Science and Faith as BFFs: a book review

When I was a teenager, in my fundy evangelical days, I was taught to be suspicious of science. Scientists were you using their big bang black magic, their carbon-dating-voodoo, and evolutionary processes to explain away the Creator.  My youth leaders would do role-playing exercises designed to help us take a brave Christian response to our godless philosophy or biology professors when we got to college (I’m convinced that the entire plot to God’s Not Dead was written in a youth group). I was told if Genesis 1 was not literally how God created the earth, that would mean you couldn’t trust anything in the Bible (there is a logical fallacy there, see if you can spot it).

8741I can’t say this is all entirely to blame for my undergrad, underachieving self, but it is pretty hard to make yourself try hard in class if you think your Geology professor is lying to you (I think this suspicion of sciences is also partly to blame for certain Christians’ ambivalence to global warming or evidence-based research).

Thankfully, there are a number of Christians today which are exploring the interconnection between science and faith. Among them is Greg Cootsona. Cootsona directs Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries (STEAM) at Fuller Theological Seminary and teaches religious studies and humanities at Chico State. He wrote Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults as a manifesto for pastors, emerging adult ministries leaders, and emerging adults themselves (18 to 30-year-olds). He discusses the disconnect between science and faith, places where they may be brought into greater integration and dialogue, and he provides various case studies of relevant issues to faith and science.

Mere Science and Faith unfolds in eight chapters. In chapter 1, Cootsona describes his own history of science and faith—his Christian conversion in college at UC Berkley, and subsequent antagonism toward faith he experienced from faculty and fellow students. He then introduces his thesis, an integrative approach to faith and science. In chapter 2, Cootsona cites psychological and social scientific research to discuss how to engage science and faith with emerging adults (18 to 30-year-olds). He concludes that the conversation between faith and science has shifted with the development of new technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence, transhumanism, screen time), new understandings of faith, and the eclectic “Spotify mix” style of engaging faith and science of emerging adult Christians today which breaks down some of the old dichotomies (28-29). A bricolage of mismatched ideas (Spotify) instead of an LP album, allows emerging adults to see connections between science and faith, or at least regard them as independent spheres without any felt antagonism. Cootsona extends this analysis in chapter 3 (“Emerging Adults: Are They None and Done?”).

Chapter 4 and 5 are a crash course on biblical hermeneutics. Chapter 4 has an eye to how best make sense of the creation passages in our Scientific age. Cootsona discusses creation narratives of Genesis 1-2, and other relevant passages.  Chapter 5, looks at  Adam and Eve and human history. Cootsona concludes this section on hermeneutics with 5 reflections on reading the Bible:

  1. We hold to the Bible because there we find our relationship to God through Jesus Christ.
  2. Although we seek integration, we need to  interpret Scripture with a sufficent dose of independence between science and faith when necessary
  3. The interests of the interpreter are critical to the task of interpretation [i.e. we bring ourselves to the text and engage it with critical realism]
  4. Science is not the sole arbitrator of truth.
  5. Our biblical interpretation is about learning to live with the narrative of Scripture (96-98).

These hermeneutical reflections help Christians navigate truth in science and Scripture while acknowledging that each has a peculiar lens for comprehending reality. Chapters 6 and 7 describe the gifts and limits of technology and chapter 8 concludes the book.

Interspersing these chapters are various case studies exploring: the New Atheism, Cognitive Science, the Big Bang and Fine Tuning, Intelligent Design and the problem of irreducible complexity, climate change, and human sexuality. If the chapters are more conceptual, these case studies explore the nature of the dialogue between faith and science as they relate to particular issues.

I didn’t have this book during my own emerging adulthood, but somehow I discovered that pressing into scientific questions (e.g. evolution, cosmology, geology) and adjusting how I understood particular passages, did not cause my faith in God to slide down a slippery slope toward secularism. For myself, it was exposure to Christians outside my narrow evangelical bubble that enabled me to make my peace with science, but certainly, a book like this would have been quite helpful. As an erstwhile and intermittent pastor, I appreciate the sound advice which Cootsona offers in guiding emerging adults to greater integration of science and faith. I particularly liked the emphasis on hermeneutics. I was reminded of one of my seminary professors saying, “When science and faith disagree, there is always a hermeneutical problem. Either we are misreading God’s Special Revelation (i.e., the Bible) or we are miss reading Creation. Or both.” Cootsona explores how to navigate the issues well (I did wish his chapters on technology probed the issues a little more, but this is a short book).

This is a book about science, but not really a science book. Cootsona mentions research and some important thinkers, but this is pretty accessible to us non-scientists. I give this four stars – ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

From Facebook to the Face of God: a book review

Facebook has much to offer us. I love that I can reconnect with family and friends who live far away from me and my family. I love sharing pictures of our kids so that their grandparents and aunts and uncles can see. And it is fun reestablishing a friendship online with people you haven’t seen or heard from in years. Occasionally you read an article (or book) about how social media is addling our brains or turning us into socially obtuse narcissists, but can this really be true?

Will You Be my Facebook Friend?: Social Media and the Gospel by Tim Chester

Author and church planter, Tim Chester, has written a short booklet (48 pages) which can be read in less time than many of us spend online per day. Chester is not a Luddite. He acknowledges the benefits of Facebook and other social media sites; however, there are problems and dangers in its excessive use. Many use Facebook to recreate their world, controlling how people perceive them. Others use Facebook to escape their limitations (using Facebook to replace real-world relationships rather than enhance them). Chester explores these dangers, but also relates them to the gospel. While the promise of social media is relationship on our terms,  in the gospel God has opened up away to relate to Him and one another on His terms. While we try to ‘recreate ourselves’ on social media sites, God in Christ is recreating us in his image. He relates to us in truth while many of our online worlds are built on self-constructed images and pretense.

Chester closes with some guidelines for social networking which enable us to use them beneficially, while avoiding some of the inherent dangers. I like Facebook as much as the next person, but technology is not neutral and carries its own telos. If we use social media in a non-examined way, we likely will end up somewhere we never intended to be, in terms of how we see ourselves and our relationships. Chester offers some great advice on how to be mindful in the online world. This book will be helpful for anyone seeking to get a handle on their online world and wanting to bring greater integrity to their social media presence.

Thank you to 10Publishing and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review

Question: How much time do you spend on social media? What impact (if any) does it have on your real-time-relationships and embodied life? 

If You are Really Viral, Lets Just Be Friendz on the Interwebs: a book review.

A couple of years ago a co-worker of mine came back from a conference and quoted Len Sweet as saying, “The question is not whether or not Jesus would tweet, the question is how he would tweet.” I was curious but remained unconvinced. Technology comes with a whole set of issues and where I have connected most with Christ has been when I have unplugged (rather than from some 140-characters-long-message). Then a year ago, a friend and professor of mine, John G. Stackhouse, Jr. came back from an ‘Advance’ with Len Sweet in the Orcas Islands and decided to jump into the twitterverse . I was already on Twitter, but only making occasional use of it and didn’t see the point. So when Len Sweet published a book detailing how social networking is poised to ignite revival, I thought I should read it, so I could maybe understand (and jump on that bandwagon).

Ideologically I generally feel a little out of step with Sweet. He is always waxing eloquent about where we are in culture and how we should speak relevantly in our context. I want to ask how our context can prevent us from experiencing the truth of the gospel and numb us to the Spirit’s movement. I feel this most acutely in relationship to technology. I have a blog, I’m on Facebook and Twitter and happy to amass friends and followers at each venue (and yes, I blog as a Christian), but I also wonder how technology is numbing my ability to know God intimately, to be in silence and solitude, and to make meaningful connections where I live.

When I read Viral, I heard Sweet’s strong exhortations to get with the time, to embrace the social medium and use my platform to share Christ.  These pages don’t have the prophetic edge of a Jacques Ellul or Albert Borgmann questioning what meaningful thing is lost when we embrace new technologies (although Sweet quotes Marshall McLuhan several times). You also won’t find Neil Postman’s incisive analysis of how Western culture developed technology, but technology is now making us. But Sweet is not wholly ignorant of the dangers inherent in this tangled web we weave. He just chooses to accentuate the positive.

Sweet compares the two cultures that co-exist in our time. The Gutenbergers, love the printed word, sustained thought, but are also individualistic, narcissistic and prone to argument. The Googlers are digitally connected, think its more important to be in relationship than to be right and prize images and symbols and metaphors (though they still like text). As I expected, Sweet thinks that the Googlers are where our culture has moved to and so if we are serious about engaging the world with a Christian message, than we ought to move into the digital age engaging in the entire spectrum of the ‘TGIF’ culture (Twitter, Google, iphone, Facebook).

Yet Sweet does not give his wholesale stamp on every phenomenon in the Google world.  What he is really interesting is describing our context, where we live and how we relate to each other in our day and age, and how we remain faithful to Christ in the midst of that culture. So while much of this book is a glowing endorsement of twitter and iphone, Sweet augments that with suggestions of how to tweet in a transformative way and how to tell beautiful, poetic stories of God’s goodness in an era where people spend half the day looking at cat memes.  A lot of what he says tells people how to navigate the Google world better, some of it cries out for some of the Guttenbergers’ literary skill, left brain thinking and analysis. So while Sweet comes down on the side of the Googlers, he affirms that both groups need each other.

This a worthwhile read and despite my skepticism and suspicions, I found some real insights here on how to use my online platform for the kingdom of God. This book is way over simplified in its analysis (Sweet admits as much) but it does a good job of naming and illustrating some of the major trends in culture that has happened over the past forty years. As always, Sweet provides you with a plethora of acronyms and witty terms which you will either enjoy or roll your eyes at. But despite his trendy, poppy prose, this book has good stuff to say and I would recommend it to those who are trying to be ambassadors for Christ in a digital world. As always, Sweet’s interactive discussion questions, poke and prode and invite you into deeper learning (rather than just rehearse the chapter for you). Read it. According to Sweet, if you are Googler you will read it on your reader or ipad, if you are Guttenberger, you will read the print version. I read both, which I suppose means I’m every woman (or boy).

Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.