Guest Column from the Reverend Gretta Vosper

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 22 June 2005 0 Comments
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Do you think that the Church has adequately explored and explained the spiritual aspects of evolution? What does it mean spiritually that we evolved from apes?


In a word my answer to your first question is a very loud NO! Evolution has always threatened traditional Christianity. That is why Charles Darwin is so vigorously attacked, even today, in some religious circles. However, the fact is that the typical religious attack on Darwin is light years away from the place where Darwin made his impact on traditional understanding.

Darwin shattered biblical literalism and its seven-day creation story. The critics of Darwin, unable to meet this challenge, finally accommodated Darwin by suggesting that each of the days referred to in the creation story might have represented eons of time and that the evolutionary method might therefore be accurate. They believed that this compromise left them with the claim of biblical accuracy still in tact. It was a shallow and papered-over peace destined not to last. It only served to keep the Darwinian wolf away from the Christian door for another 100 years.

Eventually, the real Darwinian challenge became visible and, when it did, the whole interpretative myth by which Christianity presented its faith system began to crumble. That myth asserted that in the beginning was a good creation at which time all things bore witness to God's perfection. Then there came an act of rebellion - told in the Garden of Eden story as an act of disobeying God's only prohibition that forbade the eating of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This act plunged the world into a state of sin and separation from which there was no way of escape that was open to the fallen creature. Even God seemed unable to overcome the fall. The flood at the time of Noah was designed to destroy all living things so that God could begin anew with an unfallen world. However, even the righteous Noah still possessed the human weakness that resulted, we are told, from the fall so sin was still present in the human race. Next at Mt. Sinai, we are told that God sent the law to guide human beings back to their original perfection. The fallen human creature was, however, unable to keep God's precepts even when they were fully known. Then God sent the prophets to recall at least the messianic people to God's purpose in creation. However, the prophets were murdered and banished. Finally, the story says "in the fullness of time" God entered human life in the person of Jesus, who bore the punishment of the fall, was victimized by it and paid the price for it in the crucifixion and overcame it in the Resurrection. Finally, the Church was created in which baptism could wash from each newborn life the stain of the fall and the Eucharist or the Mass could reenact, week by week, the drama of salvation so that believers in every age could appropriate for themselves the salvation offered on the cross of Calvary. This Christian myth constituted a neat theological system and it has dominated theological thinking for most of the 2000 years of Christian history. The only problem is that this myth is based on an understanding of human origins that is simply wrong.

Darwin forced us to acknowledge that there never was a finished and perfect creation. Creation, he asserted is an ongoing and unfinished process. Human life is evolving from lower forms of life so it was, therefore, not created perfect. If perfection was not our original definition, then we could not fall into sin, not even metaphorically. This means that there never was something called "the fall." Human beings cannot, therefore, be rescued from a fall that never happened, nor can they be restored to a status that they have never possessed. All life is in flux. That was the Darwinian insight. Our problem is not that we are fallen sinners; our problem is that we have not yet become fully human. If this is so then the old way of telling the Jesus story as the invading divine rescuer of a fallen humanity no longer makes sense. To speak of a Christ, who calls and empowers us to be more deeply and fully human, might be the new way to tell that story. One thing is sure, until we find a new way, there is not much hope for a Christian future.

--John Shelby Spong

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Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love
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