Posts filed under ‘evangelicalism’
These are some of my favorite books critiquing evangelical Christianity:
- Inspiration and Incarnation, Peter Enns
- God’s Word in Human Words, Kenton Sparks
- The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight
- Evolving in Monkey Town, Rachel Held Evans
These books share a common thread; they all critique conservative evangelical Christianity from within the framework of evangelical Christianity itself. Meaning the authors remain evangelicals themselves, which I think uniquely positions them to be heard better by Christian readers. Probably less threatening than someone on the outside with the message, “Your biblical framework is lacking!” (maybe Bart Ehrman?). And because they have held onto the parts of Christianity they feel are important or essential, they have something more to offer than only negative observations (as I tend to have).
I especially appreciate the intellectual honestly displayed by the authors in the way they ask difficult questions, rather than offering up soft balls they already have the answers too (Lee Strobel, et al?). They all describe a Christianity which depends less on a literal interpretation of the bible and allows for a higher degree of mystery in their faith. They also tend to hold to a less exclusivist form of Christianity; that is, they do not necessarily consider everyone who believes differently than them to be bound for Hell.
For me personally, the books also share a common thread where they all fall short; they fail to describe a Christianity which I find believable as ultimately true. My overall question when studying the bible became, “Is the bible true?” I certainly did not find it to be true in the conservative evangelical sense. And while the books offer alternatives to that conservative, literal reading of the bible, my general doubt about the factuality of the bible still seems to be an insurmountable problem for having Christian faith.
I do not think Christians have to consider discarding their faith before they can honestly examine and discuss it. And correspondingly, others should not have to earnestly attempt to believe the bible before they can honestly examine and discuss it. Too many books about Christianity (both for and against it) seem to be based on those premises. These authors provide great examples of showing sincere respect for those who believe differently than they do. By doing this, they promote dialog and intellectual discourse over diatribe and rhetoric, and find common ground rather than defined divisions.
I just finished reading Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town, which does a remarkable job of delving into issues of doubt and faith with intellectual honestly. Evans grew up thoroughly immersed in the evangelical culture, but was compelled to honestly examine it with open eyes. I think that is extremely difficult to do for someone who grows up within evangelicalism’s “biblical worldview.” Evans seems to be representative of a number of younger evangelicals who are not comfortable accepting the culture wars and dogmatic beliefs and doctrines of early generations.
Evans writes pointedly about the problems that arise from a literalistic, inerrant reading of the bible, and tells candidly how her faith changed through this process of examination. The book uses the motif of evolution to describe what both Christianity has done over the years, and what has happened to the author’s own faith as well. Her home town was the location of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, thus the analogy to evolution. It describes how skeptics and Christians alike can experience these problems, and indeed Evans has the same questions herself.
This vision of Christian faith offers something of an acceptance of the tension between belief and unbelief, believer and unbeliever, rather than assuming a rigid and vast divide separates the two. Which in turn seems to offer the opportunity for greater dialog and understanding in discussing issues, rather than hostile debates and attempts to convince others to change their beliefs. Reading the book very refreshing in this way.
I think the book can help encourage Christians who are compelled to ask hard questions of their faith, as Evans describes what it was like to face the disapproval of other Christians. It is a tough path to walk alone. Even without sharing the same experience of faith as the author, an unbeliever could walk away from the book with a better understanding of who evangelicals are, and how their religion has come to the point it is at today.
Reading this post over, it sounds a lot like the technical paper I wrote the same day. I’ll try to revisit the subject soon to give a more personal take, time and emotional energy allowing.
For those interested, Evan’s blog provides a good taste of her writing. She recently responded to an Answer’s in Genesis review of her own work. She also has a couple of good posts on doubt -here- and -here-. Mark of christiandoubt.com reviews it here.
And I included some more thoughts on the book in a follow up post here.
The picture to the left shows angels dancing on the head of a pin. One more post along these lines, then on to other things…
Evangelicalism tends to overstate the confidence people can have in knowing its doctrines are true. OK, I know I can be overconfident about what I believe as well. But as a religion, or maybe the culture it produces, I think evangelicalism is especially susceptible to this problem.
If there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, then why is death the punishment for sin? If all our penalty for sin has been paid by Christ and he died for us, then why do we die?
That is a little bit of a puzzle. I think we have to say that death for [Christians] should not be seen as a punishment, because the penalty for our sins has been paid by Christ. Rather, it must be that God, in his wisdom and his sovereign good pleasure, has good purposes for us in allowing us to go through the experience of death, and I suppose [of aging] leading up to death.
One point is that God, even though he has forgiven us, still allows us to live in a fallen world, and death is the final outcome of living in a fallen world. Because, even though Christ in his death paid the penalty for us to earn his perfect fullness of salvation with all its blessing, all that has not been applied yet, so death is not yet removed.
I spent a number of years working in computer customer support. Have you ever spoken with a computer support analyst who sounded like they were making things up? They probably were! “The problem is caused by the variegated VGA daughterboard, it’s a type A12 you know…”
The theological answers above strike me in much the same way. “I think we have to say…” Why would anyone have to say that? How about, “We can’t know, but maybe…” Or something like that, I think it would be more honest. “I think we have to say…” assumes there is one correct and comprehensive system into which the verses of the bible can be compiled. And that a teacher needs to have a correct answer for every question.
You might be a theologian if…you make stuff up! Or you might be a computer support analyst…
Al Mohler seems to be the go-to-fundamentalist in many Christian circles today. He has an article in Christianity Today decrying the overturning of Proposition 8 in California yesterday. Below are some quotes from the article, along with my comments.
“On page after page, Judge Walker …declares the evidence and arguments put forth by the defenders of Proposition 8 as lacking in any rational basis”
And the rational basis is what? The defenders of Proposition 8 had their day in court, they had their witnesses take the stand to make their case. And the judge found that, yes, they were indeed lacking a rational basis for their opinion. This statement only attempts to persuade based on rhetorical skill, and nothing else.
“A single unelected judge nullified the will of the voters of California as expressed through the electoral process.”
Isn’t that an established purpose of federal judges, to rule on the Constitutionality of legislation? I am not a scholar of our government, but that is my basic understanding.
“Until this verdict, such language had never appeared in a decision of a Federal court. If gender is no longer “an essential part of marriage,” then marriage has been essentially redefined right before our eyes.”
This is true, but wasn’t that true one time of race relations in the United States? It would have been true then, just as it is today. But that doesn’t make it wrong, just (perhaps) unprecedented.
“The central institution of human civilization suffered a direct hit, and its future hangs in the balance.”
That is true only if Mohler believes marriage is defined by governmental rules. But of course he would say it is defined by God as expressed in the bible, right? If so, what factual impact does this statement carry?
If one is to assault gay marriage from a religious perspective, do it from a religious perspective, and within religious institutions. The legislation in question is part of a culture war and a religious issue, but not a case of judicial incompetence or injustice.
“You say you always treat people like you like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality…”
My wife and I had the privilege of seeing Jennifer Knapp in concert last month, a few weeks prior to her announcing publicly that she is in a same-sex relationship. She was touring with Derek Webb, who performed the song linked below in the first half of the show. I found it very moving at the time, and especially so now, reflecting on what it must have meant to Webb as he toured with Jennifer Knapp. The song basically makes the point that Christians have more important things to be concerned about than other people’s sexual orientation.
It has to be more difficult to make a statement like that from within the faith, facing the inevitable evangelical backlash. And for someone who earns a living making Christian music, it must be that much more difficult not to conform. Not only does he neglect to condemn homosexuality, he uses the “s” word, how shocking!
I have been writing posts lately, just not posting them. And once a post sits for a little bit, it often describes thoughts or feelings I no longer have. And as such they seem disingenuous or perhaps fictional. So therefore no posts here lately.
We have been attending a New Church which is more progressive than the Old Church we previously attended. Actually, we attend a subgroup of the church which meets at a different time than the main body. This group is generally more progressive than the rest of the church, a bit postmodern and trending toward Emergent. The leaders are very comfortable with people of other faiths and beliefs, not needing things to fit into the black and white categories which is often the case in evangelicalism.
I’ve been commenting recently on a blog run by this group. They have broached some interesting and difficult (for the evangelical church) topics; gay marriage, evolution, and an article by a secular humanist critiquing Christianity. I have been very impressed by the intelligent and nuanced conversations, both from the more liberal and more conservative commentators.
Most of the commentators that is. Not surprisingly there are several who are more fundamentalist in their views. And unfortunately as is often the case, they tend to be the loudest voices, making statements that tend to close down dialog and conversation. Unnecessarily divisive in my opinion.
I think that most people, myself included, have a relatively limited capacity to deal with people with differing opinions. We are willing to be regularly nudged a little this way, or a little that way. But the larger shifts are often too difficult to handle unless absolutely necessary. I think that is why the adversarial commentators react the way they do. That, and maybe they have also been conditioned by the evangelical culture to think it is a good thing to “stand firm” in their opinions rather than listening to challenging ideas with an open mind. Yeah, I know, if you open your mind too much your brain will fall out…
I think the divisions in these discussions are generally better understood as studies in sociology than as a spiritual fight between light and darkness. The spiritual fight excuse gets brought out way too early, and is often brought up because the person is unwilling to contemplate their own faults in a conversation. It seems a cop out. Conversely, from the secular side, the mind of the Christian (or traditionalist) is too often called into question, with statements to the effect of, “Nobody with any sense would believe that superstitious religious nonsense.”
Having the same limited capacity, I unsubscribed from the blog and the comments yesterday. I try to remain open-minded, and be nudged a bit this way or that. But it is not worth it to me to go around feeling angry or stressed about what I read. And I know I am too quick to anger in those situations. In the end, we all tend to find fellowship with people who are more or less like-minded, and we all run the risk of feeling persecuted by those with differing opinions. But we don’t need to be completely locked into those mind sets either. And yes, I have peeked back at the blog since I first drafted this. A new post is up about Jennifer Knapp’s interview with Larry King, how exciting!