Can evolutionary theology offer something truely helpful to the church?

A lot of debate in places like this about the bringing together of science and traditional Christian faith often still seems to get bogged down in debates about evolution vs creationism. But for us evolutionary thinking Christians do we ever get beyond those debates and find things of actual positive help to the church. Is our theology “good news” and what good news is it?
What does evolutionary Christianity bring to the life of the church?

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What is evolutionary theology?

Anyway, when we accept evolutionary theory it shows that we aren’t out of touch with reality. And that means that people are more likely to take the message seriously. Other than that, I don’t see why we should even expect evolutionary theory (or gravitational theory, or germ theory for that matter) to bring something special to the church.


I think that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s work might be useful.

As I have often heard said, the scriptures definitely possess a theology of Creation, but there is no theology of evolution…

My short answer would be there is nothing about evolutionary theory that is “the gospel.” I don’t think you derive theology from science.

All good points, which leads to the question of, “why are wasting time on this when we have better things to do this fine Saturday morning.” Of course, the primary reason is found in Beaglelady’s first response,

I think many of us have seen those who have fallen away from the church, and while reasons are many, for some a big reason is that they simply see the young earth position as ridiculous, and throw the gospel out with it having been indoctrinated with that false dichotomy of having to accept both. Thus, the goal is not to claim any spiritual value from evolution, but rather to show that it is compatible with Christianity, and can be integrated into a worldview that is centered on God.
Selfishly, we also do this to benefit ourselves, in a form of apologetics for evolutionists, so that we too are reassured of that they do not conflict. In so doing, I have come to a deeper understanding of scripture and have learned a great deal about God and my relationship to him, that would have been lost had I not been open to ideas expressed by the scholars in both theology and science that I have become acquainted with on this site.


Another thought of mine is this: Do you see any evidence that people here want to talk about much else? (Except for the occasional brush fire.)

Looking for a theology of evolution is like looking for a theology of rain.

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I would hope the evolutionary challenge to Christianity would return us to a traditional faith. Here, I mean a confident faith rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, rather than obscure details of our distant past.

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Ah, @gbrooks9, but rain has no theological implications whatsoever. Evolution, on the other hand…

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Rain and theology: I think there are some theological implications there. The provision of God through creation. The presence of God’s sustaining might in all creation. The power of God, and God’s control of nature, with Jesus quieting the storm, and the way storms affected various people from Jonah to Paul. And then there was that flood thing. Sure there are some more examples.
In fact, I see more theology in rain than evolution, in that God used rain more often in visible ways to direct things, whereas evolution is just a process.


You are on to something, @jpm!

I immediately thought of what is probably the most conspicuous example: Noah’s Flood. (Or, that flood thing.)

Anyhow, I suppose I will have to concede to you the point that rain has had more theological significance than evolution…Because (macro) evolution has never even happened! :wink:

However, if macroevolution had/has indeed occurred, the theological implications would be quite significant, such as in the areas of original sin and Biblical authority/interpretation etc…

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Ha! Of course, I would have to say that it can contribute the the correct interpretation of those things, but you can still have the correct interpretation, whether you agree with evolution or not!:wink:

Seriously, we have an infinite God, and there are certainly different interpretations that are not “wrong” but are expressions of different aspects of the full truth, the whole of which we cannot comprehend in this life. Have a blessed week, Jonathan.

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Walked right into that one…:wink:

I am not sure I buy in to and/or understand what you are saying, but I also hope that you have a blessed week!

Precisely. If God created Adam as a ‘finished product’, POOF, complete with an instruction manual spelling out his moral duties for all time–that’s one thing. It’s quite another if God created Life from the simplest of single cells and allowed it to evolve into a form so complex that it could contemplate its Creator, and then to challenge that conscious creature with the potential to guide its own future so that it could truly be said to be in His Image–yes, that has theological implications of the first magnitude. But nothing in evolution is a foregone conclusion–nothing absolutely foreordained, or else Free Will is just an illusion. And Christ warned us that it would not be easy–taking up his Cross to follow him. Simon, the Cyrenean, was pressed into service by Roman soldiers. How many of us would willingly help Jesus bear his cross willingly?
Al Leo

Thinking about this question some more, two things came to mind. Both were very similar. First off I am not sure evolutionary Christianity is the “thing” at play, but rather the evolutionary “challenge” to the Christian faith. This last week I had conversations with two theologians from different denominations that do not affirm evolution. The commonalities in that conversation between these two different people.

  1. The first theologian pointed out that he thought the evolutionary challenge that we are embroiled in right now, most clearly in the Adam debates, is of generational significance. He things that we are working out now a new synthesis in theology that will be talked about a century from now. To be clear, he is not satisfied with the pat answered offered by anyone right now, but sees the shifting that is enabling a real movement forward for the Church in our understanding of fundamental doctrings.

  2. We can start to see how this might be playing out as thoughtful theologians arise in response to that evolutionary challenge. I assure you, most of them are not satisfied by the current menu of pat answers, but are working out wholey new ways of thinking about these things. We are in an unstable moment, of high significance. We should expect voices to rise in unexpected place, The Lutheran Option?

Finally, this is not just about evolution. Right now, there is reckoning and reassessment on several things:

  1. What should the relationship between the Church and politics be in a pluralistic society (see for example Confident Pluralism by Inazu and To Change the World by Hunter).

  2. Now that the conservative church is more intentionally engaging social issues, how do we do this in a theologically grounded way? How do we give a coherent account of injustice and our response to it without merely echoing secular though?

  3. How do we move beyond a purely individualistic account of faith (and sin) to understand the corporate role of sin and the Church in this world?

I would posite that all of these things are connected to the evolutionary challenge, which is why it is so helpful in the current moment. I’m not sure if “evolutionary Christians” have the right answers to these questions (I generally find myself in disagreement with many of them). However, they certainly have right that there is a reckoning and reassessment that science is bringing us to.

At its best, this could be a moment where science guards us against idolatry. That is what I hope for. I hope we might return to a Jesus-centered faith. The risk all around (for YECs, OECs, and ECs) will be to idolize science, and forget that we follow the One greater than science.


How so?

Even with Evolutionary Theory, populations cannot adapt to new conditions unless they are able to reproduce the next generation. And this is where Genesis is quite specific… every Kind produces the next generation!

Gen 1:24
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures
according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures
that move along the ground, and the wild animals,
each according to its kind.” And it was so. . .

YECs are too quick to think references to “Kinds” means a Kind can never change.
But what Genesis 1:24 clearly says is that a kind (a specific population of creatures)
is to continue to reproduce itself…

There is nothing in the Bible about Kinds being immutable!


One of the reasons the multiple Protestant denominations in America were able to come to terms with a pluralistic society goes all the way back to the American Revolution.

Academics have long puzzled over the sustained zeal for a difficult rebellion against Mother England when patriots were not particularly well off, and in many conventional ways did not have a shared sense of community with the wealthy class that would most benefit (economically) from a successful independence.

But the ultimate warriors for independence were the American “mullahs” … the clergy scattered throughout the countryside. They saw what happened to the Congregational/Independence movement in the U.K. When a King once again sat on the the throne: all the independent churches suffered a newly Established Church, paid for, in part, by crown revenues! Laws were passed yet again - - prohibiting freedoms taken for granted by the independents.

This sent a shudder throughout America … the land of the independent churches!
Baptists, Anabaptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists (let’s not mention the scary presence of the Anglican priests … shuffling about in the town squares!).

The Revolution galvanized all these rival preachers to recognize a common enemy … the threat of an Established Church that would slowly erode the special arrangement religions had in America!

A few centuries go by … and all our mullahs have forgotten the lesson. They want to teach religion in public schools… but if and when that day comes, there will be court case after court case until one day, the neighborhood Satan Congregation will be able to teach their ideas in public schools too.

The separation of Church and State is a precious gift that Americans won for themselves long ago. Let’s not forget how it was possible… and why it is still precious today.

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I loved this question, and wanted to give it some thought, but it was a busy weekend for me. Thank you for asking it!

Some thoughts…

  1. Part of the good news of EC for the Church is that we can truly embrace and rejoice in the sense of wonder that scientific pursuits evoke in us. Those of us who are drawn to the sciences can read the scientific literature with abandon, without constantly wearing some sort of leery, suspicious glasses, because all truth is God’s truth and everything we find declares His glory. How liberating!

  2. People here seem reluctant to allow evolution to inform their theology, and I understand why —
    largely because we don’t want it to seem that evolution is dictating our theology but rather merely that evolution is “not in conflict” with theology. But if God chose to use evolution to create, over billions of years, does this not prompt us to wonder why he would have chosen this method of engagement with his creation?

2a. Creation as provision. I’m not a theologian, but if I were, I would love to explore the connection between God’s provision for His creatures and His acts of creation. Traditionally, of course, creation was conceived of as a one-time (six-day) event and provision, by contrast, was what God does for his creatures on a daily basis. In EC, mutations could be seen as God’s means of providing new sources of nourishment to His creatures: Early cetaceans (whales/dolphins) gain adaptations to better hunt on the continental shelf; lungfish gain adaptations to better feed themselves on land; E. coli gain adaptations to process citrate as food (LTEE); etc. Creation is, in a sense, a special case of provision. To me, this is an elegant reformulation of a small bit of theology, but I haven’t run across other folks talking about it, so (being a traditionalist at heart) I’m hesitant to go on about it. But I do see some merit for it in Scripture: Psalm 104 includes both themes of provision and creation, though admittedly it doesn’t tie the two together.

2b. The Irenaean turn. In the light of evolutionary theory, in order to better understand the “Adam issue,” many have explored alternative views to Augustine’s, and found Irenaeus’s view compelling. Irenaeus held that humanity was created in a state not of perfection but of immaturity. I don’t have time to go into detail about it here, or even to fully work through how this impacts my own theology, but merely to say that I suspect it could be a helpful offering of EC (mined from the Church Fathers) for the rest of the Church, one that could help us think through our anthropology and our theologies of suffering, of sin, and of sanctification.

2c. Fuel for worship. Evolution puts a number of God’s attributes on display magnificently. For me, God’s use of billions of years to create the universe shows both His patience and His majesty in awe-inspiring array.

Thoughts about any of this?