January 21, 2021

Recommended Reading: Provocative Posts I’ve Spotted around the Web


Tim Gombis ran a most interesting post at his blog this week, discussing a phenomenon he has observed when teaching the Bible to evangelical people in various settings. Gombis remarks that he has become puzzled, for he keeps hearing a particular comment from evangelicals when they learn something new from the Bible.

gombisWhen I began teaching evangelical undergraduates, it wasn’t long before I heard a student say, “I’ve never heard this before.”  My first response was, “I know, and there’s so much more to discover!”

But then I heard another variation: “I’ve never heard this before.  What you’re saying isn’t biblical.”

I asked for clarification.  The student responded by saying, “well, I think there’s a verse somewhere that says something like . . . ,” proceeding to blend together three different passages with the chorus of a praise song.

I figured this sort of thing was just the arrogance of youth, but it began to happen regularly.  Just about three weeks into every semester, a student would raise his or her hand and say, “I’ve never heard this stuff before.”

I began to respond by saying, “you’re welcome!  You or your parents are paying me thousands of dollars to tell you things that you don’t know.  This is what we call ‘education’ and it sounds like I’m doing my job.”

It began to dawn on me, however, that there was something about evangelical culture that was making these students assume that if something was unfamiliar, it was unbiblical.

(emphasis mine)

What surprises and disappoints Tim Gombis is that evangelicals don’t seem to have the same thrill of discovery that he developed in studying the Bible. They are hesitant about the unfamiliar. He does say these folks from evangelical churches don’t seem to be challenging him about what he is teaching. Rather, they seem genuinely bewildered about why they don’t recognize what he is teaching as “biblical.”

Is this just an anecdotal observation from a single Bible teacher, or has Tim Gombis uncovered something potentially significant here, a crack in the foundation of “Bible-believing” evangelical church life? He thinks it may be significant —  “I think this indicates that there’s something warped about how evangelicals regard the Bible.” 

I will be following his next few posts to see how he follows up on this initial observation. In the meantime, I thought his comments provocative enough to encourage a good discussion here.

Is it possible that Tim Gombis on to something here?


CT ran a post about creation this week that made my heart sing. David Wilkinson encourages us to go beyond the constricted apologetic conflicts that have dominated the subject and move toward “recapturing the doctrine of Creation in its scriptural fullness.”

And so Wilkinson suggests, for example, that the Christian doctrine of Creation is never an abstract, academic concept. We must learn to celebrate creation as the Bible does — through a rich variety of literary and creative styles and expressions that burst forth with imaginative as well as theological depth. The author notes that these texts are also used for many different purposes in the pages of the Bible:  “to inspire worship, to encourage the weak, to call for holiness, and to offer reassurance in times of trouble.” 

We must not forget this and reduce our considerations of this vast and complex theme to opinions and positions to be advanced in culture war debates. To do so is certainly not “biblical” — that is, it does not reflect the inspired witness of Scripture that promotes awe, wonder, and endless adoration of our Creator through exploring his endlessly fascinating creation.

David Wilkinson explores a number of other ways to recapture the fullness of the Bible’s teaching about creation, including keeping Christ at the center of our thinking about creation, and looking at creation through the lens of the new creation. In this brief article, he effectively communicates a variety of ways that we can faithfully apply the theology of creation. He commends the value of worship, study, scientific vocations, benevolent care for our environment, and, most of all, pursuing a faith relationship with the personal God who has breathed life into us, his creatures.

Pope Francis

Finally, I recommend Matthew B. Redmond’s cautionary post on how certain evangelicals have greeted the new Pope with various forms of contempt. Matt’s incisive point is captured in this paragraph:

And then it landed on me this morning. The reason I was ill at ease about evangelicals making light of the papal process and then using Luther to defend it was this. Luther was taking aim at his own tradition. Not the tradition of his neighbor alone. Luther was not trying to start a new religion or denomination or sect. He was trying to reform the church already there. Luther was Roman Catholic, if you will. not Lutheran.

Therefore, Redmond suggests, if certain people want to re-fight the Reformation or be like Luther, they ought to take aim at their own traditions, not Roman Catholicism.

Here is what I think, you wanna be like Luther? Set your aim on all the silliness with evangelicalism. The legalism. The celebrity. The concerts disguised as worship. The worship disguised as concerts. The marketing ad nauseum. The legalism. The calls for radical living from pastors with iPads and iPhones who live in the suburbs with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Set your aim on the cover-up of sexual abuse. The legalism. Set your aim on a theology that questions everything and stands for nothing. The pastor as CEO. The pastor as rock star. The legalism.

You go, Matt. Kudos for calling out those who are sitting in their little neo-reformed bunkers and lobbing bombs at the Catholic Church and its new leader.

Frankly, I heard more wisdom in just a few lines of Pope Francis’s message at his Installation Mass than I’ve read in many pages of neo-reformed ranting. “Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives,” he said in his homily. “We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness.”

You tell me which is more Jesus-shaped.


  1. The ability to criticize your own is key.

    We do it A LOT. Whenever your side strays from the pure gospel…you should let someone know about it. Write about it. Debate about it.

    Much more is at stake than loyalty to a brand.

    • We all have enough pox to go around in our own houses. Last week a noted evangelical leader warned against “scamsters in religious garb – quoting the Bible. I mean, run from them. They are all over the place.” That discerning man with the helpful advice was none other than Pat Robertson. Earlier that week, he told viewers who couldn’t pay their bills to send him just $20 a month and receive financial blessing.

      Why is it that evangelicals have never been able to invent a spiritual bullsh&t detector that works on themselves?

  2. Why not take aim at evangelicalism that Roman Catholicism? Because one is far more likely to be martyred for criticizing evangelical leaders (aka God’s “anointed”) than the Pope.

  3. “It began to dawn on me, however, that there was something about evangelical culture that was making these students assume that if something was unfamiliar, it was unbiblical.”

    Based on recent posts, the answer to this seems obvious. Evangelicals’ definition of “biblical” is whatever the authoritarian leaders/directors of spiritual marketing tell them. Truth cannot be marketed, plugged-in, pre-packaged, and spoon-fed. Evangelicals are becoming the pacified and subdued slaves plugged into the matrix of the vast evangelical complex. The protestant principle within evangelicalism is dead.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Because “Biblical”, “Scriptural”, “Gospelly”, whatever have all come to mean the same thing in practice:


    • This is why when someone I knew kept asking me to attend his Sovereign Grace service why I gave him a wooden spoon. Since it’s “The Gospel” to strip and spank and adult female on her a@@ I gave him this wooden spoon at chruch to help him live out his faith. Then of course you also have “The Gopsel” of forcing a 3 year old to forgive her molester.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Since it’s “The Gospel” to strip and spank and adult female on her a@@ I gave him this wooden spoon at chruch to help him live out his faith.

        Every guy I’ve known who has read that bit of news has said the same thing:
        “Guy’s KINKY.”
        Usually with some elaboration about “into BDSM but won’t admit to it.”
        And historically, “erotic flagellation” WAS the kink of choice among upper-class Victorians.

        • Christiane says

          what kind of religion would treat a woman like that?

          what kind of religion would treat a little child like that?

          sounds profoundly satanic and cultic to me

  4. You could say the same about Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus criticized them because he was one of them–not a Christian.

    But the pope thing is just spectacle and celebrity-worship, like this glowing photograph. How many bedrooms and baths do you think THIS humble follower of Christ has? Why is it okay to be harsh with James MacDonald (the scandal-ridden pastor featured last week), but the pope? If Catholicism wasn’t the biggest religion in the world, with its fingers in half the world’s governments, then you might have a point about not criticizing it, but your hero Frankie wants to keep gays (regardless of religion) from ever having equal rights. I know of ayatollahs who are more progressive…!

    • *but NOT the pope

    • flatrocker says

      Wow Gerald. You better hurry along and not be late for your portrait appointment. You’ve qualified as the poster child for Chaplain Mike’s contention.

    • Here you go, Gerald: plans of the Papal Apartments.

      Granted, the last guy had shocking expensive outlay work done: ” the building of the new library to accommodate Benedict’s 20,000 books (placed in exactly the same order as in his previous residence),”


      • News report after the Vatileaks incident about who has access to the Papal Apartments (including a model of the floor plan).

        Pope Francis takes possession of the Papal Apartments.

      • From the link Martha gave us about the Pope’s living arrangements: “The apartments include about ten large rooms…”

        That seems like quite modest living arrangements for the Pope. I am glad Pope Benedict had the improvements made that he did. Sounds like they were needed.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        ” the building of the new library to accommodate Benedict’s 20,000 books (placed in exactly the same order as in his previous residence),”

        As an old SF litfan whose house is always overflowing with books (no matter how many bookshelves I have), I can appreciate that.

    • How many bedrooms and baths do you think THIS humble follower of Christ has?

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that the answer to this would be zero. Priests take a vow of poverty and, as a result, I do not believe they have any ownership of their personal residence. The Cardinal I knew lived in a plain, humble apartment.

      And comparing MacDonald to the Pope is not analogous. One heads an evangelical cult, the other presides over the largest religion in history. The church has a right to decide how they provide for him, and I suspect they find his work to be far to important for him to be fighting the problems of living in a slum. From what I hear, this guy has already put in some time in that scene.

      Oh the poor gays. Will they ever get their inalienable rights endowed by their creator to redefine institutions to conform to their prerogative? If only these wicked, wicked religious tyrants would keep trampling their dignity underfoot.

      • *”quit” instead of “keep”

      • Clay Crouch says

        “Oh the poor gays. Will they ever get their inalienable rights endowed by their creator to redefine institutions to conform to their prerogative(sic)? If only these wicked, wicked religious tyrants would keep trampling their dignity underfoot.”

        Oh Miguel, you are better than this. Having lived in the South my entire life and having come of age in the 60’s, I heard that repugnant sentiment expressed countless times towards black Americans who loved and wanted to marry a white Americans. There are many who hope that your sarcastic prayer for homosexuals will be answered in the affirmative my our creator.

        • James the Mad says

          Clay, you might want to go back and double-check your dictionary. Just becase we pronounce it as perogative doesn’t mean it’s spelled that way.

          The American Heritage dictionary I keep on my desk says Miguel spelled it correctly.

        • Give me a break. Interracial marriage (including my own, btw) does not require a re-defining of the institution. It’s not apples to apples. Sure it’s great political rhetoric, but if you could convince me it was a civil rights issue instead of merely asserting it, you could, perhaps, win me over. But it’s based on the presumption that people are born gay just like they are born black or white. I don’t think it’s nearly so black and white a thing as race is. Sexuality can be a very confusing thing, and you can’t pin it completely on the stigma.

          • Miguel, IMHO the volatility of the issue makes it imperative that we watch our words when participating in public forums about this subject. You express frustrations, and may have some legitimate gripes, but there are times when the use of sarcasm and other forms of provocative discourse may only succeed in raising more heat than light and further hardening the character of the debate.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        How many bedrooms and baths do you think THIS humble follower of Christ has?

        Probably less than a CELEBRITY Megachurch Pastor/Head Apostle.

      • cermak_rd says

        actually, point of order, not all priests take vows of poverty. Only priests in orders (such as the Jesuits like Pope Francis, the Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, et al). Diocesan priests (like Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) do not take a vow of poverty.

        • Yep, I was surprised when I learned this . Seems strange to require a vow of celibacy and not of poverty.

          • cermak_rd says

            That’s another difference though. Most diocesan priests only promise celibacy (no offspring or wife) while ordered priests take a vow of chastity. Also diocesan priests promise obedience to their Ordinary but ordered priests take a vow of obedience to their order’s superior.

          • Breakdown here of average clergy salaries between denominations in the U.S.A.

            If, as the story has it, retired Italian clerics can have pensions of up to around $39,000 per year, the pope is naturally a different matter (he doesn’t get paid as such, but all his expenses are covered).

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            And vows of poverty can vary from Order to Order. I don’t think vows of poverty are required for Jesuits, but even if not, nothing prevents a member of an Order from voluntarily taking additional vows.

            While Diocesan priests usually stay put geographically under the same diocese and bishop, Non-cloistered Orders form a personnel reserve that can be allocated/transferred where needed. They call them “Order Priests” because they’re always being ordered about.

          • But…chastity encompasses married sex. Does that mean ordered priests can marry, if ordered or permitted to do so by their superiors?!

            Come on, the pope doesn’t get a salary because he basically owns the entire Vatican.

          • Gerald, the pope ‘owns’ the Vatican the same way the President ‘owns’ the White House. When leaving either, you can’t take bits of the fixtures and fittings with you that you particularly admired, and it would be frowned upon if you started selling off the contents while in office.

            Headless, re: vows of poverty and Jesuits, time for the old joke!

            The parents of a teenager were worried about their son, who didn’t seem to have much of an idea what he wanted to do in life, so they decided to consult their parish priest. He set out a bottle of whiskey, a wallet full of money, and a Bible on the table and explained what this meant to the parents.

            “Call your son in and ask him to take his pick,” the priest said. “If he chooses the wallet, he will be a businessman. If he chooses the whiskey, I’m afraid he will be an idler and a layabout. And if he chooses the Bible, he will be a priest.”

            The parents did as he asked, and the boy looked at all three items. Then he picked up the wallet and put it in his pocket, picked up the bottle of whiskey and took a drink, then picked up the Bible.

            “But what does that mean?” the parents asked.

            “Heaven help us!” cried the priest. “He’s going to be a Jesuit!”


          • Then there was the young woman who couldn’t decide what to do with her life either, and when she finally decided her parents were alarmed, so they sent her to the priest for a talk.

            She said to him, “Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. I have become a prostitute.”

            The father fainted, fell over in his booth, and when he awoke he said, “I must have misheard you, or else it was a bad dream. What was it you told me?”

            “I said I have become a prostitute.”

            “Oh, thank God!” said the father. “I thought you said ‘Protestant’.”

      • Christiane says

        I’ve heard that Pope Francis, when he lived in Buenos Aires, had an apartment (a walk-up) and cooked his own meals. I’ve heard that he personally cared for a disabled Jesuit priest. He turned away from a lot of ‘perks’ that he was entitled to, and rode the bus, or his bicycle, and did his own food shopping.

        It will be hard for him to adapt to life as the Pope, and I kind of think he may bring something of his own style with him into the Vatican. Should be interesting. Hope he will always be the kind of person who took the time to care for a disabled man, and who made time for others even after his position in the Church became more prominent.
        That is something I will pray for, for his sake, for the Church’s sake. We need that example in the Church.

      • Marcus Johnson says

        Miguel: First, I agree that Gerald has a very superficial take on Pope Francis and the Catholic Church. We can be sarcastic about the conclave’s selection, but it is quite ridiculous to overlook the significance of this event.

        That being said, you’re not being much better than him with your statement, either, in a very superficial judgment about the concerns of the LGBT community and their allies to revisit the dominant interpretation of Scripture regarding marriage and sexual orientation. Non-heterosexual orientations are not just condemned by the church, but those who identify according to those orientations are ostracized, their lifestyles are subject to very erroneous, superficial generalizations, which ignore current scientific research in favor of an antiquated interpretation of Scripture, and incorrectly depicts them as irresponsible and morally bankrupt. That approach does trample their dignity underfoot.

        As for their unalienable rights, that is more of a legal issue than a moral one, so it is probably a separate (but related) discussion).

        • Marcus, spare me the shellfish argument. I’ve heard some congratulating themselves on their stunning interpretation of Scripture and considering it a knock-down retort that “You eat shellfish even though that’s forbidden in Leviticus, right? Same way with the verses about homosexuality!”

          The “antiquated interpretation of Scripture” means that the verse about homosexuality is at the end of a whole list of sexual prohibitions and taboos. If people at the time had no “current scientific research” about sexual orientation and attraction, does that mean we can also ignore the verses telling us not to commit incest or adultery? I mean, modern understanding of genetics and efficient contraceptive methods mean we don’t have to worry about the effects of inbreeding on offspring!

          • Marcus Johnson says

            Martha, I never mentioned half of the stuff you mentioned in your argument. Nothing about shellfish, or Leviticus, or the argument that we should legalize same-sex marriage because Christians can eat shrimp. I’m not sure who this fake Marcus was that you were responding to, but he is not in this particular forum.

            I think we absolutely should acknowledge that both Old and New Testaments affirmed a doctrine that condemned homosexuality, as well as adultery, incest–and yes, shellfish. I don’t buy into the arguments of folks who try to assert that those passages do not really exist, or that we should ignore them. However, that doctrine was created in a specific context to a specific audience for a specific purpose, and before we immediately apply it to a 21st century community of believers, I–as well as many other folk in the LGBT and LGBT affirming community–want to see a honest, non-tinfoil-hat-wearing examination of our previous interpretation of Scripture.

            Just to reiterate, I don’t think we should ignore those passages. However, I also don’t believe that the Bible was given to us so that we could form social policy that marginalizes the LGBT community, or so that we could override peer-reviewed research that affirms same-sex relationships can be just as healthy (or unhealthy) as heterosexual relationships. We have a lot of knowledge–not conjecture, but real evidence based on scientific assessment and research–that pressures us to revisit how we read these texts. It doesn’t mean that the Bible is less true, only that our reading of those texts might not be as true as we thought.

            By the way, the connection you made to inbreeding, incest, and adultery are a little disturbing. Seriously, is the Bible the only thing keeping anti-LGBT Christians from having brother-sister sex?

          • See that right there? “Anti-LGBT Christians”. Because if I don’t accept that a same-sex relationship can genuinely be called a marriage, I hate gays and want to burn them at the stake.

            And I went into the shellfish argument because that’s the lead-in to, or appendix after, the same kinds of statement you made: people back then were so much more ignorant than we are nowadays, they had no idea what genuine sexuality was, they had no concept other than everyone was straight and anything else was merely perversion, SCIENCE!!!! proves that those antiquated notions are completely wrong.

            Do you really think that your argument holds water when it boils down to “What I or my allies feel is a normal part of the spectrum of sexuality, but those people over there are just sick”? There are the minority who practise zoophilia and feel it is just as legitimate an orientation as any. How can incest be wrong (other than an “ugh field”) when it occurs in nature too? And after all, it used to be considered incest to marry your deceased wife’s sister, but we don’t accept that nowadays – it’s perfectly legal! Increasing scientific and psychological knowledge means that our old taboos are being overturned as nothing more than prejudice!

            Jumping from “You don’t stone adulterers, do you?” to “So if you’re not going to keep every single provision and ordinance in Leviticus exactly, then you have no right to say that this verse is a prohibition for me” is not sufficiently rigorous as a theological case against the ban. And funnily enough, those same church types (and yes, it’s progressives even in dog collars who make these arguments) who like to use the shellfish argument as a means of ridiculing the opposition have no problem quoting the verse directly after the prohibition on shellfish when rebuking real sinners – I mean Capitalism and big corporations and polluting exploiting multinationals. What is sauce for the goose is not, in this case, sauce for the gander.

            I’m sick of this argument. I think the Church does need to find a new way to speak of and about LGBT people. I even wouldn’t fall down dead if civil same-sex unions came in. But I’m dashed if I submit to a light airy laugh of dismissal about how too, too silly for words those silly-billy literalists who take “No” to mean “No” when it’s written in the Scriptures are; too silly to address them, so let’s use ridicule instead of exegesis and say that they’re all phobics and haters.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            Again, Martha, you’ve creating a fictional person to argue against (either that, or you are recycling a similar argument that you had with someone else, and you’re assuming that the same argument applies). You’re assuming that I’m going to make certain arguments, that I’m implying certain things about you, yet nothing in my comments actually indicated any thing to that effect. If you want to use my comments as a prompt to rant about your frustration with the LGBT community, it’s a free world, but you’re not addressing my specific argument, so I cannot rebut anything you stated.

            I should point out, though, that “Anti-LGBT” is not the equivalent to “homophobic” or “gay bashing,” regardless of how you have heard it used before. As a matter of fact, I specifically use that term to distinguish between real homophobic gay bashers, and folk who simply hold an ideology that does not consider nonheterosexual orientation identities as valid or legitimate.

        • I’m giving a superficial judgement about the concerns of the LGBT community? I don’t think so, I’m just restating what I’m hearing from them: The religious boogeyman is out to get them. That is exactly the rhetoric you will get buried in if you insist that traditional moral values are good for society. And don’t give me this “they just want to revisit the dominant interpretation…” baloney. They want it overturned, period. There are questioning homosexuals who earnestly desire to study and understand scripture better in order to be certain on this issue, but they’re not the pro gay marriage proponents.

          Non-heterosexual orientations are not just condemned by the church, but those who identify according to those orientations are ostracized, their lifestyles are subject to very erroneous, superficial generalizations, which ignore current scientific research in favor of an antiquated interpretation of Scripture, and incorrectly depicts them as irresponsible and morally bankrupt. That approach does trample their dignity underfoot.

          There you go. Get that religious boogeyman! Out to ruin the lives of hapless victims! And I’m the one being superficial and judgmental? I’ll admit this caricature is a reality for many, but it is not hardly fair to stereotype this as the mindset of anybody who does not support their cause. You can be for traditional marriage without being a homophobic jerk. I just don’t buy these kind of arguments because they aren’t reasoning, they’re just rhetoric, and incendiary at that. They do not add to the conversation.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            1. Just for clarification purposes, I wasn’t just referring to homosexuals; I was referring to both LGBT individuals and allies; there is a much wider community out there and, like those who affirm traditional marriage, there is a wide continuum within the community, ranging from fanatical advocacy to submissive kowtowing to a dominant ideology. Also, I agree that you can be for traditional marriage without being a homophobe (you’ll note that I did not use that term to describe either you or the anti-LGBT Christian movement–that was all you).

            2. Boogeymen are, by definition, imagined. The threat that the LGBT community sees in a Christian community, one which condemns homosexuality and refuses to even consider that their interpretation of Scripture might be wrong, is real, and so are the “erroneous, superficial generalizations” that I referred to in my earlier post. The people who beat, killed, maimed, fired, ostracized or shunned LGBT individuals for decades–even centuries–were not boogeymen. You can try to assert that these were just isolated incidents, overhyped by a rabid liberal media, but you weren’t in the classrooms when these folks were getting called “faggot,” or in the houses when parents were kicking out teenagers who were coming to terms with their sexual orientation, or in the courtrooms or principal offices when bullies attempted to assert that this was just their personal religious conviction, or in the churches when pastors were making up statistics and theology to support their misconceptions. You are entitled to your opinion, and I can guarantee you that I will never call you a homophobe, but I will call you wrong.

            3. You’re right; this is not the mindset of everybody who does not affirm the legitimacy of LGBT identity, but it was the dominant mindset of mainstream Christianity for a very long time. Unfortunately for you, the biggest mouths in any movement get the most coverage, but that is certainly not the fault of the LGBT community or their allies. That dialogue is changing very slowly within Christian institutions, and more reasoned voices that still affirm traditional marriage are coming to the forefront, but nowhere near as fast as it should be, primarily because, as Gombis said in his post “if something was unfamiliar, it was unbiblical.”

            4. Yes, this is an incendiary argument, but I have the support of the fields of counseling psychology, pediatrics, history, medical associations, public higher education, and the military on my side (and many others), and you have a doctrine that, while affirmed by some very insightful scholars, is still based on a profound misunderstanding of Scripture and little else.

          • 1. I’m sorry, but many in the LGBT advocacy group will paint me as an intolerant homophobe if I do not support gay marriage. It’s black or white with them, one way or the other. This is patently ridiculous. I get that many of them have been hurt by religious people. It does not follow that all religious adherents are this way, and it is not fair to treat them as such. I don’t think it’s solely a reaction of emotional pain: it may have started that way, but at this point they ought to know better. It’s political rhetoric at its worst: nobody wants to be an intolerant homophobe, so its just less hassle to agree. The political left shamelessly appeals to such fascist tactics on a regular basis. I would be much more liberal if it weren’t for that alone.

            2. The “Christian community” neither universally condemns homosexuality nor refuses to revisit Scripture interpretation. Some do, but I revisit mine every time I open the book. Many of us have listened to the arguments and found them severely underwhelming and looking like nothing other than glorified rationalization, despite the sincerity of some researchers.

            You are correct that the LGBT community has been subject to many heinous abuses, and I would never minimize it by calling these things isolated occurrences. If even half the stories that saw the light of day are true, they are simply inexcusable. The things is, I’m willing to wager that the majority of the “Christian community” today agrees with that statement and is no longer perpetrating the violence and abuse on the scale of previous generations. But that’s not how the gay marriage lobby wants you to see religion that holds to traditional moral values. Case and point: Gerald thinks the Pope is out to trample the rights of Gay people, and compared him to ayatollahs. Textbook illustration.

            3. I will concede, this was likely a dominant mindset in Christianity for a long time. Yes, the biggest mouths get the most media coverage. Yes the dialogue is changing, albeit more slowly that it should. But the less reasonable voices advocating traditional marriage are increasingly becoming the laughingstock of the culture, and hardly represent an accurate sample of the values of Christianity in America. Not only does the right fringe not speak for us, their view are increasingly sectarian and loosing supporters.

            4. Psychology, pediatrics, history, medical associations, public higher education, and the military do NOT support the caricature that all gay marriage opponents are headless jerks. They may produce some support or reasoning in defense of gay marriage, but that’s not my beef here. My beef is comparing traditional moralism in sexuality to Nazism or Southern racism. That is flat out ridiculous.

            Oh, and FWIW, traditional Christian doctrine on sexuality has far more on its side than a “profound misunderstanding of Scripture.” Aside from the universal consensus of 2000 years of church history (not to mention non-Christian religions and cultures), contemporary consensus of the most historic church bodies, consistent precedent of accurate, well reasoned, and well supported exegesis from ALL Christian traditions, there are plenty of arguments to be made from natural law, Kantian ethics, and all the fields you claim back your cause, for the benefits of traditional family structure both to children and to society. You can’t merely dismiss the whole cause as a relic of religious primitivism with intellectual credibility.

    • I don’t think James MacDonald would ride the bus to work like Pope Francis did in Argentina. Lets be honest…Harvest Bible Chapel isn’t big enough for James MacDonald’s ego.

      • I’m sure a lot of these mega-pastors arrive in Lexuses and Jaguars. Cause “don’t muzzle the ox…” you know?

  5. Matthew Redmond’s statment is a good one. We all need to spend more time focusing on our own faults and the problems in our own tradition than we do others. But that doesn’t mean we should be absolutely silent about what is going on in other traditions. Sometimes protestants need to be reminded why we don’t follow the Pope and why we aren’t a part of the Roman Catholic Church. Ultimately we may not be part of that tradition, but that tradition is still part of our history, and if we don’t have good reasons for staying apart, we really ought to go back to Rome. And unless you consider yourself neo-reformed, it is a little ironic to give Matt’s quote and then go after the neo-reformed.

  6. MelissatheRagamuffin says

    Gerald, you clearly know zippity doo-dah about Pope Francis.

    • Well, what zippity doo-dah do you think might impress me? I concede that he is likeable, and has many virtues–this has obviously been a propaganda coup for the Church (at least so far). However, like every other cardinal, he stands for social policies which are as regressive as much as they are progressive. How can anyone who supports equal rights for women and gays celebrate the election of such a man? Should we say that these things–that these *people*–aren’t so important?

      • Gerald, everything dealing with living a life in Christ does not have to be always defined by the issue of Gays and women. Does being inclusive and tolerant only apply if I agree with you ? Where has the Pope ever said that ” these people are not important ” ? Just because I don’t agree with you does not mean that I don’t love you and care about you !!!!!!

        • Yeah. The biggest problem I have with “progressivism” and liberal readings of homosexuality- the casual assumption is that not only are those who disagree wrong, they’re close to being anathematized. Believing homosexuality is sin = believing God hates f**s. Having a traditional view of marriage = denying the basic human rights to gays. I’m around this pretty consistently, because I’m in a liberal mecca.

          All this while claiming a conservative is clinging to some stodgy, obsolete moral charter or something. As if having the opposite opinion is somehow NOT making an objective moral judgment about the universe. Please…

          • You’d sing a different tune if it was *you’re* rights at stake. I don’t care what Francis (or anybody else) believes or teaches, but as a cardinal, he’s tried to influence Argentinian law.

          • Ugh. “Your.” Just turn me over to the grammar Nazis already.

          • I might, but that wouldn’t make it right. Reconciliation and loving one’s enemies isn’t easy, but it’s really the only path.

      • Marcus Johnson says

        I support equal rights for women and the LGBT community. I’m not sure that “celebrate” is the right word to describe my reaction to the inauguration of Pope Francis, but I am pleasantly intrigued by the conclave’s selection, and I recognize it as a major shift in the Catholic Church’s recognition of how diverse its community is. Yes, the Papacy will continue to support ideologies and social policies which privilege men and condemn homosexuality, and I will continue to disagree with the Church on those issues, but I can voice my objections while acknowledging that the Catholic Church’s recognition of its global community is a good thing. Just because they are doing something wrong doesn’t mean we cannot acknowledge that they are also doing something right.

        • True. Good things may well come of this. They say he cared about the poor, so maybe he’ll do something really radical, like redirect some huge chunk of Vatican resources to charity.

      • Gerald, a friend of mine, who is flagrantly gay, loves the new Pope.

        • Oh, Catholicism is practically tailor-made to appeal to flaboyant gay men. Some of them get off on right-wing Republican politics as well. That doesn’t mean it’s *good* for them.

  7. Richard Hershberger says

    “Is it possible that Tim Gombis on to something here?”

    To this outside observer of Evangelicalism, Gombis is stating the obvious. You have to be very carefully selective in your reading to believe, for example, that the Bible has much to say on sexuality, and homosexuality in particular, but little or nothing to say about social and economic justice.

    All traditions have their favorite bits of scripture that they repeat often. The trick is to approach this in a principled way, e.g. Luther’s canon within the canon. It is also important to be disciplined enough to read even the difficult bits. This is the great advantage of a formal lectionary. Go to the most banal, blather-filled service: if they use the lectionary, then you will walk out the door having heard at least two and up to four (including the Psalm) substantial passages of scripture, even if everything else was pablum. If they don’t use the lectionary, you aren’t guaranteed even that.

  8. I am hoping for great things from Pope Francis. He will need the prayers of many people. I can’t imagine what a great responsibility he must feel..

  9. It’s not just evangelicals that are known to say “I’ve never heard that before!” I come from a Lutheran background and have heard the same thing many, many times sitting in Bible classes or in discussions. They kind of know what they are supposed to believe, but most don’t know much else and don’t want to know.

    There is also a real fear about reading a book on faith by, for example, a Jewish author or a book on comparative religion by an author outside their faith tradition. They might lead you astray!! All too often the message is “Don’t think! Don’t think! Satan is out there trying to lead you astray!” So, they have no interest in looking at the world from someone else’s viewpoint. I suspect it’s because deep down, they are afraid they might like that view better.

  10. “Is it possible that Tim Gombis on to something here?”

    Yes, he’s discovered that WE humans are stubborn, arrogant, and prideful.

  11. Clay Knick says

    Mike, Be on the lookout for this book in the next few weeks.



  12. I think the thing about Evangelicals and the “I’ve not hear that before” has to do with the slippery slope mentality behind a lot of Evangelical teaching. A lot of people genuinely believe that if people start reading books by people they disagree that they’ll be lead astray and down the road to liberalism. For example, a number of years ago, I had a senior pastor tell me that Rob Bell’s mentioning of Marcus Borg was akin to recommending a book by Satan himself. Now Marcus Borg may be wrong about a lot, but c’mon…

    I just think that if pastors really believe the faith of the people in their churches is that tenuous, then they should probably resign and find another calling. Because obviously they aren’t doing a good job at teaching.

    • petrushka1611 says

      It could be that, but it could also be something as simple as arrogance: evangelicalism (with fundamentalism as a subculture of that) teaches with the attitude that “we have all the truths already.” I’ve probably used this same phrase myself, and if I did, it was probably because I’d heard a LOT of very detailed teaching on all sorts of subjects, and read the Bible several times myself. I think that phrase can indicate that the listener is a little worried about a bit of knowledge sneaking up on him and shaking his confidence in what he already knows.

      If it were truth, he would have heard it before, because we already have the answers.

  13. Evangelicals have grown up on a steady diet of the law. Their view of the Christian life and the Bible is law (what ‘we do’) based. It even starts there with the believer needing to DO something…accept Jesus, or make a “decision” for Jesus. And then it just continues from there as a spiritual ascendent project revolving around what they do…or don’t do.

    Gospel language, then, tastes like poison to them. Because they have been weened on the poison of the law. Using it not to kill (themselves off), but to make them better. As St. Paul tells us, the law cannot do that. It only makes us worse.


    Great topic.

    ps- I used this exact comment at Tim Gombis’ blog

    • Steve, thank you for your comments. They are very helpful and instructive. Is “spiritual ascendent project” a way of describing “pietism”? Or are they 2 different things?

      • Joel,

        Pietism can certainly turn into a spiritual ascendancy project…or a ‘I’m a worthless worm’ project….or a legalism project…or all of the above.

        But when we think we’ve got “free-will” with respect to becoming a Christian…then the whole thing turns into ‘will worship’ and a project whereby I am at the center.

        And that sort of stuff is…everywhere, these days.

        Thank you, friend.

  14. I can’t remember where it is in one of the apostle Paul’s letters, but there is a place where he says we should not be criticizing people outside of the Church. We should be looking at what is going on among the Church. Think of how much time Christians spend bashing what is going on in the “world.” Instead of bashing, we should be offering all people a place of refreshment, grace, God.

    • 1 Corinthians 5-6

      • That’s it, liz! Thanks. Specifically, 1 Corinthians 5:12-13: ” What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’ ” (NIV)

  15. br. thomas says

    “Ignorance comes not from what we don’t know, but from what we think we do know.” Richard Rohr

  16. Randy Thompson says

    Evangelical Christianity is supposed to be about the Bible, and yet, I’m increasingly struck by how evangelicals who affirm the centrality of the Bible read what celebrity preachers and best selling Christian authors tell them about the Bible and confuse that for what the Bible actually says. How many “Bible Studies” are there that are actually book studies where the participants are reading books by popular Christian authors writing about the Bible!

    You can talk about “Sola Scriptura” all you want, but unless you actually read the Scriptures yourself on a reasonably regular basis, you’re mentally living off the views of others. In a bizarre way, Evangelicals often are as dependent on an “authoritative” teaching tradition as are Roman Catholics. The main difference is, Roman Catholics are upfront about it. Get into a conversation with a fundamentalist about the Second Coming, for example, and you quickly find that you’re not dealing with Scripture at all, but with an authoritative tradition.

    Evangelicals have no more escaped tradition than have Roman Catholics. I am not Roman Catholic, and do not agree with parts of its tradition, but I respect them for being honest about the role of tradition. Evangelicals are as much in denial about their dependence on tradition as an alcoholic.

    • I think you are spot on here, Randy. I wasn’t confronted with the self-contradiction of sola scriptura til last summer when I started dialogues with some Eastern Orthodox. The problematic thing in Evangelicalism is that there’s so many “traditions” that add to the mix and subsequent mess. Your mention of the Second Coming is maybe one of the most key tenants of a certain tradition evangelicals buy into. When my girlfriend told her mom that she no longer believed in the Rapture in the Left Behind sort of way, she may as well have told her she disowned the family.

      • Randy Thompson says

        Conversations with Eastern Orthodox folks are always worthwhile and almost always edifying. I am deeply grateful for my exposure to Orthodoxy.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      How many “Bible Studies” are there that are actually book studies where the participants are reading books by popular Christian authors writing about the Bible!

      Lots, judging from when I was in-country in the Seventies. I saw so many “Bible Studies” where the only book cracked open and parsed verse-by-verse was Hal Lindsay’s Late Great Planet Earth

  17. Matt Purdum says

    Gombis is right on. Evangelicals don’t read the Bible and don’t know: 1) there’s nothing in it about a Rapture but plenty about the resurrection; 2) the Bible never ever anywhere mentions the age of the earth or the creation; 3) the Bible says ALL the kingdoms of this world (that would include the USA Inc.) are lined up against the kingdom of God; 4) the modern nation-state known as “Israel” is never mentioned in Scripture. I could go on but we don’t have all day and night. Hope the Gombis piece gets widely circulated.

    • there’s nothing in it about a Rapture but plenty about the resurrection;

      Well, I do understand how people could read a passage like 1 Thessalonians 4 and get the idea of something like the rapture if they don’t understand the culture and language surrounding that verse. In my experience, it’s actually not that people don’t read the Bible a lot of the time. It’s that they don’t really have access to a lot of good training about what they’re reading. I actually know quite a few Evangelicals and Pentecostals who can quote large portions of Scripture. Anymore, though, those are usually older people.

      • The early church didn’t read 1Thessalonians as rapture though. That didn’t show up until the 19th century. And most evangelicals were post-millennialists until the 20th century. This shows up popular hymns of the period.

        • I know. I wasn’t saying I think rapture theology is good theology, but I don’t think it’s quite correct to say “there’s nothing in it (the Bible) about a rapture”. I do actually agree with the sentiment, but all I was saying is that people who believe in the rapture will point to different Scriptural passages to support that belief. Their interpretations of those passages are wrong, but it’s not for a lack of Bible reading. It’s just that they grew up reading the Bible in a very isolated atmosphere.

    • matt, help me with the kingdoms of this world passage?

      • Matt Purdum says

        I would point to Daniel 2:44, Micah 7:16-17, Zephaniah 3:6-7, Revelation 11:18. But isn’t it a basic underlying theme anyway, that God’s Kingdom will conquer (or “supplant” for the squeamish) ALL the nations?

  18. My undergraduate years were spent at an evangelical college, and I think Tim Gobis is right on in his observations.

    The primary problem is that people in general don’t like having their beliefs shaken up by novel material, esp. not in large does. This is true whatever your religious or philosophical persuasion.

    The secondary issue is that the posture of the evangelical movement is deeply self-defensive. Consequently, the mood of believers when encountering novel material can often be one of avoiding danger, not wonder at new discovery. In churches and other enclaves of evangelical culture, youth are given the impression over and over again that college is a dangerous place where people are going to try to trick you, including pseudo-evangelicals who have snuck their way into purportedly safe evangelical colleges. So, the message went, you’d better watch out for those bad professors! There were just so boundaries one was not supposed to cross. In truth, no one agreed on what they were. But the problem was not the exact boundaries but rather the fear of them.

    In college, this was constantly creating an obstacle for professors. A certain portion of the students in any class perceived education to be learning how to do better/argue better exactly what they already knew. If something sounded unfamiliar, they’d get instantly defensive or uncertain, until they became convinced someone wasn’t trying to destroy their faith. It really muddied the waters in class discussions, which still went well thanks to the professors handling such concerns well and thanks to the fact that not every student reacted that way on every issue, and some not at all. Nonetheless, I remember classes where 3/4 of the time was spent discussing whether “this author is really a Christian” or “wait that’s not Biblical–here’s a prooftext.” And there were students who decided to become authorities on whether “this student” or “that professor” were really in the evangelical club.

    Despite having been prepped to use it, I dropped this paradigm very quickly, partly because I’m an insane reader and even by freshman year of college I was harboring doubts about my beliefs on some topics. But the mentality that learning was war still affected me: I couldn’t help but be dogged by the fear that by not towing the line on certain things, and by doubting, and by worrying about some of the less than stellar aspects of my movement, that I was some kind of traitor losing my faith. Now I think that worry was silly, but don’t you know — it still lurks on the edge of my consciousness.

    Don’t mistake me: college was great experience. But if there were one thing I would have changed, that is it!

    • Danielle, I can empathize. I still agonize (though much more infrequently than in the past) on whether or not I must adhere to a certain atonement theory or whatever to truly be “saved”. It dogged me for the better part of the last four years. Then I visited an Orthodox church and had conversations with them. Now, they told me that i was on the outside for a whole host of other reasons, but other conversations eased all of my fears about party lines within evangelicalism. If the Orthodox hold to XYZ, yet I still find them to be faithful followers of Christ, then I need not worry so much about what some of the famous celebrity types have podcasted (especially Driscoll’s Doctrine series) that one needs to believe.

      • “It dogged me for the better part of the last four years.”

        Oh yes. I know what you mean by “agonizing” over issues of this kind. It is difficult to explain just how visceral the experience can be. If I get too caught in that mental loop, it’s very hard for me to escape from the anxiety. It’s a dark place I try not to fall into too often.

        So, know you’re not alone against that old foe Fear.

        The only good thing I can say about the situation is that it forces me to stop trusting in myself and to trust that God instead.

    • scrapiron says

      My wife attended a small evangelical college in the 80s and she told me once the story of a doctrine class where the elderly prof. would approach each topic by outlining the tenets of the different interpretations of scripture that informed different positions, comparing and contrasting, but never recommending. Ever. All the young evangelicals, eager to be indoctrinated and told how to defend their positions, were frustrated to no end. Finally, one dude stood up and stormed out of a lecture one day, shouting, “This is crap, Dr. ____. Why can’t you just tell us what WE believe.”

  19. One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from one Southern Baptist official who warned his theology professors to teach whatever they were told to teach. “And if we tell them to teach that pickles have souls, then they must teach that pickles have souls!”.

    • I’ve never heard that before!

      • Come on–you’re gherkin my chain.
        But I think I could dill with that.
        In fact I relish the possibilities.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Comrade O’Brian, Inner Party: “How much is two plus two?”
      6079 Smith W, Outer Party: “Four.”
      Comrade O’Brian, Inner Party: “And if The Party decrees it is not Four but Five?”

    • It’s not only the Southern Baptists but the Roman Catholics too. St. Ignatius Loyola (speaking of Jesuits, Martha) said, “To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it…”

      And HUG, the first time I read that I thought of 1984 too.

  20. It began to dawn on me, however, that there was something about evangelical culture that was making these students assume that if something was unfamiliar, it was unbiblical.”

    One that I’ve often gotten is the blank stare, followed by the “yeah but…” and then a hurried quotation of another passage which seems to loosely contradict what I just said. Often the passage in context has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Sounds like what the Moonies called a “Thoughtstopper” — a recitation of the Party Line to stop all heretical thought and reassure the true believer.

  21. melissatheragamuffin says
  22. Never mind the kids, how many evangelical adults would blurt out, “I’ve never heard this before.” if they read stuff like this from Charles Spurgeon:

  23. Just wanted to voice my appreciation for the post re: evangelicalism and discovery. It echoes my own sense that evangelicalism is intellectually in serious trouble.

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