David Kinnaman, a best-selling author and president of the Barna Group, addresses the factors that contribute to teens and twenty-somethings leaving the church in his recent book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011). Among his observations is this one: “Millions of young Christians perceive Christianity to be in opposition to modern science.” He quotes someone named Mike: “To be honest, I think that learning about science was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I knew from church that I couldn’t believe in both science and God, so that was it. I didn’t believe in God anymore” (p. 131).
Recently, I invited the more than 150 academics in our congregation, and other interested parties as well, to join me in creating at our church a “Center for Faith and Knowledge.” Our premise is that we, as a church, should live into our calling of being a community where “embracing one’s Christian faith and pursuing one’s field of knowledge” are seen as complimentary and collaborative endeavors, rather than being at odds with each other.
When I asked our group to share why they were interested in this project, the dean of a school of pharmacy said, “Where we used to live, our 13-year-old daughter, on hearing a ‘7 days creation’ declaration by her science teacher, stated that she didn’t believe that, but rather held to a type of evolution. And she was ridiculed and berated by fellow classmates for her views.” The dean indicated that this is why the family relocated to our community.
I’ve always been blessed with a wonderful sense of curiosity, which I believe is a gift from God. And, fortunately, I have successfully resisted attempts by well-meaning Christians to thwart that inquisitive nature. I’m grateful for my high school math teacher, Mr. Morrow, who often proclaimed, “Seek the truth though the heavens fall!” I had parents who were steeped in their Christian faith, and were confident that their God was fully competent and able to embrace truth wherever it was found. I had professors in theological school who safeguarded the integrity of our work as theologians and biblical scholars in our pursuit of “faith seeking understanding.” And I will always be grateful for the openness of the Methodist tradition that welcomes faithful inquiry. All of these and more have allowed my soul to breathe and to breathe deeply.
From the extraordinary energy in the first meeting of our Center for Faith and Knowledge, it’s clear that I’m not alone in this appreciation. Indeed, the young people in Kinnaman’s survey need not have been turned away from the church had they been aware that there are in fact deeply committed Christians who embrace the wonder of science and the enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge, believing that they are becoming, in the process, even more faithful followers of the One who was the Truth.