As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been following a discussion about creationism on James McGrath’s blog. The discussion has been quite entertaining. As an atheist who thinks the Bible is an errant, fallible book made up mostly of mythical stories, I find the arguments between Evangelical Christians and Liberal Christians about the nature of the Bible better than Saturday Night Live.
The recent discussion on McGrath’s blog is primarily between a young earth creationist named Tim, (yes THAT Tim who commented on this blog a few weeks ago and here too) and McGrath and several other like-minded commenters.
While the discussion is primarily about science, there are a few comments about the Bible, salvation, and who owns the “real” Christian interpretation of the Bible. McGrath, a liberal Christian, believes his interpretive tradition is the historic tradition of Christianity. Tim, however, believes his literalistic interpretation of the Bible is the historic position of Christianity.
Added to the entertainment is Tim insisting on knowing the spiritual credentials of McGrath and other commenters. Tim asked McGrath:
Have you ever come to know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?
Do you know Him and love Him today?
Do you believe what He says?
Standard Evangelical stuff. McGrath did not answer Tim directly, pointed to other things he has written on his blog, and refused to give Tim what he wanted; a clear, concise, testimony of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Why is this important to Tim? Simple. Tim states:
One’s relationship with Jesus Christ has EVERYTHING to do with our discussion. One may be highly educated, yet not wise. For it is the fear of the LORD that is the beginning of wisdom.
According to Tim’s interpretation of the Bible, true wisdom, knowledge, and understanding comes from having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In Tim’s mind. believing in evolution is a denial of the Word of God, and a denial of God himself.
The Evangelical believes the Bible as it is written. For the most part they are literalistic in their reading of the text. This is why almost half of Americans believe God created the world, as is, in the last ten thousand years. It is, after all, what the Bible says.
Evolutionary biology, geology,physics, astronomy, and archeology tell a very different story. We live in a universe that is billions of years old, a world where humans evolved over millions of years. It is clear that modern science and creationism are incompatible and no matter how one tries, it is impossible to reconcile the two.
Liberal Christians like McGrath allow modern science to shape their understanding of the Bible. When science conflicts with the Bible, science wins. The Evangelical, on the other hand, never lets science have the final say. When science conflicts with the Bible, the Bible wins.
Does this mean the liberal Christian has the upper hand? Not necessarily. While the Evangelical is way too literal in his reading and interpretation of the Bible, the liberal Christian is far too willing to abandon anything that doesn’t fit their modern, scientific understanding of the world.
So, the Evangelical says, The Bible says_________________________ and the liberal Christian replies, that is poetry, allegory, or meant for a different culture or time. Rarely does a liberal Christian explain how they come to their conclusions on a particular text. It seems they just explain away anything that doesn’t “fit.”
Here’s the problem I have with how liberal Christians read and interpret the Bible. If Genesis is poetry or allegory why not treat the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the same way? While modern science certainly discredits the Evangelical belief about Genesis, can we not say the same thing about the liberal Christian’s belief about who and what Jesus Christ was?
At the end of the day, every Christian is a literalist. The question is, to what degree are they a literalist. The Evangelical views most of the Bible from a literalistic viewpoint, the liberal Christian only views small parts of the Bible as literal.
The liberal Christian is quite willing to jettison most everything in the Bible except their belief in Jesus. Why is the story of Jesus special?
The liberal Christian will argue that modern science clearly shows that creationism is false. Fine, I agree. But, modern science also shows us that virgins don’t get pregnant, the miracles ascribed to Jesus didn’t happen, and dead people don’t get back out of the grave. Why does the liberal Christian willingly use science to discard creationism to the ancient relic dustbin but not Jesus himself? Maybe Jesus was just an allegory or a metaphor? (and I am not a mythicist. I think Jesus was a real person who lived and died in Palestine during the early days of the first century.)
In most cases, I prefer talking about the Bible and theology with the Evangelical. With the liberal Christian, discussing the Bible with them is often like nailing Jell-O to the wall. They are a constantly moving target, ever-changing depending on changes in their understanding of the world.
Let me be clear, I think Evangelicalism is harmful mentally and emotionally. I think it teaches people a naïve way of looking at the world than often has tragic consequences. (especially when their beliefs enter the political arena)
In every way, the liberal Christian way of thinking is better for our world. I just wish they would go one step farther, and admit what many of us agnostics and atheist suspect is true; that liberal Christians are atheists/agnostics who like to go to church.
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