Integral Christianity: Answering the Call to Evolve
In this discussion, Paul Smith talks to Ken Wilber about his latest book, Integral Christianity: The Spirit's Call to Evolve, laying the groundwork for a truly integral approach to Christianity that identifies, honors, and includes the very best of all previous interpretations of the Gospel, while clearing the space for radically new understandings, expressions, and experiences of Christianity to emerge.
Running time: 3 hours 7 minutes
Religion evolves. Here are two words that, in many people's minds, might seem to cancel each other out. But in reality, religion is truly not anti-evolutionary, despite many of the religious belief systems that insist otherwise. Likewise, evolution is not truly anti-spiritual, despite many of the materialistic belief systems that usually tend to deny interior realities altogether. In fact, our spirituality and religious expressions have evolved a great deal over the course of human history, growing through several major stages of psychological and cultural development, which Paul identifies as Tribal, Warrior, Traditional, Modern, Post-modern, and Integral.
Listen as Paul and Ken discuss how each of the eight major elements of Christian thought (the Bible, God, Jesus, Sin and Salvation, Heaven and Hell, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Mystical) are interpreted very differently from each of these major stages of consciousness.
Religion can be rational. Most people are accustomed to thinking of "religion" and "rationality" as existing on two ends of an axis, with the optimal result being an eventual transition from religious myth and superstition to rational science. But both science and religion have both mythic and rational forms—that is, religion is just as capable of rationality as any other human endeavor (though there are some very interesting reasons why rational religion has not been able to flourish in recent times), and writing off religion entirely because of its mythic roots would be like writing off modern science and medicine because of its roots in alchemy, phrenology, and leeching.
Simply opening the dialogue about rational approaches to religion is actually one of the most important contributions that Integral consciousness can make to this world. The gap that currently exists between traditional worldviews and rational worldviews has grown to staggering proportions, so much so that the great majority of human suffering in today's world can be said to exist within this evolutionary wound, simply because there is no perceived bridge that can take us from mythic religion to rational religion and beyond.
This seeming lack of rational versions of religion has caused the great majority of religious individuals and cultures to place an artificial ceiling on their own spiritual and psychological growth, resulting in all sorts of insidious pathologies, including arrested development, shadow projections, and the compartmentalization of beliefs so that otherwise rational people never allow the light of reason to illuminate their pre-rational mythic belief systems—a recipe for contradiction, hypocrisy, and inner turmoil.
A return to experience. As Paul puts it, "Christianity began in Palestine as an experience, it moved to Greece and became a philosophy, it moved to Italy and became an institution, it moved to Europe and became a culture, and it moved to America and became a business! We've left the experience long behind." One of the most important goals of Integral Christianity is to return to this emphasis upon direct experience, with the understanding that each of us is capable of having the exact same experiences as the great mystics themselves.
Additionally, this return to experience is vital for the rational levels of religion and beyond, as it is the basis for a truly empirical approach to spirituality and other interior realities, which consists of the following three-step process:
- injunction (perform the experiment, e.g. look through the telescope, or through the instrument of meditation)
- apprehension (have an experience, e.g. see the moons of Jupiter, or have a direct experience of transcendence, satori, or God's presence)
- confirmation (confirm your experience with a community of peers, e.g. compare your observations of Jupiter's moons with other adequately-equipped astronomers, or your experiences of divinity with other accomplished spiritual practitioners)
These are just three of the most important insights offered by Paul and Ken—though there are many more to be gleaned from this exceptionally rich dialogue. Whether you are a long-time practicing Christian who is trying to revitalize your spiritual path, a "recovering Christian" trying to make amends with the tradition of your childhood, or a non-Christian who is simply trying to better understand the Christian tradition and the social and cultural impact it continues to have upon our world, there is no better place to start than this extraordinary and foundational conversation.
Written by Corey W. deVos
THE EVOLUTION OF ALL RELIGIONS into deeper, wider, and higher dimensions is crucial to the evolution of human spirituality and consciousness. In this book Smith presents just such an inviting and expansive pathway for the Christian religion that is faithful to a Jesus-centered theology of biblical interpretation and illuminated by the emerging field of integral philosophy.
The perspectives of integral theory and practice articulated by Ken Wilber help uncover the integral approach that Jesus advocated and demonstrated in the metaphors of his time – and that traditional Christianity has largely been unable to see.
Smith incorporates elements of traditional, modern, and postmodern theological viewpoints, including progressive, New Thought, and emerging/emergent ones. However, he goes beyond all of them and moves to a Christianity that is devoted to following both the historical Jesus and the Risen Cosmic Christ whose Spirit beckons to us from the future.
He says, "The oldest thing you can say about God is that God is always doing something new. Jesus pushed his own religion to newness by including the best of its past, and transcending the worst of its present. He calls us to do the same, whatever our religion is today. Jesus continues to be a prototype for all spiritual paths in their task of keeping up with the Spirit's evolutionary impulse to welcome the next transcendent stage."
Other Pieces You May Enjoy
Christians and their communities of faith exist in rich diversity today. Why are there so many different kinds of Christians and churches? There are historical aspects, political factors, matter of taste, and personality types. However, from an integral perspective of evolutionary stages we can see a quite remarkable tendency for churches to fall into one of perhaps six different altitudes of understanding. I and others often call these six stages tribal, warrior, traditional, modern, postmodern, and integral. In the next few posts I want to outline how understanding stages of faith and church can help us understand one another and act in more loving ways toward each other in the midst of all of our differences.
Father Thomas Keating, Rollie Stanich, and Ken Wilber discuss the "inside" and the "outside" of the Christian tradition, exploring the rich contemplative legacy that exists at the core of the world's largest religion....
In this lively discussion, Br. David Steindl-Rast and Ken Wilber suggest an exciting new path for the Christian tradition. The two discuss the concept of Integral panentheism—the belief that God imminently exists within the manifest universe, interpenetrating all that we can touch and see, while simultaneously existing infinitely beyond the universe in timeless transcendence. They then explore the "Three Faces of God," a remarkably insightful way of approaching spiritual realities that helps organize and understand all of the various descriptions of the divine throughout all the world’s great spiritual traditions. Finally, Ken and Br. David explore some specific practices to help cultivate and stabilize our experiences of gratitude, and to learn how to deal with those darker aspects of our lives we simply cannot feel grateful for, no matter how hard we might try...
Corey outlines two concepts that lie at the core of the religious, spiritual, and mystical dialogue: states and stages of consciousness. Offering an overview of two of the world’s foremost Christian thinkers, theologian James Fowler and mystical writer Evelyn Underhill, this piece explores ways to integrate these two pioneers into a more comprehensive view of the Christian experience.
Paul Smith is an author, teacher, and recently retired after serving 49 years as minister at Broadway Church in Kansas City, Missouri. While in high school he founded a series of spiritually transforming youth camps and college retreats that were attended by thousands of young people annually over a period of ten years. After his undergraduate degree from Washington University and Master’s degree in theology and biblical studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he came to Broadway Baptist Church in midtown Kansas City, Missouri in 1963.
Ken Wilber is the founder of Integral Institute and the co-founder of Integral Life. He is an internationally acknowledged leader and the preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. His many books, all of which are still in print, can be found at Amazon.com. Some of his more popular books include Integral Spirituality; No Boundary; Grace and Grit; Sex, Ecology, Spirituality; and the "everything" books: A Brief History of Everything (one of his largest selling books) and A Theory of Everything (probably the shortest introduction to his work).