Minister hopes to promote Christian discussion of evolution via webinars

Associated Baptist Press

FREELAND, Wash. (ABP) -- A self-proclaimed "evolutionary evangelist" will launch an online series of roundtable discussions for Christians to talk about evolution and the future of their faith on Jan. 15. 

The six-part seminar, titled The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity: Conversations at the Leading Edge of Faith, will feature 38 Christian leaders and scientists in a dialogue about how evolutionary theory can deepen rather than challenge faith.

"Science-rejecting creationism and faith-rejecting atheism are not the only games in town," says Michael Dowd, series host and author of the best-selling book Thank God for Evolution. "Tens of millions in the middle -- represented by the amazing diversity of thought leaders participating in this teleseries -- see no conflict between faith and reason, heart and head, Jesus and Darwin."

Panelists for the initial 90-minute conversation followed by questions and answers scheduled at 2 p.m. EST, Saturday, Jan. 15, include Paul Smith, co-pastor of the formerly Southern Baptist-affiliatedBroadway Church in Kansas City, Mo. The congregation dropped "Baptist" from its name after the Missouri Baptist Convention withdrew fellowship in 2004 over its welcoming-and-affirming policy toward gays, but remains a member of the Alliance of Baptists.
 
Subsequent panels include Professor Ken Miller, co-author of the most widely-used biology textbook in America and lead witness in a 2005 trial in Pennsylvania in which a judge ruled unconstitutional the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools.

Karl Giberson, vice president of the BioLogos Foundation, a conservative evangelical group that promotes integrating faith and science, is a guest for an 8 p.m. ET program Tuesday, Jan. 18, on "The Evolution of Faith and Reason."
Brian McLaren, author of books including A New Kind of Christianity and named by Time magazine as one of America's 25 most influential evangelicals, will join a panel Jan. 25 discussing "Evolving Church."

Since 2002, host Dowd, a former pastor of American Baptist and United Church of Christ congregations, and his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, have spoken to more than 1,100 religious and secular groups as itinerant preachers of what they call Evolutionary Christianity. Recently Barlow took his gospel online with a series of podcasts about the story of a creation he says is 14 billion years old.

While many Christians reject evolution as random, meaningless and godless, Dowd says that rightly understood evolutionary thinking can bring deeper meaning to God's story of love and saving grace as revealed in the Bible.
Dowd reads the Bible through Big History, a multi-disciplinary study that arose in the 1980s and looks for common themes and patterns on all time scales from the Big Bang to modernity. He describes theGreat Story, humanity's common creation story of cosmic genesis over billions of years, as including but also transcending the Christian story.

When the Bible was written, he says, people believed the world was flat, stationary and at most only a few thousand years old. Stars were seen as pinprick holes in a canopy of the heavens that allowed God's glory to shine through and energies and forces that everyone experiences were described with a language incorporating angels, demons and spirits.
There is nothing wrong with that, he says, but people today live in a different world that uses different metaphors and analogies for understanding reality. If Christians persist in using only biblical language and metaphors, Dowd says they are going to miss much of what God is doing in the here and now.

Instead of threatening faith, Dowd believes that scientific facts "are God's native tongue" for communicating a reality "far more majestic and awe-inspiring than the biblical writers could have possibly imagined."

He said ancient writers, for example, did not understand how evolution of the brain might produce instincts that were once needed for survival but now serve as temptation toward vices like gluttony or sexual promiscuity. They were "spot on," however, describing the experience with stories like the fall of Adam and Eve and Paul's observation in Romans 7: "I do not know why I do the things I do. I do not do what I want to do. But I do the things I hate."

"For far too long the public debate has been a battle of extremes," Dowd said in a press release. "After nearly a decade on the road sharing the good news of evolution, I felt called to convene a coalition of Christian leaders who embrace scientific evidence as divine communication. By focusing on values and perspectives that we all share, rather than on our differences, we are discovering extraordinary common ground."

There is no cost to participate in the live, interactive event, but registration is required at http://evolutionarychristianity.com/.