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Evolutionary Spirituality

Scripture (OT, NT, Now)

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Scripture (Old Testament, New Testament, Now) Edit

One of the most significant post-biblical revelations that opens up huge doors of possibility for us as a species is the now widely accepted understanding that human language is inherently symbolic, meaningful, and consequential. Because words are maps (not the territory), menus (not the meal), what we mean by "scripture" will necessarily evolve over time. This is to be expected — and celebrated.

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Writing was a relatively recent phenomenon when the Bible came to be. Indeed, for many in the land of Moses and for centuries thereafter, it would have seemed a miracle to watch someone coax words from scribbles in stone or papyrus. And what words would have been called forth on such special occasions? Certainly, those of Holy Scripture, or what Jesus' ancestors would call the Torah, the first five chapters of the Bible. For the Hebrew people, interpretations of the Word, even written interpretations that would become the Talmud, would be subject to question, debate, and revision — while the Word itself stood firm.

It is thus no wonder that, for Christians, our tradition places great significance on "the written word." A much broader understanding of scripture is now emerging, however. And this includes an awareness that God never intended interpretations of the Holy Word to be tethered to the meanings called forth at any single time. Rather, interpretations are to grow commensurate with our understanding of the human condition, the world, and indeed the cosmos.

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Scripture is that which touches, moves, and inspires us — where we find guidance, solace, and strength. It's also where we are invited, challenged, and empowered to be all that we can be — both for the present and for the future. Scripture is divine communication that supports us in honoring and being faithful to the Whole (The Holy One).

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Seen through sacred eyes, the whole of Nature can be honored as the primary revelation of God. All written scriptures are derivative. (Paper, ink, and human consciousness, all expressions of nature, are prerequisites for having written texts.) From this perspective, science can be seen as empirical theology and scientists as empirical theologians, if, that is, they acknowledge the reality of the Whole as being more than the sum of its parts. A mechanistic mindset, where we continue to think "the universe" is like a complex clock, will no longer do.

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With a broadening of our understanding of scripture, and an appreciation of the symbolic nature of all human language, the Bible as Holy Writ can come alive in a new way. Rather than fighting over which biblical passages are accurate history, which are imaginative recollections, which are poetry, and so forth, we can agree that all of scripture reveals something about the nature of reality and our relationship to it, and that it does so in the only way that human language can: symbolically.

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On the topic of authority, and especially on what people experience as authoritative, we are in the midst of a profound shift in the western world. Two hundred years ago, if someone said in a public gathering, "As John says in the 12th chapter of his gospel..." few who so heard would dismiss the truth and importance of what was spoken. To quote the Bible was to quote a widely accepted authority, one the vast majority of people personally experienced as authoritative.

Today things are different. To generate a similar positive reaction in a public setting today, one would need to appeal to mainstream science. Indeed, for the past several hundred years, whenever a reputable source has said, "Scientists agree that...", few among us would quibble (although we may well choose to ignore scientific discoveries that strike us as irrelevant or resist those which would unsettle our foundational "truths"). For most people in the modern world, what is considered true scientifically is readily accepted as authoritative.

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To believe that a literal interpretation of the Bible is the best or only legitimate interpretation is to mistake the nature of human language, to underestimate the extent of divine revelation, and, paradoxically, to trivialize scripture.

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The fact that most Christians today, liberals and conservatives alike, still call a collection of letters written two millennia ago "The New Testament" shows how revolutionary is the idea that God has faithfully been revealing truth through science for centuries.

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If someone were to call a two thousand year old medical treatise or legal document "new", we'd all have a good belly laugh. What keeps us from seeing how outdated it is to continue calling the early Christian scriptures the New Testament is our mistaken belief that God stopped revealing truth vital to human wellbeing and destiny when people thought the world was flat, only a few thousand years old, and at the center of the Universe.

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Expecting the biblical writers to have been capable of giving human beings for all time a full and complete picture of God, or Creation, or the Gospel, is on par with using the recorded wisdom of ancient Hebrew and Greek healers as the primary texts in medical schools around the world today. Who among us would let a first-century dentist fill our teeth? Yet millions of parents let ancient theologians fill the minds of their children every week!

We have yet to cast off the erroneous belief that God spoke clearly or was actively involved in human affairs only in the distant past. And that casting off will not be possible until we are offered a God-glorifying way of thinking about evolution and its direction. Until then, it will be virtually impossible to see how "the Living Word of God" (Nature through time), guided by heart and reason, can serve as a solid foundation for moral instruction, ethical guidance, and Christ-like values.

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"Natural revelation" (non-verbal revelation) is the witness of God's love, beauty, and grace that we find all around us in the natural world. The written scriptures are often referred to as "special revelation." What is the relationship between these two modes of divine communication? From a sacred evolutionary perspective they are seen as utterly complementary. Any supposed conflict between the scriptures of nature and the written scriptures most likely indicates a problem in interpreting one or the other.

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To think that the only means through which God has revealed gospel truth is through Jesus and the Bible is to miss most of what God has been up to for 14 billion years. That's a whole lot of love, creativity, and grace overlooked!

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Ironically, the Bible interpreted in a literalistic, human-centered way can actually sabotage rather than sustain a person's walk with God.

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To expect God's self-revelation to cease with the Bible is to make an idol of human words as a vehicle of God's Word.

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To interpret the Bible as the literal (dictated) words of a Supreme Being who resides off the planet and outside the Universe is to diminish God and utterly trivialize the relevance of the Holy Scriptures for today's needs. Moreover, to interpret the Bible this way is to misunderstand the nature of spoken and written language. Doing so places Holy Scripture in an unnecessary straightjacket. The Bible is far too sacred and eternally significant a document to be limited in this way.

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There is a significant difference between a pre-evolutionary and an evolutionary understanding of "biblical inerrancy." With a God-glorifying understanding of deep time, one need not make an idol of human words as a carrier of God's word. Rather, from an EC perspective, a biblical inerrantist transforms into one who accepts that the Bible perfectly reveals how the ancient Hebrews and early Christians understood themselves, their world, and the nature of Reality two or three thousand years ago.

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John's Gospel opens with, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In other words, before there were any human words, God was the only Word. If we'd stop listening to our own words long enough, we'd start hearing God's non-verbal word as clearly as we once did, and as all other animals still do.

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Until fundamentalists and other conservative Christians get that a non-literal (symbolic) interpretation of scripture, along with a God-glorifying, Christ-edifying, scripture-honoring appreciation of deep time, gives them a more magnificent God, a more this-world realistic understanding of sin and salvation, a more personal relationship with Christ, a more meaningful understanding of God's kingdom, and a more glorious purpose, they will never embrace evolution. And they shouldn't!

Resources Edit

"Let's Stop Trivializing God, the Universe, and Our Role in Evolution!" - foundational essay

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