What is Evolutionary Christianity?

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[Editor's Note- Trevor. The following is a document that Reverend Bruce Sanguin, minister at Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver, originally created as a booklet to provide a little theological context for his own congregation members practicing what they identify as "evolutionary Christian spirituality", and for those visitors to Canadian Memorial who want to know more about what's going on there. Being a member of CMUC myself, I've read the booklet and personally found it quite rich, and I thought others outside of that context might want to read it too. So I asked Bruce if we could publish it here, and he agreed. I look forward to hearing how it does or does not resonate with other folks, whatever their spiritual/religious (or non) orientation happens to be.]

At three “Imagine Canadian Memorial” retreats, the congregation entered into discernment about our core purpose. As well, members contributed their dreams for our community by responding to a questionnaire. The results of this conversation were carefully documented, circulated via email, and placed on our website. Finally, we engaged in an every-member visitation in order to share the resulting dreams with the congregation and ask for commitment. interior-of-canadian-memorial-united-church

We developed a new Purpose, Values, and Vision statement:

We are called by God to be an open-hearted, open-minded community of faith, teaching and practicing evolutionary Christianity.

We often refer to the practice of evolutionary Christianity as evolutionary Christian mysticism. This paper is an introduction to what this term means. I will define what we mean by each of these words (evolutionary, Christian, and mysticism), starting with evolutionary.

Evolutionary

We are imagining evolution as a divine strategy for birthing and growing a world. This means that “God” (Heart and Mind of all that is) acts in and through the evolutionary process in a non-interfering, yet persuasive, way. Science has confirmed that the universe is evolving. Ever since Darwin discovered natural selection in 1859—one of the primary mechanisms of evolution—every field of science now recognizes that the fundamental nature of reality is evolutionary. (1) Science is concerned with the physical nature of reality but not with making meaning of the facts. The scientific method is one way of knowing the world. But there are other ways. Theology is another way of interpreting those facts. cosmic-unity

Unlike some scientists, who interpret evolution as nothing more than the meaningless and random collision of atoms which, given enough time, will accidentally come to life and consciousness, we believe that evolution displays purpose and direction. The universe moves in a biased direction toward increased wholeness (unity), orderliness (which includes random activity), creativity, and consciousness. We believe that these are fundamental principles of reality that reflect Heart and Mind at all levels of our world. This impulse to evolve is part of the fundamental nature of Reality. In humans, this impulse gained the capacity for conscious awareness. We are that part of the universe able to consciously evolve. All of this is an expression of the impenetrable, ineffable, yet always present Mystery we call “God.”

Catholic priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin summed up the centrality of the evolutionary process :

Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforward if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow.

God doesn’t engineer or control the evolutionary process. Rather, God “makes” a world that can make itself. Biologist Charles Birch affirms that evolution proceeds through the interplay between purpose and chance. By “chance” he means that there is no preordained blueprint or future that God has already planned,and we’re just waiting for it to arrive. There is an element of randomness and chaos, at all levels and scales of creation, that enables the emergence of actual novelty. The presence of chance (or darwin_biblecontingency) is a precondition for what in the human realm we call freedom. Without chance everything would be predetermined. Purpose is suggested by the “laws” of nature. There is predictability and order in the universe, which science can measure. Patterns emerge from the apparent chaos of life. This dance between purpose and chance underlies the creative advance of the universe.

God does not interfere in this world-making. Theologian John Haught encourages us to think of evolution as a drama. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the middle, all kinds of accidents, including tragedy, keep the narrative interesting and somewhat unpredictable. Some scientists think that, because the world isn’t perfectly engineered and because it has design flaws, this rules out God as designer. Actually, we agree. Ironically, fundamentalist Christians have this in common with atheistic scientists: they make their case for God by claiming that God is the Great Designer. They get very nervous about evolutionary imperfections (like the human appendix). Similarly, the presence of evil and suffering are rationalized by the claim that God’s ways are not our ways, and everything that happens is the direct result of God’s will. Try telling that to a mother of a young daughter who has died from cancer.evolutionary_christianity

But God doesn’t control outcomes. A world that was perfectly engineered would be a very boring world. Perfection is static. There’s nowhere to go because it’s already perfect. But an imperfect, evolving world is an adventure—just like a good story. We think that a better way to think about God is as a storyteller, and the world is a dramatic unfolding. Accidents, dead ends, and all manner of surprise drive the drama. We stay involved precisely because we don’t know how it ends.

In fact, this is a story that we ourselves are involved in shaping (not unlike participatory dramas at fringe festivals, when the audience is invited co-create the play as it develops). But the evolutionary story is sustained by the promise of an ending that makes it all coherent and satisfying. Theologian and novelist Fred Buechner wrote about the dramatic nature of the gospel as comedy, tragedy, and fairy tale. (2)

The thematic threads I’ve already mentioned—a tendency toward wholeness, creativity, orderliness, and consciousness—provide the fairy-tale dimension of the cosmic narrative. These give the narrative both coherence and hope. The promise of a meaningful ending is embedded throughout the narrative, in our deepest experiences of love and justice. We will see that the theme of God’s promise is central to scripture. In the meantime, nobody knows (including God) how the story ends. But the promise of God is that, even with all of its imperfection, suffering, and tragedy, the story will be meaningful, fulfilling, and ultimately a story of Love’s progress. (Of course, life is more than suffering and tragedy. It’s also beautiful, ecstatic, and awe-inspiring.)

Christian

To call this “Christian” is to use the scriptural narrative, the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and the letters of Paul as an interpretive lens on the meaning of evolution. In this section, we will have a brief overview of how each of these lends itself to an evolutionary interpretation. We will see that, although Jesus, Paul, and the biblical writers could not have known about evolution as it is understood today, it is possible to discern within these ancient writings an intuition that everything is in a process of change, that this change moves in a biased trajectory, and that God is both within this process and out in front, as the alluring Presence of Love.

We can embrace the scientific discovery of evolution, without accepting the materialistic assumption of some its modernist interpreters. This embrace of science also allows us to interpret our tradition, our doctrine, and our scripture through the lens of evolutionary science. But we can also allow faith to suggest deeper meanings for evolution than science allows. Both science and theology hold interpretive keys that may potentially unlock deeper meanings within these two different ways of knowing reality.

The “Old” Testament and Evolution

The Jewish Scriptures (the ”Old” Testament) would have profoundly influenced Jesus’ understanding of God’s will for his life. The core narratives that tell the story of God’s relationship with the Jewish people over time are unique among the scriptures of the world’s religions in their implicit affirmation that history is going somewhere. Unlike the sacred myths of tribal and agricultural societies, which were shaped by the annual cycle of the seasons, Hebrew theology was shaped more by the image of a journey. The Jews were convinced that God was accompanying them through history, alluring them with a promise of a more eden_sistine_chapelabundant life. God was going ahead of them, leading them into a promised future and meeting them in the present with intuitions and glimpses of this promise. History was not something to be escaped to but rather to be inhabited more deeply in accordance with God’s will and purpose. In doing so, the people of God participated in the realization of the divine promise.

Once one assumes the reality of an evolutionary impulse, the irrepressible forward momentum of the biblical narrative becomes unmistakable. In the Genesis creation myth, the first couple is cast out of the state of perfection in the Garden of Eden. In this paradise there is nowhere to go; after all, it’s perfect. But when they are cast out, they enter history, the realm in which to be is to become. Abraham and Sarah are called by God to leave home for an adventure in and toward the promise of God. The Hebrew people are led out of slavery, God going before them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night so that they may realize the promise Prophet-and-scrollof freedom. The entire story of the patriarchs from Isaac through to Joseph is a drama that is animated by the pull of a divine Promise. Jacob wrestles with God and receives a new name, “Israel”—one who has striven with God and prevailed. Moses is called by God to liberate the Hebrew people. This calling causes him to grow beyond his comfort zone, a common theme in the New Testament. Prophets are called to confront kings and queens. Jonah is required to go against his every instinct to the Ninevites with an offer of divine mercy. Throughout the narrative, God is calling God’s people to be more, to risk more, and to take their next, best step in and toward the divine promise—often in the midst of great resistance. We can see at work here a power that provokes an urgent, evolutionary impulse to transcend present circumstances by being apprehended by an as-yet-unrealized future.

God is not only within the historical impulse to evolve but also in the pull of the future. Catholic theologian John Haught imagines God as The Future. (3) God is the realm of infinite possibilities, needing us to make those possibilities real, that is, to actualize possibilities. Faith, as Paul Tillich offered, is being apprehended by the future, that realm of as-yet-unrealized possibility and yet which comes to meet us in the experience of hope and promise. Living with hope causes us to be actors in co-creating the future that we’ve glimpsed as God’s will. In traditional theology, God rules from up above. In evolutionary theology, God leads from up ahead, leading us forward, animated by a promise that needs us in order to be realized. Living in faith and hope means becoming agents of conscious evolution, as co-creators of a divine promise.

The New Testament and Evolution

The New Testament is the story of Jesus’ life contained in the gospel accounts, and the early church’s interpretation of his life contained in Paul’s letters. With Jesus of Nazareth as our primary exemplar, we EschatologyJesuslook at his life as a template for where this divine impulse to evolve a world is headed. In this sense, we read back, from the story of his life, death, and resurrection, and from his teachings to the origins of the universe—the Big Bang—and imagine that his love and wisdom is a manifestation of the divine Mind and Heart out of whom a universe emerged, is sustained, and is evolving. He represents, in human form, the fulfillment of the promise of an evolving cosmos. For Christians, Jesus is a down payment on the future promise.

This is what it means to affirm that Jesus is “the Christ.” Christ is a title, not Jesus’ last name. It means anointed. Jesus was anointed, through his own conscious willingness, to be a radiant expression of the Heart and Mind of God. His love, compassion for the other (including the “enemy”), and commitment to establishing God’s realm (Kin(g)dom of God) on Earth is an expression of the purpose of this evolving universe that took 13.7 billion years to manifest. Jesus was completely transparent to the God whose presence can be felt as the urge within the evolutionary impulse, beckoning from the realm of future possibilities.

Jesus’ teaching picks up the theme of promise from the Old Testament. The metaphor that Jesus uses to express this promise is not the “promised land” but rather the Kin(g)dom of God. The Kin(g)dom of God is what our personal lives would look like if Love and not ego reigned; it is what our relationships would look like if we loved the Other as we love ourselves (that is, as God loves us); it is what our collective life would look like socially, economically, and politically if God’s passion for justice and peace reigned in our systems; and finally, it is what our relationship with Earth would look like if we grasped our essential cosmic_christ-celticinterconnectedness with Earth. The Kingdom of God is always already present and yet also waiting to be realized—through our conscious cooperation with the divine impulse to evolve and our conscious consent to surrender to the call of God to go beyond our comfort zone and take responsibility for the realization of God’s preferred future, personally, relationally, and corporately.

Jesus teaches that the proper orientation of his followers is the future. “Anyone who puts [her] hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom (realm) of God.” There is no excuse for delay, not even the moral and spiritual obligation to bury one’s own father (Matthew 8:22). This is surely hyperbole, a favorite rhetorical device of Jesus. Nevertheless, you can feel the sense of urgency to “press on” (Philippians 3:14), to render as relative all that would keep one from the absolute importance of the vocation of revealing and realizing the Kingdom of God. In the call of the disciples, this sense of urgency is captured, as one by one they leave everything to follow him. Today, this call may be interpreted as the evolutionary urgency to consciously evolve our species in the service of ensuring a future for generations of life on Earth.

Jesus began many of his teachings with the phrase, “You have heard it said…but I say unto you,” indicating that his was a new teaching. His intention was to break open his lineage to new depths and new interpretations. He taught that one cannot put new wine into old wineskins, because it will burst the wineskins. A new container is required. We’re not saying that Jesus intended to start a new religion. Rather, he wanted to help the tradition evolve, as many Jewish prophets had done before. To be Christian, then, is to take on this spirit that is continually breaking open—not replacing—and advancing tradition. By parable_of_the_mustard_seedinterpreting evolution from within the Christian tradition, and interpreting our tradition through the lens of evolution, we are being faithful to the spirit of Jesus. It is the very heart of our lineage to be watching for how Spirit is moving to evolve the tradition.

One of Jesus’ favorite metaphors is the seed, and its mysterious potential to grow and bear fruit. A sower goes out to plant seed; a farmer plants seed in the ground and goes to bed. Before long, the farmer knows not how, the seed has mysteriously grown into a plant. Faith is compared to a mustard seed that increases in size, becomes a tree (4) which provides shelter for the birds. I interpret his teaching to be drawing our attention to three interrelated dynamics: 1) the growth of a seed is a metaphor of God’s grace at work in the universe; 2) we ourselves are divine seeds; the same natural grace that animates seeds is working within us to bear fruit; and 3) the very image of God is within us in potential form, just as an oak is within an acorn in potential form. Our spiritual journey involves consciously realizing that potential by allowing a natural grace, an evolutionary impulse, to animate our living. Jesus obviously had no knowledge of evolutionary theory, but from this side of Darwin’s discovery it is legitimate to interpret the metaphor of the seed from within an evolutionary paradigm. We are the seeds of a new creation, being “informed” by the push and pull of the divine to bear distinctive fruit.

The legend of Jesus’ birth, although not historical, is yet another seed story. Mary is invited by an angel to receive and gestate the divine seed of the Holy Spirit. This can be interpreted as the early church’s way of undermining Empire’s claim that God privileges the rich and powerful. By imagining that Mary’s conception happens directly from God’s seed, another oppressive institution—patriarchy—is bypassed and undermined. Divine birth occurs outside the patriarchal “norm” of male privilege. In the words of Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, “Mary has a child without the help of a man.” In this birth story a new order breaks in upon the existing deadly order. The world discovers “the future shining in a baby’s eye.” (5) In these ways, the story of Jesus’ birth symbolizes divine intention for the evolution of our species. By inference, to follow Jesus means committing our lives to the evolution of our social, political, and economic systems.

Paul’s Letters and Evolution

The other part of the writings that we call the New Testament is comprised of Paul’s letters. Seven of these are authentically Pauline, and the others are either disputed or simply attributed to Paul by other writers, a common practice in the 1st century. (6) Paul is the founder of the church, particularly the Gentile church. In the spirit of the Christ, Paul discerns that he is being called to open up grace and the church itself to Gentiles. This was very controversial and put Paul at odds with the church in Jerusalem, which regarded the church as a new expression of Judaism, all the attendant rituals and codes of that lineage intact. But Paul was convinced that the risen Jesus was telling him that the promise of God was being made available to non-Jews. This would entail letting go of ancient rituals, purity codes, initiation practices (circumcision), and Sabbath practices that defined Judaism. For Paul, being “free” in Christ implied letting go of an earlier iteration of faith and allowing it to evolve into what he called the “new creation” in Christ. Paul’s very mission was evolutionary.

To repeat, I am not suggesting that either Paul or Jesus had an explicit understanding of evolution, but we now know that Reality is evolving, and therefore we would expect that our wisdom teachers would intuit that this evolutionary impulse was a feature of Reality. A favorite metaphor of Paul was the development from childish spirituality to adult spirituality. For Paul, the Law (and the customs, rituals, and practices of Greco-Roman religion) acted like babysitters for us until we attained spiritual maturity and were able to live he_qi_crucifixionby the Spirit naturally and organically.

Paul’s understanding of the Law (Torah) evolved. He was so filled with the love of Christ that his actions organically reflected this love. He needed no external set of laws to control his behavior. He was set free (Galatians 5:1) for freedom. The love of the Christ lived within him, just as Jeremiah prophesied in the Old Testament that the law of God would be written upon our hearts, and no teachers would be required (Jeremiah 31:33). This was true to such an extent that he experienced Christ as the very core of his own identity: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). This sense of freedom from external authority being replaced by the love of Christ is what Paul wanted for every member of the church.

Paul himself underwent a metanoia—a turning around—from one who persecuted the early church to one who was its most effective proponent. After encountering Jesus in some kind of spiritual body after Jesus’ crucifixion, Paul commits his life to building communities of Christ-followers among the Gentiles. He changed his name from Saul to Paul. As we’ve seen, his understanding of Jewish purity, initiation, and holiness codes also evolves. Circumcision was no longer required as a rite of initiation, and Gentiles would not be required to eat kosher food. This was a dramatic evolution.

For Paul, the death and resurrection of Jesus initiated a new creation. The risen Jesus was the “first fruit” of this new creation, and everyone who had the faith of Christ was destined to become the new creation. Humanity itself was evolving, in Christ. A new expression of the human species, oriented from an interior dimension, filled with love, gentleness, kindness, humility, and all the fruits of the spirit, was emerging (Galatians 5:22–23). Paul exhorted us to the “let the same mind that was in Christ, be in us” (Philippians 2:5).

The section from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that has been read countless times at weddings sounds explicitly evolutionary. We are meant to evolve from childhood to a mature, adult spirituality of love.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:10–12).

Mysticism

Many people associate mysticism with New Age, “woo-woo” spirituality. But the greatest scientist to have ever lived, Albert Einstein, said that the mystical emotion is the highest emotion available to us. The “mystical emotion” is grounded in an experience of unity: the awareness and experiential feeling that Reality is One, and we are expressions of that unity, manifesting in wondrous diversity. This mystical sensibility that there is only one, seamless reality and that we are an expression of that unity is grounded in solid science and in the mystic sensibility of mystics of all religious traditions, including Judaism and Hubble-telescope-Merging--003Christianity.

Science is revealing a universe that supports this mystic intuition. Cosmology is the study of the large-scale structures of the universe. What cosmologists now know is that everything and everybody shares a common origin, the Big Bang. Galaxies, supernova, our solar system, Earth, and every plant, animal, or human that ever emerged came from this Great Radiance 13.7 billion years ago. We are literally made from the same stuff as everything else. All life forms share the same genetic material, amino acids, and building blocks. Our diversity arises from the fact that there are different arrangements of this material. The human being is a composite amalgam of 4.5 billion years of life on Earth and 13.7 billion years of cosmic evolution. The whole universe is literally gathered up in us. We are the presence of the universe, in human form, consciously evolving.

It’s a bit of a cliché to say that we are the offspring of an exploding star, but it is scientifically accurate to make that claim. All the heavy elements necessary for the emergence of life on our planet came from exploding stars. It can be stated non-romantically that we are the reconfigured presence of the original Fireball in human form. It just took 13.7 billion years to get to us! Our unity is based in evidence: this is scientific mysticism, not romantic idealism. The 21st century is unique insofar as a growing number people are awakening to the truth that we are the evolutionary process awakening to itself.

The universe explodes into being. Leave it alone, and after 13.7 billion years, it becomes aware of itself in and as you and me. This is a stunning moment, a realization of our “deep-time” identity. It is only in the last fifty years that we had access to this knowledge. This is a game-changer that none of the wisdom or religious traditions had known about. We are not separate, lonely individuals, desperate to connect in an isolating and uncaring universe. It’s not simply that we belong in the universe. (We do!) It’s that we are the universe, in human form, evolving. Our belonging is so radical, so deep, that there is no disconnection—anywhere! There is distinction and differentiation, sure. And yes, we may feel alienated. But if this is how we feel, then we have lost connection with Reality, with our deep, cosmic identity as the universe in human mosaic44form. This unity is primal. It took an entire universe, and all this time, to arrive at you.

And what does the universe want to do? It wants to evolve through you, because this is just what the universe does. In us, the universe is able to consciously evolve. In evolutionary mysticism, we imagine that God/Spirit is within this impulse to evolve, and we are most truly ourselves when we are conscious of this impulse and have made a wholehearted intention to be That which wants to evolve through us. To be “in Christ,” then, is to awaken to this cosmic identity, this Big Self, and to be the new creation that needs you in order to emerge. The Christian mystic says “yes” to this unity with All That Is, and “yes” to this sacred impulse to be a vessel for the new thing God is doing through you and as you. When we are living out of our deep, unitive, cosmic identity; we are alive, we realize our power, and we understand that that nobody else can bring forth the unique future that is ours to manifest.

It is critical to understand, in evolutionary Christian mysticism, that we are embodied and personalized expressions of this push and pull to evolve—and to do so, not merely for our own personal growth but in service of the evolution of the universe itself. To get this is to experience what futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard calls “vocational arousal.” Our lives are not our own, meaning they are not simply for the realization of our personal goals. Our lives are for the realization of the universe’s goal of evolving deeper expressions of what it means to be fully human and fully divine. We are the presence of the universe evolving in and toward a divine promise of greater freedom and fullness of life.

We are the interior dimension of the universe evolving. And this interior dimension is filled with “God”: the Mind (Conscious Intelligence) and Heart (Love) that is the ground of Being or the “divine milieu” from which a universe emerged and evolved 13.7 billion years ago and continues to emerge and evolve. The paradox is that we are That which we’ve been seeking our entire lives. What we mean is that we are embodied expressions of the Mystery of the Holy One and the Sacred Oneness of Reality. Through cultivating conscious awareness and loving kindness we come to realize that, far from being separate from the originating Heart and Mind, we are Its intimate expression.

When Jesus says, in John’s gospel, “Before Abraham was, I Am,” the author of John’s gospel is expressing a profound mystery: that Jesus is a manifestation of Great I Am-ness out of whom a universe emerged. He is the consciousness (Mind) and the love (Heart) of God in flesh and blood.

But unity with the divine is not limited to Jesus. On the shores of Narragansett, Rhode Island, I found myself in a state of reverie. The words on my lips were: “I am the Great I Am, noticing I Am.” The universe was awakening to itself in me, for four days, in order to help me realize my oneness with both the universe and the Mind and Heart from which the universe emerged. Through this tiny but radiant being, on a tiny but radiant planet, the universe became conscious of itself. This was an experience of sheer ecstasy, helping me to understand why Hindus affirm that the core nature of God is bliss.incarnation

Evolutionary Christian Mysticism affirms incarnation—the Mind and Heart of God becoming flesh—but not “the” incarnation. That is, this incarnational dynamic of the “Holy One, slowly growing a body" (7) did not just happen once upon a time, 2,000 years ago in Palestine. Rather, it is the story of the evolution of matter from energy, life from matter, mind from life, and conscious awareness from mind. It is the story of the evolving universe, in its exterior (physical) and interior (consciousness) dimensions. We are incarnations of the divine, but so are bacteria, bats, butterflies and baboons—not to mention galaxies, supernovae, and granite. Earth is indeed filled with God’s glory (Isaiah 6:6). To awaken to incarnation is to discover the source of our deeply felt ecological imperative to repair Earth and to walk lightly upon Her. Earth truly is the body of God. (8)

Because we are embodied creatures, who experience suffering, death, and all manner of indignities during our lifespan, we have a tendency to forget our oneness with God and cosmos. Like the prodigal son, we wander away from home, confusing our cosmic inheritance—unity with All That Is—with money, or success, or status. We suffer the indignity of the prodigal species as the one creature among all who is imbued with conscious self-awareness but who uses this evolutionary treasure to pursue all that does not satisfy. We squander our inheritance, pursuing the desires of the small, personal self. When we’ve had enough, we “come to our senses,” as did the prodigal son. We realize that our wandering off, our existential forgetfulness was necessary, preliminary, and preparatory to our waking up. We return home with our repentance speech all prepared. But the “father” is not interested in our speech. We’ve come home to the cosmos, home to the Heart of the Universe. We were lost, but now we’re found. The father/mother, of course, is the Heart and Mind of the universe, from whom we can never actually be separated. But the illusion of separation dissolves. We are always already home. God throws Her arms around us and welcomes us as though we had never left (which we hadn’t!).

The evolution of religion is the story of the sky-god falling from the sky and into our own hearts. For millennia, the intuition of a Deeper Mystery, of Absolute Power, Love, Wisdom, and Creativity, was necessarily projected “out there” beyond the skies. Over the course of our evolution as a species, this power, love, creativity, and wisdom has been reclaimed by the part of creation that is human. These are divine qualities and characteristics that abide within each of us, but it has taken 200,000 years of evolution for us to realize; that is, to make them real within ourselves through conscious awareness. Given that we are evolutionary creatures, the capacity for love, wisdom, creativity, and the wise use of our power is still in the process of being realized.

We are committed to raising up a community of evolutionary mystics who realize their unity with Spirit, Cosmos, and Earth, and seek to live their lives in accordance with this consciousness. We are doing this from within the Christian tradition but realize that, in the spirit of Jesus and the church’s founder, Paul, we are breaking open the tradition. The universe is evolutionary in nature. Spirit gives birth to a universe, and the divine Heart and Mind begins the slow and patient journey of non-coercively realizing a cosmos that is self-aware, that is in the process of manifesting this originating milieu of Love, Intelligence, and Creativity. We are That divine process, embodied in human form, evolving. It is an exciting and challenging time to be alive on Earth. There is a divine and cosmic urgency that each of us awaken to the impulse to evolve and assume responsibility for revealing and realizing that realm that Jesus called the Kin(g)dom of God.

This is evolutionary Christian mysticism: persons on the path of Christ, consciously evolving in community, one with the evolving cosmos, and one with the divine Heart and Mind, in loving service to our one Earth community.

~~~~~~

(1) Alfred Russell Wallace discovered natural selection at the same time as Charles Darwin did.

(2) Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy, and Fairy Tale (San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1977).

(3) Following theologians Jürgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg

(4) The biblical writer got this detail wrong. Mustard seeds don’t grow into trees.

(5) Bruce Cockburn, “The Cry of a Tiny Babe,” Nothing but a Burning Light (Golden Mountain Music, 1991 1991).

(6) Galatians, Philemon, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians

(7) Hafiz

(8) See Bruce Sanguin, Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos: An Ecological Christianity (Woodlake Books, 2006).

 

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16 comments

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Monday, 28 May 2012 02:55 posted by David MacLeod

    Bruce,

    Many thanks for this essay. You've beautifully woven together the 'promise' theme found throughout the biblical narrative. It's not easy to pull something like this together - I can only imagine the difficult task of editing down all of the potential examples found throughout the old and new testaments, to have a manageable body of material with which to put together such a logically structured and well written essay.

    You've eloquently expressed the reason many of us still find the Christian tradition to be relevant today.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Monday, 28 May 2012 04:04 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks David,

    You're right about the editing challenge. Because Judaism has a fundamental orientation that history that is going somewhere, accompanied and allured by Mystery/G_d, there is a surprising amount of narrative, legend, etc. that could be understood as anticipating the discovery of evolution. That's not to say that most scientists are comfortable with telos, but it seems legitimate to me to theologically interpret the fundamental nature of Reality.

    Thanks for taking the time to read it. I enjoy your replies to the various pieces on beams.

  • Comment Link Andrew Hall Tuesday, 05 June 2012 10:46 posted by Andrew Hall

    Bruce,
    I am impressed at the new wine skin you are fashioning as evolutionary Christianity. I grew up in a church where the necessity of belief was stressed, a lot, and it was linked with salvation, both of which are ideas that I don't see at the centre of your world view. I think on a personal note, if not as part of a manifesto, it would be valuable to tell the story of how you (and others) got from there to here. We all live or evolve in an historical context.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Tuesday, 05 June 2012 12:03 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Andrew,

    Good pick up. Beliefs are not central. I would say that something like deep trust that the evolving universe is a fundamental "yes" to a world and that my life is meant to be an evolving expression of this yes.

    In terms of getting to where I'm at, got into Xy through born again, belief-based beliefs, deprogrammed for about five years, moved into modernist/progressive Xy, felt like something was missing, experienced an awakening to unity with All, and am now in the process of articulating where I've landed—knowing full well that this too will pass.

  • Comment Link Brian McConnell Tuesday, 05 June 2012 15:26 posted by Brian McConnell

    Bruce,

    Although I read "What is Evolutionary Christianity?" when initially published, I've been sufficiently immersed within personal projects that I'd not shared my impressions. From the level of individual insight though, I'd like to commend you for writing such a wonderfully articulated piece. I found it very affirming of your generation's capacity for critical thought and as holding constructive implications for the future.

    At the same time however, there are a couple of things about which I'm at least a little unclear. I suppose the most salient of these involves the lack of any mention of the role of contemplative practice within a universe that's becoming consciously aware of itself.

    The second arose for me while conversing with a local Christian (Catholic) contemplative and her reaction to your saying, 'the legend of Jesus' birth isn't historical'. Unfortunately, she used it as a dividing point in our discussion.

    Consequently perhaps, but in relation to some of my closest working colleagues, I'm adamantly encouraging them not to assume 'indefensible' theoretical positions. In other words, and for the sake of advancing greater integrity, sometimes it's just best serving to acknowledge the limit of one's (own, personal) knowledge.

    I guess I'd be most interested in learning what your sense of responsibility is (if any) in facilitating this process of evolutionary development.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Thursday, 07 June 2012 15:29 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Brian,

    I apologize for the delay in responding. I've been on the road. Thanks for your comments and question. Re:contemplative practice, I meant the piece as a short summary, and didn't have time to go into spiritual practices that are aligned with this theology. But contemplative practice, meditation, prayer, etc, all contribute to what Thomas Hubl calls the "competencies of stillness and movement". They are ways of creating the conditions for a natural evolutionary grace to do what it does. We consciously place ourselves in both the Being and the Becoming of Mystery. As in traditional theology, these are always a response to grace, and not in the first place a means of achieving right relationship with Mystery/G_d.

    I agree with your point about acknowledging the limits of one's personal knowledge. For me, myth as a sacred story describing the fathomless depths of the One Reality is liberating. In my book The Advance of Love, in one of the pieces, I reflect on how the myth of the virgin birth needs, not so much to be believed in, but rather inhabited. The virgin birth never happened. The virgin birth is always happening.

    As to my sense of responsibility in facilitating this process of evo-development. At first, it strikes me as kind of humorous to imagine that I personally have anything to do with this - that is my small self. But, of course, because we are the presence of this evolutionary impulse in human form evolving then to be aligned and animated by Reality, from the perspective of my Cosmic or Christ Self, then yep, in my very being, in how I show up, in my sense of vocation, I am consciously trying to create the conditions for the intensification and acceleration for this sacred impulse to be realized. In Christian speak, I am, with the church helping to create the conditions for the evolution of the body of Christ, which I understand as the whole universe.

    Concretely, I'm developing a curriculum, to help people to consciously wake up, grow up, and step up and into this great work.

    Hope that is the start of a response to your questions, and thanks again.

  • Comment Link Brian McConnell Thursday, 12 July 2012 19:10 posted by Brian McConnell

    Thanks for the response Bruce. For whatever reasons, I'd missed seeing it until performing a search a few minutes ago.

    I guess my own experience with contemplative practice suggests that in respect to 'being', it proves a wiser, healthier counterpart to otherwise unsupportable dogma. If you know what I mean . . .

    Thanks again.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 24 July 2012 17:50 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Given Brian's important question above I thought I'd add a recent post by Bruce where he outlines eight practices to 'Stay Connected with G_d'.

    http://brucesanguin.com/staying-connected-with-g_d/

    And these were added to/expanded on in this past weekend's sermon-

    http://www.canadianmemorial.org/sermons/627-sermon07222012-finding-rest-moving-with-the-spirit

  • Comment Link T.Collins Logan Tuesday, 20 November 2012 18:26 posted by T.Collins Logan

    Nicely crafted article. Some thoughts:

    1) A careful study of τέλειος (complete, perfect, fully realized) within NT texts can, I think, deeply inform an evolutionary perspective for both individual spiritual maturation, the collective growth and transformation of the Body of Christ, and perhaps even the nature of the evolutionary arc in the Universe itself. Intimately interdependent development, of course, but also important to appreciate separately. You touch on this and I think there is a wealth of sophia to unearth here.

    2) The role of the logos and holy spirit as living and active agents of transformation and evolution (in concert with human will, discernment, conscience, gnosis, etc.) are also worthy of study and appreciation as a unique facet of the Christian tradition, especially in understanding Christian mysticism.

    3) The emancipation from OT codes (i.e. "the law of God") through agape ("the fulfillment of the law") indicates an ongoing transformative trajectory that ties into τέλειος, but also implies continual revision, expansion and insight (gnosis/sophia)regarding the overall metaphysical frame as well.

    4) There is a strong indication of a successive iteration of spiritual "kingdoms" and human/Divine dynamics within the NT that represent different modes of relationship between the mortal-material and the spiritual-transcendent. A lessening of division, as it were. This, too, changes both the context and perhaps the motivation for an evolutionary imperative.

    Just some additional avenues of possible exploration around the idea of "evolutionary Christian mysticism."

  • Comment Link Dr. Eileen Jackson Sunday, 02 December 2012 07:39 posted by Dr. Eileen Jackson

    As an anthropologist and a woman religious previously of the Catholic Faith, I have to both praise and take issue with your explanation of Evolutionary Christian Mysticism. While it is beautifully written and well articulated, the interpretation of Darwin’s theory as linear and meaningful. Darwins theory of evolution can no way be interpreted as linear. Neither in complexity nor in spirituality, is the world evolving. Humans are no more than one of the millions of organisms that are manifestations of the diverse adaptations of the original living organisms. This makes sense in two ways both in terms of science and religion. Einstein made it clear that time is relative. The earth exists. Time exists as a function of the movements of the earth through space. In terms of religion, if the universe was made from God’s substance, and God is whole and complete, then we are whole and complete. As Carl Sagan said, There is no morality in nature there are only consequences”. We are the ones who need morality to manage our behavior. Once we realize that we are we are not becoming, then we can begin to see our best behavior as being the best citizens of this planet not it’s destroyers. We are to walk lightly, we are to love our neighbors. We move to a caring economy rather than a dominator economy.

    It is critical not to distort the people's understanding of science while explaining it's meaning in terms of religion.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Monday, 03 December 2012 23:46 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Eileen and T.,

    Eileen, seems like we have a fundamental disagreement about the evolutionary process. I think one can ground a bias in an evolutionary trajectory in evidence. And I don't believe that evidence of an evolutionary trajectory (both physical and pscho-social-cultural-spiritual) necessary leads to or justifies a domination orientation. Much of postmodernism, I realize, is a reaction to the modernist myth of progress, but as I suggest in other writings, I think it's time that we revisited the conversation around progress in a more nuanced way.

    My own felt experience is that the universe is continually wanting to transcend itself in, through, and as me. It's the most real and intimate source of vitality within me. Furthermore, I also experience an urge to love and include more and more of reality.

    It could be argued that the belief that we are already whole and perfect, being made in the image of G_d, is actually more dangerous in terms of how that belief operates in elites and dominator hierarchies. (This order has been ordained by G_d. It's perfect the way it is). Indeed one of the dignities of the emergence of modernist worldview was that it was an evolution in culture that undermined those traditional hierarchies with four major revolutions.

    And T. thanks for your thought about telos and all the rich possibilities for further exploration.

  • Comment Link Eileen Jackson Wednesday, 12 December 2012 03:38 posted by Eileen Jackson

    Bruce,
    I think my main point is lost. I understand that d'Chardin and others reinterpreted Darwin's theory. However Darwin's observation and science does not support anything evolution as directional. That is my main point. You may argue that Darwin was biased, although that would be hard to prove. I have no argument with a theological perspective or felt experience, of a progression or expansion however, that is not scientific evolution. I wonder why theists feel the need to use science to support their faith.

  • Comment Link Eileen Jackson Sunday, 16 December 2012 00:54 posted by Eileen Jackson

    Bruce,
    Can you explain to me what it is about Darwinian evolution that leads you to believe that it is evidence of progression in the biosphere? Dr. J

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Tuesday, 18 December 2012 18:38 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    I guess my main point, Dr. J, is that when you track the development of the universe from a deep time perspective, it just seems to me that there is an undeniable (evidence-based) case for an increase in complexity, consciousness, or in using philosophical categories, in beauty, truth, and goodness. You may regard this as a metaphysical bias, but equally it can be said that a refusal to see progress reflects a modernist, metaphysical bias. It's not based on evidence, but rather on a misplaced ideological agenda of ensuring that a mythic, cosmic engineer God doesn't find "His" way back into the discourse. On that, we can join in common cause. But there are more nuanced expressions of theology, which appreciate evolution as an interplay of chance and purpose, and has no time for predetermined agendas, etc. etc.

    Again, I'm not saying arguing from intelligent design, but I do think it makes sense to assume that this grand adventure of becoming is occurring with a milieu of non-interfering intelligence and love. My evidence is that it produced you and me, beings that yearn to embody and enact increasing degrees of wisdom and love. I argue from the present fruits of the cosmos to an originating Source and milieu. It just doesn't make sense to me that "dirt got up and started writing Shakespeare" by complete accident. It does to you. I'm ok with that. Thanks for your interest.

  • Comment Link Jeremy Johnson Thursday, 20 December 2012 05:54 posted by Jeremy Johnson

    I'm only stepping into the tail-end of this conversation, but I though I'd leave an idea or two here that might offer an alternative angle on the theology and science debate, @Bruce and @Eileen.

    It's something I've been considering by sheer coincidence these past few days. Mainly because of my recent reading of Steve McIntosh's book, "Evolution's Purpose," which argues for a philosophical and scientific interpretation of "purpose," or direction, in the evolution of our universe.

    Eileen makes a very important point, but one that I wonder might be clarified by teasing apart the scientific facts from their philosophical conclusions. Most science is accompanied by reasonable theories about the nature of our existence. These theories are largely materialistic and evidence-based. Darwin's theory of evolution attempts to understand the emergence of life by natural selection and random mutation, making no grand claims, and perhaps even arguing against teleology because the emergence of life is seen purely mechanistically. No need for a creator. But I think this is, in itself, a philosophical interpretation of the evidence at hand. Teleology in these days can be far more sophisticated than Intelligent Design. So I think Bruce's argument: that self-emergence and complexity point to a direction or meaning in the universe, is a fair and intellectually compelling argument. I sit on the fence with this, however. It might be a compartmentalizing view to take, but I'll risk it and go out on a limb anyway: Seeing no purpose in evolution and seeing a purpose in evolution are, in the end, philosophical view points rather than scientific. Arguing that the cosmos has no meaning, or that the cosmos is teleologically driven, are both metaphysical and philosophical positions. Science, to me, is just how things mechanically work. They take no position on grand matters – matters of meaning. The latter is a matter of hermeneutics and interpretation.

    Like Eileen, I am wary of backing up theological or metaphysical arguments with science. But likewise, I am also wary of making big claims about the meaning, or meaninglessness of the universe, backed up by science. Neither do it for me. In the end, our interpretation, our imaginative hermeneutic with the cosmos, is where we derive our meaning from. That being said, I know it's impossible to disentangle scientific claims from our biases and assumptions. I'm not saying science is pure, objective fact. Only that it works with a base-level of empirical observations. The scientific culture of today, based on materialism, is, in my view anyway, saying more about our cultural imagination than "ultimate reality." Perhaps it was our mechanistic bias that led us to study the world empirically, and that in turn transformed all of us into materialists.

    So what am I trying to say through all of this? I think, put simply, that materialism is a philosophical and cultural position of our time, but so is teleology. Both might be useful. For instance, Bruce, I am aware of plenty of complexity theorists and mathematicians who might disagree with you that there is something more intrinsic to the universe. They might argue that self-emergence is a mathematical, not a spiritual issue. It's something the universe does. If anything, God might be found at the end of time, then, and not the beginning.

    I for one do believe that there is more to this cosmos than blind emergence. That, to me, is an spiritual, perhaps esoteric interpretation. I don't call it scientific. I suppose the strength, and weakness (in this world) of religious interpretation is in its ability to see through there mere "facts" of life towards some greater hierophany. Some gnosis. This, to me, is what Teilhard did, and while he did try to prove it all scientifically via The Phenomenon of Man, the strength of his vision lied in its religious imagination (read, *interpretation), of our modern-day reality. Envisioning the world as sacred, in my opinion, will always be up to us to revitalize the religious imagination to surround and envelop data, fact, and pure mundanity, to reveal its deeper purpose, or telos. I think it must always be more than scientific "fact."

    Perhaps this is just thinking out loud, but all of this has been on my mind lately and it was a delight to read through your comments and find a connection with them. Thanks for your article, Bruce, and your comments Eileen. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas!

    -Jer

  • Comment Link Joseph Camosy Thursday, 20 December 2012 07:11 posted by Joseph Camosy

    Is there any way to design an experiment to tell the difference between random mutation and natural selection (the Darwin case) versus desire resulting in an emergence of some new form (the case for telos)?

    Antibiotic resistant bacteria perhaps?

    The principle behind inoculation?

    Understanding just what actually causes a mutation to begin with?

    Perhaps both mechanisms are true, but on different levels or are different perspectives in their own respective AQAL quadrants which are co-arising (tetra enacting).

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