In the Embrace of Change

by Henry Neufeld, Publisher

Henry picI believe the greatest fear we have of change is the way that changes cascade. One thing leads to another. We experience this in daily life when a simple change to our routine impacts other activities. My decision to go to bed later changes my morning routine, which changes the outline of my day, which impacts my family, friends, and co-workers. Those of us who are very careful about such things can get very annoyed with spontaneous people. How dare they change things in moment and alter so many other lives, even in only small ways.
This fear extends to ideas. We may not work out all the consequences of changing our belief on one point, but we can feel those other changes looming. If I change my belief about one scripture, how many others will follow? We each have created a structure of beliefs, whether we did so consciously or unconsciously, and we tend to fear challenge.
Of course, some of us like that feeling, just as some people like to pursue high risk recreational activity. It’s an intellectual version of free climbing. Though we hear frequent stories of a change from a more conservative to a more liberal position, change can move one in any direction, which only gets to make it more frightening—or more exciting and enjoyable!
My story today is about cascading change. It didn’t look like it when I started, but it turned out that way. I’m a theistic evolutionist. I don’t really like the label—theist is a weak word for my beliefs about God, and evolutionist is merely the acceptance of a scientific theory—but it will have to do. I believe in God. I believe that God is the creator of everything, and the ultimate cause of everything.
When I say that in Christian circles I am commonly challenged to investigate creationism in one of its various forms, from young age creationism to intelligent design. I am told that the only reason I can possible accept evolutionary theory is that I was brainwashed in college and never had an opportunity to hear the truth.
But my cascading change was in the opposite direction. Both my BA and my MA degrees were granted by institutions with doctrinal statements that included a firm, young earth creationism, generally without even the 10,000-year wiggle room some young earth creationists use. The earth was created in a literal seven-day week of 24 hour days just like those in the present, so I learned from preschool age through graduate school, with a few questioning exceptions.
As an elementary school student I memorized Genesis 1-3. I knew the names and ages of the patriarchs of Genesis 5 & 11 from memory. I could give precise dates for the creation, the flood, and of course later biblical events. I even memorized lists of texts from elsewhere in scripture supporting this view of creation, at least in the opinion of those who created the lists.
Not satisfied with what was required, I began to collect and read materials by creationists, especially those in the Seventh-day Adventist church, such as George McCready Price and Frank Lewis Marsh. Creationism was not just a doctrine that I believed; it was the foundation of my doctrinal system. It was a cornerstone. This creationism was not a general belief in God as creator, but a combination of all the specifics: God created the entire universe in seven literal days of 24 hours each about 6,000 years ago.
So I wasn’t indoctrinated into evolutionary theory by secularist instructors at a university. [ene_ptp] The next suggestion I hear is that I must have eventually taken a course or read a book in which I learned about evolutionary theory, found that it contradicted the Bible, and then chose evolutionary theory over the Bible. This suggestion (or accusation) is generally followed by the question of how I can reject God’s Word in favor of a scientific theory. That’s not what happened. It would be simpler if it had. One enormous change, over and done with. New worldview neatly put into place. Traumatic, but only for a moment!
The change started with an assignment in college. The class, if I recall correctly, was titled “Problems in Exegesis.” It was designed for students who had a good deal of biblical studies and was designed to give us practice in looking at a disputed passage, looking at the options, researching the available information, and then proposing and defending a solution. Sort of thesis practice completed in less than five double-spaced pages. Yes, we used manual typewriters. Whiteout was new.
The problem I chose to write about was the text of the genealogies of Genesis 5 & 11. I mentioned that I had memorized all these patriarchs and their reported ages. In my reading for another class I had discovered that the genealogies differed between the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) and the Septuagint (LXX). A trace of the differences can be seen in Luke’s genealogy.
Which was right? I studied. I created charts. I examined the dating that would result for major world events. I realized that, unless on could do some major reworking, the Great Pyramid had gone through the flood. I calculated population growth rates required if the flood occurred on the date I thought it had and noted that simply having the people available to build such a major project would require some truly astounding growth rates.
This was going well beyond the assignment. I was just supposed to propose a solution. Which text would I translate were I to translate the Bible?
The bottom line? I thought I’d still translate the MT, though I could not be absolutely confident that it truly was the original text. I thought it most probable (and still do), but doubt remained.
It’s likely that some readers are jumping to conclusions, and assuming that I immediately looked at evolution and a 4.5 billion-year-old earth, and became a theistic evolutionist. In reality, I didn’t actually start looking at evolution until I was out of graduate school.
But there was a big change that took shape in my life at that point, bigger than a change in what I believed about how God created the universe. I came to understand that interpretation involves uncertainty.
When I read my college papers, most of which I have kept, I am amazed at how arrogant I could be. But at that point I began to grant more and more credence to the idea that people could disagree on significant issues of interpretation. If we could disagree, how could we start to consider people heretics because of such disagreement?
Now my beliefs about origins did change, and those changes also had their own cascade. At first I thought that it didn’t really matter how God created, but then further study of the fascinating way in which a universe created and empowered by God functions, changes, brings forth within it creatures who have freedom. That change, in turn, led me back to a study of God’s grace and the wonderful power of the incarnation, which I now hold as my central theological belief.
I believe that my faith in God became deeper as I realized my own fallibility. There were many struggles to come. Losing some of my faith in my own ability increased my faith and my trust in God, the only one whose perspective is not limited.
But my realization that interpretation involves uncertainty changed the entire way I looked at the Bible and the way I looked at nature. I went into that paper with the firm belief that I could find an answer for every question, an absolute answer, one that no reasonable person could question. I came out of it realizing (or rather with the beginning of the realization) that my finite knowledge was shockingly—finite! Limited. Imperfect. Subject to change.
That was, I think, the most important change of my life. Many people have helped me learn about many things. They have helped me work my way through problems. But nothing has been more profound than learning that I might not only be wrong, but I might not be able to find a demonstrably right conclusion.
Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I’m not a person who embraces change. I have learned to live with it, because having realized my limitations, I know I have to keep on doing my best to learn. If I can be in error, I probably am, and I want to learn how to be less in error.
I may not embrace change, but change embraces me.
I think that embrace is good.
 

13 Responses

  • I enjoyed all of your comments, Henry. Change is important subject. Without change, there isn’t growth. So, as you said, whether we like change or not, we must “embrace” it and allow the changes to “embrace” us.

  • Loved your “free climbing” analogy. I find that people who are risk averse intellectually are often the same way in other areas of their life. I am a young earth creationist but not because I was taught that view in seminary. I have done my homework. But I am open to correction and, in fact, enjoy reading about pilgrimages such as the one you’ve been on. Do keep these thought-provoking posts coming.

    • I think one could use the example of The Authorship of Hebrews here as well. The idea that Paul could not possibly be the author of Hebrews is so ingrained in the scholarly mind (almost a unified, singular thing on this point), that it requires a bedrock level change to shift. That’s why I published such a book. Anything that firmly established needs some challenge!

  • Dear Henry,
    Thank you for your testimony. I enjoyed reading it. Permit me a few observations. As for change, everything has been changing since God created the world and everything in it. As you know, sin entered through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and at that point, everything started going downhill. There was no evolving upward, but the law of entropy, degeneration, took over, and change has been in a downward direction ever since. Thank the Lord, Jesus came to give us a rebirth into His kingdom, so we can change from glory to glory, an upward direction, until we get our new bodies at His second coming!
    The bottom line is this whole debate about creation and evolution is this: was Jesus literally raised from the dead? If your answer is yes, then that validates every word out of His mouth and everything He did. The fact is that He considered Adam to be a literal person and the account of Genesis 1 and 2 also literally true. The Ten Commandments spoken audibly by God include an allusion to the seven days of creation (Ex. 20:11), likewise.
    Another thing is that Jesus chose “ignorant” fishermen as His 12 disciples. They were not intellectuals, but they were entrusted with all the teachings Jesus wanted them to know and pass on. “And when they [the Sanhedrin] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts. 4:13).
    So, what is better for learning about the origins of this planet and life upon it than the Holy Scriptures, inspired by the Spirit of God? The Bible is for everyone, not just for intellectuals to understand and interpret. I don’t believe God was trying to make it complicated. We should just observe Jesus, who was God in the flesh. His Spirit will teach us all we need to know, and we can depend on what is written, because Jesus did. He quoted it to the devil, and it was powerful against his lies and deception. “For man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4; Deut. 8:3). And “every word” includes Genesis 1-2, indeed the whole Bible! See II Tim. 3:16-17.
    Thanks for letting me get up on my stump! Ha!
    Love,
    Nancy

    • Nancy – I want to avoid making this a young earth creationism debate. I affirm the resurrection without difficulty, but do, in fact, interpret the rest differently.
      But this is about the ability to change and the ability to handle it.
      To use an example, supposing someone reads your book, Jewish Roots Journey, you are hoping to take them on a journey with you that will change them from accepting replacement theology, something that may well be so ingrained in them that it’s almost genetic, to accepting the Jewish roots of Christianity and also that we have not supplanted the Jews as God’s chosen people.
      That’s a massive amount of change, and it requires someone to admit they might have their interpretation wrong, at least for a moment.
      Maybe you should write something about how you changed your mind, condensed from your book! 🙂

      • Thanks, Henry, for your reply. Actually, when I first learned about the Jewish roots of the Church, I was a clean slate! Ha! I had not been indoctrinated with replacement theology. My problem was that I had no awareness of the Jewishness of Christianity. The first conference I attended on the subject, Israel in Prophecy, afforded me a crash course on the subject. I fell in love with Israel and the Jewish people and became very excited about prophecies concerning them being fulfilled in our time!
        As for creationism, I wish we could get the emphasis back on the awesomeness of God’s creation in all its details. It seems that would be the highest use of scientific inquiry, all for the purpose of worshipping and glorifying the CREATOR.
        Still, I have not responded to the subject of embracing change. Forgive me. I will meditate on that. What did I once believe that I don’t believe any more? Let me get back with you. ?
        Seriously,
        Nancy

        • As for creationism, I wish we could get the emphasis back on the awesomeness of God’s creation in all its details.

          I know you said many things, but I wanted to comment on this. One of the cascade of changes that occurred as I studied scripture was to change from a view that God is more involved in some things than others. This may take a few paragraphs, so bear with me!
          I can identify as a clear miracle the time in 1971 that my father was healed after we called for the elders of the church and had him anointed with oil. The seed of a change came because healing wasn’t instant, as I’d expected (I was 14 years old at the time). Nonetheless it was spectacular, enough so that as a teenager I did clearly identify it as God in action.
          I later asked my father, an MD who was very particular about practicing the best scientific medicine and who also prayed with every patient, how he knew whether it was the scientific medicine or the prayer that brought healing. He told me this: “God always heals them. Sometimes he uses my medicine.” That stuck with me and started a cascade of change.
          Even as I was studying in college I had sort of subconscious picture of God as having a priority list. God was doing the big things; natural processes took care of the minor ones.
          I can relate this to queries I’ve heard about things like a person in a hurry praying that a parking place will be open. Jody does that. I don’t need to pray for a parking place because I make a habit of parking as far as possible from the store to increase my exercise. Our youngest son used to note that Jody always got one. Then someone would ask, “With millions starving in India or Africa, how can you ask God for a parking place?”
          Well, God doesn’t have priority lists. God does with God wants. An infinite God is not distracted from major issues in creation by minor ones. God is there in the actions of even the smallest, most incomprehensible subatomic particle, as much as in the movement of galaxies.
          God is there when the surgeon operates with the same level of tension as when we identify a miracle. We often attribute the unsubtle actions to God, while considering the subtle ones “natural.” But there are no actions that occur without God. None at all.
          Psalm 104 is probably my favorite Bible passage on creation, though there are quite a few competitors. These two verses are key (my translation):

          (29) You hide your face, and they are disturbed;
          You bring their breath to an end,
          And they return to their dust.
          (30) You send forth your breath, and they are created;
          So you renew the face of the ground.

          Now matter how anything is accomplished, it’s always God all the way down, all the way up, and to the farthest corner of the universe.

          • Henry,
            You just blessed my socks off with your post! Thank you, thank you! That is the kind of commenting I am looking for when we Christian authors dialogue. Sharing “God stories” is such a huge blessing! Your thoughts and the way you expressed them really inspired me. Your dad’s divine healing bears telling and retelling over and over. Wow! And I love your explanation about praying for a parking place. I had similar thoughts today about a minute indication of God’s watch care. It was such a tiny thing, and yet I saw God in it, that He cared about such a small thing. He is absolutely wonderful!
            Blessings,
            Nancy

          • Nancy, Reading your comment above made me think more again today about little things. One day as I was contemplating how God has so many big things to take care of, how could He have such concern for the small things in my life, it dawned on me that the only way for the big things to work successfully is for careful attention to be paid to the so called small things.
            When I was teaching school, I used to show my children what a big problem a misplaced decimal in Math, or a misplaced comma in composition, could cause. It is my understanding that a faulty O-ring caused the Challenger disaster. When the Christ raised Jarius’s daughter from the dead He thought of the fact that she would be hungry. His greatness of character was shown more in this kind thoughtfulness than in the miracle itself.
            Those who spend eternity with God will be like Him in this same respect: “Well done, good and faithful servant, Thou hast been faithful over a few [small] things, I will make you ruler over many [big] things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” It has come to me anew as I wrote that I need to notice the little things God does for me every day, and express gratitude to Him. I need to notice the many little things others do for me, and thank them. And I need to look for the many little opportunities I have to bless others in little ways. Sometimes it seems that because we cannot do something big, we can do nothing.
            Here is a song I like very much that says it better than I can say it:
            If any little word of mine may make a dark life brighter,
            If any little song of mine may make a sad heart lighter,
            If any little love of mine may make a hard life sweeter,
            If any little care of mine may make a friend’s the fleeter,
            If any little lift of mine may aid a toiler bending,
            God give me love, and care and strength, we live for Him by lending–
            Chorus:
            God help me speak the helping word,
            And sweeten it with singing;
            And drop it in some lonely vale
            To set the echoes ringing.
            Upon the tiny flower in the deep woods, which will never be seen by man, God bestows no less care and attention, than upon the Giant Redwood tree.
            My 97 year old Mother, Myrtle Neufeld, just came in and I read to her what I had written here, and she quoted this to me, which she has quoted to me before: “I am only one [small] person, and yet I am one; I cannot do everything, but I can do something; and just because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the one [small] thing that I can do.” (The word [small] added with approval by Mother!) She, a nurse, remembers saying this to a doctor after a hectic two hours with four doctors calling on her constantly for help! Betty Rae

          • Betty Rae, what you wrote is absolutely beautiful! And I see that you are Henry’s sister. No wonder you are such a good writer. The song is perfect. I have never heard it before. Yes, it may be a cliche, but “little things mean a lot.” And that’s the truth! I frequently say what Myrtle said, ” I can’t do everything, but I can do something,” and I admonish others the same way.
            Thank you,
            Nancy

  • I want to reply here in general to those discussing young earth creationism. I chose that particular change of belief because in so many people’s minds it overwhelms the idea of change on anything else, but that wasn’t the largest change.
    For the topic of this post, the change could be the other way. I’m going to reply to a couple of individual comments with specifics.

  • “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou Who changest not, Abide with me!”

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