The Gospel Edit
"A mistake about Creation will necessarily result in a mistake about God." — St. Thomas Aquinas
I. God's Continuing Revelation
Today we have such a grand and awesome understanding of the Universe, far more so than did previous generations. Telescopes have given us access to the infinitely large and stunningly gorgeous cosmos around us. Microscopes have given us access to the infinitely small and equally stunning world within us. Computers (macroscopes) are now giving us access to the infinitely complex and mind-bogglingly creative cosmos both within and around us. These technologies have not merely facilitated scientific "discoveries" made by human beings. They are what God has been using to communicate gospel truth for hundreds of years! Those with eyes to see and ears to hear get this, and can begin to feel what good news it is.
God did not stop revealing great news 2000 years ago!
In light of the Thomas Aquinas quote above, if our understandings of God and the profound relevance of the Gospel have not grown commensurate with our expanded understanding of Creation, we are doing our tradition, and our children, a terrible disservice.
One of the things that will transform the 21st century along God-glorifying, Christ-centered lines most powerfully is the exploding realization that the Gospel is more comprehensive, more meaningful, and has more this-world application than the biblical writers, early Church leaders, reformers, or saints down through the ages could have possibly known.
When the Bible was written, the basic understanding of the day was that the world was flat, stationary, and only a few thousand years old. Stars were thought to be pinprick holes in the dome of the heavens that allowed God's glory to shine through. And everyone could see that the sun, moon, and stars revolved around this flat Earth — making us the center of the Universe. Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptures assume this worldview, and their orthodox theologies are still largely grounded in it. This is both understandable and destined to change rapidly over the next few decades. By the year 2050 the vast majority of devout religious believers around the world will enthusiastically embrace a deep-time, developmental worldview. Why? Because it will be obvious by then that the key insights of each of these three great traditions are more compelling, more meaningful, and more widely and immediately lifegiving when God's will and grace are seen as occurring over billions of years rather than merely thousands of years.
"It was not those closest to the historical Jesus who first gave the Gospel its geographical breadth and theological depth. It was Paul, who had never known him. In addition to that, impressive achievements in biblical scholarship have, in many ways, brought our era closer to the constituent events of the Christian movement than were, say, the Gentile Christians of the second century. If the life and death of Jesus is historically central, then people living a hundred thousand years from now will be in a better position to appreciate that than we are. Furthermore, when they look back they will surely think of us as 'early Christians' — living as we do a scant two millennia from the mysterious events in question. They will be right, for the Christian movement today is still in the elementary stages of working out for itself and for the world the implications of the Gospel. There isn't the slightest doubt that the greatest and boldest creedal assertions are in the future, not the past. It may be only at rare moments that this flawed and unlikely thing we call the 'church' even remotely resembles something worthy of its calling, but it is nonetheless embarked on a great Christological adventure. Even against its own institutional resistances, it is continually finding deeper and more profound implications to the Jesus-event." — Gil Bailie
Our understanding of how God's love and saving grace can transform our lives and our world will naturally expand in meaning and significance as our understanding of reality expands. Said another way, if what we mean by "the Gospel" today is identical to what our great-grandparents understood by the phrase, or how people living hundreds or thousands of years ago thought about it, we are A) tragically missing what God has been revealing and communicating for the last 2000 years and B) seriously out of step with what the Holy Spirit is doing in our day.
What we call "the Gospel" will only be experienced as good news if it's a saving response to the bad news that people are actually dealing with. Said another way, if what we mean by "the Gospel" does not address in a hopeful, inspiring way what people themselves see as their greatest challenges or fears, then for them the message we carry will not be seen or felt as salvific, but as irrelevant. This mismatch, between what people in fact experience as bad news and what we say is good news, is a major reason why those under 30 are largely un-churched, and why the epic of evolution told in a God-glorifying way is beginning to have such wide appeal.
Given what we now know about deep-time, divine creativity and grace, to continue interpreting the story of Jesus' birth, life, teachings, passion, death, and resurrection as solely, or primarily, having to do with saving a small, select group of human beings from the fires of a literal hell when they die is to make a mockery of the Gospel. That's hardly good news for most of humanity. And for all the other forms of life on Earth, or anywhere else in the cosmos, it downright sucks. Once we get used to seeing God's will, God's love, and God's transforming power operating on the scale of billions of years and embracing all of Creation, it becomes obvious how much larger and more magnificent an understanding of the Gospel is now available to us. The full realization of this, however, will take time. The Protestant reformation, made possible by the printing press, did not happen overnight. Similarly, the "evolution revolution," made possible by computers and the Internet, will take decades if not longer before its implications are fully fleshed out theologically, politically, and economically.
II. What is the Gospel from the perspective of evolutionary Christianity?
No one person, or even a group of people, can possibly say what an evolutionary understanding of the Gospel is for all time. Each generation will necessarily discern it anew. For our time, at the very least, the Gospel can be thought of as including, but not being limited to, this...
EVOLUTIONARY DIRECTIONALITY reveals God's will for us collectively and personally, and shows that the this-world significance of our tradition (and religion in general) is far greater than previous generations could have possibly known. Because evolutionary directionality reveals God's will for Creation as a whole (greater cooperation, interdependence, and capacity for love at ever increasing scale and evolvability) it gives us a whole new way of appreciating God's love, God's grace, the timeless wisdom of scripture, and the importance of what God has been revealing through science over the last few centuries. It also allows us to be wholly and passionately Christ-centered while also valuing the insights and contributions of other spiritual traditions.
AS A SPECIES, God's will for us is to so embody the values of which Jesus lived and taught, co-creatively and collectively, that we, by grace, become Christ's return. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven" cannot possibly mean less than allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us as a species in nurturing a symbiotic, mutually enhancing relationship with both the larger body of life (nature) and our own creations (arts, technology, social systems, etc), and doing so to the glory of God — that is, honoring the wisdom of the Whole. Our Great Work, collectively, is to co-create a just and equitable system of local, regional, and global governance in which individuals, corporations, and nation states benefit from cooperating and serving the common good, and pay for not cooperating or harming the common good. That is, where there are truly effective incentives for doing the right thing and equally effective disincentives for lying, cheating, polluting, dominating, or otherwise doing the wrong thing.
AS INDIVIDUALS, God's will for each of us is to be spiritually transformed. That is, to be free (saved) from bondage to sin, guilt, self-absorption, and addiction, so that we can truly experience the heavenly "peace that passes all understanding" eternally, here, now, in the midst of the joys and tragedies of life, and be of real service to the world. Said in a more traditional way, God's will, personally, is for each of us to be "born again"; that is, to know freedom (salvation) from the dictates of our animal nature (what got us here) so that we are free to serve the common good, by re-incarnating Christ-like values. The good news — in fact, the really great news — is that the Whole of Reality is supporting us. We don't have to figure it out ourselves, don't have to go it alone, and, in a very real sense, can't even get it wrong. Humbling ourselves and being teachable is the key. Throughout time, God (Reality) has consistently transformed our sins, mistakes, and shortcomings, individually and collectively, to further the process of evolutionary creativity in the direction of increasing cooperation, compassion, and interdependence at ever-wider scale and evolvability. Grace abounds!