I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
I have been noticing a trend lately: in everyday conversation with some of my more conservative friends, in interactions on Facebook as well as some interactions with folks at my church. People seem very interested in talking about the topic of biblical inerrancy, especially after the release of God’s Not Dead, Noah and to a lesser degree The Son of God. The latter has seen the smallest release comparatively and has made $7 million less than God’s Not Dead and some $35 million less than the blockbuster Noah.
Those numbers seem to be a fairly accurate reflection of what I am finding in my interactions with my self-identifying conservative Christian friends from various circles. By and large these folks seem far more interested in defending very specific claims about the Bible than they do about God or God’s work in Christ.
When I heard some people were “boycotting” the Noah film because it lacked biblical accuracy, I was tempted to ask sarcastically which flood story of the two separate narratives intertwined in Genesis do you expect to be accurately represented? Do you hope to see God instruct Noah to bring two of every kind into the ark (Genesis 6:19-20) or every clean animal by sevens … and also of the birds of the sky, by sevens (Genesis 7:2-3). But I bit my tongue. It is often the same folks who get fired up if you tell them that not only the flood narrative, but also the Genesis creation account as well as the book of Job bear striking resemblance to other religious myths floating around the Ancient Near East. The striking difference is the way the Hebrew people told the stories. It truly said something new, something revelatory about God in contrast to what was going around. In the Gilgamesh flood myth for instance, there are many parallels: divinity sending a great flood, one man building a boat and he and his family escaping. There are also extremely important theological dissimilarities. For starters in the Gilgamesh epic the hero, Utnapishtim is warned by the god Ea, one of many gods who has been sworn to secrecy about the plan to cause a flood. In the Hebrew narrative there is only one God, maker of Heaven and Earth. In Gilgamesh the gods intend to wipe out humanity not start over. And at the end Utnapishtim and his wife are made divine and taken to the mouth of the river where the God’s reside.
Likewise, in other ANE creation accounts that bear a striking resemblance to Genesis in a number of ways, the god or gods are capricious or completely indifferent towards humanity. But in Genesis before God said this ground is cursed, God instructed till this ground. Before God pronounced tension between she and he, God said he should not be alone. Before God said they will labor by the sweat of their brow, God said the seed bearing plants and herbs are here for you. God has such a vested interest in creation it later leads the Psalmist to say,”You have made humankind a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands.” Similarly, Job bears some striking resemblances to the earlier Babylonian Theodicy. Both stories question conventional wisdom about reward and punishment and formulaic understandings of cosmic justice. Both stories have a man inflicted with much suffering, perhaps well meaning but really useless friends who rush to his side to insist he has angered God or the gods in some way and blame his woes on him. But the striking difference is in the Babylonian Theodicy the sufferer gets the last word and there is indication one of his friends might be converting to his view that perhaps the world is not fair after all. But in Job it is God who shows up to have the last word, to rebuke the conventional wisdom and insensitivity of Job’s friends and both vindicate and humble Job: Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand!
Yet Facebook, casual conversations and even church Bible studies can be a dangerous places to bring any of this up. One may get called a plethora of unkind names or worse have his or her authenticity as a Christian questioned.
But ironically I am simultaneously finding out that it is often the same folks are often quickly dismissive of essential parts of Nicene orthodoxy, portions of the apostles creed, historic and robust notions of the Lord’s Supper or Resurrection or even following the literal teachings of Jesus. I have sat in hyper evangelical Bible studies and heard the doctrine of the Trinity seriously scrutinized based on the fact that the word is not in the Bible and merely part of church tradition (often said in a contemptuous tone). I’ve been told in a Bible study I lead that Jesus didn’t really descend into Hell as we declare in the Apostles’ Creed. I mean if John Piper questions it then c’mon! it can’t be true! Right? I have been given sideways glances, smirks and disgruntled frowns and objections in both nondenominational and reformed churches for saying I adhere to what the the Belgic confession says about the Lord’s Supper. Or God forbid John Calvin’s emphatic, “By the matter, or substance [of the Lord’s Supper], I mean Christ, with his death and resurrection. By the effect, I understand redemption, justification, sanctification, eternal life, and all other benefits which Christ bestows upon us. Moreover, though all these things have respect to faith, I leave no room for the cavil, that when I say Christ is conceived by faith, I mean that he is only conceived by the intellect and imagination.”
No adherence to these antiquated beliefs about Jesus makes me a laughing stock amongst a lot of people who consider themselves biblical literalistic. But I am not quick to say I won’t break bread with someone, even someone who disagrees with me about the meaning of the bread and wine or who denies my catholicity, or standing as a fellow Christian. But here is the deathblow for me. It was very recently reported by Barna Group that: “only 5 percent of Americans believe that Jesus would support government’s ability to execute the worst criminals. Two percent of Catholics, 8 percent of Protestants, and 10 percent of practicing Christians said their faith’s founder would offer his support.” And yet the same Christians when asked if they would give their support to the death penalty didn’t really seem to give much concern to the question “what would Jesus do?” The Study reported that:
When asked if they agreed that “the government should have the option to execute the worst criminals,” 42 percent of self-identified Christian boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, said “yes.” Only 32 percent of self-identified Christian millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, said the same thing
So here is my dilemma as I sit and stare at this screen tonight… I have heard of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But it seems American evangelical Christianity has thrown Jesus out to cling to a very specific version of the flood waters and other Bible passages that one not dare read differently or else… Well I ask or else what? It seems to me we have come to the point of insisting that people worship the ink and paper of the library of books we call the Bible rather than the living breathing Word of God who was with God in the beginning, who was God and through whom all things were made. Well I just cannot do that. As the old hymn goes take the world [and I would add with that the temporal paper and ink of Holy writ, as important and sacred as it is] but give me Jesus! Always Jesus! Please, don’t throw the savior out with a possible allegorical reading of the flood waters.