American evangelical chaff

I am an american evangelical raised in the fundamentalist strain of the faith. I had the book, The Fundamentals, for awhile, but I never read it. Lately, some of the sacred cows I used to defend vigorously, have lost their luster. This isn't new for me. I no longer think, like I told a poor girl in my high school youth group that listening to Pink Floyd means no salvation for her soul. I am an idiot. Now I like Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, too. But I elevated chaff to wheat. Miscellany to necessary. Dust to Must. Like then, so now, things I presumed gold looks more like pyrite. I don't like feeling foolish. But I am a fool, and, I feel I need to document my change in thinking. I do think I'm really learning to trust God's constant refrain in the Bible, "Fear not." There are three issues I've stopped fearing.

Number One:
When I went to the Christian liberal arts college my freshman year, I was somewhat scandalized, really scandalized, but then really liberated, when my class had no time for young earth creationism or flood geology. I have swung around that pole of creation/evolution for a long time. I'm a biologist. I love science. I love biology. I've read the fundamentalist books defending a literal seven day, recent creation and I've read evangelical books saying that the evidence for an old earth and evolution are not threats to the faith. I even read the Intelligent Design books, thinking it might be a middle way. But lately, I've been reading outside my Christian subculture. Right now I am reading Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind by Richard Fortey, and it is excellent. The British naturalist is not an exciting writer. He writes like a scientist. In this book, he looks at some of living creatures that have deep roots in the fossil record, such as horseshoe crabs and velvet worms. This summer I read a short book, The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood by David R. Montgomery. One benefit of these books for the general audience instead of the christian fundamentalists is that I can borrow them from the local library. I did buy and will soon read Four Views on the Historical Adam. When I'm not reading books like these I'm reading blogs by Christians that explain the evidence for evolution and contrast the issues that young earthers and worldwide flooders can't explain, while still loving Jesus and not becoming devil worshippers. I like the Biologos blog, Science and the Sacred, for straight up science, I like Naturalis Historia, and for an intersection of theology and evolution, Musings on Science and Theology. The third blogger chooses to remain anonymous. I suspect that is because coming out as an old earther evolutionist could have career consequences. There aren't any career consequences for me. It is low risk for me to be public in my belief that young earth creationism is evangelical chaff. The wind has blown it away. It was never nutritious anyway.

Number 2:
I did read the conservative evangelical book from the 70's, The Battle for the Bible, by Howard Lindsell. Around the same time this book came out, a group of evangelical leaders got together and formulated the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Inerrancy has become a conservative evangelical shibboleth. I used to support it. However, in the past few months I've read a few books, three by evangelicals, that, in my view, show that inerrancy can mean whatever it wants, as long as the author bows to it. The four recent books are Is God a Moral Monster?, Against the Gods, Who wrote the Bible?, and The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation. The last one is a beast. I'm also glad I read the third one before reading the last one so I can know what topics are ignored in such a massive book. However, that massive book did demonstrate the evolution (see what I did there) of the text of the Old Testament. I have waiting for me on my Kindle Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. When I'm not reading big books on Bibilical textual criticism, I benefit from a few bloggers as well, each consider themselves evangelical as well: Peter Enns, Roger Olson, and Michael Heiser. Shaking off inerrancy as chaff does not take away from the Bible as the word of God, because Jesus is the Word of God. The Bible is a massive backstory for Jesus always regarding highly the life of faith, like Abraham, (see The Meaning of the Pentateuch). The book is a mingling of the human and the divine with expected consequences. The shiny parts that look like Jesus, divine, the ugly parts that don't look like Jesus, not divine. Greg Boyd and Brian Zahnd, among others, have been making a strong case for viewing the entire Bible from the revelation of Jesus in the gospels. Jesus is the surprise ending that reframes everything that came before. Thus, inerrancy, I've realized, is chaff. It claimed way too much, promised way too much, and can't engage numerous problems with the text without redefining itself to meaninglessness.

None of these things are creedal issues. These are topics to talk about. They are tribal issues things that show what slice we want to belong. I'm an outlier in my tribe, but I haven't stepped outside of earliest formulations of Christianity, which were concerned with the Triune God and fully human and fully divine Jesus. The third item is also not creedal, but it sure gets people's hackles up.

In high school, I prayed with one of my gay friends to entrust his life to Jesus. But Jesus did not un-gay him. After college, in the early 90's I volunteered a couple nights a week at a free AIDS test clinic. I wanted to be the hands of Jesus to those who feared for their lives. I also learned in the 90's, in my evangelical world, that people could pray the gay away or have therapy to undo their bad relationship with their fathers. This year, the biggest evangelical ex-gay ministry folded, admitting that those two things do not happen. Three other books I've read in the past couple years by conservative Christians say the same thing: The end of Sexual Identity, Washed and Waiting, and Homosexuality and the Christian. This past spring I also reviewed a great book God's Gay Agenda by an evangelical who formerly served with YWAM, who now pastors a small church, and is a lesbian with a wife. This book engages the Bible head on and makes a strong case that the conservative, anti-gay, evangelical culture is missing something in translation, both in language but also in context. At some point I will buy Bible, Gender, Sexuality for more in depth Biblical re-assessment of this issue. I think Christians can disagree over their understanding of homosexuality and sin from the Bible, yet still be siblings in the faith. Just like I think Christians can listen to Pink Floyd without threatening their salvation. Homosexuality is an issue I have wrestled with in over 130 posts on this blog. As I wrestled, reasoned, read, listened, and tried to understand, I'm now at the point where I think it is chaff. It's not essential. It's not creedal. It's not something I need to worry about. What I do need to worry about is loving my neighbor as I love myself. I need to love my gay neighbors as much as my white, conservative, straight, married, Christian neighbors. One way I can love my gay brothers and sisters is to trust the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives to reveal to them the path they pursue, either towards a life of celibacy or a life of companionship and marriage. I don't think excluding them, and making conditions on my acceptance of them is loving. Jesus saves them, not me. I think full inclusion of my gay brothers and sisters in church is an Acts 10 opportunity for the church. Just as the full inclusion of women into leadership is as well. I used to not think these things. I need to give everyone who still thinks like I did as much grace as I need.

I argue a lot on the internet. I don't like that feature of me so much. I'm not interested in arguing these things. I like reading and sharing what I've learned. I like encouraging those who might disagree with me to read the books I read and arrive at their own conclusions from more than the dozen paragraphs here. Be warned though, the more I've learned, the less I know. I titled this "American evangelical chaff" because I don't think these issues are historic, worldwide, orthodox church issues, the first two especially, the third I'm waiting on ancient church data to consider. Suggestions are welcome.

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Anonymous said…
I remember at PITs when you taught it was "OK" to view scripture as infallible.. NOT necessarily inerrant. You said this was not immediate grounds for going to hell. This was huge for me. Since then scripture has come ALIVE to me as I've been allowed to wrestle with it. (jesus is non-negotiable.. and you said the Apostles creed). Greg boyd calls this an Israel faith as God wants us to wrestle with him as jacob did. He writes the purpose of the book of Job was to was Job questioned the actions of God. His friends acted like Know-it-alls who tried to explain God.

While scripture has become boring for some people, I've found this approach has made scripture more exciting because almost anything can be questioned (not jesus or god's love).
Anonymous said…
One more thing lol..

The Young Earth Creationists used to not bother me. Until I realized alot of them think you can't be a christian unless you hold this view.

This creates a House Of Cards faith. Lots of kids who grew up with Young Earth theory abandon their faith as they start to question this theory.

The solution isn't to hammer in one theory over another.. but to say "you can believe either and still know jesus!"

Guilty pleasure but I secretly wanna watch the big Ken ham / bill nye the science guy debate coming up..

(I commented so much b/c your blog really struck some good chords w/ me!)

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