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Newsweek

Newsweek

Newsweek

In a massive “double issue” of the magazine Newsweek, the cover boasts a story that is a verbose article by almost Pulitzer Prize winner Kurt Eichenwald. The article seeks to ravage the way that contemporary American evan-gelicals engage the Bible. The article brings to mind the warning “Incoming!” to alert people to the fact that artillery or mortar shells are inbound to their location. Only in this case, the ills he describes are really pretty much fantasies. Take for example, his exceedingly dismissive overview of American Evangelicals (of which there are scores of millions) with this paragraph: 

“They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshiping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.”

While I offer kudos to Mr. Eichenwald for getting the plural right of the word passerby, I take umbrage at the way he assumes a seat of judgment. Employing the classic “straw man” fallacy, he posits what is not and then dismisses his caricature for being flawed. For example, the last I heard, the only people waving Bibles and screaming are those from the exceedingly odd, particularly odious, and pointedly obnoxious members of Westboro Baptist Church (which I believe is down to around six members), who all seem to be of the same abundantly eccentric family. Representing only a few thousandths of a percent of Evangelical Americans, the hateful Bible-wavers amount to what is statistically an astounding 0% of us. To be sure, we of the “Biblical Church” could have done a better job of sharing how the Good News of the Gospel brings redemption to those with sexual brokenness, but the attribution of hatefulness is misplaced.

Regarding those who “fall on their knees, worshiping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments,” Eichenwald misses the point. German theologians coined the phrase “Sitz im Lieben” which means “Life setting,” or context. What Eichenwald fails to grasp is the uncomfortable truth that the “Sitz im Lieben” of the United States is Judeo-Christian Biblical faith. Even his abundant disdain for that perspective cannot overwhelm the fact that this nation was founded under God.

You, dear reader, may have experienced the same fallacious teaching that I endured in school that our nation was founded by secularists and Deists, but having done a great deal of research about it, I’ve discovered that is simply not true. Feel free not to take my word for it. Look at the original documents, things such as the State Constitutions and other founding government documents. It is impossible to miss. The only caveat I would offer is that it is important to understand that the use of the word religion in our founding 18th-century documents, would be better translated in our modern parlance as denomination. It was important to the founders that there not be a state “denomination,” but they were not assuming that all world religions were the same. Time and again, their original writings affirm the Lordship of Christ and the authority of the Bible.

As to stadiums filled with those praying for salvation for the nation, only a fool could think that there is nothing in current American culture that needs salvation. In his own way, even Eichenwald is pursuing a vision for change, only he has a very different sense of what needs to be saved, and what needs to be done to achieve that salvation, than I do.

He goes on to dismiss the unruly, unwashed, ignorant Evangelical mouth-breathing Neanderthals’ intellectual capacity, assuming that we owe uncritical obedience to cherry-picked verses of Scripture. He writes: ”No television preacher has ever read the Bible.” He asserts,

“Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation–a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”

His assumption is that the Bible has been handed down like a parchment-recorded version of “telephone” whereby whispers around a circle begin with “Jesus is Lord,” and finish with “My grandmother’s new gardener is named Haysoos.” Anyone who has done serious inquiry would know that this is simply not the case.

First of all, as archaeologists have unearthed more and more texts, it is obvious to see how amazingly reliable the text actually is. There simply are no doctrines that are cast in doubt by versions of the Bible that have surfaced. We are not left simply to our own devices to preserve or interpret Scripture. We have the help of the preserving and life-giving Holy Spirit. It is simply untrue to say that Scripture cannot be received with confidence. In my studies in London, I was blessed to be able to pour over the oldest fragments of the New Testament. Whereas they are, as Eichenwald rightly describes “scriptio continua,” a mass of letters crammed together with neither spaces nor punctuation, knowledge of Greek and a couple of afternoons in the archives of the British Museum produce enough facility to be able to confirm that the Bible we have is virtually identical to the writings from the past.

Second, just as objectionable as Eichenwald’s superficial scholarship is his myopic perspective that seeks to preserve his right to speak while simultaneously seeking to silence others with whom he disagrees. Rightly established, Christian perspective in culture seeks to give a level playing field for ideas. In that context, the Gospel will win out, and it will do so again and again. Christians need not fear either dissent or unbelief. When we rightly engage the culture, we will love it into redemption through the Cross of Christ.

So, what can we learn from this criticism from Eichenwald and Newsweak magazine? That we should not flag in zeal in engaging the culture with the Gospel. The need for redemption has never been greater. All around us, people and systems are failing because they have failed to apply the foundations of Biblical faith to them. We should be loving those who live with brokenness, especially in the sexual brokenness of this age. We should not speak condemnation to them, but rather the kindness of saying, “True treasure is not found where you are looking. The true treasure of a fulfilling life is found in this way…” and go on to share what life in Christ is really like. We should be sharing how people can become whole and healed. Given the context of the disease-ridden, unfulfilling rootless relationships that infect modern culture, a word from us on how it is possible to find life in the midst of a culturally dark time, a godly proclamation of the Gospel Good News is better received that one might expect.

Most tragic of all, is that the fruit of friend Eichenwald’s efforts, if embraced and adopted, would result in the duplication of the hideous world he thinks he sees, only with a different underclass, namely Christians. He offers no word of redemption, to transformation, and no transfiguration. His world is a tragically vapid one––empty of the Cross or its life.

Instead, we must redouble our efforts to effectively bring the Gospel to bear to our lives and those around us. Let us care. Let us serve. Let us pray…and let us celebrate Jesus. Maybe we can do so in such an authentic way that others (including ourselves) are able to embrace its fullness.