Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Do The Evolution

Written by: on January 29, 2020

The germination story of Christianity is a marriage of two cultures and the theological struggle holding them both in tension.  On the one hand we have the Hebrew culture, the culture that originated in a nomadic, tribal people; whose history consisted of grand stories of Exodus and Exile.  The people rarely had autonomous political power over themselves and this can be seen clearly in their writings.  And yet the themes and characteristics that are culturally lifted up as good were righteousness, justice, wisdom, and mercy.  Though written in a context entirely not my own, where societal roles and interpersonal expectations were vastly different than mine (Twenty First Century East Coast United States of America), the over arching themes of liberation and caring for one another radiate through the Hebrew Scriptures, and can be reimagined for my modern setting tangibly.[1]

Of course, the other culture coming into this divine partnership is the Greco-Roman culture, one that did not necessarily share the same values.  Justice and liberation were not dominant themes, but instead were ones that focused on self-elevation, beauty, and power.  Additionally, the “interfaith” relationship was bound to be difficult when Israel was monotheistic and the Romans clearly were not.  From this cultural marriage arises the first generations of the people who called themselves followers of the Way, until Nero gave them the name Christians as a derogatory moniker, demonstrating both his desire for power and lack of wisdom.[2]

Both of these cultures brought different worldviews, different scholasticism, different societal expectations, that in the best of times enhanced the Christian movement, and in the worst of times, have done it damage.  As Christianity has expanded, it has incorporated numerous other cultural artifacts, teachings, and concepts into the way its followers live out their faith.  From Christmas Trees to Day of the Dead celebrations, the life of faith, and the benefits Christianity shares with society are always evolving.

Recently, popular authors (Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz is an example), share stories of lifting up the bad things that have been done in the name of Christianity in a confessional fashion, as a unique public act of cleansing.[3]  Though spiritually moving, and liturgically quite interesting, the confessional act described in Blue Like Jazz was far more moving for those who were confessing the “The Great Sins of the Church”[4] than those who were hearing those confessions.

It is in stark contrast to this that Theos writer, Nick Spencer compiles the collection of essays that share the good things that Christianity has shared with the world, in particular in the last 500 years, in his work The Evolution of the West.  Making the argument that Christianity has played a lead role in the overall development of civilization for the better Spencer is still quick to point out that while, “Christianity has played a big role in this show—indeed it has played the lead for much of the last 1,500 years—but the play has been no mere soliloquy, and the lead has had a somewhat ambiguous relationship with the overall plotline.”[5] Spencer acknowledges the shortcomings, acknowledges the sin, but gratefully moves far beyond it.

Which leaves me with the question of “what” and “how” Christianity should claim the good it has done in the world.  Needless to say, boasting is not a Christian trait, and yet as Mark Noll has indicated universities, hospitals and many public goods have come to be because of the physical manifestation and outpouring of Christians’ faith.  Spencer acknowledges the numerous good things that Christianity has brought to the table and yet unlike Donald Miller is not a New York Times Bestselling author.  So much of spiritual direction is the understanding of one’s self.  What would it be like if Christianity could see itself, though yes flawed and imperfect, as a movement for change in the world; change of the heart, the mind, the soul, the community?  Not change just for the sake of change, but change with the understanding that we evolve; we evolve as people, as institutions, as traditions.[6] And when that evolution is in the spirit of love, we get ever closer to bringing about the realm of God.


[1] Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament Volume 1: History, Culture, and Religion of the Hellenistic Age, (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1995), 211.

[2] Koester, Introduction, 371.

[3] Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 120.

[4] Intentional play on “The Great Ends of the Church.”

[5] Nick Spencer, The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 5.

[6] Spencer, Evolution, 6.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

5 responses to “Do The Evolution”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Great post roommate! Funny story I just took a course (last year) to become a certified StoryBrand Guide with Don Miller :). He runs a company teaching people how to use the power of story to do marketing.

    In your research are you seeing how the history of the church good or bad is affecting what you are focusing on?

  2. Good stuff Jacob. I’d say let’s boast some more so long it’s the proper boasting as in 2 Corinthians 10:17.

  3. Jenn Burnett says:

    I appreciate you highlighting the dialogical approach that seems to be arising from Christian voices. Perhaps both in confession and acclamation there is an insistent of having a presence where, as Spencer points out there would otherwise be an erasure of the Christian narrative. What ways do you see Christianity currently shaping the evolution of western society, both for good and for ill? 100 years from now, what might historians say of the Christian voices of our time?

  4. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Good thoughts, Jacob. I have been pondering the thought of evolution since reading this book and now again with your post. It was such a scary word in my faith tradition that it was treated as evil. I know see how ridiculous that line of thinking is. There is hope in the concept of evolution. Nothing has to remain. If we are in a bad place, and obviously that is a common sentiment, then there is hope for change. Spencer makes it clear that Christianity has had influence in the past and if we continue to evolve and mature, I believe, we can have influence in the future. The key is following Jesus closely and becoming like him.

  5. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks so much for the fresh insightful thoughts. You are my last post to respond to and I am running out of mental fuel. You ask, “What would it be like if Christianity could see itself, though yes flawed and imperfect, as a movement for change in the world; change of the heart, the mind, the soul, the community?” Perhaps, it starts with an accurate self-perception of who we are and why we are here. May this cohort bless this self-perception of the church! Thanks again.

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