Building Blocks of Evolutionary Christianity

After my first post last April, several recipients let me know there was some difficulty with the system that allowed people to respond.  When you arrive at the home page, if you click on the blog title or go to “Recent Posts” in the right hand column and click the desired post you will be taken to the actual blog page and once there you will be able to leave a comment or click to follow the blog.

Then summer arrived and passed into fall and I have been stalled.  I realized that this was going to be more complicated than just posting what I was thinking.  I decided that I needed to show how my life and my thinking are rooted in an Evolutionary Christianity and give some background on what the perspective of Evolutionary Christianity is.

The job I took on was beginning to feel very daunting and I was unsure where to start.  This was a place that felt very familiar to me.  I had been here several times in my personal and vocational life.  In my ministry when I was faced with a decision that could change the course of my life, my strategy was to try to figure it all out before I moved ahead.  My decision to come to Canada to serve a Moravian Church in Calgary, my decision to give up my U.S. Citizenship and become a Canadian citizen, my decision to move from the Moravian Church to the United Church of Canada and, last but not least, my decision to begin a community ministry called Spiritual Directions were a just a few of these moments.   Each time I spent time in prayer and reflection to determine if this really was a “call” for me. But, even when I did believe it was a call I would still spend time trying to figure out all the details until finally I got the message:  “Don’t try to figure it all out, just take the next step.  If you believe this new direction is really a call, just say yes and begin”.  The decision for me is often about trust and moving ahead in faith.

So…. with a new burst of energy and commitment I begin again!

Science and religion have been in a struggle for hundreds of years, each trying to protect its field of knowledge/belief.  However they cannot let go of each other because they are in a tug of war with a common purpose:  to understand the nature of reality in the world in which we live. Our current struggle is with how to meld perspectives with two different languages, not two different realities.  Evolutionary spirituality is an emerging perspective that explains the reality of life from scientific and Christian spiritual perspectives  and  they are surprisingly similar.  Brian Swimm, PhD in gravitational dynamics and professor of evolutionary cosmology (Canticle to the Cosmos, Disk 1, #4)  says that the fundamental order of the universe consists of three characteristics: Subjectivity, Differentiation and Communion.   Leave any one of them out and the universe falls apart. These basic patterns apply to the expanding universe as well as to everything in it, including human beings.

The universe seems to love diversity. The movement of evolution tends towards greater depth, diversity and complexity, not toward more similarity.  Some used to think that the goal of life was some kind of perfection – defined as reaching the end of a process where one is complete with no further need of change.  However, the universe is dynamic, not static. Change is the rule, not the exception.  Our experience is that there is constant change.  Is this evolution at work?  It could be, but not necessarily.  Surprise, not boredom, is the characteristic of an evolving universe.  Yet there is predictability in the way life evolves.  There are laws and rules.  Without the rules there would be constant chaos and there would be nothing predictable.  Yes, we are constantly being surprised by newness.  In Christianity the word often used is transformation.

The universe exists in a state of communion.  One of the core beliefs of evolutionary theory is that as different as we are, we are all the same.  A verse from John Denver’s song, Season’s Suite, floats through my mind, “Riding on the tapestry of all there is to see, so many ways and oh, so many things.  Rejoicing in the differences, there’s no one just like me.  Yet as different as we are, we’re still the same.” Communion speaks about the depth of communication that we call intimacy.  As we share our experiences we learn about others and we, in turn, learn about ourselves.  If there were no communication there would be no community; we would be isolated and each of us, a world unto oneself.  Christianity and science are both about relationships, growth and community in the evolution of life.

Subjectivity has been the stretch for science.  However, as scientists explore the way the universe works and ask, “What is real?” it has opened the door to the belief that the universe is more than just inanimate physical stuff that has no mind of its own.  When we treat the world as just “stuff”, believing we can play around with it as we wish, we can end up with disastrous consequences.  To understand our world, we need to be in communion with the energy that is directing the expansion of the universe and is allowing for the transformation of life on our planet.  We are unique subjects.  We have an inner life and a consciousness that transcends the physical to add meaning and purpose to our lives.  It is a stretch to say that the universe also has an inner life we can come to know and that being in relationship with it is to our benefit.  However, more and more evidence suggests that there is a directing energy or principle at work in the evolution of the universe. And to deny this is to flirt with disaster for the human race.

Christianity defines God as one God in three aspects/persons (the trinity).  The triune God is usually spoken of as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Exploring the meaning of this teaching has been the recent focus of many theologians trying to flesh out the meaning of the trinity for contemporary Christians.   Paul Smith in his book, Integral Christianity, explains this more fully in chapter 12, The Three Faces of God.  While he speaks about God as Infinite, Intimate and Inner, he is also speaking about the nature of our human life as well.

Jesus spoke about the Infinite face of God the Creator, the divine energy that is a part of everything. This is the big picture of the evolutionary purpose that drives the changes in our universe.  Everything is made of the same stuff and all this stuff is connected.  There is a unity in all the diversity.  Jesus also spoke (prayed) to the intimate face of God.  We communicate with the sacred to be a part of the divine life.  I see this as very similar to the communion that science is discovering in the universe – the way every action influences everything else just by being present.  And thirdly, Jesus spoke as the inner face of God.  This is the one face that many Christians have a hard time accepting: that one aspect of human life is as God in the world.  We have an inner life (Spirit) and when we are in touch with the “true self” that Richard Rohr and others are speaking about in their recent writings, we are God living in the real world.  This is the subjectivity that I spoke of earlier. We are all subjects with an inner life.

These two trinities provide an explanation of the foundation of life anywhere in the universe from an evolutionary standpoint.  The implication for me is that any decision I make whether to act or not to act is a communication that affects the whole flow of life either furthering our evolution or hindering it.  I will follow this line of thinking in my next post about meaning and purpose and why I should care.

I am looking forward to your comments and hope this blog will spark a conversation about the diverse beliefs we hold on our spiritual path.

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10 Responses to Building Blocks of Evolutionary Christianity

  1. hellerd says:

    Hi John: As you know, science has always been a part my life from childhood when we spoke of science fiction and then as I grew older science was such a part of everything in my being. I married a man with the same interest who actually was at a conference with Allan Penzias when it was announced that he won the Nobel prize in physics for the big bang theory. What a thrill.

    I have always believed that science was religion and there was a direct relationship with events in the bible that justifies scientific theories. This has been a hard believe living in the “bible belt” south. Years ago I participated in a bible study with mostly Baptists and our goal was to read the bible from beginning to end. The literal and the open minded, me, had plenty of disagreements, it was a challenge. They did not win me over, but gave me a different perspective of the bible, prayer, and fellowship.

    My fear is for the younger generations and their lack of religion. They don’t seem to have the same questions of where did we come from, how did it all start, how does it affect my daily live, and what about the future. I try to set an example and recently told my children that I believe our family is blessed with good health, wealth and are successful because I pray for each of them every day by name. They were surprised.

    I am afraid that technology is more important than spirituality for the young folks. At work we recently renovated our offices and my boss and I purposely designed my staff with open cubicles that open into a private hallway. Because they see each other and can talk across the hall, they started communicating and interacting more and less email and texting. They now laugh and spend more time enjoying their work environment and get more work done.

    My journey into spirituality is a good one. As I age, I see things in my life that make more sense, but you are correct, it is ever changing. I am much more comfortable with my station in life than I was years ago. And yes, I am still looking for answers and meanings, but enjoy the journey and look forward to challenges ahead.

    Thanks for your thoughts and insights. John, you are such an inspiration to me and even though we a miles apart, I know we share a special connection.

  2. Vince McGrath says:

    Hi John. Looking forward to being taught about evolutionary Christianity. I resonate with your first blog in which you share the evolution in your own life. Even in my early 70s I feel I am being moved to significant changes. I feel like Abraham who felt he was too old for these changes. I believe being connected to God means continual change. Like Abraham, and as you stated in your first blog, you simply need to say Yes and trust the steps will be revealed when you need to know. I will be interested in knowing how a personal, interventionist God fits into evolutionary Christianity, if it does. Thanks, Vince.

    • John Everard Griffith says:

      Vince, you do jump ahead to a significant question. Often, I hold these questions and let the answers emerge. I believe we can hold the personal interventionist God in the evoutionary perspective depending on how we define God. Am I avoiding giving my belief on this matter right now? Yes, I am. I believe in holding as many perspectives as we are able and see what the evidence says about how they fit together. I have found being curious and open leads me to what is true (for me) … what helps me remain faithful with integrity. And I have found letting my faith evolve has reaffirmed the scriptures as the Word of God for me. What do some of you other followers think about this?

  3. Dave Myers says:

    WOW. Your discussion has reignited thoughts that periodically arise in my mind about the relationship of science and spirituality. In particular, how the universe continues to evolve and your comments on that topic realigns spirituality and science. God created the immutable laws of science and they continue to operate. I would challenge you on the use of one word. The universe is less a process of ‘change’ (that would infer the breaking of the laws of science) but the word should be ‘grows’ which the realigns science with spirituality. We individually and as a race continue to grow in our spirituality as the .universe continues to grow.

  4. John, that’s an enormously helpful observation about Jesus and the Infinite–that he spoke ABOUT, To, and AS the Infinite. Simply but elegantly put–an observation that immediately rings true. Thanks so much!

  5. Rick Beck says:

    Thanks for sharing this John. It gives me a little deeper glimpse into your being. I too have been experiencing a more evolutionary understanding of spirituality so I find your blog exciting. The idea of experiencing the world in God, with God, as God is profoundly life-giving for me. The idea of union and diversity being the complete breath of life opens the door to enormous possibility for humanity if we could only get past our egos to realize there is much more to reality than my exclusionary absolutes. I have recently been living with John 12:20-ff where Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it simply remains a grain of wheat. But if it dies it produces good fruit.” The context of this statement (Greeks wanting to see Jesus) suggest this statement could be interpreted, “unless the law gives way to grace it simply remains the law, but if it gives way to grace we will experience the transformative of Christ in our lives.

    There’s more to say, but my wife is waking we need to start our day. More later.
    Rick

    • John Everard Griffith says:

      Indeed there is much more to say. I look forward to you being a part of this conversation. You are a deep thinker, a soul brother.

  6. Bob says:

    John, this is powerful writing! I am impressed. Up to now you have been John the beloved brother in law. All of a sudden you are so much more. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on your road to enlightenment.
    Bob

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