23 A personal commitment and a new paradigm

The peaceful coexistence in my mind between the Bible and science, which had been mediated by literature, was disturbed in my early teen years when, along with an introduction to a deeper and more personal faith than we had previously known, my family and I were also introduced to a way of reading the Bible that held, essentially, “It can’t be poetry.”

In the early 1970’s, a renewal movement was sweeping through mainline churches, such as the one my father served, and also through the popular culture, where the so-called “Jesus People” appeared very briefly, as a offshoot of the “hippie” movement found faith in Christ. Some of these “Jesus People” were among my fellow high school students. When I recognized the same living faith in them as I had witnessed in my parents, who had recently experienced the renewal of their own faith, I sought for myself the peace and joy I was seeing in these others, and made a personal commitment of my life to Christ.

I deeply cherish the priceless gifts that my church upbringing had previously given to me, especially the importance of reaching out to those in need through practical demonstrations of the love of Christ, and a fearless openness to culture—art, music, literature, philosophy, and so forth. And now something vital and just as priceless was added to it, from another tradition within the broader church that had different but complementary emphases: a personal faith in Jesus.

As the renewal movement spread, and a critical mass of Christian students emerged in my high school, we began to meet weekly for Bible study and prayer. We also went frequently to youth rallies and conferences, on trips that were organized by the various churches we students attended. These outings constituted a broad and rapid exposure to this other part of the church that I hadn’t been introduced to before. The result was that the mainline Christian theology I’d learned to that point was quickly supplemented by an amalgam of fundamentalist, evangelical, Pentecostal, and charismatic perspectives.

One of these trips was to nearby Fairfield University for a conference sponsored by the Creation Research Society (CRS). Both Duane Gish and Henry Morris spoke at the conference. What I heard from them was very different from the mild position on origins with which I’d previously been comfortable.

Gish and Morris, in their presentations, were militant in tone, evangelistic in their appeal, and highly detailed when it came to the when and how of creation. Their fervor and documented scientific credentials combined to have an impact on me sufficient to make me abandon my previous, casually-held position (which, I learned, was considered “theistic evolution”) and accept their literal reading of Genesis and a young-earth paradigm for natural history.

After the conference many of us bought their books and took them home to read. I personally read Gish’s book Evolution: The Fossils Say No! I also signed up for the CRS newsletter, Acts and Facts, which I received for the next several years. My new convictions became part of the message I shared with others. With my fellow believing students, I handed out, along with Scripture portions and other gospel literature, Jack T. Chick’s tract “Big Daddy,” a brief cartoon in which a Christian student embarrasses a hostile evolutionist teacher by presenting evidences for recent creation.

The cover of Jack T. Chick’s pamphlet about evolution.

I submitted a creationist term paper in my own biology class. My teacher, who had never been hostile, commented on it graciously and without evident embarrassment. One day, as I was riding home on the late bus, a fellow student engaged me angrily and at great length on the subject of evolution. The discussion, which was spread over most of our town, given the circuitous route of the late bus, reached no conclusion, although a third student whispered encouragingly to me on her way out the door, “I agree with you.”

I submitted an even longer creationist study as my research paper in junior English. The teacher gave me credit for developing my argument by extensive use of sources, but asked me to consider whether some of my conclusions might actually be based on personal opinion, rather than on hard evidence. It didn’t seem to me at the time that this could be the case. I really wasn’t living with any doubts or tensions in these years. I felt I could trust the scientific work of the creationists. They had Ph.D. credentials in the relevant fields, and the way they read the Bible was the same way everyone else read it in the part of the church where I’d been invited to meet Christ personally.

But I didn’t have to pursue my vocation much further before the creationist paradigm I was holding in my mind began to erode.

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