A Slippery Slope … or A Two Way Street? (RJS)

I am still in the throes of paper writing, proposal writing, and travel … so haven’t had time to get back to Joel Green or C. John Collins. These will come, both Green’s chapter on resurrection and Collins on Adam and Eve. Today though I would like to pose a question – with a link and quote from Roger Olson’s blog. On a recent post Dr. Olson wrote about a letter he received from one who had read his book Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology. This letter was a note of thanks for the influence the book had on the writer.

In his post about this letter Dr. Olson asks Do people ever go from liberal to evangelical? At one level the answer of course is yes – we all know people who came to faith, and did so from more liberal backgrounds. A better question might be this – can one raised or trained in conservative theology, even fundamentalism, find faith and peace when they begin to ask questions, explore options and look with open eyes? Again the answer is yes … but it isn’t always easy. Different people take different paths. Some find a conservative faith most convincing. Others don’t.

A comment on a recent post I wish I hadn’t said that tells a far too common story.

I used to be a Christian.
First evangelical Baptist, then liberal Mennonite. Now happily atheist / naturalist / humanist (pick a label).

I remember thinking, very explicitly, when I was 15 (I’d just read something by Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel), that I knew too much not to be a Christian. In retrospect, that thought is very funny to me.

I also had a pastor who said “follow the evidence wherever it leads.” I did.

I will return to Dr. Olson’s post and the letter he received below, but the question I would like to focus on today is the difference between the experience of the the commenter above and the letter writer.

What can be done to change this kind of story – or make it less frequent?

What can the church do? Where do we fail?

Follow the evidence wherever it leads is dangerous advice, without competent guides and thoughtful community. We are not meant to stand or reason alone. Joel Green in exploring the relationship between the Bible, neuroscience and conversion notes that relationships and community are important in moral formation and transformation. These relationships and interactions shape who we are and help form us a Christians.  It isn’t the power of God and of the Spirit OR community but the power of God and the Holy Spirit through and in Christian community.

The young man who wrote to Dr. Olson found his faith fading as he read liberal theology such as “Tillich, Bultmann, Hick”, and the gospels with these new insights and ideas. But people and community made a difference.

It was after this I had a most marvellous evening at my cell group: the curate … introduced me to the work of two people who would go on to change my spiritual life, who I thank God for every day. The first was Rob Bell: in watching the Nooma DVD ‘Sunday’, I felt a strange sense of life, that there WAS hope for Evangelicalism still.

After talking to the curate about this video, about how impressed I was, he went into his study and brought out a semi-slim book: Reformed and Always Reforming. … Nonetheless, something stirred within me – it was as if I could be an Evangelical AND STILL be an imaginative thinker; I had a brief image of what it may be to truly be theologically Evangelical, and yet not ignore the insights of all the thinkers I was reading.

Many of us can tell stories similar to this. I’ve never really read Tillich, Bultmann or Hick (I don’t even know who the last is) … the threat was never liberal theology, which holds no appeal for me. Rather the threat was a path more like our commenter above, either find a way to be a thinking evangelical in the fold of orthodox faith or become agnostic with presumption of atheism. I have found a breadth of Christian thinkers who have been a continuing influence. N.T. Wright, Larry Hurtado, Robert Weber and more – thinkers who may not fall within the bounds of some definition of conservative theology, but are orthodox, faithful, and intent on following God. Sometimes I find myself on a more conservative side, sometimes a bit more liberal, but always learning and facing the questions.

Scot linked to an article yesterday that described Josh McDowell’s fears about the internet. His fears are not totally unfounded. The internet can provide both information and community – and the community can be relentlessly skeptical. Ridicule is a powerful tool, freely used. Who really wants to be backward, ignorant, described as less intelligent and superstitious?

The solution, though, isn’t to eliminate the internet or the increasing interconnection and information it provides. As though we could. The solution, I think, is to model thinking and conversation in community. As we teach and disciple Christians we need to teach them how to think as Christians, not what to think as Christians. This is uncomfortable though. It takes time and work. Small group Bible studies, integration into service in the social structure of the church, and an attractive worship service with an inspirational sermon won’t do it.

What or who has helped you on your journey? What advice would you give?

How can the church create a community of growth and support?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Robert

    Good question. I think the first essential is to try to be as inclusive as humanly possible, and give everyone space to express themselves in their own way, and to make their own contribution. We’ve got all sorts at my church; liberals an evangelicals, creationists and evolutionists. We don’t have arguments and splits because, whatever we disagree on, there are more important things we agree on. Sometimes we need to stop obsessing about the things which divide us, and concentrate on that which unites us.

  • Rick

    Robert #1-

    “We don’t have arguments and splits because, whatever we disagree on, there are more important things we agree on. Sometimes we need to stop obsessing about the things which divide us, and concentrate on that which unites us.”

    I agree, although it really depends on what are the “things” that divide and unite. In short, what are the essentials and non-essentials.

  • Tom

    Robert is right on target. We need to let people explore in a safe environment. Many times our churches look down on people who are at different places in their spiritual walk. Many people pull away from the church they are going too and start church shopping (not a bad thing) to find a place where they can find people who agree with them. They then outgrow the new place and start all over. That’s why we have so many churches right next to each other.
    Who helped me on my journey? So many I can’t count. “Soul Survivor” by Yancy was a huge help with this.

  • rjs


    I don’t know exactly where you are coming from on this – but I don’t think the answer is an open anything goes faith, which really is an environment where we ignore the hard questions.

    There needs to be agreement on what unites us – the essentials and there needs to be some understanding of what divides us.

    I attend a church where there is disagreement on evolution, for example, with people who range from me (clearly theistic evolution) to young earth creationist (a good friend told me there were baby dinosaurs on the ark). But we agree that God created the world.

    And we agree on the resurrection of Jesus. There may be disagreements on the mechanism of atonement – but not on the historicity of the resurrection.

    Just two examples.

    But we need space in discipleship and in community to ask all our questions.

  • Rick

    Tom #3-

    “Many people pull away from the church they are going too and start church shopping (not a bad thing) to find a place where they can find people who agree with them. They then outgrow the new place and start all over.”

    So true.

    “Many times our churches look down on people who are at different places in their spiritual walk.”

    But is that coming from the leadership, or the laity? I wonder if most clergy recognize the varying “places” people are in their journey. I think many may keep things too simple because of that.

    I am not sure the laity has the same mindset, especially those who have attended a church for some time. The core of the church tends to have, or develop, a common outlook, and expects everyone to fit into that same outlook.

  • Alex R.

    When I studied theology in undergrad my professors helped me through the new thoughts and ideas. They encouraged us to read theologians like Bultmann or Tillich within a community that encourages prayer and meditation. I would also encourage reading slowly, meditating, and prayer within a community. That helped me.

  • Tom

    Rick, I think the judgemental attitude can come from both leadership and laity. I do think there needs to be some agreement on what we hold as important to the church. I don’t think it needs to be the mode or timing of baptism or the view on end times. I think we need to have as much liberty as possible and as much tolerance as possible. We need to love each other enough to let people be who they are and where they are. This can only be accomplished through strong leadership that constantly teaches and demonstrates this as a value in the church.

  • Jason Lee

    Evangelicalism tends to not value the life of the mind (Mark Noll wrote about this a while back in “The scandal of the evangelical mind”). It also tends to harbor a conservative political orthodoxy. Since liberal political orientation is highly correlated with educational attainment and educational attainment is highly correlated with people who value the life of the mind, it’s no wonder many people who value the life of the mind feel driven away from evangelicalism.

    Two questions for pastors and lay leaders:

    -Do you intentionally model and speak of the life of the mind as a worthy Christian pursuit?

    -Do you intentionally model and speak of political diversity in your church? Do you lovingly yet consistently push back back on to those who want to create a zone of conservative political orthodoxy in your church culture?

  • http://www.holyspiritmiracles.com/ Jeff Doles

    Following the evidence “wherever it leads” will not be helpful in discovering truth if one has not examined his/her presuppositions. Because there is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact. It is always viewed through an interpretive lens and plotted on a grid of one’s assumptions. Data, until it is interpreted, is meaningless. It does not become information until one places it on one’s interpretive grid. It is not evidence for anything until it is thus interpreted. Even then, it will not really be evidence of anything if one’s interpretive grid — the presuppositions through which one views the world — if flawed. It seems to me that most people are not even aware of what their presuppositions are, let alone evaluated them.

  • Thomas S. Gay III

    Jameson’s “Chrysalis” has a chapter on creating waystations. This is a unique idea and has many possibilities for a church with some resources. He uses the analogy of these being places of bed and breakfast mentality more than an institutional mentality. A place of the campus where people come and go(and could stay); a place for discussion, differing views, and varied experiences.
    And Newbigin’s “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society” applies to this discussion. Why? As Rick(in # 5) points out, churches do become homogenous. Newbiggin is demonstrably clear in showing why the gospels exhort the churches to mature, growing in their faith and understanding of the Triune God. When a church loses this focus, ministry becomes difficult, especially in an age of pluralism.

  • rjs


    I think you are right about examining presuppositions. We need to examine and evaluate these. We need to examine our presuppositions about what is means for scripture to be the inspired word of God, we need to examine our presuppositions about materialism, we need to examine our presuppositions about the nature of God, of man, and of culture. We need to examine our presuppositions about the consequences of different views.

    We come to a different position on where this leads – but not on the necessity to continually examine presuppositions and reasons for our positions and views..

  • http://www.holyspiritmiracles.com/ Jeff Doles

    As I have read and participated in the evolution threads here for about a year now, it seems to me that many here have been willing to give up articles of faith the Church has, from the beginning, held to be true. Such as the historicity of Adam, the historicity of the Fall, that death (physical as well as spiritual) entered into the world through the sin of Adam. Some have suggested that Paul, and even Jesus, were simply wrong about the historical veracity of these things.

    It seems very much to me that the prevailing attitude here is that whatever in the Bible and the historic Christian faith gets in the way of theistic evolution must be reinterpreted or otherwise denied. The gospel, then, gets reduced to an incoherent story about Jesus delivering humanity from the results of an event that never happened and restored to a relationship that never was. And now, having begun a rapid slide down into the ravine, it occurs to someone that a way is needed to keep from slipping all the way down and crashing into the rocks below.

    That’s how it seems to me.

  • Phillip

    From my own experience and from working with many students who come out of fundamentalist or conversative evangelical backgrounds, I think the following can help (with not pretense that these are THE solution):

    1. Help them see that not all “truths” they have learned are equal. Their faith is often build on an apologetic hourse of cards. If one truth or proof is undermined, the whole thing comes crashing down. The resurrection of Jesus and the authorship of Isaiah are not of equal importance.

    2. Show appreciation for the backgrounds they come from. Let them see that those who hold to those “truths” and present those apologetics did so not because they were dishonest or ignorant, but out of a desire to protect the faith. We can appreciate our past even if we cannot fully embrace.

    3. Hold up examples of those who did not go over the slippery slope and into the abyss because they hold what would considered more liberal positions. In my circles, C. S. Lewis often is a good example.

    4. Allow them to ask questions and openly discuss the options. I am afraid in some churches an atmosphere of fear prevails when it comes to questions. Even to ask some questions may suggest one’s faith is wavering. But I see in my students a desire (even a demand) to get past pat answers.

    5. Encourage them to remain in a loving church community while struggling with questions and issues. There they will see faith in action.

    6. Pray, pray, pray.

    By the way, you asked who had helped us. There have been several. See “liberal” teachers who did not believe as I did but whose lives bore the fruit of the Spirit helped me. Diogenes Allen’s classes and books also helped me during my seminary years.

  • http://seguewm.blogspot.com/ Wm

    Having been raised ‘unchurched’ I’ve always sought for the meaning of life through examining all the information around me. I have found, though, among those raised ‘Christian’, that their continued search for ‘truth’ – if they continue to search at all – is limited to parameters of their church. In other words, they merely re-arrange the furniture. Faith in God welcomes me into the eternal joy of infinite truth discovery – even if much of what I currently believe is jettisoned for something better. A sin-biased, finite notion of truth weighs little against a grace-biased expectation of infinite knowing.

  • Dave P

    For me, the concept of the development of my faith through the vehicle of a safe community is best pictured as a large bucket of water being carried by a group of people to a certain destination. The bucket is held and carried by many hands, and the “boundaries” of the bucket keep the water basically in the bucket. However, as a consequence of the jostling of the bucket on its journey – carried by a community of hands over rough terrain – some of the water periodically spills out.
    This picture is how I see the development of my faith, intellect, and doctrine. Because of the community of hands (people in my life all speaking truth at certain times – holding me up and sharing my life) and the confines of the bucket (truth, doctrine, philosophies of the church) I am free to travel this journey and not worry if some of my belief gets spilled out and exchanged along the way. I have come from a fundamentalist background and have gone through quite a metamorphosis in my journey. Now as I pastor, I am not afraid to let people stretch their intellect and embrace new understandings of what it means to be and see Jesus. I have gone down that road myself, surrounded by the protective (it didn’t always look and feel that way) environment of my local faith community I have arrived on the other side with a fresh awareness of the means of grace called the “body of Christ”.

  • Amos Paul

    Chu Hsi was a famous Confucian/Daoist philosopher that pretty much defined Chinese thinking for 100s of years and directly impacted their educational system so that it was the best in the world for quite a long time.

    Ironically, the thing he complained about most in education was the ABUDNACE of information that had recently become available to his people through the increasing promulgation of the written word. He was extremely concerned by the fact that no one really understood anything, but instead read over things quickly so that they had many fine and impressive things to say for good grades, to get ahead in business, or whatever. He called that educating oneself for others.

    Chu Hsi specifically advocated being educated, first and foremost, for ONESELF. That understanding should be an estremely basic activity ingrained within you for your own personal health and growth. Why? Because he believed in principle. That is, universal moral principle, or, the Chinese ‘Way’ (Dao). He believed that real principle could be seen/understood everywhere and in all things, and that it was the goal of human life to follow principle.

    But humans must first recognize principle in general. And Chu Hsi said that books were particularly useful in how they stimulated the mind to consider things deeply when one read *slowly* and *carefully* so that they read not only the words, but understood the fabric beneath them. Although not all books are created equal, and Chu Hsi claimed that Chinese tradition showed that various classics (Basically, Daoist Scriptures) were the BEST at showing people principle.

    While this process of pursuing deeply meditative methods of interpreting information in pursuit of real, transcendental principle is an extremele engrossing endeavor to undertake, Chu Hsi thought that *everyone* had some degree of this pursuit that was appropriate to their station in life for healthful development.

    Replace principle with Jesus (‘Way’, Truth, & Life) and combine this philosophy with a necessary social component (church), and I think you have a strong backbone of teaching in your church community with which you can educate people not just rely on a cursory understanding of ‘the facts’, but to struggle for deeper understanding and learn to regularly test that understanding amidst a cloud of witnesses.

    The rest is up to Jesus.

  • rjs


    To suggest that I pose this because I suddenly see a need to keep from crashing all the way down the deep ravine is inaccurate. My journey is far more complex than this. I would say that some 25 years ago or so I came to the conclusion that there had to be a resting place between the fundamentalistic approach that denied everything I learned as a scientist and scholar and the secular skepticism of so much of the academy and even liberal theology.

    What you have seen on this blog, from me at least, is a public thinking about how to find that resting place. Yes it is more “liberal” than much of the evangelical church – but it is also consistent with orthodox faith, and strives to be so. I think that Phillip hit an important point – not all “truths” are equal. Keith Drury used an example that some are written in pencil, some in ink, and some in blood. We need to learn to discern the pencil from the ink from the blood. See here, My Meltdown Story, for Keith Drury’s post.

  • Amos Paul

    I spelled ABUDNACE in my post instead of ABUNDANCE. I wanted to point this out so people know that I realize how silly that was. Heh.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    This is such a tough, tough issue. I know quite intelligent people strongly committed to the faith who are at odds with me over this.

    Churches need to not only permit, but somehow embrace openness on issues like evolution. But this is where serious education is needed. The kind that can help people see that there is room for disagreement on issues.

    This will have to be long term. There is no way you’re going to change people and churches overnight. Perhaps even more like generational, though many older people have changed on issues like this, while remaining committed to the faith.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    In response to “Where do we fail?” I think the foundational problem with Protestant and Evangelical communities of faith is that their foundation is their systematic theology, how they have everything put together. In order to be part of that community of faith one must ascribe to a certain system of beliefs; and there is no room for anything outside that. Love for God and love for people is NOT enough; one must also believe abc..xyz. If one believes abc…-x..yz, then one cannot be part of that fellowship, even if one’s faith is in Christ completely. There is simply no room for honest disagreement on beliefs, and frankly no humility recognizing that “I/we could be wrong”, no room for change and growth individually, much less collectively.

    Frankly, I long for a community of faith whose foundation is simply love for God, love for one another, and a desire to follow Jesus. I don’t care if you are a Calvinist, Arminianist, or Universalist, a Trinitarian, Binarian, or Oneness, in “beliefs”, or a dunker, pourer, or sprinkler, or…whatever debate you want to bring up. Frankly, man if you claim Jesus, I’ll claim you. Shoot, I’ll claim you as my brother even though you don’t claim me!

  • Fish

    How many times have we been told, in regard to some theological question posed by youth, that we have to speak with certainty and absolute confidence in the rightness of our answer?

    We need to openly start admitting to new generations of Christians that open minds are OK, or face the consequences of closing their minds.

  • Rick

    Sherman #20

    “Love for God and love for people is NOT enough; one must also believe abc..xyz. If one believes abc…-x..yz, then one cannot be part of that fellowship, even if one’s faith is in Christ completely.”

    Is it that simple? For example: What “God”? What does “faith is in Christ” mean?

  • http://www.holyspiritmiracles.com/ Jeff Doles

    RJS, it’s not all about you.

    What I related above is the impression I have gotten from many in this forum to varying degrees.

    As you suggest, not all truths are equally important. But there are some truths that tend to be foundational, and if one tries to alter them, or their meaning and significance, it affects many other truths.

    The truths in Genesis 1-3, I believe, are foundational. It should be no surprise that they would be so — it comes at the beginning of the Torah, the primary section of the Hebrew Scriptures. It sets the premise for the story of redemption set forth in the Bible. One cannot simply alter the story after millennia and think that it is not going to alter the story for everything else that follows. It has a tremendous cascading effect.

    The story climaxes in the death and resurrection of Jesus, which is the beginning of new creation. But if we alter Genesis 1-3, what does that resurrection then mean? Paul, who argues, in 1 Corinthians 15, the importance of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from physical death — “if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile … we are of all men the most pitiable” — says, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (v. 22). The historical resurrection of Christ from the dead in bodily form has meaning because “all die in Adam.” This is not just spiritual death he is talking about but bodily, physical death, because the resurrection of Jesus was bodily as well as spiritual.

    But if the fall of Adam did not bring bodily death to us all, then Paul’s argument is incoherent. For Paul, Adam was a historical figure, the fall was a historical event and the death we all die in Adam is not just spiritual but physical, too. So the resurrection has meaning as a historical event because the events of Genesis 3 happened in time and space. But change Genesis 3, and you change 1 Corinthians 15, as well.

    I appreciate that you 25 years of journey has been complex. Mine has been complex as well, a journey from Bible college fundamentalism that led me into embracing theistic evolution for about 5 years. So I have not been a conservative fundamentalist afraid or unwilling to “ask questions, explore options and look with open eyes?” I have indeed asked questions, explored options and looked with open eyes. I have “followed the evidence” and, much to my surprise, it has brought me to my present understanding.

  • scott
  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Rick @22,

    Yes, it’s that simple. What God, well, let’s discuss that. What have you experienced? What’s your spiritual beliefs? … I believe that Jesus is God, Emmanuel,… And I plan to worship Him Friday night at 7 with others who generally believe the same, you’re welcome to join us if you want. I’ll warn you though, we’re pretty passionate in our worship for our lives have been radically changed through our encounters with him. We’ll do our best to make you feel welcome though. And if you want to regually join us, whether you believe in Jesus or not, that’s fine too.

    Others do not have to believe the same as I do for me to respect, value, and love them and for them to respect, value, and love me. And I believe that the Truth can withstand open discussion and debate. And if what I believe to be true is not in fact True, then I hope that my interation with others will help me grow in Truth. But if in pride or fear, I exclude them, then I can’t grow.

    Of course, I said I “long for” such a fellowship. I’ve experienced such in personal relationships, but not in any “organized” fellowship/church.

    What does “faith in Christ” mean “to me”? It means that I trust in Him not only to guide my daily life but with my future, and I trust in Him for your future too. Faith in Christ might mean something else to you, and you might be right, so let’s hang-out and share.

  • Terry

    >> “Follow the evidence wherever it leads is dangerous advice, without competent guides and thoughtful community.”

    The community (an accountable and relational one) is too-often the missing link. I used to think that “Christian radio” was bad; the Internet has exacerbated this in some ways.

    In my tradition, which in my opinion is along the lines of what is talked about when we address Biblicism, I was taught to “not have any concern for people just reading the Scriptures because they’re the Word of God and anyone who reads them, in submission to the Spirit, will draw the right conclusions and get saved” (and believe as we do was intimated.) I was even told “some people want to have lived during the time of Jesus, to have known him personally, to have asked him questions; I’m far more blessed to live in this time where we have the sure Word of God that we can count on at every turn.” Oy.

    These kinds of things about put me over the edge when, all of a sudden, it was obvious that our reading of Scripture couldn’t be trusted at face-value in one thing or another.

    >> “The solution, I think, is to model thinking and conversation in community.”

    What helped, among other things, though primarily, was finding Scot’s blog. Thinking and conversation in community right here. What helped, sadly, was learning to keep my mouth shut around my peers who, though caring, could offer nothing but the same cliches and pat answers as I had offered. And who also offered regular condemnation, fear of slippery slopes, and accusations of heresy. What helped was staying put, and not running away, from the community/family of believers I’d been joined to. What helped was time. Time is still helping.

    >> How can the church create a community of growth and support?

    I’m stumped, but brailing my way along. I am convinced this is the answer, that the church be the church, rather than the conservative/liberal religious/activist organization/club. Though convinced, I remain unable to connect the specific dots of best way forward besides the more organic willingness to follow the Spirit’s lead, keeping the Greatest Commandment in full-view, de-emphasizing the distractions where possible, etc.

    Along these lines, and the church being the family that it is (Jesus choosing that metaphor, not me) I’m resistant to Tom’s thinking in #3: “They then outgrow the new place and start all over,” makes the church a place, and makes the church a thing always subject to the current thinking of any individual. That’s American, but it doesn’t seem to be the family that God birthed, as if we can outgrow a family and just move on to another one. Genuine community, which ultimately could allow for movement forward on these things and the unity we’ve been born to, requires more than this. But the family street goes both ways, people sticking with the family, and the family sticking with the people, and all the more in trials of doubt and discovery.

  • Amos Paul

    @ 22 Rick,

    Jesus is a real person. Real principle. Real center. Not a mere intellectual conception.

    If someone ‘claims’ Christ, Christian communities should be open to exploring what that means for that person–and for each other–so that they can recognize Jesus in more than own own perspectives. They can then tell new persons that the community members there generally claim Christ a somewhat different way depending on how that church theologically styles itself–and then have a discussion on their motivations/reasons for claiming Christ in those ways.

    Don’t automatically reject or rebuke anyone based on a few premises. Talk and explore. Give THEM the chance to test the spirits and welcome them with open arms into whatever your community of Christ is like. The only time this should be questioned is if someone is causing a clear problem.

    If you want to challenge somebody’s particular persepective or construct of beliefs, you should always get to know them in the context of a personal relationship first and honestly attempt to both share yourself and understand what they think and where they’re coming from.

  • rjs


    The questions about Adam and death and atonement and resurrection are the key. I don’t think the coherence of Paul’s argument and his insight into the redeeming work of Christ rests on his assumptions about Genesis (if these are his assumptions). This is really the root of the issue though, and one that needs to be thought through in much more detail.

  • Rick

    Sherman and Amos-

    Thanks for your feedback. Sherman- that reads like a brochure. I enjoyed that. Well done.

    I am for open arms, and for inviting all, but does not a church need to take an official stance on essential issues?

  • http://www.fivedills.com Watchman

    We should let others explore in a safe environment indeed. But, we must always remember that WE are not responsible for people’s journeys or their eternal decisions/fate. God is sovereign and only HE can soften a person’s heart.

  • http://www.holyspiritmiracles.com/ Jeff Doles

    Yes, RJS. Questions are Adam and death and atonement and resurrections ARE key. That is exactly why Genesis 3 is foundational truth and not a lesser important truth that we can ignore with little consequence. Adam and the introduction of death are found in Genesis 3. Atonement is necessary because of the Fall — Genesis 3, again. Resurrection is needed because of Adam’s physical as well as spiritual death in Genesis 3 — “in Adam all die,” Paul says. Change the understanding of Genesis 3, Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians in the way theistic evolution tends to do, and one changes what the Church has affirmed from the beginning.

    The case that theistic evolutionists try to make is that Darwinian, or Neo-Darwinian evolution are compatible with the Christian faith. But it turns out that to be compatible, one must alter many of the doctrines of the historic Christian faith. IOW, your position and mine would be perfectly compatible if only you would change everything about yours that disagrees with mine. That’s the bargain Neo-Darwinian TE seems to be offering.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Rick, thanks. Instead of taking an “official stance” though, let us take a “relational pose” of embrasing and loving everyone, arms open. We can do this if our faith is in Christ to protect us. And instead of a “stance”, let’s journey, walk, together if you will and grow together. “Stance” speaks to me of inflexibility, immovability, and no-growth. Growth requires change. Of course, if we think we’ve got it all together, then there is no need for change or growth; but that’s not my belief or attitude. I was raised in a church that thought we had the corner market on truth, only to find out that we only had a small tiny booth, on the corner of two side roads, in a great city called Truth!

    We can have strong passionate convictions and beliefs, but let’s do so from a position of humility, recognizing that I/we could be wrong, completely wrong. Jesus said that you’d know his disciples by their love for one another, not by their common system of beliefs. Shoot, even the apostles evidenced differences, change, and growth in their theology as they journeyed individually and collectively.

    Many years ago, in my first significant change of theology, I came to a place to where I put my faith in Jesus, not in my understanding; thus my understanding can change and grow and has changed and is continuing to grow. But my faith in Christ is all the stronger and more passionate. On some things I reached a passionate conviction based on much study and prayer, but you believing the same things as I do is not a prerequisite for me loving, respecting, valuing, and embracing you as my brother. (This statement is meant personally and rhetorically.)

  • Scott W

    In a very interesting piece, retired Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) of the Orthodox Church of America looks at this very problem from an historical, theological and pastoral perspective, which addresses it both Orthodox and Protestant Evangelical traditions.

    “Educated young people are not less spiritual than previous generations. If anything, they are more spiritually inclined, and are seeking some spiritual foundation more than those who took religion for granted in earlier generations. Why, then, is Christianity less often the spiritual vehicle of choice and why are so many people who were reared in one or another of the Christian religions opting to find spiritual sustenance in other philosophical or religious movements?…

    (1). Foremost among the afflictions which drive people away from Christianity is the spiritual illness called “fundamentalism.” It includes both a hyper-literalist interpretation of Scripture and a dry, dead moralism.

    (2). Clergy arrogance and remoteness. This includes the failure of many priests and hierarchs to interact with the faithful in a meaningful and personal way. It also includes the failure of clergy to continue to educate themselves so that they can give meaningful and convincing answers to the questions raised by educated and cultured people.

    Moreover, far too many priests, even those ill-equipped for it, declare themselves “spiritual fathers” in order to exercise power and manipulative control over their flocks, while not understanding the real meaning of parenthood (which is the true pattern for the spiritual father).

    (3). Folk superstitions being taught as if they were doctrines of the faith, rather than the teaching of sound theology. This is often done by clergy who wish to manipulate and wrongfully control the faithful through fear. This problem affects Orthodox Christians more than any other Christian body, and occurs most frequently among monastics. It forms the most salient distraction from a Christ-centred spiritual life in the Orthodox Church. Often these superstitions completely distract one from an awareness of the fullness of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

    (4). Among educated people raised in the so-called “evangelical” denominations of Protestantism, the most common complaint I hear is called “spiritual abuse.” This is one of the more common reasons given by converts for leaving those denominations and becoming Orthodox Christians. This “spiritual abuse” includes the enormous unhealed guilt complexes that are heaped on people for even the most basic aspects of their humanity.

    Evangelical fundamentalism, along with our own scholastics and fundamentalists, are more responsible for the de-Christianisation of society than any other force in the world.”

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Scott W @33, excellent article. Thanks. His opening paragraph is especially interesting:

    “The process of de-Christianisation in Western nations did not begin just recently; nor is it the product of any single era, movement or influence. In part, the disintegration of a unified Christian entity in Western Europe was the result of the degeneracy and corruption of the clergy, from the very highest levels to the lowest. This disintegration laid the groundwork for the mistrust of the Christian faith that slowly grew in the more educated classes of Western society. If one could place a single incident at the root of actual de-Christianisation, it would likely be the trial of Galileo. The condemnation of Galileo by fundamentalist forces in the Latin Church set off a chain reaction throughout Europe that powered the original process of de-Christianisation. Giordano Bruno had been burned at the stake a short while earlier for the “crime” of Copernicanism: he asserted that the earth moves around the sun, and that the heavens are not mobile, translucent solid rings pulled by spiritual entities. Galileo confirmed the ideas of both Copernicus and Bruno, and was threatened with death if he did not renounce the truth. Since his works, banned in Italy, were nevertheless published in Northern Europe, educated and cultured people throughout the West would see these incidents as a Christian war against truth.”

  • Rick

    Scott W #33-

    Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    Sherman #32-

    Good thoughts, although doctrine is clearly important as seen in the NT, as well as the development of the early church. Therefore, can we not have a stance and open arms? For growth, it can be a both/and, rather than an either/or.

    Taking a postition on essentials does not mean a church stops advocating deep thinking on issues.

  • Patrick


    Let me take a stab at this.

    What has caused me to seek a “middle term” rjs here is seeking is because of reading Professor Walton’s book, “The Lost World of Genesis 1”, several NT Wright works , listening closer to my pastor,etc.

    Walton makes an excellent case that we’ve interpreted Gen. 1&2 in our cultural millieu and ignored that of ancient near eastern Jews which it was intended for.

    IF he is accurate, Adam &Eve may not be seen as being created there EX NIHILO nor was the earth. That is a description of a functional change more than creation as we understand the term.

    Professor Walton himself still believes Adam&Eve are real, historic figures. I asked him. He also says that “still leaves us a lot of questions”.

    One answer to this “functional creation” of Adam could be evolutionary from another “homo genus” easily. It could not be, too. The Bible really doesn’t discuss science.

    Genesis 1&2 properly understood do not preclude extremely ancient earth nor evolution in the intra special evolving, nor a rather older humanity than 7500 years. Some theologians think the Jewish lineages skipped generations for example.

    From Walton’s view, no theological view is adjusted concerning the reality of Adam, the sin entering the world via Adam, Adam as an archetype for all “natural mankind” EX spiritual birth,etc.

    Just the fact that we Christians can stop thinking(and teaching our kids) the earth and mankind are 5000 years old because the Bible simply has no info on these subjects for us. That is a falacious “private interpetation” we have projected onto Scripture.

    I personally believe some of us in this quest from “fundy” (my paradigm) to a more accurate view are going too far as you fear, but, rjs doesn’t give me that impression.

    Evolution within species could be how God formed up Adam. Or not.

  • Amos Paul

    @ 29 Rick,

    I see no problem both professing church creed on whatever subjects you feel are theologically relevant for your community as well as accepting that Jesus is a dynamic center which Christians can approach from ever so many different perspectives.

    We should, I think, strive to understand one another when doing church together to see if and how people are approaching Jesus. Particular members may even view various theological issues differently and yet remain. But I think that’s okay for the community as long as the way the leadership is choosing to look at Jesus in their own teaching and methodology is helping them and there is clear dialog going on to sharpen and strengthen one another. If a particular church’s teaching does not seem to be gelling with someone–people can be totally open to talking about why or how they might be having trouble seeing Jesus.

    There are, of course, other churches (As I think local church communities should dialog so much more) and we should, of course, use discernment in how clearly we think other communities might be viewing Jesus when directing someone to ‘check out’ another theological angle. But then we’re being critical of teaching models–and not whether someone is ‘in the fold’ and pursuing Christ with everyone else. That can take a lot of forms and should be an open discussion, I think.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Rick @35, doctrine is very important, and I did not say or imply that it wasn’t. My appeal is for both/and, for inclusion, not exclusion. Yes, we need to have passionate convictions about our beliefs, but we need to have an even more passionate love for others. Love and Faith empowers us to share our beliefs with others with gentleness and respect. Love and Faith empower us to be open hearted and open minded.

    Taking a “stance” implies to me immovability, unchangeability, and, well, pride. I believe xyz and will never change and it forces others to either “stand” with you or against you. Why cann’t we stand with eachother, regardless of whether or not we understand things the same! I suppose I can believe this because my faith is in Christ, not in my understanding. If anything, I realize that I could be wrong. I believe how I live my life, especially how I treat others, is more important than what I profess to believe.

    Like I said in my first post on this thread, “Loving God and loving one another is NOT enough for most fellowships.” One must also believe a specific set of doctrines. Though one loves God with his whole heart and evidences trendous love for people, if he doesn’t believe xyz then he cannot be part of the club.

  • Rick

    Amos #37-


    Sherman and Amos-

    Saw this recently at Creedal Christian and thought of it in light of today’s discussion. It is from Fr. Matt Gunter:

    “To say “Just love God with your whole heart mind and soul” only begs the question “Who, or what, is this ‘god’ I am to love and what does it mean to love this ‘god’?” As for loving neighbors (let alone enemies), why should I? And in what way? Why is it so hard to do? And, for that matter, what does it mean to be human? And what kind of a world do we live in? Any answer to those questions takes us into the realm of belief and doctrine. …
    It is inadequate to appeal to a simplistic pietism, whether in its more conservative or more liberal versions, that says “Don’t bother me with doctrine, just give me Jesus”. We have no access to Jesus other than the Gospels which are soaked in interpretation (doctrine) of who Jesus is and why it matters. And the creeds are the Christian guide to understanding God in light of Jesus. …”

    Such a view, diving into creeds and doctrine, allows for deep discussions and perspectives. A church holding to a creed should be receptive and prepared for such discussions.

  • Rick

    Sherman #38-

    “if he doesn’t believe xyz then he cannot be part of the club.”

    It depends on what “xyz” are, and what “the club” is.

    If “xyz” are the historic life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the “club” is church membership, then that is critical.

    If “xyz” are music styles or the age of the earth, and the “club” is simply church or small group attendance, then that is a different matter.

  • http://www.holyspiritmiracles.com/ Jeff Doles

    Thank you, Patrick #36, I read Walton’s book last year and found it fascinating in regard to the functional aspect of creation. But demonstrating a functional aspect to creation does not disprove creation as material creation — Walton admits this briefly, deep in his end notes. IOW, there is no reason to think it must be either/or instead of both/and. Ancient Jews and early Christians appear to take the creation account as material, however they might have thought of it as functional. I’ve also read quite a bit of N T Wright and I really like the direction of his theology — in fact, I had him in mind when I spoke above of Jesus’ resurrection being the beginning of new creation. But there is no theologian with whom I find myself to be in 100% agreement, and Wright is no exception. As one of my old college professors used to say, if two people agree 100% about everything, one of them is not thinking.

    I don’t think the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 skip generations. They are chronological in nature, as indicated by the careful notation of years. The language of the chronologies does not really allow for a gloss of numerous generations (Coming to Grips with Genesis, edited by Mortenson and Ury, discusses this). The context of many of those individuals listed in them does not seem to allow for untold generations intervening. The genealogy in Matthew, which is often offered as an argument for gaps in Gen 5 and 11 is one that is of a different genre and serves a different purpose. It shows no interest in years, and though there may be a gap in it, it shows no evidence of adding in generations, which is what the genealogies of Gen 5 and 11 are purported to do.

    Whether you and Walton have “properly understood” Genesis 1 and 2 is something that only you and Walton can make for yourselves. For me, I do not find these arguments convincing.

    I don’t think that by maintaining what the Church has consistently taught from the beginning about the historicity of Adam and the Fall is a matter of “private interpretation.” By definition, the tradition of Christian faith that has been handed down from the apostles is not “private” in nature, so what is held in agreement with that tradition is not a “private interpretation.” Rather, it is when one diverges from the historic faith that one has entered into private interpretation. I think it is theistic evolution that has been “projected onto Scripture” and is the “private interpretation.”

  • normbv

    Paul said that the strong [those not encumbered with tradition] should bear with the weak [those who hold to unnecessary traditions]. He doesn’t say we should condescend while doing so but in a manner of care and love considering their stage of growth. He said he would give up his rights for the sake of unity and edification if need be; highlighting the importance of unity from Paul’s perspective. Conversely he asked the weak to not be judgmental toward those who embraced the freedom that Christ brought to the faithful.

    Paul in 1 Cor 9 goes ahead and states how he has to model these ideas while participating in the various factions and groups. He essentially says he accommodates all men wherever he finds them for the sake of teaching the gospel and illustrates such in Acts 21 while visiting with the Jerusalem church which was still heavily entrenched with following some precepts of the Law.

    I believe we will always be called to follow Paul’s model as long as this earth exist as it is near impossible to have unanimity considering the dynamics of people and ever evolving cultures.

    I used to believe in the literalness of Genesis and Revelation but as I became acquainted and understood the intent and nature of scripture I realized that my definitions and therefore my precepts were all wrong. I moved beyond the acquired learning but it requires extensive study which is a luxury that not all can avail themselves of. I need to follow Paul’s directive in my faith community.

  • Patrick


    Accurately, Walton “does agree” with historic Adam& Eve, I personally asked him. He doesn’t make it clear in that book. He just feels the creation there was functional and not ex nihilo.

    Walton also believes in original material creation we do, he just stated that isn’t what Gen 1&2 are about is all.

    I didn’t feel Walton’s views there interfered with any of my pre conceptions EXCEPT that the earth and man are not datable like literalists have assumed.

    Other than that. I didn’t find anything earth shattering theologically.

    BTW, some ancient Christians did agree with Walton generally, they felt there was “prime matter” in existence before Genesis 1. My preacher went over that recently, but, I can’t recall specific names(probably Iraneaus, Augustine or Athanasius though).

    Jeff, I tend to agree with you on these questions. I have a lot of sympathy for your view about Adam and his place in theology. Walton’s views don’t concern me here at all, he simply says Adam wasn’t “made from the dust” literally right then is all.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Rick @40,

    Most churches require much more than belief in the historic life, death, and ressurection of Jesus to be a member of their club. And the reason I say “club” is because they, not God, control whom they accept as members. I suppose I could use the word “fellowship”, but right not the “club” mentality of most churches irritates me so I use “club” to highlight that. The club has officers – president, treasurer, committees, etc., and is often wrapped up in politics.

    Anyhow, concerning requirements for membership in a church/club, frankly, if you desire to follow “Jesus with me”, you can be a part of my club if you want to whether you believe everything about Jesus’ life as recorded in scripture is “historic” or not. If you don’t want to follow Jesus then I suppose you can’t follow “Jesus with me”. Or if you don’t want to follow Jesus “with me” then you cann’t follow “Jesus with me”.

    For a very real and personal example, I’ve come to believe that Jesus is really the savior of “all” humanity, in deed, not just in title. But none of the clubs I’ve been a part of since childhood will allow me to be part of their club any more – though I still have faith in Jesus, love God and love people, and my wife and kids passionately love God and love people. I can attend, but not be a member of the club.

  • Patrick


    No one at my Church would treat you like this just because you have a universalist view. Heck, it may be accurate. Right now I don’t share that view, but, I’m open to the possibility.

    I think we need a core of beliefs, Jesus is The Son of God/The promised Messiah. Died for OT predicted reasons and rose from the dead.

    Beyond that, we always will disagree amongst ourselves and it’s a good thing to find unity in those core facts.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Thanks Patrick, could I be a member and use my gifts of teaching and ministry in your church? Does your church have a statement of faith, and if so does it have a statement saying one way or another that one must believe in ECT?

  • Rick


    Was that exclusion just for membership, or for a leadership position?

    I strongly disagree with your position on that topic, but do see that as an overly strong reaction against you for overall membership.

  • http://www.holyspiritmiracles.com/ Jeff Doles

    normbv #43,

    Since I am the only one here who has asserted the role of Christian tradition in the discussion, I will address your comment about the strong and the weak brother, which you have couched in terms of tradition.

    I have taken time to point out why I believe Genesis 1-3 are not unimportant traditions but are foundational to understanding other aspects of the Christian faith, such as regarding the atonement and the resurrection of Jesus. They are the back ground for Paul in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. They are also the background for a number of Jesus’ statements.

    I do not think it is helpful to cast the discussion in terms of strong brother or weak brother. You can do that, if you wish; I do not. I do not judge anyone here to be a stronger or weaker brother or sister on the basis of his/her view on evolution. Nor do I judge anyone here as to their faithfulness as a Christian.

    In my book, everyone is free to ask questions, explore options and come to their own conclusions about these issues. However, that does not mean that I hold any view to be above critique.

    Back in Bible college, I was taught to take the book of Revelation quite literally. A few years out from that, I leader that Revelation is an apocalyptic form of literature and therefore, by the nature of that genre, highly figurative.

    I was also taught Genesis in a literal manner, but a number of years out from that I began to take it as endlessly figurative and ever malleable to whatever was required to support my former position on theistic evolution. I read up on all the current interpretive schemes and developed a bag of answer for every objection to TE and Genesis.

    But I came to see that the book of Genesis is a whole — not two different genres separating chapters 1-11 from 12-50. That chapters 1-11 is not a mythical or poetical genre but of the same genre as 12-50, and that Genesis is of a historical genre, intended to convey things that happened in time and space. I’ve brought this up a few times before, but I find that there is a structure to Genesis that runs through the book and encompasses 1-11 and 12-50, and that is the structure of elleh toledoth. So I returned to taking Genesis 1-11 as historical, as the ancient Jews did, as Jesus and Paul did, and the early Church, and the rest of the Church until fairly recently.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles


    Does your church have different requirements concerning beliefs for membership vs. leadership? Likely not; and if it does, such doesn’t seem right to me. Why cannot we “strongly disagree” with one another concerning our beliefs and still “follow Jesus together”! Why can’t we have open discussion of these various beliefs in our churches, seeking to grow together in the Lord, and in wisdom, understanding and grace! I don’t know how many times I’ve sat and listened respectfully to pastors and teachers preach/teach something I disagreed with, only to seriously consider what they believe, not getting upset or denouncing them or what they believe. Can they not do the same with me? Where is our faith in the Truth. If it be true cannot it withstand the test of open discussion and debate! I believe that fear and pride divide us much more than our differing beliefs. I believe that how we actually treat one another, how we actually live our lives is much more important than just what we profess to believe; but I could be wrong.

  • AHH

    There but for the grace of God go I …

    An interesting question might be whether people who come to believe conservative Evangelicalism is untenable more frequently move away from Christianity directly, or move to some liberal theology (either as a destination or as a way-station to complete loss of faith). My guess is that the former is more common, but that’s just a guess.

    I can think of two things that kept me from sliding down this path:

    1) While I came to faith (in High School) in an Evangelical environment, it was not extremely conservative. I thank God that I was not brought up with the too-common “house of cards” view of Scripture where either the Bible meets some modern inerrantist standard of perfection or you might as well throw it in the trash. And “creationism” was not made central to the faith; it was about following Jesus. And it was recognized that other Christian groupings than ours were part of the family. So, when I later learned more about the Bible and about science and about diversity of Christian doctrine, there were challenges but they did not threaten my foundation.

    2) At various times in my youth, especially in grad school, I was blessed with some church and fellowship environments that were solidly orthodox but not anti-intellectual, where questions and nuance were OK, and where I could see modeled following Jesus in non-fundamentalist ways. Places like this blog, and the ASA, and writers like NT Wright and Philip Yancey, have continued that encouragement (which I don’t get as much of as I’d want in my current local church).

    Based on the above, I seem to be saying that the answer to
    What can be done to change this kind of story – or make it less frequent?
    is for the church to leave behind aspects of fundamentalism, such as hardline versions of “inerrancy” and treating certain interpretations of HOW God created as central to the faith. And to provide more space for people to work through questions and doubts (in community) rather than taking a “my way or the highway” approach to nonessentials and equating questions on such points of dogma with “theological liberalism” and/or unbelief.

    I’m frankly not optimistic about that, but I commend people like Scot and Roger Olson who are trying.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Rick, I might disagree with you on how many people Jesus saves, but I’ll defend you and your right to believe as you do and share openly what you believe and why you believe it, in personal or collective settings. Shoot, I might learn something if I listen. Hallelujah! But if I/we shut up those who believe something differently than I/we do, then how can I/we learn and grow (except I/we think I/we have no room to learn anything new)?

  • http://www.holyspiritmiracles.com/ Jeff Doles

    AHH #50,

    I would not ask any brother or sister to “leave behind” any of their convictions. That would be, in my book, a violation of a person’s conscience. If we get someone to leave behind their conviction about something we disagree with, how can we expect them to embrace with conviction something we do agree with.

  • Terry

    AHH: “for the church [needs] to leave behind aspects of fundamentalism, such as hardline versions of “inerrancy” and treating certain interpretations of HOW God created as central to the faith. And to provide more space for people to work through questions and doubts (in community) rather than taking a “my way or the highway” approach to nonessentials and equating questions on such points of dogma with “theological liberalism” and/or unbelief.”

    Exactly! And, as a pastor, that is the course I’m on among the people that I serve. My former-fundamentalism is close to what you describe, but I wasn’t the most die-hard adherent. This has made it easier for us as a church, but has certainly been responded to with strong consternation from those who are certain we err by not upholding their much-stricter version. The fence posts of Phariseeism are often set in concrete.

  • AHH

    Jeff @52,
    Maybe I should have worded that differently — I was thinking not so much about “leaving behind” convictions but rather about leaving behind the idea (often inculcated into youth) that those particular convictions are essential to the faith and to depart from them is to depart from the faith.

    If a brother or sister wants to subscribe to “inerrancy”, or to believe that the Earth is young (or flat), I don’t mind too much. But if they teach young people that these things are essentials and that questioning them is a ticket to Hell, I do mind that those young people are being set up to abandon their faith when the house of cards collapses.

  • http://www.holyspiritmiracles.com/ Jeff Doles

    AHH, one person’s idea of which convictions are essential may differ from another’s. “In major things, unity; in minor things, liberty,” goes the old saying. But ultimately, each must determine for himself what is major and what is minor. One’s view on what is major is what I mean by “conviction.” If something is held to be minor, it is usually held more as an “option.”

    Though I might seek to persuade someone by offering what I believe to be a better view, I would not wish to violate their conscience, not even for the sake of the “unity.” We have to let everyone draw the line where they believe they must.

    But one thing I believe we can and should press for is — to complete the old saying above — “in all things charity.”

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    I believe that if in All things we have Charity and Liberty, then we can seek and find Unity. Without Charity or Liberty, there can be no real Unity. And Charity actually enables liberty and unity. There must be mutual respect and love before we can learn from and with one another. And to me character, attitudes, and how we actually live are much more important than just what we profess to believe. For example, I’ll journey much easier with a brother who is graceful and kind though he believes in ECT, than I will with one who agrees with me on UR but is not graceful and kind.

  • normbv


    In effect my post was a summary of Paul’s thoughts from Romans 14 & 15, 1 Cor 8 & 9 and a big picture overview of Rom 5-8. The words “weak” and “strong” are the translator’s words derived from Paul’s own Greek terms bearing those concepts. Paul has sharp words though for what is called the Jewish circumcised party that wanted to continue the Hebrew “traditions” that may have had the appearance of Wisdom to some. IMO we need to be careful in paying too much heed to the “traditions” of men that have accumulated over the ages and also have that “appearance of wisdom”. I’m not condemning traditions per se, because in Christ we are free to “eat” or “not eat” which essentially means that if we understand that they are not “works” of salvation then they are practically harmless to one spiritually. Paul lived this manifestation by saying that he was free from such bindings unless he chose to enslave himself to those who practiced such traditions. Paul therefore met people where they were and didn’t necessarily make waves while in their faith communities. However he was adamant about keeping the Jewish traditions out of the early Gentile Christian practices as that would have been taking them back into Adam’s and Israel’s failure of following the spirit of legalism which is the danger of overt Traditionalism.

    Concerning Genesis; I have several years of studying Genesis from various approaches. I understand very well the detailed construction of Genesis and its chiastic framework it employs. I’ve have even closely examined the detailed word count structure of the first several chapters. Blocher and Cassuto are helpful to name a couple if one is interested in the Hebrew writing structures employed. The literary structure found in Genesis though is not unique as these patterns resonate consistently through OT scripture like Daniel and even in the NT with Matthew, John and Revelation. These are well noted and long used literary instruments and are not in themselves defining of the intent and genre under examination.

    Very likely Genesis is a product of authors from around the end of the First Temple period or perhaps even arising as late as the second Temple period. Genesis has many variations and themes explored from the Hebrew perspective. The Book of Enoch and Jubilees as examples are prominent Second Temple writings that essentially were commentaries from the Hebrew mindset interpreting Genesis. If one wants to get an unadulterated view of how the Jewish mind deduced Genesis then an extensive study of this literature period is in order. It is essentially different than a viewpoint of the Jews after the first century whom has overly influenced Christianity along with a western Greek philosophical view. A study of the Dead Sea Scrolls are very instructive as they are a snapshot in time of the height of Jewish Messianic literature and expectations from the middle of the first century.

    Genesis has strong exilic overtones and appears to come out of the origins and formulations of this literature that looked toward the coming messiah. Paul interpreted Genesis from that perspective if one will pay close attention to his applications. Paul and the first century Christians therefore were products of this highly messianic literature. Most Christians do not understand this perspective because they study the writer’s after the first century instead of the formulations of the times that brought into the historic view of Christ and the NT.

    Being a Theistic Evolutionist myself has no bearing upon how I read and understand the Old and New Testament. I study it from the ancient perspective instead of the acquired traditional perspective. I like to rid myself of the accumulated fluff of various Christian applications and get back to the basics of original Christianity. Doing so reinforces the essentials of Christianity and then like Paul I can accommodate all manner of people’s perspectives as we love God, and our neighbors.

    Now on sites like this where we come together contending for the faith I may challenge people and their views but in my fellowship community I become a slave to their needs. I do not push my science and religious learning down their throats because it has to be done so when people are receptive. Instead I’m more about pastoring instead of instructing as that is generally what people are in need of.

  • Patrick


    Refreshing post and thanks for it.

    My pastor has started studying I Enoch a lot and thinks Paul may have been thinking of it when he said,”if I had all knowledge and knew all the mysteries, but have not love, I am nothing”.

    Do these 2 books indicate those Jews saw Adam &Eve as the first Hebrews as opposed to the first humans?

  • AHH

    Jeff @55,

    I am not sure that a laissez-faire approach where we simply accept everybody’s decision about what is essential is always the right one. We have an example from the book of Acts where the church, after deliberation in community, told those who considered circumcision essential that they were wrong. And Paul had strong words against those who promoted that particular wrong “essential”.

    I’m aiming my comments more at pastors and other leaders than to the rank and file — at leaders who have influence over what many Christians will think of as “essential”. As such leaders consider what to place in that category, I hope one consideration (certainly not the only one) is that some things like I named in #50, when made into essentials, cause many thoughtful, reflective Christians to leave the fold.

  • A friend

    What can people do?

    Put your faith to work !!! Find all the Mother Teresas, Charles Maliks, Alvin Plantingas, Makoto Fujimuras, Francis Collins, et al you can find – in every domain, among the poor, the rich, the artists, the scientists, the scholars, et al – and DO the same thing. Forget about trying to prove the Resurrection happened, Live and Be because the Resurrection happened.

    What can The Church do?

    Help everyone find these people and tell them to follow Jesus and these model followers.

  • http://www.holyspiritmiracles.com/ Jeff Doles

    AHH, one’s convictions are one’s convictions, even about what one considers essential. Though it may seem laissez-faire to you, it is not my job to insist that anyone abandon their conviction and thus violate their conscience. We cannot force faith or conviction.

  • http://www.holyspiritmiracles.com/ Jeff Doles


    If Christianity were an existential religion, it would not matter what the Church believed from the beginning. It could ever and always be adjusted to suit the moment of whatever the current consensus of science or philosophy or culture required. However, Christianity, in my view, is not an existential religion but a historic faith that has been “handed down” (Latin, tradere, from which we get the word “tradition”) from the apostles. The tradition of what the Church believed from the beginning is pertinent to the question of whether TE is compatible with the Christian faith.

    So, even though you apparently wish to cast me in the role of “weaker brother” because I respect that tradition and allow it a voice in the discussion, I do not apologize for it. As I said earlier, I do not consider the viewpoints expressed in the conversation to be a matter of weaker or stronger brother. How you wish to address the matter, whether pastorally or didactically or as the “strong” brother is your own business. But I will not be playing to that.

    Peace be with you.

  • Rick

    Sherman #49 and #51-

    I have seen churches that have a more basic doctrinal standard for membership than the more extensive one for leadership. But you may be right, that could be a wrong way to handle it.

    I appreciate your strong position on orthopraxy, but I think it should go hand-in-hand with orthodoxy. Christianity is a faith that grows in the knowledge of God, our relationship with Him, proclaiming Him, and submitting to Him so that the fruit He produces may be reflected in the world.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Rick #63, which “orthodoxy” – Calvinist, Arminianist, Universalist, Catholic, Orthodox, CoC, Baptist, Pentecostal, etc. etc. etc.? Of course, my point is and has been that if we’ll walk in, practice respect and love for one another then we can walk “together” though we “believe” significantly different things concerning Jesus, the nature of God, scripture, baptism, salvation, etc. – key word being “together”. But if we make our respect and love for one another based on “beliefs” then we can’t walk together for we will certainly find something we disagree on.

    As I said on my original post on this thread, for most churches, love for God and love for people is Not enough, one must also hold to a certain set of beliefs, a specific systematic theology which allows for no difference of opinion, no personal conviction, no room for personal or community growth and change.

    “These are the things we believe and if you don’t believe those things, you cannot be a part of “our” church. Though you might be a member of the church universal, having been added by God, you cannot be a member of “our” church unless you…whatever.” This, I believe, is where many churches fail (in answer to the question of the opening blog).

  • Rick


    In regards to orthodoxy, I am referring to historic orthodoxy.

    What basic beliefs, are needed for “church”? If none, why not just take a comparative religions course at a college and call it church?

    You mention growth and change. How does a community grow or change? Grow and change in what way?

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Rick, I think of “church” in more relational terms. If a person loves God and loves people and wants to worship, follow Jesus together with me then that’s enough. We can walk together, and if that includes taking a comparitive religion course at the local college, then that’s ok too. And we can grow in knowledge of God, wisdom, understanding, power of the Spirit, etc. together. And the two or more of us who want to walk together in such a way constitute a local fellowship. As far as who is part of the church universal, I’ll leave that in God’s hands. So the community grows and changes as we grow and change together.

    What beliefs do you require for someone to worship, study, pray, minister, etc. together with you?

    I keep this personal because these principles and rules are very personal, effecting people personally. Frankly, it breaks my heart to not be accepted in many fellowships because I believe differently than they do. I’d love to participate in Mass with the Catholics, but cannot. I’d love to partipate in worship and openly in classes at the local AoG, CoC, and Baptist churches, but cannot. Like I said, it really doesn’t matter how much I love God, have faith in Jesus, love people, and live righteously, when it comes to most fellowships, I can’t be a member because I do not believe everything exactly as they do, though I believe most of what they do.

    My point is simply that we need to rethink what we require for membership because not only does it keep us from growing together in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, but it also is a primary reason why many people must leave fellowships they love, not because they want to leave that fellowship, but because they want the freedom to grow and learn, even explore different systems of thought and traditions.

  • Patrick

    If Jesus’ prayer about us having unity like He and The Father enjoy, it seems to me THE requirement should be only that we believe Jesus is the unique Son of God,resurrected.

  • normbv


    IMO it seems very likely that Enoch is being quoted, alluded to and its concepts accepted by the NT writers extensively. Like Jude it appears the earliest Christians considered it as scripture. Peter especially seems to be pulling directly from Enoch conceptions. I believe it ranks second among the most common fragments found in the Qumran literature; only behind Isaiah.

    The first century messianic Jews and Christians definitely considered it as scripture it strongly appears. Only after the breakdown of Judaism from the Romans in the First century and the destruction of their Temple did the legalistic Jews outright begin to reject Enoch literature. This was because it predicted the coming of the Messiah after 70 Generations and that period of the first century had just come and gone. At their council around AD90 they excluded it, Jubilees and other messianic leaning scripture that we find at Qumran. Unfortunately their influence highly affected later Christianity whom followed suit at AD325 and thought the legalistic Jews pattern of scriptural acceptance were to be followed as well. Enoch was effectively lost until about 200 years ago when it was discovered among the canon of the Ethiopian Church whom had kept it all along.

    Again IMO all biblical literature and especially messianic types point toward Adam as the figurehead of the beginning of faith Israel and not humanity proper. Gentiles were side stories that were hidden within Jewish literature. Christ came to redeem faithful Israel first and as Paul says the mystery of the Gentiles was to then be included into the redeemed of Israel. Adam is described as the Old husband of Israel whom must die and that is what happened when Christ died and put an end to the Law and commandments that bound Adam and Israel under the Law. Christ as the New and Last Adam opens up all humanity through Grace not works. Peter demonstrates the inclusion of the Gentiles in Acts 10 and then Paul is assigned as the apostle to the Gentiles.

    Let me give you a hint on where you may see the Gentiles in the OT stories such as Genesis. Keep in mind that Peter had a vision of the unclean animals being declared clean in Acts 10. The animal motif is very often the hidden mystery of the Gentiles in OT scripture. The animals were brought to Adam but he could find no suitable helper from among them, so Eve came forth whom represents Israel or the ancient people of faith [see Gen 4:26]. The animals represent pagan Gentile nations. We find this out in the second Temple commentary on Genesis called Jubilees where Adam once driven out of the Garden was instructed to offer sacrifices for himself/Israel and the Animals/Nations. This is exactly the instructions the Jews were given at their feast of booths which was to offer sacrifices for themselves and for the Nations as well.

    Understanding the animal motif in Jewish literature opens the doors to realize that Adam indeed was the first faithful man denoting Israel and he was drawn out of the darkness and desert land of the Pagan world. Once you grasp the Jewish concepts of their narrative it is not quite the mystery that it seems.



  • Sherman Nobles

    I’ve been overwhelmed today with the reality that for most churches loving God and loving people is Not enough to be an accepted member. One must worship a certain way, dress a certain way, believe a certain way, etc. Of course, some churches are more restrictive and exclusive than others. Why can’t loving God and each other be enough!

    I’ll never forget a discussion I had in seminary about the Ecumenical movement. One of the students raised his hand and passionately said:

    “I just want to know One thing. Where do you draw the line doctrinally in considering someone a brother in Christ. I mean, look at the Catholics. They pray to Mary. They worship Idols. They baptize babies. Just where do you draw the line?!”

    Immediately I heard the Lord say something but was afraid to share it. I was new to seminary and didn’t quite know how to share a prophetic type message in that setting. So I didn’t say anything, and neither did the professor or anyone else. It was dead silent for a couple of minutes and then the class went on. But I couldn’t forget what I had heard. It was a message that just kept coming to me. So the next class I recalled the question and shared what I had heard.

    I believe the Lord said,
    “First, I look on the heart! And Second, You ALL have Idols in your life!”

    Well, He didn’t answer the question, but He sure put us in our place. God does look on the heart. He knows whether we are really trusting in Him or relying on our own understanding. And He certainly knows we all have idols in our lives though we might not want to admit it. And when we compare ourselves with others we usually come out pretty good and we assume negative motives of others.

    I’d love to see a fellowship of believers whose foundation is simply loving God and loving others. It doesn’t matter what you believe concerning the Trinitarian/Binitarian/Oneness debate. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Calvinist/Arminianist/Universalist or Mystical. It doesn’t matter if you’re a cessationist or a tounge-talking charismatic. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Creationist or and Evolutionist, or believe that Elijah’s wheel was a space craft. What matters is do you love God and love people, and want to worship Jesus with us. If we could do that, love God and love one another, I kinda think the other things might work out!