Back in January, Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an excellent blog post about intellectual discipleship and the importance of loving God with our minds. I actually agreed with quite a few of his conclusions, including this one:
A robust and rich model of Christian thinking—the quality of thinking that culminates in a God-centered worldview—requires that we see all truth as interconnected. Ultimately, the systematic wholeness of truth can be traced to the fact that God is himself the author of all truth… The recovery of the Christian mind and the development of a comprehensive Christian worldview will require the deepest theological reflection, the most consecrated application of scholarship, the most sensitive commitment to compassion, and the courage to face all questions without fear.
Face all questions without fear.
That’s exactly what I tried to do about two years ago when, despite some serious trepidation, I decided to learn all I could about the science behind evolutionary theory and the biblical scholarship surrounding interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. I’d been raised with the young earth creationist view and was familiar with the arguments from that camp, but what little evidence I’d studied from “the other side” struck me as compelling and sound. I figured that if “all truth is God’s truth,” then there would be no harm in honestly examining the evidence for myself.
Within a few months, it became clear to me that to deny the scientific veracity of an old earth required an interpretation of the data that I could not in good conscience accept. And by the end of the year, I’d uncovered so much rich biblical scholarship regarding creation narratives in ancient Near Eastern culture that to demand that Genesis 1 and 2 address modern scientific questions seemed wholly unnecessary to preserving the inherent truth of the text.
(Note: Some of the most helpful books I encountered during this period of study included The Language of God by Francis Collins, The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton, Saving Darwin by Karl Giberson, and Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne.)
I spoke one-on-one with scientists. I read through commentaries as old as Augustine. I got connected with the BioLogos Forum and even attended a conference on science and faith where I pretended to understand jokes at the lunch table about protein biosynthesis.
I did my due diligence to love God with my mind, even when it required a dramatic shift in my perspective.
And Al Mohler didn’t like it.
Responding to a piece I wrote for the Washington Post about my journey from young earth creationism to evolutionary creationism, Mohler told readers that my “glib and superficial endorsement of evolution and its reconciliation with Christianity is all too common and all to irresponsible.”
My quest for truth—with all of its searching, its tears, its research, and its late-night prayers—had been deemed “glib and superficial” by someone who didn’t even know me. It seems that Al Mohler is fine with Christians loving God with their minds so long as they reach the same conclusions that he has.
As I’ve said many times before, I’m not particularly interested in converting young earth creationists into evolutionary creationists. I believe that Christians should be able to fellowship together in love and unity regardless of their various positions on the interpretation of Genesis. Being neither an Old Testament scholar nor a scientist, I’ll leave that debate up to the experts.
But I will tirelessly and unequivocally advocate on behalf of those Christians struggling to reconcile their faith with their intellectual integrity because someone like Al Mohler told them that they have to choose between Christianity and scientific consensus. I cannot overstate the fact that the evangelical community…indeed the Christian community… is losing young people every day to a false dichotomy.
Take it from me: When you grow up being taught to love God with your mind and then get punished for trying to do so, the temptation to leave the faith in anger and disillusionment is overwhelming.
My request for Al Mohler is not that he abandon his convictions regarding the age of the earth but that he accept the fact that if the Christian community indeed devotes itself to intellectual discipleship it will inevitably result in some diversity of opinion.
And that’s okay.
What does loving God with your mind mean to you? Have you ever been punished by the Church for asking tough questions or pursuing a new idea?
Rachel Held Evans is author of Evolving in Monkey Town. Read more from her at her website.