A journey from fundamentalism to faith

Somehow, I missed the announcements and reviews of a recent book by James L. Hawyward, emeritus-professor in biology at Andrews University. A week ago a friend told me he had just read Dinosaurs, Volcanoes and Holy Writ and his enthusiasm prompted me to order it from Amazon. Since there is now also an Amazon.nl, it took only two days for the book to be delivered.

When I worked at Andrews between 1991 and 1994 I may have seen the author of the book, but we moved in different worlds. My office was in the Sutherland House at the edge of the campus (now the domicile of Andrews University Press), while Hayward was located in the science building. When I Iast visited the Andrews campus, almost four years ago, in connection with a speaking appointment with the local chapter of the Adventist Forum, I had the pleasure of staying in the home of David and Carie Grellmann. I learned that during my stay they would host a meeting of the “soup club”—an informal group of professionals of widely divergent disciplines which met once every two weeks to discuss whatever they felt invited discussion. I do not remember whether professor Hayward was present during that particular “soup club” meeting. But towards the end of his book I learned that he is a regular member of the club!

Anyway, after reading his book I hope that some day our paths will cross, because I sense we are kindred spirits. The subtitle of his book goes some way toward explaining this: A Boy-Turned Scientist Journeys from Fundamentalism to Faith. I cannot claim I am a scientist on the same level as Hayward, but like him I have journeyed from fundamentalism to faith. His background differed greatly from mine. My father was not a fundamentalist pastor and I did not grow up in an atmosphere in which Ellen White had the final answer for everything. I did not attend an SDA elementary school, or an SDA academy. But as I grew up my fundamentalist outlook was not very different. A significant first step in my liberation from the fundamentalist straight jacket was reading James Barr’s famous book on Fundamentalism during my MA studies at Andrews in the mid-1960s’. Sakae Kubo, one of my favorite professors, advised me to read that book. It was a truly lifechanging experience.

In his book Hayward chronicles the various stages in his journey away from fundamentalism. But the most important part about this journey is where it brought him. In his struggle to free himself from fundamentalism he did not lose his faith and did not abandon his church family. Like Hayward I have remained a believer, and like him I have remained loyal to my spiritual home. That has not always been easy, for in many cases the church does not provide the space that one needs to follow one’s deepest convictions and in some cases to deviate from traditional majority conclusions.

My journey from fundamentalism to faith has not been so closely connected with the issues surrounding creation and evolution as in Hayward’s case. Of course, it has also played an important role in reaching a more mature understanding of how to read the Bible. It is an issue anyone with some education cannot avoid. Like Hayward I started with the firm belief that God created everything about six thousand years ago in six literal days, and that in the days of Noah a worldwide flood destroyed everything. I was told time and again: If we could not trust this part of the biblical account, what about other parts of the biblical story? I read quite a few of the books by authors who defended so-called “young earth” creationism and with my limited background in these matters I found these arguments at first rather convincing. But when I began to read books on the other side of the creation-evolution issue, I began to wonder whether the arguments in those books were perhaps stronger. For Hayward things played out at a very different level, but the results were the same. We believe that God created, but we do not know how and when He did it, and we believe the Bibles does not give us the information on which to base the far-reaching conclusions about a world-wide flood that young- earth geologists defend as ultimate truth.

I fully concur with Hayward’s statement towards the end of the concluding chapter, which I want to quote:
“In view of what I have shared in this book, I ask myself, do I have faith? Hebrews 11:1 declares faith to be “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith, then, has nothing to do with things I can measure, count, compare and evaluate—dinosaurs, plate tectonics. Radiometric dates, volcanoes, fossil sequences, ecological relationships, biogeographic distribution patterns, evolution, and the like. No, faith reaches out in hope towards what I cannot see, to an indefinable, ineffable, transcendent reality, yet a reality that exists also deep within me and in all of life. It involves a hope that things can and will be better, even though at this moment they may not be trending in that direction. Faith does not ask me to believe things which evidence suggest are unlikely or untrue—“idols of fundamentalism:, Karen Armstrong calls them. Instead, faith bids me to receive grace and to humbly open my life to goodness, beauty, love, and behave responsibly towards the rest of creation. I still have along way to travel, but my journey so far, as well as what remains, has been and will be made with faith.”

Thank you, Dr. Hayward for your wise, often witty, and inspiring book. I am sure it will help and confirm many others on their journey from a miserable fundamentalism to a joyful faith.

One thought on “A journey from fundamentalism to faith

  1. Jim Hayward

    Hello Reinder,

    Thank you for reading DINOSAURS, VOLCANOES AND HOLY WRIT. I appreciate your affirmation of the book, as well as your endorsement of the type of journey it describes. I have received many such responses from readers, which makes me very happy. It was my purpose and hope to make a positive contribution when I wrote the book.

    Seventh-day Adventism has some wonderful things to offer the wider community, but the church’s witness will become more muted and less relevant to thoughtful people if it continues to promote views clearly refuted by physical evidence. This evidence is readily accessible to anyone who cares to take a serious look at our marvelous, although often mysterious, universe.

    By the way, you are correct that I am a member of the “soup group” you mention in your blog. Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict, I could not be present the night David and Carrie Grellmann hosted you with our group. My wife, Shandelle Henson, was there and thoroughly enjoyed the time with you. When you are next in Michigan, it would be a pleasure to meet you. I enjoy both your writing and speaking. You are straightforward, honest, and committed. What more could one ask from an Adventist?!

    Warm regards,
    Jim Hayward

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