Recently I wrote an article about the intersection of Pentecostalism and science to which the illustrious Joel Daniels wrote an interesting response article  which hypothesized that the dynamic nature of the scientific ideology may be the savior of the Pentecostal worldview. It is my goal to respond not only to his comments but also to share some of my own thoughts on the nature of the Christian’s difficulty reconciling the Biblical account with the world they experience.

The Problem with Dynamism

I will be the last one to claim that science will be the savior of anything. Quite frankly, the more I know about science and technology, the more surprised I am that we actually managed to build anything that works. Nonetheless, we have succeeded in some amazing advancements but not without plenty of catastrophes and lessons learned along the way. While I have my doubts about science’s ability to save, well, anything; I do agree with the idea of Joel’s premise. Christian ideology could greatly benefit from scientific methodology.

“Faith purports to be an objective enterprise while science embraces subjectivity” – Joel Daniels

I completely agree with the first half of this statement and partially agree with the last. Faith is often presented as a matter-of-fact based on simple interpretations of our English Bibles. However, a deeper study of the context, historical, and theological aspects reveals more nuanced or deeper understandings. Some things are definitely as straightforward as they appear. God is love. The hope of the Gospel message. These are fundamental biblical principles that do not change depending on the level of analysis.

Modern Christianity is often presented like we have everything figured out but, in fact, we do not. Some aspects of the bible and theology are not as clear as we would like them to be and this is often where different denominations arise. It is important not to present an image that is impervious to question as a result of our own superiority, but to be secure in the core beliefs and acknowledge our own human weakness to understand the rest. This is where the second part of Joel’s statement enters.

I would not necessarily say that science embraces subjectivity. I would say the opposite of that; but, I would say that science objectively embraces its limitations . Science approaches the world by saying, “We have a certain set of tools and with them we are going to do our best to prove these assumptions we have made. If we fail, we continue to try to improve our tools until we succeed. If our assumptions are wrong we will continue exploring until we uncover the correct answer.”

Science, in a very objective and straightforward manner, recognizes the inherent shortcomings that humans have. If we end up being wrong, we will debate and study it and eventually work it out. This brings me to the main reason I believe those of faith struggle so much with claims of science, and it boils down to identity.

An Attack on Identity

The overarching emotion I see exemplified in modern Pentecostal denominations in response to scientific arguments that contradict certain biblical understandings is that of fear. I have experienced it myself. There is some new research about evolution or report archeological finding and my first reaction is, “What does this mean for my faith? How do I understand in light of what I believe to be true?”

Ultimately for me it comes down to this: What if the foundational beliefs my entire worldview is based upon are proven wrong? For the non-Christian a new scientific discovery may challenge the way they have understood the past or how the world works but for the Christian it challenges the foundation of their identity.

When the Christian is presented with a scientific discovery that challenges their understanding of a particular biblical narrative they see more than just an academic endeavor but an attack on the principles that define their very purpose, hope, and security.

If the Bible is inaccurate or untrue then everything built upon it must also be called into question. For the person whose purpose in life and hope for the future is being called into question, it can be too much to bear.

There is a web show called “Adam Ruins Everything” that has a little clip that perfectly illustrating this point.

As Christians we often feel our very identity is under attack by secular challenges to the foundation of our Christian worldview and in return we hunker down under the banner of “just have faith” and try ignore the questions. Unfortunately, this makes us look unintelligent and greatly diminishes our credibility and evangelistic voice.

Identity in a World of Questions

How do we deal with the backfire effect and the fight or flight response to well-placed challenges to our worldview? Christianity provides an alternate narrative to the nature of humanity and purpose of the world around us, there is no doubt. The challenge is to separate what aspects of the Christian worldview are fundamental and what could be left to interpretation.

What are the core beliefs that are fundamental to the gospel message and what aspects of the Bible would not actually change important theology if interpreted differently? This topic begins to diverge from my area of expertise and into the realm of theologians, however, I can give one example.

The age of universe is one area that has put many Christians in direct conflict with a scientific record. Biblical literalists read the Genesis account of creation and deduce that all of history must fit into a 6,000 year time frame. There are other interpretations of the creation story that result in time scales equaling that of the scientific record, such as that given by Hugh Ross at Reasons to Believe.

Apologetically, what you believe about the age of the earth can be significant as it can hurt or help your discourse with the non-believer. However, I would propose that, theologically, the mechanics of the earth’s formation is not the point of the creation story and the details do not change the biblical narrative. I have heard more than one theologian explain that the point of the creation story is to say that the earth was created, we as humans were created unique with likeness of God, and to set the stage for the importance of our position in relation to God and His creation.

If I have only been taught that a particular passage of scriptures reads a certain way with no room for historical, contextual, or translational context, being told otherwise would be a very jarring experience. However, I feel this is how Jesus approached most of his ministry. He constantly challenged religious and social expectations in order to reveal His true message. In our desire for completeness, we sometimes place more weight on certain biblical interpretations in order to present the kind of infallible worldview we need. The Bible is not always as clear or straightforward as we would like it to be for every possible topic but the gospel message and redemptive power of Christ is impervious to any translation. Our identity should be found in Christ and who He is calling us to be as a result of the cross. Just because I don’t have an answer to a question does not mean that the answer doesn’t exist. I must keep pursuing the Truth with a firm grasp on my own limitations. Where I am weak He is strong.

I can rest in the fact that I don’t have all the answers and His peace, hope, and love never required them in the first place.

Note from the Editorial Team:
Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.

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Dirk Bartkoski

Author: Dirk Bartkoski

I grew up in a charismatic Christian home while being homeschooled with my two brothers and three sisters from the first grade to the end of high school. I went on to pursue a bachelor's degree at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK after which I went on to graduate school at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. While in Tennessee I finished a master's and doctoral degrees in physics while doing research on particle accelerators at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as meeting my wonderful wife Kerri. Together we moved to Houston, Texas where I finished a postdoctoral position and now work as a research scientist in the division of Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center developing novel methods for external beam radiation cancer therapy. My relationship with Jesus has been the primary guiding source in my life, Pentecostalism the lens through which I have viewed it, and science the mechanism by which I have come to understand it.