Subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes

Fill out the form below to have a PDF with more information sent to you


BRAVE IN THE NEW WORLD: A Tale of Two Books    Matthew 2:1-11   

I’ve had a number of people come up to me and say, “We’re so sad that you’re leaving, Ryan, but are you going to finish this series?”  Yes, I am.  Today, we’re going to jump into the subject of science and the Scriptures; then, next week, yes, on Father’s Day, I’m going to be teaching on the issue of sexuality and Brave in the New World and how that all ties together.  You’re welcome.  I promised on Mother’s Day, when I taught a message on Evil and Suffering, that I would be equally offensive on Father’s Day.  Praise be to God, it’s all worked out!

I want to start with a question:  Who would win if the Colorado Rockies played the Denver Broncos?  The question you should ask is what are they playing?  Before I put money on either team, I want to know what we’re playing.  While they’re all athletes and they’re all talented in their own right, they have different specialties, don’t they?  They have different bents.  They have different things that they practice day after day, night after night.  They have different things that they’re professionals at.  I think a lot of times we ask the question:  Are you a person of faith or are you a person of science?  Who wins—the Rockies or the Broncos?  I think we build this false dichotomy that you have to decide whether or not you’re a Bible person—which means then that you have to ignore all good science—or whether you’re a science person—in our mind that means we have to ignore the Bible.  What I’d like to do today is propose to you that maybe there’s a third way.  Maybe Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, was wrong, when he argued that you cannot be an intellectual scientific thinker and hold on to religious beliefs.  He’s wrong.   I think the Scriptures actually invite us into that tension.  Would you open with me to Matthew 2:1-2; we’re going to start our time there this morning.

This is a famous story in the Scriptures and it’s a story we’ll often read around Christmas time.  But it’s a story that demonstrates this convergence of Scripture and science.   Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  The journey was long—roughly 800 miles.  We don’t know exactly where the Magi were from.  Most people thought, based on the gifts they brought to the Messiah, they were either from Babylon or Persia, but definitely from that region.  About eight hundred miles, and they’re walking into the fog.  They’re walking with this question that’s just spinning in the back of their heads and stirring their feet to put one foot in front of the other, month after month.  The question is simply this:  Could the stars be telling a story?

I mean, following a star.  Sounds a little like hocus pocus, doesn’t it?  But it was probably the best science they had back in the first century.  These Magi were sort of part of a priestly sect, but their role was to anoint kings.  In order to do that, they were studiers of the stars.  Ancient astronomers.  Not with our modern-day technology and telescopes, but they absolutely loved to study the skies.  Not much has changed, has it?  When we receive a picture back from the Hubble telescope of one of the hundred billion observable galaxies, we stand in awe, don’t we?  Aaron wrote a liturgical piece on the first-ever picture of the black hole.  When that was released a few weeks ago, it almost broke the internet.

These Magi were stargazers.  They were scientists.  They were wrestling with the nature of the world that we live in.  People have done a number of different to try to identify what this star actually was.  Some people have suggested that maybe it was a comet.  Scientists haven’t been able to locate any comets around that time in that region.  Others have said that it was a planetary conjunction, specifically Saturn and Jupiter in the Pisces constellation, coming together in a way that everybody in the ancient at that time would have said is a declaration that a new ruler is being born onto the scene.  Coincidentally, there was such a constellation arrangement in 7 BC.  Others would argue that it was some form of a nova, some residue from an exploding star.  Chinese scientists have identified that there was such a star in that region between 5 and 4 BC.

Now, this is not a message on the exact nature of the star that the Magi may have followed. It’s simply a way to say….could it be a false dichotomy that we have to choose between science or faith?  Between being people who wrestle with and study the world we live in and who trust in God.  After all, if we really read this text, here’s what we find.  These ancient stargazers followed this star, but it didn’t get them all the way to the Messiah.  They had to go into Jerusalem—which, by the way, is 5.5 miles away from Bethlehem.  They had to find the scribes and they had to find the prophets, and they had to ask them, “Where is the Messiah suppose to be born.  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  {Herod’s starting to ask the same question that the Magi asked earlier.}  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:  ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'”   That’s what they told the Magi when they came and asked them.  Science got them close, but it didn’t get them to the feet of Jesus.

Maybe the saddest part of this whole story is that the scribes and the prophets never said to the stargazers, “What do you know that maybe we’ve missed?  What are you up to?”  The Magi arrive at the feet of Jesus—you may know the end of the story—but the scribes and the prophets never do.  At least that we know of.  I think what Matthew is telling us is that science and Scripture aren’t in opposition, they’re actually in harmony.  They’re designed to work together.  As the developer of the scientific method, Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “God has, in fact, written two books, not just one.  Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture.  But he has written a second book called creation.”

Modern science actually got its beginning where people were wrestling with (Christians were wrestling with) studying the natural world to “understand God’s thoughts after him.”  That was the beginning of this entire discipline. Yeah, science or Scripture?  Faith or Bible?  I’m here to make what to some of you will be a very welcomed assertion:  You do not have to choose one or the other.

I love the way that these Magi were people who studied the stars, and then were driven to try to discover.  They were curious people.  It led them on a journey.  I love the way that Frank Turek said it: “To say that a scientist can disprove the existence of God is like saying a mechanic can disprove the existence of Henry Ford.”  The Magi were unafraid of what they would find.  They just wanted to follow the evidence and see where it might lead.  I think, if we’re going to be brave in the new world, as followers of Jesus, we have to allow mystery to drive discovery.   Followers of Jesus cannot be afraid of what they will find in the scientific realm and scientific discoveries.  So many followers of Jesus are afraid.  Oh my goodness, we might discover through archeology or astronomy something that might potentially contradict this book, therefore, we cannot be part of those disciplines. We’ve got to relegate that to somebody else.   I think it’s a sad commentary on our day and our time.

Let me make two statements.  One will be more controversial than the other, I’ll let you decide which one that is.  I am convinced that the Scriptures should influence the way that we view science.  They should influence what we expect to discover.  Statement two:  Science should influence the way we read Scripture.  I’ll let you decide which one you think is more debatable.  Let me unpack both of these first.  Scripture should influence the way that we do science.  The Scriptures are clear that God speaks through his natural world.  Theologians call this General Revelation.  It’s the understanding of God that every person has from first to last because of the nature of the world that we live in.  Here’s the way that the Apostle Paul said it in his Magnum Opus of Christianity—his letter to the Romans.  He said in Romans 1:19-20 — For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.  Paul’s saying that when you walk out of your tent when you’re camping at night, and you look up, and you see that stripe of the Milky Way galaxy, there’s something in your soul that goes, “This is bigger than me!  It’s bigger than what I can see.”  Paul would say that’s God through the beauty, majesty, and awe of his creation, putting his fingerprint on what he’s made, so you step back and go, “This can’t be an accident.”  His power, his nature, his character is on display, whether you look through a telescope or a microscope, it’s ALL God’s.

Paul’s going rabbinic midrash off of Psalm 19:1-4 — The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  {Do you hear what the psalmist is saying?  Somehow creation is speaking.  It’s got a message for us.}  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.  Maybe the Magi read Psalm 19 more literally than we do.  Maybe they really believe that.

Scripture should influence the way that we view science, but equally it’s true that science should influence the way that we read the Scriptures.  I know, for some of you, you’re probably sitting there and did this with your Bible…I’m going to hold it a little bit closer, Paulson, because I feel you want to rip it out of my hands.  I think I understand what you’re thinking, because I’ve thought it too.  If science influences the way that we read Scripture, doesn’t that water down the Scriptures?  Doesn’t that take us out of the realm of really studying and figuring out what the Scriptures say, and not just pulling in all these worldly disciplines?  We want to protect the integrity of the Scriptures.  I just want to say to you, “I’m with you and I hear you.”  There are times—and we’ll talk about one specific time in history—where the way that we read the Bible, we figure out afterwards that maybe it wasn’t the best reading.  In our cultural moment, in every cultural moment, everybody thinks they’re reading it right, but there are times where we found out, through 20/20 hindsight vision, that we weren’t.

I think a story might be helpful.  In 1543, there was a Polish astronomer by the name of Nicolaus Copernicus, who published a book entitled On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.  He essentially made the proposition through a very ancient, scientific method…..he said hey, you guys, I think maybe, just maybe, that the earth isn’t the center of the universe and the earth actually revolves around the sun rather than the other way around.  Copernicus had a number of friends in the Catholic Church and they said, “Hey, Nic, interesting idea.  We’d like you to keep your mouth shut about that, thank you very much.”  Copernicus said, “Okay, fair enough.”  A number of years later, a scientist by the name of Galileo Galilei began to dig a little bit deeper and ask more questions.  He had this newly invented tool called the telescope.  He said, “Hey, you guys, I think Copernicus was right.”  Galileo Galilei wasn’t as in with the church, so in 1615, there was a Dominican friar who saw the writings of Galileo and pulled Galileo in to meet with the church, which was a dangerous thing for a scientist to do back then.  In 1616, they had an inquisition and decided that Galileo was a “suspected heretic” because the science that he was proposing went directly against what the Bible taught.  Did you know that the Bible teaches that the sun revolves around the earth?  It does….Joshua 10:12-13.  At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, {You can only stand still if at some point you were moving.}  The church said to Galileo, “We know because of the Bible that the sun moves around the earth.  It’s not the earth that’s moving and spinning.  It’s the sun.”  You’re a heretic, Galileo.  We need you to keep your mouth shut, which he did until 1632, when there was a transition in the papacy.  He had a little bit more favor with the new pope, but he was put before an inquisition once again.  In 1633, he was banished to house arrest for the rest of his life.

You may have heard, since then, we’ve made a few discoveries!  It turns out, Galileo was right!  It’s the earth that’s moving in orbit around the sun.  The church had to radically reimagine the way that they read Joshua 10.  Let me ask you a question: Was that a good thing or a bad thing?  Really good thing.  Anytime we read the Bible in light of reality, it’s a good thing.  Even if it doesn’t fit….even if it doesn’t fit….even if it doesn’t fit in the boxes that we have created.  The truth of the matter, friends, is that that discovery didn’t disprove the Scriptures.  It showed that their interpretation of that passage had been wrong.

Which might cause us to ask: Where might our interpretations be wrong?  What might we discover in the next decade….or three or four….or century….or millennia or two millennia?  What might we discover about the way that we read the sacred, beautiful texts? They’re not arguing whether or not the Scriptures are authoritative.  They’re arguing about how we interpret them best in light of the reality of the world we live in.   I think maybe we can best….we can BEST….wrestle with this question through a case study.  Let’s use a highly debated topic…..creation.  It’s one of the primary places that many people feel like they either have to choose science or Scripture.  They either have to choose the Bible or the Hubble telescope.  So I’m going to invite you to turn to Genesis 1, which is where a lot of this discussion begins to happen.  It’s the book of origins.  Genesis 1 and 2 tell the story of creation, but as you’re turning there, I want to remind you that the Bible is not a scientific text book….although it does make some scientific claims.  Most people invest their time either in science or the Scriptures, but very rarely do people do both.  I want to be very clear this morning.  I am not someone who does both well.  I know enough to be dangerous.  Take your notes in pencil!  You’re welcome.

I’m having you turn to Genesis 1 and 2 because before we even get into the science behind this, we need to ask what kind of text are we reading.  What’s the intention of Genesis 1 and 2?  If you were to go home and read straight through Genesis 1 and 2, here’s what you would find.  They are different accounts of creation.  They are accounts that do not always agree with each other.  Which might cause us to ask some questions, like, what’s the intention of this?  What’s the purpose of this in the Scriptures?  And then…..what are we suppose to do with it?  I had you open to Genesis 1 and 2 to follow along, just to make sure I’m not crazy.  You can decide.

A few of the differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.  Genesis 1 uses the generic term for God, when it refers to God, the term Elohim.  Genesis 2 refers to the covenantal creator name for God….Yahweh.  Not a big deal, but it’s different.  The two chapters are different in size and scope.  Genesis 1 is sort of a wide angle.  It talks about the creation of the cosmos and the universe, massive in its grandeur.  Genesis 2 focuses primarily on humanity and on earth.  Not a big deal.  Genesis 1—After every creative act of God, God steps back and says, “It’s good.”  Then on day seven, He looks at what he’s made, pats himself on the back and says, “It’s very good.”  That’s His evaluation of his creation.  Genesis 2—We don’t see anything about it being good, we simply see that it was NOT good.  That’s what it says in Genesis 2.  So the evaluation is different from Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.  But here’s probably the biggest stumbling block for people when they really read through and really study Genesis 1 and 2.  The order of the creative account is different.  In Genesis 1, earth is created—it’s formless and void—it’s covered in water.  Then you have God who creates land and then plants and then animals and then human beings—male and female.  That’s Genesis 1.  In Genesis 2, the creative account begins with the existence with dry land, rather than water, then water is created….so these first two creative acts are reversed.  Then, man is created….specifically….not male and female, but man is created, Adam.  Plants are created.  Then animals are created.  Then a woman is created.  We tracking?  See the differences?

Here’s the questions I walk away with:  Was earth originally covered with water or was it dry?  Were plants created first or human beings?  In Genesis 2, you have human beings who precede plants; in Genesis 1, you have plants preceding human beings.  Which one is right?  Another question I have is how many humans did God create?  In Genesis 1, we have Him creating a number of fish and a number of birds and a number of animals.  He creates groups of all of these things.  Then it says he created human beings, and he created them in his image.  What we typically do is we read through to Genesis 2 and we take Adam and Eve and we read them back into Genesis 1.  Read through Genesis 1….you know who’s absent?  Adam and Eve.  They’re not there.

Okay, so we’re studying science and the Scriptures, and you might be wondering which one’s right?  Which one is accurate?  I mean, which one describes the events like they actually happened?  Typically we read Genesis 1 and 2, we put our hand in the air {and wave it around like we just don’t care} and we go OHHH! we have found something that no one else has ever thought of.  Like the original author, the narrator, of Genesis 1 and 2 didn’t know that he or she was putting back to back accounts that didn’t “mesh up.”  They were people like you and I.  We’ve certainly advanced a little bit.  I think we have different scientific instruments, but they knew what they were writing.  They. Knew. What. They. Were. Doing.  I like the way Tim Keller puts it:  I think Genesis 1 is probably poetry about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation, and Genesis 2 is probably an account more specifically about how it happened.  That’s one way of resolving it.

Do you know what we walk away with when we read Genesis 1 and 2?  One thing’s pretty clear.  God created.  Even when the early church tried to put into words what they believed about creation, listen to what they wrote in the Apostles’ Creed, written in roughly 180 ad.  I believe in God almighty, maker of heaven and earth.   We want to go, well, how many days did it take?  When did he create?  How did he create?  And what was the methodology?  And they go whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!  That’s not the point.  The point is that God Almighty, Yahweh, is the maker of heaven and earth.  The Creed refuses to answer the questions that we most often ask.  It’s as though they give us the freedom to decide what and how we believe based on the best sciences and the given time period, and the way that we interpret the Scriptures best, holding on to the conviction that God is the creator of it all, and creating a ton of freedom to decide exactly how that happened.

So there are strong followers of Jesus who strongly disagree about creation.  That’s okay.  Saint Augustine, in the fourth century, wrote (I think) four volumes on the nature of Genesis, and he wrestled with it.  Here’s the conclusion that he came to:  “In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received.  In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.”   St. Augustine for the win!  How many of you wish the church would have read that back in the sixteenth and seventeenth century?

I’m going to dig my hole a little bit deeper and I want to talk about the three most prominently-held views of creation amongst those who follow the way of Jesus.  I want to say at the onset, my hope is that you don’t exactly where I stand by the end of this, and you can see why people can hold such views.  First, it’s a view called Young Earth Creationism.  This group of people hold very firmly to a literal reading of Genesis 1.  Sometimes their camp might be called Literal 6-Day Creationism.  They believe that the world is roughly six thousand years old, give or take.  There are top-notch scientists and really good theologians that would hold to this view.  I’m going to give you resources to study each of these more at your own leisure.  The best one I know—I could be wrong—is  It’s led by Ken Ham, who actually built a life-size ark somewhere in Kentucky.  They are convinced that Genesis 1 should be read literally and that the sciences don’t disprove that reading of the Scriptures.

Second camp.  Old Earth Creationism.  There are a number of variances within Old Earth creationism to try to wrestle through the Scriptures and go, how can, in light of the sciences that seem to suggest that the world is older than six thousand years, how can we sort of mesh that view with the Scriptures?  There’s two primary theories that they have.  One is the gap theory—It’s in between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 that there is a GAP of time, hence the term gap theory.  The second idea is called the day-age theory.  They say that the “days” referenced in Genesis 1 aren’t literal 24-hour days.  They’re epochs or long undetermined periods of time.  They would say that we use that word “day” in that way also.  “Back in the day of Moses.”  “Back in the day of Abraham Lincoln.”  And the Hebrew Scriptures use that word “day” in that way at certain times as well.  So not literal 24-hour days.  They would have no issue with the earth being 4.4 billion years old and no issue with the universe being roughly 13.8 billion years old.  One of the benefits of the Old Earth creation model, when it comes to hermeneutics, is that we have roughly twenty creation accounts in the Scriptures.  They don’t all line up with Young Earth creationism, so Old Earth creationism seems to be able to toy with this tension of hermeneutics maybe as we look at the scope of Scripture in some different ways. {  Led by Hugh Ross}

Finally, Theistic Evolution.  This view is probably the least popular in the States, but what N.T. Wright pointed out in an article he wrote about the Scriptures and science is that that isn’t the case throughout the globe.  Actually, his argument from a Brit speaking to people in the U.S. is that we’ve been tainted by the Scopes Monkey Trials in 1925.  Essentially, the Scopes Monkey trials, which, by the way, I didn’t know this until I started digging into this this week, is a trial about someone who went in and taught evolution in a science class.  I didn’t know that this guy was a substitute teacher!  Oh my goodness, can you imagine?!  That’s awesome, isn’t it?  Essentially what the Scopes Monkey trial did was draw a line in the sand and it said, “You either believe in evolution or you believe in the Bible, but you cannot believe in both.  Which camp are you in?”  Theistic evolution view essentially argues that the best sciences point to evolution.  They distinguish between evolutionary philosophy (survival of the fittest) and everything that goes along with that, and evolution as science.  But the summary is simply this: God has sovereignly, divinely, and miraculously created the world and has guided the process of evolution over the course of billion of years.  You can check out  It’s run by a man named Francis Collins, who is a brilliant scientist and leader of the Human Genome Project, and a very, very strong follower of Jesus.

Have I muddied the waters enough for you?  So where do I fall?  I’m a happy agnostic, when it comes to issues of creation.  I think ANY of them could be right.  I have a direction that I lean in, but I want to take my lead from St. Augustine.  I want to hold it fairly loosely.  I’m fascinated by the sciences.  I love going to the Museum of Nature and Science with my kids.  I’m convinced that God has created and we get to discover his handiwork in more beautiful and awe-filled fashion than no human beings ever have in the history of our globe.  That is a beautiful, really, really, good thing.  I REJECT, adamantly reject, anything that prevents us from exploring and discovering for fear that we might discover something that goes contrary to the Scriptures.  This is a united journey of science and Scripture, of theology and telescopes that lead us to God.

The same way it did for the Magi.  Matthew 2:10-11 — When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.   I love this picture because it’s the combined efforts of the stars and the Scriptures that lead these people to Jesus, but they don’t end up bowing down to the stars.  They end up bowing down to the Messiah.  Friends, worship is the end goal of telescopes AND theology.  That’s the goal of it all.  Let’s be people who let wonder drive us to worship.  Whether it’s the very first ever picture of a black hole.  Or whether it’s a picture of the ring nebula; leftover particles from a star the size of our sun that exploded and made something absolutely gorgeous.  Or the idea of quantum entanglement—if you have questions about that ask Aaron.  Bring a snack, but ask Aaron, he’s obsessed with this stuff.  It’s the idea that particles start to play off each other and affect each other even when they are vast differences apart and all of the implications that go along with that.  Or, human DNA that we’ve been able to map and chart, in all of its complexity.  Or the holographic principle of the universe; talk to Aaron about that one too.  Or, the fossil records and what we might one day discover.  In fact, this is a depiction of the “sea monster” that they just discovered fossils from this week in Antarctica.  Let it drive you to worship!  Fossils.  Ideas.  DNA.  More ideas!  Stars.  And black holes.  Friends, as Gerald Manley Hopkins said, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”  Let’s be people who allow mystery to drive discovery and then let’s be people who allow wonder to cause us to worship.  But let’s never forget the beautiful mysterious gift that it is ultimately to be human.  Where we get to live in this world that we don’t understand and never fully will, but we get to be explorers.  As followers of Jesus, let’s be the best explorers the world has ever seen.  Amen.