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Evolutionary Christianity?

Add emotionalism plus evolutionary scientism and you’ve got a plea to be a theistic evolutionist

by

Published: 21 December 2010(GMT+10)

“An evolutionary worldview can enrich your life, deepen your faith, and bless our world,” according to the front page of the Evolutionary Christianity website <www.evolutionarychristianity.com>. Starting on 4 December 2010 and running through the beginning of January 2011, 30 pastors, scientists, and theologians will be giving a teleseminar series promoting a theistic evolutionary viewpoint.

Some of the leading ‘Christian’ lights against a traditional Christian view of the world

Some of the leading ‘Christian’ lights against a traditional Christian view of the world

The page is full of many unfortunate straw men and emotive arguments against ‘polarized’ views like “science-rejecting creationism” and “faith-rejecting atheism.” They argue that one can be a serious Christian and an evolutionist, and strongly imply that this is the only position that a Christian who takes science seriously can hold.

But taking a closer look at some of the participants is telling:

John Polkinghorne: An Anglican physicist and theistic evolutionist whose ‘God-of-the-gaps’ theology has defined God almost out of existence, according to the ID movement’s Phillip Johnson, and relegated Him to being only the lighter of the fuse of the Big Bang. For instance, Polkinghorne says, “God I think interacts with the world, but doesn’t over-rule it. God has, if you like—is conducting the improvised performance of the universe. So I think what is settled is much less determinative, and there is much more flexibility and freedom and surprise and openness in what’s going on.” Translation: God is not the sovereign miracle-working ruler of the universe, but is largely limited by natural processes. He is incapable of even knowing, let alone determining, the future in the way in which the Bible indicates.

Kenneth Miller: Cell biologist and author of Finding Darwin’s God and Only a Theory (titles linked to the CMI reviews). For all his claims of reconciling God and evolution, his views are scarcely different from an atheist’s.

Karl Giberson: Vice-President of BioLogos. As mentioned in our critique of BioLogos, while it claims to be compatible with Christianity, one looks in vain for something that marks it out as distinctively Christian. Indeed, it admits that it is compatible with many faiths. And its articles explain away the Bible’s plain meaning rather than defend its teaching.

Mary Southard: Relatively unknown, Mary Southard is a Catholic Nun whose artwork reveals more of an earth-worshipping worldview than a Christ-worshipping one. For instance, one of her paintings contains the words “You are a child of the universe” and “It takes the universe to make a child.” There are many worldviews that could produce such statements, but traditional Christianity isn’t one of them. Another painting has the ying and yang of Chinese beliefs. The only places where I could discern Christian imagery in the paintings is when they were used in sacrilegious context, such as a crown of thorns encircling the earth in a painting entitled “The Passion of the Earth.”

This level of serious error, including doctrines like universalism and acceptance of the truth claims of other religions which contradict Christianity, puts several of the participants clearly outside of the historically-accepted definition of ‘Christian’.

There is very little actual text in the galleries, but one statement in the “Art for Earth Healing Gallery” speaks volumes:

“As the revelation of our amazing Universe roars into human consciousness in our time, so does the revelation of the Cosmic disaster, the withering of life, and the possibilities for future life on our beautiful planet. Our hearts are breaking with grief, with terror, are numbed, paralyzed in the face of destruction so awful, so senseless, so huge, so denied and ignored! In our honest moments we know the tragedy is now. The pervasive suffering, violence, environmental death evokes in us great lament, great and tender compassion. As we allow ourselves to awaken, we become part of a Great Turning, a consciousness growing beyond selfishness, a love expanding to embrace ALL, becoming a healing, creative Presence … ”

With admittedly little more than her paintings and a few statements to go from, to define Sister Southard’s views as representative of Christian orthodoxy would be generous to a fault. As such, she is hardly the sort of person from whom the average evangelical would want to take pointers on faith.

Ross Hostetter: Promotes himself as a proponent of “Integral Christianity.” One cannot find information on what exactly this means from the website itself, but going to another website about Integral Christianity, it seems to promote evolving from actual belief in Christianity into a sort of Eastern mystic, universalist experience of God.

Diarmiud O’Murchu: An Irish Catholic Priest and social psychologist, his website has a page called “The Cosmic Walk” that describes ‘creation’s story’ in terms of a 15-billion year history including the development of the seven chakras, a Hindu idea. And in an essay entitled “Christian Life (Essay 1)” he endorses universalism, saying, “If the rise of the Christian Faith marks an axial moment (as suggested by Karl Jaspers), might that not also be true of other religions? And if so, wouldn’t we expect to encounter a process of Incarnation also in their creeds? I suggest that we don’t have to look beyond the Avatars of Hunduism [sic], the Bodhisatvas of Buddhism, the Prophets of Islam–in all cases, human beings so highly developed humanly that they are capable of revealing the life and power of the divine source.

“And why stop at the major religions? Perhaps right through human history, incarnational figures have befriended us as models and catalysts, including several of the great Goddesses, reclaimed by feminists in recent decades.”

Tom Thresher: Pastor of the Suquamish United Church of Christ. The UCC is hardly a bastion of Christian orthodoxy to begin with (they support same-sex marriage as a denomination, their hymnbook claims to “honor both male and female images of God”, and many, though not all, UCC pastors reject doctrines like substitutionary atonement and salvation through Christ alone). And when Thresher says in his 10 October sermon that the sorts of beliefs he proposes are well within the bounds of the UCC, he’s probably right, though that’s more a condemnation of the UCC than it is a commendation of his theology. His sermons contain statements like:

“What we call God cannot be known by the mind.”

“We are that. We are God incarnate. We are this incredible mystery that we can’t even think about.”

“It makes the understanding of our tradition very difficult to maintain—that there is a God out there that would reject the other hundred billion planets that need salvation and send his only one son to us. [We recommend reading Did God create life on other planets for more on this]. It makes it very hard for us to hold on to that piece of the tradition. (One person suggested, when we had this conversation, that well maybe God had lots of daughters. I think that’s a good way to hold onto the tradition.)”

“The other thing about our story that makes it problematic is that we are the only major religious tradition that claims that we have the one and only Savior.”

“Ours is not a story of how one person became the Christ and saved us. Our story is a pathway of how each of us awakens to the Christ within us, to differing degrees, but all of us in a process of awakening to our essential nature—which is the Christ—and at every step along the way being redeemed, being saved.”1

John Shelby Spong: One of the most notorious participants is the retired Episcopalian priest John Shelby Spong. He denies every essential doctrine of Christianity: God as personal Creator distinct from His creation as well as the deity, Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Christ. And he mocks the inerrancy and authority of Scripture regarding its history, theology and even morality. He is an avid supporter of homosexual behaviour and induced abortion. One telling claim is, “There are passages in the Gospels that portray Jesus of Nazareth as narrow-minded, vindictive, and even hypocritical.” His claims have been comprehensively dealt with in What’s Wrong With Bishop Spong?

Brian McLaren: Described on the Evolutionary Christianity page as a “rock star” of the Emergent Church, Brian McLaren has been recognized by Time magazine as one of America’s Top 25 influential evangelicals (though few evangelicals would be happy about Time associating him with them—for instance, he manages to write a “reading of John 14:6”, available on his website, that refuses to say whether Jesus really is the only way to salvation). He has been condemned by many others on a lot of theological fronts, but it’s hard to nail him down because he is very good at writing without taking a definitive position. One gets the idea that it’s important to act on what a person believes about Jesus, but you won’t find McLaren going to great depth or detail explaining what those beliefs should be or why they’re important. What is unclear is what exactly he has to add to a dialogue about theistic evolution.

We take no delight in pointing out these fallacies by those who profess faith in Christ. However, like BioLogos they are seeking to influence the church by taking a pluralistic, ecumenical and all–embracing approach. In other words, let’s embrace the culture and its ideas rather than oppose it, even if the culture’s science is actually aimed at discrediting the very foundations of the Bible in Genesis and the Gospel that flows from it. It is a flawed approach, because the Gospel simply becomes irrelevant and meaningless to that very same culture. In the process the very fabric of what it is to be a Christian—that is, recognizing what the Saviour has done for us, is demolished. Christ came to redeem us from the curse of death that entered into the Creation in the Garden of Eden. If evolution (death and suffering over millions of years) is the way ‘God did it’ then Christ’s death is irrelevant and nothing special. For example, what do we do with passages like Hebrews 9:22?

… without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Don’t fall for it

Most Christians find it difficult to defend and even talk about their faith, so the emotional charm of saying that evolution can bless your faith can be appealing to many, considering our desire to be accepted and loved by others. That’s why so many of us have tinkered with the idea of adding evolution and millions of years to the Bible at some time (believing the world’s scientific interpretations to be authoritative). But at what cost? If the price is a watering down of the Gospel so much that it becomes a ‘many ways to God, believe what you want’ piece of piety, then it is highly unlikely to win souls for Christ.

Christianity is relevant because its major doctrines are rooted in history. Every New Testament author, and the Lord Jesus Christ (the Saviour Himself) believed this to be the case (see Use of Genesis in New Testament).

The contributors run the gamut from shallow to heretical, and not one is a person who should be teaching Christians anything about their faith.

Theistic evolution is really revisionism of Scripture that undermines practically every major Christian doctrine, and the New Testament and its authors. This level of serious error, including fallacious doctrines like universalism and acceptance of the truth claims of other religions which contradict Christianity, puts several of the participants clearly outside of the historically-accepted definition of ‘Christian’. And only a generous presumption of better than their teaching indicates allows including them as Christians (only God knows the heart 1 Samuel 16:7). The contributors run the gamut from shallow to heretical. We take no pleasure in publishing such ‘negative’ articles, but we feel that it is important to alert Christians to the beliefs of the people involved in Evolutionary Christianity to enable them to critically examine their teaching—very few Christians would want to be taught by people who hold heretical beliefs, and we believe that Christians have a right to know when people who put themselves forward as teachers reject core doctrines of Christianity.

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Reference

  1. These statements are taken from the 10 and 17 October sermon transcripts, available online from the Suquamish United Church of Christ website. Return to text.

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