Angry Evangelicals

Posted: October 19, 2011 in Serious Stuff, Words

Once a month, I get a “news journal” in the mail from our Baptist state convention. There’s always a theme, usually related to a hot button issue or current debate.

This month, the topic is Genesis chapters 1-11. In case you’re not familiar, these chapters cover the creation story, Adam and Eve, the fall of man, the flood, Noah’s ark, and the tower of Babel. Classic stuff, right? That’s like the Bible’s Greatest Hits: Volume 1. So, the debate (and it’s not a new one) is whether these chapters record literal, historical events about the origins of the world and mankind, or are they fictional stories from an ancient civilization who was trying to make sense of their world.

I’m not going to tell you what to believe- there are intelligent, well-read, brilliant people on both sides of the debate. But I do want to say this:

I think you and I can disagree about some issues and still both escape hell.

Too often in theological debates, we turn minors into majors, molehills into mountains, and teddy bears into blood thirsty gorilla dogs. We leave no room for compromise, and demand that an extreme stance must be taken. For example, the articles in this month’s publication mention a seminar titled “Foundation or Fairy Tale? Preaching Genesis 1-11.” The implication there is that these chapters must be literal and therefore are pivotal to the entire gospel story, or they are silly, make believe bedtime fodder, on par with Hansel and Gretel. Either/Or. One or the other. There is no middle ground.

Another example: One professor says that we must understand these chapters to be literal because “if we don’t get the doctrine of creation right, then we’re probably not going to get anything else right.” In other words, “My opinion on this is right. Therefore, any other interpretation is wrong. And if you’re wrong about this, you’re probably wrong about everything.”

So divisive. Such a huge leap to be make. “If you’re wrong (you disagree with me) about this one, uncertain, highly debated issue, you probably don’t understand the gospel at all.”

Christian brothers and sisters, I implore you: Calm down.

There are some issues that are non-negotiable to our faith, (Jesus Christ is the son of God. His death on the cross atoned for sin. Anyone who puts their faith in him will be saved.) but there are countless areas and issues that we just can’t be certain about, and we need to be willing to show grace in those areas. Or, as the saying goes, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”

Stand your ground on the issues that are essential. Lovingly agree to disagree on the ones that aren’t.

And in all things, stop yelling at people.

  1. Agreed.

    We’re called to speak the truth in love. If we speak the truth, but don’t do so in love, we’re only a clanging cymbal.

    Or as I like to call them, wind chimes.

    And nobody likes wind chimes. They’re made by the devil.

  2. Matt Richard says:

    Great post Jared. On a side note, I would like to hear more of your perspective about the “denominational situation” we have in Texas. As a young Texas Baptist pastor, I often find myself discouraged by it.

    • yeshuab says:

      Matt, I dont know what will happen. I understand the discouragement….even though I may not be a Pastor, I still see the broken ship we keep trying to man. I just pray for real and vital revival amongst God’s people.

    • Jared says:

      One of my favorite parts of the baptist church is the autonomy of the local congregation, because it means I don’t have to be involved in the fights they insist on having. It seems to me that the spats are happening among the “old guard,” and denominational allegiance is waning among the younger generation, probably, in large part, because of the lack of unity.

  3. April says:

    “blood thirsty gorilla dogs” – LOVE IT.

    I agree with you Jared. We need to be focusing on unity right now, not division. I know that some people would disagree with me and say that debate is healthy and necessary – but I believe that our debate has become a stumbling block for too many. I know of far more skeptics and agnostics than I do fellow believers anymore. When I’ve asked them why, the response has been often the same: Too much arguing, not enough love. All they see is anger and judgment.

    I think about Dr. Utley and his statement, “there are a few things in my faith that are non-negotiable. The rest is up for discussion.” (my paraphrasing) I try to take that to heart. Those beliefs that I have I will debate – the rest of the time, I am up for peace and listening to each other.

  4. Evan says:

    One of the most ignored passages in the Bible by divisive people is John 17. You would think people would take note of Jesus’ prayer just before his death, but apparently not. Check out these 4 verses:

    20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

    How will the world know God? Through the unity of believers. Not through arguments and proving each other wrong.

  5. S Adams says:

    I don’t know if the writer of the articles (or anyone else in a similar position) would disagree with the assertion that we should stop dividing over non-essential matters. The question that necessarily presents itself is, where is the boundary drawn between what is essential and what is non-essential? It seems like the proponents of a strictly literal interpretation of Gen. 1-11 are really fighting for a certain understanding of the authority of Scripture and the role it plays in the life of the believer and the the church. In their view, figurizing (a real word?) Gen. 1-11 would necessarily undermine biblical authority. That is a huge concern, and one all Christians who take the Bible seriously need to wrestle with.

    It seems to me that automatically pinning the debate as over non-essentials will open the risk of the BDB-Friendly Camp (those advocating for a cessation of non-essential arguments) and those waging the debate to talk past one another. Perhaps a more helpful shift of the discussion would be to frame it as a question over the nature of biblical authority as a whole, which includes but is not limited to, the interpretation of Gen. 1-11. We maybe need to go back and make sure we’re on the same page as to what those essentials and non-essential are, because that seems to be where the real debate lies. Is that coherent?

    • Jared says:

      I agree with your point about examining and defining essential and nonessential issues. My broader point is that, regardless of the topic, there is a way to have the discussion that promotes love and unity. Arrogant posturing and finger wagging doesn’t do that. An attitude that says, “I’m right and you’re just being silly” doesn’t do that. Even when we disagree about “essentials,” humility, love and unity should trump the desire to be right or win.

      • Evan says:

        I agree Jared, matters like Creation and how we read the Bible are very important, but there is absolutely a way to discuss them in a humble and uplifting way. 2 Timothy 2:25 “correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,”

        We need to correct people with gentleness, not as if we are smarter and superior.

  6. yeshuab says:

    Jared, sadly we, as evangelicals, are like spoiled children who can’t find anything better to do than to argue over our own problems. We have become this self centered body who has forgotten the focus of our call. I agree with you man that there needs to be open and honest debate. We need to wrestle with the text and what it means. We need to sharpen one another as we seek truth. But for the LOVE of God can we quit cutting each other down for the sake of stroking my own ego. People are lost and need Jesus but we are to concentrated on our own toys in the sandbox to realize there are other children we need to invite in to play. Of course, who wants to play with a group of kids who always punch each other in the teeth?

    Good article.

  7. John Montgomery says:

    “agree to disagree”, remember who taught you that?

  8. Raegan says:

    Reminds me of a saying I use daily with my patients, one should always put in more effort trying to understand others than trying to be understood.

  9. Joel Hollier says:

    Well done, Jared. Whether or not the bible is filled with eye-witness accounts of history or guiding allegories regarding justice and morality, I think the lessons to be learned from it are the same. I think there is a growing “black and white” mindset in America today which promotes the “I’m right and you’re an idiot” philosophy. Divisiveness in any situation is harmful to the overall conversation and results in ill-feelings and combativeness among those involved. As John Stewart said “I Disagree With You, But I’m Pretty Sure You’re Not Hitler”.

    People on both sides of the debate need to enter in with an open mind and the acceptance that they could be wrong (I don’t believe a healthy dose of humility will hurt my faith). If that can be accomplished, then people will be more willing to listen to, and understand the points/logic/beliefs of the other people involved. I’ve always believed that you cannot convince anyone of anything unless you understand more about their views on the subject. My wife uses a technique called “reality testing” in her work as a psychologist, the first part of which involves understanding what they believe. Once you know what they believe and why, you can test that against observable reality. Although not exactly the same, I think the concept can be applied to theology as well.

    In the end, we all need to learn to listen more. You never know, that other person could be God’s instrument for enlightening you.

  10. I implore you to STOP BEING WRONG.

    Just kidding.

    One of my favorite verses from The Message translation is Colossians 1: 28 – “To be mature is to be basic. CHRIST! No more, no less.”

  11. Perhaps I’m exemplifying the very thing you mean to address in this post and, I hate to be the voice of dissension here but, if the first 11 chapters of Genesis are allegory, then the rest of the Bible doesn’t make much sense. The actual age of the Earth may not be that important, but if we did not all descend from a literal Adam, inheriting his sin, then we have no need for a Savior, and Christ died in vain. As much as squabbling over non-essentials may be unprofitable, I believe we are more prone in our generation to make the opposite error allowing for too few essentials. I’m sorry to disagree, but this one of those essential issues without which the Gospel becomes lost.

  12. Skottydog says:

    Standing your ground and lovingly disagreeing don’t have to be opposing forces, but they usually are. Especially the closer you are to the person you are not in agreement with. Why is that? My guess is that the more comfortable we are with someone the less politically correct we try to be, theological debates or otherwise.

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