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Home > 2013 > December Web Exclusives > Holy, But Not Homogenous

A few years ago, a brilliant young post-graduate scientist began attending our church services. She started her journey to explore Christianity. Her upbringing was anything but religious, which made her thoughts on faith fresh—and occasionally conflicted. Before too long she asked if we could sit down and talk. She had questions.

Over coffee we discussed all sorts of things: science, theology, politics, resurrection, and the Portland Trail Blazers. It was enjoyable. But I could see her reaching for the real question as the conversation went on. Finally she asked what had been on her mind the whole time: "Can I be a Christian and still believe in evolution?"

Circumstance and "circumcision"

What would lead us to believe that a scientist must reject evolution before embracing the good news of Jesus? Why wouldn't we expect them to become agents of God's grace in the very tension that many stumble over?

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul rambles through instructions for those who've recently converted to Christianity. One of his statements should make attentive observers of the text do a double-take. Paul writes, "Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised" (v.18).

Finally she asked what had been on her mind the whole time: "Can I be a Christian and still believe in evolution?"

The latter portion of this teaching makes sense—Paul often admonished Gentile converts, directly opposing the Judaizers, that they shouldn't become cultural Jews (via circumcision) in order to follow Jesus. Circumcision, for Paul, was a cultural conversion rather than a heart conversion. After all, Paul wasn't after circumcision of the penis; Paul was after what he called "circumcision of the heart" (see Rom. 2:28-29). Such theology makes sense to contemporary Protestants and evangelicals, who long ago rejected any kind of work-based salvation. But it's the first half of Paul's assertion that catches the modern reader off guard: Why would Paul instruct circumcised converts to not become uncircumcised?

Quite a story (possibly) hides behind this little verse. Whether out of embarrassment, or fear of persecution, or conversion to Christianity, some first-century Jews were eager to reject Judaism and their Jewish culture. In some cases, circumcised males would actually become uncircumcised to hide their cultural identity. They went through an excruciating practice known as "epispasm." The procedure served as a kind of skin graft to undo circumcision. One could effectively become uncircumcised if they so desired. European Jews even resurrected the practice during the Nazi persecutions to escape death.

Whether epispasm is what Paul had in mind here is unclear. But it's clear that Paul rejected the idea that conversion to Jesus was cultural. If a Jew turned to Christ, he said that they should remain a Jew and follow Jesus. If a Gentile came to Christ, he said that they should remain in their cultural context and follow Jesus. Whoever a convert might be, Paul writes, they should "remain" (v. 20) in their context after their conversion.

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Posted: December 2, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 6 comments

Lee Merida

December 08, 2013  8:16pm

John, Rick and A.J., I am tracking with John on repentance. God provides us the ability to repent and it is also something that we do daily. So yes, God's work leads us to repent, but we also repent daily and decide to follow Him. So yes, there is no salvation without repentance, to which there will be fruit of repentance.

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Geoff Smart

December 08, 2013  1:03pm

My own Creation vs Evolution dilemma was solved when I was told it is not 'either/or', it is 'both/and'. Creation explains WHY the world was made, Evolution explains HOW. God is a God of BOTH/AND.

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Rick Dalbey

December 04, 2013  5:50pm

John, repentance is to displace my own lordship of my life and to submit to the new King and his kingdom. It happens in an instant as one is spiritually regenerated. It is not a process and is not measured by a simple behavioral metric. The life of a regenerated Christian will, over time, come to resemble the character and behavior of Jesus as one remains connected to the vine. If there is no apparent change of behavior and the person continues in a lawless lifestyle, we have the right to suspect that they actually do not "know" the Lord. AJ, its nice to see another Foursquare Christian that doesn't demand the shibboleth of young earth creationism which the Bible does not require. Also, I would say that science is not strictly a cultural pursuit, a matter of cultural preference, but is empirical, testable and falsifiable. God reveals Himself in a trustworthy way in the Bible and in nature. He doesn't lie or deceive. That's why Christians can joyfully pursue science.

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John Unger

December 03, 2013  12:54pm

A.J., I appreciate your writing and thoughts including this article. May I push back on one point? Where you add repentance to the list of things not required for salvation along with good works and joining the church sub culture. John the Baptist taught repentance for forgiveness as did Jesus and the disciples all prior to his death. Following his death Jesus still taught this (Luke 24:46-47) It was in the first gospel message preached at Pentecost (Acts 2:38). And Paul, the great cross-cultural missionary preached it as well (Acts 17:30). Lots of other Scripture deal with this. I believe what you are saying is that people don't need perfect performance to be saved. Repentance, however, is truly about a change of heart or direction. It is not about where we are but about where we are headed and I don't believe there is salvation without that.

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Ron Low

December 03, 2013  12:13pm

Epispasm is not / was not surgery. The same non-surgical foreskin restoration methods used in biblical times (see I Macsabees 15) are used today by hundreds of thousands of men.

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