The Casualty Problem (Hardman, parts 3 of 3)

Today we have the third and final post in Randy Hardman’s 3 part series on his experiences as an official Christian apologist and why he felt he had to move on from that vocation (see part one and part two). (Readers interested in similar posts on this theme can find them beginning herehere and here.)

Hardman holds a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion from Appalachian State University and will graduate this Spring from Asbury Theological Seminary with an M.A. in Biblical Studies and an M.A. in Theological Studies. He blogs at www.thebarainitiative.com, is the father of two wonderful children, a church consultant for a mainline Christian publisher, and a freelance writer.

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My last two posts (here and here) dealt with my testimony as a trained apologist and a transformation that took place when I allowed myself to really stop thinking of faith as a science. This post still deals with what I find to be a strange irony in the discipline of apologetics, namely, the insistence on a “rational and well thought out” faith with the insistence on upholding scriptural inerrancy and creationism.

To that end, I have to confess that I am incredibly bothered by the fact that the popular apologetics movement laments the 75% of students who leave the faith (they say, “because they don’t have intellectual answers for what they believe”) and yet they demand that one cannot embrace certain conclusions of their disciplines, no matter how well thought out and evidenced.

It is my conviction that when we insist that young people have to choose between evolution and God or the critical results of scholarship and faith, we are not at all helping students overcome some of the intellectual barriers and questions they might have. Rather, we contribute to the swath of students who find Christianity to be opposed to reason.

A few years ago I had lunch with a friend of mine. Through our friendship, we find ourselves routinely at odds on theological points (strangely, these odds started to only become exposed as I was starting to leave the popular apologetics mold).

As I was currently enrolled in a Biblical Studies program at Asbury Theological Seminary, he posed me a question: “Randy, what do you think? Did Luke and Matthew use Mark as a source?” I don’t really know what answer he expected from me but I just looked at him and said, “Absolutely! That’s pretty near consensus in NT scholarship…I don’t see any reason to doubt it!”

My friends eyes widened as he sat back in his seat, threw his hands up in the air, and said, “No, no, no…They didn’t use Mark as a source. That’s just a theory promoted by the Devil and populated through Bultmannian scholarship.”

I went back to my pizza.

What lay behind my friend’s assertion was a conviction that critical biblical scholarship was necessarily inimical to Christian faith. One could not approach the Bible with the same scrutiny as other historical works for, in doing so, one was threatening faith.

In light of this perceived threat, evangelicals developed the doctrine of inerrancy, set in hand with the tools to deal with any possible contradiction one might dream of!

Likewise, years ago I heard a well respected Ph.D. young earther remark, “One day, as a teenager, I sat with the Bible in one hand and On the Origin of Species in the other and made a decision on which one I would commit my life to.” As a young earther, he obviously chose the Bible (in case you were wondering). Everything for this scientist–a scientist with impeccable credentials I might add–was to be read through his interpretive lens of literalism.

The problem, as you are probably suspecting, is this: When we caricature Christianity by such narrow boundaries, we run the risk of making Christianity anti-intellectual. Even more dangerous, however, is that when we promote views like these in the vein of “apologetics” and “Christian intellectualism” we run the risk of making our intellectual Christianity anti-intellectual.

What happens, for example, when a student told all his life that he must choose “God or Darwin” enrolls in a biology major? Or, as in my case, what happens when we are told that the existence of a contradiction invalidates the Bible? As I noted in my previous post, I was a young earther and an inerrantist for quite some time, and I can tell you personally that struggling with overwhelming evidence on both fronts is something I wish no one need deal with.

How I made it through without reverting to a cold, hard atheism is beyond me. But what I do know is that there are too many casualties who don’t make it through for the same reasons. I have watched too many friends abandon all trust in God because they were told they need to choose between the boundaries set by evangelical apologetics and science.

Is the risk of being wrong about evolution or inerrancy really worth the loss of countless Christians who unnecessarily struggled? Are our casualties really worth it if, after it’s all said and done, we find out that we’ve been fighting for illusionary principles and doctrines after all?

While my own struggle didn’t predominately have to do with “having the right answers,” I can tell you that the mere exhaustion of trying to intellectually reconcile evolution and God and contradictions with Scripture weakened my soul to a point that I was probably more susceptible towards the attractions of this world. Indeed, after reading some of the creative reconciliations designed by inerrantists, who wouldn’t want to just get high and think about nothing?! (sorry–I had to).

The point is this: When popular apologetics builds itself up as the “case for” you name it, it can certainly succeed in portraying itself as more rigorous than it is. But, ultimately, all theories fall into some bit of tension, and if we are so convinced that our rigorous case necessitates rigorous boundaries, we will inevitably contribute to–not reverse–the intellectual (and sometimes, therefore, spiritual) rejection of Christianity.


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