Do you have a science-friendly church?

The perceived conflict between faith and science is so commonplace that it’s a given in popular culture. Caught up in this false choice, churches are sometimes inhospitable places for people trained in the sciences.

So how can congregations create a welcoming space where people celebrate God’s scientific truth, and where all those involved in the sciences (including engineers, teachers, lab technicians, researchers, health care professionals and others) can grow as disciples and embrace their work as a holy vocation?

Although some might think of a hospitable attitude toward science and faith as an option package, it is an essential facet of the church’s witness. It is vital to the spiritual formation of those who are engaged in the sciences. It is critical for a compelling Christian witness in a culture where the dogma of the scientific worldview mostly goes unchallenged. And it is integral to developing a robust faith centered on the God who reveals His glory within the created world.

Becoming a science-friendly church is not so far out of reach - it doesn’t require a conference or a shiny new program. Most congregations and pastors can draw on Christ-centered practices and postures cultivated over centuries, mindfully extending them toward the sciences. Following are a few of those practices and postures that might be helpful.

Repent. Humble repentance is a good place to start. For many, fear and suspicion lurk beneath the faith-science conversation. This posture never allows us to extend love to others, to experience candor in our conversations, or to express gratitude for the wisdom in God’s two books of revelation. Those in the sciences can repent of the idolatry of the scientific worldview; others can repent of a suspicious attitude toward the sciences. All of us can ask God for a heart ready to celebrate the goodness of the scientific endeavor and to affirm the priestly work done by those in the sciences as they give voice to the Word of God inherent in creation.

Cultivate wonder, delight and play. Christians worship God. Our worship emerges from a deep sense of wonder in God and delight in God’s creating and saving work. All week long, science-friendly congregations bring that posture of wonder to the created world and to the discoveries of the sciences.

This practice is pivotal because conversations on faith and science often turn to the issue of origins. No doubt this is an important issue - but there is so much more to delight in! Before discussing the question of origins, perhaps we should first spend time leisurely gawking at photos from the Hubble space telescope, closely observing an ant colony at work, enjoying a visit to the zoo or finding out what goes on inside our digestive systems. Let a deep sense of worshipful wonder properly set the table for important theological conversations.

Encourage curiosity. Part of the goodness of human life is our immense hunger to know God and the universe God created. Curiosity is a homing device implanted in the human soul, calling us back to our Creator. Every time we encourage curiosity, questions and learning (whether pursued through God’s book of creation or Scripture), we practice humility and steer people toward a larger understanding of God.

Healthy churches are learning communities. We ask questions about God; we teach the story of God in Scripture; we expand our knowledge through Bible studies and adult education; we discourage ignorance. It’s no stretch to extend that learning posture toward God’s created world, humbly learning all we can from sound science, even embracing the common grace of a learned scientist who doesn’t believe what we believe.

Practice hospitality. Churches are supposed to be welcoming places of grace for all people. The practice of hospitality creates a place for others to know the embrace of Christ and it opens wide our world to the views of others. Simply taking an interest in the world and work of scientists by asking them questions about what they do is a generous act of hospitality.

Admittedly, science can be intimidating; for many, scientific knowledge can seem overly complex and out of reach. Yet scientists are not that scary - likely they would love the chance to tell you about their work. Ask where they see God in their research or how their work encourages or hinders their spiritual formation.

In fact, why not include a scientist on the worship team or as part of the sermon planning process? Every day, Christian scientists note the grandeur of God in molecular genetics, chemical reactions or particle physics. They are perfect allies for giving voice to God’s Word within creation through the church’s ministry.

Pray. Churches are communities of prayer. Together we lift prayers to God for our world and its hot spots, for government leaders, natural disasters, personal needs and for people as they pursue their vocations. Why not pray specifically for those serving in the sciences in our congregations and beyond - praising God for recent scientific discoveries in the news and praying for the faithful witness of Christians in the world of science?

Community. Churches are communities where we encourage, care for and support each other, where we bear one another’s burdens. Christians who are active in the sciences regularly wade through complex ethical issues and many are involved in high-level discussions that impact public policy. These followers of Jesus feel the weight of demanding careers and of where their work and research may lead. The burden can be heavy. Can we compassionately come alongside these fellow disciples, providing supportive Christian community and a safe place to explore how the Gospel shapes these important issues?

The way beyond the perceived conflict of science versus faith is the way of Jesus, the way of living Jesus’ generosity, patience, humility and love. Why not make an experiment of it in your church and see what surprising new discoveries emerge?

What Do You Think?

  • Would you consider your church science-friendly?
  • What relationship should Christians have with science?
  • What is the proper place of science within the church?

Comments (1)

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Phil, I agree.

Science, now more than ever before in human history, can work in concert with theology to solve the world’s greatest problems while pointing humanity back to its Creator. But why NOW more than ever? Consider this passage:

“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.” Ecclesiastes 11:5 NIV

Although this scripture was written millennia ago, in the last fifty years, the message of this ancient passage has radically shifted. How? At this point in history we DO now now the path of the wind (the first weather satellite, Tiros 1, was launched in 1960) and we DO now know how the body is formed in the mother’s womb (through ultrasound machines, PET technology, etc). So does that mean, based on the passage above, that we can know understand the works of God? In a way, yes…

How? Because science is the study of reaction. And as technologies have advanced, the moment between action and reaction has radically shrunk.

Let me give you an example with tobacco smoking. For centuries, science has been able to determine through autopsies that the devastated black lungs of a smoker are the direct result of his habitual smoking habit. Forty years ago, we could create an internal snapshot of the lungs through an X-Ray machine and show a living man how cigarettes had impacted his body over the length of his habit through a static X-Ray image.

Twenty years ago, we could see how cigarette smoke entered the body and observe its immediate effects on the lungs and other organs. Ten years ago, we uncovered how at the moment the first puff of smoke enters the mouth, nicotine enters the brain causing the brain releases the neurotransmitters dopamine, acetylcholine and glutamate across the brain’s synaptic pathways, creating a sense of euphoria and accelerating the addiction process. From the first inhale, the body is already pushing toward addiction and thereby leading the body toward Cancer, Emphysema, Heart disease and Stroke.

How does this technological scientific advancement help us understand the “works of God?”

Because we can now understand why Jesus would have said, “if anyone looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery in his heart,” because of how the brain reacts at the moment of visual arousal. We can see why Paul would say that a war rages within his members, because of how the brain builds up and strengthens synaptic pathways based on the pleasurable aspect of certain actions. We can see why Jesus would say “be slow to anger,” because we can see in real time the effects of anger on the heart, brain and other organs.

We can see how promiscuous sex (fornication) among young people deliberately leads to cervical cancer, based on how sperm imprint themselves into the human body. We can see that through drug usage such as meth, the body lowers dopamine levels in the brain after the first intake, and from that moment forward, the only thing that once again leads back to normal dopamine levels is… meth. We can see how charity and selflessness lead to better brain chemistry, increase mood and function and promote organ health.

We can now see that God’s creation, such as fruits, vegetables and fish are not only beneficial for sustaining life, but that the natural compounds and enzymes in many foods immediately benefit areas of the brain, heart, lungs, and eyes. We can see that these same foods are important for skin and follicle health. We can see that fish oils such as Omega 3, accelerate learning and brain function and health. The examples go on and on. You just need to know how to look. And science does. Science is daily proving God and His works, it simply most often doesn’t have the right lens of observation. In other words, evolutionary science is not poor observation; it’s poor conclusion and even worse (and hyper-dangerous) application.

Christian leaders must understand that they shouldn’t run from science, but that modern day science may be one of the most potent forms of evangelism to the skeptical world as it exists today. But more than evangelism, science COMBINED with scripture can solve many of today’s most puzzling problems.

Sorry for the long comment, but if you’re going to talk about science, you can just explain it in a quick soundbite :)

live inspired.

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