Ecclesial Discernment and Fitness Landscapes

Dear Reader,
This short series is one of those theological experiments of mine.

Specifically, I ask can ecclesial discernment be compared to search through a fitness landscape? If so, what are the implications? As an example I bring up issues in the emerging church conversation.

You'll have to decide if you think the fitness landscape metaphor is useful. At the very least, you'll learn a little about contemporary thinking in evolutionary biology. Which is kind of cool on a Christian blog.


Part 1: Simple versus Rugged Landscapes
Part 2: Changing Landscapes and the Emerging Church
Part 3: Search Through Landscapes

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2 thoughts on “Ecclesial Discernment and Fitness Landscapes”

  1. Richard,

    I'm not sure that your experiment is achieving what you propose it to. Your description of the fitness landscape in biology is fine, but applying it to ecclesial discernment has some problems.

    First, the fitness landscape in biology may be used to determine what trait or combination of traits leads to greater reproductive success in a particular environment and how these vary over time as limits to reproductive success (predators, resource availablilty, etc.) vary. As I understand it, your fitness landscape is based on examining the effect of church characteristics on approval from God. This may be fine for considering which characteristics of a church God approves of most, but do we have any indication that God's standards for His church change over time? If not, then the analogy has some problems. How do we explain changing landscapes? Is it that God's church as drifted away from an ideal form (which would be the logical consequence of your analogy if the original church as founded by Jesus and the Apostles were such an ideal) and the resulting fellowships are now trying to reclimb the single dominating peak of the landscape?

    Second, fitness can be measured as the probability that certain genes will be passed on to the next generation. How do we measure God's approval? Some would want to measure it by church growth, but this seems problematic for several reasons.

    Third, with regard to whether the landscape is simple or rugged, there may be more room to argue. As God told the church as Laodicea, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other." This suggests that God would have at least two peaks on this factor(hot dominating cold, but both superior to lukewarm). Still, I have problems conceiving of a landscape with several co-dominant peaks. If this were the case, I would have expected God to have started several complimentary churches with each occupying an area on (or at least near) each proposed peak.

    Personally, I believe that God started the church as he desired it and that he desired no other. It occupied the single dominant peak on the landscape. It was truly "a city on a hill." But we all have wandered off the hill. Most, I hope, are trying to scramble back up its slope, but some may be following the wrong path (such as confusing church growth with God's approval). I believe that the best measures to base the ecclesial fitness landscape on are 1) To what degree does the church teach and express love for God with all one's heart, soul, mind, and strength; and 2) To what degree does the church teach and express love for one's fellow man.

    Just my thoughts. I appreciate the very thought provoking post.

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