Jesus: Modeling an Evolving Faith
Friday, January 4, 2019
The New Testament shows history working in a way that is both evolutionary and positive. See, for example, Jesus’ many parables of the Kingdom, which lean heavily on the language of growth and development. He uses metaphors of the seed, the maturing ear of corn, weeds and wheat growing together, and yeast rising. His parables of the “Reign of God” are about finding, discovering, being surprised, changing roles and status. None of these notions are static; they are always about something new and good coming into being.
Why do I think this is so important? Frankly, because without it we become very impatient with ourselves and others. Humans and history both grow slowly.  We expect people to show up at our church doors fully transformed and holy before they can be welcomed in. But metanoeite, or change of consciousness, can only come with time. Patience is the very shape of love. Without it, religion is merely about enforcing laws and requirements. Without an evolutionary worldview, Christianity does not really understand, much less foster, growth or change. Nor does it know how to respect and support where history is heading.
Anything called “Good News” needs to reveal a universal pattern that can be relied upon, not just clannish or tribal patterns that might be true on occasion. This is probably why Christianity’s break with Judaism was inevitable, although never intended by either Jesus or Paul. Both Jesus and Paul were good Jews who thought they were reforming Judaism. By the early second century, Christians were already calling themselves “catholics” or “the universals.” At the front of their consciousness was a belief that God is leading all of history somewhere larger and broader and better for everyone. Christianity cannot be bound by ethnicity or nationality. This puts it in essential conflict with any group that wants to domesticate the message for its own “patriotic” purposes.
Without a universal story line that offers grace and caring for all of creation, Jesus is always kept small and seemingly inept. God’s care must be toward all creatures; otherwise, God ends up not being very caring at all, which makes things like water, trees, animals—and other peoples—seem accidental, trivial, or disposable. But grace is not a late arrival in history, an occasional add-on for a handful of humans. God’s grace and life did not just appear a couple thousand years ago when Jesus came, and his story was told through the Gospels. God’s grace cannot be a random solution doled out to the few and the virtuous—or it would hardly be grace at all! (See Ephesians 2:7-10 if you want the radical meaning of grace summed up in three succinct verses.)
What if we recovered the sense of God’s inherent grace (the Holy Spirit whom we called “Uncreated Grace”) as the primary generator of all life? We are, of course, in evolution all the time. To deny change and growth is to deny the obvious, yet humans seem good at that. The ride is the destination, and the goal is never clearly in sight. To stay on the ride, to trust the trajectory, to know it is moving, and moving somewhere always better, is just about the best way to describe religious faith.
 See Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church (Baker Academic: 2016). This faith-filled historical study by a Mennonite scholar shows how the early church was much more patient and humble about growth and change than Christians tended to be in later centuries. The title says it all.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: March 5, 2019), 96-98; and
“Introduction,” “Evolutionary Thinking,” Oneing, vol. 4, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2016), 115-116.