on the existential crisis of the american fundamentalist


Last week, a two-bit website so insipid I, not even I, will dare to invoke its name or link to it here posted a breathtaking story about Christian recording artist/’worship leader’ [/gags, barfs] Michael Gungor no longer literally believing in the Bible. Citing a blog post on his website from two years ago(!), Gungor was quoted at length openly and forthrightly discussing the questions surrounding the Genesis creation account and what is now typically held Evangelical, fundamentalist belief in a literal six-day creation and roughly 6,000-year-young Earth, belief in which was already undercut by this and completely obliterated by this.

Gungor had to issue a clarifying statement on his blog—oh, to be a fly on that wall during publication!—stating that he still holds to the core, important tenets of Evangelical faith, so on and so forth. A certain Aaron Ross submitted a piece at Relevant—living up to their name by chasing the windmills of a lunatic, fundamentalist fringe tabloid that matters only to a segment of a segment of a segment of Christianity—citing Augustine and the importance of majoring in the majors and allowing liberty for the non-essentials. If some of any of this sounds familiar, you might have read this or this.

[EDITORIAL ASIDE: Ross teaches at Southeastern University, an Assemblies of God college in Lakeland, Florida. Relevant Magazine is run in Central Florida by Cameron Strang, progeny of the Strang Communications empire, whose flagship is Charisma, a magazine for charismatics and Pentecostals. Like I said, a segment of a segment of a segment. I digress.]

In the wake of this fly-by-night tabloid operation’s hatchet job on a sincere believer with sincere questions, and the subsequent uproar that seems to have taken social media by storm, this bears repeating: there is no such thing as unity in the essential and liberty in the inessential.

There is no more clear evidence of this than in the opprobrium directed my way when I stuck my neck out and spoke out in defense of Gungor and the reality on the scientific and exegetical grounds. Yes, you read that one phrase correctly. (Full disclosure: I have had dealings and am acquainted with his family here in Wisconsin. My thoughts on them are my own.)

The crux of these allergic reactions is this idea that if something in the Bible is incorrect, then the Bible is entirely untrustworthy.  It merits mentioning that those who hold this line also have gone on the record stating that their foundation is in Christ’s work on the cross alone (which is problematic for any number of reasons.) Or, at least this is their foundation until the Bible is found to have an error having nothing to do with the resurrection, in which case, the hell with it all!

It’s not even a slippery slope; it’s a bluff.

Linguistic license aside, the troubling reality is that the foundation of American Evangelical Christian faith today isn’t in the cross, the empty tomb or in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit—it’s in a book. We don’t serve Christ, we serve a character in a book, which is to say we serve a book. If that book fails us, then what are we to do?

This, frankly, is faith neither worth holding onto nor sufficient to survive a buckle in the road, much less when the roof caves in.

This is figurative language: I do not mean that we give up the Christian life because we hit a literal buckle in the road or the roof over your head literally caves in. The absence of any sense of awareness of figurative language with regard to the scripture is deeply concerning, as though irony, comedy, puns and wordplay exist only in this age. Jesus himself used parables, figures of speech to speak truth: there was no actual rich man or Lazarus, there was no actual, literal good Samaritan, there was no real prodigal son, brother or loving father.

In the exact same way, the ancient Hebrews had a story that helped shape their identity as a people and allegiance to their god: the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden, a story which bears striking similarities to other nomadic, Mesopotamian tribes, a story which is rich with truth, even if (and especially in the light of the fact that) these events almost certainly didn’t actually, literally happen.

Instead of using the text as a point for self-reflection and identification with the human condition, as well as the graciousness of a God who is willing to reconcile us to himself throughout the ages, we get a tidal wave of anxiety: rational thinking down, defenses up. I suspect it is because, deep down, we talk a big religious game, but we have serious, unrelenting doubts about the reality of any of it at all. We need the book because, without it, that perfect, sacred, inspired, inerrant text, we have no meaning. Sola scriptura, indeed.

Deep down, I suspect we haven’t the faintest idea of what it means to live as Christ lived. (Hint: Christ didn’t do devotions. He lived, he died, and then he lived.)

We don’t trust God; we trust a book. We are not a people following Christ;we are a people following a book that partially talks about Christ. We aren’t Christians, we are Biblicists with cult-like devotion to a book that, while important–and it is most certainly important–is ultimately inessential to Christian salvation.

And then, Peter addressed the crowd and said unto them, ‘Believe on this leather-bound book and all its contents, except for the Shepherd of Hermas, because we’ll be getting rid of that in 300 years or so, and you shall be saved!’ 

Unless the book itself says something very different from what I’ve read, there’s nothing in there that places the text on equal footing with Christ or the Holy Spirit.

Here’s the point: good theology matters because Christ and his mandate matters. To engage in the work Christ called us to do is to necessarily do theological work. Thus, if we are to do theology, we ought to do it well, which includes serious thinking about what it is we believe and who we are, from big deals to small (as though there are such distinctions), our theology ought to be dynamic, coherent and integrous.

Right now, I fear we’re lacking in all three, and doing so quite loudly.

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