Tag Archives: evolution

Formation vs transformation – how do you see God’s work?

Formation – an act of giving form or shape to something or of taking form.

Transformation – a complete or major change in someone’s or something’s appearance, form, etc.

I grew up with an obsession about transformation. As a Christian, this word maybe best described  what I felt was the point of the biblical story in general and the gospel in particular. I deeply resonated with stories such a Paul’s (then Saul) transformational experience on the road to Damascus where his life was instantly and drastically changed. This is what I longed for, hoped for, and even spent many hours praying for.

In fact, there was several years of my life where I spent hours every week praying for revival, which is best described as an instantaneous transformation of a large group of people who have somehow had an encounter with God. Stories of past revivals captivated me. What has been called the Great Awakenings in America are perfect examples of this. Reading about people like George Whitefield, John Wesley, Charles Finney and Jonathon Edwards captivated my imagination. My heart longed to see a great movement like this!

I was deeply shaped by people and groups that shared this perspective. In fact I was a leader in a local youth conference we put on called “Transform”.

It has been years since I have gone to a conference like this and my focus has changed.

Why?

I began to become more aware of God’s work in my life and the world around me in a different way.

I see God’s work more as a slow process than as an instantaneous  transformation. This can be seen all the way from nature, to the growth of an individual human, to the growth of the human species, to the growth of the universe. It seems to me that God is not in a hurry.

Take creation for example. Scientists believe that the universe has existed for approximately 13.8 billion years. Try to imagine waiting that long for creation to evolve!

Humans are amazing, but when we begin our life we spend about 10 months in the uterus of our mother as we are formed. Then, when we finally take our first breath, we are still fully dependent upon others to take care of us. This continues for many years as our minds, emotions, and physical bodies mature.

The individual formation of a human also reflects the overall formation of humanity. I have mentioned before that spiral dynamics has been a helpful tool to me. According to spiral dynamics humans first entered the beige stage about 100,000 years ago. This was the basic survival stage. What we believe are the two most recent stages (Orange and Green) has only come about in the last 150-300 years. Right now, we have more stages represented than at any other time in history (and we wonder why we struggle to get along).   The development and evolution of humanity has been a slow process.

water-flowing-over-rocks

This is also reflected in my own experience. As I grow, I see God’s work in my life like water flowing over a rock. It takes years for the water to smooth the rough edges. Likewise, God’s work takes time. In my experience, God is gentle and persuasive, not harsh, forceful or coercive.

Unfortunately, what many understand and believe to be Christianity is the interpretation of a harsh and coercive God who gets angry every time you mess up. It is very easy to be a Christian, read Scripture, and believe this is who God is. For many, the choice is either to accept a wrathful, coercive, tyrannical god or reject Christianity.

Also, many are quick to make clear judgements and to give an enormous amount of detail about life after death. In reality, if we are honest, we have no idea what happens when you die.

What we do have, as NT Wright has pointed out, are signposts that can help give us a rough direction. Part of this, I believe, is gaining from our own experiences. My experience, and the Reality I see around me, points to a God is has an enormous amount of patience. My experience is that God has patience for each of us as we develop and mature – both as individuals and as a species.

Lastly, I personally experience God’s love and patience in my own life. I do not think God asks or expects instant transformation, but true to the way the universe seems to be hard wired, I experience God to be most patient with me. While I do hold open the times where I believe people do encounter a real Damascus experience, I also believe these are rare times and God’s most common way of working in the world is gentle and gradual.

If one seeks solely after a transformational experience it often leads them to believe in a coercive and domineering God who controls everything. This will also be reflected in our own lives and will affect the way we treat others. We will tend to be less patient, a little more harsh, will see things as black and white and will push others to see things they same way,  and will often pressure people toward a transformational or conversion experience.

If we understand and experience God’s slow, formational work in the world and in our own lives, this will be reflected in the way we treat others. We will tend to have more patience, more love, and will be less domineering because this is how we understand God’s work in the world. Rather than pushing for a conversion experience, we can be aware that God is always working, everywhere, through a slow, gentle process.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time. 

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

 

What is the Bible?

It is my belief that many of the divisions and debates within the Christian community can be funneled down to one simple question.

What is the Bible?

God-Write-the-Bible

How one answers the question determines so many other things that it is important to take the time to consider this question.

In my experience, whenever I am in a discussion with someone who disagrees with me, I often find that it is rooted in a different way of answering this question. For example, many who argue in a literal six day creation most often believe the Bible to be inerrant, while those who believe in evolution view the Bible differently.

Most know this, but the Bible is not a book, it’s actually a collection of books written by well over 40 different authors (many of which we do not know of), and written well over the span of a millennia. This means that there are many different genre’s within including: myth, poetry, history, wisdom, narrative, parable, prose, and some really obscure stuff called apocolytpic literature found in Daniel and Revelation.

There are many ways to answer this question, but I think most of them can be placed into three primary categories – each one also as a wide spectrum within.

1. The Bible is the inerrant Word of God.

This is the view I grew up with, and because of this it is the one I am most familiar with. As I mentioned above, people with this view have many small nuances, but most who hold to this view would see the Bible as without error.

Where they do not agree is whether the Bible is without error in it’s current English, the original languages, or the original writings called autographs – it gets very slippery here because a large number of people hold that the original writings are inerrant, but we don’t have any of the original writings (what we have are copies of copies of copies of copies etc).

Now, when pressed on issues like grammar, punctuation, etc. these people tend to lean away from thinking all of these things are without error, but are rather mistakes made by humans as they copied these texts.

These people tend to read the Bible literally. In other words, they believe in a literal Adam and Eve, a literal Noah, ark, and global flood, they usually believe Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish, etc etc. They will tend to take any evidence that suggest certain aspects of the Bible to not be historically accurate as a threat – something they will defend vehemently.

When some suggest that the Bible contains historical inaccuracies and the impossibility of reading everything in the Bible literally, they tend to think that Satan (again a literal demonic being) is trying to blind people from the truth and that scholars and scientist are themselves  deceived, are deceiving others, or both.

2. The Bible is one big myth.

Many in this category see only two options: option 1 or option 2.

Many people will often think that either the Bible is historically accurate or it cannot be trusted. They may even have respect for the Bible, as a sacred writing for a religious community, but often view the Bible as a bunch of made up fairy tales.

In my experience, most people in this category tend to focus on the irrationality and inaccuracy of the Bible to show that it is just old stories made up by people who lived hundreds of years ago. They will point out that the Bible is archaic, old, outdated, and…come on…we live in the 21st century people!

3. The Bible is inspired by God

This is a very nuanced approach (as they all are), but overall people who hold this view tend to believe that God was working and continues to work through the Bible – it is inspired in ways other books are not.

These people believe that the Bible is not a scientific textbook, but is more accurately a faith book.

These people teach that the Bible is not always historically accurate, but also understand not everything must be historically accurate in order to present truths. They also understand that much of the Hebrew Scriptures were passed down orally for centuries and they were far less concerned with be perfectly historically accurate as they were in learning and retelling their stories while conveying the deeper truth within – whereas those of us who live in the 21st century often think of a picture or photograph (which shows every single detail), it is more accurate to think of a painting – both are true, but they do not show the exact same thing in the same detail.

These people think science and faith can go hand in hand, and are not afraid when science suggest that the way we interpret the Bible may be wrong.

These people also see that the Bible is not one singular voice, but rather a plurality of voices, each one bound by their culture, cosmology, worldview, etc. The Bible actually contains different perspectives and even different ways of seeing things – they would argue that this is to be expected in a book that has been written by so many different people spanning so many years.

Where do I stand?

I would fall into the third category and if I was asked what the Bible is I would respond by stating:

I think the Bible is a collection of books written by humans as they interpret the divine.

Inspired by God, written by man.

Because of this, we see human fingerprints all over the Scriptures. Some perspectives found within are more accurate than others. I do believe God was working through the limited understanding, cosmology, and consciousness of each of the authors – just like I believe God is still working through each of our limited understanding, cosmology, and consciousness.

In the pages of the Scriptures I see the divine pulling humanity forward into a greater consciousness, a greater awareness of what is right and what is wrong, how to live a fuller life, how to better take care and love others, how to live more economically and sustainably.

This way of thinking shapes the way I see the world at this moment.

I believe God is pulling us forward into greater consciousness.

The invitation is, will we enter into the growing expanse, or will we fight against it?