2013-12-23

The Bostian Bunch 2013


Everybody is happy on Santa's lap. Well, almost everybody.
Greetings from the Texas Hill Country,

Can you believe another year has come and gone?  We surely cannot.  We have now called San Antonio home for nearly four years.  Our children are getting so spoiled by all that this great city has to offer (the mild winters, rivers, parks, hills and culture).  I didn't realize how accustom they had become to the area till the children thought that 45 degrees was too chilly to be outside, at the same time our Dallas friends and family were experiencing "Icemageddon 2013".  This year we have enjoyed the outdoors, especially as Vera has begun to get more mobile and enjoys her backpack carrier.

2013-12-22

Miracles and Minds, Science Fiction and Scientific Probability

Dr. Manhattan ponders the possibility of miracles by reading this absurdly long essay.
For years I have wanted to deal with one of the greatest philosophical and pragmatic objections to the idea of "revealed" religion. This objection is second only, in my opinion, to the question of "theodicy": How can a supposedly loving and powerful Creator allow his creation to suffer and die in such excruciating and wasteful ways? I will briefly return to this "greatest of all" objections at the end of the essay.

This "second greatest" objection makes "revealed religion" of any type-- whether Christian or non-Christian-- appear foolish, hokey, folksy, credulous, silly, superstitious, and fundamentally ignorant of the way the world works. This, of course, is the objection against miracles. Because if miracles are impossible, and therefore false, it renders any kind of Divine intervention or communication impossible and false. And if there is no Divine communication, then all religions that claim to be based on it are fundamentally flawed.

I would like to deal with this objection from my unique threefold perspective: First of all, as someone who has grown up in the fastest era of technological change known to humanity. Second of all, as someone whose favorite genre of literature is science fiction. And thirdly, as a committed if somewhat progressive follower of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. I think these perspectives can help us understand the issue in a way that avoids the pitfalls of merely rejecting miracles on one hand, and accepting illogical and impossible claims of the miraculous on the other.

2013-12-20

Jesus is not Superman: Virgin Conception and the full humanity of Christ

Tanner's painting of the Annunciation, which is may favorite artistic depiction.

When I posted elsewhere on a discussion of the Virgin Conception, one responder had a very unique take on the matter. Since Jesus had to do miracles and eventually rise from the dead, the responder reasoned, then Jesus had to be something other than human: Something super-human. And so he wrote: "The virgin birth establishes that Jesus is not really a human."

I can see how someone might get there, if they were positing that Jesus is essentially some kind of "superman" who merely appears to be human but is really invincible. The interesting thing is that this is not the direction that either Matthew nor Luke take the Virgin Conception, and a "superman" version of the Incarnation was sternly rejected by all seven of the original Ecumenical Councils.

2013-12-19

On the Virgin Conception of Christ

One of my favorite classical paintings of the Annunciation.

Tis the Season to bring up the perennial question of whether or not Jesus was in fact conceived by a literal, physical virgin upon his first Advent among us. Every year this question gets raised. And every year no decisive answer is given which will convince all sides, including atheists, skeptics, liberal Christians, conservative Christians, and religious others.

And, by the way: The miracle was not the Virgin BIRTH, which is merely the physical act of activating certain muscles and pushing the infant out. Rather, the miracle at stake is the Virgin CONCEPTION: Becoming pregnant without any male sperm present in the first place. This is the context of what we are actually talking about.

So, I will proffer my answer among the cacophony of voices, knowing it will probably only convince the convinced. If you are tired of this question, I will give you the spoiler: I think that the most probable explanatory hypothesis is that Mary was indeed a physical virgin when she conceived Jesus. My faith would not be shattered if this was not the case, and I think there are other ways we could affirm the Divinity of Jesus without virgin conception. But given the rather sparse evidence we have on the matter, in light of the rather large amount of data (proportionally) we can draw on to assert Jesus' Divinity, I am inclined to say Jesus was "born of the Virgin Mary" as the Creed says.

Yet, I have often heard five criticisms of the Virgin Conception:

1. Virgin Conception is physically impossible, and we live in a closed system where miracles cannot happen, therefore Jesus could not have been born of a Virgin.

2. Virgin Conception is tied to a theory of "original sin" which is preposterous and states that we are literally guilty for what Adam did, and therefore Jesus had to be born free of "Adam's curse" in order to be sinless, without the stain of original sin.

3. Virgin Conception is tied to Jesus being the Incarnation of God, and since we know God cannot enter into human form (see #1 above), the whole idea of virgin conception is misguided from the start.

4. Virgin Conception is only mentioned in Matthew and Luke, based on a dubious read of the Hebrew text of Isaiah 7.14. Since other New Testament documents do not mention the Virgin Conception, it must be an invention of Matthew and Luke.

5. Virgin Conception is found prior to Jesus in Pagan , Hindu, and Buddhist myths. Since it seems like a derivative story, it must therefore be false.

Let's deal with them one by one.

2013-12-17

Is God necessary for Adult Morality?

The Paper Sack Kant could not write himself out of.

It is with quite some regularity that I read or hear a well meaning Christian say "If you don't have God, then anything is permitted! God is necessary as a basis of morality!" This quote is often attributed to Dostoyevsky  in "The Brothers Karamazov", although he never exactly wrote it. Rather, it is a helpful summary of the moral outlook of Ivan Karamazov in the early chapters of the book.

Now, as a Christian I think that positing an Infinite Source of Love at the core of the Universe-- the Triune God-- is the most satisfying metaphysical grounding for why altruistic Love and Compassion are essentially good. And furthermore, I find it incredibly instructive to posit that this Love became incarnate in a particular life, so we could see this Love embodied and exemplified.

But that is one of many possible coherent groundings for why Love, altruism, and compassion are moral goods. There are other explanations-- Buddhist explanations, Hindu explanations, and Secular explanations-- that do not posit a personal metaphysical Grounding of Love's "goodness", and yet lead their adherents to practice Love and compassion in a compelling way.

2013-12-16

Why Epistemology could help save or damn us all

A Weather Map: Not helpful in driving from Dallas to Chicago. You will see why this is important later on.

There are many ways to divide and categorize human groupings. Some of the major ways to group humans these days are "religious" versus "secular" and "conservative" versus "liberal". And then much ink and many words are spilt over how these types of divisions are absolute and share nothing in common with each other. Hence the "culture wars".

I actually think that these divisions tell us very little about how people in these groups actually function.

I think a far better dividing line-- at least at this juncture in history-- is to look at how people do epistemology, and divide people into two epistemic tendencies: Probablists versus Infallibilists.

2013-12-15

On Religious Monuments in Public Places

Paul among the philosophers in the open market of religious ideas in Acts 17.

This weekend Mark Silk editorialized on some of the recent hubbub over erecting religious monuments in public places. This endless back and forth battle over secular spaces raises the question for me: Where would be the dividing line between displays of religion and displays of ideology, and displays of, say, remembrance.

For instance, regarding ideology: If I wanted to erect statues of prominent American deists who signed the Declaration of Independence, as a testament to how deism contributed to American constitutionalism, would that be in violation? Or, even weirder, if I wanted to construct a giant right triangle to celebrate the contributions of Pythagoras to mathematics, would that be a violation (especially since he did found his own religion)?

An Offensive Sermon

Bansky's family picnic: As offensive as Jesus' meals, for the opposite reasons.

For Third Advent, Year A. Based on Luke 1:46-55 (the Magnificat), James 5:7-10, and Matthew 11:2-11.

And Jesus said "Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." To which someone in the crowd immediately mumbled under their breath "Who does this guy think he is anyway? The Son of God?"

Today I want to deliver an offensive sermon. No, not in the sense that I want to offend you. I don't want to offend anyone here. And if you are offended by what I say today, please, blame it on Fr. Chuck. But, instead of being offensive myself, I want to talk about the kinds of things that offend US, and what on earth people could possibly find offensive about JESUS.

2013-12-14

A Christmas Blessing

I gave this blessing at our wonderful TMI choir and band concert, right before we sang silent night. I liked it so I thought I would share:

And so, from the TMI family to your family: May God our Father grant to you and yours a blessed Christmas season; May the peace and joy of the Christ child make your holidays bright; And may the very Spirit of Christmas fill your heart and home, and give you Joyful days and Silent nights.

Amen. 

2013-12-11

Unique among the Religions?


Today I preached a sermon on the "Seven Gifts of the Christian Faith". In it I outlined seven core ideas of the Christian Faith, which bring a rich depth to thinking about God, morality and spirituality, and which are unique among worldviews. These seven ideas form the basis of a robust Christian systematic theology, which link together Biblical and Historical ideas in a cohesive, consistent, constructive explanation of why the world is the way it is.

At some point in the future, I will turn these seven ideas into a series of essays or perhaps even a book. But for summary's sake, here is a brief description of these seven unique ideas (you can also see how they are linked in the chart above):

TRINITY: God is an eternal community of shared Love between the Father, Son, and Spirit, in infinite goodness, truth, and beauty.

AGAPE LOVE: Unconditional Love is the reason for our creation, why we are given freedom, and why God heals us when we misuse our freedom.

INCARNATION: To show us the depth of God's Love and heal us, God empties Godself and becomes human in the person of Jesus the Messiah.

SUBSTITUTION: In Jesus, God takes into Godself the full consequences of our sin, suffering, and death, by suffering with humans, for humans, as a human.

RESURRECTION: The Love of God is stronger than death, shown in Jesus' return from the grave, which guarantees the promise of our own resurrection.

SACRAMENT: The Holy Spirit shares Christ's life with us through tangible activities that continue the mission of the Incarnation in the world today.

ATONEMENT: God's ultimate desire is to make us at-one with God, through Jesus, in the Spirit, as we share fully in the eternal life of the Trinity.

After preaching the sermon, a close friend of mine noted that it is a "terrific summary of Christian theology", yet that "the individual items are not all unique, but the combination of the seven certainly is". This is a great observation that raises the question: Just how unique is the Christian worldview anyway? Are these concepts completely without parallel in other religions and worldviews?

2013-12-05

Faith and Hope and the Tightrope of Love


Love is dangerous, risky, and infinitely costly to the self. Precisely because it is the giving of self away to the Other, for the Other, in the Other. Why should we give ourselves away in this manner? Why is Love worth the risk? Why would it not be better to act in self-interest, rather than loose yourself in what may in the end be a futile effort?

Is there a good reason we should sing with the Song of Solomon:

"Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned." [Song 8.6-7]

2013-12-02

Two Christian Views on Same-Sex Relationships

It's a "Modern Family", but is it a "Biblical" family? Depends on how you read the Bible! 

I wrote both of the following mini-essays at various times in my journey with Jesus. They reflect two different viewpoints on the same issue held by one person over time. There are thoughtful, Christ-centered, Biblical Christians on both sides of this issue. Those who support gays and lesbians may find the first essay offensive, while those who challenge them may feel the same about the second essay. I will begin with a brief look at the only Scripture passages which deal with the issue of same-sex intercourse.

After that, I will move on to present two different Christian interpretations, derived from Scripture and attempting to be faithful to Scripture. The first challenges gays and lesbians on the issue of sexuality and sin, while welcoming them in faith to support them in their struggle. The second welcomes our gay brothers and lesbian sisters in the faith, and sees their sexuality as a gift from God that is as different from heterosexuality as celibacy is. This second essay is a concise summary of research I explored more deeply in another essay on Homosexuality and the Christian Faith.

2013-11-29

Homosexual Activity and Christian Faith: On the issue of Gay and Lesbian Inclusion

A helpful infographic summarizing marriage laws in the Old Testament.

INTRODUCTION: TWO SIMPLISTIC ANSWERS

In my ministry to young adults and college students, I get into the conversation at least once a month about two "big" issues: First, people ask me all the time "Who is going to hell?" (which is actually a deeper question about the love of God). Second, people ask me "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?" (which is also a deeper question about God's love and purpose for creation). I have found these questions are at the tip of the iceberg for a whole complex of deeper issues beneath the surface. And they are actually tied together in a deep way, because the Church has been going through "hell" in our constant arguments about what the proper Christian response is to the struggles of gays and lesbians.

Although I deal with the issue of hell in other places, I will attempt to answer the homosexuality question right now. Until recently, the answer to this question has often fallen on one of two "simplistic" sides: The "conservative" side and the "liberal" side. On the conservative side have been people who claim to take the Bible seriously, and thus do exactly what it says, as if it were some kind of legal textbook. And, in most English translations, the Bible seems to clearly condemn same-sex intercourse, therefore gays and lesbians must be condemned if they act on their sexual orientation. On the liberal side have been people who claim to take social justice and inclusion seriously, and therefore they deny, ignore, or simply explain away as "outdated" those Scripture passages which seem to contradict their pursuit of inclusion. Thus, in this (false!) dichotomy, the conservatives are guilty of failing to show love and mercy to actual people, and the liberals are guilty of failing to take seriously God's revelation of Godself in Scripture.

But what if there is a way to take Scripture seriously, and also fully include gays and lesbians in the Church? In fact, what if taking Scripture seriously- even literally- actually led to the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of God's people? That is what I intend to explore.

A fair word of warning: This essay is quite long and tries to take into account a huge swath of relevant Scriptural, historical and theological data. If you would like something a bit short, see my essay on Two Christian Views on Same Sex Relationships, or even more concise (but a bit simplified) is this five minute video by Matthew Vines. With that said, let us begin:

2013-11-24

Divine Infinity and Human Epektasis

Jacob's Ladder: A common symbol for the ascent into God's Infinity (epektasis)

If God is infinite, how can we relate to such a God? How does the infinity of God relate to our ultimate growth and development as sentient beings "made in God's image"? Does the infinity of God, the boundless depths of Divine Love, open for us any surprising developments for our own spiritual progress? If God is in some sense a field of infinite potential that invites us ever-deeper, what implication does this have for spiritual projects that stress the "unchanging" nature of God and spiritual truth? Can one hold any "unchanging" ideas about God and still embrace a universe that is characterized by change and flow and evolution?

All of these questions have been swirling around my head for a couple of years now. And I want try and connect the Triune God, Divine Infinity, Change and Development, Cosmic Evolution, and Epektasis (the continual pursuit of God by the human soul). The following essay will seek to elucidate a systemic connection between these ideas based upon material in Scripture and Christian Theology, while touching upon certain themes in philosophy, biology, and physics. And we shall start by postulating that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is Infinite:

2013-11-22

On gods and Aesthetics, Psalms and Theosis

Happy heavenly birthday Jack! Pray for us down here!

Today in honor of the 50th anniversary of CS Lewis' transposition from earthly life into the greater life of God, I preached a sermon on the idea of humans becoming "gods" which is found in several of CS Lewis' writings, but most especially in his sermon "The Weight of Glory". The texts I chose to speak on were the following:

1Corinthians 4.6-18: "For it is God who... has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ... For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure..."

Psalm 82.6: I say, "You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you..."

John 10.34-36: Jesus answered [his opponents], "Is it not written in your Law, 'I said you are gods'"? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?

2013-11-18

Textual Evidence for Scriptural Reliability

Click to see a chart comparing the NT to other ancient texts.
These are my lecture notes on the question of how reliable the New Testament texts are, and a layman's introduction to textual criticism of the Bible.

It is often popular to claim that the NT text was corrupted by centuries of hand copying, and to point out the thousands of small differences between ancient copies as evidence of this. This is the claim often made by Mythicists (who claim that Jesus was wholly invented by early Christians) as well as more revisionist scholars (such as Bart Ehrman or "The Jesus Seminar"). But is this the case? It turns out, upon deeper inspection, that the Bible, especially the NT, is the most reliably copied book before the Printing Press (and the most printed after). Jewish and Christian Scriptoriums had meticulous standards to ensure copyist accuracy, and produced far more copies than any ancient book.

2013-11-15

Sermon Archive, Ministry Portfolio and Resume


The Rev. Nate Bostian resides in San Antonio Texas with his wife Kim, and three children: Elise, Taggart, and Vera. Since 2010, Fr. Nate has served as head chaplain at TMI - The Episcopal School of Texas. Prior to that, he was Episcopal Chaplain at Southern Methodist University and director of young adult ministry at Saint Michael and All Angels in Dallas.

Fr. Nate is a veteran of a decade of parish ministry with families, youth, and young adults, as well as nearly seven years as a Social Worker, ministering primarily to runaway and abused children. He received his Master's of Divinity from Perkins School of Theology in 2008, and his Bachelor's degree in history from Texas A&M in 1996. Nate enjoys hiking, lifting weights, good coffee, science fiction, and Monty Python. You can contact Fr. Nate or view his blog at natebostian.blogspot.com.

Fr. Nate's life and ministry philosophy can be summarized by two commandments: First, to Love the Lord incarnate in Christ Jesus, who is Love embodied, sharing God's welcome and healing with everyone. No exceptions. Second, to Love God's children and see them healed. All of them. No exceptions.

Resume and Profile: Click here for Nate's Resume / Curricula Vitae, including Ministry philosophy and OTM profile.

Sermon Archive: Most of these sermons are from my stint at Saint Michael and All Angels from 2008-2010. When I get access to some more recent sermons from the Diocese of West Texas, I will also put them here. [go to sermons or read them in text on the blog]

Teaching Materials and Curriculum: This page includes links to syllabi, class documents, handouts, and interactive surveys. [click here for teaching materials]

Articles on Chaplaincy: This includes articles on spiritual formation, ministry philosophy and program design for TMI- The Episcopal School of Texas [click here for TMI Spirituality pages]

YouTube Multimedia: Just for fun, here are some multimedia projects I have written and performed for teaching and chaplaincy.
Bible Memory Rap
Fr. Nate raps at Camp Capers
Religious not Spiritual (spoken word)
Fr. Nate photoshopped by TMI students

Photos and Headshots of Fr. Nate and family.

You can contact Fr. Nate at natebostian [at] gmail [dot] com or call or text at two one zero three seven zero seven five seven nine.

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2013-11-05

The Golden Rule across cultures

Ummm. Not THAT Golden Rule.

The following are some lecture notes for a discussion on "The Golden Rule" as Jesus presents it in the "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5-7). In this lecture, I am trying to connect the ethics of Jesus with the central concerns of other world cultures:

Most cultures and religions have ethical systems that, at their core, are based on an idea of equality and reciprocity. This idea was first delivered to me in earnest by CS Lewis in his little book "The Abolition of Man". In the appendix, Lewis put a cross cultural sampling of moral teachings he labelled "The Tao" (a Chinese word meaning "The Way" or more appropriately "The Way to be Good or Moral"). The central section of "The Tao" for me was what Lewis calls "The Law of Reciprocity", which is often better known as "The Golden Rule".

2013-11-02

Why Studying Theology is good for EVERYONE



A colleague recently sent me a great article from the Atlantic on why everyone should "Study Theology, Even If You Don't Believe in God". I think it made several great points which I agree with wholly. I read it and it is very much in line with what I frequently tell people who ask me about theology and religious studies.

However, there are a couple of things I would also like to add about why Theology is for everyone, because everyone is a theologian (a point first brought home to me by Stanley Grenz in his book "Who Needs Theology?"). My standard schtick on the study of theology is this:

2013-10-29

On beauty after becoming gods


"Napalm" by Banksy. Is even this art? Read the end of the essay.
I will take a stab at a theory of postmodern aesthetics, although I haven't read aesthetics intentionally nor can I name names. Nevertheless, I have thought about issues of meaning, power, ideology, semiotics, and representation from folks like Baudrillard and Zizek on the left, to Tolkien-esque mythopoetic folks on the right. And my job lends itself to dealing with aesthetics and "pop culture" on a regular basis as a sort of mediator between the worlds of the sacred and the mundane; Between the dimensions of the "real" (everyday human experience), the "hyper-real" (or virtual, or representational), and the "hypo-real" (the "ground of being", or founding Reality).

For me the contemporary aesthetic question can be summed up as: "What is beauty now that we are gods?"

2013-10-23

Jesus and Mythology: Three Views

The following are my lecture notes on the issue of "Jesus and Mythology". They are somewhat fragmentary and could be filled out in great detail if I had time to write a book. But I don't. So here are my notes on the question: How is the Jesus of the Bible related to the Mythology found in ancient cultures?

One of the earliest theological views of the relationship of Jesus to what we would now call "world religions" was surprisingly positive. Greek theologians such as Justin Martyr, Clement, and Origen consistently taught that the Spirit of God has planted "seeds" of the Word of God (Greek: "logoi spermatikoi") in all people, all cultures, and thus all religions.

2013-10-22

Bible Memorization Rap



Click above to see a Rap Song I wrote to help students memorize the Bible, its major and minor divisions, and the major types of literature found in the Bible. Copyright (c) 2013 Nathan L. Bostian

Here are the lyrics:

2013-10-09

God of the Gaps or God as Singularity?



Many skeptics (and thoughtful Christians) find problems with the model of God as a "God of the Gaps". By this, they mean a God who periodically invades history to keep the universe running when the complexity of the physics gets beyond our current ability to model. I agree that "God of the gaps" is a bad idea, both because of what it does to our image of God and what it does to human learning. However, I would also caution against understanding the universe as such a closed-system that it rules out interactions with other dimensions in an "a priori" manner irrespective of the evidence.

2013-10-06

Ethics precedes Metaphysics and constitutes Epistemology



The following mediation uses quite a bit of philosophical jargon. It is based on two propositions I have been playing with for a while in my mind, which seek to provide a relation between three major area of philosophy: Ethics (how we act), Metaphysics (what we know about Ultimate Reality), and Epistemology (how we know). I'm not entirely sure what I think about these propositions, or how they relate to my theology as a whole. And the only way to figure it out is to write it out. So, here is attempt #1.

Proposition 1: Ethics precedes Metaphysics and constitutes Epistemology.

Proposition 2: We choose therefore we are, and our choices shape how and what we can know.

2013-10-05

On Sharing Faith with Mormons



A friend of mine recently wrote me and asked for some advice on "witnessing" with some Mormon missionaries who had come to his home several times. I want to share what I shared with him, because it represents what I find to be the central flaws in Latter Day Saint theology.

However, I must preface this by saying that I have the utmost respect for many Mormons I have known and worked with for their commitment to their faith, to Jesus, to their families, and to moral integrity. They set a lifestyle example that many Christians should learn from. In terms of many moral issues, you would find me in total agreement with Mormons. Yes, I differ with them when I drink coffee and have beer with dinner. And yes, I would expand the definition of family beyond what Mormons would, to include families with two dads or two moms. But as far as core moral values of integrity, love, compassion, justice, and commitment to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ: I would be in full agreement.

Where we differ is in the explanation of WHY these moral values are core to life. We may agree on the practice of moral integrity. And we may agree on many details of Old Testament and New Testament history. But we differ as to the theory of history and view of God that upholds this moral practice and this Biblical narrative.

2013-09-22

Scriptural Resources for Ecological Stewardship



A science teacher who I work with asked me to compile some Biblical resources on the stewardship of Creation. Since there are few good lists on this topic on the Internet (they usually include sparse Biblical references and LOTS of commentary), I decided to post this. It's kind of a bare-bones, "just the facts ma'am" list of Biblical resources on ecology, along with some prayers from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. I hope you find it useful for sermon or lesson prep.

2013-09-11

Creation and Evolution, Science and Scripture




The following is an introductory essay I use in many of my classes to approach the questions raised by Science and Scripture. At the end I have included discussion questions based on the essay.

When studying the Story of God written in Scripture, one of the major questions that is often raised is: How does this Story relate to other stories that try to explain the world we live in? There are many stories found in other worldviews that seek to explain the world. But there is one other really big Story that has been accepted by most of the world since the 1800's: The Story of Evolution as told by scientific investigation. Both scripture and science speak of how humanity came to be, but they use different language to talk about it. Thus, what they say often sounds very different.

2013-09-02

We greet God in the Face of "The Other"



Over the past couple of years I have been thinking about how to integrate some of the major themes of postmodern ethical theory into a genuinely Trinitarian, Incarnational worldview. Although I know whole forests of trees have been cut down to make books which (over)analyze these concepts, I would like to put forward some short and sweet recommendations about how to integrate these concepts into a Classically Christian spirituality.

My meditation will center around concepts of welcome, embrace, inclusion, tolerance, difference, "other"-ness (le autre), and "the face of the other" as popularized by thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Jack Caputo, and Emmanuel Lévinas, and expanded and critiqued by theorists like Slavoj Žižek.

2013-08-16

What does prayer do?


This is a theological meditation on something that I have been pondering for a while now: How can we conceive of prayer working if we operate within a contemporary scientific understanding of physics? Can a physicist- or anyone else- really pray and mean it? Or is prayer simply a form of talking to ourselves at a deep level?

2013-06-17

The Good Old Days were not so good



The other day my dad sent me an email that reminisces about how good, and simple, and inexpensive things were when he was a boy in 1955. Some of the list is sentimental and cute, harkening back to an idyllic age that people remember as children (precisely because they were children and were not aware of the complexities and contradictions of adult life). But much of the list is politically charged in a "let's turn back the clock" kind of way.

So, I sent my dad back an email that said this:

2013-06-03

The Perfectly Imperfect Journey



"Although Christ was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be held onto, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant..." [Philippians 2:6-7]

The perfect journey. The perfect meal. The perfect destination. We throw the word "perfect" around a great deal to signify our search for something or someone that is without flaw, without taint, without regret. At the very heart of human existence is a yearning for a transcendent experience or relationship that will somehow complete us and leave us without yearning or need. One of the reasons why we journey, in fact, is to seek such an experience. We want to leave the mundane, imperfect world we inhabit and find somewhere that is, well, perfect.

But what we often find is that our journeys are not perfect.

2013-05-17

A Definition and Application of "Religion"



As we come to the end of my third academic year, I am doing a mental review of what I can change and improve for next year. As chaplain and religion teacher, one of the conversations I quite frequently get into is exactly what is religion, and what counts as the study of religion. In particular, certain vexing questions are often asked:

Does religion require positing a God or other Divine Beings? If so, what do we do with religions that do not have an explicit place for Divine Beings, such as various forms of Buddhism or Confucianism?

If we are going to define religion in such a way that we include "religions" that do not have God(s), what stops anything from becoming a religion? If I have an ultimate concern for finding the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich, and I pursue this concern "religiously", does that then make me an adherent of the religion "Grilled Cheese Sandwichism"?

2013-04-16

Theodicy in Outline



In light of the recent Boston Bombings, I thought I would publish the following notes on the problem of Theodicy. This is, admittedly, an academic rather than pastoral treatment of the problem of suffering. I figure many people will be doing pastoral works over the next few days and weeks. I thought I would instead publish something that is both academic and readable by the average person.

The following is a teaching outline for discussing the problem of suffering in the light of a God who is said to be both all-good (desiring the full flourishing of all persons made in God's image) and all-powerful (able to bring about the full flourishing of those he desires good for). Thus experiences of suffering and tragedy cause us to question the goodness, power, and existence of God. This is a skeletal outline intended mainly as lecture notes.

2013-04-03

On Miracles, Hubris, and Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law



Today in chapel I preached on resurrection. And in speaking of the miracle of the resurrection, I invoked Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law of Technology to talk about the events which we describe as miracles. Clarke's Law states:

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic (or miracle)."

I went on to talk about how the miracle of the resurrection perfects nature, not by working against nature, but by working through the "laws" of physics. I used the analogy of all the technology we use today, that works WITH the "laws" of nature, which would seem like magic or miracle to earlier humans. I continued by saying:

"If there is a Ultimate Source of Intelligence, Love and Life, who is in harmony with the laws of the universe and wants to show this Love to us, why would it be impossible that this Source might enter a human life and rise from the dead?"

A friend of mine who teaches math got into a conversation with me later about this part of the sermon. He said, very politely, that this argument seemed to smack of hubris: A sort of over-estimate of human ability in comparing our technology to God. Furthermore, he said, that it seemed to fall right into the trap of the empiricist David Hume in talking about miracles in an empirical way. So I wrote to him:

I am very sensitive to the aesthetics of an argument, when the aesthetic observation is done by someone like yourself who is good at identifying arguments. And an aesthetic feeling of hubris intrigues me.

I don't think you need to feel like you have to be "armed" to discuss this with me. I'm much friendlier than that! And in all honesty, your observation does not threaten me in the least. I view it more as a striving for the common good rather than a competition.

I think the main aesthetic problem with that part of the sermon was that I hit on it, and went on to a more important point. And in retrospect, perhaps I shouldn't have even broached the argument. It was probably both too "big" and too "controversial" to hit-and-run. And, like you said, probably better suited to a classroom.

As far as the substance of the argument, to tag off of your last comment, I think I am actually trying to avoid Hume rather than fall into Hume's trap. Hume, at least in my reading of him several years ago, seems to hold two important points about reality: (a) The most real events- or only real events- in the universe are empirical events subject to predictable laws of nature (i.e. Hume's Principle of Uniformity in Nature); (b) Miracles are defined as violations of the laws of nature, and thus literally impossible events (cf. Hume's "On Miracles" - "But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country").

I may be wrong on Hume, but that is the read I remember of him.

However, if one changes the definition of miracle, then Hume's criticism is undermined.

For instance, I would want to re-frame the whole idea of miracle- or to use Biblical terms "signs, wonders, and powerful deeds" (cf. John 4.48; Acts 2.19, 22, 43; 4.30; 5.12; 6.8; 7.36; 14.3; 15.12; Rom 15.19; 2 Cor 12.12; 2 Th 2.9; Heb 2.4).

A sign (Greek seemion) is some event that points beyond itself to a Signifier or Purpose or Meaning that transcends the deed itself.

A wonder (Greek teras) is some event that triggers a sense of awe or "the Numinous", a sense that something from another dimension of Reality has entered our reality.

A powerful deed (Greek dunamis - often translated as "miracle") simply means a deed that shows great power or ability.

These three terms really get at the heart of what we mean by "miracle" in a Christian sense. If I were to combine these three into a single definition, while keeping Hume's critique in mind, I might say this:

A Miracle is an event in which an Transcendent Intelligence works within the "laws" and dimensions of Reality to produce an event which would be infinitely improbable without conscious, intelligent design and ability (cf. dunamis); This event signifies, or points to, this source of Transcendent Intelligence in such a way as to communicate its will to us (cf. seemion), thereby causing an aesthetic response of awe and wonder at being in the presence of such a Transcendent Reality (cf. teras).

I think the finite awe we experience in the presence of new technology is thus an analogue of the infinite awe we experience when we encounter a "miracle" from the Infinite Source of Reality. It's kind of a sliding scale of awe that increases exponentially as we encounter greater and greater intelligence and power.

So, we feel a little bit of awe the first time we see a drone strike on a suspected terrorist, or encounter a gizmo like an iPhone or a Computer than can play chess.

We feel moderate awe when we realize that satellites can see into our buildings, or when we finally create nanobots that can kill cancer cells, and we cure someone of cancer by just injecting them with nanobots.

We feel a great amount of awe when a nuclear bomb obliterates a city, or when we achieve faster than light speed transport (or teleportation).

And we feel infinite awe when the Transcendent reaches into our lives in unexpected ways to do highly improbable things, such as raise someone from the dead in such a way that he is both physical, and yet is able to make a more full use of the dimensions of reality than we are currently able to do (cf. Jesus' appearance in locked rooms in a couple of the resurrection narratives).

Yet, to those 2000 years ago- or even 200 years ago- all of these things would seem like magic or miracle. All of these things would seem like they violate the laws of physics. None of these things would have been reduplicable in whole or even in part with earlier levels of technology (cf. Clarke's third law).

And speaking from sheer probability, none of the things I have listed above could happen if nature was simply left to its own entropy. It takes intelligent beings creatively working within the possibilities provided by the laws of physics to create events and technologies that can't exist any other way. And our finite abilities provide analogy to what an infinite, transcendent Intelligence could be able to do.

I understand that this can be interpreted as hubris- Icarus flying too close to the sun and so forth. But I think this analogy between human "technology" and divine "miracle" is invited by the idea that humans are made "in the image of God" and "after the likeness" of God (the Hebrew of Genesis 1:26-30 could even be read "as an analogy to God"). We mirror God in our creativity. In our ability to grasp the ideal world of mathematics, for instance, and apply that ideal world to the empirical world in discovering the physical "laws" of the universe (note: I KNOW that these are not actual laws, but more like observed constants and ratios that tend to be universal in observation, but if I had to say that every time, it would take forever... so I stick with "laws" in quotes).

So I'm not sure it is hubris to see an analogy between finite human technology and infinite divine ability. I think it is invited.

Where I would locate hubris is in human MOTIVATION for how we use technology. If you note what I said above on the "sliding scale" of awe, I intentionally listed a life-taking, and a life-giving, use of human technology at every point. While the divine use of "miracle" seems to be always for the virtuous purpose of giving life, sharing compassion, and in some cases preventing evil, this is not the case with human technology.

Human technology at this point in our development is often plagued by (a) moral malevolence and (b) systemic short-sightedness. First of all, we tend to use technology to selfishly increase our own pleasure, power or pride, often at the expense of harming or oppressing others. Thus, to compare our moral use of technology with divine ability, as if we are always acting from the Good for the Good, is the height of hubris.

Second of all, we are only beginning to grasp the systemic effects of our technology. We are only at the beginnings of understanding how the unintended pollution and collateral damage of our technology- even when that technology is used for virtuous intentions- can impact whole systems. It is not God that tends to do "miracles" against the best interests of the systems of nature. It is us. And unless we progress in our ability to use technology "with the grain of nature" instead of "against the grain", it could put our race and our ecosystems in jeopardy. Correction: IS putting us in danger.

Thus, to compare our current level of finite systemic understanding to infinite divine understanding is also hubris.

So, I think ultimately technological progress will have to be wedded to moral progress- empiricism wedded to spirituality- for humans to attain our true potential. And I think that the shorthand term for moral progress would be to say that we increase in Christlikeness- the ability to selflessly love other sentient beings and give ourselves so that we all attain to our full inherent God-given potential for life, wisdom, and beauty.

I actually have another essay about evolution and Christian spirituality in which I talk a bit about what "moral progress" might look like given an "evolutionary Christian theology". But, back to the point: I think this understanding of "miracle" using the analogy of finite human technology actually gets us out of the trap of Hume and later empiricists.

We know Reality is made of more than the standard "four" dimensions we typically think of as "empirical" or rather "Newtonian" (length, height, width, space/time). I've heard Quantum thought talk of 11 to 27 dimensions (or "pocket dimensions"). I can easily see that whatever dimensionality or realm that pure maths (and logics) fit into is something that transcends the empirical, yet inhabits the empirical.

You have talked about how we are not at all sure that the physical "laws" we have in this part of the universe hold true across the entire fabric of space-time. So already, given the implications of Relativistic and Quantum thought, we understand that what Hume would count as "going against" the "laws" of nature is on wobbly ground.

And with all the wobble room that space-time dimensionality and quantum fuzziness opens up, it simply does not make sense to me to think that a divine "miracle" (even a resurrection!) is ultimately a violation of nature. It seems to me that it is more of a intelligent fulfillment of nature. Thus a miracle is not something that works against nature or destroys nature (contra Hume). Rather a miracle is an act of grace that works through and with nature, intelligently, to bring about the perfection of nature (vis a vis Augustine and Aquinas "Grace perfects Nature").

And as humans grow in both technical ability and moral virtue, I think that we will learn to model Christ in giving sight to the blind, release to the prisoners, justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, healing to the sick, and even life to the dead (cf. Luke 4.18-19; John 14.12). And increasingly, our technical ability to do these things would appear as unfathomable magic to those who lived in ages past (cf. Clarke's 3rd law).

Either that, or we will increase in technical ability and devolve morally, which will surely destroy us all. Because power to heal is also power to kill, depending on how we use it. I guess it is our corporate choice.

2013-03-30

On Soul as Emergent and Eternal



Once I had a conversation with a friend of mine who teaches science and who is agnostic. We were talking about whether or not the soul was an emergent property that arises from our biology, or an eternal "substance" implanted in us by God. I tried to explicate that the soul was both-and, a sort of di-polar entity, in which both the Transcendent and the Empirical were necessary and sufficient causes.  The conversation about souls got me thinking about what exactly I meant. and didn't mean, by calling the "soul" an "emergent property" of complex systems. So, if you will indulge me, I would like to explain.

On Christ's Descent to Hell



A friend asked me over Christmas break in 2012 about the meaning of "Christ's descent to hell" alluded to in 1Peter 3.18-20. It is only appropriate that I should post this today, on Holy Saturday, which yearly commemorates Jesus' "harrowing of hell". The text in question is one of the many Scriptures that is used to assert that Jesus "descended to the dead" or "descended to hell" during the time of his death, to release those in bondage in the realm of the dead.

On "The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry"



The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry is actually a pretty huge topic, and I don't have all night to write on it! I think that this book is a great step in the right direction. Kids who are actually still coming to Church in our culture are doing so because they want to find something different than the prevailing culture of consumerism. That something different may be genuine agape-based relationships with caring peers and adult mentors. But often along with that (or because of that) there comes a hunger for WHY Christian life is (or should be) so different from the prevailing culture. This WHY question is precisely theology: Helping people think in a God-centered way that is well-ordered and rational (i.e. theo-logical).

This is what we used to call Christian formation or even discipleship (at least the cognitive, worldview portion of it). But it's tricky. And there are at least 4 reasons why theological formation with youth is tricky:

1. There is a general lack of Biblical literacy among Americans in general and youth in particular. Since theologizing, for Christians, takes place upon the basis of the Grand Narrative found in the narratives of Scripture, it is essential to teach these stories. But...

2. The Churches that are often strongest on teaching the Bible are also often the most legalistic, fundamentalist, and least inclusive and justice oriented. They tell the story, but they tell it with a slant toward individualism and exclusivism. So we must develop a way of teaching the Bible just as strongly, except emphasizing the inclusion and social justice found in Scripture. Which means...

3. We need to develop a lexicon of basic concepts and strategies to get these stories across in a way that avoids the fundamentalist extreme, while staying faithful to Scripture and the best of the Christian tradition. The genius of fundamentalism is that is hones in on a few basic, easily remembered concepts and just hammers them into people. We need to find a way to present the message and theology of Scripture in a way that is equally winsome and easily remembered. However...

4. The massive failure of fundamentalism, other than it's appalling lack of Christlike Love for "The Other", is that its concepts have such narrow boundaries that they crack when challenged by science and rational learning. Thus, kids raised in fundamentalist environments often "loose faith" in college when their legalistic, foundationalist faith gets destroyed. Thus, when we theologically form people, we must do so in a way that the concepts we teach them can grow with them as they grow intellectually.

To give a negative and positive example: Negatively, when kids are taught some form of creationism (often literal, 6-day versions) as an attempt to help them believe in God as "Creator", they often go to college and find this shattered by the facts of evolutionary science. Then they loose faith in God's creative role altogether. Better to teach them a version of creation that welcomes evolution as one mode of God's creativity unfolding across history. This type of concept can grow with them, where as "Six Day Creationism" cannot.

Or, another example: Fundamentalists are rightly taught the centrality of Jesus and his saving work, but they learn it in an exclusivistic way that most postmoderns find unbelievable. When confronted with their virtuous Hindu, Muslim, and Agnostic friends at school, they find it hard to believe that Jesus would send them to hell for eternity, while the (often asshole) Evangelicals get to live forever. Thus, they jettison Christ altogether.

Better to teach them that yes, Jesus is the Incarnation of God, and yes, Jesus is the Way of Salvation, BUT that Jesus fulfills instead of rejects all that is good, true, and beautiful in other religions and cultures. When we meet God face to face, we will see the face of Jesus, and he will fulfill and confirm all that is right in our lives, while also judging and healing all that is wrong in our lives. So that the virtuous Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Agnostic will find that all they have done good has been done in Christ, especially when they reached out to "the least of these" not knowing it was Christ himself that they were ministering to (cf. Mat. 25.31-46).

That is probably more than you wanted to know. But that is a brief outline of the challenge as I see it.

On Ritual and Relationship


Recently, I taught in chapel on the Story of Mary and Martha, in which Jesus ends by helping Martha to re-focus her perspective to see the necessity of BOTH action AND contemplation in her journey with Jesus:

Luke 10.38–42 [38] Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. [39] She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. [40] But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” [41] But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; [42] there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Based on this teaching, one of my students wrote and asked me:

"Martha gets upset that Mary will not participate in the activities of preparing food/ cleaning up yet Jesus tells Martha that she is missing the point. My question is: couldn't the same be said about us in chapel? We go through the actions of repeating, rehearsing, sitting, and standing, but if you don't do those things, you're looked upon as Mary in the story."

And so I answered:

Great question and one that I have pondered for years. I wish I could give you a simple answer, but your question hits on a wide-ranging topic of how we worship as Christians. So please allow me to give a bit of background to the answer:

I think what you have hit upon is the constant tension of what we do FOR Jesus versus being present WITH Jesus. When used rightly, most rituals and activities can be used as a tool to become more aware of Jesus and present with Jesus. The catch is that most people- myself included- are not very good at being mindful of Jesus while doing activities.

Regarding specifically religious rituals, I have been a Christian in several different Christian traditions before I came to the Episcopal tradition. I have spent a great deal of time in Evangelical/ Bible Church/ Non-Denominational Churches, as well as Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches. I've also been a part of services in a wide variety of other Christian traditions: Orthodox, Catholic, etc.

So I will say that every Christian tradition has its own pattern of worship with expected rituals and patterns for prayers. For instance, think of the "sinner's prayer" used when someone gets saved in an Evangelical Church. It has a standard pattern: Confession of sin, need for Jesus, acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior, giving praise to Jesus.

Or the typical pattern in a non-denominational worship service or youth worship service: Typically you have a welcome, then gathering prayer, then upbeat worship songs, then a Bible reading, a message, a call to conversion, often ending in slower, more emotional worship songs while people come forward to receive Christ, and then finally a dismissal by the pastor.

Or if you go to a healing service in a charismatic or Pentecostal Church, there is a pattern for when to raise your hands in praise, how you offer healing prayers, or when (and how) it is proper to speak in tongues, and even when it is proper to faint (or be "slain in the spirit").

So, that's all to say that whether you are at Community Bible Church, First Pentecostal, Oak Hills, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, chapel at TMI or chapel at SACS, you are going to find regular repeated pattern of certain kinds of rituals and certain kinds of prayers. In fact you find references to patterns of ritual in the Bible in places like Leviticus, Psalms, and even the patterns of worship we find with Jesus and the early disciples (cf. 1Co 10-11).

I think that any of these rituals can be good, if they are done with Jesus while being mindful of Jesus. And I think any of these rituals can be bad or useless if they are done for their own sake, or to impress others, or just out of habit. So the trick is to use rituals mindfully to connect with Jesus.

So, if raising my hands is a meaningful act of worship to me that draws me near to Christ, I should do that. If crossing yourself and kneeling is a meaningful way of drawing near to Christ for you, you should do that. However, I should not compel you to raise your hands if that is not helpful for you. And likewise, you should not compel me to cross myself.

But, it is even more complex than that. Because of we are going to practice the type of hospitality that Christ calls us to, by which we become "all things to all people" (in St. Paul's words) then we should be willing to try and use spiritual practices that are meaningful to thousands or millions of other brothers and sisters in Christ. So, while I should not be compelled to cross myself (or raise my hands, or bow) as an act of worship, I should probably be willing to practice it voluntarily if I am around many other Christians who do find it meaningful. If I do, I might also come to find it has meaning for me as well.

Whew. I know this is a long and complex set of arguments, but you find somewhat similar discussions of how to worship, and what to eat, or do, or not do, to please Christ in places like Romans ch. 14-15 and 1Co ch. 10-14.

Anyway, as for which "pattern" of ritual you use, that will depend on the context you are in. If you are in a Catholic context and you use Pentecostal practices (such as speaking in tongues) you are going to make people uncomfortable and they will not understand you. Likewise, if you are at the non-denominational Bible Church and use Catholic rituals (such as bowing and crossing yourself) people probably wouldn't receive you too well.

And anytime you have a group of several hundred people who gather on a regular basis (such as chapel) then most of the time you need to have a predictable pattern that everyone can use to worship. Granted, some people will mentally check out or be distracted or just ignore what is going on. That happens at Catholic masses and Pentecostal tent revivals and Episcopal Schools. But for those who choose to use the ritual framework to connect with Jesus, it allows for that capacity on a daily basis.

One thing that I miss sometimes are the things you can do in a smaller setting (such as summer camp or a youth retreat) that you can't do with several hundred people on a daily basis. For instance, times of silence, singing around a camp fire, and really intimate personal times of prayer. These rituals and practices work great with a small group of people. But when transposed into a huge group, what you wind up with is a lot of people who get really freaked out and uncomfortable, and a very few insiders who really like it. You can actually see this happen sometimes when guitar based songs are played in chapel. The students who have been to happening or sing these songs in their youth group like it. And many others- students and faculty- either don't get it or are uncomfortable with it. In fact, for every person I have ask me to do something in chapel (such as sing camp songs), I usually have at least one other person (if not more) who will complain that we did it. No kidding!

So, most of the time I use prayers and rituals that have been meaningful to most Christians through most of Christian history. That means a lot of prayers and rituals that have Catholic and Anglican roots. It's not everyone's cup of tea. But then again no style of worship is everyone's cup of tea. But it is a pattern that has been shown to shape and develop the spiritual lives of Christians through most of Christian history. And Jesus will use it, if you let him, to remind you of his presence and help you hear his Word.

And that leads me to the bottom line answer: It's all in how you use it.

Every relationship has rituals. My relationship with my wife has many rituals that involve speaking, listening, special names we use, sitting, standing, working and resting. Likewise, my relationship with Jesus has many rituals that involve speaking, listening, special names, sitting, standing, working and resting. I can use these rituals to connect with Jesus (or my wife). Or I can use the same rituals to ignore either of them and check out mentally. It's all in how I use them.

Martha's problem was that she was using her work instead of being present with Christ, and perhaps at the wrong time when Jesus may have been calling her to do something else. My hope is that we learn to use our work and rest, ritual and spontaneity, in the right way at the right time to draw us all closer to Christ.

I know that's a complex answer. But I think life with Jesus is complex, multifaceted and beautiful. It is easy to say "Love Jesus!"  But it takes a lifetime- and beyond- to explore how to love Jesus in the manifold contexts we find ourselves in.

2013-03-26

Why Biblical Christians need Biological Evolution


Over the last few years in educational ministry, I have continually had questions asked about, discussions over, and even debates because of the topic evolution and faith. Can one believe in the Bible AND in evolution? Is it possible for a faithful Christian to have an evolutionary worldview? And even if it is possible, is it permissible within the limits of classic Christian orthodoxy? And after all of this, I think it is finally time to move beyond asking whether it is merely permissible for faithful, Biblical, Christ-loving Christians to have an evolutionary view of how God is at work in creation.

Biblical Christians need to think in evolutionary terms to be faithful to Christ.

It is not only possible for evolutionary thought to fit within classic Christian orthodoxy. Evolution makes better sense out of classic Christian claims about the nature of God, creation, Christ, salvation, and consummation than other theories of how the Universe was created.

I know for many these are radical statements. It is radical for Christians who have grown up with the teaching that evolution is anathema to a faithful reading of Scripture. It is also radical for non-Christians, or anti-Christians, or ex-Christians who assume that "literal creationism" is the only Christian worldview option out there.

And I want to move beyond merely saying that some (or most) Christians may believe in literal creationism, while some (or few) Christians believe in God-guided evolution of some sort. I want to say that, if you want to be most consistent with the broad themes found in Scripture and Christian orthodoxy, then you are going to have to accept a broadly evolutionary view of how God is at work in History.

TWIN PREMISES OF ANTI-EVOLUTION

Now that I have made such a broad and controversial statement, let me paint in broad brush strokes the argument as I see it. To start with, it seems to me that the anti-evolutionary worldview is based on one central emotional premise, and one central worldview premise.

The emotional premise is that change is scary. It is scary because change posits that the future is unknowable, and hence unpredictable, and hence uncontrollable. Change could bring harm to us, especially if it is chaotic or malevolent change. So, in a nutshell, change causes fear. And fear causes frustration and anger. And I know Yoda said that, but any pastor or therapist will agree: Fear is a root of anger and hostility and prejudice. Fear colors how we see the world, and whether we are able to embrace change.

And since the basis of evolutionary thought is "things change over time", then evolution is bound to trigger fear in people.

The worldview premise of anti-evolutionism is "the static universe". This is the broad idea- expressed differently in Neo-Platonism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.- that Reality does not actually change. It stays the same always, and there are organized hierarchies, systems, and keys to both understanding the world, and assuring future outcomes (from the prosperity of crops to future life in heaven). The static universe is soothing balm to comfort the conflicted conscience of those who fear change. The static universe assures us that we do have the world under control (or at least we know WHO does), and thus there is nothing to fear.

And by the way, I'm not lumping those who "fear change" into a category of "the other". I fear change myself. I just think there is another way to deal with it.

And we can easily see how the "static universe" gets a Christian paint job. We assume a static universe. Then we read this static once-for-all world into the first and second creation stories in Genesis 1-2 (while ignoring how they contradict each other if taken literally; more on that later). Then we take our view of an "Eternal Creator", in which God is unchanging perfection, and impose that divine image onto the created universe. Then we posit that humans fell from a sort of "Neo-Platonic perfection" into sin, and it is now our job to return BACKWARDS to the original perfection postulated in our static view of the universe via literalist interpretation of Biblical texts.

Then we make that return to perfection a project of memorization and repetition of correct knowledge about the static universe through hierarchies of realms and angels and created beings and men and women. If we can just rehearse, and perform, the correct static pattern of Reality, under the tutelage of Jesus, then we can be saved. If, however, we persist in ordering our world in a different way, we will come under divine wrath and social sanction for questioning the "natural law" of Divine Providence.

And it is easy to see how evolutionary thought runs almost entirely counter to this Christianized static view of Creation. And thus it generates fear. Which in turn generates anger and hostility, rather than Love and compassion.

Yet, I think the static view is deeply contradictory to many of the broad themes of the Bible, and also conflicts with the type of character necessary to follow Jesus Christ. Let me explain:

TRINITY AND EVOLUTION

I will begin by looking at the Name and Nature of the Biblical God. In the "Old Testament" the personal Name of God- YHWH- is a verbal form in Hebrew, not a static noun. YHWH is an activity, dynamic pulsating being, meaning "I AM who I AM". God is a Person who is an energy, a force, a power that comes from beyond the universe to work throughout the universe. This Dynamic Personal Energy walks with his people, calls them into covenant relationship, empowers them to follow his commands, and disciplines them when they go astray.

In the "New Testament" how do we most clearly see God? As a human person, who acts and does signs and wonders and miracles, to liberate and heal and save. That is what the name Jesus means: YHWH who saves. When God becomes embodied, he becomes embodied in a person who grows and develops from fetus to baby to child to adolescent to adult. As Luke 2.52 states: "Jesus increased [προκόπτω, prokopto - literally to advance, grow, progress]
 in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor." So even Jesus evolved and changed to grow into his own divine calling as the embodiment of God's presence.

The classic Christian view of God combines the data of the Old and New Testaments to posit an Ultimate Reality that is, in essence, a dynamic relationship of distinct Persons who dwell IN each other eternally as One God. This is described as the Trinity: One God in Three Persons of Father, Son, and Spirit. But this is not a static God of three thrones sitting side by side by side, but as a dynamic, pulsating, self-giving Love. The Father constantly giving Himself to the Son, through the Spirit. And the Son, constantly sharing Himself with the Father, through the same dynamic Spirit. This dynamic Love overflows from the depths of Godself to create a whole universe of endless possibilities, made so that free, intelligent, sentient beings could emerge and evolve and learn to share in this Divine Life.

In the language of the Eastern Church Fathers who created this Trinitarian language to describe the God revealed in Christ, this is called the "perichoresis" of God's inner life. Perichoresis is the "circle dance" of ancient Greek theater, in which the actors circled in and out of each other in a beautifully self-giving, self-sharing intimacy. The Triune God is not static Being, but a dynamic dance, inviting all of the Universe to dance within God's dance. This is the perfection of Love and Justice and Compassion and Truth and Beauty that draws all beings to evolve into better and better incarnations of themselves over time.

So this seems to be the picture of God that fulfills the trajectory of the Scriptures: A dynamic, energetic, active Creator, not a passive Being ruling over a static universe. Now, let us talk about the picture of the creation presented to us in Scripture itself.

JOURNEY AND EVOLUTION

The first theme I would pick out of Scripture is the idea of "the Journey". We start in the garden of Eden, when YHWH walked (not sat!) with humans in the garden, and then gave us the task of naming the creatures (notice that means God did NOT assign names, but gave us freedom to). We then notice the stories of the Fathers and Mothers of Faith: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah. They were all called on a journey, a pilgrimage with God, into the Promised Land. The Exodus story is a story of journey FROM a worse place TO a better place, FROM slavery TO freedom. Once the nation of Israel was settled, and God's people began an agrarian economy, pilgrimage and journey to holy sites were key to their spirituality. Even in exile and return, we find the theme of journeying away, and coming back.

The New Testament is literally nothing but a journey. God's Eternal Son journeys from the Divine Presence to become incarnate in a baby, who grows and develops on his life journey. After Jesus is baptized, he goes on a journey through the wilderness. When Jesus begins ministry he journeys from place to place to place. When Jesus calls disciples, he has them journey with them, then he sends them out as Apostles on their own journeys. The word Apostle is in fact a version of a verb, meaning "one sent forth on a journey". After Jesus' journey to the cross, and descent into death, and return in resurrection, Jesus gathers his followers together. And what does he do? He sends them on a journey to share his Good News to "the ends of the earth". And the rest of the Christian Scriptures are written in the midst of missionary journeys, as the Apostles instruct the growing communities they have founded who follow the Way of Jesus.

Now, I'm not saying that "journey = evolution" as an exact equation. But I am saying that, IF most of the Bible functions within the motif of "journey", THEN the journey motif sits much better with the idea that the entire cosmos is on a journey with God, rather than the idea that the entire cosmos is a static entity that has been defaced, and now must be restored to Neo-Platonic perfection.

And I am saying that evolution is ONE way of talking about a cosmic journey, where the whole cosmos grows and develops and travels in the direction of greater and greater complexity, greater and greater community. Organic molecules develop into single cell creatures. Single cell creatures develop into multi-cell creatures in which the cells actually work together and give of themselves for the sake of the whole organism. Multi-cell creatures develop into multi-organ creatures, which in turn grow and diversify. Some species fail to adapt and reach a dead end. Others attain greater and greater adaptation, until some of these creatures become rational and conscious and creative. They become "persons" able to connect with the Source of Transcendent Love from which they ultimately come, and toward which they ultimately journey.

COSMOGONY AND EVOLUTION

In fact, this idea of the cosmos growing and developing into the fullness of God seems to be an elaboration of some of the key words within the original Genesis creation narratives themselves. To get to these words, I must say a bit about what these stories are, and are not, trying to accomplish.

This, again, is NOT to say that there is something like a theory of evolution presupposed by these texts. There is neither a theory of evolution in these texts, nor a static vision of the universe in these texts. These texts were not meant to provide a theory of cosmology nor cosmogony, but rather to steer the ancient Hebrews away from viewing cosmic entities as gods, and steer them toward seeing the cosmos as a good creation from the One Source of all else: The God identified as YHWH.

At their most basic, these texts tell us:
- There is one true God, who is the Source of all else;
- The material universe is good, and is an intentional product of God;
- The entities within the universe (stars, forces, powers, creatures) are not gods, but are contingent and not worthy of worship;
- Humans have a special place in creation as cognitive, creative, communicative, communal, conscious persons who manage and direct creation on God's behalf, in ways no other creature can.

These messages are embedded within poetic and mythical literature that was common in style to many other stories in the ancient world, but with a distinctly monotheist twist to the story. The first Creation story is more like a poem than most other types of literature. It has rhythms and rhymes and numeric structures and much symbolic meaning. This seven day creation poem takes the common motif of the Sumerian-Babylonian 7 day week, and uses that as the poetic framework to deliver a monotheistic message that undermines the greatness of ancient near Eastern polytheistic pantheons.

The second Creation Story in Genesis 2-3 takes the form of a fantastic fictional story, complete with talking snakes and magic trees. If taken literally, then the second Creation Story literally contradicts the ordering of the first story. Water and rivers and vegetation come along at different times. Male and female are made separately (in the second story), and not together (as in the first). Many other points of comparison could be made, which would be extremely problematic if these texts are interpreted as literal history or science. But, if interpreted symbolically and allegorically, the second creation story shows us both a close and compassionate God who walks with humanity throughout their earthly journey, as well as a deeply symbolic exposé on the dynamics of temptation, sin, and their horrible consequences of pain and alienation.

This is the form and purpose behind these stories. Yet, from the standpoint of "journey" and evolutionary thought, what I find interesting are several of the specific words and phrases which are used in regard to creation in these stories.

First we notice the jussive form of the verb "to be" used several times in Genesis 1, when God says "let there be". It seems to imply that God is not only bringing things into existence, but also letting them have the freedom to become what they are: Let them be what they are!

Second, there is an interesting use of the verb "bring forth" [Hebrew Yatzah - to go out from, go forth from]. In Genesis 1.12 and 1.24, both plant life and animal life is said to have been "brought forth" from the Earth itself. It is as if the ancient poet had an intuition that the building blocks for organic life were somehow contained in the earth, and that an active process, enabled by God, somehow brought forth these latent potentialities.

Third, there is all of the language of God's creation bearing fruit, and being fruitful, and multiplying, and filling the earth. This implies that God is giving real freedom to God's own creation be creative on their own. In a gracious gift, God has placed the resources and potentiality for creativity within the creatures themselves.

Fourth, there is the fact that God allows his creation to re-create themselves "after their own kind". This seems to imply that there is a kind of potentiality within creatures that makes them the "kind" of thing they are, but which also allows them to adapt and develop within the potentiality they possess. This potentiality we might now isolate within the genetic inheritance of our DNA, which allows us to grow and develop as individuals and as a species.

And fifth, when we look at the creation of humans in the second Creation Story, we note that the first human was brought about by a gradual process. YHWH gathered earth, shaped the Earth like a potter, until that Earth-creature was ready to receive the Divine Breath. In symbolic form, this is not very different from saying that humans are the result of a process whereby the organic potential inherent in the Earth has been shaped over time, through billions of successive generations and life forms, into sentient persons capable of receiving the Divine Life of rationality and creativity and Love.

So it seems to me that the Biblical texts themselves, when read outside of a worldview that presupposes a static universe of fixed hierarchies, actually opens up multiple areas of fruitful interaction with evolutionary thought. And this is just the tip of the Iceberg.

COSMOLOGY AND EVOLUTION

The fact is that almost all concepts of "static being" and "hierarchy of being" have to be read INTO the text from other sources. It is hard to read them OUT of the text. This is not to say that there is not rampant SOCIAL patriarchalism and hierarchy that is implied in the text. There is. And that is another conversation entirely.

Yet, Scripture nowhere details an elaborate "chain of being" which justifies the oppressive prejudices inherited in Biblical culture. In fact, these inherited prejudices are explicitly struck down in the latter parts of the Bible, as God's self-revelation developed more fully (cf. Galatians 3.26-28 where Paul says "there is no Jew or Greek, Slave or Free, Male or Female in Christ"). This is a great contrast to other ancient societies, in which social structures were rooted in some type of cosmic structure in God (or the gods). For instance, in Hinduism the Rigveda 10.90 clearly delineates four social castes AS the structure of God's Body (called Purusha):

"When they divided Purusha how many portions did they make? What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet? The Priestly caste was his mouth, of both his arms the caste of Rulers was made. His thighs became the Merchant caste , from his feet the caste of Laborers was produced." [Rigveda 10.90]

This embeds social hierarchy within God's own very essence. In similar ways, the social structures of many ancient societies- Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and even Greek- was rooted in the Pantheon of the gods and goddesses. The static structure of Earthly society was said to mirror the static structure of the ranks of Divine beings. This static cosmology that posited such ideas as:
- Men are ontologically superior to women, and adults are ontologically superior to children;
- "Our" race is ontologically superior to other races (usually due to "us" being descended from the gods);
- The ruler is ontologically superior to those he rules, because he is a god or demigod, and they are just mortals;
- There is a distinct ordering of gods, angelic beings, heavens, hells, and types of human beings (lords, merchants, priests, slaves, etc.).

No where in the Bible do you find anything like a complete social theory or a hierarchy of ranks of angels or anything else like that. Even in the case of the calling of Israel by God, it was always made clear that Israel did not differ ontologically one whit from other humans. They were simply called out of the overflow of Divine compassion for them [cf. Deut. 7].

It was mainly AFTER interaction with certain strains of Ancient Polytheism and Neo-Platonic Greek thought that extra-Biblical writings began to develop elaborate theories of how the static creation was ordered with myriad ranks of angels and demons and heavens and hells [cf. Pseudo-Dionysus' works on Celestial Hierarchy from the 300's or even Dante's Inferno from the Middle Ages].

Now, I am painting in broad strokes. And certainly one could pull out notions of static cosmology and cosmic hierarchy in SOME parts of the Bible (although never in a systematic, descriptive way, as the other religious examples mentioned above). But, overall, the Biblical inheritance is not interested in mapping out the terrain of some type of unchanging divinely ordained perfection. The Biblical material trends toward an open and free Creation, that is changing and journeying toward final union with God in joy and peace and love.

RELIGIOUS LAW, NATURAL LAW, AND EVOLUTION

Yet, there is one main locus of fixed expectations in our Biblical inheritance, and that is in the concept of "Law". However, Biblical Law does not set down a fixed ontology of being. Rather, Law is specifically to guide our actions and activities AS we journey. In other words, Law does not give us a place to stay. It gives us "road rules" for the journey with God.

And these road rules tend to change in emphasis and implementation at different points in the journey. Certainly Law functioned differently during the Davidic Kingdom, in the Exile, and in the early Christian Church. How the Law evolves and changes over time is the subject of a few hundred other books. But the fact is that the Law does in fact change and adapt over time, with new cultural situations, as God's self-disclosure increases. And this is very appropriate to this discussion about evolution.

Any cursory reading of the Bible and Judeo-Christian history will show that religious "Law" has developed through the Old Testament to the New Testament, in post-Biblical Jewish culture, and in the Christian Church. It has evolved. And it seems like the process of the evolution of religious Law is based on the idea that over time, certain key universal values deconstruct old ways of acting, to reconstruct them to better adapt to a later stage of the Journey.

By "key universal values" I mean axioms such as this: God is seen as both the Source of Life and Love, as well as the Goal or Summum Bonum toward which we journey. The Creation, as made by God, is inherently good, and worthy of caretaking, but never to be confused with the Creator who made it. Sentient Persons, who bear the image of God, are most worthy of respect and honor and Love, never to be used as "means", but always treated as "ends". To respect, honor, and Love sentient persons means to protect and care for them physically, socially, and emotionally, never using them as means for pleasure, or power, or pride. Thus, certain forms of behavior- whether physical, economic, sexual, or social- when done without the consent of sentient persons, are inherently abusive and degrading and must be avoided.

These axiomatic values are then embodied in certain types of concrete behavior and expectation, depending on the development and needs of the society they are implemented within. For instance, ancient societies needed laws about controlling the animals upon which we travelled, whereas modern societies need traffic laws regarding automobiles. Both sets of laws will be based on the fundamental axioms of loving and honoring our fellow humans, but they will look very different in implementation over time.

All of this is to say that not even religious Law leads us to a fixed, static creation. It gives us a set of rules for the Journey, which will be adapted at different points on the Journey. Religious Law is given to help us know HOW to Journey, but it does not tell us WHERE we will end up Journeying to. It tells us we are Journeying toward, and with, and in, the God who is revealed in Jesus. But this God is infinite and transcendent, so the Journey Godward will be infinite and surprising, constantly revolutionary and evolutionary.

This is not unlike the role of the "laws of physics" themselves in the process of evolution. The laws of physics give the fundamental ground rules of how matter and energy interact, which in turn gives rise to a panoply of potentiality along which energetic systems can develop and evolve.  As these systems develop and evolve, they generally trend toward greater complexity and intelligence (i.e. the ability of systems and organisms to adapt). But while complexity and intelligence is a general direction or trend, it in no way specifies HOW systems will become complex or intelligent, because complexity and intelligence are nearly infinite in potentiality.

Notice the parallel: Both religious laws and physical laws point us in a general direction of infinite positive potentiality, without determining exactly where the ending point will be for the Journey into this infinity.

And there is another parallel: Both religious and physical laws can be used to create systems of destruction, which speed the world toward chaos and entropy and death. The same laws of physics that allow for nuclear power also allow for a nuclear bomb. The same biological principles that give rise to anti-viral drugs can also create biological weapons. The same religious laws and moral axioms that can be used to create powerful social movements for equality, freedom, and social justice, can also be used to create ideological prisons to hold us captive to terrorism, theocracy, jihads and crusades.

It all depends on whether we will use our fundamental moral and physical laws to enhance life and potentiality, or to diminish life and potentiality. And it is my opinion that versions of theology that hold to a static view of the world actually wind up diminishing human life and potentiality by falsely limiting the positive potential that people can perceive, and poorly equipping them to deal with a reality that constantly changes. These static views need to be opened up to process, growth, and change, to help humans evolve into who and what our potentiality entails.

This is implicit in the words of the Christian Theologian Irenaeus, who held a more process-oriented view of God's work in the world, and wisely said "The Glory of God is humanity fully alive". To be "fully alive" is to grow and thrive by actualizing the positive, life-giving potentialities inherent in our lives (a.k.a. "grow in Christlikeness"). And the only type of worldview that is open to such radical growth and change is an evolutionary, process based view of reality.

EVOLUTION AS THE COSMIC FORM OF EPEKTASIS

What is most ironic about this discussion of "static" versus "evolutionary" ontology is that many of these ideas are not new in the history of Christian thought. They may be under-represented, but definitely not new. In the 4th century Gregory of Nyssa came up with a concept which describes this infinite, limitless, Christward growth into the fullness of God which I describe above. That concept is "epektasis". This word is derived from a concept found in the writings of Saint Paul:

[12] Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. [13] Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and striving toward [ἐπεκτεινόμενος, epekteinomenos - the participle from which the noun epektasis comes] what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3.12–14]

In commenting on this passage, and describing the evolutionary journey of the soul in epektasis, Saint Gregory says:

"If nothing comes from above to hinder its upward thrust (for the nature of the Good attracts to itself those who look to it), the soul rises ever higher and will always make its flight yet higher - by its desire of the heavenly things "straining ahead for what is still to come", as the Apostle says. Made to desire and not to abandon the transcendent height by the things already attained, it makes its way upward without ceasing, ever through its prior accomplishments renewing its intensity for the flight. Activity directed towards virtue causes its capacity to grow through exertion; this kind of activity alone does not slacken its intensity by the effort, but increases it." [Life of Moses 2.225-30]

Saint Gregory wrote this in the mid-to-late 300's. And although he was one of the first to fully elaborate this idea, he was only echoing earlier voices of people like Origen and Irenaeus and even Paul himself. Throughout the early Church- especially in the East- we find the idea of continual infinite growth in a Christward direction as we live into the transcendent fullness of God's life.

A further elaboration of an evolutionary concept of epektasis might look like this:

First, God made the world to strive toward God's infinite Love in epektasis. Creatures are thus made free to evolve, so that Creation trends toward actualizing its positive potentiality in beings who possess Wisdom, Love, and Beauty. Because of the inherent freedom of this project, some species and some individuals will choose to negatively actualize potential leading to death and extinction. This means that inherent in the world is a problem of suffering and evil. God desires ultimate bliss and joy with God's creation actualizing infinite potential, but in fact God's creation is also shot through with pain and destruction. Yet part of the Christian answer to this "problem of evil" is that God has entered into this creation in a personal way to bear the consequences of the world, and to transform and resurrect the pain we experience. More on this in a moment.

Second, epektasis touches on the asymmetrical nature of good and evil. What I am defining as "good" here is a positive direction into greater and greater potential to explore and fulfill. Positive potential is a path of choices that leads to creatures who embody more life, more wisdom, more beauty, more love. Because each positive choice opens up even more possible options, this positive direction unfolds infinitely, ever transcending itself, into ever greater potentiality. "Evil", on the contrary, is a path of potentiality that contracts, and shrinks, and takes away potential until only one outcome is left: Death. Thus, evil is finite. Evil has a stopping point at zero potential, which is death. Goodness is an infinite progress or evolution outward into the fullness of Godself, while evil is a finite regress away from life and potential into death. Evil seeks stasis and zero change. Goodness seeks evolution and growth.

Third, the hinge point of Christian Story of epektasis is that Archetype of Goodness has entered into History as Jesus of Nazareth to exemplify what a truly Good life could look like, to embody the consequences of evil in his own suffering, and to inject his resurrected life- his Holy Spirit- into humanity to empower us to more fully evolve and live into his Archetype. This "Archetype" language is used of Christ in several places in Scripture to designate him as the embodiment of Ultimate Reality, the perfect Image of God the Father, and the Message, Purpose, and Plan of Creation (the Word or Logos) who is the complete self-expression of God, made human [cf. John 1.1–18; Acts 5.15; Rom 5.14; Col 2.17; Heb 1.1–4; 8.5; 9.24]. These are all different ways of affirming that the Second Person of the Eternal Triune God- the Son- is embodied in Jesus of Nazareth such that Jesus is God Incarnate.

Another way of saying this in evolutionary terms is this: The final Goal of Cosmic Evolution was made fully manifest in Jesus, to guide and empower us to actualize our potential in the direction of his moral character and spiritual power. In Him, God forgives us of all our sins and evil. Christ does this because to forgive someone else means to take upon yourself the consequences of their wrongdoing without revisiting it upon them, or punishing them with their own evil. Thus, in Christ's sacrificial death God takes responsibility for potential of pain and suffering God caused by making the world free, as well as taking responsibility for our own evil choices. This frees us to repent and reject that evil way of life, and clears the path for an evolutionary Journey in a Christward direction.

Thus, evolution can be seen as a modern way of affirming the ancient idea of epektasis: Cosmic epektasis is expressed in a universe that evolves over time to bring about sentient persons who become more and more Christlike.

CONSUMMATION AND EVOLUTION

All of this leads to the final question of what will the end of this all look like? If anything like this is true, where will biological, spiritual, and moral evolution take us?

The first answer is simply to say that there will be no end. It will be an eternal journey of surprise and joy as we delve deeper and deeper into the Love of God. And God will take us from wherever we are at on the Journey now, and if we will let God, God will lead us beyond. But God always gives us freedom to choose whether or not to Journey Christward.

The second answer is to say we simply do not and cannot know what we (or the cosmos) will be like, other than to say we will be in accordance with Christlikeness. As Saint John says: "Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, WE WILL BE LIKE HIM, for we will see him as he is. " [1 John 3.2, emphasis mine]

Does this mean we will literally be Jesus-clones, morphing into Middle Eastern men from 2000 years ago, who all report an identical set of experiences, feelings, and thoughts? By no means! What it means is that we will be LIKE Christ in the sense of becoming beings of perfect Love, Compassion, Justice, Wisdom, and Beauty. Like the Risen Christ, we will be able to make full use of all of our potentiality whenever we desire it. We will be able to harness all the dimensions of reality and be in perfect harmony with the Energy of the Holy Spirit that sustains all of existence. We will be aware of our own personal history and experiences and how we have been formed to be who we are, but we will also be fully aware of the Mind of God (i.e. share in universal consciousness), and know how cosmic History has evolved to bring us to where we are at on the Journey.

And this is really all I want to say about our "future destiny", because when Saint Paul got into a deep discussion of this very topic (i.e. what our resurrected selves will be like), even he became flummoxed and tongue tied. You can read all about it in 1Corinthians 15.

It is a bit like asking a 4 year old what he or she will be like when they grow up. They have hints and hunches and wishes, but they have no real idea how their character and vocation will shape up when they are 30 or 40 or 50. In fact, God's interaction with our personal growth and development is a very helpful analogy to God's interaction with cosmic growth and evolution.

It is a central point of Christian theology that God journeys with us through the changes and stages of our individual lives. God knits us together in the womb as our bodies change from one cell, to something that resembles a fish, to something that resembles a mammal, to actualize our DNA's potential as a human being. God helps us grow in grace and wisdom from the cradle to the preschool to the elementary to the high school. God calls us and walks with us through the phases of our adulthood. God leads us through the valley of the shadow of death as we transition from this life to another form of life in God's presence.

If God is the type of God that journeys with us through these phases and stages in our individual lives, then what is most rational to believe about God's interaction with the cosmos as a whole? Is it more rational and Biblical to assume that God made everything as a static perfection, allowed it to fall into disrepair, and now calls us to go backward into a previous static perfection? Or is it more rational and Biblical to posit that God is not only our original source, but also the transcendent goal at the end of History, cheering us onward through growth and development and evolution, as God is also our fellow traveller walking the Way with us through the pain and suffering that change and growth entails?

Obviously, I am advocating the latter.

"IT IS GOOD" NOT "IT WAS PERFECT"

Christians who consider themselves to be rigorously "Biblical" not only can, not only should, but NEED TO ditch concepts of the universe which imply stasis, conformity to unchangeable static ontology, and some sort of return to "original perfection" in a Neo-Platonic sense.

To return back to Genesis 1 for a moment. In that poem, God declared seven times that Creation is "good". Many throughout Christian history have interpreted that in Neo-Platonic terms as God saying "It is perfect". And everything after that point was a departure from original perfection.

But I think it is much more helpful to look at this passage through the lens of what we know and experience in child development. I have three children. At the birth of each of them, I thought to myself: "This is good! This child is so very good! I love this child!" But this did NOT mean "This child is perfect and will never have any problems or cause myself or others any pain!" I know that, as they develop and grow, each of my children will cost me immeasurably in time, effort, heartache, even in money. That is the cost of love. That is the cost of relationship. That is the Journey of parenthood and childhood.

So what did I mean when I said "This child is good"? It meant that this child is the type of being- the kind of person- I am capable of sharing love with. I get to share myself with this person and see them grow into fullness. This person is an expression of the love of my wife and I, and we will some day offer this child as a gift of love to the wider world to actualize their potential (hopefully) in a life of Love and Compassion and Wisdom.

I think something like this is the theological affirmation behind God saying "it is good". This creation is not perfect. In fact, it is quite painful and messy. But it is the type of free creation that can grow and develop and evolve into the kind of people that God can share Godself with.

And thus, Biblical Christians NEED to embrace a universe of development, change, and evolution, both because that is what the trajectory of Scripture points us to, but also because growth, change, development, and evolution are clearly part of our personal experience, and the public evidence of the sciences.

To repeat: Biological evolution best fits the facts of (a) the overarching themes of Scripture; (b) the implicit themes of thoughtful Christian theology across the ages; (c) the nature of Christ's Incarnation and our journey into Christlikeness; (d) our own personal experience of growth and development from womb to tomb and beyond; (e) the public evidence supplied by our best scientists researching the nature of our biological origins and current development.

I know this is scary, and I know it is uncertain, and I know it does not offer us and neat, tidy, everything-in-the-box answer to what the future holds. But that is OK. Because the One who holds the future, indeed who IS the future, also walks with us on our Journey and gives us His Spirit to guide and empower us.

And in the Gospel according to John, he tells us:

[12] “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. [13] When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." [John 16.12–13]

We cannot bear all the truth now, because we cannot conceive of the beauty of what God has planned for us to become. Just as the 4 year old cannot conceive life as a 40 year old, so also after 10,000 years of history, humans cannot conceive of what humanity will look like at 100,000 years, or at 1 million years, or at 1 billion years, or what God has in store after this universe has ceased to exist. We cannot conceive it, but we can follow in the spiritual and moral footsteps of Jesus, listening to the guidance of his Spirit, to help us grow in a Christward direction on our infinite journey.

And if we do this- if we submit ourselves to follow the Way of Love that Jesus guides us on- this Way will lead us to progressively actualizing the positive potentiality God has embedded within human nature. We will evolve to do things as individuals, and as a species, we could not have dreamed of at this stage of our development. For Jesus also tells us this:

[12] Very truly, I tell you, the one who trusts in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. [13] I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. [John 14.12–13]

If we are Biblical Christians, we stand upon these promises, and these promises point us forward to the future God is inviting us into, as we pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, who fully embodies the potential God has placed within us, as you embody God in human form: Help us, as individuals and as a species, to grow, to develop, to evolve, into the fullness of who you made us to be, that we may ever Journey on your Way, be filled with your Spirit, and embody your Love. Amen.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.