Faith after Literalism: An Interview with Michael Gungor
Musician Michael Gungor talks about the controversy over the evolution of his views on evolution, science, and biblical authority.
Michael Gungor and his wife Lisa are Grammy-nominated musicians and co-leaders of the musical collective Gungor, which has released three studio albums and a live album. On August 2, World magazine published an article entitled “Gungor Drifts From Biblical Orthodoxy.” They reference a 2013 interview and several of Michael’s old blog posts, and accuse the band of slipping outside the bounds of biblical faith, particularly on issues of creation and biblical authority. World’s critique went viral on social media, prompting at least three concert cancellations as well as responses from Relevant magazine and Ken Ham. Michael responded last week in a widely read blog series entitled “I’m With You”. He agreed to talk with BioLogos about the controversy, as well as his support of evolutionary creation and his critique of biblical literalism.
BioLogos: Were you surprised that a church cancelled your concert because of your views on Genesis?
Michael Gungor: Well, as of right now, we’ve had three concerts cancel and a few other promoters are thinking about canceling. Am I surprised? Not really. Though I was kind of surprised that so many people seemed so surprised about my position! I’ve been pretty clear about my stance on Genesis for years. But I am, of course, disappointed.
BL: World Magazine quoted part of your blog “What Do We Believe?” in which you seem to equate your ruined belief in a literal Adam and Eve with your ruined belief in Santa. Yet you still claim Genesis as Holy Scripture. How did your faith survive this process of deconstruction, and in what sense is Genesis still “God’s Word” for you?
MG: I had to go through a period of perspective shifting, which can be a very scary and even painful thing to go through. But the perspective that I moved to could be summed up like this: Is it possible for a myth to be beautiful, important, and even “true”? And I now absolutely believe that the answer to that question is yes. There is a beauty to a great symphony or piece of poetry, for example, that has nothing to do with the other elements of “truth” like historical accuracy. Is the truth that speaks to us through Shakespeare’s Hamlet any less truthful because Hamlet is not a historically accurate story? Is it any less of a story? Likewise, does believing that Adam (a name meaning “man”) and Eve were not actually two individual naked people in a garden 6,000 years ago having conversation with a snake make the idea that “the wages of sin is death” any less true? In fact, are there any truths other than historical accuracy that we can glean from those stories that are less “true” if those stories are myths and poems? I don’t see any.
[Related: Read more discussion about Adam and Eve]
BL: Your 2011 album “Ghosts Upon The Earth” began with four tracks drawn from Genesis. You also named your 2012 live album “A Creation Liturgy”. Why are you so passionate about creation, especially in the context of worship?
MG: The Church has always taught that creation is a sort of testament of God, just as the Bible is. For me, personally, my faith has often come alive in the most profound ways when I take the time to “consider the heavens” as the Psalmist said. I often feel closer to God lying on my back and looking at the stars, or gazing out at a seemingly endless ocean, than I do in some church services. And as a worshipper, I think church songwriters too often overlook this testament of God. There is just so much poetry waiting to be discovered in the waves, wind and trees of God’s masterpiece.
BL: In your blog “A Worshipping Evolutionist”, you contrast your “anti-evolution” childhood with your current belief that the early chapters of Genesis are poetic in nature, and evolution really happened. What were the factors that influenced this significant shift in your thinking?
MG: I started reading the science because I was trying to convince my “godless” professor that he was wrong about the age of the earth and how life came to be so diverse on this planet. Fortunately, I was raised in a way that valued good thinking, so I wasn’t afraid of what I would find…until I found it. Then it was terrifying. I thought that what I was seeing might disprove the whole Bible. What I realize now is that this rather common view of Scripture is a very reductionistic and unhealthy one that has been handed to us from modernity. There is no reason to create the sort of dichotomies that many fundamentalists create where one is forced to believe every nuance of one particular interpretation of Scripture OR reject the whole thing outright. I think these dichotomies are a big reason that so many young adults and college students choose the latter.
BL: In one of your recent blogs, you say that “science and rational thought” make it impossible for you to believe in a literal Noah’s Ark, even though you still believe in miracles, heaven, resurrection, etc. Unfortunately, science and faith have had a difficult time co-existing without attempting to steamroll each other. Why do you think harmony is so difficult? How can Christians show the way forward in creating harmony between faith and science?
MG: I have a four-year-old girl named Amelie. She wears princess dresses nearly every day and usually has a stethoscope around her neck because she considers herself a princess doctor. This works well for a four year old, but let’s be honest, I wouldn’t want Sleeping Beauty operating on me. Nor do I necessarily want my surgeon entering the room in a frilly pink dress believing that she is actually a magical princess who can use her powers during my surgery. Princesses and doctors both have their place in society, but they probably shouldn’t compete with one another very often. If two different teams try to play two different games on the same field against each other, it’s probably not going to go very well.
Good scientists have a very clear road that lays out what they are trying to do. They are generally using observation and experimentation to understand the physical universe. They focus on questions like, “How did life arise on planet earth?” Religious people are also trying to understand the world we live in, but it is a different sort of understanding. It is questions like, “Why did life arise on earth?” that belongs in the realm of a philosophical or religious discussion. I think the problems happen when the two perspectives infringe into the other discipline’s zone. The scientists try to be philosophers and the philosophers try to fudge the science. I think a way forward is to adopt the position of so many Christians throughout history: Let scientists do the science, and if that plainly contradicts something we read in Scripture, then re-interpret how we are reading Scripture. The Bible makes for a great religious text, but it is not such a great science book. And vice versa.
BL: You titled your recent blog series “I’m With You” as a statement of solidarity with your critics. What do you mean by that? How can Christians dialogue more graciously on these important issues?
MG: I think that Christians need to realize that what we agree on is so much more important than what we disagree about. While this whole Genesis interpretation thing was boiling last week on social media, other Christians were being slaughtered in Iraq. While we were dividing over little interpretation issues, there are countless people still in need of clean water in the world. My point is that we have so much work to do, and any energy spent dividing and splintering is wasted energy. I wanted the fundamentalists that I see myself as being on the same team as them. I came from their ranks and in so far that their mission is to bring the life and hope of Jesus to the world, we are trying to do the exactly the same thing. So let’s have discussion. We can share a meal together and enjoy debating and philosophizing through the whole thing. But at the end of the day, let’s remember that we are in this together. And let us remember the prayer of the one who prayed in the garden before he was crucified: “May they be one as you and I are one.”
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