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What? Seriously? Is the church at odds with science and new understandings of the Bible? Well, I suppose there are some churches that are at odds with science, and some that are at odds with new understandings of the Bible. But where in the world does a question like that even come from?
Recently, Michael Luo, editor of newyorker.com, wrote an article that he believes characterizes the state of the American church today (https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-wasting-of-the-evangelical-mind). He observed that “the comity between faith and scientific rationality that had previously existed began to fracture after the Civil War.” He continued, “The church found itself increasingly at odds with advances in science and also new understandings of the Bible.” Then, to explain further, he said, “The social and intellectual upheaval of the late nineteenth century eventually led to a repture in Protestantism. Some drifted toward theological liberalism, rejecting historically orthodox beliefs and Jesus’ birth, humanity’s need for salvation , and other supernatural parts of the Bible; others retrenched and formed the fundamentalist movement.”
Now from a strictly historical perspective, there is a certain amount of truth there. A great divide did emerge within Christian churches in America after the Civil War, and the fault line fell primarily between Evangelicals and mainline Protestantism. However, the nature of that divide is different from what Luo asserts in his article. He believes that Evangelicals moved into emotionalism and anti-science, while the mainline Protestants took a more intellectual course. Of course, Luo’s perspective suggests that the more “intellectual” course represents the truth, while Evangelicals operate more out of ignorance.
Now while he didn’t say specifically, what do you suppose he means when he talks about “science” and a “new understandings of the Bible?” It is actually not hard to figure out. Luo himself identifies with what he considers the “intellectual” point of view, and that viewpoint is based on naturalistic worldview beliefs. When referring to science, he is not really referring to science as the use of experiment and observation to learn new things about the natural universe. Rather, he is referring to naturalistic assumptions about the nature of the world – a world where transcendent reality does not exist – and equating that with science. And when speaking of “new understandings of the Bible,” he is specifically referring to liberal theological perspectives that do not believe in miracles, and which focus completely on creating a “just society” in this world.
The truth is, Luo is not alone in his belief that people who take the Bible seriously are ignorant. It is a very pervasive belief among those who accept virtually any form of liberal theology. After all, how can any intelligent person believe in the “miracles and superstitions” that a literal reading of the Bible proposes. They believe that there are certainly good ethical principles that can be derived from reading the Bible, but that the Bible itself is certainly not literally a revelation from God. It is more like the Bible contains ethical truths that humanity has distilled throughout evolutionary history.
What these people end up with is belief in Naturalism with a veneer of biblical vocabulary. They believe in the theory of evolution because natural laws operating in a natural universe is the only model they will accept. And all of the miracles that are written in the Bible are considered to be metaphorical expressions of important moral and ethical principles that human beings have ultimately discerned based on the social evolution of the human species throughout time. They believe that there is no transcendent source for these principles, and as societies evolve, these principles will also continue to evolve. They believe that in the current era, the idea of social justice represents the way ethics and morality should be expressed.
The truth is, Luo is wrong. He is wrong about the beliefs of Evangelicals, and he is wrong about the viability of liberal theology. But, perhaps, where he does strike a little close to home is in the fact that a large portion, perhaps even a large majority, of evangelical Christians are ignorant of their own faith. George Barna, in his recent polling, has actually shown that to be true. The problem, however, is not in evangelical beliefs, but in the lack of understanding that most Evangelicals have of their beliefs. That is the problem that must be corrected, and it will only happen as evangelical Christians begin to take seriously the Bible’s admonition to become equipped to carry the gospel to the world.
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
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