Science in Christian Perspective



ASA: Then and In the Future

         Hartzler, Sisterson

H. Harold Hartzler 
Mankato, Minnesota

From: JASA 31 (September 1979): 196-198.                                                 

At the time when Bernard Ramm's book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture appeared, the ASA was thirteen years old. Our first president F. Alton Everest, to whom the book was dedicated, had retired from the Executive Council and his place had been taken by Russell L. Mixter. Other members of the Executive Council at that time were Hendrik J. Oorthuys, Delbert N. Eggenberger, Brian P. Sutherland and H. Harold Hartzler. Eggenberger served as editor of the Journal ASA while Sutherland was vice-president and Hartzler was the secretary-treasurer.

By 1954 the ASA had published Modern Science and Christian Faith edited by F. Alton Everest. This marked our first major publication effort and dealt with the relationship between Christianity and various fields of science. Each scientific discipline was dealt with by an individual author. The author well recalls the first appearance of this book at the national convention held at Calvin College in 1948.

The ASA had also published three monographs by 1954. The first was Christian Theism and the Empirical Sciences by Cornelius Jaarsma. The second by Russell L. Mixter, titled Creation and Evolution, has been our most successful publication in terms of sales and has been reprinted a number of times. The third monograph authored by Frank Allen was titled The Eye as an Optical Instrument. This 16-page illustrated booklet discusses the intricate marvels of the eye.

Some articles appearing in the Journal ASA for 1954 were: "A Christian Philosophy of Science" by Henry Weaver, "Genetic Evidence as to the Color of Adam and Eve" by Irvin A. Willis, "The Nature of the Gene and the Theory of Evolution" by John C. Sinclair, "The Principle of Growth as an Obsession" by William J. Tinkle, "The Psychological Implications of the New Birth" by Norvell L. Peterson, and "Biblicism and Science" by Chester K. Lehman.

In the latter article, which was an address given at the ninth annual convention of the ASA held at Eastern Mennonite College, Harrisonburg, Virginia, August 24-27, 1954, Professor Lehman suggested that the Christian viewpoint should be carried into other scientific organizations. I quote from this article: "Is it not possible for the whole
question of evolution to be reopened, or for a first class interpretation of the creation account to gain a hearing? The genius of Christianity is that of a prophetic mission in the world." I question how much we of the ASA have accepted the challenge of Chester Lehman.

By 1954 the ASA was becoming of age, nine annual conventions had been held, the Journal had become established, our first major publication had appeared, and our membership had grown from five in 1941 to over four hundred. Among the new members of the previous year was David L. Willis who later became president of the ASA and also edited one of our most recent publications entitled Origins and Change: Selected Readings from the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation.

William D. Sisterson 
Executive Director 
American Scientific Affiliation 
Elgin, Illinois

The infinite variety of variables that can interfere in predictions into the future render predictions certain to considerable error. I can hope only that the reader will exercise Christian grace in future years when my mistakes become apparent!

Despite the limitations of the task, it is worthwhile to look carefully into the future. While one is constrained to educated guesses on where an organization may go, the discipline of projecting current trends and goals over several years increases awareness of what must be done now to make progress in a specific direction. Conscious decision now about the future will be the foundation for significant positive change and growth.

The ASA is near the end of a time of transition. For 30 years the Affiliation grew and prospered with almost total volunteer help. Around 1970 it became apparent to the Executive Council that we were at the limits of what could be done with volunteer help alone. The Council decided to adopt a new model for the organization by combining the volunteer efforts with a full-time staff. This model was implemented in 1972 and is gradually taking hold as we approach 1980. It took several years to work through the changes in policies and procedures that go along with a new model. This transition is almost complete and a new focus is taking shape.

The new focus centers on ASA becoming not only a member-oriented organization, as it currently is, but also ministry oriented. This outreach or ministry will be directed to specific audiences that most need the benefits ASA can offer.

Our internal focus on member service for the future can be outlined into two major categories:

1) Publications - The current quarterly Journal will probably continue steady growth in length, quality, and distribution. In 1979 the length increased from 48 pages to 64 pages (except for issues after the fire that destroyed the ASA office). Similar increases will continue in the future up to some practical limitation in length when we will go to an increased frequency, from quarterly to bi-monthly or monthly, The Newsletter will improve its format in the direction of increased readability. Greater length and in creased frequency will probably occur here as membership
needs expand. A likely development will see the Newsletter expand its services to more timely information on meetings, jobs and issues of interest to the members.

2) Meetings - We will see the Annual Meeting increase in quality, size, and influence. I see a time when our Annual Meeting will be a major event in at least the Christian community, but also to some extent in the science community. Our meeting will be looked to for insight and guidance on the increasingly complex and difficult issues raised by the science and society interface. Within 25 years I expect to see over 1,000 people in attendance at our Annual Meeting.

Less clear is the future of local groups. The traditional Local Section works well in some places and not at all in others. As the membership increases we will probably see more sections that work, but future local activities may center in special purpose small groups. These groups would focus on specific ministries depending on the unique gifts of the individual members and the special opportunities of where they live. This sort of group is effectively working in several locations now and represents unlimited potential for effective outreach.

Both of these categories of member-oriented services represent considerable potential for ministry as well. However, the past has clearly demonstrated that little outreach automatically results from our current activities. Conscious effort is required to apply our current strengths in ministry outside the organization. In addition, new efforts are required to fulfill the potential of the organization in effective ministry for our Lord.

New efforts will spring out of the current model of a small professional staff working with volunteers to carry out our purposes. We intend to strike a balance between the extremes of a staff that does everything and a membership left to drift with the changing tides of volunteer leadership. Great strength lies in the balance between the stability provided by a professional staff and the vast potential of volunteer leadership and service. The application of this model in the future will dictate a geographically dispersed professional staff with many small regional headquarters rather than one large central office that tends to grow increasingly remote from the members. This model fits well into the pattern of increasing costs in national travel and the growing effectiveness of electronic communication.
Future staff additions will be made when our financial stability allows it. The current distribution of members suggests that the next staff addition should be on the West Coast, with subsequent additions in the Northeast and the Southeast. This approach will allow us to indefinitely postpone the need for buildings for the office staff, so resources can be concentrated on ministry and outreach.

The long range future of the ASA lies in our development of effective ministries after this model. The audiences we are responsible to are the church and the science community. The church needs to be made aware of the many issues and inputs of science that interface with it. We must help the church both to face these issues and to deal constructively with them.

On the other hand, the science community must become aware of the inadequacy of continuing to ignore Christianity as if it were not relevant to the scientifically minded. While all scientists will not be converted to Christ, a general change in attitude is needed from ignorance to enlightened dialogue.

There is no organization or institution, apart from the ASA, that can effectively minister to these audiences in the areas indicated. If progress is made, it is up to us to make it. The greatest resource of the ASA is the strong consensus among our members that both science and Christianity must be handled with utmost integrity. Since God is the Creator of what science studies and the Revealer of the Bible that Christianity is founded on, an inherent unity exists between science and theology. While many problems arise between the two, the long term direction is one of harmony when people handle science and theology with care.

The ASA has consistently and courageously stood for this basic unity in science and theology. For over 35 years we have successfully resisted vigorous efforts to compromise this stand. We have been urged to compromise good science for the sake of protecting traditional, yet unnecessary, interpretations of the Bible. We have been
pressured to compromise good theology in the name of current scientific fashion and peer pressure. Our uncompromising resistance to these pressures is the firm foundation and bright hope for the future of the ASA.
I see a vision of great harvest for the ASA over the next 25 years. Unlimited opportunities for ministry in both the church and the scientific community lie before us. To realize that vision will require much hard work and persistence. There will be failures and set-backs, but let us press on to complete the mandate of God for the ASA. Let us build on our foundation of biblical and scientific integrity a structure of effective service to both the church and the scientific community.