Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

McLaren and The "Framing Story" of Evolution

I've been devouring Brian McLaren's latest book, Everything Must Change with much fervour over the last week or so. I've just finished reading the section on "framing stories" (part 3 of the book) and suggest this is perhaps key to the "emerging" understanding of Jesus and his mission. It's also probably key to understanding why the modern church must change the way it approaches the gospel and the world in which it exists.

But, I also think the framing story's concept has something to say about one of the most influential framing stories of the last 150 years, a framing story Brian often directly and sometimes indirectly deals with in many of his books. That is the framing story of evolutionary theory.

I am a creationist. Once upon a time I would have prefixed this title with "young earth" or "biblical". More recently my understanding of the source of my identity has changed and I don't feel the need to "identify" myself in this way any more. Yet, "creationist" still describes how I understand God and his work as the cause of the universe.

A framing story exists in this view of God. In the past my understanding of this framing story was hard, dogmatic and disconnected from the gospel. Now I feel I can freely admit some of my struggle with certain aspects of the Genesis creation account, aspects that cause a few problems if viewed as historical events. I have to confess I find it more difficult to accept the talking serpent of Eden than I do Balaams talking ass (i.e. donkey not backside). However, I still struggle greatly with the concept of theistic evolution which steps well outside the conceptual order present in the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2. It talks about a God who is in control, and who presents his creation in a finished form. It gives us a picture of the "re-created" earth, so popular (and rightly so) in emerging theology.

It stands over and against the framing story of evolution.

Yet evolution is as significant a framing story in our day and age as the divinity of the Caesars was in their day. While Brian is quick to point out the way Christ's message opposed the framing story of the Roman Empire he is just as quick to accept the framing story presented by evolution.

While I have moved away from trying to build a definitive counter-theory I can say with confidence that I understand the science on both sides of the fence. Thanks to a freedom of post modernism, a freedom to question, I feel I can say the holes on the scientific creationists side of the fence are no less significant than those on the evolutionists and, at the end of the day, the difference of opinion comes down to the very framing story's employed by the debaters and discoverers themselves. At either end of the scale are extremists (maybe Dawkins and Ham?)

Yet there appears to be very little middle ground in these arguments, at a least not any middle grown that doesn't require compromise, the kind of compromise represented in Everything Must Change by the example of the Herodians and the Saducees, willing to accept aspects of the Roman Empire in order to build security for themselves. According to Brian though, Christ's way opposed this.

The framing story of evolution proclaims "survival of the fittest" yet Christ proclaims "love your neighbour as you love yourself". The framing story of evolution proclaims "blind processes and chance" while John proclaims Christ as the "creator of the world".

I began distancing myself from the creationist movement a few years ago because I started to see shortcomings in the approach and practice of those involved in it and the contrast it created with the life of Christ in the gospels - the same as the shortcomings and the contrast created by much of the modern evangelical church. However, while the details may be hotly contested and debated (but this is healthy, right?) and the science tested, the theory of evolution stands out as an inferior framing story when compared to that given to us by God in Christ. And just as Christ stands over and against the framing stories of the Middle East of the Roman period he also stands over and against the modernistic, scientific framing stories of the late 20th and early 21st century.

I think the concept of framing stories is so incredibly important in understanding and contextualising Jesus' ministry in the first century but also in contextualising and understanding his ministry in the world of the 21st century. I think, as this seems to be one of the central points of Everything Must Change, Brian would agree. Yet I think it is also something Brian may have overlooked in his acceptance of the "facts" of evolution and its place in our understanding (framing story) of the modern world - influencing everything from archeology to psychology.


NewJerseyJesus said...

Thanks for this post. I'll be ordering McLaren's book.

The Creature said...

Hey - Good stuff. It's a really worthwhile read. I hope you enjoy it and are challanged by it, as I was.

BTW - What's your take on the "evolution as a framing story" idea?