faith and evolution in the same sentence.

Years ago when I was writing Faith Shift (which is now 4 years old, how did time go that fast?!) we tossed around the idea of “Faith Evolution” as one of the possible titles.  I am glad we landed on “shift” in the end for some different reasons but appreciate that we incorporated “evolution” into the drawing of the major movements that is weaved throughout the book.

Evolution is a great way to describe many of our experiences.

When I was in my super-conservative evangelical days, I was terrified of all-things-evolution in the science department. I remember the teachings centered on the evils of evolution, how what our kids were learning in school was destructive and that evolutionary concepts were anti-biblical. Over time, thankfully, things changed for me as my faith unraveled and I moved toward greater freedom, mystery and diversity in my life and faith; I began to see more clearly the utter madness of some of the culture craziness I was immersed in and how inconsistent it was with scientific facts. My eyes opened in ways they needed to be opened.

The same thing goes for issues of faith. Years ago I would say that our faith would never “evolve” but only “get stronger.” The idea of faith and evolution in the same sentence would have been blasphemy to me.

Now, after all these years, I love these two words in the same sentence!

Faith evolves.

It was always meant to. We have so many wisdom teachers in the Christian tradition who have always known that. The mystics and desert mothers and fathers weren’t afraid of an evolving faith because it is part of the beauty and mystery of God and a recognition that faith is not static but ever-changing, ever-growing, ever-transforming.

Where I was 10 years ago in my life and experience is not supposed to look like where I am now. And my faith doesn’t have to just be “deeper” with all the same basic tenets with greater certainty; it can also be radically “different” with far less strings attached and many more unknowns.

I’m not very science-y, but I know that evolution sheds things that we no longer need to survive.

Evolution implies a constant revitalization and renewing, that in a living system, things are always changing.

Evolution is centered on morphing and re-forming in small and big ways over a long trajectory.

These are beautiful things to consider related to faith–shedding things no longer needed to survive, renewing, morphing and changing over time.

Why are people so afraid of it?

Why are so many systems resistant to it?

Why is it called heresy or rebellion or a lack of faith?

Most of our existing religious systems are resistant to an evolving faith because it can’t be contained in the structures that exist. This completely messes up the entire industry, plan, status quo, what-is-needed-to-keep-the-wheels-turning.

There’s a lot of money to be made, buildings to be supported, Jesus to be “protected”,  people to be saved and folded into a culture in a particular way.  It’s worked for a long time for a lot of people (and still work), and fear is rampant–fear of losing people, losing God, losing lives, losing certainty. Plus, I want to honor the sincere fear that many people have for faith shifting souls; it comes from a good place, a true heart of concern.

The major pushback I have received over the years as a pastor walking with many faith shifting friends is that making room for an unraveling or evolving faith is equated with “leading people astray.” Nothing could be further from the truth, and it hurts because my experience has been the opposite.

The more people try to hold back an evolving faith, the less likely they are to make it to something new, resulting in a crazy big amount of “dones” (and not to be confused with don’t-cares) because there are so few spaces that can handle their honest and vulnerable evolution.

The more wide, safe, expansive spaces we create for faith shifters of all ages and experiences, the more the new and wild and beautiful things emerging can actually flourish.

Just like science evolution is beyond us, faith evolution is, too.

We can’t control it, manage it, make it not-happen for someone, or halt the process.  We can’t offer a certain sentence or scripture verse of coax someone back. Each person’s story and experience is completely different, and trying to contain it just won’t work.

But what does seem to help faith shifters the most is to find other kindred spirits along the way who are in the midst of an evolving, transforming faith, too and to each embrace our unique, unfolding story.

There’s nothing like the feeling of knowing we’re not crazy, we’re not alone, and a reminder that evolution of faith is not a path of destruction but a path of hope.

We can honor our past, celebrating what was and the good that was part of our faith story even though we don’t espouse to some of those beliefs or structures anymore. We can honor that living into the new story isn’t just an exercise in rebellion or running from our past but rather listening to a soul call that is deep within us that we can’t just ignore. For some of us, it’s time for a breaking story.

I am so glad to be part of the Evolving Faith Conference this weekend outside of Asheville. I’ve always said, “Faith Shift is rarely a topic at a conference because conferences are usually about growing churches not shrinking them!” It has been so encouraging to see this amazing team pull together such a quality and much-needed gathering in these wild and wonderful changing times.

I love hearing faith and evolution in the same sentence.

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

One Comment

  • You bet faith is always evolving! I’ve experienced it, researched it, etc. As you know, I share your conservative Evangelical background and also evolved to a much more liberated place, with a more solid foundation for embracing truth, a wider place for knowing grace.

    What’s hard for many, as it was initially for me, is to re-view Christian faith as historically developed basically as any faith system is. While it IS unique, it’s not uniquely unique.

    Rather, it emerged (evolved) out of concepts of its time and place, combining particularly elements from fast-changing Judaism (greatly varied itself), Greek worldview, and Persian/Indian.

    Luke gets the major credit for spinning such ingredients into a quasi (but seriously misleading) historical story that soon became the origin story of a new religion. Drawing on archetype and myth, the new myth (with many true and valuable elements) got taken as historical and as having God’s authority.

    Being unafraid to examine how this happened and what is properly retained from a largely hidden historical core is one of the key aspects of a growing Christian’s faith shifting. Ample material is available to guide one, but precious few good mentors or “spiritual directors” to help people. Thankfully, you are one.

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