Does Christianity Evolve?

“The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity” is an effort by Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution, to bring together evolution-celebrating Christians. One of his recent panel discussions featured Brian McLaren ( author of A New Kind of Christianity), Gretta Vosper (advocates the Bible is not the authoritative word of God), Ian Lawton (minister at C3 Exchange, a church which made headlines for removing the cross), and Bruce Sanguin (wrote a book combining science, scripture, and poetry into 21st century prayers). During the discussion, McLaren argued, “Evolutionary Christianity is a fact of history about which a lot of Christians are in deep denial.”

What does McLaren mean by evolutionary Christianity? We’re not just talking about Christians accepting evolution; that may or may not include so-called “evolutionary Christianity”. To summarize: evolutionary Christianity is a faith that evolves and changes over time. It is not a faith rooted in the past, but a faith begun in the past that is going somewhere. As an example, he stated:

“I think a lot of Protestants assume that when the Apostle Paul was establishing house churches they had Sunday School, bulletins and hymnals… So many of things, even doctrines that are very precious to a lot of people, particularly doctrines of atonement, for example, have evolved greatly over history.”

Condescension to ignorant Protestants aside, we agree the faith looks different in different times and cultures. We also agree our understanding of some doctrines has changed over time as well; but the similarities end there. Evolutionary Christianity means more than reflecting afresh on the Scriptures to better understand our faith or seeking to effectively express it in changing cultures. McLaren explained it this way:

“My Christian identity is more about joining God in the healing, restoration and development and evolution of the world moving toward a brighter, richer and deeper future. Whereas the identity of joining the Christianity apart from an evolutionary understanding is joining the ranks and we’re holding the lines of something that is 2,000 years old.”

Thus, for McLaren, holding onto something 2,000 years old is bad while evolving towards something brighter in the future is good. At this point he is in disagreement with Jude 3, which states, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” For McLaren, the faith was not once and for all delivered, but rather started with the apostles and now is progressing. This is what enables him to jettison the traditional biblical narrative of creation, fall, condemnation, salvation and replace it with his own model of hunter/gatherer, nomadic herder, agriculturalist, city dweller, and empire dweller with increasing descent into shame and coupled with divine reconciliation. The Bible becomes essentially an ongoing conversation with God; a quest driven by questions, not a state defined by statements.

The premise of evolution is not just that species adapt to their environment; it is that one species over time transforms into an entirely new species. This is the problem with evolutionary Christianity. While in one generation the idea of a faith that evolves and adapts to culture is attractive, within two or three generations you end up with an entirely new faith. The first generation may begin by rejecting biblical inerrancy because it bothers their reason, the second generation rejects the resurrection because reason is their highest authority, and the third generation rejects the deity of Christ because the ethic of Jesus is all their reason will allow. The Christian faith evolves from a fish to an elephant and forgets what it was like to swim in the ocean of the Scriptures.

McLaren outlined where this may lead in the panel discussion, “The thing we are trying to evolve into is this: we know we have a strong Christian identity that is hostile to people of other faiths. We know how to suppress our Christian identity in a way that is benevolent to people of other faiths.” As Christianity sheds divisive beliefs, it enables its adherents to suppress it to be more popular with people of other faiths and worldviews. Are you an atheist or agnostic? No problem; our god is only a symbol which draws us to a fuller humanity. Are you a Buddhist or Hindu? No problem; our Jesus welcomes and learns from all faiths.

Evolutionary Christianity has some problems. First, it appears motivated by feelings of embarrassment about the faith and a desire to be accepted by outside groups. It embraces unquestioningly other worldviews (naturalistic evolution) and suppresses unpopular doctrines (exclusivity of Christ). Jesus did not tell us everyone would love us like Raymond but that the world would hate us because of him (Matt. 10:22). He went on to declare in Matthew 10:32-33: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Is this a call to suppress the truth?

Second, in its insistence on a “quest of questions” it is in danger of leading its followers to repeat an ancient quest of failure. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent posed a question to Eve – “did God really say?” This is the question at the heart of evolutionary Christianity. Despite the cleverly worded arguments and flowery rhetoric of these re-shapers of the Christian faith, the Bible makes clear claims about who God is and what He has accomplished through Christ. To question and cast off what God has said to adapt the faith to a changing culture is the height of pride and arrogance.

Instead of exalting evolutionary Christianity as a savior from restrictive doctrines, cultural mockery, and our foolish predecessors, will we humble ourselves under the word of God and the wisdom of those who have gone before? Instead of trying not to offend our critics by adjusting the faith, will we cling to the old rugged cross and in so doing not offend God? Will we joyfully proclaim to the world the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for lost sinners or tell the world we like Jesus but everyone doesn’t need him? Let us hold the lines of this glorious, 2,000 year old gospel and see through evolutionary Christianity’s promise of a bright future that will leave us with no Christianity at all.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

-Brian

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Gender-Neutral Housing Coming to a Campus Near You

This fall, Ohio University will become the 56th university in the country to offer gender-neutral housing which allows students to live in the same room on campus with any other student regardless of gender or sexuality. While coed dorms have been around for a long time, male and female students were traditionally housed in different halls, different suites, or at least different rooms. Now male and female students can live in the same room. Vice President for Student Affairs at Ohio University Kent Smith has made clear gender-neutral housing (GNH) is not for those in romantic relationships who want to live together. So with romantic relationships forbidden – at least in writing – what is the goal behind GNH?

At Ohio, the GNH plan was championed by the vice commissioner of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender commission. The Office of Student Affairs states the motivation behind the plan is to create a ‘more inclusive environment.’ At Harvey Mudd College, administrators adopted GNH in response to the requests of homosexual, bisexual, and transgender students who wanted a roommate of the opposite gender. However, heterosexual students are free to join in GNH as well with no regulation of behavior. Guy Gerbick, Dean of Residential Life at Harvey Mudd, sums up the attitude of many administrators when he says, “If we are going into a post-gender world, then the regulation of private behavior is just not practical.” Are we going into a post-gender world? The organization pushing colleges to adopt GNH is even named “The National Student Genderblind Campaign.”

The goal of gender-neutral housing is to erase gender distinctions. Male and female categories no longer matter – one is free to have sex with whoever, live with whoever, be whoever, and act however one wants without pesky cultural norms or morals getting in the way. The expansion of GNH beyond homosexual and transgendered students to any and all who want it furthers the blurring of gender distinctions and as those distinctions break down, homosexuality and other ‘alternative lifestyles’ become normal.

This reshaping of gender offers promise for a number of interests. Feminists will finally wash away any suggestion men and women possess different aptitudes. The roles of mother and father will no longer be bound to gender. Homosexual couples will be free to adopt and their families will become a celebrated facet of cultural diversity. When someone shows up with a new gender, no one will think twice about it. Moral judgments about “cohabitation” will disappear as living unmarried with members of the opposite sex becomes normal. Some celebrate these developments. Some are shocked by them. But I am not an alarmist. These are becoming reality and GNH is just another step in the process, strategically positioned at the formative stages of young adults.

Surprisingly, these colleges and universities which have been champions of feminism are now offering women up as sacrificial lambs on the altar of a new agenda. Violence against women is a serious issue on campuses. The National Institute of Justice has found that between one-fifth and one-fourth of women are the victims of attempted or completed rape in college but only five percent are ever reported to law enforcement. Nine out of ten of the offenders were known to the victim. While schools cannot control off-campus behavior, they have now given their blessing to on-campus situations which are statistically dangerous for their female students. But this doesn’t matter to GNH proponents; having respected institutions encourage the reshaping of gender norms is too important.

Gender is not a cultural construct. When the God of the universe created humanity he made them distinctly male and female. Genesis 1:27 says:

So God created man in his own image

In the image of God he created him

Male and female he created them

Thus, male and female categories derive from the design of the Creator. This is evident biologically (beyond reproductive organs and hormones, males have higher metabolic rates, more sweat glands, more lung capacity, larger hearts and faster digestion while women have more nerves in the skin, white blood cells, and longer life expectancy). Psychologically, the differences between men and women have provided comedians endless material because they are so apparent. As Bill Cosby has remarked, “Men and women belong to different species and communication between them is still in its infancy.”

The Bible goes on to celebrate God’s gift of gender by picturing the uniqueness of the virtuous woman (Prov. 31), assigning different but complimentary roles to men and women in the home and church (Eph. 5:23-33, 1 Tim. 2:8-13), and by instructing men and women to conform to cultural distinctions between genders and not to blur them (1 Cor. 11:13-16). Christians accept gender as a good gift from a loving God and strive to live it out in ways that glorify Him. Gender-neutral housing and similar efforts to erase gender emerge out of a humanist worldview that makes man the measure of all things. They are a rebellion against God’s created order, suppressing the truth in favor of a self-serving lie (Rom. 1:21-25). Gender is an annoying restraint on a little god’s right to define his or her own reality.

Those trying to erase gender will only find emptiness and brokenness in their success; but they are increasingly successful as more universities endorse their agenda. In a Los Angeles Times article reporting on GNH at Pitzer College, Lindon Pronto – a heterosexual male living on campus with a female – summarized the attitude of much of his generation when he said:

“I think those old-fashioned ways of thinking are kind of dissipating. . . . Over the years, this division between men and women, which was so big, is slowly closing.”

If that division is about equality, rights, respect, or opportunity than amen; but this is about more. Men and women are completely equal image bearers of God and have been created uniquely as male and female. Will we celebrate and embrace this or let it dissipate in the wake of cultural “progress”?

-Brian

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A Christian’s Response to Jersey Shore

With a record setting 8.9 million viewers last Thursday night, the fire-cracker, mostly-Italian twenty-somethings of Jersey Shore have captivated our culture with their curious slang and obnoxious behavior. The cast members (Snooki, The Situation and J-Woww to name three) have stacked up an impressive resume including appearances on SNL, The View and David Letterman, even scoring a spot on Barbara Walter’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2010 list. President Obama, in the midst of the economy and foreign policy, is privy to their antics. Why?

Human behavior is entertaining. Extreme spontaneous behavior is arresting. The safely printed scripts of sitcoms lack the unpredictable intrigue of Jersey Shore. In the 90’s, Jerry Springer’s talk-show turned brawl-show inaugurated the gritty reality genre that hinges on lust, lies and lashing out. It assumes there is a segment of society who casts off civility and reasoning, allowing their feelings to culminate in indiscriminate fights, casual sex acts and a host of absurd behaviors. Catching these antics on film is gold…America can’t get enough. The drama, heightened emotions and spring-break lifestyle allows viewers to break from their less exciting realities and participate in extreme living without consequences.

Peppered throughout the mass of faithful followers are the haters, those who are appalled by the Jersey Shore crew. They’re vulgar, excessive and pointless. It is unthinkable that distinguished and sophisticated Americans would devote time and attention to so much nothingness and “total trash” as one reviewer put it. Fifteen years ago, a show with this caliber of content would not have seen air time.

Christians have the responsibility of responding rightly to cultural phenomena. Avoiding them completely breeds judgment and ignorance which hinders our ability to engage the lost world. Embracing them like familiar friends welcomes temptation and blurs the lines of holy living. What is the Christ follower to do with Jersey Shore?

First, recognize what’s really happening: lost sinners are sinning. It’s the fruit of an unregenerate life, captured on film. Why is this shocking? Separate from the Bible’s teaching, cultures adopt standards of acceptable behavior based on experience. With no absolute by which to measure, standards mean little and easily shift. Some non-Christians embrace a biblical moral code and some do not. Apart from the saving work of Christ, everyone pursues sin zealously. While Jersey Shore pushes many entertainment envelopes, humanity has always been “this sinful,” even if not parading it through the public square. One only needs to search Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for an equally graphic and blatantly sinful display. Christians should be unsettled and hope for higher TV standards, but not be surprised by what they see.

Second, keep sin in proper perspective. The word “sin,” a term used in archery, means to miss the mark. It doesn’t matter how close or distant the arrow lands to the target…a miss is a miss. Our bull’s-eye is God’s standard: perfection. It doesn’t matter if the mark is missed by a mile or millimeter. The bitter thought of a housewife and the vicious punch of an abusive father render them equally guilty before God, even though our world catalogues one as worse. It’s easy to sit on the couch and ridicule these people, forgetting that my calmer, lesser known sins, while not on TV for the world to view, are just as repulsive to Him. While Christians benefit from the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives to sin less, they are not sinless. Rather than post our sins proudly, Christians work to hide them and pretend they don’t exist. Behind closed doors, many are treading similar sands. Should we despise their sin? Yes, and our own as well.

Lastly, exercise wisdom in entertainment. What profit is there in watching this show? In keeping with the teaching of Scripture, Christians are to meditate on things which are praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), to keep their eyes from viewing worthless things (Psalm 119:37), to guard their hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and to love God with their entire mind (Mark 12:30). We become products of what we consume. While the effects aren’t immediate, over time, they impact our view of God and the world and how we live. Claiming that watching something won’t affect you is nonsense; no one can objectively measure the influence of entertainment on themselves. Is watching Jersey Shore wise? No. God is not glorified and nothing valuable is gained in being absorbed by a show that has as its chief goal to glorify the shame and sinfulness of mankind.

We must be careful as we acknowledge these things. Recognizing a wolf for what he is and avoiding him is different than charging his cave with a torch to string him up and list his crimes. Looking at Jersey Shore through the lens of Scripture is not judgmental but responsible. Condemning the individuals, as if we sinners created the law and can both save and destroy them, is wrong (James 4:12).

This may enrage some of you and validate the rest. For the enraged, check your heart and determine why this threatens you. For the validated, don’t be caught with a smug look. We are not better. Apart from repentance, God’s Word and meeting with the local church, Christians are more than capable of anything on Jersey Shore.  Instead of watching and copying them, we pray for and love them. Just like me, Snooki, The Situation and J-Woww were created in the image of God, and just like me, they need Him desperately.

-Emily

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