Practical Darwinism

“Doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life, as one can in any likelihood pursue.” Charles Darwin

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Darwin

“The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress.” Peter Kropotkin of Darwinism

“Go with the flow.” Queens of the Stone Age

Contrast the above with:

“I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The Apostle Paul

“We make it our aim, then, to please Him.” Paul

Evolutionary theory came to us through the work of Charles Darwin. Darwinism, a term coined by Thomas Huxley, among other things argues that survival serves as a core value of life. Lived out practically, one who takes risks, lives on edge, and attempts radical endeavors would struggle to survive when compared to those who live a more stable, safe, and risk-free existence (see the quote by Peter Kropotkin above). Live on the edge and face possible extinction. “The unsociable species are doomed to decay,” Kropotkin argued. Learn to go with the flow, adapt to the times, and play it safe to survive.

Fine. But there is a problem if you are a follower of Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to another way of living, a dying to self, risk-everything kind of life. It beckons its adherents to live in such a way that many in history died a martyr’s death. It goes against the grain of the world system, so Paul called the gospel a stumbling block to Jews and a scandal to Greeks, hardly a “go with the flow” concept.

And yet the gospel continued to expand, and as Tertullian put it, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The church expands in China in the face of persecution. The church survives in some Muslim lands where following Christ can lead to death. Darwinism seems not to work when applied to radical Christianity, for the more surrendered Christ followers tend to be, the more outside the status quo of a given culture they tend to live, and the more they thrive. Yet believers in the Western church too often function like Darwinists. “Don’t rock the boat,” “We’ve never done it that way before,” “Let’s form a committee to talk about this;” these kinds of expressions seem more common than examples of radical faith in our day.

Enter Seth Godin the evolutionist. If you read his works his devotion to evolutionary theory is quite clear. And yet in his writings he sounds to me often like an evangelical calling people to live lives that matter. Yes, his reasoning is different, and his evolutionary theory clouds things at times. But reading a book like Linchpin, where he argues each of us is an artist, and challenges every person to live valuable lives, sounds strangely reminiscent at times of Paul.

Of course Godin and Paul are not talking about the same thing. But it strikes me as I speak to youth group after youth group, encountering so many students who never seem to do anything of note for Jesus other than showing up at the youth rally and helping to serve Pizza, that we have in effect created a survivalist mentality in the church. I think about businessmen I meet who have learned how to compartmentalize their faith so that church and life exist in separate silos. These same men who love Jesus want so much more out of Christianity than showing up on Sundays and serving as an usher. I wonder about the unchurched friend of mine who sees Christianity as one more thing to add to a checklist of an already busy life rather than a radical transformation that takes us to the place we were created for in the first place-to worship the Most High God. We seem to send the message that a good Christian is one who does not cause a stir, who fits in, and who goes with the flow. So we teach evangelism in a way that would hardly offend a heretic and worry that our efforts at godly character might somehow hinder the very work of God we claim to be advancing.

We sometimes seem to make very good Darwinists in the way we live our lives. Be conventional, not radical. Live sensible rather than compelling lives. But when Paul entered a city as recorded in Acts he caused a revival or a riot or both. He seemed to live and teach as if he believed every follower of Christ should so live as to make an impact for the gospel. Godin says each of us should stop acting like a cog in a wheel that turns incessantly and become an artist, creating beauty in our time. He argues we should reject life as a factory — showing up, checking in, and doing the minimum – and instead do something that matters.

The evolutionist sounds like an evangelist. Fascinating.

What if we taught and lived the gospel before a younger generation so that they would see it as a normal thing to be loving their friends to Christ, to risk their reputation and ultimately their finances, their vocation, everything for the gospel? What if we challenged them to consider options other than the conventional approach to life, like spending a year after high school overseas, or finding a career that may not pay as much but may actually allow them to do what God created them to do for the gospel? What if we treated men like Jim Elliot and William Carey not as the one in a million exceptional Christian (so we do not have to be like them), and instead as examples of what a follower of Christ should be? What if we expected every person in our churches to see all of life from the lens of the gospel, so that everything in life, not just their compartmentalized church life, reflected the radical grace seen in Christ?

If we did so, we might be doing more than survive in this culture. We may actually change it.

We affirm the biblical teaching that we were not formed out of a series of random acts, but by the will of God, to enjoy remarkable, amazing grace, and to worship that God with all of life. Perhaps we will see more gospel fruit if we actually lived that way.

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  1 Comment

  1. Don Goforth   •  

    Excellent and in your face. We want people to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior and often forget to make true disciples. We live and let live, never expecting believers to even try to live like Jesus. What a great reminder of who we ought to be as followers of the Way living everyday in order to bring glory to God.

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