1/15 – The Pulse of Possibility – A Retrospective Review of the Work of Bruce Sanguin

Trevor Malkinson

Trevor Malkinson

This new cosmological model called the human being comes equipped with the creative power of a supernova, the radiance of a golden spruce, the resiliency of our bacterial cousins, the determination of a spawning Coho salmon, and the heart-wisdom of Sophia. And in the “fullness of time”, Jesus emerges, a perfect reflection of the light of God. – Bruce Sanguin, Darwin, Divinity and the Dance of the Cosmos- An Ecological Christianity

Putting on the Mind of the Cosmos – Beginnings

Bruce Sanguin

Bruce Sanguin

Trevor Malkinson

Trevor Malkinson

In the past fifteen years the Reverend Bruce Sanguin has become a leader in the emerging field of evolutionary spirituality, with his integrally informed and cosmologically oriented version of Christianity. He has written six books in the last nine years, become an internationally sought after speaker in the area of progressive Christianity, and all this while leading a cutting edge congregation in Vancouver that experimented with his theology and new models of church.

The story of Sanguin’s adventures in evolutionary theology began with a silent retreat he took on Rhode Island in 1994. After reading The Universe Is a Green Dragon by the mathematical physicist and cosmologist Brian Swimme, something had happened- “By the end of the book, I had undergone a mystical transformation. I realized I am not separate from the processes that created me…I am the presence of the universe after 13.7 billion years.” (1) During this extended “awakening” he experienced himself as “the presence of a living universe in human form”, (2) and has been trying to understand and unpack this realization every since.

But that process took some time. His first book Summoning the Whirlwind, published in 2006, is a collection of his sermons that has him working with the ideas of Rene Girard and Walter Wink among others. But the cosmological shift was still not there, he had yet to formulate it in any distinct or formal way. This would change the following year with the publication of his book Darwin, Divinity and the Dance of the Cosmos, a text still full of unique insights and a burgeoning hermeneutic where Sanguin would use the two stories of the Bible and evolution “as interpretive keys to unlock the other’s deeper meaning”. (3)

Shortly after writing Darwin and Divinity Sanguin would discover Spiral Dynamics and the work of Ken Wilber, reading Wilber’s Sex, Ecology, Spirituality and then going to New York to do Spiral Dynamics training with Don Beck. (4) This new cocktail of influences would combine with his cosmic mysticism to form an increasingly original body of work that he’s been relentlessly developing ever since.

It was also at this time (2008) that I entered Sanguin’s church and eventually became a member, inspired by what I was hearing in the weekly sermons. So inspired in fact, that my life suddenly changed course one Sunday when I felt the call to go into ministry myself. I’m currently completing a Masters of Divinity at the Vancouver School of Theology, and over the past six years Sanguin has become a friend, mentor, and colleague. The rest of the article will be a short review of his theology and his views on leadership, as curated through my own sensibilities and mutual interests. And there will be some criticism of his work at the end too. Let’s turn now to a more in-depth exploration of his evolutionary theology.

All of Creation Groans – Creativity and the Cosmic Christ

Before getting into some of Sanguin’s specific formulations, it’s worth situating his work in what is a long lineage of panenthesitic thought, a stream of theology and philosophy that sees the Divine as both transcendent and immanent, with the two being related in a nondual way. Probably the two best introductory articles on this loose historical tradition are Tom Huston’s A Brief History of Evolutionary Spirituality, (5) and Michael Murphy’s The Emergence of Evolutionary Panentheism. (6) Also important is Ernst Benz’s Evolution and Christian Hope- Man’s Concept of the Future From the Early Church Fathers to Teilhard de Chardin. (7) Despite a variety of expressions, all of the mystics, philosophers and theologians in this lineage are gripped by one central tenet- that God or the Divine is somehow working itself out in the material cosmos, that nature is “secret God” (Aurobindo) and “slumbering Spirit” (Schelling) forging its way to full realization within the material realm. Many proto-versions of this view are attested to in the Bible, including Paul’s statement that “the whole of creation has been groaning in labor pains” for the full flowering of the Spirit (Romans 8:23).

What’s interesting about Bruce Sanguin’s work is that he only connected to this lineage after the periods described in the introductory section above. He has mainly been working in his own wilderness, wrestling with the experience he had with whatever tools were available. So for this reason I do not want to reduce Sanguin’s work to this school, for it does not sprout directly out of it. However, I do think it’s valuable to know that Sanguin’s views are not some strange singular entity either, that they are one of the latest manifestations in a long and growing current of religious thought.

Sanguin contends that the “impulse to evolve is essentially sacred”, (8) and that “God is active, alluring all creation toward a promise of fulfillment”. (9) God here is seen and experienced as immanent within all of the cosmos, always spurring creation toward novel emergence in the service of a Divine purpose. This view is central to the biblical prophetic tradition too. As Walter Brueggemann writes, “The prophetic tradition proclaims a God who is an active agent, who is manifestly present in the life of the world and is always in the business of creating newness: “I am about to do a new thing; do you not perceive it?” (Isa. 43:19)”. (10) Thus the goal of what Sanguin calls “evolutionary Christian mysticism” is to align oneself with this ever-present current of latent newness- “My core spiritual practice as a Christian is to situate myself in the same stream of divine/cosmic yearning that animated and took flesh in Jesus of Nazareth- and to do so until I become one with this impulse. When I am in this yearning, this blessed unrest to be the incarnational presence of God’s love and creativity, I experience the joy of deep purpose”. (11)

For Sanguin, “An evolutionary, sacred intelligence is coursing through you and me”, and “we are that process in human form”. (12) We are to allow “the creativity that shaped a universe to also shape us”, and “our unique function and capacity as humans is to participate in the longing of all creation, come to conscious awareness in us, for the New Human”. (13) It is here that Jesus emerges as an important cipher for this comic story. Sanguin writes, “What if he is not the exception but rather a true reflection of Reality? Yes, it took human beings 200,000 years to arrive at the expression of divinity personified in a human being. But he is where the evolutionary trajectory is headed”. (14)

Sanguin believes that as we get to higher levels of psycho-spiritual development (the turquoise level in Spiral Dynamics terms), “The distinction between Jesus and the Christ Mystery clarifies. Jesus is seen as the personalization of the all-pervasive Christ Mystery”. (15) A little background here might be useful. The term the Christ– meaning “the messiah” or “anointed one”- was applied to Jesus of Nazareth by his followers. Christ was not Jesus’ last name, but a religious designation applied to him.

As early Christian thought developed “the Christ” became identified as a quasi-divine first principle in the universe, such as in the prologue to the Gospel of John where it says, “In the beginning was the Word [Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being…And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:1-3; 14). It’s interesting to note that Chinese translations of the Bible have John’s prologue saying, “In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God”, linking it to the central concept in Taoism. The “Word” in John’s gospel can also be translated as Logos, which calls forth resonances with the Stoic conception of Logos as a divine animating principle that pervades the universe. And in the Hebrew Bible the figure of Wisdom is also conceived as being with God at the beginning, and animating the cosmos in a generative way (Proverbs 8:22-31).

This brief comparative foray may help bring into a relief a widespread religious conception that also found its way into Christian thought (see also Colossians 1:15-18). For Teilhard de Chardin, and increasingly in Sanguin’s work too, it is this Christ principle that becomes the locus of our attention and practice. In a recent interview with the evolutionary theologian Ilia Delio, Sanguin describes the Christ as “the presence of an originating whole, implicate at all scales of creation, from cosmic to biological to consciousness to culture etc. [It’s] the alluring power of love calling all creation into wholeness. There’s a sense in which if we are consciously participating in becoming more whole ourselves, we are in relationship with the Christ mystery”. And from here we can see that “Jesus is the one who in himself is the personalization of that whole making that is the presence of God in the cosmos…He therefore becomes an alluring source of wholeness for us”. (16)

Matthew Fox was a harbinger of this shift towards the Christ principle in his 1988 book The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, and recently Father Richard Rohr has said that this emphasis will be an important one for Christianity going forward. (17)  Sanguin says his new book will be centered on further unpacking this notion and what it may mean for our lives, so we can look forward to his future contributions in this increasingly important area of evolutionary theology.

Evolutionary Provocateurs – Leadership Within An Evolutionary Paradigm

Sanguin’s leadership philosophy and style emanates directly out of his theology as described above. He offers a succinct account of this when he writes, “Setting our own movement through life within this larger movement of a sacred life process is our vocation”. (18) It is when he chooses to live within this alignment that he “feels most alive”. (19) Thus the role of clergy for Sanguin is to live this out in their own lives, which means a (possibly controversial) “shift from personal chaplain to spiritual leader and evolutionary provocateur”. (20)

This type of leadership takes courage and authenticity, and Sanguin says that he lacked this during the early years of his ministry- “It took me the first 10 years of ministry to understand the cost of not bringing my unique self to the job…I lacked the courage to be myself”. (21) But when he got to Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver, Canada, in 1996, he decided to make a substantial shift and take a risk. “My intention was to show up with my authentic self- all my limitations, excellence, passion, weaknesses, gifts, bumbling, glory, love and failures of love, all my strength and wavering- and this is also what I most wanted from them as well. Together we would explore what it means to be “in Christ” and to proclaim and enact the Kin(g)dom of God with as much passion and authenticity as we could muster. We’d write a new script together that made room for our authentic voices”. (22)

The gamble paid off. Canadian Memorial grew slowly into an evolutionary orientation, with an emergent paradigm at the heart of its culture. Sanguin writes that “when developing an emergent culture: the desired future is discovered, not manufactured or engineered”. (23) Programs were set up where people discovered their gifts, and seed money was put aside so that they could start a small ministry based on what they felt called to offer. Sanguin became what he called a “leader of leaders”, (24) shifting the field to a more horizontal network with his own provocative example at the center. As a member of that congregation for the last five years of that era (Sanguin left in 2013), it was quite something to witness the fertility of the culture. The only problem was how to organize and contain all that was emerging, something that’s only beginning to happen now.

This whole experiment came with its share of difficulties though, and Sanguin took more than a few slings and arrows while publishing his books and leading the congregation. One of the greatest sources of subtle malcontent was from other people within the United Church of Canada. As Sanguin writes, “I’ve sometimes experienced an unconscious bias against leadership in my denomination. This goes back to the worldview of the Green [postmodern] value system. If there are leaders, then we’re not all equal. Leadership, therefore, is by definition hierarchical, and everybody knows that this is a real bad thing”. (25) The United Church is in my view mired in the culture of this postmodern flattening, and people are not supposed to be leaders in the classical sense, especially not flashy ones with fancy new theologies. It was fascinating to me when meeting other United Church ministers that there was often a slight distaste when Sanguin’s name came up, and their views of who he was (egotistical, un-Christian, etc.) were totally off the mark from the person I knew. But looking through an integral lens I could see that he was pushing through the barrier of a particular worldview, and this was causing agitation to many from afar.

But as Sanguin points out, “The Indo-European root of the word leadership, leith, means “to go forth”, “to cross a threshold”, or “to die””. (26) And when Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem”- or decided to head into Jerusalem and challenge the powers there, actions almost sure to get him killed- “nobody supported him- not his disciples not his friends, and certainly not the religious and political authorities”. (26) It has been my experience that Sanguin models this type of leadership courage, and has risked much once again by starting his new experiment at Home For Evolving Mystics (see further explanation below), and putting himself in financial risk by clearing a space to pursue his evolutionary theology in a full-blown way.

In summing up his views of what kind of leaders are needed in the church, Sanguin writes- “The church needs leadership that is self-defining, able to stay connected across differences, emotionally intelligent, and shadow conscious- people who can set their face toward Jerusalem for the sake of the kin-dom of God”. (28)

Accolades and Criticisms

One of Sanguin’s books that has not been referenced in the sections above is his book of prayers If Darwin Prayed- Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics (2012).  This is a great text, and in my view will be remembered in the coming decades as a classic. The form of prayer/poetry comes naturally to Sanguin, and within the pages is a wonderfully fluid mashup of science, evolutionary intelligence, theology, biblical references, snippets from popular songs, and so on. Here’s how Tripp Fuller, co-host of the popular podcast Homebrewed Christianity, reviewed it- “There are two ways to truly explore an evolutionary panentheistic Christianity.  One involves a bunch of books with tons of footnotes and the other is prayer.  Bruce’s prayers are composed with the hand of a poet, the heart of minister, and eye opening sincerity. You just can’t help but lean into the integral vision they inspire.” This was only one of numerous favorable reviews of the book, with many perhaps surprisingly coming from the ‘emerging’ and ‘post-evangelical’ streams of American Christianity.

Attention should also be drawn to the work Sanguin is currently doing at his website Home For Evolving Mystics. He continues to push his work with a steady stream of new influences, and has been doing some important integral work too. In my experience there’s often been a lack of the include side of the transcend-and-include equation in integral literature and practice. But for many integral practitioners a shift is underway to explore the early stages in a more sustained way, and this is also true for Sanguin. He has written recently on reintegrating aspects of animism (29), magic (30), and indigenosity (through the work of Stephen Jenkinson). Beyond that specific focus just about any post on the site is bound to contain a fertile insight or two.

Echoing Nietzsche’s line that “One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil”, (31) I turn now to my criticisms of Sanguin’s corpus to date, which are threefold and closely related. The first is that he does not tackle the problem of evil. He is not alone in the field of evolutionary spirituality (full of Panglossians), and Teilhard de Chardin (for instance) only mentions it in a brief appendix to The Phenomenon of Man. The answers from the Process theologians strike me as too philosophical and abstract. Sanguin’s general outlook is summed up in Tenet 6 of his Core Principles of An Evolutionary Christian Culture– “As people of faith, we do not make the assumption that the universe is aligned against us, or even neutral. Rather it is for us. The evolutionary process itself is the patient unfolding of the divine heart and mind, coming to fruition in willing, surrendered souls”. (32) There’s a deep, important truth there, but it does not account for the evil in the world, unleashed in so many horrific ways in the 20th century. It sure seems to me like there are many forces against the unfolding of the better world our hearts know is possible, and a more complete evolutionary theology will have to tackle this in its cosmology. We may remember the poignant words of Martin Luther King Jr.- “Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be coworkers with God”. (33)

Secondly, there is no discussion of what the New Testament calls “the principalities and powers”, the deep sense (found in other religions) that the evil in this world has cosmological dimensions. As the author of Ephesians writes, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The 20th century theologian who most prominently and powerfully brought this discourse back to the table was William Stringfellow. For Stringfellow, “Despite people’s ambitions to power, the principalities lie beyond human control. Yet we depend on them, devote ourselves to them, and even die for them. They organize our efforts into horrific wars as well as into marvelous orchestras”. (34)

A fully fleshed out evolutionary theology must understand and account for the role of Thanatos and destruction in the cosmic story. There might be a teleological directionality to the cosmos, and that might be towards goodness (I happen to agree with this), but a deeper investigation into these forces, their negative effects on us and our world, and how we might overcome them, needs to be undertaken. I think that Sanguin would have much to offer in this realm and I would be very interested in his perceptions.


Lastly, there is very little mention of collapse or civilizational breakdown and decay in his general cosmic narrative. In Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History for instance, he studies nineteen civilizations, all of which at some point declined and disintegrated. A study of history reveals that collapse phases are a repeating part of the human story. (35) Yet we rarely hear this in the unidirectional growth-to-goodness narrative of so much evolutionary spirituality, Sanguin’s work included. As the field grows and matures it will have to wrestle with this reality.

Concluding Remarks

Luckily Bruce Sanguin looks primed for more than a good decade of writing and teaching to come; physically fit and younger than his years, retired now from ministry to focus on his work full time, he will have plenty of prime years to answer (or rebut) the criticisms above, and to continue developing his theology in his usual ongoing way. Sanguin has a rare gift of being fertile with insights. His alignment with the pulse of possibility and the whole-making Christ principle has turned on a spigot that has yet to run dry. His work will be combed over and mined in the years and decades to come, and in my view will lastingly contribute to that great panentheistic lineage of which it is a part. It’s amazing to think of what can happen on just one day in a person’s life- you sit down to read a book of cosmology on a silent retreat, and all of a sudden, everything is new.


“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17



[1] ‘An All or Nothing Guy’. United Church Observer. November 2011. [Accessed October, 2014].

Swimme, Brian. (2001). The Universe Is A Green Dragon- A Cosmic Creation Story. US: Bear & Company.

[2] “I knew myself to be the universe noticing itself through my embodied experience. After 13.7 billion years the cosmos was awakening to itself through me- and through all of us”. Sanguin, Bruce. ‘Ministry- Why Bother?’ Touchstone. (Vol. 29), January 2011, Number 1, p.22.

[3] “This book is a collection of reflections that emerged when these two stories- the Bible and evolution- were used as interpretive keys to unlock the other’s deeper meaning”. Sanguin, Bruce. (2012). The Advance of Love- Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Heart. Vancouver, BC: Sanguin and Evans Publishing. p.xv.

[4] Wilber, Ken. (2000). Sex, Ecology, Spirituality- The Spirit of Evolution. Boston: Shambhala.

[5] Huston, Tom. ‘A Brief History of Evolutionary Spirituality’. (Originally published in EnlightenNext Issue 35, January-March 2007). [Accessed October 2014]

[6] Murphy, Michael. The Emergence of Evolutionary Panentheism. October 23, 2012. [Accessed October 2014]

[7] Benz, Ernst. (1966). Evolution and Christian Hope: Man’s Concept of the Future, from the Early Fathers to Teilhard de Chardin. Munich: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

[8] Sanguin, Bruce. ‘Ministry- Why Bother?’ Touchstone. (Vol. 29), January 2011, Number 1, p.23.

[9] Sanguin, Bruce. (2012). The Advance of Love- Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Heart. Vancouver, BC: Sanguin and Evans Publishing. p.xiv

[10] Brueggemann, Walter. (2012). The Practice of Prophetic Imagination- Preaching An Emancipating Word. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. p.xiii.

[11] ‘An All or Nothing Guy’. United Church Observer. November 2011. [Accessed October 20, 2014]

[12] Sanguin, Bruce. (2012). The Advance of Love- Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Heart. Vancouver, BC: Sanguin and Evans Publishing. p.19.

[13] Sanguin, Bruce. (2014). The Emerging Church- A Model for Change and a Map for Renewal (Revised and Expanded). Canada: CopperHouse. p.121, 113.

[14] Sanguin, Bruce. (2012). The Advance of Love- Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Heart. Vancouver, BC: Sanguin and Evans Publishing. p.5.

[15] Sanguin, Bruce. (2014). The Emerging Church- A Model for Change and a Map for Renewal (Revised and Expanded). Canada: CopperHouse. p.97.

[16] Sanguin, Bruce. ‘Ilia Delio- The Emergent Christ’. Home For Evolving Mystics. [Accessed October 20, 2014]

Also: “Christ is the “fiery force”, the hidden life that is the “essence” of all things…The Christ is the principle of growth animating all creation”. Sanguin, Bruce. (2014). The Emerging Church- A Model for Change and a Map for Renewal (Revised and Expanded). Canada: CopperHouse. p.97

[17] Fox, Matthew. (1988). The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. US: HarperSanFrancisco.

Rohr, Richard. ‘Richard Rohr- Cosmic Christ’. Catholic Corner. [Accessed October 20, 2014]

[18] Sanguin, Bruce. (2014). The Emerging Church- A Model for Change and a Map for Renewal (Revised and Expanded). Canada: CopperHouse. p.169.

[19] “I am also the presence of the universe in human form – the conscious face of evolution. When I choose to live as a manifestation of this fire, I feel most alive. My big self is as large as a cosmos and still expanding. This I call my soul”. ‘An All or Nothing Guy’. United Church Observer. November 2011. [Accessed October, 2014]

[20] Sanguin, Bruce. (2014). The Emerging Church- A Model for Change and a Map for Renewal (Revised and Expanded). Canada: CopperHouse. p.177.

[21] Sanguin, Bruce. ‘Ministry- Why Bother?’ Touchstone. (Vol. 29), January 2011, Number 1, p.21.

[22] Ibid, p.22.

[23] Sanguin, Bruce. (2014). The Emerging Church- A Model for Change and a Map for Renewal (Revised and Expanded). Canada: CopperHouse. p.177.

[24] Sanguin, Bruce. ‘Ministry- Why Bother?’ Touchstone. (Vol. 29), January 2011, Number 1, p.22.

[25] Sanguin, Bruce. (2014). The Emerging Church- A Model for Change and a Map for Renewal (Revised and Expanded). Canada: CopperHouse. p.144.

[26] Ibid, p.157.

[27] Ibid, p.158.

[28] Ibid, p.158.

[29] Sanguin, Bruce. ‘Owen Barfield Rocks’. Home for Evolving Mystics.  [Accessed October, 2014]

[30] Sanguin, Bruce. ‘Do You Believe in Magic?’ Home for Evolving Mystics.  [Accessed October, 2014]

[31] Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1992). Ecce Homo. England: Penguin Books. p. 6 (Foreword #4)

[32] Sanguin, Bruce. ‘Core Principles of an Evolutionary Christian Culture’. Home For Evolving Mystics.   [Accessed October, 2014]

 [33] Luther King Jr., Martin. ‘Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution’. Martin King Jr. Research and Education Institute.  [Accessed October, 2014]

[34] Schneider, Nathan. ‘The Biblical Circus of William Stringfellow’. Religious Dispatches. October 14, 2009.   [Accessed October, 2014]

[35] “There’s a pattern that history seems to have, and we’re all aware of it aren’t we, we all know that since human civilization first arose there’s been a pattern of it rising to some level of grandeur, and then collapsing eventually into a dark age and then rising up again to sort of repeat the process. If we’re optimistic we like to think that every time human civilization rises anew out of a dark age, that it reaches a greater height than before; maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not, but we all realize that there’s this sort of bunny hop rhythm to history, two steps forward and one step back. But as I was doing the research for this particular show, it struck me yet again, how much we consider ourselves exempt from this cyclical rhythm of history. We all know that civilization rises to a certain height and then collapses into a dark age, but we never imagine that we’re going to be a part of that. Somehow if you wanted to compare human civilization to software versions, maybe the world that first rose up in Mesopotamia and those people who first started building cities, and first started writing down history, maybe that’s human civilization 1.0, if we wanted to say it that way. And by now we’re at human civilization like 5.5, and there’s something in our heads or our DNA, that just tells us that there aren’t going to be any more versions, no more patches, no more upgrades, this is the final world. But I’m doing my research for this show and nothing stands out more plainly to me then that’s how people always think. All of the other human ancestors of ours who lived through these bunny hop cycles of history, thought they were the final world. And most of them understood that whole cycle thing just like we do”. Carlin, Dan. ‘Judgment at Nineveh’. Hardcore History.   [Accessed October, 2014]

 Sanguin’s Bibliography

 Sanguin, B. (2006). Summoning the Whirlwind. Kelowna, BC, Canada: Wood Lake Publishing Inc.

Sanguin, B. (2007). Darwin, Divinity and the Dance of the Cosmos: An Ecological Christianity. Kelowna, BC, Canada: Wood Lake Publishing Inc.

Sanguin, B. (2008). Emerging Church: A Model for Change and A Map for Renewal. Kelowna, BC, Canada: Wood Lake Publishing Inc.

Sanguin, B. (2010). If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics. Vancouver, BC, Canada: Sanguin Publishing Inc.

Sanguin, B. (2012). The Advance of Love: Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Heart. Vancouver, BC, Sanguin and Evans Publishing.

Sanguin, B. (2014). The Emerging Church Revised and Expanded. Kelowna, BC, Canada: CopperHouse.

About the Author

Trevor Malkinson lives in Vancouver, Canada. He did a BA in philosophy at the University of Victoria, and a MA in philosophy at Brock University, Ontario. He is currently completing a Masters of Divinity at the Vancouver School of Theology and will be ordained in the United Church of Canada. He was one of the founders of Beams and Struts, an integrally informed online magazine that ran for four years.



  1. Douglas Todd on January 19, 2015 at 9:00 am

    Great essay Trevor. You’ve captured a lot. Your complements and three critiques make sense. But I note that you devote one sentence to saying the answers that process thought offers to your three related critiques are “too philosophical and abstract.” I’m not sure what that means, since you are clearly a person who enjoys philosophy and abstraction. But maybe it just means you disagree, or you somehow don’t like the conclusions of process theology. That would be interesting to discuss in more detail. I would say process thought, particularly as conveyed by people like AN Whitehead, John Cobb, Jay McDaniel and David Ray Griffin, provide very full responses to your concerns. Indeed, some of these folks have written books on the subjects of evil, power and collapse. Whatever the case, nicely written, clear essay.

  2. Trevor Malkinson on January 26, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Hi Doug, thanks for the comment. Apologies for the late reply, I don’t think there is an automatic email notification function for the author, so I’ll have to come back and check in a little more often.

    Let me speak to your question re: my remarks around process theology and the problem of evil. First of all, in retrospect, given your comment, my single line is not an argument that’s fleshed out, but a unsupported statement, and probably shouldn’t have been put in like that. It’s a bit unfair, so I appreciate the challenge.

    Here’s a few points to flesh out my perspective a little more. Firstly, generally speaking, I’m not much inclined toward rational theology (or the philosophy of religion) as a starting point in talking about God. I’m never really sure if we are actually touching the Real or are simply caught in the realm of human mentation. I’m generally skeptical of the project of starting from first principles or abstract rational concepts in trying to talk about or ‘prove God’. So for instance, one of the standard concepts about God that process theology challenges when it comes to the problem of evil, is omnipotence. They argue, as you well know, for a less coercive version of power and so on (and make great points in this realm). But as it’s been said before, these concepts of God- all knowing, all powerful, all good- are Greek philosophical categories that don’t show up in those forms in the biblical narrative. So we’re already in a philosophical debate that I think is the wrong starting point. Maybe others see this as important and key, and I’d be open to a case for that, but I’m currently more in line with postmodern ‘radical theology/death of God’ currents that emphasize the limits of such rational projects. So that’s one thing.

    In terms of one part of the answer to the problem of evil from process theology- that the future is open, there is free will, and that God is the persuasive force of love on free beings, thus allowing for the possibility of evil acts- I think there is probably some important pieces of the puzzle here, and I don’t have much to argue with those points, in fact I think I’m largely in agreement with them. But is that the whole story? Does that capture the whole parade and panoply of evils we see in the world and the cataclysmic forces we witness in the universe?

    I think I am looking for some answers that are more guttural, more visceral, more material maybe, more psycho-spiritual. Here are some potentials that interest me (a few of which were intimated to in the article). I think Freud’s notion of the death drive has something very important to offer. He observed it in the human psyche, but also saw it as a cosmic process more generally.

    I’m interested in a series of thinkers, such as Schopenhauer, who see humans compelled to fulfill or serve a cosmic Will or impulse of some sort. Schopenhauer was pessimistic about this, thinking we followed it blindly (Nietzsche agreed with the principle but thought we were more free in our relation to it), but generally speaking I think this is interesting territory. The evolutionary theologian John Haught said something along these lines in an interview that always stuck with me- “The root of our restlessness is the whole evolution of the cosmos itself. Thus when we think about ourselves and our destiny, we can’t dissociate them from the destiny of the whole universe”.

    As I mentioned in the article, I’m also very interested in the mythopoetics of evil found in the biblical writings, particular in the Pauline and Deutro-Pauline letters, and brought back to the fore by William Stringfellow and then Walter Wink after. I think there is some important intelligence here, that some of the evil that we see here on earth is cosmic in origin (or more-than-human), and that we are often overtaken with those entities and serve them. This notion is also found in other spiritual traditions. For instance, here’s a collection of Sri Aurobindo’s writings on the Hindu notion of ‘asuras’.

    I also think Ken Wilber’s books Up From Eden and The Atman Project are worth considering. They make a case that humans, especially since the rise of agricultural societies and the ‘great civilizations’, have been involved in a series of “immortality projects”, seeking to establish ourselves as Gods here on earth, but by definition always failing to do so, so the carnage of failed projects goes on and on. The advantage of this thesis is that it has a lot of phenomenological support in the artifacts of human civilization, from the monumental architecture of ancient societies, to our hero myths (such as Gilgamesh), the wars of conquest and glory that so many have initiated for reasons of immortality, and so on.

    I should also stop briefly and say, so that this does sound like just philosophy and abstraction, that I’ve experienced much of these realities that are talked about above. In struggles with addiction, in outbursts of violence and self-destruction (Thanatos), in feeling like I’ve been driven by entities outside of me. So I’ve been able to phenomenologically verify (at least to some extent) much of what is written there, so I trust it as somehow capturing the Real.

    Lastly, another thing I’ve been thinking about a lot, and have begun dialoging with Bruce about, is trying to ponder the incredible violence that is found in the universe, and moreover, how this is often part of how it creates and evolves. Just take a supernova for instance. We have absolutely no way to conceive of how violent that moment is. Nuclear explosions don’t begin to touch it. And yet, the elements of life as we know it on earth, and that supported the emergence of beings capable of having this conversation about God, were formed in it. Or take the collision of an asteroid with earth, after which the remaining pieces were pulled together by gravity to form our moon. And this collision, colossally violent, is what made the earth tilt on its axis which is what gave us seasons and thus ample food supply, which is again, what allowed for our God loving consciousness to evolve. And if one is committed to a version of panentheism as I am- that God or the Divine is immanent in creation in a real way- then maybe ‘evil’ or destruction or thanatos is also part of how God is creating a world immanently. And if this goes against traditional ‘categories’ that we think a God must have to be God, then so much the worse for those categories. I think we need to begin empirically and use our reason afterwards to help us, but I don’t think we get far by simply having philosophical debates about God. And I don’t think that the notion of an open future that allows for free beings is enough to capture the whole range of phenomenon listed above. It seems the that the universe is much stranger in its workings than these simple logics, and I’d like to get to the bottom of this madness! 🙂

    So that’s my answer, a rather long one I know, but I’d hate to leave out at least briefly mentioning the schools of thought that I think have something to contribute to the question. I should say I have great respect for process philosophy, and I love John Cobb, especially in the many interviews I’ve listened to with him. What a wise and intelligent person. But as I’ve outlined above, I personally anyway am looking for answers to the problem of evil in other places at the moment. Hope that helps answer your question.

    ps. I have not read any of the process thinkers on the issue of collapse, but would love to do so. I imagine Cobb has had lots to say in this area for instance. If you have any literature recommendations in that area that’d be great.

  3. Trevor Malkinson on January 30, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    I should make an important correction in my comment. The sentence- “I should also stop briefly and say, so that this does sound like just philosophy and abstraction”, should actually ready “so that this does not sound like just philosophy and abstraction”. A fairly important distinction! 🙂

  4. David MacLeod on February 2, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    Really nice essay here, I agree with Doug on that.
    Regarding process thinkers on the issue of collapse, you might want to take a look at a conference in June that Cobb is organizing. John Cobb wrote one of the first theological books in response to the environmental crisis in 1972, asking the question even at that time “Is It Too Late?” Now, some 40+ years later he is saying it is, in some respects, “too late to prevent extensive suffering” [i.e. collapse] – see link to his recent “One More Thing Before I Go” post below.

    The conference being organized is called “Seizing an Alternative: Toward and Ecological Civilization” – “Leading and original thinkers from more than twenty countries are coming together for the largest transdisciplinary conference ever held on behalf of the planet.” June 4-7, 2015 in Claremont, California. Featured speakers include Bill Mikkiben and Vandana Shiva.
    “The forces we have already set in irreversible motion mean that we are at the end of an age. The age is not simply an epoch of human history. Many now see that it is comparable to the great geological ages that define the history of the planet. The question of the possibility of the survival of our species is a serious one. It is clear that, if we simply continue our current insane behavior, our species will join the many others that are already extinct because of our actions. No one can describe the situation in which we find ourselves in regard to this question with greater insight and accuracy than Bill McKibben nor tell us, more responsibly, what we must do immediately to keep open the chance of survival. Until we view all our actions and commitments in this context, our thinking must be acknowledged to be unrealistic.
    There is widespread agreement that we must build from the ground up. Local communities at all levels can work toward the capacity to sustain themselves even when the larger structures on which they now depend collapse.”

    One More Thing Before I Go – John Cobb, Jr.
    “I realize that we have already passed the point where changes in our behavior will prevent extensive decay. Now it is just a matter of how bad it will be. But “how bad” is still a very important matter. It is too late to prevent extensive suffering. But it is not too late to make some difference.”

    Due to time constraints, I’ll have to come back later with part 2 of my comment.

  5. David MacLeod on February 3, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Part II
    Trevor, I’m curious if you (or Bruce) have explored the branch of process-relational thought that is variously known as “The Chicago School,” radical empiricism, or empirical realism. I’m thinking of theologians such as Henry Nelson Wieman, Bernard Meland, Bernard Loomer, and more recently Nancy Frankenberry, with significant influences from James, Dewey, and Whitehead. Frankenberry writes “Summarily stated, empirical theology presupposes a natrualistic, neo-materialistic world-view in which trhe basic constituents of reality are energy-events, happenings, or processes. Nature comprises the realm of the experienceable. Matter turns out to be patterning energy and energy is radiating matter, the only “stuff” of experience.”

    Frankenberry’s book “Religion and Radical Empricism” is highly recommended as a good history of this school of thought, and relevant to this discussion, she outlines Bernard Loomer’s approach to the problem of evil on pp. 147-154. You can find excerpts on Google books if you do a search on “religion and radical empiricism nancy frankenberry bernard loomer”
    Frankenberry, writing about Loomer’s late in life belief in an “ambiguous” God, who symbolizes the mystery of the existent “world in all the dimensions of its being…” “That world, so cinceived, is also inclusive of evil, waste, destructiveness, regressions, ugliness, horror, disorder, complacency, dullness, and meaninglessness, is a fact Loomer did not overlook.”

    Another piece by Frankenberry that can be found online is a chapter on The Major Themes of Empirical Theology:

  6. Trevor Malkinson on February 17, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    David, thanks for the comments and the resources. It’s clear from the passages of John Cobb that he is taking the prospect of collapse seriously. It would be interesting to think about, in the light of his comments, what becomes imperative in evolutionary Christian praxis? If we accept that reality as immanent, even as a thought experiment, what would that call us to do, and what resources does an evolutionary perspective have that might help navigate (perhaps even successfully) that situation? I don’t know, just some thoughts to throw out there.

    I haven’t heard of the Chicago School of process theology, but I appreciate the introduction. Love that final passage regarding Loomer’s views on evil etc. I’ll follow up with that soon, and perhaps circle back here and add some things if something comes forth. (I must, however, fit it in with the rest of seminary readings!) It reminded me of another passage that could be added to the reflections on evil:

    “The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man”. (William Blake, Proverbs of Hell)

    Thanks David, good to be swappin resources again!

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