Evolutionary Christianity

by Dr. Benjamin Wiker

Evolutionary ChristianityBack in the 1970s comedian Flip Wilson had a shtick—Reverend Leroy of the Church of What’s Happening Now. Part of the laugh was the notion that a church should focus itself entirely on the passions, fads, confusions, and issues that happen to be consuming us in the present moment. The problem with the Church of What’s Happening Now is that tomorrow it is the Church of What Was Happening Yesterday. Rather than being linked to eternity, it is hopelessly shackled to the impulses of a "present" that are already on their way to becoming passé. There are few ideas as dated as those that try to keep up with the times.

All that having been said, the Church is always in need of renewal and growth. It always has been, and always will be. That is the condition of the Church Militant, the Church as it struggles through history toward the great culmination when history itself comes to a close and we find ourselves in a new heaven and a new earth. Part of that struggle consists in attending to what is going on now in the world, and to how the Gospel must be proclaimed under changing conditions without changing its own essence. As the entirely orthodox John Henry Newman famously wrote "Growth is the only evidence of life." Many do feel that they find themselves in a dead church.

So it was with Emergent Church champion Brian McLaren. According to his own story, as a pastor he found himself trapped in a kind of evangelical Christianity, repeating the same formulas and Bible passages, offering the same assurances, and all the while feeling as if the church he was leading, was, like a long-dead vine, leading nowhere, drooping downward, devoid of life. He longed for a living church, a living faith, and the growth that naturally goes with being alive. For him that meant a radical break with the past, and an even more zealous affirmation of the future. "The call to be a Christian and a follower of God and of Jesus, that call is a call to the future and not a call to the past." He now proclaims an "evolutionary Christianity."

Careful. While some of what bothers McLaren may have merit, one thing must be made clear: Christianity is a call to the past, or it ceases to be Christianity and becomes mere froth and foam gliding on the currents of current opinion. Christianity’s link to the past is what keeps it from being submerged in the passions and fads of our own, very particular time. It is only by being surely anchored to its origins that it can lift us up above our contemporary confusions, and guide us to make the future better than the present.

So, what about this notion of evolutionary Christianity? McLaren is confusing two distinct notions: the development of Christianity and the evolution of Christianity, the growth of something and the mere change of something. Let’s look at this important distinction…

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Recommended Resources: Truth and the New Kind of Christian: The Emerging Effects of Postmodernism in the Church / Loving God with All Your Mind: Thinking as a Christian in the Postmodern World