LA MIRADA, Calif. – In a cultural epoch so often marred by polarizing dialogue that is anything but gracious toward people who express dissenting views, the Genesis Colloquium organized by the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities set out to offer a better path for discussing varied views on a potentially divisive topic among Christians. The question posed for the colloquium was: "How do our institutions teach origins of life from a Christ-centered and biblically-integrative perspective?"
June 7-8 over 100 representatives from 30 CCCU campuses gathered at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., to gain a better understanding of the implications resulting from how CCCU institutions, which represent a wide spectrum in the evangelical world, teach science within a theological framework. The organizers hoped the colloquium would provide a safe place for CCCU higher education leaders to grapple with how their institutions teach creation in science courses, in particular, but also in Bible, philosophy, literature and other courses. The colloquium aimed to offer open discussion regarding a Christ-centered and theologically sound integrative approach to teaching creation.
“What we were looking at was to see if we could initiate a really intellectually stimulating, fully erudite discussion on a highly sensitive issue on which there would be a multiplicity of views and do that in a Christian way,” said Paul Corts, retiring CCCU president. “The goal was not so much to convince each other of various views but to understand each other.”
Corts, who along with Barry Corey, president of Biola, cast the vision for the colloquium, said the event exceeded his highest expectations. He attributes the colloquium’s success to answered prayer. Prayer teams at Biola, at the CCCU headquarters in Washington, D.C., and scattered across the United States met during the colloquium to pray for a spirit of collaboration among attendees, that no one would dilute their beliefs, and that the tone would be one of openness and explanation rather than persuasion.
The Genesis Colloquium was viewed as a pilot event, paving the way for future colloquia on other challenging topics. The format included presentations from four campus teams along with plenary addresses.
A team from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, presented on a young earth model. The team from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., described denominational approaches. A team from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, Calif., gave a presentation from the perspective of theistic evolution/evolutionary creationism. Union University in Jackson, Tenn., delivered a team presentation on the historic Adam. Discussion followed each presentation.
Plenary speakers were John Lennox and William Hurlbut. Lennox is professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, fellow in mathematics and the philosophy of science, and pastoral advisor at Green Templeton College, Oxford. He is also an adjunct lecturer at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University and at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and is a senior fellow of the Trinity Forum. He has written books on the interface between science, philosophy, and theology and has lectured extensively in North America and Eastern and Western Europe on mathematics, the philosophy of science, and the intellectual defense of Christianity, including debating Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Peter Singer.
Hurlbut is a physician and consulting professor at Stanford University’s Neuroscience Institute. Following his medical training at Stanford, he completed postdoctoral studies in theology and medical ethics. His primary areas of interest involve the ethical issues associated with advancing biomedical technology, the biological basis of moral awareness, and studies in the integration of theology and philosophy of biology. He is the author of numerous publications on science and ethics and co-chairs two interdisciplinary faculty projects at Stanford, “Becoming Human: The Evolutionary Origins of Spiritual, Religious, and Moral Awareness” and “Brain, Mind, and Emergence.” He has also worked with NASA on projects in astrobiology and is a member of the Chemical and Biological Warfare working group at the Center for International Security and Cooperation. Since 2002, he has served on the President’s Council on Bioethics.
The colloquium guest list was by invitation only, and participants were expected to attend as groups of at least three from each campus. At minimum, campus groups were expected to consist of the college president, a board member, and chief academic officer or academic dean. Stressing strong and good governance of CCCU institutions has been a CCCU focus in recent years, Corts noted, and including board members in the colloquium was a continuation of that work. It is important that governing leaders be on board with their institution’s theological position on such topics and understand the emerging nature and changing institutional implications of the issue in order to make wise strategic decisions for their institutions.
“We’re trying to stimulate the conversation on this topic back on the home campus,” said Corts. “So we felt we needed to have governance people involved in the conversation with institutional leaders and with academic leaders.”
“The Genesis Colloquium reminded me of the old church councils,” noted Matthew Melton, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn. “It was a gathering of believers intent upon reaching some measure of concord on an issue of great importance. The conversation clearly modeled a tone of shalom and wholeness without sacrificing distinctive points of view. Our attendees were encouraged by this tone and hope to emulate it at our institution. At the same time, we hope the conversation will continue, perhaps on a more academic level and with substantive scholarly exchange.”
“The Genesis Colloquium fostered important discussion on a critical question. CCCU campuses do approach the teaching of origins differently. Yet the common commitment to effectively developing students to engage science, to serve as effective professionals, and to grow as people of faith was encouraging,” said David Clark, executive vice president and provost of Bethel University in Minnesota.
About the CCCU: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 170 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 116 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 54 affiliate campuses from 18 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.