of this review.

I have many close friends in COTN; those who are holding true to holiness, biblical authority, and will unbendingly side with solid exegesis in the face of all the moral waffling in our world. Having said that, theological trendwatchers of higher education know that in recent years some citadels of COTN have drifted to the left theologically. Some years ago at a global COTN conference, General Superintendent Jerry Porter shared his conviction that the denomination was in "theological crisis."

Such "liberal creep" with its attendant higher critical approach has resulted in a depreciating dismissal of inerrancy, which in turn has steadily led to a handling of the creation and flood narratives that Wesley would scarcely recognize.

One of NEE's editors, Tom Oord, is widely known for his liberal proclivities. While his resume is impressive and his influence wide, to peruse any of his many publications is to encounter an undisguised promotion of things like open theism, theistic evolution, as well as a disparaging of classic inerrancy. Oord believes the original autographs contain many mistakes of fact and irreconcilable contradictions. What separates Oord from others (like the acerbic pen of Karl Giberson) is his gentle tone. He models a love and persona that I wish all combatants on controversial issues would adopt. [NB: On June 26, NNU trustees terminated Dr. Oord's position, as the bulge under the carpet had become too large to ignore any longer].

But accommodationism is nothing new. The predictions of Machen, Schaeffer, Lindsell et al, are coming truer than they could have imagined. The last decade has seen many prominent Christian thinkers in academia who have pleaded with their constituents to "accommodate emerging scientific conclusions about the origins of man." Alistar McGrath, Denis Alexander, Bruce Waltke, Karl Giberson, Denis Lamoureux, Tremper Longman, Peter Enns, and Tim Keller are just a few.

Writing on the constant leftward pull in academia in general, R.C. Sproul's words warrant inclusion here:

We have seen countless examples of universities, colleges, and seminaries chartered with a strong commitment to orthodox Christianity, only to erode [into apostasy]." Sproul suggests one key factor seducing such thinkers into conformity is a desire to be intellectually recognized in the academic world; and the other side of the coin being a slavish genuflection to the latest trends in academia. This 'treason of the intellectuals' (often insecure Christian professors who are desperate to be accepted by their peers) results not just in a personal flight from orthodoxy, but in "dragging the colleges, seminaries, and ultimately the churches with them. It is a weighty price to pay for academic recognition.

Where COTN currently fits on the slippery slope -or even if it on it - will be hotly contested. But NEE serves as exhibit A that a huge shift has occurred.

Readers of The Arminian who plough through NEE, will agree that a standard review would be quiet challenging; each segment of the 373-page tome bearing enough concerns and fallacies to merit individual critique. And since only a full book-length response could suffice, my comments must remain of a very general nature and limited to ten brief points.

1) It is no minor point that the book (which is actually just the tail of a larger project) was funded by the prominent Templeton-funded organization, Biologos, whose raison d'être is to promote the view that God-directed evolution. If you haven't heard of Biologos please see Biologos about and peruse the organization's credo. Keen discernment will be needed to detect the structured ambiguity in Biologos' creed. As with all aberrant teaching through Church history, Biologos exhibits masterful dexterity in sounding and appearing orthodox. Listen carefully, and you'll hear echoes of the Wistar Institute, Spong, Borg, and Crossan. Note tenets #9 and #10 of Biologos in particular. These perfectly capture the viewpoint which NEE authors hold; namely, believing that a god-ordained process of evolution best explains the diversity and interrelation of all life; the creator providentially achieving his purposes via a Darwinian means, with humans on the same biological continuum with all life—sharing a common ancestry with beasts.

2) The book carries an almost "dear diary" flavor, with most participants recounting a chrysalis-like shedding of their cloistered fundamentalist past; breaking free to see the light with acceptance of hard Darwinism. The getaway was usually and allegedly brought on by higher education, mostly at COTN institutions, where the likes of Drs. Michael Lohdahl, Darrel Falk, and Karl Giberson helped so many to see that the assured results of Science and higher criticism trumps a natural reading of the creation and flood accounts. And thus, as we've come to expect time and time again, NEE collectively equates science with evolutionary theory, meaning de facto that all those who tend to take the creation narrative at face value must reject contemporary science.

3) We are told that the fundamentalist view of origins allegedly sets up an "either/or scenario;" it's either the Bible and a childlike faith, or science. This (false) dichotomy is reinforced throughout NEE. The Bible, we are told, is fine to learn of God's nature and plan of salvation, but not for understanding the physical world (143); the Christian part of my world doesn't find a seamless concord with the biological part of my world (147). We are implored to move away from a crass literalism and submit to a scientifically informed exegesis; piety must conform to the dictates of academic integrity or the current hemorrhaging of church membership will continue.

Non-conformists are depicted as fearful, suspicious, resistant while theistic evolutionists in COTN are seen as brave, and have joined "the agents of light and truth (233-34). Such is the condescending flavor throughout NEE. Creationists' explanations are seen as outdated, convoluted and contrived . . . grasping for straws while strong evidence in support evolution is rapidly mounting (250). Those who continue to side with a face-value reading of the first 11 chapters of Genesis are demeaned for believing that finished products popped into existence. NEE contributors however, are thrilled with a Creator who "interacts" with His creation.

4) NEE laments that many young people have left the denomination/Church because the later is perceived as out of touch with science. Thus, a key motive behind NEE is to remove needless barriers to the Gospel. At face value this goal is admirable, and I too want to show how science and a robust Christian faith are compatible. But to the extent that NEE has spawned additional hurdles, any victory is Pyrrhic at best. For example, when exegesis becomes meaningless, preaching suffers, compromise sets in, and the new face of God is little different than that of the Deist.

And where would the process stop? Apologists for homosexuality, for example, employ a hermeneutical method that mirrors that of the theistic evolutionist's. The real irony here is that many people have left the Nazarene church because of its compromise on Genesis and related areas. The current reader of course would relish hearing NEE specify exactly at what point they would not follow academic consensus?

Again, we're told numerous times that it's a wooden-headed, stifling crass literalism of Genesis that's off-putting; so many eventually leaving to breathe the fresh air of Darwinian truth. But NEE's assertions here only sway those who aren't aware of conflicting data. Esteemed theologian, Colin Brown, for example writes, "By far the most potent single factor to undermine popular belief in the existence of God in modern times is the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin."

English journalist, Newman Watts, in compiling the volume, Britain Without God, was impressed by two things; "One was the tremendous amount of literature available, and the other was the fact that every attack on the Christian faith made today has, as its basis, the doctrine of evolution."

Michael Denton adds, "Today it is perhaps the Darwinian view of nature more than any other that is responsible for the agnostic and skeptical outlook of the twentieth century." And Huston Smith agrees that "more cases of loss of religious faith are to be traced to the theory of evolution . . . than to anything else." So, how again is it that Darwinism is drawing people to Church? (to be continued)