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An Evolutionists sermon

The other week, a moderately senior cleric came and preached at my local parish church. As it was Passion Sunday, he talked about atonement theories, with his particular target being penal substitution and similar theories. He wanted to promote the idea that the power of Jesus death was mainly in the moral example it sets us. He was especially eager to disassociate Christian belief from ‘primitive religious practice’, in particular Jewish notions of sacrifice. It was the violence aspects that especially exercised him. He seemed to want to link the atonement to Jesus’ life, not his death. Now, there is plenty of debate about substitutionary theories, which I don’t want to get into, except to say that I think the bible does not exclusively mandate any particular theory, that we need to hold to a range of views, and that the Protestant and especially evangelical communities have somewhat over-privileged penal substitution and substantially underplayed the Christus Victor views prevalent in the early church. But what really got my attention (although did not surprise me given what I already knew of this man’s liberal views) was the way that he openly used Darwinism to justify his choice and underpin his thinking. He said :
‘Some theologians say – and I think I agree with them – that humanity is not fallen, but emerging. We have Darwin to thank for showing us that.’
He used this as the basis for going on to say that the incarnation and atonement were ‘not about rescue, but showing us the human face of God’.
Combined with his concern for developing a non-violent atonement theory, his position contains multiple ironies. He evidently considers violence and sacrifice as ‘primitive religious’ practice that we presumably need to emerge from, and he wants to espouse something that shows a better, presumably more ‘emerged’ ‘human face of God’. But while this sounds good on the surface, thinking about it more thoroughly shows grave theological contradictions, even aside from the way the Genesis account of the fall seems to be totally discarded or ignored. Whatever you think about penal substitution atonement theories and the like, they all centre around the fact that God is having to do something in some way ‘alien’ to his nature or preference – he is pouring out wrath on his Son, or subjecting him to our punishment, precisely because we are sinful and fallen. It is alien to God’s original creation and the future re-creation, but it is something that God has in some sense had to do to stop humanity being condemned by their own actions. It was a response to the violence we have done and are doing to our relationships with our Creator, each other, creatures and creation. Yes, Jesus showed us the face of God in human form, but it was precisely the face of a God both loving and holy and humble, whose foolishness is wiser than human wisdom in dealing with our situation.
But if we take this cleric’s view that Darwin has shown us that humanity is ‘emerging’ rather than fallen, then the ‘human face of God’ he is so assiduously promoting turns out on closer inspection to be a sham, a mirage. The Sovereign Creator could create however he chose. He did not have to deal with the complexities of divinely given human free-will and consequent rebellion. It was totally his show. So if God did indeed create using Darwinian processes, he chose, without reference to the will or choice of any other being, to create using violence, pain, suffering and bloodshed. For such a god to then send the peaceful and non-violent Jesus to show his ‘human face’ is in fact cosmic deception. This god, apparently, has divine schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. This god is a Jekyll and Hyde being like the pagan pantheons, not the ‘one God’ of consistent moral character and covenant keeping of the bible and of Jewish and Christian belief.
And there was a further consequence evident. After communion, the visiting priest chose to exchange the prescribed blessing for one of his own, one that paralleled the Kingdom of God with asking God to ‘guide us into the unfolding beauty of the unknown’. In the Bible, the kingdom of God is God’s rule and love as revealed through his word, being made manifest in the earth. It is not something that is inherently ‘unknown’ – it is revealed and known and knowable, although unfathomable. The phrase the priest used signifies something totally different – it is of a piece with his evolutionary position – it is a pantheist or syncretistic mystical scenario, and a vague god is being asked to guide us into – what? On the surface the ‘unfolding beauty of the unknown’ could be taken to be a positive and faith-filled reference to the fact that we don’t know what will happen to us tomorrow, next week, etc, but I suggest that it is rather more than that. It is idolizing and idealizing the beauty of the unknown, the unfolding evolution of humanity and creation – especially if you take it with what the priest had said earlier. Instead of worshipping the revealed character of the God of the bible and his promised return to transform the earth, we have a non-Christian, otherworldly syncretist blessing which eschews the revelation of the bible for an emergent or emerging mysticism, with distinct New-age, pantheist or eastern religious flavours.
The priest’s sermon and blessing together warn us of the dangers of embracing evolution into our theology and doctrine – namely that of providing a fertile soil for the great ‘falling away’ or apostasy of the last days that Paul warned the church in Thessalonica about . I make no judgement on the priests personal situation with God, but the ideas he embraces inherently lead to departure from ‘pure devotion to Christ’ and the revealed character of the God of the bible into a rootless smoke and mirror world of pagan mysticism, in the same way that Israel so often did in the Old Testament, and parts of the early church were tempted to do with Gnosticism, which was another syncretistic mystical movement which also re-interpreted Genesis to talk of emergent humanity rather than fallen humanity. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he started ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord, your God, the Lord is one’. A god who creates by pain and suffering and violence, yet shows in the Prince of Peace his ‘human face’ is not ‘one’ but divided – two faced, and not worthy of worship or love or adoration.