Creation science and the discipline of study
Published: 1 February 2022 (GMT+10)
Those wishing to make progress or to minister in creation science, or apologetics, need to apply themselves to study. This is especially written with young people in mind, and includes study within secular schools, colleges, or universities, but must also involve a serious study of Scripture. The Bible needs to be read at an intellectual level, and also devotionally. Devotional application leads to the spiritual transformation of the believer. We often think of study as a necessary activity. For some it is perceived as a necessary evil, and it is often seen as being divorced from the spiritual life. But that is not the case.
The discipline of study leads to spiritual maturity, and the development of service towards God. This is true whether that means pastoral ministry, evangelism, missionary service, working in the charity sector, or in ‘creation science’ apologetics; that is, the defence of biblical creation.
Secular study may include the arts, humanities and sciences. We need to engage with these in order to defend Scripture, as we live in the real world. Secular research involves reading different points of view, evaluating the evidence, and forming one’s own opinion. But it is vital to keep in mind that such secular endeavour is grounded in naturalism; that is, a belief that nature is all there is. Sometimes the theological implications may be neutral, but natural causes must be invoked for scientific explanations, and sometimes this is in contradiction of the biblical account.
Because naturalism is not grounded in God’s Word it will, in the end, lead to confusion. Within naturalism there is the problem of dialectic approaches to reasoning, where knowledge claims are divided into thesis and antithesis, or in science, into competing research programmes. But within such naturalistic approaches to study, concepts can change their meaning through the dialogue.1 Knowledge becomes relative, and ultimately leads to post modernism, where, for example, it is said that “what is true for you is not true for me.” Post modernism is the unwanted, but unavoidable, offspring of the naturalistic world view. In stark contrast, for Christians our foundational commitments are grounded in the unchanging Word of God.
Christians engaged in secular education need to learn to correctly filter research because of this inherent problem of naturalism. It takes time and effort (hence the need to study) to re-interpret the data. Many Christians, especially children, struggle with this; it is confusing when one is taught different things at school and church. This is one of the reasons, sadly, that some Christians capitulate to naturalism, accepting the apparently easy path by embracing such thinking as theistic evolution. Ultimately, however, it is intellectually and spiritually unsatisfying. On the other hand, being committed to reading and understanding God’s Word with integrity leads to a sound mind.
A promise of blessing
When we think of study there are two thoughts that may spring to mind—one positive and the other negative. For some students there is delight in the prospect, and for others a feeling of dread. In the Old Testament King David evidently found delight in it, but his son Solomon came to tire of it. We need to study in the right way so that it becomes a joy and a blessing to us. David wrote in the Psalms:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:1–6).
On the other hand, some may think of study as a dry, wearisome discipline, as Solomon recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes:
“The words of the wise are like goads [cattle prods], and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:11–12).
Too much of the wrong study can become tiresome. The words of God convict us, those “given by one Shepherd,” in this instance Solomon; but it also speaks of the teaching of Christ, which we need to make the foundation for our lives. There is a truth to be embraced from both views, of David and Solomon—about having the right heart attitude, and recognising the promised blessing for those who are faithful towards God. Study for the Christian very much includes feeding the soul and spirit, as well as the mind; in that sense it needs to be devotional, as J.P. Moreland writes:
“ … study should … be approached as a set of training activities, as spiritual and intellectual exercises. Study is a discipline that strengthens the mind and enriches the soul. … study becomes a means of building … character, ingraining habits of thought and reflection, and reinforcing in [the] soul the value of the life of the mind. We study, then, not simply to gain knowledge about the topic of study, but as a broader spiritual discipline.”2
Study is a spiritual discipline, and it leads to peace and joy in our souls. And it is not just theoretical, but it leads to practical outcomes: to a fruitful life of service towards God. So how should Christians, especially young believers, who are interested in developing a ministry in creation science engage in a life-long commitment to study? In what follows, we consider four points that we need to have firmly in mind: the right priority, the right purpose, the right attitude, and the right way of studying.
Study with the right priority
When we begin our study, we need to set our priorities right first. That is, to make God’s Word the foundation for our lives. This is because it is trustworthy. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:4; “Let God be true, but every man a liar.” And consider Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The Word of God gives us light for our Christian walk. The implication is that if we do not take heed of God’s Word then we will walk in darkness. If we begin with the assumptions of naturalism then our faith will suffer.
Christians, especially children and young people, often face pressure and ridicule in the world for being committed to God’s Word. And yet, as we read in Psalm 119, there is a wisdom in God’s teaching that is far greater than that of the world.
“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts” (Psalm 119:97–100).
Study is also a spiritual discipline, and we need to prioritise studying the Word of God devotionally for the growth of our spiritual life—to become spiritually mature Christians. There are different avenues of learning, but all lead to our growth in the faith:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:11–14).
Study with the right purpose in mind
In terms of purpose, study is a component of our service towards God; that is, it is a form of worship. It leads us to know God better, to know His ways, and His plans for our lives. This leads to blessing for us, and helps maintain our place of peace with God.
We also study devotionally to train ourselves towards a sanctified life, by allowing the Holy Spirit to work within us. The Apostle Paul put it like this: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline, writes, “The purpose of the spiritual disciplines is the total transformation of the person. They aim at replacing old destructive habits of thought with new life giving habits.”3
In terms of service, some Christians may be called to pastoral leadership, evangelism, or teaching ministry, all of which include apologetics. The ministries that Paul highlighted in writing to the Ephesians are to build up the Church “ … to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
Peter, in his first letter calls us as believers to be prepared to give a defence of our faith:
“ … always being prepared to make a defence [Gk: apologian] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
For Christians wishing to effectively engage in creation science, it will require attaining an in-depth knowledge in one or more of the natural sciences, most likely through earned university qualifications. But in order that this will be turned to advancement (rather than stumble us), we will need to learn how to filter out the inherent naturalism, and to give priority in our thinking to the Word of God.
Another purpose of study is so that we can do useful work in the world; for Christians, this is also an act of worship as we dedicate our work-life to God. We err sometimes when we divide our secular work from sacred study. All we do needs to be done for the glory of God. We also take God into the work place with us, so should apply godly standards there too. Of course, we may also be challenged in ethical matters in the secular work place, and are sometimes required to take a stand. Knowing God’s Word helps us to know right from wrong.
Study with the right heart attitude
We need a positive attitude, and we also need to engage in study with humility and love; as Paul wrote: “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Cor. 8:1). There is a temptation towards pride as we accumulate more and more knowledge. Some people use their knowledge to gain power over others, or to attain wealth, or position. However, for the Christian there is a need to focus study upon the needs of the kingdom of God: to love those around us as we seek to share the Gospel message in humility. The classic example of getting this wrong is that of the Pharisees, as recorded in the New Testament. They had position, power, and wealth through their in-depth knowledge of God’s law (and many of their own traditions; see Mark 7:12–13), and yet Jesus highlighted that they didn’t really know the heart of God (see: John 5:39–40).
Study in the right way
We need to exercise the discipline of study, especially of Scripture, in the right way. According to Richard Foster, this includes four steps: repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection.4 For Eugene Peterson, the four stages are: “reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation.”5
Now we know that people will have different approaches to study, but for Christians it is going to include reading or listening, meditation or contemplation, and an attitude of prayer. Some people find repetition useful; others may not. Study also requires concentration to help us understand something. We need to focus our minds, and it is hard in modern society with TV, social media, etc. available 24 hours a day. We may also experience mental resistance to study—some call it “writers block”, but if we apply ourselves over time, the blockages are removed and study turns to joy that is hard to stop.
Reading (or listening or observing)
Good study involves reading Scripture, listening to respected teachers, or sometimes observing the teacher, as the disciples observed Jesus’ ministry. This training grounds our lives in God. We need to read carefully until we understand a passage. It is also good to refer to respected theological commentators on a particular passage so that we learn from the wisdom of others, including those of previous generations. Those embarking on a course of formal study will also need to choose the right college.
We also need to consider how Scripture is interpreted, termed hermeneutics. There are four possible ways of reading a text—the Quadriga, which is a reference to a type of Roman chariot that was pulled by four horses. Essentially, in theological studies, these four ways are: the Literal, Symbolic, Moral and Prophetic. The point of the Quadriga is that all need to be in balance—four horses pulling with equal strength. Creation scientists often simplify this to the historical-grammatical approach, wherein the historical is the literal reading, and the symbolic, moral and prophetic may be considered to be part of the grammatical. The grammatical approach seeks the intended meaning of the author who is ultimately the Holy Spirit. See also: Should Genesis be taken literally?, The Bible and hermeneutics, and Interpreting the Bible. If we only read the text literally, we may become spiritually dry and fail to feed our souls and spirits. If we only read Scripture symbolically, then our study may become detached from reality. If we only read it for its moral message, our ethical lives may become ungrounded from Christian principles. If we only read the text for its prophetic message, we may become detached from the past and present.
We need to add meditation or contemplation to study so that it becomes devotional; as opposed to being merely theoretical. It has to get from the head to the heart. We need to think upon God’s Word having read a passage, even meditating on it “day and night” according to David in Psalm 1:2. A metaphor often given is that of a cow chewing the cud. This is different to the meditation of eastern religions which seek to empty the mind.
We also need to pray as we study so that God may lead us to a correct understand of the scriptural teaching. Study needs to be devotional, and in cooperation with the Holy Spirit who leads us into truth. Jesus explained, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak … ” (John 16:13).
David said that he delighted himself in the law (e.g. Psalm 119:70). Some may think that David’s attitude is not appropriate for New Testament Christians because that sounds legalistic. But neither are we antinomian; that is, we are not against the law. We are not a lawless people (see Paul’s argument in Romans 3:27–31). For Christians, the Holy Spirit writes God’s law upon our hearts so that our desire is to do the good. It leads to the transformation of the believer from within. There is great wisdom in the Mosaic Law, even as we need to read it in the context of Christ’s transformative New Testament work. The ceremonial law has changed, the priesthood has changed, but God is still calling us to live holy lives dedicated to him.
So, it is important and good to study the law, but in the New Testament context. The purpose is to build a disciplined life, a holy life dedicated to God. Some people think this is boring, but it leads to ultimate blessing, to a clear conscience, and peace and joy in our hearts. In all our studying, we need to resist short-term gratification in order to build a lasting blessing for ourselves, and for others.
Creation Ministries International has many good resources, books, magazines, journals and videos, to build faith and encourage studies in creation and science—browse our webstore.
References and notes
- As discussed for example by Popper, K., The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2, 5th revised edition, Princeton University Press, Princeton, p. 395, 1966. Return to text.
- Moreland, J.P., Love your God with all your mind, NavPress / Tyndale House Publ., Carol Stream, IL, pp. 111–112, 1997. Return to text.
- Foster, R.J., Celebration of discipline: the path to spiritual growth (20th anniversary ed.), Harper, San Francisco, CA, p. 62,1998. Return to text.
- Introductory essay on chapter 3, Study, in: Foster, N., (with Foster, R.J), The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My journey from frustration to joy with the spiritual disciplines, Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI, 2014. See also: Foster, R.J., Understanding Study, renovare.org, October 2014. Return to text.
- This has been sourced from Trimble, M., The Discipline of Study, banneroftruth.org, 19 November 2010. Return to text.