I have been obsessed with dinosaurs since childhood. I already loved them before Jurassic Park was released in 1993, but that film certainly solidified both my love and imprinted images of my favorite dinosaurs. And whenever anybody is an awesome-enough-person to still ask the question, “What is your favorite dinosaur?” my answer is always the same, “Tyrannosaurus Rex. Duh.”
Posters of Tyrannosaurus Rex (“tyrant lizard king”) covered my wall as a kid. And most of those images were stills of the Jurassic Park star demolishing a green and yellow Jeep, about to eat a man on a toilet, or roaring as a “When-Dinosaurs-Ruled-the-Earth” poster flutters to the ground. That T-Rex, to me, was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I loved the way she looked; she was an absolute smoke show.
Which is one of the reasons I found myself resistant against some recent research on Tyrannosaurus Rex. In March 2023, eight leading paleontologists co-published an article in Science magazine called, “Therapod Dinosaur Facial Reconstruction and the Importance of Soft Tissues in Paleobiology.” The basic premise of the article is this: T-Rex likely had lips.
Lips? No way, I thought. Let me keep my childhood image of a vicious T-Rex with her top teeth sharply protruding downward from their maw as menacing steak knives. Don’t hide those chompers behind a boring curtain of fatty tissue!
But as I read the article, there is some really compelling evidence that, yes, Tyrannosaurus Rex likely had lips. To protect enamel, teeth need to be kept both protected and moist. Modern crocodilians have protruding teeth, but they live in a highly aquatic environment. T-Rex was a land predator who would have needed to protect is teeth from both environmental factors and the dryness of the environment. Recent research suggests the amount of enamel on a tyrannosaur’s teeth means they needed some sort of further protection. Hence: lips.
“Science is never a completely settled matter.”
Why was I so resistant to this new information? Because it was completely undoing the images I had held dear since childhood. However, that is the nature of science. Science is never a completely settled matter; everything is always up for re-examination and re-imagination.
Thomas Aquinas famously referred to theology as the queen of the sciences. Aquinas could not have known all the modern epistemology we now embrace in the 21st century, but I wonder if perhaps his statement is more prophetic now than ever before.
There is a temptation for all of us to hold on to the images of God we always have held dear. That temptation can cause us to dismiss or ignore any information we may receive that could call those images up for debate or question. Perhaps one of the keys to spiritual maturity is to hold our images of God with open arms. Perhaps our ideas of God are always up for debate. Perhaps humility is the key to embracing a fuller, more accurate picture of who God truly is.
For example, in the church of my childhood, I was taught only men could serve as pastors. I never questioned it, but when someone did, we were given biblical texts that seem to make things perfectly clear. It did not always make sense to me, but I was told that was just the way God designed things for all people, for all places, for all time.
But then I began to expand my horizon. In college, I met women who felt a call to pastoral ministry with all of the depth, truth and grace you could imagine. I began to see images of God in Scripture that challenged my inherited ideas. I encountered a God who cared for Hagar in the wilderness, a God who made Mary the carrier of hope, a God who empowered women with the good news of the Resurrection, and a God who exploded the categories of leadership with the bursting of Pentecostal fire.
My image of God and how God moves and works in the world changed. Now, I am proud to add my name to thousands of others in signing Baptist Women in Ministry’s recent open letter affirming the calling of both women and men to gospel ministry.
I wonder: What are the things I currently believe about God that I will one day look back on as ancient history? How will my faith change (evolve) throughout my life? Will I embrace that transformation as further revelation of God’s beauty and grace, or will I resist that change in order to cling to what feels precious to me in this moment?
Recently, some artists used all the best modern research about Tyrannosaurus Rex and developed the most accurate (as of yet) image of a T-Rex we have. It’s not the same creature as the one covering my childhood bedroom walls. This Tyrannosaurus Rex is much chunkier than previously thought. Newer research even suggests this T-Rex likely was no faster than an average human runner. And, yes, this Tyrannosaurus Rex has lips.
But I have a choice: I retain my love for an old image that is, in fact, a myth. Or I can learn to fall even deeper in love with a living, breathing, mysterious creature that is more and more real.
Tyler Tankersley serves as senior pastor of Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
The gospel according to mammals | Opinion by Tyler Tankersley