The Evolutionary Gospel
If you are hoping or thinking that this post has to do with science and religion, then you best look elsewhere. This is a continuation of my previous post on what the Christian tradition in particular has to offer the world in terms of development work. The first post discussed the fact that Christianity has always been in translation across languages and cultures.
This brings up a second, related idea. As a tradition that inherently crosses borders and boundaries, it is one that is constantly changing and evolving based on the time and context. Some would like to think that the Bible itself is simply a static document that we can rely on because it is unchanging and constant. However, I think it’s clear that even within the boundaries of the biblical text the faith that begins with Abraham evolves and changes.
The Evolution of the People of God
The nomadic patriarchs become enslaved in Egypt and become shaped by the experience of oppression under Pharaoh. After wandering in the wilderness they eventually form a loose confederacy of tribes with a series of judges that arise as there is need to sort out problems and deal with enemy tribes. Even through that period it seems clear that the people’s understanding of YHWH is changing. They continue to cling to old gods and ways, because this idea of only one God is a new one. Then the people decide that in order to live in the world, they must become more like the world. So, they ask for a king. They get Saul, which they deserved, and never looked back. The idea of Israel as the “people of God” shifts from something more nebulous, difficult to grasp and contain to a kingdom with a new center and a new myth, royal theology and Davidic dynasty.
After the experience of being conquered and exiled, these people longed for the glory days of David and Solomon. Their anxious expectation for a Messiah to free them from oppression the way Moses did was based on their royal theology and captivity to the world’s thinking. So, when Jesus begins saying and doing things that point in a different direction, it is difficult for the powers and the people to wrap their minds around. Paul, despite his misogynist tendencies, pushes the early Christians beyond the boundaries of Judaism.
Paul, in many ways, most clearly exemplifies the evolutionary tendency of the gospel. Paul picks up the words of Isaiah, quotes them incorrectly (perhaps on purpose) and applies the idea of being a “light to the Gentiles” to himself. I’m sure that he was inspired to do so, but I am also sure that that was something entirely new and unpredictable that was happening. You could argue that it was the logical extension of certain themes in the Old Testament, but it is also a very clear break with some other themes. Paul is picking up the tradition and re-interpreting and re-framing it in light of Jesus, his own experience and the new context.
All My Relations
“So what?” is often the most important question to ask. My point in tracing the history of the people of God in the Bible is to show that clearly within the biblical narrative itself the tradition, faith and understanding of who God is and who the people of God are changes. Much of the time in more conservative theology is spent trying to explain or deny this reality.
If our faith (at its best) has an inherent quality in which we are taught that what it means to be the people of God is to change and evolve by following the Spirit and participating in what God is doing in the world, then that is something beautiful to offer a world that wants all the answers for all time right now.
If the evolution of the people of God is more about relationships than a set of propositions or a prayer you have to pray, then we can evolve and relate alongside all of the children of God regardless of anything that tends to separate us without fear.
Finally, however, we have to ask what Jesus and the particularity of the Christian tradition have to do with any of this. Can’t you find all of these ideas and qualities elsewhere? What do we uniquely have to offer the world?
Stay tuned to find out…