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Ambassadors for Reconciliation

In 2 Corinthians 5:19b–20a we read, “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.” Clearly this passage refers to our role in spreading the gospel. And yet I think it has wider implications, as well.

One way we can help people receive our message of reconciliation with God is by modeling reconciliation among ourselves. John 13:35 says,  “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” And yet, although creation beliefs hold a core position in our Christian faith (Hebrews 11:6), no other subject exposes a greater lack of love among believers. Some creationists treat fellow believers with ugly, disparaging disdain.

Since before the launch of Reasons to Believe in 1986, I’ve experienced ministry-damaging assaults on my character and distortions of my beliefs because of my creation perspective. Being new to America and new to the church back then, I was stunned by this reaction. Sadly, I learned that Christian leaders who knew me and defended my character, even leaders who disagreed with me on important creation doctrines, usually suffered similar attacks.

Meanwhile, nonbelievers look on. “How,” they wonder, “can we trust Christians to deal with our questions and doubts when they treat each other so badly?” How, I ask, can we call people to be reconciled to God when we cannot even be reconciled to one another? What if we won’t even take the first step toward reconciliation?

Consider the reaction to Deborah Haarsma, president of BioLogos, when she invited a Christian brother to take a first step with her. After reading a blog post in which I was vilified, Dr. Haarsma invited the blogger, Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, to meet with the two of us over dinner to discuss our differences calmly and graciously and, thus, to reduce the rancor.

Ham not only turned down the dinner invitation, but also seized the opportunity to exalt himself and denounce the two of us. In doing so he likened himself to Nehemiah, who wisely rejected the malignant invitations, deliberate distractions, of Sanballat and Tobiah (Nehemiah 6).

Does anyone else find this comparison disturbing? Although Ham mentions that we are not exactly like Sanballat and Tobiah, let’s consider what those characters were up to. As enemies of God and of His people (Nehemiah 6:1), they were intent on bringing harm and intimidation (Nehemiah 6:2, 9).

To characterize me in this way is offensive; however I’m more deeply concerned by this implication concerning Dr. Haarsma. I’ve rarely met a Christian who manifests the fruits of the Holy Spirit as consistently as she does. Anyone who has spent significant time with her would agree.

Will we who lead evangelical organizations agree, in obedience to Christ, to treat one another with appropriate respect, whatever our differences may be? Will we take seriously the command to “love one another”? Will we show sufficient confidence in the revelation God has given us (in the 66 books of the Bible and in the book of nature) to recognize that if we work together in a spirit of humility to integrate what God has revealed, we will increasingly make progress toward resolving our differences of interpretation?

I am not so naïve as to believe all our differences will be resolved in a lifetime. Because of our human limitations, we will never attain complete knowledge and understanding of everything God has revealed. However, by graciously engaging one another over our differences, we can grow in our knowledge and understanding of His truth.

How can I be so confident? For six years now Reasons to Believe and BioLogos scholars have been meeting with one another to discuss our differing beliefs on creation, science, and theology. In recent years we have been joined by leaders from various Baptist seminaries, as well, including Dr. Ken Keathley. Yes, significant differences remain. However, because all of us remain committed to considerate dialogue, privately and publicly, the differences are not as great as they were six years ago. What’s more, we’ve all grown in appreciation for God’s revelation and for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Both Dr. Haarsma and I would like to see our dialogue extended to include a broader spectrum of creation views.

I’d like to add, here, that I admire Deborah for her willingness to issue a public appeal to Ken Ham. She’s an example to other Christian leaders. I hope and pray that many will join her in appealing to leaders across the evangelical spectrum to engage one another openly, honestly, and respectfully. Christian leaders and pastors would do well to stand up together and acknowledge that:

Enough is enough. There are mission fields still to be reached. How can we ask nonbelievers to dialogue with us if we cannot graciously dialogue with one another, if we treat one another as enemies? Unless we make some progress in reconciling our differences, how can we expect to help reconcile a skeptical world to Christ? We are commissioned by God to be His ambassadors. It’s time for us to start behaving as ambassadors