Compromised Christians?

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April 13, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Douglas Swartzendruber. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Compromised Christians?

Though I support the mission and projects of the BioLogos Foundation, I decided to watch Ken Ham's State of the Nation 2 address to hear his concerns about the project. I learned about Mr. Ham’s grave concerns for this nation. I was surprised to hear that Ham directly attributes many of our country's woes—from abortion to pornography to gay marriage to evolution curriculum to euthanasia to President Obama’s policies— to a failure to uphold a literal reading of Genesis.

In his State of the Nation, Ham suggested that BioLogos’ founder, its personnel and its supporters are among a large number of “compromised” Christians—who are compromised because they interpret Genesis differently than Mr. Ham.

He also noted that BioLogos President Darrel Falk and Vice President Karl Giberson are compromised Nazarenes who are participants in the destruction of the church.

Further, I learned that BioLogos-types who accept evolutionary science are part of a plan by atheists such as Eugenie Scott of using compromised Christians to advance secular humanism, evolution and Darwinism as the new national religion, expunging Christianity from what had previously been a Christian nation founded on the Word of God.

I certainly learned a lot of new things. But probably most of all, I was sad.

Here is a man of considerable influence, lecturing to an adoring crowd, presenting an hour of untruths, half-truths, and faulty reasoning mixed in with enough truth to give the impression of veracity and authority.

Beginning with the myth of the United States being established as a Christian nation through his foundational claim that if you do not read the Hebrew Scriptures as he does, you will be unable to properly read the Gospel, Mr. Ham weaves an engaging but flawed message.

Although Mr. Ham has stated that all of our society’s problems are the result of sin, it seems quite apparent that he believes evolutionary science is a prime mover in leading people into sin. Further, he cautions that if one cannot believe Genesis 1, one might not believe anything in the Bible. While there are certainly answers in Genesis, they are not necessarily those found through Ham’s organization Answers in Genesis.

The error of Mr. Ham’s approach to interpreting Genesis was presented in great detail 1600 years ago by Augustine. Many current writers expand upon Augustine’s thoughts and likewise critique the so-called literal interpretation of Scripture.

My friend and colleague Richard Hughes, author of Christian America and the Kingdom of God and Myths America Lives By notes that:

millions of conservative Christians in the United States read the Bible through a variety of American perspectives that are utterly foreign to the biblical text. And they read the Bible in this way because they so often identify the kingdom of God with the United States of America. Based on that conviction, many confuse the principles of the Bible with the principles of the Constitution, biblical morality with capitalism, defense of the Christian religion with militarism, and fidelity to the kingdom of God with patriotism.

Similarly, in his review of Harvey Cox’s book, The Future of Faith, César Baldelomar states:

Cox argues that fundamentalists are biblically irresponsible. He discusses how believing in a literal interpretation of the Bible became “a kind of litmus test of whether one was a ‘real Christian.’” But which Bible do fundamentalists believe in? And how do they interpret the Bible they believe in? These questions prompt Cox to take us on a journey through the three worlds of biblical interpretation to reveal the several contradictions inherent in the scriptures. Rather than dismiss these contradictions, literal biblical readers should acknowledge them and engage the world behind the text, of the text, and in front of the text. Moreover, learning Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin can help the biblical reader overcome meanings that are lost in translation.

It is interesting that Ken Ham and Richard Dawkins are delivering the same message from disparate perspectives – one must choose between having Christian faith and accepting evolution. You must be either anti-evolution or anti-religion. Christians who accept evolution are “compromised” and atheist/agnostic evolutionists who are not anti-faith are “accomodationists.”

I believe that BioLogos and like-minded folks are following a third way, one that I would describe as that of discerning Christians who believe that knowledge and understanding of the natural world should not be a threat to faith. They need not be mutually exclusive.

Although Mr. Ham would consider me a compromised Christian, [along with Augustine, the BioLogos folks, Hughes, Cox and many others], I do not accept his criteria for being a real Christian. I do not doubt his sincerity, but I do believe that his time, energy, passion and resources are misguided.

Rather than hinging an understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus on Genesis 1, I look to Matthew 25:31 and following, which I believe is the only time Jesus talked about how we would be judged - “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”


Douglas Swartzendruber retired from full time university work in August after having served at Pepperdine University as a professor of biology and associate dean of the undergraduate college and at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs as a professor of biology, chairman of the biology department, and interim dean of letters, arts and sciences. Swartzendruber is now heading up the BioLogos curriculum project for Christian schools.


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Martin Rizley - #10953

April 23rd 2010

or that literally rose from the dead, in such a way that his body left the tomb.”  I rejected that line of thinking with regard to the gospels, because it went against common sense and a straightforward reading of the text.  I listened to what my professors had to say, but then I read the gospels for myself and saw that they were just plain wrong.  Here I was, an undergraduate who had not even gotten his B. A. degree yet, but I knew more about the nature of the gospels than men with Phds.!  Don’t you believe that is possible, Rich?  Or is scholarly attainment a guarantee of insight into the meaning of God’s Word?  Did not David say, “I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:99).  The fact that there are parallels between the Genesis creation narrative and earlier pagan mythological accounts is easily explained if all these accounts are derived from an earlier inspired account written on tablets or passed on by oral tradition.  In that case, the Babylonian, Akkadian creation stories would represent pagan corruptions of that earlier account, whereas Genesis preserves it in pure form—even though it was written later than the Babylonian account (continued).


Rich - #10955

April 23rd 2010

Martin (#10951):

The sense of what Moses is saying is that God destroyed all humans and land animals with a flood.  But in the process of describing the mechanism of the flood, Moses uses language which is not merely “technically incorrect” but “just plain incorrect”, i.e., cosmographically false.  Calvin is not a big enough fool to try to pretend that the cosmography is somehow true.  But some American fundamentalists are, and they perform all manner of twisted reasonings to try to force literal Biblical statements which are erroneous into conformity with what we now know about the world, because if such gymnastics aren’t successful, the Bible will have to be declared erroneous, and their narrow doctrine of inerrancy cannot tolerate that.  So they waste their intellects and years of their lives arguing about things that Calvin would never have argued about, and that Jesus wouldn’t have spent five minutes on.


Martin Rizley - #10956

April 23rd 2010

So I am not saying, Rich, that the biblical scholar must recognize the opinion of a less educated laymen as EQUAL to his own.  I am saying that sometimes he must recognize that the views of the uneducated “ploughboy with a Bible in his hand” are actually SUPERIOR to the ideas he has been imbibing in the ‘rarified atmosphere’ of academia.  Perhaps the fact that Adam’s and Noah’s names appear in a list of Jesus’ historical ancestors actually DOES mean that they were historical figures after all!  What a novel idea!  I’ve got to go now. . .perhaps I can respond to some of the other points you raised later.


Rich - #10957

April 23rd 2010

Martin (post 2 continued from above):

I have no idea whether Calvin would have signed the Chicago Statement or not.  I feel certain that he would not have agreed with the way in which a number of American fundamentalists *interpret* that statement.

The difficulty would be solved if everyone would just agree to the notion that the Bible is inerrant “in matters of faith and morals” or words to that effect.  Thus, if any historical or geographical statement in the Bible *is* crucial to either faith or morals, then it is protected by the formula; but it is left open which statements are crucial.  So obviously the key events in the life of Jesus are going to be “matters of faith and morals”, and anything in the Apostles’ Creed will be; but if some people are not convinced that literal 24-hour days, or waters above the stars, or some other things, are “matters of faith and morals”, then it should be possible for Christians to disagree over those things.  But many fundamentalists are not willing to leave it at that.  Thus, in taking unnecessary stands on, say, the age of the earth, the Church loses people like riverrunner above (#9811) to unbelief.  I hope the fundamentalists are prepared to answer for that, when the time comes.


Rich - #10959

April 23rd 2010

Martin (post 3 continued from above):

Obviously if your professors had openly abandoned Christian faith, there was no reason why you should treat their statements as representing the teaching of the Church.  I don’t see the problem there.  Bart Ehrman is up front in saying that he doesn’t speak as a Christian when he analyzes the Gospels to nothingness.  So in a case like that, you’re forewarned and forearmed.

I do see a problem when professors are wandering away from the Christian faith, but don’t have the courage to admit it, even to themselves.  Those are the dangerous ones, because students don’t know what they are up against, and the liberal-tending-to-atheist profs can really mess their students’ heads around, infecting them with the chaos in their own souls.  I always tell students to study with a frank atheist before studying with a purported Christian who seems embarrassed by talk of God, sin, eternity, purity, etc.  You know where Dawkins stands; who knows where John Shelby Spong stands?


Martin Rizley - #10963

April 23rd 2010

Rich,  Surely you are aware of the fact that many college and seminary professors who deny the bodily resurrection and virgin birth regard themselves as Christians, according to their own modified definition of the word ‘Christian.’  They would view you as not having quite rid your system of ‘fundamentalism’ for still hanging onto a literal resurrection and a literal virgin birth—you have simply failed to deal with the vast difference between the mythological mindset of the first century and our own more enlightened mindset which KNOWS that dead men do not rise and that children are not born of virginal mothers.  They would say, ‘What is important is not the historical factuality of these events, but their theological meaning for us in the present day.”  Jesus is alive, in the sense that He lives on in the lives of those who walk in love!  But that His physical body rotted in some Palestinian tomb should be of no great concern to us, if we have faith in the God of love.  No one who turns on a light switch can believe that men literally rise from the dead!”  I have heard men talk that way, Rich—men who sincerely regard themselves as Christians, but who are in essence calling the apostles liars.


Martin Rizley - #10964

April 23rd 2010

Rich, Just a word about the creation days.  I think that the issue of 24 hours duration should be put in a different category than whether or not Adam and Eve existed.  The Bible speaks explicitly of the latter, but not of the former.  Therefore, I agree with the following doctrinal statement of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry:  “Within Christianity there is room for the interpretation of the creation days to be literal seven 24 hour periods but also longer periods. Nevertheless, Adam and Eve were real people, created by God just as Genesis says. CARM does not affirm macro evolution or theistic evolution (that God used evolution to bring humanity into existence) but denies them both. Micro evolution, the modification of existing species with existing genetic information, is within the realm of Christian orthodoxy. We did not evolve from other species into our present condition. The General theory of evolution is unscriptural and counter-factual.”  I can say more on this topic, but I will not elaborate now; only, I believe that while in terms of their ‘composition,’ all six days were literal days of light and darkness, we cannot be dogmatic about the ‘duration’ of the first three, non-solar days (continued).


Martin Rizley - #10966

April 23rd 2010

Finally, a word about what constitutes an ‘article of faith.’  Perhaps you are right that this term has been used historically to refer to truths affirmed in particular confessions and creeds.  In a less technical sense, however, I would say that any truth to which God has clearly testified in Scripture is an article of faith.  It is to be believed on God’s own authority, because He testifies to it, even if it is contradicted by men.  “Let God be found true, though every man be a liar.”  I personally believe that the Bible teaches that the Flood was a ‘world-destroying flood.’  That is how Peter describes it; it was something other than the regional floods we see in Bangladesh and other countries in our own day.  It wiped out all human beings living in that day, except for the eight on the ark.  It is true that it is hard to reconcile that teaching with some of the physical data—especially if you only allow for interpretations of the data that follow the accepted ‘rules’ of science.  Among those rules is the rule that only ‘naturalistic’ explanations are permitted.  Quite frankly, I don’t think Christians need to be bound by that rule in the interpretations they entertain as theoretically possible (cont.)


Martin Rizley - #10968

April 23rd 2010

It is entirely possible that God used extraordinary means to rapidly transport, multiply and diversify the animals that came off the ark, to repopulate the earth within an amazingly short time.  He would not have been bound to work only in a ‘naturalistic’ manner.  Notice how He miraculously transported the evangelist Philip from one place to another after he baptized the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:40.  Could He not have done something similar with animals populations that came off the ark, instead of waiting for them to migrate slowly from one place to another?  Could He not have cloned vast numbers of animals from cells taken from a mere handful, as He used genetic material from Adam to create Eve?  Could He not have protected them supernaturally from being decimated through disease, etc.?  Could He not have accelerated genetic diversity by ‘tweeking their genes’?  I am not saying that God did these things, I am talking about what is hypothetically possible when you presuppose a biblical worldview.  If you believe such scenarios are ‘unworthy of God,’ you would never consider them for a moment, but that is not how all people think (continued).


Martin Rizley - #10970

April 23rd 2010

As I see it, it is not necessary to ‘prove’ any one of these alternative scenarios.  The role of creationist theories—like that of the creeds—is not to ‘explain’ divine mysteries, but simply to ‘defend’ them against rationalistic assaults, by exposing the rationalistic bias and the naturalistic assumptions that underlie all theories that seek to ‘evaporate’ the historical accuracy of passages like Genesis 6-9.  If it can be shown that God has ‘ways and means’ of accomplishing His will other than those which scientific naturalists permit Him to have, enough has been said to uphold the truth of the various miracles recorded in Scripture, even if ‘alternate’ creationist interpretations can never be proven to the satisfaction of those seeking rational certainty.  Remember—just because an explanation of something is ‘uncertain,’ ‘unproven,’ or dependent on the operation of supernatural forces outside the realm of nature, that doesn’t make it necessarily wrong.


Rich - #10973

April 23rd 2010

Martin:

I fully acknowledge the existence of the kind of professor you are talking about.  I don’t mind them as long as they openly acknowledge that they are heretics, instead of trying to pretend that they believe what the Church really taught all along.  In other words, they should say openly that they are offering a new and improved (in their view) version of Christianity, and not deceptively pretend to be upholding the old version.  I can’t stomach Bultmann because he’s deceptive.

That said, there is a difference between a prof who re-interprets a story or book or passage because he has capitulated to modern views, and a prof who does the same not because he feels driven by outside pressures but because he believes that he has sound textual or historical or theological reasons.  Fundamentalists don’t seem capable of distinguishing between these two cases.


Rich - #10976

April 23rd 2010

Martin:

I won’t quarrel over how to read the Flood narrative.  Essentially you’ve chosen Option B.  And no one can disprove the possibility that God did numerous unrecorded miracles to repopulate the earth and erase all scientific traces of the global Flood.  Why on earth God would want to do that, I have no idea.  He’s eternal and could easily afford to “wait” (so to speak) until everything restocked naturally, and I can’t imagine why he would want to make it look as if there had been no global Flood.  But I suppose an inscrutable God might do odd things.  I can’t disprove it.  I don’t believe it, however.  And one always has to ask oneself if one would make such complex adjustments to rescue the Flood story if it had been found only in Hindu or Chinese or Zoroastrian or Amerindian sacred texts.  But I’ll leave it at that.  Overall, I find your positions reasonable given your assumptions, and your presentation civilized.  Best wishes.


Martin Rizley - #11008

April 23rd 2010

Rich,
Like you, I have no desire to quarrel with you.  Both you and I must stand before God alone and give an account to Him of what we have believed and testified to others; God alone is qualified to judge our hearts.  I understand that there are many questions yet to be answered if one interprets Genesis 6-9 as literal history—but then, evolutionists must admit that there are features of the natural world that they themselves have a hard time explaining.  That doesn’t make them give up their theory, for which they believe there is sufficient evidence.  A good brief summary of the reasons why I believe that Genesis 1-11 must be interpreted as historical narrative, not as myth, is found at the following website (by the way, it is a British, not an “American Fundamentalist” website):    http://www.biblicalcreation.org.uk/theology_philosophy/bcs058.html


Rodney Marsh - #35353

October 19th 2010

I have been labeled by CMI as a “compromising chaplain” (see http://creation.com/compromising-chaplain-castigates-creation). I didn’t realise that “compromising” was a pejorative label (not just an adjective) until I came upon Ken’s article. in my experience, the major reason young people reject the option to believe in Christ, is Creationism. Creationism (rather than godless “evolution”) is the major obstacle to faith. I wrote “After much thought and prayer, I have reached the position that Creationism is one of the major factors for the ridicule in which the Christian Faith is held in many secondary schools and Universities. No one has provided more ammunition for Richard Dawkins’s views than Creation Science. Students know that a six day creation is a ludicrous idea and therefore they think that to believe in the Bible or a Creator (as I do) is just not tenable (This is a church—please leave your brains at the door). I think this is a tragedy which can only be remedied by Creation Scientists (so called) backing down from their misinterpretation of the Bible and their opposition to Science.” I still believe this is not a compromise or unbelief, but just plain Biblically faithful, wise as serpents, good sense.


Douglas Swartzendruber - #38402

November 4th 2010

Rodney - thanks for your comments and link - I believe that you are right on.

ds


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