Two-Way Trust: Forging New Relationships in Theology and Science

In this interview, Jenny-Lyn de Klerk connects with David S. Robinson, Adjunct Professor of Theology and Ethics, to learn more about his ongoing initiative, Interface: Engaging Science in Ministry Education.

Jenny-Lyn de Klerk: What is the Interface project about?

David Robinson:  Over the past several years at Regent, some of us have been working to articulate a healthier relationship between theology and the sciences. But we recognize that we can’t spend all our time defining the relationship; we have to do life together! So in this latest phase of the Interface project, which I co-lead with Ross Hastings, we’re inviting scientists to teach in the core curriculum of our graduate degrees, especially the MDiv. With the support of the AAAS, we’re equipping future Christian leaders to engage directly with forefront science. We want them to see that scientists can be allies, and vice versa.

So how does that look in terms of the student experience? In Christian Thought and Culture this term, we’ve had a physicist guide us through the strange terrain of quantum mechanics, and we’re about to hear a biologist show us how to read the human genome like an ancient text. In Pastoral Care, we’ve invited psychologists to speak on their relevant areas of specialization, from trauma-informed children’s ministry to transgender identities. I’m also consulting with an evangelical climate scientist on creative ways that a pastor’s care can extend to all God’s creation.

Jenny-Lyn de Klerk: Interface seems especially relevant right now. How might it help us think through current issues?

David Robinson:  Many of us now look to the sciences as a matter of life and death. Whether it’s the John Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard or the Provincial Health Officer’s latest guidelines, we need both accurate description and prescribed behaviours—a combination people used to seek in religious leaders. Since Interface pursues a strong, mutual relationship between science and theology, we call for two-way trust.

First, trust science. We celebrate how God’s provision is shown through the extraordinary efforts of scientists and health professionals, particularly in the record pace of vaccine development. We have an important role, as Christians who are committed to the truth of the gospel, in challenging misinformation and supporting accurate descriptions of God’s world. We still have to think critically, of course, for “science” is not singular. I’ve often found the social sciences helpful in complicating the dominant “medi-narrative.”

This leads to our second claim, which is just as important: trust theology. The pandemic has been a kind of stress test on our social fault lines, as shown when the director of the World Health Organization warns of a “catastrophic moral failure” in the global distribution of vaccines. I teach theology as ethics, and believe that Christian doctrine is a reliable, urgently needed source for responsible action today.

Alongside advocacy and common service, we need to reconsider our distinctively Christian approach to care, which some are abandoning in the face of disproportionate restrictions. Will people, including those of us who have mental or physical illness, have the opportunity to encounter Jesus’s real presence in communion? We need to think carefully about what is “essential care” in ministry, as well as to resist the easy equation of “spiritual” and “virtual.”

Jenny-Lyn de Klerk: Tell us a bit about the upcoming lectures with Dr. Deborah Haarsma. What can attendees expect?

David Robinson: We’re delighted at the opportunity to have Deb Haarsma “visit” Regent on March 2–3. Her field is astrophysics, and she’s previously worked as both a research scientist and a professor. For her keynote lecture, “Christ and the Cosmos,” Dr. Haarsma will be showing us how to understand God’s creation, and our own significance, in light of the latest discoveries of modern astronomy. Expect an awe-inspiring break from the regular news feed! But be sure to come back the next day, when she’ll be showing us how science also addresses current social problems. In the lunchtime lecture “One Human Family,” Dr. Haarsma will confront the legacy of scientific racism by arguing, on the basis of both scripture and genetic science, that we’re a more unified species than we think. Finally, in an afternoon dialogue, we will address the dynamics of doing Christian ministry in pandemic times, elaborating on many of the points I raised above.

The reason Dr. Haarsma speaks on such a range of issues is that, along with her scientific expertise, she’s currently the President of BioLogos, a prominent North American organization dedicated to presenting the “harmony” between science and biblical faith. We’re excited to work with BioLogos this year as they share a lot of key commitments with Interface. For those who don’t know the organization, it was founded by Dr. Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian who’s currently director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest biomedical research agency. As BioLogos continues to provide intelligent, practical, and accessible resources for both individuals and churches, we’d like to promote their work in the Regent community.

Jenny-Lyn de Klerk: Where do you hope to see Interface go in the coming years?

David Robinson: I’m most excited about the prospect of developing Regent’s relationships with scientists at UBC. Being situated on the campus of one of Canada’s premier research universities gives us an immensely valuable opportunity for engagement, particularly with those who do not share our faith. Such interactions will enrich our courses in many ways. For example, in Pastoral Care this term I’ve invited UBC’s Steven Taylor, who wrote The Psychology of Pandemics back when publishers didn’t think the topic would sell, and who’s currently pursuing field-leading research in this vital area. I’d like to see our students given greater access to people like him.

Relatedly, I would like to see students have the opportunity to pursue a MATS concentration in Science and Theology. We have a successful model in the Arts concentration, and I think such an addition would further our mandate to teach an integrated Christian life. If this possibility interests you, let the college leadership know!

We’re also discussing the prospect of setting up study cohorts that emerge from an annual event or conference. Over the course of the ensuing year, pastors and scientists would be paired together to live out an “interface” in their respective vocations, each challenged and enriched by the other. After all, we want to encourage our alumni to pursue bold interdisciplinary ventures, and their degree is only the beginning.

This interview was originally posted on the Regent College website.

On March 2–3, 2021, Dr. Haarsma will be offering a series of three live online talks about the interplay of science and theology:

David Robinson
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