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Bethel Holds Intersections Conference

Kenneth Reynhout, assistant Bethel Seminary professor, speaks during the Summit on Origins conference hosted by the Intersections: Faith and Science program.

More than a hundred people gathered in November for the Summit on Origins conference hosted by the Intersections: Faith and Science program. Held at Calvary Church in Roseville, Minnesota, the conference featured national speakers including Edward B. Davis of Messiah College, Pennsylvania; Deborah Haarsma, president of The BioLogos Foundation and spring 2014 Bethel commencement speaker; Denis O. Lamoureux of St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta, Canada; John Walton of Wheaton College, Illinois; and nine Bethel professors from both the College of Arts & Sciences and Bethel Seminary.

While the topic of origins is widely debated in Christian and secular contexts, this conference sought to encourage respectful discourse among Christians who take science seriously. Intersections program director Kenneth Reynhout, assistant seminary professor and alumnus of the college and seminary, said that the planning team intentionally left out debates about creation and evolution, intelligent design, and the like. “The presumption was that if you’re here, you’re familiar with the discourse—you’re here because you think that’s not working,” said Reynhout. “We wanted to develop a coherent vision of what an evangelical view of the gospel can look like if we take science seriously…can we accept broadly what science tells us about the world and still honor the gospel in light of that?”

Topics included the history of the origins debate—something that didn’t surface widely until the 1960s—and interpretations of biblical texts, physics, cosmology, and evolution. “This is a conversation that’s happened at Bethel, but often behind closed doors,” said Christian Collins Winn, professor and chair of biblical and theological studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. “I’ve had interactions with former students who are relieved to have a space to think about these issues.”

According to Reynhout, this type of discourse is desperately needed in the church. Christians have often been absent from scientific discussions because, he says, “we’ve self-selected ourselves out of the room. Society is leaving us behind. We’ve chosen to stay home and we don’t even realize we need to be there because we’re still arguing about whether Genesis 1 needs to be taken literally.” Reynhout hopes discussions like this can help open the door for Christians to be involved in ethical debates in medicine and science.

“The intersection of faith and science is of critical importance for our churches. Science enriches and impacts our everyday lives in so many ways and also raises significant issues that Christians must understand and address,” said Deb Harless, executive vice president and provost. “Many of the young adults in our congregations see themselves pursuing science related careers, yet our churches tend to be silent on these issues. I am thankful for the vision of Dr. Ken Reynhout, Dr. Christian Collins Winn, and Dr. Kyle Roberts to provide this opportunity for dialog on important matters of science and faith. I am particularly grateful that this was indeed a dialog that sought to promote civil discourse and understanding around these issues.”

“There are certain topics in science—evolution being chief among them—that engender a lot of passion on both sides of the discussion, said Professor of Biology Joy Doan, one of the guest speakers at the Summit on Origins. “Because these topics seem to push back against what many have been taught in the church, it can sometimes create a climate of mistrust when people of faith start talking about science.”

Doan continued, “It is important for the church to hear the voices of scientists who follow Jesus, because in addition to the important debate about human origins, these individuals have much to say about other practical intersections of science and faith, such as global health and climate change”.

The Summit on Origins event was part of the Intersections program funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The 24-month, $196,409 grant was awarded to Collins Winn and Kyle Roberts, former associate professor of theology and director of the Christian thought program at Bethel Seminary.

The next Intersections event, Summit on Human Nature, will be held November 6-7, 2015, at Colonial Church in Edina.

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