Thursday, January 26, 2017

An evolutionary understanding of reality with faith

Science and Religion
by John Monroe

At a plenary session of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the summer of 2016, an overture came to floor endorsing a reconciliation between current scientific cosmology and our biblical faith. I was stunned that many spoke against it and nearly half of our commissioners voted against it. The perception, it appeared, was that faith was on the run against the advances of science, and that we needed to make a stand against encroachment.

In the words of Integral theorist, Ken Wilber, religion and science differentiated at the birth of modern consciousness—probably a necessary move, and one which has brought great advancement to human life. As we move out of the modern era into something new, however, human and planetary wellbeing are crying out for a reintegration of these two ways of knowing. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin created a vision for such a reintegration and some impressive thinkers from the fields of theology and science are beginning to develop his map or create their own.

We still have a long way to go. James Loder and Wentzel Van Huyssteen at Princeton Theological Seminary made some in-roads, and also Wolfhart Pannenberg explored a theological methodology in interaction with the natural sciences. Twentieth century Reformed giant, Karl Barth, however, had no use for Natural Theology. As a pastor who has been attempting to integrate an evolutionary understanding of reality with biblical faith, it is not always easy going. The “We’ve never done it this way before,” syndrome shows up.

It’s worth the effort, I believe. As Cynthia Bourgeault observes, the Christian plant is sick and dying. It has outgrown the container of an ancient, flat-earth cosmology. Its roots need space to grow. Imagine what might happen if we put the Christian plant into a new container—one as expansive as today’s 13.8 billion year cosmology. As Teilhard and others are showing, the result is exhilarating. I could say more about the exhilaration, but space does not allow.  Maybe another time. The irony is that the pursuit of an evolutionary understanding of Christian faith is turning many, including me, toward an exploration of ancient Christian contemplative wisdom. Who would have guessed? Jesus has never seemed more relevant or more promising a guide.

John Monroe is pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Rumson, NJ.  He believes that what the evolutionary process is up to today is the transformation of human consciousness—thus his interest in Christian mystics.  Along with his wife, Rosanne, he has four grown children and is mesmerized by interactions with their 2 year old granddaughter. 

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