Most assume evolution here has something to do with Darwinian natural selection -- with some sort of deterministic biological development that mysteriously makes our brains bigger, smarter, or more efficient.
Some are under the impression that the evolution of consciousness has something to do with the acquisition of "new powers" like extra-sensory perception, astral projection, or clairvoyance.
The language used to describe the evolution of consciousness from a Christian/religious perspective often hinders more than helps.
To begin with, the evolution of consciousness is not to be equated with Darwinian natural selection but with development -- with a movement from immaturity to maturity.
Secondly, the evolution of consciousness contains linear, non-linear, and regressive movements, both at the individual level and the collective level (churches, communities, nations, empires, eras, etc.).
For example, an individual can be born into a certain kind of consciousness and remain ensconced within that form of consciousness for his entire life without ever experiencing any sort of development or evolution at all. On the other hand, an entire nation of Christians can (and have) collectively moved from one form of consciousness to another, often within a relatively short time.
So, what exactly is the evolution of consciousness from a Christian perspective?
Well, on this blog I have usually described it as the manner in which Christians know, think about, understand, and relate to God, themselves, others, and the world.
That's it. No new powers like extra-sensory perception or astral projection. No "evolved" brain with twenty percent extra data storage capacity. Just the development or unfolding of different ways of thinking about, understanding, and relating to God.
Remember back to when you were a child. How did you conceptualize and perceive God when you were a kid? How did you understand and relate to God when you were an adolescent? When you enrolled in university or took your first job? Did your understanding of God change at all after you became an adult?
At the most obvious level, our knowledge and understanding of God is strongly connected to our cognitive development and maturity, but cognitive development and maturity alone cannot explain the evolution of consciousness from a Christian perspective. If it could, then all a Christian would need to do is grow up and, voila, he or she would gain a mature understanding of God without having to do much to gain it.
This is obviously not the case, which implies that consciousness development is not merely a passive process but also requires some forms of active participation and choice from the individual.
Another way to think about the evolution of consciousness from a Christian perspective is to envision it as a quest to draw closer to the Being that God is.
I'm not talking about a quest that involves the acquisition of esoteric or Gnostic knowledge, but a journey through which an individual's (or society's) understanding of God and Creation matures and deepens through time.
A good way to comprehend the evolution of consciousness is to list a series of "gods" Christians have believed in or, in some cases, still believe in. The list does not contain different gods. It contains the different ways Christians understand, know, and relate to God – the different aspects of God that believers are "conscious" of.
This sort of list is not an original schema of mine. Many theologians, writers, and thinkers have presented this information in a variety of ways, sometimes merging them with certain spiritual/cognitive/psychological frameworks. It is also not meant to be comprehensive or definitive. All it does is present some of the ways Christians have/continue to understand, know, and relate to God. None are wrong in a sense that would immediately disqualify a Christian from being a Christian. At the same time, some are clearly "closer" to God than others.
The Magic Deity
God as a deity of magic. Unpredictable. Mysterious. Relates to individuals who lack the comprehension to understand external events. God often chooses to interact with and relate to man but always from "up high". Most of the things He does are a mystery/inexplicable. God can be cruel as well as loving.
The Great Punisher and Negotiator
God as both punisher and rewarder. This aspect God knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. God often tests people to see the depth of their faith. God is willing to listen to man and negotiate with him. If he finds the individual to be well-oriented, he is open to changing his mind about punishment. Otherwise, he can be quite cruel and vengeful.
God the Protector and Defender
God as a being who takes care certain individuals and their group/nation. God protects and defends the group/nation from evil, albeit inconsistently. Of course, any removal of God’s protection from the nation is to be taken as an indication of the nation’s wickedness (see punisher God above). At the same time, God the Protector and Defender never forsakes righteous individuals.
Law and Order God
Autocratic. Organizer and sustainer of law and order. Demands submission, fealty, and obedience; determines right from wrong.
God as a tolerant grandfather figure who appears to be somewhat caught between his old autocratic self and the confused value systems of the world. He is at once open to new ideas, yet remains stubborn about certain concepts.
God loves and embraces all of humanity from a somewhat altruistic perspective. He no longer dispenses judgment when it comes to good and evil, between good and evil nations, or between good and evil individuals because good and evil are inherent in each nation and individual. God as sufferer, as a being capable of weeping for his Creation.
God as cosmic and transcendent, yet personal and immanent. God as Creator who yearns for his children to become co-creators and loving companions. God as a being that yearns for his other.
Anyway, the list presents but a handful of the many ways Christians have understood and/or continue to understand God. Needless to say, each understanding of God comes with its own package of trickle down effects that seep into everything including man’s relations with God, the role of society and culture, value systems, etc.
That’s a lot of ways of knowing, understanding, and relating to God, and there are many more. Regardless, the list doesn’t even touch upon things like omniscience or omnipotence. Nor does it directly include Jesus. It also excludes contemporary modes of consciousness like atheism, despiritualization, or anti-Christianity.
Those who scoff at the evolution of consciousness as it pertains to Christianity seem to scorn at the very notion that the manner in which people know, understand, and relate to God has changed throughout history and is still very much in a process of change.
All the evolution of consciousness does from a Christian perspective is point to the undeniable reality of that change, and to the reality that more "mature" understanding of God does not "just happen". It must be actively chosen and pursued. It also suggests that God desires this "maturation" and that Creation is geared toward the possibility of this maturation.