Drew Rick-Miller: A Case Study on Science in Sermons
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Show, not tell. Every writer has received this advice. The best writing helps a reader experience something rather than merely having it described.
We are probably guilty at Science for the Church of doing too much telling and not enough showing. We tell you each week why and how you should engage science in church, but too rarely do we show you what engaging science in church looks like.
Today is different. Today we launch bonus material connected to our Standard Model videos. I am pleased to offer you The Standard Model in Action, a sermon by Chris Dolson, the pastor emeritus of Blackhawk Church (you might remember that I profiled this church last month).
Dolson preached this sermon on Psalm 19 back in August as the final one in a series the church was doing on the Psalms. We cut out our favorite seven minutes from a longer thirty-four-minute sermon. Please take the time to watch it (at least the shorter clip).
Then, consider why I think this is such an excellent example of how to engage science from the pulpit.
Science in the Pulpit
We learned several years ago that one of the best practices for engaging science in church was to do so from the pulpit. The reasons are obvious. It reaches the largest segment of the church—at least for ministries where worship attracts the biggest crowd. Also, the pulpit gives the engagement with science credibility it might not have if it is only addressed in a basement-level Sunday school classroom.
I suspect the idea of giving science credibility from the pulpit may be a troublesome one. The pulpit is where we give credibility to the gospel of Jesus Christ, not astronomy, biology, or medicine. This is one of the reasons we wanted to share Dolson’s sermon with you: the message is not first and foremost about science. Rather, science is used to further Dolson’s explication of Psalm 19 as he proclaims the gospel. It only constitutes a portion of his sermon.
That, too, is a best practice. Don’t think it has to be a science sermon—where science is the sole tool used to illuminate scripture and proclaim the gospel. That is only useful in the rarest of occasions. Instead, think about how a science anecdote or illustration can be used to bring home an aspect of the week’s text(s). Let me offer some possibilities:
- A sermon about forgiveness could feature some aspect of the scientific research on forgiveness (how unforgiveness wounds us or offer one of the empirically validated methods for enhancing forgiveness).
- Preaching on one of the many healing stories in Scripture could reference all the work done at the interface of spirituality and health.
- Consider relevant science as an anecdote in a message that mentions spiritual practices like prayer.
Dolson’s sermon exemplifies these best practices, but it also sends the right message from the pulpit about his church’s posture to science.
- Our friends in the UK, Equipping Christian Leaders in an Age of Science (ECLAS), have developed this resource on science and preaching. Rev. Brown introduces it here.
- Science-engaged preacher, John van Sloten, describes his use of the Book of Nature in his sermons.
- Psychologist and SftC friend Justin Barrett offers seven ideas on using science in sermons
- Want more examples of science-engaged preaching? Try Day1 radio’s science sermon series that has been repurposed in book or audio format (scroll down the page below the book description for a link to each sermon).
- Presbyterian pastor Wes Avram preached this gem of a sermon on Christmas eve in 2014
- Check out our resources for preachers.
- Our growing list of devotionals may also be helpful to you as they exemplify how science can illuminate scripture.
- Send us your favorite sermon or lesson where you or your pastor engaged science. We welcome more examples to share.
The Message behind the Message
For several years, every time I reconnected with a high school buddy, an engineer in the automotive industry, he bemoaned that whenever his pastor mentioned anything to do with science, he was railing against the shadow side of technology. What my friend heard was that his profession was not appreciated by the church; his desire to make safe, dependable vehicles to improve our lives was not the work of God.
This is one of the main reasons I like Dolson’s sermon. He shares his passion for the stars and for space and he presents mainstream science in a positive way. No one could listen to that sermon and think Blackhawk Church was opposed to science or that science was not a viable Christian vocation.
That is not to say the church can’t be critical of science—we must and should do so when and where it is needed. But science like so much of life has aspects that are gospel and life-affirming and others that deserve criticism. We must find the right balance and not exclusively praise or oppose science. Remember there are science professionals in the pews, and they are listening both to our messages and their undertones.
One final note on Dolson’s use of science in this sermon: he has put in the work, probably with the help of scientists at Blackhawk, to accurately represent the science he uses, yet he also conveys great humility. That is, in fact, part of his main message: the God who is proclaimed by the heavens is so big that some pastor named Dolson should not presume that God thinks about things the way he does.
This is really important. Pastors should not be fearful of presenting science as long as they put some effort into being accurate in how they portray the science. (Implementing our Standard Model is a great way to do this). But ultimately, preachers should be humble. They should model the kind of humility towards science that they would like to see scientists show towards faith. This creates a space where we can learn, ask questions, and ultimately defer to the One whose glory is proclaimed by the heavens.
Once again, a preacher’s primary task is not to give credibility to science but to explicate and make credible the gospel as revealed in scripture. That means wherever science declares God’s glory, it can be used in service to our proclamation of Jesus Christ.