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Progressive Evangelicals / Emergents
I'm writing from Nassau, the Bahamas, where for the last week I've been with 125 progressive evangelical leaders at an event called Soularize. What a treat! As I shared in my "UU's: Celebrating Evolution" post, over the course of the last five and a half years of living on the road, speaking to religious and nonreligious audiences across North America, by far the majority of the people Connie and I have addressed are on the moderate to liberal end of the theological spectrum. This is, of course, not surprising. Any minister who believes evolution is of the devil, as I once did, is not likely to invite me into his or her pulpit. So it's exciting for me to get to know so many "emerging church" leaders, most of whom embrace, or at least accept, an evolutionary worldview.
My introduction to the emerging church movement came a couple of years ago when Spencer Burke, a former megachurch pastor and founder of theOOZE.com, the main networking site for emergent, progressive evangelicals, contacted me. Spencer mentioned that a friend had alerted him to an article, "Preachers of a New Pentecost", written about Connie's and my itinerant ministry in What is Enlightenment? magazine. He asked me to send him a copy of my 4-hour Evolutionary Christianity DVD set, which I did. A few weeks later, after he had watched the DVDs, we talked for nearly two hours on the phone. We've been friends ever since. Last January we roomed together for a week in Hawaii, at the first International Conference on the Evolution of Religion, where Daniel Dennett and I were evening keynote presenters (I was the lone evolutionary evangelist that week, among sixty leading scholars in the exciting new field of Evolutionary Religious Studies).
As I discussed briefly in my "Beyond Evidence: Responding to Creationists" post, while I find the evidence for evolution utterly compelling (as do the vast majority of the world's scientist and millions of devout religious believers), I'd have to say that the main reason I'm evangelistic about evolution is because of how it expands and deepens my understanding and experience of "the gospel", intensifies my communion with God, and makes it much easier to live a Christ-centered, Christ-like life.
Whether or not future generations look back at our time as "The Great Blashpemy", as I suggested six weeks ago, I'm confident of this: Once the emerging church movement catches fire with a Thank God for Evolution! message, watch out. I predict that we are on the verge of an evolution-celebrating religious revival that will transform America as few things have ever done, and that evolutionary Christianity will gain ascendancy over flat-earth Christianity here in less than a generation. I fully expect progressive/emergent evangelicals, with their passion for God, postmodern sensibilities, and artistic/musical giftedness, to play a vital and leading role in this evolutionary emergence.[NOTE: By "flat-earth" Christianity I am not meaning those who believe the world is flat; rather, I mean where "sin", "salvation", "heaven", "hell", "the kingdom of God", "the second coming of Christ", and other Christian concepts are understood in abstract, imaginary, otherworldly ways—still reflecting a premodern flat-earth cosmology. Evolutionary Christianity cherishes these same doctrines, yet holds them in a far more realistic (REALized) way because it interprets them in light of a postmodern evolutionary cosmology—as experiential, measurable, and (for all practical purposes) undeniably real. For more on this distinction, see the first question under the video player on the FAQ page, as well as either the PDF version or HTML version of a conversation I had with my publicistâ€”which is the single best introduction I know to the ideas presented in Thank God for Evolution!.]