The recent controversy over a Gungor performance may have put the conflict over creation on the front page, but the conversation has been going on for much longer at Indiana Wesleyan University and in evangelical Christian circles.
In fact, the Office of the Dean of the Chapel asked IWU science faculty months ago to lead a week-long chapel series on creation, beginning Oct. 20.
While many Wesleyans would profess a six-day creation, it is not necessary for acceptance into the Wesleyan Church.
Wesley Seminary Dean Dr. Ken Schenck said Wesleyan theology accepts a variety of stances on creation.
“It’s important to believe that the Bible is inspired; the Bible is not a mistake. It’s important to believe that God directed, however it happened, but the Wesleyan Church doesn’t have an official statement saying you can’t believe in theistic evolution or you have to believe these were 24-hour days,” Schenck said.
“We believe the Bible is inspired, the text is not an error, but we allow for some spectrum of interpretations of Genesis,” he said.
The Articles of Religion for the Wesleyan Church states that God is “Creator and Preserver of all things” as well as “the Source of all that exists, whether of matter or spirit.”
The absence of a definite Wesleyan theology on the “how” of creation allows students the freedom and comfort of retaining the views of their specific denomination, while unifying the church in the truths they hold as foundational.
“Indiana Wesleyan is a place that is very friendly to literal six-day creationists. In fact, most of our students would agree with them,” Schenck said. “But we aren’t going to kick out anyone for believing otherwise.”
The Sojourn conducted a poll of 150 students at McConn and Baldwin, asking if students believed in a literal, six-day creation, a different method of creation or if they were undecided.
Fifty-one percent of those polled stated that they believe in a literal reading of the beginning of Genesis — six, 24-hour days of creation and one day of rest.
“I believe in a Young Earth creation because when you look at scientific evidence on both sides of the issue, there is no ‘proof’ of evolution that has not been refuted properly and sufficiently,” John Mason (fr) said. “The Old Earth perspective and the theistic evolutionist perspective stretches Biblical Hebrew much too far for my comfort.”
Of the remaining students, 19 percent do not believe in a literal reading of Genesis and 30 percent chose the third option – that they are still pondering the question or have decided that the specifics of creation aren’t as important to their personal faith as the truth that God created everything.
While not all of the students at IWU are Wesleyan, the freedom that the church doctrine allows can present a challenge for Bible and Natural Science professors when teaching Genesis and creation.
Professor of Biblical Studies Dr. Stephen Lennox aims to unite his students, showing them that neither a six-day creationist view or a theistic evolution view is unchristian or impossible to be supported biblically.
“My main goal is to try to say, ‘Where do we draw the line?’ in terms of what’s an acceptable and an unacceptable view,” Lennox said, “then to help students understand that the argument is really a family argument.”
According to Lennox, by showing his students the metaphorical nature of books like Psalms and encouraging them to read the text in its ancient cultural context, he hopes to show them “people who don’t hold a highly literal view aren’t denying the authority of Scripture, and there may be other ways to embrace the authority of Scripture other than taking a highly literal view of it.”
This disagreement between denominations is something IWU faculty have also encountered.
“We have some professors who would believe in a very literal Genesis [creation], and we have some professors who would believe that God directed the process of evolution,” Schenck said.
Other colleges, such as Cedarville or Liberty University, have their faculty sign a doctrine of faith or hold a statement professing a belief in a six-day creation. Bryan College recently lost nine faculty members over enforcing a more literal doctrine.
According to Lennox, IWU has a more cooperative approach to the diversity held in creation beliefs.
“I think what [professors] share in common is not to dismiss–not to dechristianize each other–because they all believe in the Bible,” he said.
In the book “Common Ground,” written by Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy Keith Drury, he emphasizes what Christians must believe about creation.
“Christians insist on rejecting any theory of creation that leaves God out, but we are open to discussing any theory that confesses God as Creator,” writes Drury. “How he created is interesting but is not relevant to our core faith.”
Stephen Conrad, Associate Professor of Biology, uses similar methods to Lennox as he teaches about creation. He brings up many different theories, all rooted in the creator, such as Literal Creation, Progressive Creation, Theistic Evolution, and Historical Creationism.
“We talk about what the different views say, the big proponents of each one, what you’ll have to reconcile with each one, and whether or not they are compatible with naturalistic science,” Conrad said.
While he presents a wide range of ideas, he maintains that none of them are completely secular.
“None of them are compatible with naturalistic science. Because naturalistic science says there’s no God. And we’re starting with a God,” Conrad said.
He hopes through the presentation of multiple theories, instead of one concrete answer, his students are challenged to develop their own faith.
“This is definitely something that everybody needs to wrestle with. Everybody needs to come up with an answer on their own,” Conrad said. “I think that’s the way to do this discussion is to make sure that students know that it is a bit controversial and it is something that you need to figure out on your own.”
However, like Drury, he recognizes that this is not the most important question.
“Ultimately how I leave it is: it’s great to think about, it’s great to debate, but the real question you want to get right is not, ‘How did God create the earth?’ but ‘Who is Jesus and what did he do for you?” Conrad said.