Theology, Human Origins, and the Church: A Conversation

My home institution has been in the news of late: as many probably know, Calvin College is wrestling with issues at the intersection of faith and science–specifically issues at the intersection of Reformed theological commitments and the implications of an evolutionary account of human origins. Indeed, I think it is precisely because we are a Reformed institution that we are pressed to engage such issues: I see this as “coming with the territory,” so to speak.

This internal debate has been externally aired in places that include Christianity Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and NPR. For the most part, I think the journalism around this issue has been sloppy (not to mention the blogging)–though the CT coverage was much more nuanced than most. From some of these outlets, you’d think the question was whether or not scholars at Calvin College could affirm evolution. That’s simply not the issue. That was settled for the college (and for the denomination) years ago. The question is what sorts of theological implications that entails–and how such entailments and inferences can (and should) be drawn. In this particular instance, the question is whether the affirmation of common descent requires jettisoning the orthodox Christian doctrines of the Fall and original sin.

But before one can address that sort of specific question, it is necessary to attend to fundamental methodological issues (e.g., about the nature and interpretation of Scripture, the role of the confessions [since we are a confessional tradition], the notion of “natural revelation,” etc., etc., etc.). While I’ve been cagily silent about these matters in public, I am currently co-chairing the college’s ad hoc committee addressing this issue. I’ll continue my silence on the specifics until that report has been made public.
But more recently John Kloosterman, one of the op-ed editors for our student newspaper, the Chimes, sat down with me for an interview about some of these surrounding issues in this conversation. That conversation is now available on the Chimes website (pdf): “Human Origins and the Church: A Discussion with James K.A. Smith.”