creationists talking about creation (or, on theological mass re-education)

A friend sent me this short video from the HBO documentary Questioning Darwin. I didn’t see it because I refuse to pay Verizon for premium cable.

This short video brought back some thoughts that began brewing while I was working at BioLogos, the science/faith think tank started by Francis Collins in 2009.

I was hired to be senior fellow in biblical studies, i.e., someone to see over the Bible side of the Christianity/evolution discussion. It dawned on me rather quickly just how difficult that would prove to be.

At least in the American conservative Christian context (my British friends are always reminding me to leave them out of this squabble), the Bible can’t be tweaked in order to foster a conversation with science. You cannot simply leave the Bible more or less where conservatives have it, maybe make a slight adjustment or two, and graft evolution onto it.

Why? Because in the above-mentioned context the Bible is expected to perform certain roles, primarily the role of last stop for settling the important questions of the universe–one of them being, “Where do we come from?”

When presented with this “model” of Scripture, the only option is to choose between the Bible and science–or to borrow the common rhetoric, between God and liberalism, atheism, secularism, Satan, etc.

So, it struck me early on that for the conversation truly to go forward, what is needed is nothing short of a “theological mass re-education”–and in some cases I would even say “de-programming”–not to take the Bible away from anyone, but to give it back without the tons of freight that literalism shackles to it.

This theological re-education does not have to be (and should not be) invented from scratch. Plenty of real, live, honest to goodness, Jesus followers have come to peace with all of this. The re-education is not about “caving in” to the dark side but joining a Christian conversation that is already happening.

I feel that re-education needs to happen mainly in two interconnected areas (although, commenters, feel free to add others you think are important): History and Jesus.

By “History” I simply mean learning more about the historical context of the Bible–or better, contexts. This can be unnerving for some, but I’ve rarely met anyone who hasn’t taken this task seriously and who hasn’t also come away thinking, “Wow, the Bible really does look a lot like it was written from an ancient point of view.”

This insight has theological implications: studying the Bible against its cultural backdrops teaches us to ask ancient questions of the text rather than imposing modern ones. That in and of itself is a major theological overhaul for many.

By “Jesus” I mean taking a page out of the New Testament to see how the Gospel writers, Paul, and others handled their Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) when talking about Jesus.

I bring this up a lot on this blog, and a couple of my books spend some time on this important issue (here and here). The idea is basically this: the New Testament writers weren’t literalists but read their Bible in a “Christ-centered” way.

Reading the Bible this way required them to re-think, re-interpret, and re-cast the past in view of the surprise ending of a messiah who was not only executed by the Romans (messiah’s aren’t supposed to lose) but whose resurrection brought the future into the present–thus the future “breaks into” the present moment.

The language and concepts concerning God and his people in the Old Testament were not set up to handle this sort of surprise move, and so the Gospel writers, Paul, and others reframed Israel’s past around Jesus.

What’s my point? When it comes to theological overhaul of conservative Christians in America, simply sitting back and watching with both eyes open how the New Testament writers talk about Jesus vis-a-vis the Old Testament is about as re-orienting an experience as a biblical literalist can have. “Following Jesus” has hermeneutical implications.

For the New Testament writers, Jesus exerts a gravitational pull on the Old Testament, bending its light inward, toward him. The result is not an Old Testament read literally, but an Old Testament re-read Christologically.

In Inspiration and Incarnation I call this a “Christo-telic” reading of the Old Testament, where Christ is the “end” (Greek telos) of Israel’s story. In light of this ending, the New Testament re-read their Bible in a necessarily different, creative, more nuanced, way, where parts of Israel story are transformed and reshaped, and parts of if left behind entirely.

If Christians were to take up the task, laid down by the the earliest Christian writers, of reading Israel’s story primarily as a story in need of transformation, rather than an ancient field guide for Christians today, an issue like evolution, which raises questions about the literal value of the Old Testament, may not as crippling and anxiety-producing as it often is.

I wish I could say all that to these young people featured in this video. I wish they could have a bigger Bible, a bigger Jesus, and a bigger God than the ones that now have.

did Jesus know everything?
Adam’s Fall and Early Christian Notions of Sin
historical criticism and Christian truth are not--and cannot be--enemies
creating Adam, again and again
  • David Michael Gregg

    The guy who says at the beginning of the clip, “If somewhere within the Bible, I were to find a passage that said 2 + 2 = 5, I wouldn’t question what I’m reading in the Bible.”, just at that point, he looks up and to the left, indicating that he is saying something he knows or suspects is untrue.

    There is hope!

  • Mike Gantt


    I am thrilled to hear you say that we should read the Old Testament as the New Testament did – that is, Christocentrically. I even like your coined term “Christo-telic,” for the point it seeks to emphasize.

    As someone who has embraced this Christ-centered view, however, I can tell you that it does not relieve the numerous tension points that exist between the Bible and evolution. Where you as a Bible scholar can render the greatest service to conservative Christians is to address these tension points – even in posts like this. That is, you have enough Bible knowledge to help people continue to take the Bible seriously even when they no longer take it literally. Just to give a single example of what are at least a dozen tension points, try to be more vocal about explaining Jesus’ own apparent embrace of the creation narrative as carrying some historical import.

    (By the way, you may recall that I had decided to stop commenting here because I thought you wanted me to, but Beau Quilter has taken pains to insist that you are actually open to challenges and did not want me to stop commenting on your blog.)

    • Daniel Bastian

      No, it has nothing to do with Dr. Enns (or anyone else) being “open to challenges” and everything to do with your being a troll who spams every single post that is even tangentially connected to evolution while repeating the same tired rambling rhetoric that has been debunked and answered many times over. Your presence here and at Dr. McGrath’s blog is only notable for its carbon copy rhetoric that shares more in common with trolling than any attempts at constructive discourse.

      WE GET IT: you find evolution problematic…why don’t you tell us this just a dozen more times please.

      • Mike Gantt


        • Just Sayin’

          I second Daniel B’s sentiments precisely. You are a troll who acts passive-aggressive, and your act is wearing very thin indeed.

        • Beau Quilter

          Yes, Mike, I see that two commenters have called you a “troll”, which you consider offensive. The term “troll” actually has a very specific definition in this context, which you could look up and argue if you like. It is not a form of profanity.

          May I point out that neither of these commenters are Pete Enns, nor do they represent him in any meaningful way.

          I certainly don’t represent Peter Enns myself, but isn’t the basic answer to your question obvious, given the point of this post? Peter Enns clearly doesn’t share your belief that the Bible represents a literal, inerrant historical record. It seems clear it doesn’t trouble him that a) Jesus may not have said the exact words the gospel writer attributes to him about the old testament, or b) these words need not be interpreted to mean that the old testament was historically inerrant.

          You might ask Pete which he thinks is true (a or b), but the more salient point seems to be that you don’t agree with Pete about the inerrancy of scripture. Don’t all of your “tension points” really boil down to this one issue of inerrancy?

          Pete has a religious faith that doesn’t require biblical inerrancy. You do. Isn’t that the real point you should be addressing?

          • Mike Gantt


            I don’t like to talk about inerrancy because I think it skews the conversation toward trivial issues. I believe the Bible is a collection of writings that flowed from the prophets and apostles – that is, men of God. They spoke on God’s behalf and therefore the Bible is the word of God.

            Neither do I subscribe to literalism. If I didn’t I’d have to think that when John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God, we should picture Him woolly and walking on all fours.

            So, the fact that Peter may eschew inerrancy and literalism doesn’t in and of itself put any obstacles between the two of us.

          • Beau Quilter

            Fine. Don’t use the word “inerrancy” (though I frankly can’t see the difference between your view of scripture and those who do use the word). Then clearly it is your view of scripture (whatever that may be) that differs with Pete’s. I think Pete has given you an answer above, a view of Jesus which accepts that his full humanity on earth included human limitations in knowledge about history and science.

          • Mike Gantt

            I have no problem whatsover with the idea that Jesus was subject to the limitations of being a human being. I do have a problem with the idea that we have to accept, and teach children, that He shouldn’t trusted on the matter of creation.

          • Beau Quilter

            Who is teaching children that Jesus shouldn’t be trusted on the matter of creation?

            Are you referring to Mark 10:5-9?

            Do you think Pete is saying that the truth of Mark 10:5-9 can’t be trusted?

          • Mike Gantt

            I was alluding to the widely-held notion, promoted notably in the Bill Nye video that circulated last year, and that is implicit in the views of Peter and others, that we should be accepting evolution as truth and teaching it to children as truth.

          • Beau Quilter


            But how is teaching evolution tantamount to teaching children not to trust Jesus? You think that Mark 10:5-9 is a passage in which Jesus is telling children that evolution is wrong?

            You have said, on this, and other blogs, that you haven’t made up your mind about the science of evolution. I take you have now made up your mind, since you see it as teaching children not to trust Jesus?

          • Just Sayin’

            What has evolution got to do with the Bible?

          • Mike Gantt

            According to Peter and others, it requires that we cease to regard as historical portions of the Bible that have otherwise been considered historical (e.g. Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, and, for some, Abraham).

          • Just Sayin’

            Who considers them historical? You and your best buddy Hammy? Then grow up.

          • Just Sayin’

            As no one is saying this, you don’t have anything to worry about, do you?

          • Mike Gantt

            No one is saying this? Are you not aware that we live in a post-Scopes world?

          • Beau Quilter

            There you go again, Mike, assuming that the teaching of evolution is tantamount to teaching that Jesus can’t be trusted.

            Most biology teachers never mention Jesus in the science classroom, Mike. You’re the one putting words into Jesus’ mouth.

          • Just Sayin’

            Are you not aware that very few citizens of any other country outside the extremely narrow confines of the U.S. would know what you’re talking about if you said “Scopes Trial”? There’s a whole big non-fundie world out there waiting for you to discover.

          • ajl

            ok, I think we are getting somewhere in terms of where you are hung up. My take on this is that when Jesus was talking about creation, he was making a different point.

            If Jesus said “just as Peter Pan needed to grow up, so do all of you”, we can view this in two ways:

            1. he is referencing a story to illustrate the point that people need to grow up, and not live forever as a child.

            2. Jesus believes in fairies, a place called Neverland, and a captain with a hook for a hand.

            Point 1 seems the most logical, given what we know about Peter Pan. Point 2 is a high maintenance doctrine, and perhaps misses the point of what Jesus was trying to say to begin with.

          • Beau Quilter

            Have you read Pete Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam. If you are truly interested in his view on this matter, it will answer most of your questions far more productively than a blog conversation.

          • Mike Gantt

            I will read his book if he will read mine. ;)

            More seriously, if we have to read Peter’s book before commenting on his blog then I suggest he require registration and a pledge and make the site password-protected.

            The point of a blog is for the author to post and readers to read…and respond if they wish.

          • Beau Quilter

            I imagine Pete (like me) prefers to read actual scholars on this topic. ;)

            My suggestion that you read Pete’s book clearly isn’t a requirement for commenting. You’re still commenting aren’t you?

          • Bev Mitchell

            Not to put words in Pete’s mouth, the point of the blog is to advance the conversation in important areas where interpretation of the bible is currently being informed (not directed) by modern scholarship. We can’t all read the relevant primary literature and so folks like Pete write books to help summarize and apply that literature. To refuse to read even this secondary/tertiary literature is tantamount to saying you don’t really want to participate in the conversation. You can’t have it both ways. Blogs of this quality are rare and it is simply a sign of respect to do what we can to keep up with the literature. Can you imagine a journal club or seminar class in university where students refused to read the most relevant literature? That’s what it’s sometime like to discuss matters with people whose position seems to be fixed. If your position is fixed, just say so. We can handle it. If you want to learn along with the rest of us, get with the program.

          • Mike Gantt

            Bev, you seem oblivious to the one-sided nature of your exhortation.

          • Bev Mitchell


            A typically vague repost but I assume that you mean we refuse to read the material you would bring to class. Well, two things, it’s Pete’s class and we have come to see what the good professor has to offer – free to boot. Secondly, many have told you (many times) that they were brought up on the kind of material you would have us add to the discussion – and have found it seriously wanting. Therefore, just about everyone has read it. As an example, see Pete’s response (and disagreement with KCWV) re Sparks’ reading of Van Til. Lots of folks here have read Van Til and find his conclusions unsatisfying. Would you have us revisit such works? That was last year’s class.

          • Mike Gantt

            You’re demonstrating my point. That is, you assume 1) that you know what I’m going to say and 2) that I don’t know what you’re going to say. Therefore, from your point of view,the resolution of any argument lies in my becoming educated to your point of view. It’s an arrogant and condescending point of view you’ve taken.

            RJS deleted all my comments on a post of his on the Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight) blog without warning and without explanation. So much for an atmosphere of academic freedom.

            You say that this is a class and Peter is the professor. If that’s the case, don’t make it a blog. Or, if you do, require registration, passwords, and all that. Blogs are not a university classroom. And even if they were, academic freedom would require that you show a little intellectual curiosity in my point of view.

          • Bev Mitchell

            Since you seem to want to argue rather than discuss issues, ideas, interpretations, and since you seem to think there is only one way to do anything (such as run a discussion course), I am going to ignore you until you show a marked improvement in attitude.

            BTW, have you read Stephen Berger’s guest post over at Roger Olson’s blog? (February 21). You may find it helpful.

          • Mike Gantt

            Since I’ve come to realize that the likelihood of your misinterpreting anything I say is high, it’s best if I don’t offer further response.

        • Beau Quilter


          I have to make one correction to your comment about me, (I’m constantly amazed by how often and how easily you misrepresent what other people say).

          I did “take pains” to insist that Pete Enns is open to challenges.

          However I never said that I did not want you to stop commenting on this blog. I could care less whether you continue to comment on this blog.

          • Mike Gantt


            You misread me. I was saying that you were insisting that I was wrong to think that Peter did not want me to comment on his blog anymore.

          • Beau Quilter

            Then you have still misrepresented me. I have no idea whether Pete “wants” you to comment on his blog. I just know that he never told you to stop.

          • Mike Gantt

            Well, he’s now in a position to speak for himself.

          • Beau Quilter

            Yes, well, he never left that position.

    • Just Sayin’

      There are no “tension points that exist between the Bible and evolution”, never mind “numerous” ones, unless you want there to be, which you clearly do.

      • Daniel Bastian

        Co-signed. The “tension point” is due to a misunderstanding of the ancient setting, the non-understanding that Genesis is a creation myth borne out of an intellectual breeding ground completely alien to and detached from modern notions of science and the knowledge now under its purview-viz germ theory of disease, heliocentrism, evolution, etc. Using the Bible as a scientific reference is like using a phone book from 1932 to make a call in 2013. With circumspect diligence we must avoid ripping the Bible out of its historical context and burdening it with concerns foreign to its composers. These men spoke to their own times, and not to ours.

        For more on this see my piece below:

    • peteenns


      Invoking the authority of Beau? Anyway, see comments below.

      Concerning the specifics of your comment here, (1) I do an awful lot of commenting on tensions btwn evolution and Xty and how to address them, so I am surprised that you suggest I don’t; (2) As for Jesus and creation, this too is something I have commented on a lot, in books and posts, and it all turns on the high-Christology of Jesus of Nazareth being fully human, i.e., sharing in that humanity through and through–including ancient notions of history, human origins, etc.

      • Mike Gantt


        I don’t know the nature of your relationship with Beau, but he was insistent that I was only trying to avoid defending my own positions when I stopped commenting here. I thought I was leaving because you and at least some of your commenters thought I was being disruptive and preferred that I withdraw.

        Re: 1) That may be, but I see no sign of that in the original post above. In fact, the main point I take from your post is that conservative Christians are simply obstinate. Of course, that point is made more forcefully by the HBO video, but you never distanced yourself from its view.

        Re: 2) You say that as if it solves the problem. To say that Jesus was not omniscient does nothing to explain why God allowed an untruth to be promulgated in the names of Moses and Jesus when it was completely unnecessary to do so.

        • peteenns

          I can’t repeat everything I’ve written with each post. On your point two, you are working with an unbiblical view of “untruth.” The fact that the author of Genesis thought the world was created relatively quickly and recently is not “true” in a scientific sense. But rather than calling it “untruth” call it “true in an ancient context.” The same can and must be said of Jesus. You also misstep when you say “completely unnecessary.” This truly misses the point. Necessary/unnecessary for whom? God allows his children to tell the story from their ancient vantage point. That is the scandal of an incarnating God.

          • Mike Gantt

            1) The people in the video clip are being held up for scorn and you can’t trouble yourself to write one sentence in the post to defend the sincerity of their faith in God?

            2) What’s “true” for you might not be “true” for me? If truth changed sometime between ancient times and now then you have abandoned the traditional and common-sense meaning of the word truth.

          • peteenns

            You are demonstrating here why some (and apparently on other blogs) see you as a troll, whether or not you intend it. (1) You seem geared for a debate and have an excessive need to be right–note this is different from your advertised purpose to ask “hard” question and engage. (2) As I have mentioned to you before, if you recall, you tend to seize controls of thread by being the one who poses the pressing questions that require answers and you are not satisfied until your questions are answered, rather than understanding truly the point of the other. Your questions are really more things “resolved” as in a debate club. (3) Also, as I’ve said before, your questions are often highly problematic for those trained in the areas you touch on; they often betray some confusion or that you have not thought much about the topic you are asking about.

            Of course, #3 is not a problem–unless it has #s 1 and 2 attached to it. I have tried to point out where, for example, a deeper understanding of antiquity (or at least what others say about it) might nuance your questions differently or reframe them altogether. But these attempts fall on deaf ears.

            And with that, I will leave you the last and final word.

          • Mike Gantt

            You have a very sophisticated way of calling someone a liar. You also manage to invoke “troll” without leaving your fingerprints on it. Clever…but false.

            I came to your blog with reasonable questions about tension points between evolution and the Bible, and I came with a willingness to accept evolution if those tension points could be resolved. Yet you refuse to show any interest in dealing with those tension points, and, on top of that, impugn my motives. This is why you are not as successful in persuading conservative Christians as you would like to be.

            If, after this most recent exchange between us, Beau Quilter wants to continue maintaining that you are open to challenge and don’t want me to stop commenting here then that is up to him.

            My last word is in defense of the people slandered by the video. As I’ve made clear, I don’t know enough about science to say whether or not YEC is good science. I do know, however, that the people on that video were expressing faith in God and His word. And for that, I admire them.

          • Andrew Dowling
          • Beau Quilter

            Of course, Pete is open to challenge. You have simply failed to offer a challenge.

            … and if telling someone that they are wrong is “slander”, well then, we’re all “slanderers”, you included.

          • jesuswithoutbaggage

            Wow Peter!

            You gave such an incredible response to this type of commenter. I could have benefited from reading this before, and I am saving it for future reference.

          • freetoken

            Verbosity is not a virtue.

          • Bryan

            Mike, the statement, “What’s “true” for you might not be “true” for me?” is very problematic. This is a loaded question. The Bible is not a metanarrative nor does it ever make that claim. This is a modern analysis of the Bible. It cannot be used as a pre-modern resource manual for science. We expect ancient people to behave in the manner in which their cultural background indicates, namely, as ancient people.

            When the Bible makes claims to the “four corners of the earth”, we can assume that this is what ancient people thought and God graciously interacted with them on whatever level they were on. Therefore, it is safe to assume this is not scientific material.
            Also, when Gideon asks his young son to cut the head off of the newly captured king, we do not cite this as a “family values” text. Now, does the truth then=truth now?

            Ultimately, when I read your material, you come across as thinking that a different perspective such as maintained in this blog is incommensurable to believing in God. Therefore, if the Bible does not make a pre-modern revelatory claim about material pertaining to nature, then the Bible is not valid. If so, again, the Bible is not a metanarrative and it does not claim to be. Another issue which seems to be present, is if a theology is heard which is different from the one you grew up with in Sunday school classes, that is, different from the little old lady/pastor who cannot read textual material and have not read extra-biblical material, then it cannot be right.

    • Nate

      Allowing for generalizations (though it pains me), i.e., creationists are uncritical literalists, and allowances made for Dr. Enns’s sense that a line has been
      crossed that ‘should’ propel all thoughtful Christians to accept evolution, i.e., common descent, because the data – already available – rises to the level
      of anything in science that can be called fact/knowledge, e.g., Francis Collins, then I understand his continued promulgation as such.

      However, I do demur on several levels. First, that the issue is as he and others present it, i.e., about as close to a done-deal as anything science has ever offered. I think ID is not DOA; it is a think tank of substance, and we should allow it to engage the scientific community. The religious aspect of ‘all’ science, with its own set of prior assumptions, often goes unacknowledged.

      Second, even common descent were true, it does not follow that somehow he and/or others have made the step easy. It’s as though theistic evolutionists are simply saying, “Just accept these texts as mythical re-formulation of Israel’s history, because it is the way they were intended anyhow. The historical indicators of history, within the text itself, cannot be easily swept aside.

      Third, and related to the second, is that somehow if we approach the written history of Israel as simply reconstructed myth; Israel simply mythologizes her past for some theological point or worse, post exilic ethnocentric need, then all will be fine. Theologically, this ease of disregard is not so easily done! At least on an exegetical/authoritative level this needs to be acknowledged and appreciated. We need to feel the full weight that if Paul was wrong on Adam’s history, what else was he/could he have been wrong concerning? The debates over salvation history and real history were, and continue to be of vital importance with regard to historic Christianity. Was Christ’s resurrection real history or did Christians mythologize their story as well? It’s easy to scoff
      at some presentations as anti-intellectual, but my sense is that Enns will find
      little support in the scientific community that somehow Jesus’ resurrection is
      less goofy than denying common descent.

      My counter points would be: 1) ID does not consist of a bunch of literalists who are uneducated Bible thumpers. We should see how this plays out; therefore, we need patience. 2) We need to continue to grapple with what is real history and what may be mythical, as well as take a look at biblical authority, for if Paul is wrong about Adam, does this not provide a basis for suggesting he could be wrong elsewhere? What is Dr. Enns’s defense against resurrection mythology, as Thompson, et. al, would say, “Salvation history is not an historical account of saving events open to the study of the historian?” Can there be truth in and through mythology? Yes. But that is not the most important question. It is rather, “How does Scripture portray its history?” One cannot simply wave a magic wand and think everything remains intact…like we heard in Jamaica while visiting, “Jamaica, man, no problem!” I realize and appreciate Dr. Enns’s substantive contributions to both ‘history’ and ‘Scripture authority’. My beef is simply that the full data is in; the need for patience is over, and the conversation must stop. (I apologize for the Word format mishaps.)

  • KCWV

    Long time lurker, first time poster. To be clear I have not read I&I or all of your blog posts so perhaps you’ve addressed this elsewhere.

    My concern is you say that the Old Testament language and themes were not set up to handle the surprise move. It seems to me that the OT was in fact anticipating this, and that the light of the resurrection illuminated the OT as opposed to imposing new theology onto a text never meant to handle it. You’ve often criticized conservative scholars for not properly understanding the Bible as an historical codex, or understanding the distinction in genres, or setting the context properly. Surely this is not true though as I’ve read many scholars (Carson, Moo, Waltke, etc) who seem acutely aware of the issues you’ve raised, but come to different conclusions.

    On a bit of side note I’m curious to know if you’ve read “Kingdom Through Covenant” by Gentry and Wellum. I thought these guys did a good job of couching the OT covenants in their historical context. Particularly illuminating the ten commandments as to how ancient Israel would have understood them, and yet they maintain a perfectly conservative view of scripture it seems to me (outside of the big R Reformed hermeneutics to be sure, but evangelical nonetheless.). Too often I just get the impression from you that if we are to take the Bible seriously as a historical codex then we must abandon a Warfield inspired view of inspiration (pardon the pun) and that just seems a false dichotomy.

    Further side note, I’m aware that Waltke accepts evolution, Warfield was open to it, and Carson and Moo are notoriously hard to pin down on these issues. I’m not someone who objects to it either, but feel there’s a lot from a theological/exegetical side that required being worked out, and that the scientific case is often overstated.

    • peteenns

      KCWV, thanks for your comment. My short answer is that, in my opinion, once one’s view of biblical criticism moves outside of the boundaries of evangelicalism, it is harder and harder to give its scholars (including the ones you mention above) a free pass on conclusions they draw or how far they aren’t willing to go. This is where Kent Sparks’s God’s Words in Human Words, though controversial for some, even a bit offensive, hits the bullseye.

      • KCWV

        Dr Enns, Thanks for a reply. Obviously any answer on a blog post has to be short, and I’m not a scholar, just a software engineer who reads theology in his spare time, just trying to make sense out of a lot of the issues myself. So I’ll offer a (hopefully) quick rejoinder here.

        I’m not suggesting any of the scholars I mention should get a pass, but other direction ought to apply as well no? They’re smart guys, and well educated on the field of biblical criticism. Just as they shouldn’t get a free pass nor should they be ignored. As I understand things, the model of traditional evangelical biblical interpretation has presented too many problems to be maintained, so you advocate a new model. Fair enough, but I don’t see enough actual engagement with the guys defending the old model, saying “those issues you see as mountains, are really just molehills, so lets not tare the whole thing down.”. I don’t think there should be an a priori dismissal of what they have to say because they’re still within the “boundaries of evangelicalism”, they may have very legitimate reasons for maintaining the old model. Those boundaries may in fact be legit.

        As for Kent Sparks, whatever else he may have contributed, I found his treatment of Van Til to be inaccurate. I’m not a Van Tillian mind you but I didn’t much recognize the Sparks version of him. Which makes me dubious about what else he may be advocating.

        Thanks again for your reply.

        • peteenns

          Some fair points here, KCWV. No one should get a free pass, but agreeing with things like (just for example) the universe is old, humans evolved, the Pentateuch did not exist until the post-exilic period is giving no one a free pass. These things have been talked about for a long time–even centuries–and often conservative American Xian culture is on the outside looking in. (On a side note, having cut my eye teeth on Van Til in seminary, I think Spraks nailed him.)

          • KCWV

            As for Van Til, well I won’t rush in where Angels fear to tread and take your word for it.

  • Ross

    Just some vague and rambling thoughts on this issue;

    On a psychological/sociological level I think you are hitting the nail on the head about “re-education or de-programming” and I think the underlying need for this is due to the “cult-like” nature of the Conservative Evangelical mind-set and circumstance. (I’ll add that I am British and have to say that these issues are not exclusive to America, but the situation is somewhat different over here). This paranoid mindset, exemplified by such as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, is both overly rational and irrational and presents a very strong and lasting resistance to the necessary re-education to move forward. (edit, sorry if this is an insulting or unkind way of putting this, I can’t think of another way of doing it at the moment).

    Until this resistance is overcome I can’t really see how re-education can occur. This leaves us with what I see as a possible paradox, we need to re-educate the mindset before being able to re-educate it. Now there is a lot of history behind how the conservatives got to this point and I feel there is a complex mixture of both good and poor reasons as to how this point was reached. My poor brain hurts very much trying to look at and disentangle all the reasons behind that particular journey and am not qualified to really see any positive way forward and despair that there isn’t one.

    I think this mindset actually relies on knowledge as a substitute for faith, particularly in engaging with God. There is a fear (a genuine fear based on real danger) in walking out in faith beyond what is known and this fear wins, preventing the walking out. The knowledge which is relied on is flawed but this is not recognised and is a “place of safety” which is ultimately not helpful nor necessarily safe.

    Re-thinking, re-defining or dropping the “crutch” of inerrancy (whatever is really meant by that word) is the key to this and people need to be encouraged that this is not apostasy, thereby incurring God’s wrath, nor is it losing faith and denying that God exists. But as I said, I’m not sure how that can be done.

    To sum up, yes, people need to be re-educated and/or de-programmed and there needs to be serious thought and great care over what is involved in this education, however they need to be aware that this is right and needed from the start. I just don’t know how they can be made aware of this.

  • Jim

    I thought that the dinosaur at 3:34 made the most intellectual statement in this short clip.

  • Kim Fabricius

    I’m all for the “theological overhaul” and “re-education” of conservative American Christians, but I think it’s important to approach the project with eyes wide open to the psychology of the resistance you face. In an oversimplifying word, you are dealing with the phenomenon of “cognitive dissonance”: the sense of bafflement and danger, the feelings of stress and anxiety experienced when belief structures clash; and the pathological mechanisms deployed to see off the threat – particularly ideological hardening by intellectual shutdown, isolation from the menacing belief structure, and reinforcement of the “true faith”; ideological conflict as light-versus-darkness, truth-speaking-to-error; and ideological compensation by insistence that the “true faith” itself provides an explanation for the menacing belief structure (e.g., the “loyal remnant” should expect fierce opposition in the “last days”). Moreover, you are dealing with communities of belief and resistance, with strong loyalties and firm didactic controls managed by (inevitably male) figures of authority (“shepherds”).

    The task is huge, but take heart: our Lord himself knew the problem – indeed, he generated it. Cognitive dissonance was intrinsic to his own hermeneutical strategy. He deployed it in his actions (e.g., cavorting with whores, touching the diseased, washing the disciples’ feet) and in his teaching (e.g., the Beatitudes and, especially, the parables – the Good Samaritan, the Labourers in the Vineyard, the Pharisee and the Publican are classic examples of narrative cognitive dissonance). And the cross – mega-cognitive dissonance, both the ending by violence and murder of the preliminary disturbances Jesus caused, and also the beginning of mission, particularly the mission to the Gentiles (look at both the experience of Paul and the teaching of Paul, his theologia crucis).

    Paradigm-shifting is a long-game, but tipping points come. As you say, Peter, “Plenty of real, live, honest to goodness, Jesus followers have come to peace with all of this.” But forewarned is forearmed.

    • peteenns

      Cognitive dissonance. True that. This is the main reason why I do not force this upon those who are not ready, who are not already at a state of cognitive dissonance and thus asking the questions.

      • jtheory

        something i could really learn.

    • Derek

      Will you marry me?

  • Bev Mitchell

    “theological mass re-education”, how true and how huge! (see Ross’ and Kim’s comments earlier which nicely sketch the immensity of the task.); “a bigger Bible, a bigger Jesus, and a bigger God” is surely the prescription.

    You asked for areas needing better understanding in addition to History and Jesus. I would add Holy Spirit because this is the action centre for all things creative and Christian. And, to balance the history side I would add biology. If one of the big hangups is the origin of life, a much bigger and better understanding of modern molecular/organismal biology will be a necessary part of the way out of the well. And, as you cleverly said yesterday, drop the bones before someone gets hurt.

    • Daniel Merriman

      Bev, “theological mass re-education” ? Don’t you think modernity has had enough experiences with “mass re-education”? Re-read your Voegelin! :)

      The substance of PE’s post, and your remarks, are fine, but when I first saw the title, I didn’t react very well at all.

      • Bev Mitchell

        I see your angst, it’s source that is. Better choices of phrases may be in order.

  • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist

    Not to be uncharitable, Pete, but could consider keeping Mr. Gantt from continuing to hijack this (and other threads)? I enjoy the dialogue here, but it is difficult given the current…obstreperousness.

    • Beau Quilter

      Pete allows much worse than Gantt on the blog. He’s repetitive and a bit dim, but not worth censoring.

      Heck, Pete allows me on the blog, and I’m an old heathen!

  • Andrew Dowling

    One also has to acknowledge there is a whole industry that fosters and encourages fear, in this case fear of their faith being destroyed by science/liberalism/naturalism etc. (and the associated persecution complex) and makes tons of money off of it through books, seminars, videos, etc.

  • Luke Breuer

    Pete, have you looked at any of issues behind biblical translation of ‘naughty words’, like skubalon/skuvbalon in Philippians 3:8? I discussed this at length elsewhere, but Daniel B Wallace in A Brief Word Study on: Skuvbalon says this:

    In Phil 3:8, the best translation of σκύβαλα seems clearly to be from the first group of definitions. The term conveys both revulsion and worthlessness in this context. In hellenistic Greek it seems to stand somewhere between “crap” and “s**t.” However, due to English sensibilities, and considering the readership (Christians), a softer term such as “dung” is most appropriate.

    I have never understood how this fits in with e.g. the Chicago Statement. This fits in with your post above because it just seems to showing glaring hypocrisy in fundamentalist Christians. Talk about interpreting the Bible within one’s preconceived notions!!

    • Jesse Ratcliff

      Because the ancients weren’t as hung up on their faeces as we are. I am reminded of a line from a British comedy programme ‘Blackadder’ where a (German) character says “For us the toilet is a mundane, functional item; for you, it is the basis of an entire culture!” Having seen the reaction of a number of Christians (usually men) who start making lewd comments whenever this is brought to their attention, the traditional translation is the correct one…

      • Luke Breuer

        I’m sorry; I’m confused. When you say “lewd comment”, what precisely do you mean? Let’s examine Ephesians 5:4, with some Greek aid:

        Neither should there be vulgar speech (aiscrologia), foolish talk (mwrologia), or coarse jesting (eutrapelia) – all of which are out of character – but rather thanksgiving.

        From here:

        Synonym for: Sins of the Tongue.

        See Definition for mwrologia 3473
        See Definition for aiscrologia 152
        See Definition for eutrapelia 2160

        mwrologia, used only once in the N.T., is foolish talking, but this in the Biblical sense of the word foolish, which implies that it is also sinful. It is conversation which is first insipid, then corrupt. It is random talk, which naturally reveals the vanity and sin of the heart.

        aiscrologia, also used once, means any kind of disgraceful language, especially abuse of others. In classical Greek it sometimes means distinctively language which leads to lewdness.

        eutrapelia, occurring once, originally meant versatility in conversation. It acquires, however, an unfavorable meaning, since polished, refined conversation has a tendency to become evil in many ways. The word denotes, then, a subtle form of evil-speaking, sinful conversation without the coarseness which frequently accompanies it, but not without its malignity.

        You can see here that these terms go to the heart of a person; they do not mean appearance-only. The problem with being against expletives is described perfectly by Jesus:

            “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
            “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Mt 23:25-28)

        The desire for beauty is not wrong; Phil 1:9-11 and 4:8 are beautiful passages. But the desire for outward beauty alone is evil. And if we prohibit people from using whatever language they wish to describe what is going on inside them, you force their exterior to look pretty while their interior is in desperate need of healing. No, the ugliness must be allowed to come out and be brought to the light. The insistence on pretty speech locks people inside little hells. Twice the sons of hell that their teachers are.

        P.S. There is a similarity here to Christians who are against any and all expressions of anger, despite the clear teaching of Ps 4:4, Eph 4:26, Rm 12:9, and Ja 1:19-21, to mention but a few verses. I’m not imputing this view to you; you haven’t told me what you mean by “lewd comments”.

        • Jesse Ratcliff

          Thanks for the detailed word study. Although somewhat misplaced as I wasn’t referring to the Bible but how certain people when being told the word dung is nearer to our word for ‘poo/faeces/etc’, start acting like they are 5 years old. Hence to avoid all this and communicate the sense of the passage more accurately I believe the translation is correct.

          • Luke Breuer

            Wait, do you disagree with Daniel B. Wallace’s “In hellenistic Greek it seems to stand somewhere between “crap” and “s**t.””?

          • Jesse Ratcliff

            No, I don’t disagree. But, as I said, the connotations in Greek would not be the same as in English where the term takes on a certain expletive meaning (unless you think Paul is resorting to unclean speech). So, to avoid the point Paul’s trying to make to be lost, better another word that better communicates his intent.

          • Luke Breuer

            (unless you think Paul is resorting to unclean speech)

            I’m fundamentally questioning what “unclean speech” means, on the basis that judging by appearances is evil, that Jesus cares about what is in our hearts. To ban “unclean speech” is to ban the revealing of darkness within, which seems 100% antithetical to Jesus’ message of freedom from sickness and darkness. Many Christians seem revolted at the mere utterance of expletives, while Jesus was happy to spend time with and be touched by lepers and prostitutes and tax collectors. There seems to be a pretty fundamental disconnect, here!

  • Seraphim

    Hi Pete, I actually agree that the Apostles dramatically reconfigured Israel’s story in light of the crucified and risen Jesus. But it seems to me like the reconfiguration depends on the fulfillment. In other words, we have the right to look at Israel’s story in a new light because of Jesus precisely because He is genuinely the fulfillment of Israel’s story. Could you roll with that?

  • Lotharson

    Ken Ham would most likely view you as a secularist trying to capture kids.

    It is entirely true that just attempting to change some Biblical interpretations is by far insufficient, it is this entire magical thinking about the Bible which needs to be overturned.

    The stakes are very high for intelligent children receiving a fundamentalist education are pretty likely to turn into militant atheists.

    • Censored

      Biological evolution quite simply destroys Biblical soteriology, with two competing salvage strategies:

      1. Twist evolution into a laughable “intelligent design.”

      2. Twist the Bible into an laughable interpretation like this:

      Just as it was in the days of [figurative/literal] Noah, so also will it be in the days of the [figurative/literal] Son of Man. ~Luke 17:26

      For just as through the disobedience of the [figurative/literal] one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the
      [figurative/literal] one man the many will be made righteous. ~Romans 5:19

      For as in [figurative/literal]Adam all die, so also in [figurative/literal] Christ all will be made alive. ~1 Corinthians 15:22

      Neither preservation strategy is going to salvage soteriology.

      But Christianity need not be given up on Jesus and Christianity, if one simply jettisons soteriology as a Pauline corruption. That’s what Thomas Jefferson did.

      Like cutting the ropes on the rigging in Master and Commander when a man went overboard, it’s time to cut the rope to Paul. Yeah, it’ll be sad.

      Or let the Christian ship sink.

  • Tommy

    “You must unlearn what you have learned.” -Yoda
    Ergo, Star Wars is totalitarian cinema.