Science and the Way of Christ: Compatible?
YES! Our common foundation in following Christ includes the study and practice of Science as Godly service.
It shouldn’t be necessary to justify a calling-vocation into scientific disciplines. In reality, it is rather easy to promote a life serving Christ and His Kingdom through science. Science is a gift from the Creator, equipping us to be eternal stewards of His great works. [Ephesians 2:10]. To think of the life-sustaining qualities of Creation as anything but Holy is a terrible mistake. Instead, to recognize the majesty, the wonder, the genius of Creation’s qualities, is to hear the call from the Master to come and “tend the Garden” [Genesis 2:15].
When you or others of the Lord’s disciples see the word, “Science”, what comes immediately to mind? In particular, what are some, not-so-favorable ways that Christians commonly perceive the concept? Is Science IRRELEVANT for us, because it’s not about people and not “ministry”? Is it ANTAGONISTIC to the faith, because it is worldly, secular and not “spiritual”, even anti-Christian?
Instead of any negative reaction, have you ever thought of Science as a service and not just to people but also to the rest of Lord’s good works? What does it have to do with “bringing a cup of cool water to the thirsty” or “feeding the hungry” [Matthew 10:42, 25:34]? What does it mean that God had Adam name all the animals? Or, what do we make of the wisest person in history, King Solomon, in his intimate understanding of plants and animals [1 Kings 4:29-34] and even the hydrologic cycle of earth [Ecclesiastes 1:7]. Have modern humans and maybe even more so with modern Christians, lost much of the biblical connection to the rest of Creation? Perhaps we have exchanged the glory of the Lord built into His works for the distractions of human substitutes? The Psalms and especially through the mind of David, devote great worship to the Lord, because of nature as Creation. The Lord’s Image and Likeness in us causes appreciation of the variety and creativity we observe in nature. How about the spectacle of coral reef inhabitants of every color, shape, size, ornamentation in constantly changing interactions? The more we discover about God’s natural laws and processes, the more drawn to Him we ought to be. Theologically, we love and prosper in the nature that He loves and prospers. As stewards, we are called to understand (study) and care for all the systems that sustains life and beauty. A life of Science as calling from the Lord may entail a global scope of opportunities. There are many fine examples of how Science in global outreach has become a great way for sharing the Whole Gospel and evangelism. Some of these experiences are written as testimony among the profiles in this volume.
We are, His Children, called to “go into all the World”, with the Good News of redemption through Christ Jesus. “You (we) shall be My witnesses….to the ends of the Earth” [Acts 1:8]. There is no better way to carry the Universal message than through the service of Science. “Look at the fields, they are ripe for harvest” [John 4:35], is calling. The fields are everywhere on Earth, and the harvest is not just souls. Jesus, God-incarnate, came as a human, in clear demonstration that the material realities are of fundamental importance to God. Our work as Gospel agents is in a physical world. Just as Jesus healed bodies and wept over physical death, we are to serve the Kingdom physically as well as spiritually! We recommend a recent volume, Creation Care: a Biblical Theology of the Natural World, by Douglas and Jonathan Moo (Zondervan, 2018) as a fine resource to help you see the vital link between Science and Biblical faith in practice.
The theology of stewardship is rich and deep in meaning. We might think of Jesus Himself as Steward #1. He came to serve us as representative of the Trinity. In his flesh, He temporarily chose a lower status from the Father. Jesus’s flesh sought to be free of the terrible path to the Cross, but He obeyed the will “of Him who sent Me”. We had for a short time, the “One sent from God”, as our servant-leader. That role, as both leader, with inherent authority, and servant to the subjects below, representing the Master above, is what constitutes a true steward. Before Christ walked the earth, there was Joseph, son of Jacob, to model the way of stewardship [Genesis 47:1-50]. He exercised great wisdom and full Kingly authority, all the while knowing that he was an agent of good, ultimately empowered by God.
Joseph is for us a role model. Was he a scientist? Not by any indication, but his service was used to sustain life in the face of physical death. He was endowed by the Lord with wisdom to overcome physical draught. Joseph’s faithfulness involved sacrifice and an obvious sense of
calling. For those of us that like science but are perhaps afraid of its academic demands, remember Joseph. God desires and is calling many to steward His precious Creation that is increasingly threatened by natural calamities, but more unfortunately, by human ignorance and selfishness.
Young people in their later teens especially, may frequently be characterized as idealists, wanting to change the world for the better. For young people of faith, that idealism becomes devotion. They understand or will understand that with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power, all things are possible. All that is required for this role as “World changer”, is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, saying through heart and mind, “Here I am Lord, send me!”, as He asked who will represent the Kingdom [Isaiah 6:8].
Psalm 8 is just one of the majestic expressions of our significance in serving the Creation.
We are called to work, literally in the “Garden” of the Good Creation. Where are the laborers?
1 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens
2 Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas
9 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth
All the heavens, all the Earth (even the rocks and stones!), and all creatures praise the Lord of Creation. It all declares the glory of the Lord in such a powerful way, that no one has any excuse to deny God’s deity (Romans 1:19-21). Creation-“nature” as we know it, testifies to the majesty of its Creator. In extending the connection from God-to-humanity-to-Creation, we must recognize the role of stewardship in us for sustaining the integrity of all we serve, in His name. We offer you Romans 8:18-21 here and reiterate its crucial message again in the book’s vocation section. “For the created Universe waits with eager expectation for God’s sons (children) to be revealed.” (New English Bible version) which is essentially the same as the New International translation. There is something paradoxical about us humans. On the one hand, we have King David wondering what is so special about us that the Lord is “mindful of” and that He would “care for” people (Psalm 8:4). We are “dust-to-dust”. David senses our smallness and relative insignificance before the great Master-Creator. And yet, we are indeed special with the Lord’s own “Image and Likeness” built into us, so much so, that He, in the form of the Holy Spirit can indwell us. We are spiritual agents of Christ’s kingdom. We are in very real ways, of more significance than Angelic beings. They, the Angels, in part, fell from God before we did, and yet, it was this race of Adam and Eve that Jesus came to die for and redeem! From the beginning in Genesis, we are given the agency of caring for the amazing Creation. We are creatures but also much more. We get to be co-laborers with the Lord Himself in sustaining and prospering this Work of works. We do so with knowledge and wisdom.
It is not only OK for Christian students to seriously consider science as vocation, it is ordained. That is, the Lord chose us for good works and spiritual integrity.
The YAWEH Faith and Creation: Ancient and yet Eternal Truth
Serving with the perspective of Science is a fully-inspired calling. When Job had finished his long and agonizing defense of his righteousness, The Lord from Heaven brought done a brilliant rebuke by declaring the majesty of Creation (beginning in Job, Chapter 38). God didn’t use technical, theoretical theology to explain reality. He used the physical and living features of Earth. Job was accused of speaking without knowledge. His Creator used the allusions of nature to make His point. As stewards of God’s Creation, we are to know it and how it really is. The Book of Job may involve the most ancient transmission of biblical stories (Carson et al, 1994), but it is amazingly “scientific” in its character. We might affirm that this Hebrew faith is the closest of all religions in demystifying nature-humankind and separating them from deity. Our inherited monotheism has no gods or nature spirits to help explain the phenomena observed in the Universe. The Lord Creator is described as the unifying principal that makes sense of everything else. He brings order, symmetry, beauty, logic, and predictability to existence. He works within the order by His ordained laws, and yet also works above and beyond any human rationale. To us, what seems miraculous only reflects back on our own faulty capabilities. There is so much we can explain or come close to explanation, but there is infinitely more that is beyond our understanding. That is Job’s message. We are special and accomplish amazing things, though we are at an immeasurable distance from the mind of God. What people consider “natural” and “supernatural” have no such distinction in the mind of God. Even so, more-modern enlightenment plus our mental limitations compel us to split reality into accessible, via science, and what is more elusive intellectually. Ancient peoples are considered, “Pre-scientific” and tended to blend observable things with mysterious-magical explanations that were not directly discerned.
Our inheritance of faith and scripture constructs wisdom with practical application to knowledge. Read some of the passages in Job to grasp the breadth of wonder at Creation. The classic rebuke comes in Chapters 38-41; 38 covers the mostly physical Creation, and 39-41 focus on the living beings. We gain the sense from scripture that great wisdom exists in this intimate familiarity with all the Lord’s works. Another special section in Job, is Chapter 28, titled, “Job Tells of Earth’s Treasures” (New American Standard Version). By the time of Job’s tradition, mining had been in effect across the Middle East in great diversity. The inspiration in the story thrills at the unique gift in gazing upon precious stones buried deep where no other creature has gone. This again gives the sense of our unique status among all creatures. It also speaks of industry, creativity, beauty, and most of all, of God’s provision. Who are the miners today but those that study the solid earth and its resources? Who are the wise observers of the wild animals today but the ecologists and land managers?
Can we really receive accurate and useful information about the Creation from ancient writing? The trick to rightly understand God’s Word in the Bible, is not always easy or straight forward. In addition to the Special Revelation of the written Word, we have the General Revelation of Creation’s self-testimony to God referred to above in Romans Chapter 1. To these two, we should add revelation that may come inwardly to us from the indwelling Holy Spirit. Most Christians believe that the Lord can and does still “speak” directly on occasions. Finally, regardless of our denominational or non- backgrounds, Church History is a form of God’s revelation carried down through the centuries by theologians and commentators. Science as agent of General Revelation must serve in conjunction with the other ways we can follow the Lord’s ways. Humans make mistakes in all four revelatory realms. Scientists are accused of ignoring the moral guidance of scripture. Likewise, theologians and preachers can make wrong interpretations if they ignore the other realms. If we know the true meaning of all scriptural passages, then there should be no confusion or conflict with other ways of knowing truth. Of course, in our fallen state, the human mind must operate with humility and caution, especially where disagreements spawn controversies (see Hyers, 1984). Good science practice always has a measure of uncertainty in its work. That does not, however, make science the weak approach to truth in comparison with theology. Each needs the other.
Job 12:8, “Speak to the Earth and it will teach you” (NIV). The Israelites as “People of the Earth” heard directly from the Creator about stewarding Creation, or they learned as they lived in essential cooperation with nature. We suggest that all of us as Christ’s students, learn from the place of our habitation. The Old Testament contains plenty of guidelines and stories about this early “scientific” mandate to us from God. Some of the OT nature wisdom seems common sense. Consider Deuteronomy 23:14, as the Hebrews are told to take all human waste outside the camp and bury it. Today, we know why this is essential. Into this 21st Century, too many people groups still haven’t learned about disease vectors. Neither have all tribes and nations gained understanding about water supplies and proper, sustainable agricultural practices, like sabbatical rests for the land. Missions work as community development should bring this biblical wisdom in the form of science. Many of this book’s profiles demonstrate how you can be a part of this great vision for service.
“Go Ye therefore”
The Lord expects each and every one of His children to live a Holy life, devoted to sharing our blessings. It is easily argued that a simpler, less materialistic and sacrificial life is called for. How can all believers follow this pattern without guidance? We, pastoral “professionals” call upon all scientists of the Jesus faith to become immediately useful in educating others about the demands of Creation. We seek to encourage and add increasingly more young people into science vocations, but we also want to convict any Christians already in science-related careers, to reach out and bring such an important part of the whole Gospel to others. We pastors and the many contributors to this project, are from an extremely wide spectrum of Christianity. This is not a Baptist calling, a Lutheran calling, a calling for Roman Catholics, for Orthodox or Pentecostals. Presbyterians, Anglicans, Reformed, Methodists, Messianic Jews, or Charismatics, Evangelicals or Non-denominationals. This is for all of us called by His name to come and serve. You will read some amazing stories about how God has welded together the Jesus Faith and its service engaging Creation. We are delighted that the profile-stories are contributed by a wide diversity of age on the journey, gender, ethnicity, and faith experience. We are not all the same, except in love for the Creator and His beloved works. Read and enjoy; be inspired, and go.