Christianity in Evolution

An Exploration

Jack Mahoney

"A stimulating exploration, and one well worth adding to the Wish List for readers interested in the religion/science debates."
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Evolution has provided a new understanding of reality, with revolutionary consequences for Christianity. In an evolutionary perspective the incarnation involved God entering the evolving human species to help it imitate the trinitarian altruism in whose image it was created and counter its tendency to self-absorption. Primarily, however, the evolutionary achievement of Jesus was to confront and overcome death in an act of cosmic significance, ushering humanity into the culminating stage of its evolutionary destiny, the full sharing of God’s inner life.

Previously such doctrines as original sin, the fall, sacrifice, and atonement stemmed from viewing death as the penalty for sin and are shown not only to have serious difficulties in themselves, but also to emerge from a Jewish culture preoccupied with sin and sacrifice that could not otherwise account for death. The death of Jesus on the cross is now seen as saving humanity, not from sin, but from individual extinction and meaninglessness. Death is now seen as a normal process that affect all living things and the religious doctrines connected with explaining it in humans are no longer required or justified. Similar evolutionary implications are explored affecting other subjects of Christian belief, including the Church, the Eucharist, priesthood, and moral behavior.

Table of Contents


1. Accepting Evolution

Catholic Responses to Evolution
Evolution and Christian Ethics
Other Theological Responses to Evolution
Theological Implications of Evolution

2. Evolution, Altruism, and the Image of God
Understanding the Image of God
The Evolutionary Challenge of Altruism
Imaging the Divine Altruism
A Theology of Altruism

3. The Evolutionary Achievement of Jesus
Saving Humanity from Death
Dispensing with Original Sin
Finding a New Explanation
Baffling Death

4. Incarnation without the Fall
What if Adam Had Not Sinned?
Christ as Lord of Creation
“For Our Salvation”
What Kind of God?
A Poor Alternative

5. Seeking a New Paradigm
Process Theology and Kenotic Theology
Accepting the Unavoidable
Moral Evils and Human Freedom

6. The Church and the Eucharist in Evolution
Who Shall Be Saved?
The Evolving Church
“Through Christ Our Lord”
The Eucharist in Evolution
The Evolutionary Community

7. Theology in Evolution
Evolutionary Impact on Other Traditional Beliefs
Evolutionary Ethics
“Development of Doctrine”?
Demythologizing Death
Saving Sacrifice?
Straining Faith
Summing Up



"Conversing with theology from the patristic to the modern age, Mahoney’s book is sure to be debated in the classroom as an alternative voice in contemporary theology."—Choice

"The kind of project that Mahoney pursues is desperately needed in theology. Let us hope that the discussion his book is likely to produce generates further detailed reflection on these pressing questions."—Reviews in Religion and Theology

"Offers real challenges to contemporary theology, above all in demanding that theology address evolution honestly and full on."—WORSHIP MAGAZINE

"There is much here to admire, and some sections—Mahoney’s discussion of altruism; his critique of other evolutionary theologies—provide invaluable discussions. Mahoney raises again the question of how far it is necessary, or advisable, to reconstruct our theology in the light of modern science, but his work also raises questions as to how far science can aid this project. Mahoney’s passion for his work, however, is evident, which makes Christianity in Evolution a stimulating, if sometimes infuriating, read."—THEOLOGY

"A stimulating exploration, and one well worth adding to the Wish List for readers interested in the religion/science debates."—Forbes

"It requires commitment and stamina, but those who summon up these qualities will be richly rewarded. For it shows, for once, Christianity looking forward in partnership with the modern world of science, rather than holding itself aloof and apart in a time warp."—Peter Stanford, The Independent UK

"This is a very important work in the challenges it places to the traditional interpretation of Church dogmas, especially those to do with original sin, the image of God, and God’s purpose in Creation and in the Incarnation. It provides a very good historical review of various dogmas before reinterpreting each dogma in the light of scientific evolution. I do not know of any other work that does this so thoroughly."—George V. Coyne, SJ, president, Vatican Observatory Foundation

"This challenging and readable book is the work of a scholar who is theologically well-informed, aware of previous and contemporary discussions of the need for theological development in view of evolutionary science, and skillful in suggesting alternatives to traditional formulations of Christian teaching. Mahoney's work should stimulate much fruitful theological discussion. Strongly recommended."—John F. Haught, senior fellow in science and religion, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University

"Jack Mahoney's Christianity in Evolution presents a courageous and intellectually honest attempt to face the theological implications of the undeniable fact of human evolution. His carefully crafted assessment of various evolutionary accounts of morality for Christian ethics is a gem of concise analysis. His novel way of highlighting the altruistic dimensions of the imago Dei, Jesus' command of neighbor-love, and Trinitarian communion challenges Christian ethicists to take more seriously the theological basis of their discipline. [This book] represents a new stage in the encounter of theology with evolutionary thinking, but it should be read not only by theologians but by any Christian seeking to develop an intellectually engaged faith."—Stephen J. Pope, professor of theological ethics, Boston College


Supplemental Materials


2013 Catholic Press Association Book Award for Faith and Science, Third Place. Winner of the 2012 Illustrated Cover, Large Non-Profit Category of the Washington Publishers Book Design and Effectiveness Awards. 2011 PROSE Award for Theology and Religious Studies, Honorable Mention.

About the Author

Jack Mahoney is emeritus professor of moral and social theology in the University of London and a former principal of Heythrop College, University of London. He is the author of several books, including The Making of Moral Theology: A Study of the Roman Catholic Tradition.

208 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

Aug 2011

208 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-58901-769-6
Aug 2011

208 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-799-3
Aug 2011

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