Stephen Finlan, Author of “Options on Atonement in Christian Thought” ends his book with a modest proposal. It is that our understanding of divine revelation is subject to a form of evolution. Finlan Suggests that “God always seeks to deepen and expand the revelation of truth, but we humans (including the biblical authors) only perceive a part of the message. We adapt and domesticate new ideas to old and familiar ways of thinking. We always pour new wine into old wineskins, but the new wine expands and bursts open our containers (Mark 2:22), our old ways of thinking.”  Finlan calls this “progressive development in religious conceptualization”.
The idea is simple enough. We receive revelation from God. This is filtered through our perception and ability to understand. We arrive at a certain conclusion, a paradigm of how reality works. This may or may not be in line with the revelation we receive. Time passes, the revelation works upon us, and we adapt to it. This may take centuries. Like evolution, revelation’s process is slow.
As a set of revelations either gets too mired in personal interpretation (ie- not what God intended to reveal) or fulfills its purpose (we adopt the attributes God desires of us, and abandon undesirable attributes), God gives us more revelation.
I think this concept is and should be appealing to Mormons for several reasons.
1. We already have scriptural precedent for this. We learn “Line upon line, precept upon precept.” We’ve been told we will receive new revelation when we obey the revelation we’ve already been given.
2. In my opinion, John Widtsoe taught this idea. 
3. This helps to explain where we do not follow biblical teachings, or early church teachings (Like worship on Sunday, Proscriptions against eating pork, stoning, exact temple rituals)
4. This gives space for moves like the end of the priesthood ban, the move from polygamy, and other doctrinal shifts.
5. This allows us to not be locked to 2000 year old (or 20 year old) notions regarding modern religious practice (interpretation of temple language, gender issues, nationalism, dress codes, adam-god theory)
6. It allows us to rely more heavily on personal revelation and choice in the here and now.
7. This emphasizes the communal relatedness we teach in the temple. It also fleshes out the concept of eternal progression.
I think this concept can also be challenging for several reasons
1. This notion removes some of the capability of historical precedent and scriptural authority to anchor us with certainty of action in any specific situation. Doctrinal certainty, or confidence in one’s standing before God, is a vital principal of faith.
2. It leaves us with the dangerous potential of being out of step with the current teachings of the church, but actually in step with some future iteration of teachings of the church. (example: the priesthood ban.)
3. We are faulty receptors of revelation (that is the thesis after-all) so we could get false positives due to our own confirmation bias.
4. It challenges the “trueness” of the church at any given single moment in time.
5. It requires a high level of universalism. People cannot be expected to (or penalized because the did not) outperform the communal norm of their time. Sometimes, factions of the church feel opposed to such a view.
So what do you think of this concept of revelation driven evolution?
Do the positives out-weigh the negatives?
- See my section on epistemology in this post.