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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Review of "Evolving" by Steve Davis

Evolving by Steve Davis is one of the most refreshing books I have read in a while.  Steve’s approach is confessional and apologetic.  He tells his own story as a Christian and an educated, thinking person.  In doing so, he give an excellent rationale for why Christians can confess the truths found in the Bible and at the same time be sensible in dealing with the findings of geology, physics, biology, and other sciences.  More than common sense, the truly confessing Christian can celebrate science as a means by Christians come to read God’s “other book” or “second book.”
The “two books” mentality for me is the most helpful element of Davis’ book.  Of course one book from God is the Bible.  The other is creation, or nature.  In some works the two terms, creation and nature are set in opposition.  One is either a naturalist or a confessing Christian, but the two worldviews are inherently at odds.  Davis show that the book of nature is a way God reveals God’s self to humankind.  The idea of two books with nature being one of those books stands on Paul’s assertion that people unfamiliar with the scriptures of Israel can know God by observing creation (Romans 1:19-20).
Alister McGrath and the late John Polkinghorne both point to nature in their own writings in which they celebrate nature (including evolution as God’s means of creation) along with confessing Christ.  I have read much of their works and at times struggled to fully understand what they were saying.  Both are theologians who started as scientists and then came to theological writing later in their careers.  Davis’ detailing of his own story helped me make sense of the portions of McGrath and Polkinghorne I previously found confusing or difficult.  Maybe that is my strongest commendation for Davis.  In telling his own story, he’s illuminated mine. 
I do offer this caution in Davis’ work.  The reader is stepping into the middle of a conversation – one Davis is having with himself and with every teacher of fundamentalist, literalist Christianity who has ever influenced him (and continues to try).  He is breaking out of a shell, a specific mode of thinking.  He undergoes a worldview shift and this can be quite dramatic.  Frequently, a page or two after he communicates a thought, he elaborates his thinking including some further development of ideas.  But I wonder is some of what Davis writes comes in “insider language.”
And this leads to my disclaimer.  Steve Davis and I are both evangelical Christians.  We come from the same “tribe” within Christianity.  He is also my personal friend.  His background is more conservative than my own, but the differences are not that dramatic.  I understand his lingo.  I am not saying his terminology is inaccessible to readers who are not evangelical Christians.  I am saying I don’t know.  I often run into this myself.  When I am talking to someone who does have a background reading evangelical literature and hearing evangelical speech, I have to stop myself.  I have to ask if they are hearing what I mean in the words I say.  I truly am not accusing Davis of being too insider-evangelical in his work. 
I am saying he starts in the middle of a conversation.  His style is easy and light yet he deals with a serious topic that has the potential to alter how a lot of evangelicals understand the Bible and God.  I read along, nodded in agreement; paused to consider the implications for my own faith, and often found myself laughing out loud (Steve has that effect).  I just had a few moments where I wondered if people who don’t live in the evangelical Christian world would get the joke.
That said, evangelical Christians are the primary audience for this book.  I agree with Steve that it would be great if scientists read this and respected that not all theists are in opposition to the work of science.  In fact, true loving the Lord with “all the mind” requires the Christ follower to seek God and seek knowledge.  That’s what Davis is doing here.  I hope evangelical Christians, even those predisposed to reject evolution, will read his book with an open mind.
And read with an open heart.  Steve Davis is sharing his own story.  His goal is not to convince you of anything.  He’s saying “this is my journey.”  Go with him on it.  To be invited into someone’s story is a gift and Davis shares this gift with any who will read his book which is whimsical, smart, and helpful. 

I recommend “Evolving” to pastors, church goers, especially to seminarians, and to anyone who wants follow Jesus by reading both the books God has given us.  It is not weighed down with difficult technical language, and it will free you as a reader to go on your own journey wherever it may lead.  Davis and I are both confident that if you read both books, you will grow in faith, you will have a relevant faith, and you will see God. 

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