Thirteen-year-old Tim scanned his weekly quiz in Earth Science and read: "Where did the earth come from?" Without thinking, he scribbled: "God created it." The next day, his test came back with a big red check mark and 20 points chopped off his grade. The expected answer was the Big Bang.
When Tim's mother told the members of her Bible-study group, where my wife, Patty, attends, they were indignant. Go show that teacher what the Bible says, they urged. It's right there in Genesis: God created the heaven and the earth.
But when I heard the story, I startled Tim's mother by calling her up: Don't charge into class, Bible in hand, I warned. To the teacher, that's religion; his class is on science. Instead, ask him scientific questions: How did the Big Bang itself get started? Something can't come out of nothing, so what caused the Big Bang?
For centuries, conventional scientific wisdom taught that the universe was eternal. But Big Bang theory has given dramatic evidence that the universe had a beginning—just as Scripture teaches. And if the Big Bang is the origin of the universe, its cause must be something beyond the universe, a transcendent cause.
These exciting philosophical questions are being debated by astronomers today. So why shouldn't students learn them, too? Christians ought to argue for more academic freedom, not less. We should challenge bad science with better science.
Whenever I make this point publicly, I can count on a deluge of letters from Christians asking, "What's wrong with quoting the Bible?" A radio station once threatened to take my radio program BreakPoint off the air. "It's heresy to tell believers not to cite their Bibles," the station manager fumed.
But this reaction reflects a confusion widespread among Christians between saving grace and common grace. In preaching and evangelism, we are instruments of God's saving grace—and we preach his Word boldly, confident that it never returns empty. God's Word cuts to the heart like a two-edged sword.
But in the bulk of our lives, we are instruments of God's common grace or providence—his work of maintaining creation by promoting righteousness and restraining evil. As his servants in this task, we are in the world (though not of it), and we should translate God's truth into the language of the world: speaking to scientists in the language of science, to artists in the language of art, to politicians in the language of politics.
Since the Fall, the world has been subject to evil and corruption, but it is still under God's dominion. And believers are still called, as Genesis 1 says, to be God's vice-regents, exercising his dominion in every area of life. Theologians call this the cultural mandate: We express the image of God by searching out the underlying structure of creation and shaping and forming it—by inventing things and developing civilizations.
In our vocation and our social circles, we are to work to build up the society where God has placed us, arguing persuasively for the principles that make for good families, good businesses, good political structures—and yes, good science education.
These basic principles are accessible to nonbelievers as well as believers, because they too are created in the image of God and live in God's creation. Our task is to communicate the truths of Scripture by translating them into contemporary language. As the late Francis Schaeffer taught, we need to treat modern culture as a mission field, working as hard as any foreign missionary at translating our message into language our listeners understand. For even if they speak English, they think in different conceptual categories, which we must learn and master in order to communicate effectively.
For example, at Prison Fellowship we contend for biblical principles of justice using prudential arguments in the public square. I've spoken to many state legislatures and before congressional committees, arguing that it makes no sense to let nondangerous prison inmates remain idle behind bars. Why not require them to work, earning money to pay restitution to their victims?
Once someone sees the merit of an idea, that may become an opportunity for witness. Whenever I discuss restitution, invariably some politician will say, "Great idea. Where did it come from?" And I'll reply, "Do you have a Bible at home? Dust it off and look up Exodus. What I'm recommending is exactly what God told Moses thousands of years ago on Mount Sinai." Effective principles of criminal justice are rooted squarely in scriptural truth.
When your children come home from school with big red checks marked on their tests, don't rush into the classroom brandishing your Bible. Instead, let's find ways to translate biblical truth into prudential principles that nonbelievers understand and find persuasive. This work may not save souls, but it is the way we obey God's command to promote righteousness and hold back the forces of evil in society. It is a means of common grace.
There is no substitute for God's Word in the saving work of leading the world to Christ. And there is no substitute for scripturally based prudential arguments in the preserving work of restraining evil and building civilization.
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