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Monday, 7 September 2009

The Process of Building an Evangelical Statement on Evolution (ESE)

This is the sixth post in a series on “An Evangelical Statement on Evolution (ESE)”. If you are new to the series, you may wish to read 1) The Introduction, 2) ESE Objectives, 3) ESE Approach , 4) ESE Contents, and 5) ESE Contents Addendum first.

I would like to thank everyone who participated in the conversation on the ESE, both in the comment sections and via email; in particular I’d like to thank those who provided emails of encouragement. To me, it is clear that the time is ripe for this type of statement from Evangelical ECs. This (much delayed) final post outlines my own ideas on how we should tackle the project.

Even though the internet is ideal for connecting those with common interests, I believe that it is imperative for the ESE to be launched and lead by a group that can meet (at least initially) in face-to-face discussions. What the ESE says and how it is communicated to the broader Evangelical community will be scrutinized very closely. Since the ESE is a message of hope for our (current and future) brothers and sisters in Christ, we must make every effort to avoid careless, uninformed, or insensitive statements. Face-to-face discussions should minimize this risk.

The Process
The tasks listed below are the ones I believe are necessary to make the ESE a success. This is a more-or-less chronological process although some overlap is possible.

1) Formation of the ESE leadership group
The first step is to form a leadership group that can provide oversight to all aspects of the project, and who will be accountable for its ultimate success. This group should have experts from various academic and vocation backgrounds (scientists, theologians, biblical scholars, pastors) and should reflect the broad theological diversity within Evangelicalism.

2) Definition of vision and objectives
The first task for the leadership group is to define the vision and objectives for the ESE. The discussion during this blog series (particularly in the objectives and approach posts) may be a helpful starting point here.

3) Define and enlist a roster of authors
A small group of authors should be enlisted to draft the ESE. This group could be a subset of the leadership group; it should certainly include the same theological, academic, denominational, and vocational diversity. Ideally this roster would be composed of 4 to 6 individuals; anything more could prove unwieldy.

4) Define and enlist a group of Founding Signatories
The roster of founding signatories may be even more important than the roster of authors; ie. who signs the document may be just as significant as what it says. Ideally, all denominational, theological, and international constituencies that are included within Evangelicalism will be represented within this group in some form. The group should also be composed of respected Evangelical theologians, biblical scholars, church and parachurch leaders, as well as Evangelical scientists from the various scientific disciplines relevant to the study of evolution. Recruiting these founding signatories will be crucial for the success of the ESE. It would also be helpful if these signatories committed to providing an introduction to the ESE (either formal or informal) to their own constituency in a forum that seems most appropriate to them.

5) Define the process for drafting and achieving approval for the final statement
Although the authors are tasked with drafting the statement, they should solicit input from a wide range of Evangelicals. At a minimum the entire leadership group and founding signatories would need to approve the final wording. Yes I understand that this step could significantly delay the publication of the statement. However, I believe that formulating a high-quality statement is more important than releasing a hasty statement.

6) Publish the ESE
This is probably the easiest task; the internet is the ideal place to publish a statement of this sort and there are lots of options available. The leadership group could also augment this with other targets (eg. Evangelical publications like Christianity Today).

7) Implement a communication plan
The initial publication of the ESE will certainly be important. However, we are after lasting impact, not simply a flurry of publicity. As such, there needs to be an ongoing communication plan to ensure that believers and seekers continue to hear and have access to the message that faith and evolution are not in conflict. Fifteen or twenty years from now the Evangelical church may have come to a lasting peace with science. Until then we need a plan to continue communicating the harmony between faith and science.

8) Implement a mechanism to enroll other signatories
Finally, the ESE should have some mechanism for other Evangelical ECs to sign the statement. As well, there should be processes in place for the ongoing management of this list.

The First Step
From my viewpoint the first step is to form the ESE leadership group. And although I believe this blog series outlines a solid framework for launching the ESE project, and that an informal group made up of EC bloggers and our readers could publish a fairly good statement, we could never come close to maximizing the potential of this project. As I hinted earlier, I think the Biologos Foundation is ideally positioned to initiate this project. That fall workshop led by Tim Keller with 15 leading scientists, 15 leading theologians, and 15 leading pastors from the Evangelical community seems to me to be an ideal forum to launch the discussion. The focus of the workshop will be on:

celebrating God’s creation in light of 21st century knowledge about the universe and our place in it.
Worshiping our Creator and celebrating his creation brings joy to both us and Him. But not everyone feels this sense of wonderment and contentment. For many, discussions about how the Creator created produce only cognitive dissonance. We must go beyond celebration and communicate to others why this celebration is both possible and warranted. I believe the ESE can help accomplish this goal.