Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Albert Mohler on Parellel Cultures, Karl Giberson, Randall Stephens and Liberal Theology

Albert Mohler has also weighed in on the “parallel cultures” idea that was floated by Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens in their New York Times story. Initially, I did not address the Giberson/Stephens article in the NYT but will now do so. Mohler writes:
The New York Times recently found themselves taken to task by writers presenting themselves as fellow evangelicals. Their essay reveals the central question that evangelicals must now answer: Do we really believe that the Bible is the Word of God?
Actually, that is not what Giberson and Stephens are about in the least. Mohler takes a sort of ‘Ken Hammish’ approach here (and I don't mean this in a positive way) by suggesting broadly that the concern that Giberson and Stephens are voicing is not really why evangelicals are anti-science but rather that they have rejected belief in the Bible. Let's see what Giberson and Stephens actually write:
Like other evangelicals, we accept the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ and look to the Bible as our sacred book, though we find it hard to recognize our religious tradition in the mainstream evangelical conversation. Evangelicalism at its best seeks a biblically grounded expression of Christianity that is intellectually engaged, humble and forward-looking. In contrast, fundamentalism is literalistic, overconfident and reactionary.
This sounds perfectly reasonable. Why would Mohler paint it as a rejection of the Bible? Let's read on to find out. In the original New York Times article, Giberson and Stephens argue as their central point that modern evangelicals and GOP candidates are ‘anti-science’ but then make an odd mis-step. They profile some modern leaders of the modern evangelical movement, including Ken Ham (fish? barrel?), David Barton (who rather hilariously argued that the founding fathers of the country had already addressed and rejected the theory of evolution) and James Dobson, who, they argue, has outdated ideas about homosexuality and actually agrees with spanking children and...


Come again? What has any of that to do with their central premise? From my point of view, not much. Further, it opens them up to Dr. Mohler, who blasts away with both barrels. He writes:
Appearing on the October 20, 2011 edition of National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation program, Giberson argued that homosexuality should not be much of a concern at all. He revealed even more of his own approach to the Bible by asserting that “there’s just a handful of proof text[s] scattered throughout the Bible about homosexuality,” adding: “Jesus said absolutely nothing about it.”

That hardly represents an honest or respectful approach to dealing with the Bible’s comprehensive and consistent revelation concerning human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. Is Romans 1, for example, just a scattered proof text? Is not all of the Bible God’s Word? Well, Giberson has already made his view of the Bible clear — it is simply “trumped” by science when describing the natural world.

For your average evangelical, who is familiar with passages in the Old Testament:
Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. (Leviticus 18: 22)
and in the New Testament:
We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Timothy: 1:10-11)
it is pretty hard to square that what Giberson is saying is scriptural in any sense.

Why is the passage on homosexuality a problem? It is a problem because if Mohler can show that Giberson and Stephens are not scripturally sound in this area, why should they be believed on the subject of science in general and evolution in specific? Is it not just another aspect of their secular viewpoint?

Whether or not there are arguments for interpreting the above verses in a different way than the way they come across is practically irrelevant here. Giberson and Stephens might just as well have donned bright red Star Trek ‘Enterprise Security’ shirts. It does not matter that Mohler knows little about evolutionary biology, the fossil record, or the geological record. That is no longer the issue at hand. The issue at hand is the “secular knowledge” that is being espoused by Giberson and Stephens, which is at odds with the vast majority of evangelicals. In one swift move, Mohler is able to link acceptance of evolution with liberal teaching on homosexuality. After reading Giberson's and Stephens' New York Times essay, why would your average evangelical even think about changing their minds about evolution?

Now playing: Dave Beegle - Sandy's Painting
via FoxyTunes


  1. I happened to be listening to that discussion on NPR and found it rather stressful, mainly because of what you described. These evolutionists played into Mohler's hands by representing a liberal brand of theology and by appearing far better versed in science than Scripture. I was very disappointed that more (conservative) mainstream evangelical representatives of the old-earth view had been selected to debate with Mohler. I was also disturbed by the acrimony of the discussion, the likes of which I've almost never heard on NPR, which known for its civil and respectful discussions and treatments of a variety of topics. That they get two Christians on together and those are the two can't behave respectfully is embarrassing.

  2. Not sure what their goal is. If it is a narrow one of getting evangelicals to accept evolution, then maybe it was a misstep.

    If it was a broader one of getting evangelicals to step away from the ills of fundamentalism in general... well, it may not have been effective, but it touched on the areas where help is needed.

    Evangelicalism suffers a deserved reputation for anti-intellectualism and for a regressive value system (that endorses violence against children, or condemns minority sexual identity... and those are just for instance). Who can argue that it is not reactionary fundamentalism rampant in the evangelical church that is the cause of these ills?

    I'm not an evangelical, or a Christian for that matter... but I am glad to see that these folks are unafraid to try to reform the bad actions and bad attitudes within their church. Their presence in it gives me more respect for evangelicalism. I don't think anyone should stay quiet about moral issues just to smooth the path for improvements on intellectual ones.

  3. A friend of mine who is a liberal Protestant Christian read Biologos consistently over a period of one to two years, during the time when Giberson was still with Biologos. His opinion was that Giberson will eventually come out of the closet as he acknowledges and completes his transition to a fully liberal Protestant. In no way was this statement a compliment and coming from someone who regards himself as a classical liberal Protestant, it is rather telling.
    Dave W

  4. I think that these areas are ones that the church needs to think about and that there is considerable room for growth but to equate traditional teaching about homosexuality with anti-intellectualism when your REAL topic is science and evolution is, I think, a misstep.

    There is a place for these discussions but, by their nature, they are not scientific in the way that the age of the earth is and evolution are. As far as those things are concerned, the evidence is pretty clear. With things like corporal punishment and homosexuality, it is not so.

  5. I caught that segment and was squirming a bit as well. Fortunately, much of Mohler's audience was not likely listening since they are prone to avoiding NPR. However, this single interview and the published transcript I expect we will see quoted over and over in the blogosphere and in very few cases will it be to the credit of Christianity. I appreciate Biologos and their willingness to dive into the issues and to bring them to greater awareness but I wish that they would show greater discretion in their zeal to promote science. I think Peter Enns would have been a far better choice for that interview even though he has been something of a lighting rod in conservative evangelical circles.

    I regularly read Biologos and have my favorites there and have appreciated much of the content and what is being attempted. It is great for those that are real seekers and have spent years struggling with these issues. But for from the general evangelical community the site can come across as looking like it promotes the most liberal points of view even though individual writers range across the board. It is a lowest common denominator effect that is difficult to avoid. For someone like Mohler, it is always going to be very easy to cherry pick examples from a group like that and paint them the he wants.

  6. I missed the segment you are referring to and can't seem to turn it up on the NPR website. Can help me out?

    By the way Jimp, I agree with your point here.

  7. I missed the segment you are referring to and can't seem to turn it up on the NPR website. Can help me out?

    By the way Jimp, I agree with your point here.

  8. I missed the segment you are referring to and can't seem to turn it up on the NPR website. Can help me out?

    By the way Jimp, I agree with your point here.

  9. So glad you wrote about this. I've only come around recently to the overwhelmingly likely reality of evolution and was glad to find BioLogos as fellow evangelicals who took Scripture and science seriously. My secret fear is that the baby (the authority of Scripture) is thrown out with the bathwater (a literalistic interpretation of the first several chapters of Genesis and a rigid hermeneutic overall). I wonder where his statements about homosexuality come from. Is it because he sees homosexuality as an orientation hard-wired by a gene or piece of DNA? So what? I bet we could find genes that control our tendency towards pride, anger, heterosexual lust...any manner of sin.

    It's a real shame because, you're right, a brother like Mohler doesn't have to deal with the issue of science and can attack the apparent disregard for the Bible's authority in matters of morality.