In a story becoming all too familiar, another pro-evolution faculty member has been forced to leave his evangelical institution. Jim Stump, longtime professor of philosophy, productive scholar, and popular, award-winning teacher at Bethel College in Indiana, resigned his position in June because of pressures put on the college by its sponsoring denomination, the Missionary Church.
The issue, once again, was evolution. Most members of the Missionary Church reject Darwin’s theory of evolution in favor of a literal interpretation of the creation story in the Book of Genesis. But many faculty members at Bethel College accept evolution and consider it part of their “teaching ministry” to help their students do the same, within the context of their faith. Such divergences exist in most evangelical denominations that sponsor liberal arts colleges but as long as faculty members are clearly evangelical in their faith the tensions are often manageable and an uneasy peace can be maintained.
The Articles of Faith and Practice of the Missionary Church, however, clearly reject evolution and affirm the reality of a historical Adam: “We believe that the first man, Adam, was created by an immediate act of God and not by a process of evolution.” In contrast, Bethel faculty members have historically affirmed a much broader statement on origins, which says simply “God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things.” This statement is compatible with a wide range of positions on human origins, from a belief in the literal story in Genesis in which God creates everything in six days, to the belief that God created all life—including humans—through the process of Darwinian evolution over billions of years.
Darwin and his theory, however, even when cast in a theological context, remain unwelcome in most evangelical communities. Many in the Missionary Church objected to the teaching and public promotion of evolution by Bethel faculty in an institution created to reflect their beliefs. The president of the Missionary Church, Steve Jones, spoke frankly in an email approved for public distribution: “Genesis,” he wrote, “specifically and intentionally describes the creation of Adam and Eve—not all life—as a special creative act of God separate from all the rest of his creation, rather than as a process of evolution.” And, although Jones was clear that the denomination he leads does not want to “take over” the college, or even “get anyone fired,” he was also clear that “we don’t want Bethel professors advocating for a view that humankind arose through a process of evolution, because God said otherwise.”
The tension between Bethel College and the Missionary Church illustrates the ongoing and insoluble problem that American evangelicals have with evolution. Jones is the president of a denomination in which most members reject evolution, and affirm the creation story in Genesis, especially the historicity of Adam and Eve. This is an important article of their faith, at the heart of how they understand sin, salvation, and the meaning of Jesus. Jesus saves people from sin they inherited from Adam, who was created perfect by God but chose to disobey.
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SOURCE: The Daily Beast
Karl W. Giberson