Science is Important in the Training of Church Leaders

image001Last month the Equipping Christian Leaders in an Age of Science team from St John’s College, Durham University  and the SATSU at the University of York, took this message to The Annual Conference for Theological Educators, 2018 at the Church of England’s Hayes Conference Centre near London.

As well as working to bring top research scientists and church leaders (bishops in the C of E and equivalent levels of authority in other denominations) together in theme-based workshops, and serving policy-makers at the Mission and Public Affairs division in Church House, the ECLAS project has steadily been building up a resource of training material for ordination-training, lay-ministry training and in-service development, to assist pastors, priests and other church leaders in engaging with science in their pastoral, teaching, mission work.

The UK is a little behind the US in some ways on this score – there has been a very successful Science for Seminaries programme running under the auspices of the AAAS (the US equivalent of the British Association for Science) for a number of years now.  The reasons are the same however:

  • For too long the Church has been persuaded that science is a threat, rather than a gift, largely as a result of the late 19th century invention of the ‘conflict myth’.
  • Christians have largely forgotten that their theological tradition has been responsible for enormous advances in science, including the development of experimental method in the 17th Century in the tradition of Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle.
  • The result is that the late-modern, socially-determined, anti-scientific and theologically flawed (to say the least) teachings of so-called ‘Creationism’, have taken root quite widely.
  • The consequences of confusion for church members with a vocation to science, or seekers outside being put off the good news message of Christ, are extremely serious.
  • The voice of reason, truth and rejection of fear-tactics that the church can bring to public dialogue is needed desperately in a current series of debates around science, engineering and medicine. Climate change and genetic medicine are just two examples.
  • There is a vast resource of ancient Biblical wisdom that needs to be mined for all of the above, which would represent a much more authoritative grasp of scripture in the task of understanding the relationship between humans, God and nature, than a narrow discussion of Genesis 1, for example.

We know, from research carried out by the ECLAS research fellow, Dr. Lydia Reid, with over 1000 people engaged in church leadership, that science topics occur very frequently in conversation in the course of their regular ministry, but that confidence to deal with them is very often lacking.

FaWis_450Most importantly, the basis for that confidence, a worked-through Theology of Science is pretty-much absent. That is why this was a central aim for the Faith and Wisdom in Science book (and why the project gave a copy to every participant at the conference!). The church does not need to stay on the ‘back foot’ in defence of a science it perceives as outside its domain of knowledge and threatening to its basis of belief, but get on the ‘front foot’ of doing what it does best – thinking and acting how to serve the world in the light of God’s gifts – in this case the extraordinary gift of an ordered universe, and one that humans can learn to understandon an earth that we can care for.

That is also why we have now provided several classes of digital resource on the project webpages (see below) that seminaries, ordination courses, and bible colleges can use to insert within existing modules, rather than squeeze in extra ‘science’ modules in already-stuffed curricula.

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Short Answers to Big Questions  are video-shorts from Revd. Prof. David Wilkinson and Prof. Tom McLeish (the present writer) tackling what the vision of a science-engaged church is, what it can achieve in pastoral and mission service, how we deal with questions of Biblical interpretation and findings of science such as cosmic expansion and evolution.

Lesson Plans are written material for units that can be delivered in 1 hour, 3 hour or longer ‘chunks’ of courses on Bible, church practice, history and more. Each is written by an expert theological educator who is also scientifically-informed, and in many cases practicing scientists. Here is a snippet from a great example – Oxford Diocese Science Missioner Dr. Jenny Brown writes about bringing science into preaching …

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Try out some of this material for yourself!  And drop us a line about it at the contact on the ECLAS site!

 

 

 

One thought on “Science is Important in the Training of Church Leaders

  1. Thanks Tom. Your book is a great resource for the church and I was introduced to it by one of my congregation who works at Imperial College. I have found talking and listening to the scientists in my congregation eye opening and inspiring. All my essays for the Church Times and elsewhere on John Ray, David Lack, local ecology , and Mary Anning have come about substantially due to the support and encouragement of working scientists within my church. I have a grade 6 general science o level😊

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