Creationism chases people out of church

Creationism chases people out of church January 21, 2012

Ken Ham is slowly killing the American church,” writes Joel Watch at Unsettled Christianity.

Kurt Willems agrees, posting a video at his Pangea blog in which he says “Preaching Against Evolution in Evangelical Churches Creates Atheists.”

I’d qualify Willems’ statement a bit. Preaching against evolution in evangelical churches doesn’t create atheists — it creates not-evangelicals. They were told that if evolution were true, then their faith would be a lie. And then they learned that evolution is true. Some of them may go on to become atheists. Others may go on to become Episcopalians. But some just stagger on for years with little identity other than not-evangelical.

But the basic point both Watch and Willems are making is an important one. The creationism of Ken Ham and Al Mohler is not true and therefore belief in it is not sustainable. I’ve made this argument quite a bit, as in “The Bible vs. The Facts?” where I wrote:

When Christian teachers like Mohler insist that the non-negotiable tenets of the faith include beliefs that can be and have been proven false, they set their followers up for inexorable crisis and calamity. It turns Christians into ex-Christians with industrial efficiency.

Or see “Hold on to the good” or “The walls came tumbling down.”

I’ve written about this a lot because I’ve met so many people over the years whose Christian faith was chained to some idea of young-earth creationism that dragged it down like a millstone.

And yet the more people are driven from the church by the unsustainable, unbelievable lies of creationists, the more desperately the creationists cling to those lies and insist on their centrality to the faith.

Roger Olson recently posted an essay from Michael Clawson that I think offers some insight into why the collapse of creationism is making its proponents ever-more vehement. In “Young, Restless and Fundamentalist: Neo-fundamentalism Among American Evangelicals,” Clawson argues that the anti-science defensiveness of late 20th-century “neo-fundamentalists” echoes the laager mentality of their early 20th-century ancestors:

Some conservative evangelicals are reacting to the contemporary influences of postmodernity in much the same way that the original fundamentalists did towards the influences of modernity a century ago — namely through hostility towards the broader culture, retrenchment around certain theological doctrines, and conflict with, or separatism from others within a more broadly defined evangelicalism.

… The driving force behind neo-fundamentalism, as with historic fundamentalism, is a “remnant mentality.” Neo-fundamentalists believe they alone are remaining true to the fullness of the gospel and orthodox faith while the rest of the evangelical church is in grave, near-apocalyptic danger of theological drift, moral laxity, and compromise with a postmodern culture – a culture which they see as being characterized by a skepticism towards Enlightenment conceptions of “absolute truth,” a pluralistic blending of diverse beliefs, values, and cultures, and a suspicion of hierarchies and traditional sources of authority. Because of this hostility toward postmodern ways of thinking, neo-fundamentalists have little tolerance for diversity of opinions among evangelicals on any issues they perceive as essential doctrines – which are most of them – as opposed to the broader evangelical movement which historically has allowed for a much wider range of disagreement on disputable matters. Neo-fundamentalists thus respond to the challenges of a postmodern culture by narrowing the boundaries of what they consider genuinely evangelical and orthodox Christianity, and rejecting those who maintain a more open stance.

Clawson’s description of this “neo-fundamentalism” is particularly interested in light of the fatal flaw that Watch, Willems and I all identify in the links above. Creationism, like all forms of this neo-fundamentalism, is championed as a militant defense of the church against the world. Yet in practice, creationism drives people out of the church.

It has the opposite effect from the one these neo-fundies are hoping for.

Clawson mentions John Piper, Al Mohler and Mark Driscoll as prominent examples of this neo-fundie “remnant mentality.” For an illustration of this, check out the poster promoting Mark Driscoll’s latest book, highlighted by Hemant Mehta and vorjack of Unreasonable Faith.

The poster emphasizes hierarchical gender relationships, suggesting that this is an essential belief if the church is to survive in the big scary postmodern world. It concludes by saying:

My grandchildren will worship the same God as me, because my children will worship the same God as me.

Vorjack’s cheerfully atheist response:

My grandfather was raised Southern Baptist.

My father was raised Southern Baptist.

… Hi.

It’s not just that the neo-fundie project doesn’t work, but that it’s counter-productive — that it accelerates the problem it imagines it is addressing. By emphasizing untenable doctrines like creationism or the divine right of husbands, and by insisting that these are central, requisite beliefs, the neo-fundies are chasing people out of the church.

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