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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why Are Some Conservative Christians So Adamant That They Have the Truth?

Every now and then I take notice of what's happening in the Evangelical/Fundamentalist world. After all, I am a product of that world and look for signs that there may be movement away from traditional stands that might mean conversations can begin in earnest, especially about LGBT issues. And there are signs. There is movement away from the rigid notions of anti-evolution, awareness that the Bible is not fully without error, and some even hold out for an open-ended future unknown by God. Yet, unfortunately, these and other more open views are not held by the majority of conservative Christians.

I'm most interested in their view of the authority of the Bible, as their fall-back, bedrock position on all gay issues is that the Bible is unequivocally opposed to homosexuality. That this is demonstrably not true is a subject I have taken up throughout this blog, and wrote a book about it. (See the side bar on the left of this post.) My latest posts on Satan point to the problems associated with this belief, yet one more needs to be written: "What Is Lost in Rejecting Belief in a Literal Satan?" Stay tuned. As a warm up to that post, I'd like to examine another sacrosanct belief in conservative Christianity, the belief in the literal Adam. It sheds a lot of light on their notion of biblical authority.

Recently, my attention was drawn to a blogger who listed ten reasons why Christians must believe in an historical Adam, by Kevin DeYoung. (Blog here.) Others have taken each of his ten points and evaluated them quite well. (Here, for example.) You will be rewarded by looking these over. However, my interest is not in engaging each point, but in looking at the bottom line issue that is the heart of Evangelical theology and clearly delineated in the post.

If you read DeYoung's post, there is really only one argument he made, and he made it over and over. It is this: We must believe in a literal, historical Adam because the Bible believes it. He uses Moses, Paul, and Luke as his authorities. This is a perfect example of circular reasoning. "We must believe the Bible, because the Bible believes it." A faulty syllogism is often used in a similar way: Major premise: "Everything in the Bible is true." Minor premise: "A literal Adam is in the Bible." Conclusion: "Therefore, there was a literal Adam." Syllogisms stand or fall based on their major premises (if syllogisms are useful at all). This one's major premise is demonstrably not true.

What's really going on here is a desperate attempt to save the whole of Evangelical theology which depends upon the whole biblical story being literally and historically true. Take any one plank away and the edifice falls to the ground, at least in their minds. So, for Paul's notions of sin and salvation, there must be a literal Adam, or his argument fails. If his argument fails, so does the substitutionary atonement doctrine (Jesus died in your place). If that falls, then Jesus as Savior falls with it. That is to say, the Evangelical notions fall, not necessarily the essence of Christianity itself.

So, what does all this have to do with a blog that is essentially about gay issues as they impact the Christian faith and the public square? Perhaps it will be clearer now why conservative Christians cling so desperately to the literal sense of a biblical text. Once we begin to allow for non-literal meanings, it's a slippery slope that can only end in a devaluing of the conservative Christian understanding of Christianity. It's less an argument against LGBTs and more about shoring up conservative doctrine. Gays and lesbians are collateral damage.

In the less rigid Evangelical circles, where social issues are becoming more important, along with a less literal understanding of some biblical stories, there is less interest in trotting out the clobber passages to beat LGBTs over the head with, and more interest in understanding and loving them. Interesting, huh. It seems you can't have a literal approach to the authority of Scripture and an openness to new information at the same time.

Conservative Christianity is closing ranks against the onslaught of the postmodern era, and is losing the battle. In a famous sermon in 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick asked, "Will the Fundamentalists Win?" We can now say it doesn't look like it. And with the diminishing of a literalistic approach to the Bible, we see an increase in acceptance of those we formerly thought were not suitable companions along the Way. Open Bibles, open minds, open Christianity; what a thought!

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