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Monday, 14 April 2008

When Views on Evolution Divide a Church Family: One Leader's Difficult Choice

Last month I asked “Would your church allow you to publically support evolution?” and many of you responded with some thought provoking and moving comments. Well this week Cliff Martin realized the question for him personally was “Can my church survive with my leadership given that I publicly support evolution?” And the answer for Cliff was: “Probably not”.

So yesterday, Cliff resigned as an elder of his church.

Last October when Cliff revealed that he was an Evolutionary Creationist he had hoped to initiate a dialogue on science and the Christian faith.

I had hoped that [my church] might be a place where various views could be openly discussed, where we could think suppositionally (asking the "what if" questions), and that we could serve as a model of how a church might deal with the difficult issues raised by science today, even if we did not all agree. Instead, I found that my revelations served mainly to inflict pain on my friends. Many, perhaps most of them, felt a sense of loss and betrayal, and a deep emotional wound which has still not healed.

Because of these feelings of pain and the sense of betrayal, Cliff realized that his leadership was hurting rather than helping his fellowship.

There is no question of my love for these friends, nor of their love for me. But when so many of my brothers and sisters believe that a YEC position is vital to Christian faith, it is too much to ask them to follow a leader who rejects YEC in favor of an Evolutionary Creationist model.

I think Cliff should be commended for his decision. Ultimately “being right” in something like this is less important than furthering the kingdom of God. Church history is littered with those that put their own good over that of the Church. That Cliff did not speaks volumes for his integrity.

In the comments of the post, Chris Tilling asks Cliff: “What advice would you offer those of us who may face similar circumstances?” . Cliff responds with: “Advice? I was hoping someone might have advice for me.”

I’m not sure I have any advice either, but maybe my readers do. Even if you don’t, I encourage you to read Cliff’s entire post. For myself, I don’t think I can offer anything but a prayer for Cliff and his church.


Anonymous said...

It could be that Cliff's action will have unknown effects on other people. There might be those that will ask him questions informally in the future. It is an interesting period now, it seems that we are on the cusp of something, but some people will have to suffer - they are like the first people out of the trenches, or something.

I know what you are getting at when you say 'something like this is less important than furthering the kingdom of God' but I have some doubts about it. Substitute 'institution' for 'kindgom of God' and see if that better describes the issue.

Edwardtbabinski said...

My advice is to fight like the devil to help educate as many people as possible concerning the scientific evidence for evolution and let them make their own theological compromises after hearing the evidence. The creationists are out there night and day lecturing, pounding in their "evidences (they often use the plural) for creation." But once a Christian becomes pro-evolution they grow tired of having to struggle to stay afloat above the tide of ignorance and certainties propounded by creationists. So creationism is emboldened by its connection with evangelism, while Christian evolutionists lie somewhere in the middle, not evangelizing their fellow Christians whom they believe are already "saved," and also having to face deeper and perhaps darker questions from liberals, agnostics, atheists.

A new book that's quite good is RELICS OF EDEN that delves into the DNA evidence in favor of evolution that keeps piling up.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Steven R:
Oops .. sorry for missing your comment. Good point .. and sometimes the darkest times occur just before the best.

Re: substituting institution for Kingdom of God. In fact, if the affect was simply on the institution, I agree that the statement is probably not valid. Ie. we shouldn’t be so concerned with the institutional church. However, the kingdom of God is about much more than the institutional church. I think this is related to the idea of progressive revelation. Ie. God’s allowance of divorce & “eye for an eye” justice in ancient Hebrew society. In a similar way, I think we can’t expect all evangelicals to accept evolution immediately – and sometimes pushing too hard in some places will make things worse.

Edward. Welcome. Relics has been recommended to me before (in fact, by Cliff) but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

re: your advice, I think the important fight is to demonstrate that biological evolution does not require a compromised faith. Once that is done, the impetus to ignore the scientific evidence goes away.


“Science without religion is science; religion without science is religion.”

“There is no God in foxholes”

Tor Hershman

Cliff Martin said...


So combining the Einstein quote with your interesting corruption of it, I presume you would affirm that religion is blind, and science is lame?

Anonymous said...

Carlos Bovell's book 'Innerancy and the Spritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals' is about the dilemma of raising youth in the world where they can't discuss something like evolution. I just was talking to a young medical student this week who says she has dropped out of church - now that she accepts evolution, she assumes faith is out the window. This kind of thing makes me want to rattle the cage, so I wonder if preserving the tranquility of the local church really advances the kingdom of God. Maybe the subversive action is to have one of those Darwin fish bumper stickers (lol, though I always have a hard time interpreting the symbolism of the fish, the cross, the legs, etc.).

But having quit my church job six months ago or so, I am now free to say what I think. When you are part of the organization, as Cliff found, you really are obligated to uphold the written and unwritten codes.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Steve R:
Well said. These situations are never simple. And maybe those of us not involved should be more hesitant to pontificate on what is "right" or "not right" in these situations.

And I do follow Bovell's blog at http://evangelicalinerrancy.blogspot.com/ (although I haven't read the book .. at least not yet). I do appreciate his views.

Anonymous said...

I just finished Sparks' God's Word in Human Words last night and in the concluding chapter he talks about how his ideas should be handled in the local church. For the most part he says things like the diversity in the accounts of David or discrepancies in the Gospels would not be referred to directly, because people have no context and it would not serve a constructive purpose.

But he thinks evolution is an exception - 'in every direction ... Christian students are being confronted by the scientific evidence for this theory.' ... 'Perhaps, in a few decades or so, evangelical Christians will be no more troubled by the apparent 'conflict' ... than by the conflict between Genesis and Copernicus.' (p 360f) He says in his own church, a Christian high school teach taught a class in which he said that theistic evolution was a viable option. Hmmm, that air hasn't reached out here yet ...

Steve Martin said...

Steve: I'm also looking forward to Sparks book. Also, thanks for the NT Wright mp3 recommendations from my previous post. I listened to the 1st one on the way to work today. Excellent!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of MP3 and Sparks, Sparks reads a chapter of his book at

It was recorded at Taylor U. I read about it at http://tgdarkly.com/blog/?p=697 .

Steve Martin said...

Thanks Steve R. Just listened to the Sparks talk this AM on my commute. Excellent! I think this extends & clarify's some of the stuff from Enns' I&I quite nicely.

Bill Ather said...


Maybe the subversive action is to have one of those Darwin fish bumper stickers (lol, though I always have a hard time interpreting the symbolism of the fish, the cross, the legs, etc.).

Frankly it irritates me to see how co-opted the fish symbol has become. One sees a fish with terms like BUDDHA or PHISH or even 'N CHIPS inside. These are amusing, true. But doesn't anyone in our wider culture know why the fish is associated specifically with Christianity?

Guess that's what happens when the culture warriors take over an idea.