|Byzantine mosaic of the Creation of Adam (12th c.)|
Bethel is associated with the Missionary Church, a conservative Protestant denomination, but I'm Roman Catholic. Consequently, I'm an outsider with regards to the squabble over human origins – it's primarily an Evangelical tussle. Still, my proximity to the current controversy might give rise to a question: How is it that a devout Catholic is teaching at an Evangelical college anyway? It's an unusual situation, to be sure, but not unprecedented. Besides, I grew up in the Evangelical tradition, so I'm very comfortable with Bethel's culture, its vocabulary of faith, and its values. I've happily participated in the life and mission of Bethel for over ten years now, and I don't expect that to change any time soon.
However, now that this whole origins thing is out in the public eye, I'm starting to get queries – like this one from my son: "Dad, you've signed a contract saying you don't believe in evolution?" The simple answer is "no," although it's an incomplete answer. The fact is that I did sign a Statement of Faith (with appended interpretive remarks) back when I was hired in 2004, but it did not include any mention of human origins. It's that original Statement of Faith, along with my appended comments, that I have in mind each year when I sign my annual contract.
So, in the interest of full disclosure – and for my family and friends who may well wonder how it is that a practicing Catholic can teach at an Evangelical school – here's that statement, beginning with Bethel's "We Believe" affirmation (as it originally appeared on my contract), followed by my interpretive annotations:
As a Christian college, we believe...
- God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and the Author of salvation.
- The Bible is the divinely inspired, only infallible, authoritative Word of God, and the unchanging rule of faith and practice.
- Man's relationship to God, which was lost through sin, is restored through faith in the redeeming work of Christ, God's divine Son.
- The Church is composed of persons who are born of the Spirit and empowered by him to live a holy life devoted to the fulfillment of the Church's Great Commission.
- The personal return of Christ will bring about the end of the present age, the Judgment and the beginning of the glorious age to come.
I do personally agree with the creedal statement as far as it goes, and yet I feel compelled to clarify that my belief and understanding extend beyond that which is explicitly articulated. The following addendum, therefore, is not an "exception" I would make, but rather a further fleshing out of how I embrace and try to live out all the points specified in the creedal statement.
Without reservation, I firmly believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired, only infallible, and authoritative written Word of God. I further believe that the Word of God includes both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition – the dynamic, divinely inspired transmission of apostolic teaching from one generation to the next. St. Paul refers to the dual nature of God's Word when he writes, "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (II Thess. 2.15 [RSV]).
Furthermore, I believe that the twofold Word of God – like a single, unified Deposit of Faith – has been entrusted to the Church by Christ, and that the Church has the obligation to preserve it intact and proclaim it to the world. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church also has the responsibility of interpreting the Word of God, and does so today with the same apostolic authority Christ granted the original disciples.
For more information on Catholic beliefs regarding human origins, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§282-289).