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I Believe the Word You’re Looking for is Gaslighting

I Believe the Word You’re Looking for is Gaslighting November 11, 2021

Well, I’ve just spent a remarkably long time watching the French president make a speech and put a wreath at the grave of someone super important who, as far I can make out, seems to have been exhumed for such a time as this. I wasn’t really awake enough to grasp the details. I do like listening to President Macron make speeches, even if I can’t understand quite everything he is going on about. He speaks very elegant and soothing French.

But then it was time to think about what to blog about, and I was teetering on the edge of saying something super snarky about Jeffrey Toobin, of all people, castigating other people for being idiots, when Matt told me to read this thing by Michael Bird about how one of the great bad things of the moment is Christians in America lecturing other people around the world about the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.

As someone who is constantly irritated with Americans lecturing other people around the world about things, I am generally prepared to be on the side of people complaining about that sort of thing. But as the long substack wore on, I felt both fatigued and irritated, because, well, only part of the story ever seems to be told. The context always seems to be left beaten and dead by the wayside, or only referred to in the most derogatory tones. It couldn’t be, for example, that the debates over inerrancy occurred in a time when actual people were chipping away at the theological foundation of the church. It had to just be that Americans are myopically focused on those things that are never important or real. Anyway, he says this:

However, in some circles of American evangelicalism, inerrancy is more than a useful doctrine, it is the center and sum of a theological universe. American evangelicals demand a rigid precision for inerrancy not shared by the global church, they position inerrancy rather than christology as the chief marker of orthodoxy, and they police inerrancy in their networks with a Taliban-esque ferocity. Look, evangelicals outside of America believe in the Bible, I am a case in point, but for many conservative evangelicals in America, inerrancy is bigger than Jesus!

And also this:

My suspicion is that inerrancy was formulated in such a way in the USA so as to be a fortified castle against German biblical criticism, low views of Scripture in mainline churches, and the relativization of the Bible in mainstream culture. However, while many American evangelicals preached the inerrancy of the text, what they often practiced was the inerrancy of their interpretation and the hegemony of their tribe in certain denominations. Raising the banner of inerrancy was a great way to strike fear into folks that the secular barbarians were at the gates and to justify canceling persons who interpreted the Bible in such a way that undermined the power base of certain leaders. In other words, inerrancy was a castle but soon became a concentration camp. [emphasis his]

And also this:

Beale criticized the global church because they don’t possess the myopic and puritanical focus on inerrancy that characterizes conservative American evangelicalism. To be honest, if you look at American conservative evangelicalism now, foaming at the mouth over CRT, and half of them prostrating before Trump, I want to avoid anything that will even remotely make global churches look like US conservative evangelical churches in these respects. If my American friends expect us global evangelicals to cancel Andrew McGowan or Michael Licona to prove our commitment to the truth of Holy Scripture, I would like to invite my American friends to jump in a very frosty lake full on snapping turtles. I’d invite McGowan and Licona to speak to any of my students and I wouldn’t take seriously anyone saying that they are a threat to the truth of the Bible. Now, I know someone is gonna say, “But the SBC Conservative resurgence saved the SBC from becoming another dying mainline denomination by battening down the hatches on inerrancy.” To which I say, “Huzzah, I’m happy for you.” I don’t like totes cray cray theological progressives either. I understand showing the door to rabid liberals who think Jesus and Buddha are saying the same thing, Paul was a Gnostic universalist, we should refer to God as the “heavenly monad without a gonad,” and we should add the writings Deepak Chopra to the canon. But what I don’t get, is, “INERRANCY IS THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IT IS THE ONLY ARTICLE OF FAITH AND EVERYTHING ELSE IS WINDOW DRESSING.”

So anyway, I am definitely not the person to be weighing into this trouble, but, again, as someone who lived through the gentle slide toward and then sudden careening off of a cliff into total apostasy of a denomination that I loved and did not want to have to live through its demise, I think this is sups (since we’re having this conversation in that sort of colloquial linguistic tone) disingenuous. Or maybe Dr. Bird is just very naïve? I guess I shouldn’t question the motives of the writer, even though he is absolutely doing that for those about whom he has penned this deathless prose. Observe how he is “problematizing” the question of inerrancy. He insists that he believes in it, and that it’s totes important, but it shouldn’t be the “only” thing. Which isn’t what people who drum on endlessly about it think. It’s just that those who see the threat on the horizon–which is actually not a horizon anymore, but our actual “lived experience”–know that the battleground is the scriptures—are they true? Are they binding? Do you have to obey them? And worse, can you understand what they say? The reason so many Christians possibly, though I don’t really agree, seem hysterical about the issue is because they know that picking away at the scriptures is the first baby step in throwing over the whole business of being Christian while claiming not to do that. It’s called gaslighting, actually, and it’s a horrible thing to do, because it shifts the ground just enough to make people feel crazy but not enough that they know why. They become insecure, and embarrassed about their own beliefs, and are then in just the position to throw it all away at the first whiff of persecution. For Michael Bird to throw around grenades like “Trump” and “CRT” means either he just wants clicks, or he wants people not to worry about whether or not the Bible is trustworthy. It’s like, what was that, it just happened just last week…oh, I remember! How all the voters of Virginia said they didn’t want CRT in the schools, when apparently, there is no CRT in the schools, even though there is totally CRT in the schools.

Anyway, I gotta go. I would say that I definitely have more to say about this, but I probably won’t have time to “circle back” because there are so many other cray cray things out there I will probably get distracted. Have a nice day!

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash


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