Religion & Science

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The Death and Resurrection of God

The Death and Resurrection of God

From Christianity to the New Story
edition:Paperback
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Eternity and Eternal Life

Eternity and Eternal Life

Speculative Theology and Science in Discourse
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Hardcover
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Christ and Modernity

Christ and Modernity

Christian Self-Understanding in a Technological Age
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos
Excerpt

I have discovered, during the last ten years in Vancouver, Canada, a vibrant and dynamic spiritual community composed of New Agers, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Wiccans, and Sufis, to name a few. But without question it is the Christians who are most deeply distrusted and discounted among these spiritually inclined people. A deep suspicion persists that Christianity is anachronistic, that we’re not “with the times.” Our images and models of God, the way we worship, the songs we sing, our prayers to a satellite God – whom we expect to beam back answers from some location outside the universe – just don’t fit for the spiritually inclined.

 

In other words, it’s time for the Christian church to get with the cosmological program. We need new wineskins for the new wine the Holy One is pouring out in the 21st century. There is a new story of creation, which needs to inform our biblical stories of creation. We now know that we live in an evolutionary universe. It follows that evolution is the way the Holy creates in space and in time and in every sphere: material, biological, social, cultural, psychological, and spiritual. This is the new cosmology which simply cannot be contained by old models and images of God, and outmoded ways of being the church.

 

Updating Our Faith 

 

We do not yet know what to do with this “new” story of the universe as Christians. While some theologians are just now beginning to take this story seriously, it is conspicuous by its absence in our Sunday morning services. I remember visiting a church in Boston while I was on study leave. By the time the service ended, I realized that I could have been worshipping on the moon; it contained nothing that gave me any clue I was in the city of Boston. The liturgy was devoid of any sense of time or place. In similar fashion, I suspect most people leave church on Sunday mornings without any sense of their spiritual journey taking place within an evolutionary universe, or even on the planet Earth! Too often, there aren’t even many clues that we have entered the 21st century. Much of the music we ask people to sing reflects the 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century worldviews in which they were written. We read Bible passages without helping listeners to hear or understand them in the cosmological, social, and cultural context of the writer. I know doctors and lawyers who still believe that being a Christian means taking the story of creation from Genesis literally. We have at our disposal a new understanding of the universe, but we operate out of an old one. The work of integrating this new story represents a fundamental challenge to our theological and liturgical models. It also represents a rich opportunity to become reacquainted with the Spirit of God moving in and through the very dynamics of the unfolding universe.

 

If only these cosmological updates were as simple a matter as the ones I can download painlessly on my computer. Every once in a while, an icon pops up, informs me that an update is available, and asks if I’d like to download it at this time. If I want the particular program to function optimally on my computer, I simply click on the agreement to update, wait a few minutes, and presto, I’m ready for whatever cyberspace has to throw at me. I can even set my computer to automatically receive and integrate these updates as I sleep.

 

There are ways to update our faith, of course, but unfortunately these can’t be downloaded directly to our neocortex. Updates in the life of the Christian tend to be far more unsettling. This is because our religious beliefs and practices form the core of our identity. When we identify ourselves with our beliefs, an update can feel like we’re being torn apart. Nevertheless, if we want to function optimally as people of the Christian faith, updating is even more critical in the realm of faith than it is with our computers. The predominant virus that slows us down is called “outdated beliefs.” Updating, I contend, is a work of God’s Spirit in an evolutionary universe.

 

Take salvation. The word itself means to make whole, or to heal. For at least the last 300 years, the church has regarded the planet as a kind of background stage upon which the drama of private salvation has been played out. Most of Christianity continues to be involved in what Thomas Berry calls a “redemption mystique,” We are obsessed with our sinfulness and with whether we’re “saved.” The purpose of Jesus’ death, according to this fall/redemption model, was to redeem us from our innate depravity, thus saving our souls for eternal life, in a heavenly realm, somewhere beyond this universe. The vast majority of Christians are so focused on their own “salvation,” or on saving others, that they are blind to the deterioration of the very ecosystems that sustain their private dramas. Even in those denominations, like my own, that have moved beyond thinking that God is primarily concerned with the salvation of private souls, we still focus almost exclusively on the human realm of creation. It’s time we place the salvation (healing) of the planet in the foreground of our mission concerns.

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