The evangelical mind must obey the moneyed enforcers of the tribe

Peter Enns offers a powerful one-two punch on the subject of what Mark Noll called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

First up was a post by Enns himself, titled, “‘If They Only Knew What I Thought’: The Sad Cycle of Evangelical Biblical Scholarship.”

He discusses both the frustration of students at evangelical institutions, who often feel, he writes, “they have been lied to by their teachers.” And he discusses the flip-side of that same problem, the overbearing pressure on those teachers to lie to their students because they’re not allowed to teach what they know to be true.

Once they start teaching, they bring with them the excitement of learning new things, some synthesis of old and new for their students, because they feel such conversations are necessary for intellectual and spiritual health.

But Evangelicalism does not exist to create these conversations, but to keep them from happening — or perhaps from getting out of hand. Decision makers are gatekeepers, and they rarely have the training or the inclination to walk the same intellectual and spiritual path. A strong response is inevitable.

This leaves these scholars to ponder how to engage that conversation with their students carefully but with integrity — which is to consign themselves to a life of cognitive dissonance. Either that or they bury their academic and spiritual instincts for fear of losing their jobs.

This is what happens to the “best and brightest” Evangelicals.

… The best Evangelical minds trained in the best research institutions have to make believe they don’t know what they know.

Making believe that you don’t know what you know is simply dishonest — it’s morally wrong. But I don’t place the blame for this primarily on those professors — they’re doing what they’re forced to do on threat of losing their livelihood. That doesn’t excuse them, or justify their dishonesty, but it points to where the greater blame for this corrupt system lies.

I place the bulk of that greater blame on the schools themselves, the institutions forcing these professors to “bury their academic and spiritual instincts for fear of losing their jobs.”

Enns recounts one anecdote from an evangelical scholar who returned to teach at the evangelical school he attended before going on to a less sectarian, more honest school to attain his higher degrees. The younger scholar …

… asked his former professor, now colleague, why he was sent to graduate school with so many gaps in his learning. The answer: “Our job was to protect you from this information so as not to shipwreck your faith.”

Enns’ response is brutally blunt:

I would replace “your faith” with “our system” and then I think we are closer to the truth.

The follow-up post at Enns’ site is by Dr. David Lincicum, lecturer in New Testament Studies at Oxford University, whom Enns introduces by saying:

Like many younger and academically trained evangelicals, Lincicum has had to do some thinking about the pressing tensions between his evangelical heritage and his academic training. The relationship between the two has been put into sharper relief for him by virtue of his time spent in a British evangelical context.

That difference between the American and British evangelical contexts is important. If evangelicalism were primarily a theological tradition, then British and American evangelicals would be more similar than they are. But American evangelicalism has ceased to be mainly a theological category. It’s now mainly a political subculture, a tribe. That tribalism in service of partisan politics is what forces American evangelical scholars to “make believe they don’t know what they know.”

Lincicum discusses this tribally enforced ignorance or pretense of ignorance in his guest post, titled: “Lament for a Maternal Home (or, Is There No Place for Believing Criticism in Evangelicalism?)“:

Recent months have witnessed a scene that is becoming all too familiar in contemporary North American evangelicalism: a noted evangelical scholar makes statements about Scripture that seem edgy or uncomfortable. The self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy turn on him, calling him to account for his errors in a public flagellation; their verdicts, in turn, are parroted by the petty tyrants of blogdom and the new social media. After repeated failed attempts to assuage his combatants, the embattled figure steps down from his post to avoid further distraction or pain.

… Evangelicals have a penchant for policing their borders that can be downright shocking in its brutality. Such parsimoniousness is the luxury of an establishment that is quickly fading in the West as we find ourselves at the dawn of a fully post-Christian age.

… The specter of anti-intellectualism (which has been haunting evangelicalism from its youth) rises in the doublespeak that says, “We are happy for you to use the best tools and methods available, as long as your conclusions agree with our own.”

The “thirst for control expressed in this theological McCarthyism,” Lincicum writes, is leading a younger generation of evangelical scholars to despair of whether honest scholarship will ever be permitted in American evangelicalism. “We dream of working at evangelical institutions without signing doctrinal statements with fingers crossed and one eye closed,” he writes.

Enns’ initial post has more than 5,100 “shares” and “likes.” I’d bet that many of those come from professors and graduate students at evangelical institutions who nervously clicked that “like” button while looking over their shoulders. They’re fearful that this small act of rebellion might somehow be found out by administrators enforcing the tribal boundaries insisted upon by the school’s wealthy donors.

Enns presumes the best motives of these administrators and gatekeepers. I do not. “Decision makers are gatekeepers,” Enns wrote, “and they rarely have the training or the inclination to walk the same intellectual and spiritual path.”

This disinclination of the “gatekeepers” is not due to a lack of academic training, nor even to intellectual timidity. It’s due to money.

What is and what is not permissible inquiry at evangelical institutions is determined by those institutions’ wealthy donors. It’s not that these donors are theologically conservative, but that they are politically conservative. Their theology is in service of their politics, which in turn is in service of their wealth.

That wealth — its acquisition, preservation and multiplication — is what shapes the boundaries of the evangelical tribe.

  • Lori

    The “thirst for control expressed in this theological McCarthyism,”
    Lincicum writes, is leading a younger generation of evangelical scholars
    to despair of whether honest scholarship will ever be permitted in
    American evangelicalism.

    To quote the Magic 8 ball, “Don’t count on it.”

    I think American evangelicalism has hardened beyond that. People who are looking for openness and honesty and the ability to disagree and who are looking to American evangelicalism are looking in the wrong place. I know all the arguments about helping to push for change from within, but my honest opinion based on years of close observation is that if folks want  something else from their religion and/or their politics they’re going to have to leave the tribe and seek out or create a new and better one. 

  • Ian needs a nickname

    It takes a certain kind of crazy to keep fighting from the inside.   The kind of crazy that believes that God responds to hardness of heart with plagues.

    Experimental theology: if there is a God, and if God is love, God will not let them go on like this forever.

    Perhaps we need to find a way for Evangelical scholars to publish anonymously. It’s a sign of how far things have sunk that we’re reduced to talking about samizdat, but we do remember which side won in Eastern Europe don’t we?

    They have the money, control of the institutions and they occupy many of the pulpits.  They have the power of fear, and they have our silence.  That is all they have.  We have love and truth and laughter, and if God is not on our side then there is no God.

    Most of us should go find better, safer homes elsewhere.  If you do, please pray for those of us who remain.  Somebody’s got to be crazy enough to keep trying to change things from the inside, 
    “’cause the circle of hatred continues unless we react
    that’s why we’ve got to take the power back”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqkMsXcHQYg 

  • Münchner Kindl

    The “thirst for control expressed in this theological McCarthyism,” Lincicum writes, is leading a younger generation of evangelical scholars to despair of whether honest scholarship will ever be permitted in American evangelicalism. “We dream of working at evangelical institutions without signing doctrinal statements with fingers crossed and one eye closed,” he writes.

    Any people who hope that US evangelism will ever allow honest scholarship are deceiving themselves. They need to wake up and look at reality: that evangelism / fundamentalism started in the first place not out of theological need or tradition, but as reaction to the start of (critical) Biblical scholarship, esp. in Europe and Germany: linguists looking at the Bible as another text, not divinly inspired; archealogists discovering things in the Middle East; historians discovering similar myths in older religions … All that came together to a new study subject of Biblical science.

    And people felt threatened that others would loose their faith if they learned that the Bible was not inerrant. It speaks more about how weak that faith is – a faith endangered every time something bad happens, because if God is all-powerful and all-good, then how can bad things happen? (One of the major reasons middle-age people who have not wrestled with their faith in any form before often stop going to Church in all countries).

    But still, that faith is endangered by knowledge and therefore, knowledge must be banned is the founding premise of US style evangelism (otherwise known as fundamentalism), so to expect that people will allow learning is backwards.

    Anybody really interested in learning will eventually leave and go to other branches of protestant faith. (Or loose their faith because of the lies).

  • Münchner Kindl

    Oh, forgot to add: that reaction is over 100 years old – biblical science started in the late 19th century.

    So if during all those generations, true scholarship has not been allowed, why should it ever be?

    The only way to change is with feet – and the money attached to them.

  • LMM22

    The younger scholar …… asked his former professor, now colleague, why he was sent to graduate school with so many gaps in his learning. The answer: “Our job was to protect you from this information so as not to shipwreck your faith.”

    The real question I’ve got to wonder is, did the older professor believe what he said?If this has been going on for awhile, that prof had to have had a conversation with his professor, some fifty years back. — At which point, perhaps, the divide was not quite so clear. But I am certain it was clear enough to begin with.

    This is like abstinance-only education, in which we sacrifice the long-term well-being of our children to their parents’ sanctimonious beliefs about how the world *should* work, studies and truth and personal experience be damned.

  • Nospam

     There is a chicken-and-egg question here– leaders need followers, and if leaders say things their followers don’t want to hear, then they either have to change their tune, or find different followers. Some of those followers have money, but that doesn’t mean the other followers wouldn’t agree with them regardless.

  • Tonio

    The answer: “Our job
    was to protect you from this information so as not to shipwreck your
    faith.”

    Reminds me of Patrick 
    Henry College
    :

    “When they leave here,” he says, “they’re going to have to go
    into the public sector. And they will embarrass themselves and
    embarrass us if they take naive, unfounded arguments out there with
    them.”

    When it was time for college, Gibson entertained a notion of applying to
    Columbia University. But an alumnus warned: “You’re putting yourself in
    a position where you’re going to be asked to question a lot of things.”
    At Patrick Henry, Gibson says, the professors don’t try to “tear down
    what you’ve built, what your parents have spent 18 years
    building.”

    Uh, isn’t questioning a basis for higher education in the first place?

    a faith endangered every time something bad happens, because if God is
    all-powerful and all-good, then how can bad things happen?

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by “wrestling with faith.” Instead of describing a position that a god exists, you seem to be describing a type of trust.

  • Lori

    Experimental theology: if there is a God, and if God is love, God will not let them go on like this forever. 

    Logic and knowledge of history: Nothing lasts forever.

    Sure you can stick it out until some distant day when time and demographics do their work and then say that God finally intervened, but while you’re doing that you’re feeding the thing you claim to want to change. You’re providing them with money and numbers, which they’re using to hurt people. And unless you’re pitching a very public fit on a regular basis (which you’re not or they would disfellowship you) you’re virtually certainly also giving them the impression that you agree with them. People have a remarkable ability to see only the things they want to see.

    Somebody’s got to be crazy enough to keep trying to change things from the inside,    

    Why? If enough people leave American Evangelicalism the enterprise will lose much of its power and there won’t really be an issue.

    I can sort of understand why devout Catholics have a hard time leaving because they believe they need to have those particular sacraments delivered through that particular structure. I disagree, but I understand how someone can feel that way. I don’t really see why people in less rigidly structured faiths can’t go somewhere less hateful.

    If you, or anyone else, is attached to the idea of continuing to push for change from within then obviously that’s your choice to make. It isn’t something that you have to do though and framing it that way probably isn’t helpful.

  • noyatin

    Hey Fred:

    Congratulations on getting a shout-out from Andrew Sullivan at The Dish this morning:
    http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/06/can-jury-duty-help-the-unemployed.html

  • Münchner Kindl

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by “wrestling with faith.” Instead of describing a position that a god exists, you seem to be describing a type of trust.

    “Wrestling with faith” is part of normal growing-up process*, similar to moving to a more adult stage of moralism than “I do what’s good because I get a cookie, and I avoid bad because I get punished”. Once you get older than 12 or 14, you notice bad things happen in the world, and the question of theodicee appears. This question is “Why does a loving, all-powerful God allow bad things to happen to good people?” Smart people have wrestled with this for centuries, back before the book of Ijob, and it’s still a thorny question because not everybody is satisfied with the usual answers.

    As knowledge broadens and young people get inquisitive and look outside their known borders, they also discover other faiths that claim to be true, other sects in their own faith, and philosophy/ atheism. All that tests faith and requires honest looking and searching in order to reach an adult level of faith.

    This is similar to other growing-up parts: a 5-year old has faith/ trust on a very deep emotional level that their parents are powerful and can protect them and make things right. When they become teens, they discover that the world is chaotic, their parents are just humans with faults, and things will never be perfect. Even if they manage to forgive their parents for their faults and accept them, they can never go back and create that elementary faith again.

    Those people who don’t grow up just don’t bother with any of this. They have no curiosity, are not interested in growing in any direction besides physical, and shy away from any topics that could lead in that direction.

    *Obviously, sadly, a lot of people don’t grow up, but stay on the emotional level of 10-year olds.

  • histrogeek

    And it is self-re-enforcing. Because of the lack of permitted inquiry, professors and lectures can’t just quit and send out resumes to other colleges. The school they’re teaching at has such a (deservedly) low reputation everywhere else that their positions and degrees are treated like World’s Greatest Teacher certificates at other schools.  So no place to jump to.

  • Tonio

    I’ve never had anything that constituted “faith” that a god exists, either as a child or as an adult, so the question of theodicy never occurred to me. Instead, I felt (and still feel) that it was just in the nature of existence that bad things happened to good people and that one should not expect the world to be inherently just.

    As an adult, I’ve questioned the assumption behind theodicy, which is the existence of a “loving, all-powerful god.” It treats those qualities as though they’re the only natural or logical ones for a god to have. I reject the assumption, just as I reject Mark Twain’s assumption that the state of the world means that any god would be a malign thug. The theodicy question doesn’t explain why the god would be all-powerful, instead of somewhat less so like the Greek or Norse gods. I suppose my stance qualifies as a rejection of all assumptions about the matter, since I have no way of knowing whether gods exist and, if so, what traits they possess. If I had grown up on a desert island, or otherwise isolated from all religion, the idea of gods might never have occurred to me.

  • VMink

    It’s a gross oversimplification, but when my mother was dying, the phrase that went through my mind was:  Omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent: Pick two.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    I know all the arguments about helping to push for change from within,
    but my honest opinion based on years of close observation is that if
    folks want  something else from their religion and/or their politics
    they’re going to have to leave the tribe and seek out or create a new
    and better one.

    That’s why I don’t consider myself an evangelical anymore.  My faith draws from the evangelical tradition, but it also draws from the Catholic tradition and many others.  But just like I have no desire to support the institution of the Catholic church right now (individual organizations who do good work are a different story), I’m no longer supporting the evangelical church in funding or numbers. I felt a little uncomfortable when  I went to an evangelical church in high school and they’ve only become more and more hard-hearted and close-minded in the last ten years.

  • Green Eggs and Ham

    I graduated from Bible College in Canada almost 30 years ago.  There was evidence that the faculty had been exposed to serious biblical scholarship; one of my professors most certainly used critical methods solely  in biblical interpretation.  (They also never gave him tenure.)   Here’s the kicker:

    Very few of the students were interested in any of the questions he was asking or the answers he was giving.   They seemed, for example,  both uninformed on the question of Isaiah’s authorship and indifferent to the problems such a question posed.

    They had all come to bible school to become clergymen or missionaries.  They had no interest in biting the hand that would feed them.

    The flip side of the moneyed gatekeepers who will allow no questions are the students with money who will ask no questions.

  • Anonymous

    I think the first article is weakened by being nonspecific.  I’d love to see some examples of what the teachers in evangelical universities are asked to lie about, other than biology and evolution.

  • Mark Z.

    Instead of describing a position that a god exists, you seem to be describing a type of trust.

    That’s what faith is. “Faith” does not mean “a position that a god exists”.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Part of the problem is that these institutions come from a tradition built upon appeals to authority.  Ostensibly, the Bible is the highest authority in this movement, but no two people take the same thing away from the Bible when they read it, and the authority of it is undermined by this.  

    Unfortunately, this need for authoritative declaration with something that require interpretation in order to be applicable tends to a system of circular logic where biblical scholarship is concerned.  “I trust this person’s interpretation of the Bible because they are devout and well-respected Biblical scholars.”  However, the defining here is “This person is a devout and well-respected Biblical scholar because their interpretation of the Bible agrees with my own.”  

    This is what you get when you combine and authoritarian mentality with the idea that everyone can be an authority.  There is no clear vetting, no clear hierarchy of trust, and it comes down to who can bully enough other people out of the spotlight for their interpretation to take wide acceptance as the “true” authority.  

  • swbarnes2

    I think the title has it all backwards.  Those church organizations have a lot of money because a lot of people believe what they say, and so give them money to keep saying it, because they support the teaching.

    I dislike this constant “Oh poor evangelicals, they don’t support what I support, their wicked leaders must have hijacked their beliefs!  Let’s wait for gay people to save them!” as if they are totally passive, and not responsible for the things they support.

  • MaryKaye

    I don’t know about Evangelicals, but among Catholics it really is the case that the leadership is pushing something that the majority of American Catholics do not believe.  It’s not just that they use birth control guiltily while saying that they oppose it; a majority of them say that they do NOT oppose it.  I don’t think the Church gets more money from the rank and file of American Catholics by opposing birth control at all.

    They may, however, get more money from a small cadre of rich donors.  That’s the problem with “money equals support” in an era of gross wealth disparities.  We see the same thing at my secular University:  the opinions of a few wealthy alumni outweigh the opinions of much larger numbers of students, faculty, and non-wealthy alumni.

    As to why people don’t vote with their feet?  A lot of them do.  (My life-long Catholic father is seriously considering becoming an Episcopalian.)  But the Evangelical churches have put a ton of effort into making liberal churches seem like evil, untenable alternatives.

    I see it like this.  I was raised Catholic and became an atheist in high school, even though I am temperamentally rather unsuited to be an atheist.  I had rejected the religion I was taught but I had swallowed, unnoticed, some of its premises:  a key one was “Christianity and atheism are the only intellectually respectable alternatives for a Westerner.  You can’t follow a non-Western religion and everyone knows Paganism is silly.”

    When I finally realized this was just another lie, I became a Pagan.  But it took over ten years.  I think a lot of Evangelicals may be in the same situation:  they are not happy where they are but they have been taught that they have no viable alternatives.

  • http://snarkthebold.blogspot.com/ Edo

    At least one of the commenters on that first thread suggests that you’re onto something there. (And they may not have a viable alternative; a pastor without an M.Div. from the right seminary may defect straight into unemployment.)

  • swbarnes2

    I don’t know about Evangelicals, but among Catholics it really is the case that the leadership is pushing something that the majority of American Catholics do not believe.  It’s not just that they use birth control guiltily while saying that they oppose it; a majority of them say that they do NOT oppose it. 

    Sure, but I’m wondering if that statistic is being misinterpreted.  You’ve seen the article that people were linking to a while about abortion clinic protesters going in for abortions, and not thinking there was anything wrong with that?  I think it’s the same thinking behind all those old people on medicare-paid scooters who want to deny health care to other people.

    I think a lot of conservative beliefs and behaviors can be explained by them thinking “Sex/pleasure/job security/health care are my due, but no one else is good enough for that stuff, and if they get it, they did so illegitimately.  And if something goes wrong for them, it’s what they deserve for trying to reach for something they aren’t good enough for”.

    So lots of Catholics use birth control, sure.  But do they really think that everyone else ought to have access to them?  It’s not clear to me that all those Catholics using birth control think that, but that would explain why so many Catholics keep putting money in the collection plates.

  • Tricksterson

    Evangelicalism and fundamentalism aren’t necesarily te same thing, in fact whule they started from the same soutcce ( I think) they went in nearly opposite directions, one, evangelicalism turning outward while fundamentalism turned inwards.  Not sure when they started to merge together (or back together) although from what Fred has said in other artticles sounds like around the Seventies.

  • Tricksterson

    I don’t know about now but back when I was raised in the Catholic Church (sort of, it’s complicated) and going to Catholic schools (this was in the 60s and 70s) “no salvation outside the Church” was very much alive.  Not officially, perhaps, this was after Vatican Council 2, but very much in the culture.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

     It’s not clear to me that all those Catholics using birth control think
    that, but that would explain why so many Catholics keep putting money in
    the collection plates.

    Possibly partially because, for many people, “putting money in the collection plates” means “make sure that this building still has heating and free coffee, and keep the kids program running” rather than “fund political campaigns”.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I dislike this constant “Oh poor evangelicals, they don’t support what I support, their wicked leaders must have hijacked their beliefs!  Let’s wait for gay people to save them!” as if they are totally passive, and not responsible for the things they support. 

    For my part, I would rather look at them with an deliberate eye for mercy, lest their behavior feed my inclination to wrath.  

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I can sort of understand why devout Catholics have a hard time leaving because they believe they need to have those particular sacraments delivered through that particular structure.

    For the record, many of us don’t think that we’d be hell-bound if not for the sacraments administered through the Church. There is more than one reason for staying despite strong objection to various actions of the hierarchy, but the only one I seem to hear non-Catholics voice is that we’re all duped by superstition so are afraid of losing the magic.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent: Pick two.

    The first two. Take love over power every time.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    So lots of Catholics use birth control, sure.  But do they really think that everyone else ought to have access to them? 

    Yes. In my experience (as a Catholic woman who grew up around Catholic women and discusses such things with many Catholics, laity and consecrated alike), the predominant view (in my culture, anyway) is that contraception should be available to all to use in accord with one’s own conscience.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    That sounds so painful though. “I know every bad thing that will ever happen to everyone, ever, and I can’t do anything to help most people. Ain’t that a kick in the teeth?”

  • Lori

     

    Possibly partially because, for many people, “putting money in the
    collection plates” means “make sure that this building still has heating
    and free coffee, and keep the kids program running” rather than “fund
    political campaigns”.  

    I get that, I really do. The problem is that unless there’s a mechanism for directed tithing the money in the collection plate is going to support child rapists and their enablers at the same time it’s keeping the kids’ program running. And I’m not sure what to say about the idea that heat in the church building and free coffee is more important than the reality that the official Church is pedophile-enabling, waging war on the personhood of women and engaging in partisan politics. There are other organization which provide excellent programs for kids while not doing those things and maybe they deserve the money (and heat & free coffee) more.

  • Lori

     

    There is more than one reason for staying despite strong objection to
    various actions of the hierarchy, but the only one I seem to hear
    non-Catholics voice is that we’re all duped by superstition so are
    afraid of losing the magic.  

    Just to clarify: I didn’t say anything remotely like this. I understand that people have more than one reason for not leaving the Catholic church and I didn’t dispute that. What I said was that the only reason for staying that I really understand is the belief that the Church is necessary for salvation. Because honestly, I couldn’t support the Church as it currently exists for any reason less than a belief that my immortal soul was at stake*. Even then I’d prefer to think I’d take the “I’ll go to hell then” option, but that’s a high standard if you take it seriously and I try not to flatter myself.

    *I do not believe in the existence of an immortal soul, so this is entirely hypothetical.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Just to clarify: I didn’t say anything remotely like this. I understand that people have more than one reason for not leaving the Catholic church and I didn’t dispute that.

    OK. There’s been a collection of comments about why Catholics remain Catholic which at one end seem to boil down to my summary. Your comment wasn’t at that end, so I apologise for implying that it was.

    What I said was that the only reason for staying that I really understand is the belief that the Church is necessary for salvation.

    And I was reading fast so didn’t pick up the distinction that the stated reason is the only one you understand, rather than the only one you claim exists. Again, my reaction was more to the category of comments than your particular one, so sorry for appearing specific when I should have been general.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    That sounds so painful though.

    Yeah, it is. Possibly the single concept that’s helped me the most is Abraham Joshua Heschel’s expression of divine pathos. I believe that God suffers at the suffering of humanity–and the rest of the natural world, for that matter. In my experience, solidarity of suffering is fundamental to love, so it’s a core part of my understanding of God.

    “I know every bad thing that will ever happen to everyone, ever, and I can’t do anything to help most people. Ain’t that a kick in the teeth?”

    I don’t know if you intended for that to sound as flippant as it does. I’ve never responded to the suffering of someone I love with “ain’t that a kick in the teeth?” My response usually involves insomnia and nausea, and I believe that God is infinitely more loving than I am.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I think the statement was intended to be strictly about the capabilities of a hypothetical God, and said being’s inability to correct all the bad things which will be known to happen.

    It’s things like that which make horror stories out of a human knowing the future and being unable to take steps to correct said future.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    The better Superman writers sort of approach that, particularly the story in Garth Ennis’ HITMAN featuring Superman. Basically, for the character to have any ‘me time’ whatsoever he has to let people die in tsunamis and vehicle accidents, and this is largely ignored until one of the better writers chooses to center a story around it. 

  • hf

    “I know every bad thing that will ever happen to everyone, ever, and I
    can’t do anything to help most people. Ain’t that a kick in the teeth?”

    Actually, it doesn’t mean that at all. Which seems like the real reason this theology fails. (Well, that and Löb’s Theorem. But you could claim Löb doesn’t apply.)

  • Münchner Kindl

    I’ve never had anything that constituted “faith” that a god exists, either as a child or as an adult, so the question of theodicy never occurred to me.

    Okay, that’s fine. But the article and discussion was about Christians – people who grow up in a Christian family and start with a belief and a faith in God.

    And if you had grown up on a desert island – well, you wouldn’t be human without any contacts to other humans. But we know from watching other societies that the belief in supernatural / Gods is universal. You can also observe it with individual children: they go through a “magic” phase around primary school (when they believe they can cause something bad to happen by wishing for it). And around age 11-13, many teens become deeply spiritual, interested in mystic and afterlife.

    Obviously, if their whole enviroment is so toxic that they reject everything faith-based as self-defence, or if they are so uninterested that they only care about BigMacs and video games, they don’t experience this. But enough children do to make it a known developmental stage for child psychologists and the like

  • Robert Landbeck

    “That wealth — its acquisition, preservation and multiplication — is what shapes the boundaries of the evangelical tribe.” Wealth has corrupted the whole of Christianity since Constantine bankrolled the early Roman church. It’s message and teaching no less so! The conundrum has always been how to exposed it? Now there is a Way that can’t be bought or sold at any price!

    The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise, predefined and predictable experience and called ‘the first Resurrection’ in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods’ willingness to real Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine transcendence and ultimate proof!

    Thus ‘faith’ becomes an act of trust in action, to search and discover this direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power that confirms divine will, law, command and covenant, which at the same time, realigns our moral compass with the Divine,  “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists. Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and religious revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at http://www.energon.org.uk,
    http://soulgineering.com/2011/05/22/the-final-freedoms/

  • Ed Jones

    Over against the fundamentalist and
    far too many liberal theologians, we have the present Jesus understanding held
    by certain of our top theologians .       
            

    A viable
    historical solution to the “Jesus Puzzle” has taken place within the Guild of
    NT studies, the only discipline capable, not only of identifying our primary
    Scriptural source of apostolic witness to Jesus, but of appropriately
    interpreting this source as well.  However, “few are they who find it” even among
    well-known NT scholars. Finding it, this historical solution, is “a task to
    which specialized knowledge in the areas of philology, form and redaction
    criticism, literary criticism, history of religions, and New Testament theology
    necessarily applies.” (Hans Dieter Betz). “Over the last two centuries, there
    gradually emerged a new access to Jesus, made available through objective
    historical research.” (James M. Robinson). Under the force of present
    historical methods and knowledge this new access was brought to a highly creditable
    understanding during the 1980’s.  Schubert Ogden: “We now know not only that
    none of the Old Testament writings is prophetic witness to Jesus, but also that
    none of the writings of the New Testament is apostolic witness as the early
    church itself understood apostolicity. The sufficient  evidence for this point in the case of the New
    Testament writings is that all of them have been shown to depend on sources,
    written or oral, earlier than themselves, and hence not to be the original and
    originating witness that the early church mistook them to be in judging them to
    be apostolic. [“The sufficient evidence” without the agonizing mythical detail
    of what the writings of the NT does contain, which now supplies the grist for the
    blogsphere mythicists’ mill]  – - the
    witness of the apostles is still rightly taken to be the real ‘Christian’
    (Jesus tradition) norm, even if we today have to locate this norm, not In the
    writings of the New Testament but in the earliest stratum of witness accessible
    to us, given our own methods of historical analysis and reconstruction.”  Betz identifies this earliest stratum to be
    the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-7:27). “This source presents us with an
    early form – deriving from (the Jerusalem Jesus Movement, to date it around 50
    CE) — which had direct links to the teaching the historical Jesus and thus
    constituted an alternative to Gentile Christianity (hence to orthodox
    Christianity) as known above all from the letters of Paul and the Gospels, as
    well as the later writings of the New Testament.  [All are written in the context of imaging the
    Christ of faith, not the man Jesus]. If the Sermon on the Mount represents a
    response to the teaching of Jesus critical of that of (Pauline) Gentile Christianity,
    then it serves unmistakably to underline the well-known fact of how little we
    know of Jesus and his teaching. The reasons for our lack of knowledge are of a
    hermeneutical sort and cannot be overcome by an excess of good will
    (apologetics).  The Gentile Christian
    authors of the Gospels transmitted to us only that part of the teaching of
    Jesus that they themselves understood, they handed on only that which they were
    able to translate into the thought categories of Gentile Christianity, and
    which they judged to be worthy of transmission. (More to the point they
    included no more than they thought sufficient to lend historical credence to
    their Pauline Christ of faith myth). – - from these texts his original teaching
    can neither be reconstructed nor abstracted in its entirety.”  This calls for a new reconstruction of
    post-execution Jesus traditions. Ed Jones Dialogue -Vridar is such an attempt.                   

  • John

    Interesting discussion, as an evangelical in a Canadian context in the process of Masters work at a Liberal school, I can’t help but agree to some extent. American evangelicalism makes me sick, and the fact that evangelicals in many cases do not ask or answer questions quickly removes the possibility of intellectual credibility. A few thoughts from my perspective..

    1. The fundamental framework of modern evangelicalism is built on a type of experience that one might root in Kierkegaard’s philosophy, which simultaneously birthed the existentialist movement in the last century, no one above seemed to say this, thus experience tends to trump all.

    2. Evangelicalism is poised more than ever to become the faith of the future worldwide (as it explodes in Africa, Asia and South America), and this fact means that it is about much more than simply American politics.

    3. Evangelicals have long feared postmodernism as “the removal of truth,” but in fact postmodern thought largely offers a boost to evangelicalism. Rather than being the big bad wolf, the crisis of epistemological truth that comes with postmodernism has created more room than ever for faith. As the foundations of modernity which birthed the historical critical movement crumbled, purely hermeneutic approaches to texts have emerged which complement evangelical readings of scripture, as the hunt for some historically objective “author” is abandoned in favor of the experience of the reader as the “real.” One might say that this gives it a type of intellectual credibility….

    4. One of the greatest limits of historiographical materialism is its inability to comment on the possibility of any category of the metaphysical. This is where evangelicalism lives…

    All this being said, I long for a climate where evangelicalism welcomes questions and genuine discussion. The article is completely right, and it hits a little too close to home, even for a Canadian. Remarkably, I have spent considerable time in a liberal seminary, and after extensive work in historical (including textual) criticism, philosophical theology, hermeneutics and comparative religion,  I can still say that I’m quite comfortable being an evangelical, and feel that I have good reasons for it, not least of which is that my faith is nurtured in an evangelical setting. If evangelicals were more convinced of the value of SOME OF what they have to offer, they wouldn’t worry as much about their young people losing their faith.


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