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Today’s more extreme Christians in the United States blame their country’s problems on the ‘evil’ Enlightenment, the era when their Great Republic was founded.

Considering they are Americans, it makes one wonder whether they should apply for Canadian or similar citizenship.

America’s Founding Fathers debated the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in scorching heat in Philadelphia during the late 18th century. They rightly gave Americans a republicneither a democracy nor a theocracy.

Interestingly, on the other side of the spectrum, we have the welfare-scroungers, who also find their home country lacking.

They and the extreme Christians — opposite sides of the American equation — have something in common: they both detest the republic in which they live. One side longs for a lifelong-subsistence-at-taxpayer-expense-democracy and the other for a theocracy.

Common to both of these groups is a lack of interest in history. Each chooses a handful of negative themes and buzzwords to suit its narrow point of view.

Both are also anti-intellectuals. As they see it, there is no need to think critically. Basic education suffices.

Bottom line — neither group is making many converts to their respective causes. Their proponents seem to be  demanding and angry. That would be more tolerable if only they didn’t have such huge knowledge gaps from which they derive their worldviews.

I cannot easily address the ‘47%’. The fallacy which posits that ‘oppression’ exists today is hard to undo given the pre-eminence of community organisers on the American urban landscape, all the way up to the White House.

However, for extreme Christians, below is a summary of the complex history of Western thought which might give them something to consider and research for themselves.

Virtue OnlineDr David Virtue’s Anglican site — featured a highly balanced talk by Iain Provan about the history of Western thought over the past several centuries. Provan spoke at the late Francis Schaeffer’s l’Abri [‘Shelter’]; for those outside of the US, Schaeffer is the modern-day saint of conservative American Protestants.

Dr Provan has been the Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College since 1997. Excerpts of his talk to l’Abri follow. He demonstrates the complexity of thought in light of Christianity, touching briefly on the Middle Ages before moving on to the Renaissance period.

There is much more at the link above. Emphases mine (outside of headings and italics). Enjoy:

… So how exactly did this displacement of the Christian meta-narrative happen? And how are we to respond to that reality now, in the present moment? That’s my topic for this evening. I’m going to begin by talking about the ‘back-story’ – the period prior to the seventeenth century. I don’t think we are really going to understand what one author has called the ‘eclipse of biblical narrative’ in the period of modernity unless we have some idea of went before and prepared the way for it …

2. The Back-Story

We could begin the back story at various points. For example, we could begin it with the 13th century English Franciscan monk named Roger Bacon – an interesting figure on the leading edge of what was already a changing world. He still lives within the “culture of the Book” I just mentioned; but he does not live within it uncritically. His various writings tell us that on the one hand he would like to see more of the Book – more emphasis on, and more accurate reading of, the Bible. He would like on the other hand to see more openness to the world around about – God’s other Book, if you like, the book of creation ...

So I’m going to begin instead with the Renaissance, in the period from the 14th to the 16th centuries. Here we find that same emphasis on the good reading of books that I’ve just been talking about. There’s tremendous emphasis in this period, for example, on ‘going back to the sources’ in order to correct modern, inexact texts – a tremendous interest in history, and remarkable recovery rate in terms of finding ancient texts. This included biblical texts, in their original languages, with which the Latin Vulgate could be compared and contrasted. The scholarship which flourished during these centuries was also facilitated by a renewed interest and competence in Hebrew and Greek.

But to go back to the sources was not just to produce more reliable biblical texts; it was also to look carefully and in a new way at the content of the biblical text, as a text from the past. So it is that in the Renaissance we see very careful attention given to the content of biblical texts, by scholars reading them in their original languages. We already see, for example, discussion of the puzzle that there are different names for God in the Hebrew of Genesis 1-2, and discussion of the idea that the Pentateuch might not be a unified book, but may be a combination of different books. Both discussions are later important in developing theories about the composition of the Pentateuch. And beyond all that, the Renaissance also sees continuing, serious attempts to read the Bible in the light of new knowledge arising from scientific endeavor and from expeditions of discovery. We see this reflected for example in John Calvin’s commentary on Genesis, when in chapter 1:16 he confronts the problem of the “greater and lesser lights” that God sets in the sky, and he is forced to ask how we should best read this text in view of what the developing science of astronomy has to say. His solution is to read Genesis 1 as a non-scientific account of the creation of the world – a description of creation such as could be understood by a normal Israelite, and not a description corresponding to current (16th century) scientific knowledge. Ancient texts need not be expected to speak about the natural world in modern Renaissance or early modern ways, suggests Calvin: I have said, that Moses does not here subtilely descant, as a philosopher, on the secrets of natureMoses wrote, in a popular style, things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labour whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them’ …

At the same time, however, it is true that in the post-Reformation period in the 16th century we find questions about what the Bible means producing markedly different answers; and one of the most challenging issues becomes how to handle the diversity that now confronts people, in terms of these answers. This was not just a matter of Protestant disagreement with Catholics; it was also a matter of disagreement among Protestants (for example, between Lutherans and Anabaptists) …

So what do we learn about the period prior to the seventeenth century in Europe? We learn that the notion of a Christian civilization is still alive and well, and that the attempt to integrate all knowledge within the bounds of the Christian story is still proceeding. However, there are some stresses and strains, in terms of how exactly to integrate new knowledge with the old and how exactly to read Scripture and Creation together as the two books of God. There is a very particular problem with respect to the unity of Christian civilization, which has fractured in the Reformation; and this leads on to questions about how diversity of opinion and dissent are going to be handled in the emerging new world.

3. The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

As we enter the first half of the 17th century the very attempt to read the world at all within the framework of the traditional Christian story about the world is now, for many people, under threat – at least the versions of the story offered in the post-mediaeval Christian syntheses of the Reformation, on the one hand, and of Roman Catholic Thomism, on the other. The position of the Bible as the grounding authority in European society not only on religious and ecclesiastical matters, but on everything, is increasingly challenged, even as its infallibility is increasingly stressed by Protestant theologians intent on strengthening its immediate authority, as in the case of the Westminster Confession of 1646.

Beyond information, however, the 17th century was of course a century marked in its first half also by terrible war; and with the end of war around about the middle of the century came a deep desire not to go that way again … “Reason” appears to many to offer greater hope for a way ahead than the kind of biblical interpretation that had earlier prevailed. A good example of the kind of response these various circumstances evoked in Bible readers in the early to mid-17th century is provided by the Englishman Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). Hobbes was a rationalistic Anglican who lived through the English Civil War – a supporter of the absolutist monarchy and the system of the state church under Charles I. The question lying at the foundation of Hobbes’ famous book Leviathan (1651) is how a state can retain stability and avoid internal chaos when faced with competing religious claims. His inspiration in answering this question lies in the methods of the natural sciences as they were developing in his time. He seeks to apply to human beings and to the state … scientific theories about “bodies in movement” and the influence they have on each other. Implicit in this is a theory of natural law, in line with which the Bible itself must function – not least because the very extent of the canon is a matter of disagreement among Christians, he says, and must itself be decided by the sovereign of a given Christian nation. The public realm is to be governed by reason – by science – and not by particular interpretations of Scripture ...

The Liberal Anglicanism known as Latitudinarianism that gained a dominant public position in England in the second half of the seventeenth century followed a similar line in distinguishing faith and reason, the private and the public. An important figure here is John Locke (1632-1704), who argued that Government was not [made legitimate] by nature but created by society, and remained legitimate only by doing its job properly in the interest of those who created it – otherwise it ought to be overthrown. No divine right of kings here, derived from the Bible. A government’s job, in Locke’s view, was to protect life, liberty and, above all, property. Among the things that government should not do, argued Locke, was to interfere with an individual’s religious life, which he considered essentially to be a completely private affair. The State must leave people alone, so far as possible, voluntarily to join such churches as they wish.

Among the many intriguing aspects of Locke’s thought is his historical consciousness, which is very much a feature of the times – a new perception among European thinkers of the importance of history for understanding ideas and indeed of the reality that ideas develop over time. We find it, for example, in the writings of the French Roman Catholic Richard Simon (1638-1712), whose Critical History of the Old Testament specifically mentions in his preface the work of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). Spinoza himself makes some use of historical argumentation precisely to undermine the Bible’s authority and therefore its use as a foundational document for the organization of society. Significantly, Simon responded to Spinoza’s mainly rationalist approach with an even more thoroughgoing historical approach. For example, he argues that if internal evidence suggests that Moses did not write all of the Pentateuch, this does NOT mean that the Pentateuch was diminished in importance – it only suggested how it was composed. The status of the text was not affected by the process of its composition. Simon was one of the first to carry out this kind of historical investigation in a systematic manner; and it is important to note that it arises not out of hostility to Christian faith, but rather out of a desire to offer an apologetic on behalf of the faith, in the face of criticism of the Bible by radical thinkers. This criticism was a marked feature of the 17th century, however, as [classical] liberals [not leftists, who would come later] targeted what they saw as the main obstacle to a better world – namely, the Bible ...

It is in the 18th century, however, that the synthesis of Scripture and reason, which together had formed the criteria for public discourse in Europe from the time of the Church Fathers until the 18th century, finally begins completely to unravel. As a result of increasingly fervent intellectual attacks the Bible loses its significance for philosophical thought and for the theoretical constitutional foundations of political ideals in England and then elsewhere. The principles of the Humanist world-view increasingly take over in the public realm as the measurement of the truth and relevance of the Bible itself. The ethical rationalism that thus emerges in public life proves to be one of the forces that shape not only Britain but the entire modern world. It is in this new context that Bible-reading now takes place. It is a world marked by John Locke’s ideas about the legitimacy of the state as rooted in the will of the people rather than in the will of God. It is a world marked by foundational political documents characterized by claims about self-evident human rights rather than prescribed human duties. It is a world of growing freedom for people to believe and to do as they wish, as long as they do not disturb the peace of society.

And this is not only the world of the Enlightenment rationalists. It is also the world of the evangelical Pietists. This is where evangelicalism begins – with people like John Wesley, with his deep convictions about the truth at the heart of the Gospel, but his emphasis nevertheless on tolerance with respect to the inessentials of the faith, and his emphasis on the religion of the heart rather than on the religion of doctrinal confession. This is a world in fact in which everyone may begin, to some extent, to express their views about the Bible freely and without fear of punishment, precisely because the Bible’s interpretation does not now impact so directly on the survival and shape of the state itself. One’s views of the Bible are increasingly regarded as “private,” even where they are published.

Hence the use of pseudonyms, which continues today.

The 18th century also saw widespread pietism as well as the German Enlightenment which gave rise indirectly to political correctness and the cult of the child:

Among the most significant of the early 18th century European theologians was a German professor at the Pietist University of Halle named Siegmund Baumgarten (1706-1757). Baumgarten played an important role in making foreign theology known in Germany, especially the debates about the Bible which had been taking place in England; and he was thus an early facilitator of an important shift that takes place in 18th century intellectual life in Europe, by which the intellectual center of European philosophy (and theology) moved increasingly from Holland, Britain and France to Germany. Once rooted in German soil, the new ideas quickly developed and flourished within the context of a new “back to the sources” movement of the kind that we noted during the Renaissance and Reformation. Philosophy begins to give way to history as the handmaiden of theology, and history indeed becomes a weapon deployed against the arguments of the Enlightenment rationalists, in much the same way that Simon had earlier used it to opposed Spinoza. A good case in point is Johann Semler (1725-1791), a student of Baumgarten’s in Halle. Faced with the arguments of the English Deists and of Voltaire in France (1694-1778) that not everything in the Bible is improving or inspiring, Semler’s response was to focus on the historical circumstances that led to the origin of a biblical text and to ask: how were the cultural assumptions and immediate concerns that motivated writers different from the thought-world of the modern interpreter? The Bible thus examined could be seen to be the product of historical processes in a small ancient Near Eastern nation whose actions and beliefs did not always correspond to the nature of the God whom they worshipped, and indeed whose laws were laid down for particular circumstances that no longer apply. This last point was also made forcefully by Johann Michaelis (1717-1791), another of Baumgarten’s students, who argued that Israelite laws were quite reasonable when seen in their own historical context, but that they should not determine what 18th century European states should doThe Bible had ceased to be, for many people, the one document in which all knowledge could be assumed to be rooted, even where it retained its authority with respect to matters of religious faith and morals. It had become, even more clearly than in any preceding period, a document from the past which at least to some extent must be studied according to the normal procedures employed in studying any ancient text, in order to see which kind of knowledge, and how much of it, it could add to the modern knowledge-pool. Its truthfulness and its usefulness had to be determined. It was no longer presupposed.

We’re now approaching Modernism. Remember that Marxism was embryonic in the 19th century and grew quickly. And, yes, there is the mention of ‘evolution’:

4. The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the acceleration of these trends; but for the sake of time I will not speak in detail about those centuries now. Let me simply say that the extent of the historical analysis to which the Bible has become subject in these centuries is truly astonishing. This is the period in which the Bible itself ceases to be the only real substantive source of information about the non-Graeco-Roman ancient world – the period of the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics and of Mesopotamian cuneiform; the period of better access to the key texts of the Eastern religions, and to the world of so-called “primitive” religions; the age in which science came into its own as a discipline distinct from philosophy, gradually coming to dominate the world of the university; the age, specifically, of Darwinian evolution. Information and ideas were produced at ever-increasing speeds and indeed disseminated at ever-increasing speeds, as first steam-powered presses produced more and more books more cheaply; then newspapers became widely affordable and transportation and communications by rail and sea improved, and regular mail services took off, allowing greater scholarly contact than ever before; and then of course many more recent significant developments. This vast increase in knowledge and in access to knowledge has not helped the Bible’s cause in the public domain in the West, or in other parts of the world either, where it is nowadays either not read at all or survives only as interesting ancient literature which may perhaps also be inspiring. If it is read as literature, however, the story world of the Bible is certainly regarded as having little to do with the real world as defined by science and history. That late-modern and postmodern acceptance of such a profound a dichotomy between the real world and the story world of the Bible is actually already foreshadowed among the 18th century Romantics. I’m thinking here of someone like Johann Goethe (1749-1832). For Goethe, the Bible was certainly not a source of doctrine or history; but it remained a literary work that inspired him with its images and poetry. Goethe left the “outer form” of the biblical material to the critics, while focusing on what he thought of as the inner core that no external concern could destroy. Goethe is interesting for all sorts of other reasons as well, not least his early work on evolution, which influenced Darwin, and his work on philosophy, which impacted both Hegel and Nietzsche.

It was bound to happen. However, as I’ve mentioned before, do the creeds mention a Young Earth creation? If we truly believe that God created the world we know today — does it matter how He did it or when (e.g. post-flood)? What do we really know about hominids and homo sapiens? I do not mean to offend anyone, but does it matter that scientists have discovered common DNA between us and worms? Is our bodily composition important? ‘Dust to dust’? God gave humans their souls. He thereby distinguished us from the animal kingdom.

5. Retrospective and Prospective

… That’s how we got here. “What Are We (as Christians) To Do” about it? Well again, no doubt the answer to that question is also complicated and not capable of simple expression. But let me propose at least one, centrally important thing that I think we must do. And it is this: we need to reaffirm our ancient Christian commitment to the integrity of truth. Specifically, I want to suggest that in so far as what has been discovered about the world between 1648 and the present, and about the Bible in relation to the world, whenever it has been discovered – in so far as it is true, it is to be welcomed … because it is true; and all truth is God’s truth.

Outright rejection has seemed easier than careful consideration of the data, to see how it might fit within a Christian, indeed a biblical world-view. Countless examples could be generated. Let me briefly mention three, one of which (at least) will be well known to you. When Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was first thinking about and planning his Atlantic exploration, it is reported that one of the committees set up to investigate his plans responded to his belief that an “Antipodes” or second continent might exist with the following dismissal: “St. Augustine doubts it.” The discoveries of Columbus and others not only demonstrated that St. Augustine’s doubts were without foundation, but also raised questions about the kind of information the Bible provided about the world, and for many ultimately cast doubt on the Bible. Nevertheless, when Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), looked through his telescope saw things that suggested that the cosmology of his day was mistaken, as were current understandings of Psalms 93 and 104 and Ecclesiastes 1:5 (which appear to speak of the motion of celestial bodies and the suspended position of the earth), he got himself into significant trouble, as you will know. Likewise, the date of 4004 B.C. for the creation of the world, calculated by James Ussher (1581-1656) in the early 17th century and included in the page margins of many versions of the King James Version dating from 1700 onwards, remained widely accepted long after modern geology had suggested that the world was much older than Ussher’s dates allowed.

These are illustrations, only, of an obscurantist streak in Christian thinking throughout the ages – a wrong kind of conservatism. I propose a different way of approaching things. In so far as what has been discovered about the world and about the Bible in relation to the world is true, I suggest, it is to be welcomed – because it is true, and all truth is God’s truth ...

I mean only this: that the Bible that we receive from Christ and his apostles, in which and through which God speaks and to which we assign ultimate authority as the great story within which we live out our lives-this Bible that speaks to us from God is literature: one book, and yet also many books. To hear God speak, all these texts through which He speaks must be understood for what they are and we must be careful to identify what they are not. This inevitably involves biblical hermeneutics in historical study ...

Thank you, Dr Provan!

Is this a capitulation to the Enlightenment, to Modernity and indeed to Postmodernity? I do not believe so. I believe that it is simply a recovery of a more authentic Christianity than the one we sometimes see around us, which embraces truth where it finds it and seeks to integrate it within the Christian story. And this recovery of authentic Christianity is not just important for us; it is missionally important as well … When Christians narrow their view of truth, then, and indeed give the impression that they alone are the possessors of all of it while appearing to others in fact to be deniers of significant aspects of it, this inevitably does little to advocate the Christian world-view. Christians are then seen as opponents of truth and indeed as the purveyors only of prejudice, and as such they are perceived as dangerous people, especially when they are in possession of power …

When I was growing up Young Earth thinking didn’t exist outside of isolated pockets of literalist biblical fundamentalism. Intelligent Design certainly didn’t exist.

God is infinitely more intelligent than we will ever comprehend. Several Catholic and Protestant [especially Calvinist] documents from the 20th century allow their respective members to adhere to varying interpretations of Genesis 1 as long as they believe that God authored creation.

Going further back to the 5th century, even St Augustine warned Christians about misusing the Creation account in Genesis. I’ll explore that in a separate post.

As I have said before, it is not the theories over the past few centuries which have presented problems but what we do with them — as believers, agnostics or atheists.

As Dr N T ‘Tom’ Wright might be a candidate to succeed Dr Rowan Williams as the Archbishop of Canterbury, it’s worth finding out what he thinks about the Bible and various issues which have shaped our world. Today’s post has more short videos to help.

Wright discusses understanding ancient texts. Understanding what the author wanted us to learn, he says, is more important than a concrete, literal reading of them. It depends on the literary genre. He compares parables with the record of the Resurrection with the creation story, all three of which are very different types of biblical genres:

In ‘Evolution’ he explores the true background to the faith v science debate, which had its origins in the 18th century Age of Enlightenment. Wright explains that Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, lived in Lichfield, England, during this time. He and other scientists were already conducting experiments in what Wright calls ‘an Epicurean universe’. Epicureanism, he explains, separates God from the world and, as such, enabled the deism of the Enlightenment to become popular. Charles Darwin’s discoveries were a natural result of this type of dualistic thinking. Wright notes that this was also prevalent in the early United States (e.g. Thomas Jefferson).

Wright clearly explains that the duality is erroneous. God is not apart from us or a distant Being, as the thinkers of the Enlightenment believed, but here among us in our world all the time. Man is made in His image.  So, although we spend much of our lives in a seemingly secular sphere (e.g. work), we’re still in God’s creation interacting with His people.  Handling this overlap makes life ‘all more complicated’. He says we need to ‘relocate the question’ and put Enlightenment thinking, faith and modern secularism up for examination, otherwise we could well find ourselves in ‘a battle in the dark’:

In an excerpt from a longer discussion on Charles Darwin, he explores more background to evolution from the Enlightenment. Wright says that Darwin was a product of that era and its Epicureanism. Evolution is an Epicurean idea separating the world from God, he says, and became popular among the intelligentsia because of the prevailing worldview carrying over from the 18th century. He cited Malthusianism as another example. (Thomas Malthus, incidentally, was an Anglican priest.) Wright says that Epicureanism is unbiblical because of this duality.

Wright says that with this understood, there might well be nothing wrong with Darwin’s science. We don’t need to dismiss it out of hand just because it came from the Enlightenment.  God is present with us all the time. Darwin’s theories may partly explain how He works on Earth:

Tomorrow: Wright on today’s society

N T ‘Tom’ Wright’s name might well be in the hat as a possible successor to Dr Rowan Williams as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. We’ll find out sometime this year.

The former Bishop of Durham is currently Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Scotland’s University of St Andrews.

Dr Wright has made a series of short videos for the BioLogos foundation, where Dr Peter Enns, formerly a professor at Philadelphia’s Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS), interviews him on a variety of biblical topics.

In the following videos, Wright explains the creation story in Genesis. He also discusses the role of Adam in the Bible.

Before we get to these, it should be noted that Christians learn this story in various ways and contexts, depending on their denomination. I learned it in Catholic school, where it was presented not as a record of history but as a story which explained God’s goodness in creating the world and that at some point, Adam and Eve, in whose care He entrusted the Garden of Eden, were tempted by Satan in the form of a serpent. Thus, this was mankind’s first sin — Original Sin.  The nuns and lay teachers did not ask us to accept this as historical record but to draw from it certain lessons:

1/ God is infinitely good.

2/ God created the Earth for His divine purposes.

3/ Man is weak and is prone to temptation by the Devil.

4/ Adam and Eve transmitted Original Sin through every human being and none of us can escape temptation (point 2).

5/ Jesus later came to redeem our sins.

I would also add another point here:

6/ Man inherently trusts in his own abilities instead of in God.

The recent trend in the United States, especially among conservative Protestants, is to accept the story as fact as well as a literal six 24-hour day record of creation.  I have already noted that in the 19th century devout and confessional Reformed theologians believed in the possibility of a longer age of creation. In the Presbyterian Church at the time, clergy could believe either in what we now call a Young Earth or an Old Earth creationism. The belief to grasp from the opening chapters of Genesis was that God is sovereign and that He created the Earth and all that is in it.

Now we come to the trickier prospect of Adam. Dr Enns lost his teaching position at WTS because he did not hold to a historical notion of Adam. This raises the question of how historical our belief in Adam needs to be. More importantly, Christians should know that the whole of the Old Testament, from the creation story onwards, points to Jesus Christ, who would redeem all our sins through His death on the Cross. As sin began with Adam, a belief in him is essential to understand why Jesus is called the Second Adam, an expression I had not run across until a couple of years ago but which is used in Catholic and Protestant theology. Any waffling on this point and the whole of Scripture and Christ as Saviour fall apart.

In ‘What Do You Mean by Literal?’ Wright says ‘literal’ is misused. He says the question is more a difference between ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’. We also need to consider the role of metaphor in some Bible stories, such as the parables. He posits that the meaning of the text is more important than interpreting each verse as fact. Wright recommends that we look at genre and a case-by-case interpretation.  What is the lesson we are meant to learn and retain? With regard to Genesis, this becomes significant: God made Heaven and Earth as a place where He wants to dwell with us. The structure of the story itself supports the meaning but should not become the primary focus of the story:

In ‘N T Wright on Adam and Eve’, Wright says Genesis and the creation story is charged with all sorts of socio-political baggage. He finds this a peculiarly American reading of the text. Few other countries are concerned about a historically concrete interpretation of these chapters. He also objects to conservative fundamentalists saying that if one does not believe the verses as fact that means the Christian will not believe other aspects and events in Scripture. He says that ‘myth’ means a story full of power in terms of self-understanding — the world, humanity, our weaknesses, etc. He says that sin did originate with a ‘primal pair’ but that their story is not a factual representation. It is a way of saying that when a good God created Heaven and Earth, He wanted to share the Earth with us. Wright believes that the literal interpretation overrides the significance of the story. Furthermore, he objects to the American uber-fundamentalist view of the end of the world — the notion that we will be spending eternity sitting on a cloud. He believes this is being ‘unfaithful’ to the text itself:

I mentioned earlier that our belief in Adam as the originator of sin is essential in light of Jesus’s death and resurrection. In ‘Paul’s Perspective on Adam’, Wright says Romans 5 Paul gives a big-picture summary with Abraham’s family up to ours as a forgiven family thanks to Jesus’s sacrifice. Thanks to Jesus, Wright says, Genesis 1 and 2 are then ‘back on track’; Jesus has resolved the difficulty of Adam’s sin had presented since the beginning of humanity. God’s faithfulness to sinful man is fulfilled in Jesus, the truly human One. He adds that anyone who believes in Jesus is also truly human as a result:

Although I disagree on Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul, I do agree with his interpretation here of the creation story and the significance of Adam, even if this First Adam is not a literal, historical figure. It is what he represents that counts; his story is reflected throughout the Old Testament and the Gospels in Israel’s disobedience towards a loving God. Jesus, as the Second Adam, represents what Israel would have been had it not been for Adam’s original sin.

Tomorrow: More N T Wright videos

Yesterday’s post examined 19th century fundamentalism in America, which was more open to philosophy and science than the 21st.

Continuing with more observations from Dr Roger Olson on the subject, he states (emphases mine):

The term “fundamentalist” has evolved over the years … Something changed around 1920. (This history is well recounted in a variety of books about the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism.) A fundamentalist leader, William Bell Riley, added premillennialism to the list of fundamentals of the faith. After the Scopes trial in 1925 many, if not most, self-described fundamentalists adopted “biblical separationism” and later even “secondary separationism” (John R. Rice, Bob Jones, Carl McIntire, etc.). The “neo-evangelicals” were fundamentalists who disagreed with the separatism and militancy of the leading fundamentalists and founded the National Association of Evangelicals. They invited the leading fundamentalists to join, but they refused because the NAE included Pentecostals. Especially after that (1941/1942) “fundamentalism” has had the connotation of separatism from even fellow evangelicals who are not considered doctrinally pure. Mike’s [author of the piece excerpted and discussed below] point is that SOME of that mentality is creeping back into mainstream evangelicalism. He calls it “neo-fundamentalism.” I call it “conservative evangelicalism with a fundamentalist flavor.” “Neo-fundamentalism” is pragmatically better. In one sense, all conservative evangelicals are fundamentalists–going back to the original meaning of the label. But so much has happened between then and now I’m not sure that first meaning can be useful.

This comment refers to an article by a friend of Olson’s — Michael Clawson — from Baylor University’s Department of Religion. The article is called ‘Young, Restless, and Fundamentalist: Neo-fundamentalism among American Evangelicals‘.

Clawson states:

The driving force behind neo-fundamentalism, as with historic fundamentalism, is a “remnant mentality.” Neo-fundamentalists believe they alone are remaining true to the fullness of the gospel and orthodox faith while the rest of the evangelical church is in grave, near-apocalyptic danger of theological drift, moral laxity, and compromise with a postmodern culture – a culture which they see as being characterized by a skepticism towards Enlightenment conceptions of “absolute truth,” a pluralistic blending of diverse beliefs, values, and cultures, and a suspicion of hierarchies and traditional sources of authority.[3] Because of this hostility toward postmodern ways of thinking, neo-fundamentalists have little tolerance for diversity of opinions among evangelicals on any issues they perceive as essential doctrines – which are most of them – as opposed to the broader evangelical movement which historically has allowed for a much wider range of disagreement on disputable matters.[4] Neo-fundamentalists thus respond to the challenges of a postmodern culture by narrowing the boundaries of what they consider genuinely evangelical and orthodox Christianity, and rejecting those who maintain a more open stance.

While similar, this new movement’s primary concerns are typically not the same as those of more traditional fundamentalists. In regards to behavioral standards, for instance, neo-fundamentalists are less concerned about the sort of moral restrictions that animated conservatives of a century ago: drinking, dancing, card playing and the like.[5] Instead they typically focus on contemporary social issues like gender roles or sexual orientation. And while they would still agree with earlier fundamentalists on issues of scriptural inerrancy or anti-evolution, their theological arguments more commonly focus on the nature of truth and Calvinistic soteriology. Institutionally, this movement is not arising from the older bastions of fundamentalism – Bob Jones University, Moody Bible Institute, or even Liberty University – but within mainstream evangelical circles – from Gordon-Conwell, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; from well-known and influential mega-church pastors in the Twin Cities, Seattle, and Southern California; and from massive worship festivals and ministry conferences popular with tens of thousands of evangelical college students as well as numerous pastors and lay-leaders. Leading voices associated with this trend include scholars like David Wells, DA Carson and Albert Mohler, Religious Right media-personalities like James Dobson, and well-known pastors like John MacArthur, John Piper and Mark Driscoll.

I could be wrong, but it seems as if Clawson is Arminian as his thrust appears to be anti-Calvinist. Someone in the comments helpfully points out that Arminians are also involved in neo-fundamentalism.

Indeed, James Dobson — whom Clawson names — is a member of the Church of the Nazarene, a Wesleyan holiness church. As such, Dobson is an Arminian.

Dobson is the founder of Focus on the Family ministries, and many fundamentalist Protestants will be familiar with his advocacy of harsh parenting methods.

Clawson observes Dobson’s rise to prominence and contrasts the recent fundamentalists with earlier evangelicals, such as Billy Graham:

Despite the success of this evangelical movement, a resurgence of fundamentalist attitudes began in the late 1970s and 80s in reaction against the massive cultural shifts of the 1960s.[7] As the “culture wars” heated up, evangelicals began increasingly to reclaim the “fighting” spirit of their fundamentalist forebears. Key to this development was Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family ministries. While more traditionally fundamentalist leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson had only limited appeal among mainstream evangelicals, Dobson’s status as a parenting guru, the broadly evangelical nature of his ministry, and his brilliant command of the medium of talk radio, gave him access to a much wider religious audience and enabled him to bring millions of evangelicals along when he joined the culture wars in the early 1980s. Dobson served as a bridge between traditional fundamentalism and contemporary evangelicalism and at the same time laid the seeds of a neo-fundamentalist movement increasingly hostile to the broader culture.

Dobson’s son, Ryan, wrote a book five years ago

entitled Be Intolerant: Because Some Things Are Just Stupid, which encourages teens to be intolerant (“in love”) of “stupid” ideas like homosexuality, environmentalism, and liberal politics.[11]

This is why we need thinkers again — theologians with a mastery of philosophy as well as theology. None of the Calvinists Clawson names are thinkers as were the Princeton Theologians of the 19th century. However, today’s pastors John Piper, Al Mohler and Mark Driscoll are popular. I agree with Clawson that they have a following among younger Protestants.

I suspect that some of the anxiety about this development is that Arminians wonder why they don’t have the stars that Calvinism does. To that, I have no answer but it is an ironic development, given that Arminians were forceful and populist preachers in the 19th century.

However, his article got me thinking about what happened after 1920, so let’s return to what Dr Olson said.

Wikipedia explains the development of Christian fundamentalism around this time:

Fundamentalism was especially controversial among Presbyterians. Although it began in the North its greatest popular strength was in the South, especially among Southern Baptists. By the late 1920s the national media had identified it with the South, largely ignoring manifestations elsewhere.[18]

The leading organizer of the Fundamentalist campaign against modernism was William Bell Riley, a Northern Baptist based in Minneapolis, where his Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School (1902), Northwestern Evangelical Seminary (1935), and Northwestern College (1944) produced thousands of graduates. Riley created, at a large conference in Philadelphia in 1919, the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association (WCFA). It became the chief interdenominational fundamentalist organization in the 1920s. Although the fundamentalist drive of the 1920s to take control of the major Protestant denominations failed at the national level, the network of churches and missions fostered by Riley shows the movement was growing in strength, especially in The South. Both rural and urban in character, the flourishing movement acted as a denominational surrogate and aimed at a militant orthodoxy of evangelical Christianity. Riley was president until 1929, after which the WFCA faded in importance and was never replaced.[19]

In 1923, Riley

set up the Anti-Evolution League of Minnesota, which blossomed the following year into the Anti-Evolution League of America (later run by T. T. Martin). While the anti-evolution crusade is often thought of as a Southern phenomenon, two of its foremost leaders, Riley and John Roach Straton, were from Minneapolis and New York City respectively. In the early 1920s Riley promoted a vigorous anti-evolutionary campaign in the Northwest and it was Riley’s World Christian Fundamentals Association that wired William Jennings Bryan urging him to act as counsel for the association in the Scopes Trial.[1]

Riley and Bryan tried to remove all teaching of evolution from public schools. One of the creationists in their movement, T. T. Martin claimed that German soldiers who killed Belgian and French children by giving them poisoned candy were angels compared to those who spread evolution ideas in schools.[2] Riley also claimed that “an international Jewish-Bolshevik-Darwinist conspiracy to promote evolutionism in the classroom”[3] was behind the changes in curriculum occurring in the 1920s. Riley advocated a form of “Day-Age Creationism.[1]

Note that not even Riley believed in a literal six 24-hour-day period of creation. He also held to the Old Earth theory.

William Jennings Bryan, the devout Presbyterian who was the prosecution lawyer in the Scopes Monkey Trial at Riley’s request, even held to the Old Earth theory of creation:

Bryan opposed the theory of evolution for two reasons. First, he believed that what he considered a materialistic account of the descent of man through evolution undermined the Bible. Second, he saw Social Darwinism as a great evil force in the world promoting hatred and conflicts, especially the World War.[35]

According to author Ronald L. Numbers, Bryan was not nearly as much of a fundamentalist as many modern-day creationists, and is more accurately described as a “day-age creationist: “William Jennings Bryan, the much misunderstood leader of the post–World War I antievolution crusade, not only read the Mosaic “days” as geological “ages” but allowed for the possibility of organic evolution—so long as it did not impinge on the supernatural origin of Adam and Eve.[43]

That I didn’t know, but when I was a teenager in the 1970s, fundamentalist Protestants were already accepting the literal 24-hour day interpretation, so I assumed Bryan had so many years ago.

Later, in the 1950s, Billy Graham broke with the fundamentalist movement because he wished to embrace ecumenism and work with leaders of other denominations as part of his ministry.

In the 1960s, fundamentalists became closely identified with political conservatism. In the 1970s, they began incorporating more social messages into their public activism. You can see a timeline of the Christian Right’s development for more detail.

Now, unfortunately, fundamentalism is the public face of Protestant Christianity and has been for at least the past three decades. Fundamentalists will not have a problem with this, but the rest of us will as a whole generation of Western onlookers have grown up thinking this is how all Christians think.

Even the word ‘Christian’ becomes problematic. When I was growing up, we identified ourselves by denomination. Everyone knew where each other was coming from, so to speak. I would still prefer to identify by denomination, because we would all then know the beliefs behind it.  When I hear the word ‘Christian’, I automatically think ‘Evangelical’, which isn’t always helpful.

The other difficulty is the neo-fundamentalist focus on gender roles, as Clawson points out in his essay. Unfortunately, this is popular in both Calvinist and Arminian circles.  Olson has a number of posts which examine this development with a measured yet critical eye.  Men are becoming more macho in their expressions of faith and how it extends to the home; women, as a result, are being sidelined. Federal headship is a hot topic among a number of younger husbands and fathers who believe that things were always this way. Women should be quite careful of how much of this they accept because much of this could become something akin to a Christian Taliban perspective, for lack of better words.

This leads to dysfunctional children and marriages, not to mention cult-like congregations. Young people and abused wives will want to leave the Church full stop.  I read a blog post three years ago which said that women were made to suffer and that abused wives should just suck it up; it would all count towards their merit on Judgment Day.

On a related post from 2006 which discusses the ‘remnant mentality’, a male reader has this to say:

… ultimately I had a wonderful grace experience where God revealed that my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing turned God the Father into an abusive parent. I think the one aspect of Neo- Fundamentlism that you neglect to adress is this sense of God having forsaken people …

Another man points out the dichotomy between the original, measured fundamentalists and today’s:

I see Fundamentalism as at the turn of the twentieth century as different than what Fundamentalism became after the R.A. Torrey, Machen, Warfield days. It seems to become strident and militantly separatist later, in ways that it was not originally.

Another chap writes:

Jesus called for people to follow him and and with clarity laid out what he was doing. Fundamentalism, neo or otherwise has a need to define the enemy, and more often than not this enemy is found within their ranks, those who will not agree with them. There is an anger and a fear that you just do not see in the gospels.

Having seen the statements of faith of some of the fundamentalist organizations (neo or otherwise) it is the detail that grabs your attention. They cover every point – far beyond the classic creeds of the church.

A woman notes:

I have been among and a part of fundamentalist communities. I admire their commitment, the willingness to put personal feelings aside in service of higher ideals, and the desire to lead lives of integrity and moral uprightness.

I do find some of the results of their scrupulousness dangerous, though, and not just to themselves. Too many children raised in these homes have been damaged by the enclave culture they are reared in. The vast array of ex-fundamentalist websites, books, support groups and discussion groups reveal commonalities of mistreatment that these now-adults find unconscionable.

So for me, I’m not one to point fingers too strongly at beliefs since most of us are doing the best we can with limited information. But when those beliefs are damaging to others, then I start to wonder if there shouldn’t be some uncovering of what has been hidden and cloistered for the sake of those who are a part of those communities without much choice (namely kids).

This comment expresses my reservations about today’s fundamentalism:

What is wrong with it? In my opinion the issues are in many cases not obvious. Common sense does not lead everyone to the same conclusion. God’s scriptures, while the inspired authority for the church, are not nearly as clear as proposed. It rejects a great deal of the rich history of the church. Most importantly it sets up fences that can serve to drive many from God and provides many others with an excuse for not even being willing to consider the Christian story as reasonable view of the universe, as one worth exploring.

In that regard neo-fundamentalism is accomplishing its purpose in playing to the ‘remnant mentality’.

The people thinking they are helping the Church might be the ones doing Her the most harm.

Over the past week I have been reading and rereading Roger E Olson’s blog, now added to my blogroll.

Dr Olson puts paid to the notion that all pietists are anti-intellectual and ignorant of Church history. Whilst I do not agree with everything he says, his posts make me think.

This site has forensic studies of Arminianism, pietism, evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

One of the problems which Christians and non-believers have is where to place theologians on a ‘right-middle-left’ spectrum, as Olson describes it. I’ve run across this on a variety of Christian fora, Puritan Board among them. People go through a ticklist of stances, which were much different in the 19th century than they are now. In fact, we have moved further to an obscurantist fundamentalism which didn’t exist in the early days.

It is no wonder that Christians get frustrated with various points of view which they consider embarrassing. It should come as no surprise that prominent atheists take issue with us when we seem to detest any form of intellectual or scientific enquiry. We’re either knee-jerk in promoting social justice or virulently anti-science. Most Westerners equate the word ‘Christian’ with ‘bumpkin’. Where are the great minds of Christianity? They must be out there, but we really need William F Buckley Jrs in Catholicism, Calvinism, Lutheranism and Anglicanism to re-establish us as thinkers.

When Christian fundamentalism started, it was a reaction to secular ideas originating in the West which spread quickly because of affordable newspapers and less expensive books. The average person then began to know more about what was happening in the world.  The 19th century Catholic popes predicted that the rise of Marxism in Europe would destroy not only the Church but the traditional family. They were not wrong.  Pope Pius X declared Modernism a heresy in 1907; he rightly believed that Catholics following social movements would place more faith in them than in Christ Jesus. The Catholic struggle against Modernism was more political than theological.

For Protestants, Modernism posed more of a scientific issue, especially with regard to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Theologians who believed in the primacy of Scripture took issue with others who wanted to reconcile science with the Bible. The ‘fundamentalist’ Protestants believed (rightly) that the more the Church gravitated towards Modernism the less people would believe Holy Scripture.

Olson writes (emphases mine):

A close inspection of liberal Protestant theology and Catholic Modernism reveals that a basic impulse in their creation was to make conflicts between science and Christianity impossible. I believe it is evangelical theologian William Abraham who said that liberal theology was so afraid of being kicked in the ditch by modernity that it jumped there to avoid the pain of the kick! Liberal theology did not so much deny traditional beliefs as relegate all doctrines to the realm of expressions of religious feelings or ethics. The “moralizing of dogma” was the catch phrase for the Ritschlian tendency to ignore doctrines it could not put into the service of ethics.

The main reaction to liberal theology in the nineteenth century was Protestant Orthodoxy as represented by Hodge. Hodge insisted that Christianity is primarily a matter of factual revelation and that Christian theology is simply correctly organizing the facts of the Bible into a coherent system. He explicitly compared theology with science in that regard. For him the Bible is to the theologian exactly what nature is to the scientist—a “store-house of facts.” He adopted Scottish Common Sense Realism, an Enlightenment philosophy, to help his project of rescuing Protestant Orthodoxy’s status as a rational science. (He even went so far as to say that the credibility of revelation is subject to reason.) The way Hodge avoided conflicts between theology and science was by accommodating to the “material facts” of science and rejecting anything science “discovers” that he could claim is mere “theory” insofar as it conflicted with his interpretation of Scripture.

Olson is referring to Charles Hodge, one of the Princeton Theologians (sometimes called ‘Greats’) — a handful of devout Presbyterian clergymen and thinkers of the 19th century into the early 20th century. Hodge — President of Princeton Theological Seminary (1851 – 1878) — would be decried today for many of his stances, not just biblical inerrancy.

Hodge thought that Darwinism was not only atheistic but too neat a theory. However, it’s worth pointing out the following:

While he didn’t consider all evolutionary ideas to be in conflict with his religion, he was concerned with its teaching in colleges.

Meanwhile, at Princeton University, its President, James McCosh, attempted to reconcile evolution with God’s order of the universe:

He thus demonstrated that Darwinism was not atheistic nor in irreconcilable hostility to the Bible. The Presbyterians in America thus could choose between two schools of thought on evolution, both based in Princeton. The Seminary held to Hodge’s position until his supporters were ousted in 1929, and the college (Princeton University) became a world class center of the new science of evolutionary biology.[5]

The debate between Hodge and McCosh exemplified an emerging conflict between science and religion over the question of Darwin’s evolution theory. However, the two men showed greater similarities regarding matters of science and religion than popularly appreciated. Both supported the increasing role of scientific inquiry in natural history and resisted its intrusion into philosophy and religion.[6]

Therefore, it would be difficult to dismiss Hodge as what we would label today as a fundamentalist — obscurantist — theologian. Olson tells us:

Hodge was clearly influenced by modernity as he treated theology as a science in the modern sense … He explicitly appealed to modern natural science as the model for theology and used Scottish Common Sense Realism to the fullest.

Common Sense Realism was a product of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment.


It greatly influenced conservative religious thought and was strongest at Princeton Seminary until the Seminary moved in new directions after 1929. The Princeton theologians built their elaborate system on the basis of “common-sense” realism, biblicism and confessionalism.[2] James McCosh was brought from Queen’s College, Belfast, to Princeton College’s Chair of Moral Philosophy and Presidency because of his book “The Method of Divine Government”, a Christian philosophy that was precursory to Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” (1865). The Princeton Theologians followed McCosh to adopt a stance of theistic evolution. They heavily influenced John Gresham Machen (1881–1937), a leader of the Fundamentalists in the 1920s. McCosh’s goal was to develop Princeton as a Christian university in North America, as well as forefront intellectual seminary of the Presbyterian Church. The faculty of the College and Seminary included both evolutionary thinkers and non-evolutionary thinkers. Much evangelical theology of the 21st century is based on Princeton theology and thus reflects Common Sense Realism.[3]

So, by these standards, Hodge and subsequent Princeton Theologians — the last of whom was B B Warfield (1851 – 1921)* could be considered as moderates. B B Warfield has come under attack by today’s Calvinists for his acceptance of a form of evolution. Wikipedia even acknowledges this by saying:

Warfield’s view of evolution may appear unusual for a conservative of his day. He was willing to accept that Darwin‘s theory might be true, but believed that God guided the process of evolution, and was as such an evolutionary creationist.

Olson cites a number of other theologians in addition to Hodge who are equally difficult to pigeonhole. He concludes:

The traditional “right to left, left to right” spectrum for categorizing theologians and theologies was problematic from the start. It began as a way of categorizing nineteenth century theologians and it was tied to modernity. Theologians were placed on it according to the placer’s judgment about the theologians’ accommodations to or rejections of modernity. That spectrum didn’t ever work well, but it became especially problematic in the twentieth century as many theologians no longer responded to modernity. It still works only for theologians and types of theology that clearly and unequivocally respond to modernity either though accommodation or reaction. A completely separate spectrum tied to postmodernity might be helpful for categorizing SOME theologians IF “postmodernity” ever becomes a clear category. But there will probably never be a time when one spectrum works for every theologian. It wasn’t true in the nineteenth century and it isn’t true now and it will almost certainly never be true.

Therefore, Christianity is hardly as black and white as its 20th century obscurantists claim. I have read Calvinist sites which say, ‘Beware of B B Warfield — he accepted evolution!’ To them, that makes everything Warfield ever taught or wrote an error.

It’s quite sad, really, that we are becoming as insular as another world faith. Unfortunately, we are teaming up with that faith in mutual ‘ecumenical’ endeavours, as in the cessation of tobacco use by professional baseball players.

How pathetic.

At the risk of losing some readers, I shall state plainly that I could never have married a young-Earth (six 24-hour days) creationist. That said, I believe that God is not only our Father but the Author of all creation. As with the Real Presence in Holy Communion, how He did it is not for me to know, just for us to believe it is so.


* Some, like I, believe that John Gresham Machen was the last, although he was never Principal or President of Princeton Theological Seminary.

Tomorrow: Fundamentalism after 1920

EarthAs a follow-up to my post of September, 21, 2009, on evolution and the LCMS position, Cyberbrethren‘s Pastor McCain has added another post, entitled ‘How Old Is the Earth? The LCMS Does Not Answer That Question‘.  Whilst this is unrelated to my own, as it is dated September 18, 2009, I shall reproduce parts of the post and the comments it received.

Getting to the heart of the matter, Pastor McCain clarifies the LCMS position neatly in a comment to reader Michael Mapus here (emphasis mine):

Let’s not compare belief in a 6,000 year old earth with belief in the Resurrection. The Scriptures testify explicitly to the Resurrection, but they nowhere tell us the earth is 6,000 years old. This is precisely one of the point of this post. Many, even LCMS Lutherans, assume we have embraced some of the popular tenets of American Fundamentalism, at least as it is popularly understood. In fact, we do not.

Now, back to the post itself.  Here are the main points, although it is worth reading both it and the comments in their entirety:

– The LCMS has no doctrinal position on the age of the Earth.

– The LCMS is not a fundamentalist church.

– The reason it does not take a position on the age of the Earth is that the Bible does not state how old our planet is. 

– The LCMS does not believe in a total literal interpretation of the Bible, however, the Bible — not man — determines at what points it should be read literally, e.g. Adam and Eve.

– The LCMS Synod believes there can be ‘no actual contradiction between genuine scientific truth and the Bible’.

– It is possible to harmonise Biblical teaching with scientific knowledge, ‘e.g. God created the world in an already ‘mature’ state, so that scientific ‘data’ lead one to the conclusion that it is older than it actually is’.  

The LCMS Synod affirms that:

‘God by the almighty power of His Word created all things in six days by a series of creative acts,’ that ‘Adam and Eve were real, historical human beings, the first two people in the world,’ and that ‘we must confess what St. Paul says in Romans 5:12‘ about the origin of sin through Adam as described in Genesis 3 (1967 Synodical Resolution 2-31). The Synod has also, therefore, stated that it rejects ‘all those world views, philosophical theories, exegetical interpretations and other hypotheses which pervert these biblical teachings and thus obscure the Gospel’ (1967 Synodical Resolution 2-31).

Pastor McCain gives reasons for the LCMS’s hesitancy to give the age of the earth and evolution a simple yes or no answer here:

What does a person wanting to nail down a specific age of the earth have to say about a six day creation of the world, a real, historical and factual Adam and Eve as the first human beings created by a direct act of God, as recorded in Genesis, and a real, factual, historic fall into sin, etc. In other words, I’d want to explore fully what is animating any assertion about an age of the earth and what else comes along with it, either as cause, or result, of a conviction about the age of the earth.

That makes sense and sounds better than the Synod’s statement, which, hmm, seems to support my original post. As one of the commenters said there, there’s a ‘culture war battlefield’ between the ELCA and LCMS on interpretation. Back to Pastor McCain: He’s not saying a pastor would tell you not to believe in evolution but he would wish to explore your logic and reasons for wanting to believe it in light of other episodes that Genesis 1 contains: Adam and Eve, their fall and Original Sin.

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart— Proverbs 11:29 (KJV)


Luther Rose ML 125pxIt never occurred to me that believing in evolution could exclude you from a mainstream Protestant church, until I read a thought-provoking exchange about the potential of ELCA members moving to LCMS churches.

The post was on Cyberbrethren, which is a fantastic blog for all things LCMS.  Pastor Paul T McCain, who is the Publisher and the Executive Director of the Editorial Department at Concordia Publishing House.  His site, like Concordia Publishing House, covers various aspects of historic Lutheranism.  It’s well worth a read.

The other day I read several posts, nodding my head to each, then ran across the comments in ‘How the ELCA Left the Great Tradition‘.  (Readers may recall that Churchmouse Campanologist also covered Dr Benne’s analysis here.)  In the comments readers debate whether ELCA members will join the LCMS.  One in particular caught my eye:

September 15th, 2009 at 18:05 | #13

[CJF writes]

Pastor McCain:

I am currently in ELCA and would like to leave given what occurred at the CWA [Churchwide Assembly]. I am seriously considering the LCMS but I have some questions…

In order to become a member of the LCMS,

Do I have to believe that God created the world in six 24 hour days?

Do I have to completely reject the theory of evolution?

Do I have to believe that the earth is 10,000 years old?

If I join an LCMS church, Will my mother and father who choose to remain in the ELCA, yet come from an LCMS background, and believe that the body and blood of Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, be able to take communion at my LCMS congregation? Does the answer change if my father is a freemason?

If the answer to all the above is NO then, respectfully, LCMS is not an option.

McCain response: In order to become a member of The LCMS you need first to visit with a LCMS pastor who has the responsibility for such matters. He will be most concerned to assure himself that you are committed to the six chief parts of Luther’s Small Catechism, and are sincerely committed to them. As for the details in your note I hesitate to give yes/no answers because the questions you ask deserve conversation, not “litmus test treatment.” And I know of no good pastor in our Synod who would want you to “grill” them on these points without good conversation. My encouragement is seek out an LCMS congregation and go speak to the pastor. If you want to e-mail me privately … I can let you know what LCMS congregation is close to you.

One of the tenets of the LCMS is the belief in Scriptural inerrancy.  Upon first reading, I thought the first three questions were somewhat irreverent.  But then, I always understood Biblical inerrancy to pertain to the eternal truth of God’s word.  I didn’t equate it with ‘literal interpretation’.  It’s interesting to read that it involves discussion with a pastor.  I would like to think that it would be to assess whether one believes, first and foremost, that God created the world, which may or may not have been created in six 24-hour days.

I went to a Catholic school from third grade (age eight) through university.  We were always taught theistic evolution: God created the Earth, but it evolved over time and took longer than a week. (Intelligent Design was way after my time.)  I knew very few people who believed the six-day Creation story.  My parents always advised me not to ridicule them.  Not that I would have.  My parents as well as the nuns at school told the story of the Scopes Monkey Trial, the stage and film version of which is Inherit the Wind

Then, I read that Creation, the new British film about Darwin, won’t be playing in the US because it could not find a distributor.  That left me gobsmacked.  Am I concerned whether Darwin wrestled with his faith?  No.  Did I care what Jonas Salk‘s religious convictions were?  No, I never gave them a thought until I read the link for this post.  I’m just glad he invented the polio vaccine.  Similarly, I find the Origin of the Species fascinating.  Why couldn’t evolution be God-given?  Well, I don’t want to harp on about it, but I will never stop believing that God gave us our beautiful universe which He perfected over time.   

Now I see that back in February (2009), Gallup took a poll of Americans to gauge their belief in evolution.  Thirty years after I finished university, the numbers look worse than ever.  If I find a comparison over time, I’ll post one.  The Telegraph (UK) published the latest figures:

… only 39% of Americans say they believe in the evolutionary theory he outlined in On the Origin of Species, contradicting the biblical creation story in the Book of Genesis. A quarter say they don’t believe  it and the other 36 per cent were unsure or did not have an opinion…

For regular church-goers, belief in evolution slips to just 24 per cent. The figure rises consistently across education levels – from 21 per cent of those who did not study past high school to 74 per cent of people with postgraduate degrees.

Knock me down with a feather.  Seriously.

I hope that I have not offended any members of the LCMS, Pastor McCain in particular, with this post.  That was not the intention.  I simply wonder if an LCMS member has the option to believe in evolution.

I also hope that Pastor McCain would allow me the opportunity to respectfully share LCMS theology with you, particularly about the importance of the Cross, fasting and more.  Traditional Churchmouse Campanologist readers would find Cyberbrethren posts informative and useful in their spiritual journeys.  I do.

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