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FIRST-PERSON: Darwinism in the church business meeting

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–It’s time to do something about all of the Darwinism in our evangelical churches.

No, I’m not talking about church members holding to the ideology of natural selection put forward by Charles Darwin’s infamous “Origin of Species.” Instead, I mean the ways in which we inadvertently pick up the “Survival of the Fittest” mentality — and put it to work in our evangelism, our missions and our congregational business meetings.

Darwin, you will remember, suggested that nature is rigged toward the winners. Nature is red in tooth and claw, a struggle for survival in which only the strongest are left to propagate their seed. From the very beginning of the Darwinian era, Christians recognized that our problems with evolution aren’t just about the historicity of Genesis (although that would be enough). The problems include a worldview that can’t make sense of the Sermon on the Mount — in which the last are first, the first are last, and the “least of these” is a brother of the sovereign King of the cosmos.

In the early 20th century, confessional Christians warned that Darwinism was more than just a theory — it was an ideology that would have implications for real human lives. And so it did. The triumph of social Darwinism was seen everywhere in the eugenics movement of Planned Parenthood to the compassionless business tycoons of the Roaring Twenties to the death camps of Auschwitz and beyond.

So what does this have to do with the 21st century church?

Perhaps the reason so many of our teenagers fall for Darwinism once they head to the local state university is because they’ve seen it all their lives.

We act like Darwinists when we allow our church business meetings to be governed by the meanest and most aggressive people in the congregation. Just as in the corporate world, decisions are then made by the ones who can intimidate others to go along with their will about where the chandelier should hang, or how much money should go to the mission field, or whether the neighborhood kids should be allowed to play basketball in the family life center.

Moreover, we act like Darwinists when we highlight only those Christians who are “successful” by the standards of this present world order. Hence, we feature testimonies by beauty queens and football players and sitcom stars.

We need to hear these kinds of conversion stories. But what would it say if we highlighted just as much the testimony of a mentally retarded woman who works part-time as a checkout girl at the local grocery store?

Her life means very little in a Darwinian worldview — indeed, many in the contemporary culture don’t think she should have been born at all. Having the church honor her as a sister-in-Christ with something to teach us sends a clear signal to the world system — we operate on a different set of values. We believe that the Kingdom of God will upset the current celebrity culture — and that those despised of the world will be loved, cherished and crowned with glory and honor by a Creator Christ.

Perhaps that would remind all of us that we are not animals seeking to claw our way to the top. We are created in the archetypal image of a Nazarene Carpenter, who never won a corporate award, never sired a child and never sparked a political revolution. We are formed to reflect the pattern of an executed criminal, whose life was deemed a failure — but who was enthroned over the universe by the Father. And we hope for a Kingdom that doesn’t belong to the powerful or to the vicious or to the “winners” — but to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

If our children could see a congregational business meeting in which the corporate CEO counted himself as less important than the high school janitor, that would project a more compelling argument against Darwinism than all our scientific arguments. And if our teenagers could hear the halting voice of a Down syndrome Christian singing “Jesus Loves Me” from a wheel chair, that would leave an impression. It just might leave an impression that the Kingdom of God is quite different from the “Discovery Channel.”

It just might leave the impression that maybe one finds survival not in beating out the weaker specimens, but in surrendering one’s life to follow a crucified Man. And maybe, just maybe, that’s the way it is intended to be.

If we create that kind of Kingdom vision, that kind of longing in the hearts of our children, it will take more than a Biology textbook to scratch it out.
Russell D. Moore is dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He is the author of the new book, “The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective” (Crossway), which can be ordered at www.lifewaystores.com.

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  • Russell D. Moore