What's an "Evolving Evangelical"?

(system) #1
I’m convinced that authentic Christian faith demands that each generation reimagine its witness and critically evaluate what’s been handed down to it. Evolution is a good thing.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/whats-an-evolving-evangelical

(Gregory) #2

Are you a population, Brad, or an individual?

“My name is Brad, and I’m a changing Evangelical. / Just as my own evangelical beliefs have changed, Evangelicalism is currently changing at a stunning pace.”

What is different in my version of this sentence, substituting ‘change’ for ‘evolution’ than your version? How would it influence the meaning you wish to convey?

(Brad Kramer) #3

@Gregory I’m an individual writing about a population of which I am a part.

I like the word “evolving”. It enables me to use deeper metaphors, especially in the context of writing at BioLogos. Evolution is more than just change. So “change” would not be as rich a choice. But I do know that using evolution in a non-scientific way is tricky, and over-used, so I use it with some trepidation.

(Christy Hemphill) #4

Oh, since you asked a semantics question, and I :sparkling_heart: semantics, I couldn’t resist throwing my two cents in.

I think the word “change” connotes a certain amount of agency. It is often used as a verb in the active voice with an agent subject. “America is changing her eating habits,” implies that conscious choices are being made. Whereas “evolve” often involves an experiencer subject and is more likely to be used as a participle adjective or a predicate complement than (as in the sentences above) than as an active verb. “The eating habits of Americans have been evolving over the the last decade,” implies more of a response to availability of food options or a response to trends.

Also, I think the word “evolution/evolving” in the sense of changing views connotes a building on and modification of what came before, whereas “change/changing” can be used when one is talking about a total reversal of positions. So when you talk about evolving belief systems, it implies that the change has been a modification of the original, not a trading out of one belief system for another or a rejection of a belief system in favor of another, so I think it adds a gentler nuance.

(Gregory) #5

“I’m an individual writing about a population of which I am a part.” - Brad

If that’s what you mean, then you would better have written “I’m one of the ‘evolving evangelicals’,” i.e. evangelicals (population, but let’s not sound so genetics-talk; evangelicals are a ‘community’ or ‘group’) who you believe are ‘evolving’ (i.e. changing in a particular way), rather than “I’m an evolving Evangelical”. The latter linguistically implies that you think you (and others) are personally ‘evolving’ (in a socio-cultural sense) as an individual evangelical. Yet now you have backed off from the latter claim, which is understandable.

Of course, then you should change the title of your series to “The Evolving Evangelicals” instead of “The Evolving Evangelical”, since you are speaking of populations and not individuals. Right?

However, there is still a major problem, even a greater one. To make sense of your claim and to give it any sense of traction, you then need to follow your ‘I’ position up with “we are evolving evangelicals” by indicating a specifically defined ‘population’ and then specify who that ‘we’ (clearly defined community or group) includes. Are you prepared to do that? Simply making a claim that evangelicals are ‘evolving’ carries no weight at all, though perhaps you wish to give it substance in your series.

In either case, let’s be absolutely transparent, open, honest and also gracefully friendly about this, Brad, you are speaking about socio-cultural evolution, not biological evolution. Do you disagree? If not, then are you prepared to defend socio-cultural evolution or is your usage just colloquial with no theory behind it? You are not evoking E.B. Tylor, Donald T. Campbell, Alex Mesoudi, et al., are you?

I’ve written 2 books and several articles specifically on this theme, so I welcome any insights, clarifications or admissions you may have on the topic.

“I like the word ‘evolving’.”  - Brad

Yes, that’s obvious from the choice of your column. Liking a word, however, doesn’t automatically justify or validate it as fruitful or even necessary. People sometimes like words out of confusion. To me it is simply a category error to use ‘evolution’ for the phenomenon you are describing. It is the wrong term for what you actually want to say; “evangelicals are recently changing to embrace evolutionary biological theories.”

“Evolution is more than just change” - Brad

Please clarify what you mean by “more than just change”. Is evolution as you conceive it a ‘kind of change’?

“‘change’ would not be as rich a choice” - Brad

Change is not as ‘rich’ as ‘evolution’?! No. Change is the master category between them (along with ‘motion’). One cannot have evolution without change, but change can and does occur without evolution (i.e. non-evolutionary change). Do you disagree? No. Yet you seem to wish to invert the relationship between change and evolution, which is dubious at best, even if granting that you think the word sounds nice.

(Gregory) #6

Thanks Christy. Yes, it’s partly semantics. And it’s also about (psycho-social) scientific theory and practise.

“I think the word ‘change’ connotes a certain amount of agency.” - Christy

Not in physics, chemistry or (most of) biology.

“Whereas ‘evolve’ often involves an experiencer subject” - Christy

Evolutionary biology is an impersonal theory. Unless you wish to invoke eVo psych, there’s no need for an ‘experiencer subject,’ though a few cyberneticians have used the term ‘evolver’, in a strangely imo dehumanising sense. BioLogos is flirting with eVo psych in its grant program; I’m not sure that is wise.

“‘change/changing’ can be used when one is talking about a total reversal of positions.” - Christy

Here I think you might wish to bring in ‘emergence,’ which implies a ‘threshold’ crossed in which that type of ‘change’ signifies something new out of the same components. Otherwise, perhaps you could involve ‘revolution’, which is distinguished from ‘evolution’ in a kind of ‘reversal of positions.’

“when you talk about evolving belief systems” - Christy

No, I don’t use that terminology. Of course, many people find it ‘sexy’ or ‘fashionable.’ That doesn’t make it convincing or filled with meaningful or in an way profound social-cultural signification. Modification, variation, adaptation, mutation, etc. need not be framed within an ‘evolutionary’ paradigm.

(Brad Kramer) #7

@Gregory you must be lots of fun at parties :confetti_ball:


(Christy Hemphill) #8

We weren’t discussing the use of the word in a scientific context. We were discussing Brad’s use of the word in his context. Surely you know words have multiple senses and you can’t determine the sense of a word outside of the context in which it is used. And surely you know that language itself is an evolving construct that doesn’t really give a rip about what the textbooks or dictionaries or science PhDs say. Don’t make me explain relevance theory and linguistic prescriptivism to you. It will get boring fast, and neither of us will ever get invited to one of Brad’s parties.

(Patrick ) #9

Good luck in your journey. I feel good to hand over running of the country to Millennials. Please do a good job as the Baby Boomers are counting on the Millennials for a better world.

(GJDS) #10

Each generation needs to undertake a process of re-discovery of the faith they inherit from their parents and community. This re-discovery will provide the depth and insights needed by young people regarding themselves, their world, and the impact of our current materialist culture. I am convinced that, although at times an arduous endeavour, the fruits of such effort will be abundant and serve us well in our life.


Very much agree with you Brad and appreciate your clarity and passion. The world is changing rapidly and the concerns of many of its inhabitants have changed greatly as well in the last couple of generations. Unless the church is sensitive and responsive to this – what I think you mean by ‘evolution’, then people will look elsewhere for answers and solutions.

(Brad Kramer) #12

Thanks everyone for the encouragement and kind words.


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Excellent comments, Eddie. This particular blog resonates with me more deeply precisely because it is ‘pushing the theological envelope’. I would encourage Biologos to continue in this direction. We are losing millennials quickly and the impact of this in 10-20 years could be enormous. Much change is needed but, I believe, mostly in the direction of being more Christ-like. Pope Francis has shown this with a message that appears to resonate with so many different groups including millennials.

(Brad Kramer) #15

Well, as the junior member of the blogger team, I can guarantee you that any novel theology will not come from my mouth. But I will try to elucidate the BioLogos perspective in fresh ways and different angles. If you’re looking for a major treatise on divine action, Jim’s blog is the more likely place for that.


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(Gregory) #17


Thanks for your party welcome. It’s far from a top priority for me. Michigan whoop-whoop, thud.

This of course doesn’t avoid the problem of your apparently frivolous colloquial infatuation with the term ‘evolution,’ as a member of BioLogos staff. “I like the word ‘evolving’.” That’s nice for you, Brad, but it seems like un-intellectual dilettantism.

I support your call for change among US evangelical Protestants, to enable overturning YECism. Count us agreed on that. But we obviously view that change quite differently. And I fear your preferred (aimless, evolutionary) type of change will only damage evangelical Protestants more than helping. What current leader of ‘evolutionist evangelicalism’ would you singularly promote?

You may imagine that BioLogos is the world-leading ‘pro-evolution’ place for evangelical Protestants. But no, you are wrong. Michael Dowd’s radical, flimsy Christian site is the home base: http://www.thankgodforevolution.com/ - “The science vs. religion debate is over.” Didn’t you know it? :wink: Your pro-BioLogos imagination apparently needs to catch up.

Your chosen title ‘THE Evolving Evangelical” (not plural) actually contributes to ideological evolutionism, which BioLogos says it is against. Yours demonstrates frivolous ‘colloquial’ usage of ‘evolution’ in ridiculous places bringing shame on ‘progressives’ as if your ‘conservatism’ reigns supreme. Maybe you don’t see this, but it is quite clear from ‘outside’.

And you have already admitted to me in this thread that you actually meant a ‘population,’ not an ‘individual.’ So at least will you now have the courage to back up your own admission and properly change your title to “The Evolving EvangelicalS”, even if not yet duly changing and discarding the title completely?

No, Brad, evangelical Protestants don’t ‘evolve’ (as a population based strictly on environmental pressures) – what an outdated, dehumanising idea! They (you) change, develop and extend based on intentional, purposeful choices. How could you possibly avoid this? Evangelical(s) change(ing) is a teleological, not an ‘evolutionary’ process.

Is your ‘purpose’ in calling your series ‘evolving’ at BioLogos to relativise the term ‘evolution’? I.e. Biologos is ‘the evolution & evolutionist site’ for Christians, so it must biologically equivocate in principle. It sure seems that some kind of trickery among evangelicals is involved in your ‘millennial’ effort.

Let it be clear: I reject Eddie’s baby boomer IDism as willfully distorted thinking. But I fully agree with his challenge against evolutionism to you, Brad. You are busy pointing your finger at (old ‘evangelical’) Christianity, telling it to ‘evolve’ out of its classical and traditional teachings about Adam and Eve, original sin and imago Dei. And yet you seem to imagine that ‘millennials’ are most qualified, even if they are statistically the most irreligious class, to do this. Good luck with that! :wink:

Next thing, you’ll be promoting atheist Dawkins’ ‘memes’ as a quality, clever idea. Won’t you? Sorry, Brad, but you need to go back to school. The Journal of Memetics collapsed because it produced little of value.

The 'evolving evangelicalS is a title of Brad’s infatuation that shows too many of the worst things about millennials. Too many of them/you are cultural and linguistic relativists, academically undisciplined, irresponsible employees, globally insensitive and anti-intellectual. Is this supposed to be the ‘courageous future’ of evangelicalism?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #19


What is all this, Gregory?! You are like a like a man wildly swinging lots of sharp blades in every direction while standing in the middle of a room full of folks who would like to be your friend! Many have reached out – even given some of your shrewd and accurate assessments their solid due. You have many great ideas and contributions to make. What a shame if people are too busy dodging blades and bandaging wounds to be able to properly consider what you have to say! Consider the packaging and don’t let that become an unfortunate barrier against some of the valuable content you have to offer.

Regarding one burr in your saddle, though, your objections against application of the term “evolution” to languages is a bit over the top. I am not as close to this field (and yes it is a real field) as others here or perhaps even you are. But having a son who is very interested in linguistic anthropology, I at least know enough to be pretty sure that evolution is a very compelling description of exactly what has been happening to languages historically. And yes – I know that this evolution is not technically the same thing as biological evolution; but there is definitely enough amazing similarity of concept that very few people (excepting yourself, and no doubt quite a few older traditional English teachers who understandably want language to be a static thing) would begrudge the expanded use of the word ‘evolution’ to describe what happens to languages. Welcome to the messy real world where words are appropriated (for better or worse) to multiple meanings. And acceptance of this does not equate to some further acceptance of anti-Christian Evolutionism generally. Please be willing to give a lot of smart people here their due as well, and extend a bit of Sabbath charity for extra measure on any day of the week!

And being a sucker for relevant cartoons, I can’t resist sharing this one (Pontius Puddle --look at one titled ‘contact sport’ toward bottom of page) that was in a church periodical.

I wasn’t aware of the Dowd web site you referenced and while I probably won’t take the valuable time to get involved in yet another web venue over similar topics, it is good to be aware of sites that represent deep cultural footprints. Thanks for sharing that.


I figure that everyone else understood exactly what Brad Kramer meant by his use of the word “evolving.”

(Brad Kramer) #21

Perhaps I can explain it in a different way. I’m using the title “The Evolving Evangelical” in the same way the magazine “Scientific American” uses its title. It’s meant archetypally. Should Scientific American change its name to “Scientific Americans”?

So far, I haven’t heard the sort of feedback you are expressing about my title from any other commenter. So I’m not convinced that it’s as self-apparent as you are insisting.

I’m at a loss to understand how using the metaphor of evolution as applied to religious groups counts as a endorsement of “evolutionism”.