Remember that scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when Indy and his dad (played by Sean Connery) fly a plane out of a blimp and engage in an air battle with Nazis? After a lengthy shootout, a crazy landing, and running from bullets as they strife the ground, Indy and his dad hunch for a moment in temporary shelter.
Connery picks that moment to explain, wide-eyed and surprised, “Those people were trying to kill us.”
“I know, Dad!” Indy shouts.
That frustration of being told something so obvious it makes you rage is exactly how I felt reading Kurt Eichenwald’s recent Newsweek piece called “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s A Sin.” As I ran down an all-too-familiar list of Ways In Which Some Evangelicals Get Scripture Wrong, I kept thinking, “Yeah, I know. And so do lots of evangelicals.”
Now, I’m often the first to complain when people hold a simplistic view of the Bible. So why did the hair on the back of my neck stand up so hard as I read this piece? I mean, Eichenwald and I agree on so much! There are indeed evangelicals who don’t understand where scripture came from, haven’t examined their own behavior in light of Biblical teaching, and cherry-pick which issues they care about.
But the tone of Eichenwald’s article would have us believe that this is true of the entire evangelical community, and that evangelicals find some kind of personal glee in being this way.
Rachel Held Evans wrote an excellent response defending the honor of thoughtful evangelicals everywhere, and I have to agree with her. Eichenwald’s caricature of evangelicals as people who don’t want to think is just plain wrong.
Here’s his other misstep. Like Indy’s dad, he states painfully obvious things as though they’re revelations to everyone but him.
Biblical inaccuracies, questions about historical authenticity, the story behind how creeds developed–okay, yes, you can probably find many evangelicals (and Christians of other persuasions) who don’t know these things, or don’t know all of them. Heck, I didn’t know all of them. But Eichenwald approaches the topic as if no evangelicals anywhere already wrestle with this stuff.
I grew up in an evangelical church, raised by a family with evangelical leanings, and my Christian college drew its student population from evangelical youth groups around the Midwest. Yet even I, steeped in this supposed cesspool of blissful ignorance, knew many of the things on Eichenwald’s list by the time I graduated college.
Differences exist between the gospels? Jesus’ divinity and Trinity theology aren’t spelled out in the New Testament? Scribes may have added things to the text? You don’t say! All this and more was covered in my sophomore year Synoptic Gospels class, which, if I recall correctly, was a requirement for all students.
You say a few alternate gospels didn’t make it into the New Testament? Gnosticism was a thing? My knowledge of that predates college, because my father learned about it when he studied to become a pastor, which leads me to assume that other pastors who graduated from his college attended those classes and learned it, too. (Has Eichenwald read excerpts from any of these extra gospels? I have.)
Many of the trappings of Christmas were adopted from a pagan tradition? Well guess what? Same goes for Easter, and Halloween (don’t make me go into that subject again).
I really lost my top, though, when Eichenwald brought up scriptural ambiguities about controversial issues such as the role of women and homosexuality. Dude. Please. Some of us have spent hours, hundreds of hours, hashing out those issues with other believers in very personal and raw ways. Get down in the trenches with us for an afternoon and then come tell me how much evangelicals do and don’t know about that. That’s like being at a Breast Cancer Awareness event and attempting to educate people about what cancer is. We get it. We’ve been here doing that work for years, long before you ever got the idea for this article.
I don’t want to be too hard on Eichenwald, because like I said, his basic premise is something I agree with. “Christian” politics are actually quite divorced from a faithful reading of scripture. Many beliefs handed down through church tradition should be reexamined in light of careful Biblical study. It is kind of silly to see the Old Testament as being a science textbook. And yes, there are evangelicals who don’t know much about the Bible, and who do great damage trying to enforce things they don’t understand.
But like I said, we get it. Many other evangelicals are aware of these issues, especially if they’ve been through seminary. Even those of us who haven’t studied to be pastors can really get busy with robust discussions about all of this.
I would like to invite Eichenwald to enter the conversation with us instead of continuing to point out that the conversation exists. Based on what he’s written, I’m sure he’d have a lot to contribute.