Dangerous ‘literalism’

Who should be allowed to read the Bible? No really, when the “science is settled” and still the religious ignorant among us insist on dragging our feet as our masters try to pull our children toward enlightenment, is it in the public interest to allow untrained and unsophisticated people to read God’s Word for themselves?

President Obama’s designee to head the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, seems to think that it is not. Collins has been the poster boy for acceptable evangelicals since he began his campaign for theistic evolution a few years back. Dr. Collins is the founder of the BioLogos Foundation which, in its effort to find harmony between science and faith, handles non-evolutionists with contempt. Collin’s co-founder at BioLogos is Karl Giberson. Giberson recently conducted an interview (friendly chat, in reality) with Collins for Books & Culture. One reason Giberson gave for the presence of evolution deniers among his fellow evangelicals is that, “We encourage people to read the Bible on their own, but certain misunderstandings are bound to emerge with that approach. Young people are going to read Genesis and think of Adam and Eve as real biological parents of the human race.” Collins responded that we should put “God’s other book,” the book of Nature, in a place of authority more comparable to that of the Bible?to not so quickly assume that the Bible is correct when there is an apparent contradiction with the conclusions of (selected) scientists.

Substitute “conciliar law” for “the book of Nature” and “priests” for “scientists” in BioLogos’ scheme and you’ve reverted to 1516, before the Protestant Reformation restored biblical authority to its preeminent role. It was more convenient for the priesthood of that day that the untrained take their word for religious matters, just as it is for the secular priesthood of our day. We might glean two parallel warnings in Giberson’s and Collins’ fairly mainstream opinion.

First, it’s important that everyday folks (such as the human writers of the biblical books) read the Scriptures without self-exalted human guides. Jesus preached the deep matters of the kingdom in language intentionally accessible to the poor and uneducated. Faith, the simple belief in what God says, has proved to be a more critical element in understanding the Bible than has sophistication or higher education. To this sort of person, Jesus told parables of farmers sowing seed, a woman losing a valuable coin, a father losing and finding a wayward son. Heads surely nodded in understanding as the Lord used these common experiences to explain the gospel.

I believe this understanding was behind Martin Luther’s determination to translate the Bible into vernacular German. This was a very controversial action on his part; his opponents considered the untrained and uninitiated to be incapable of understanding what the Bible said. Luther’s own testimony proves this, actually. His personal study of Romans is what set the whole Reformation ball rolling. Luther believed that the lowest stable boy should be able to read the Bible in his own heart language.

How would stable boys, farmers, housewives, and mortgage brokers read Genesis then? I know that some sophisticates are convinced that even Jesus was not saying what he seemed to be saying, what his hearers understood him to be saying, but discard that rubbish for a minute. Did Jesus’ disciples, non-professionals like Peter and John, understand Genesis 3 to be about the real biological parents of the human race? Did they read Genesis 8 to be about a worldwide flood and a real guy named Noah that God saved out of the flood? Unless you believe that Jesus secretly confessed intentional deception to the 12, you have to say “yes, they did understand these passages pretty literally.” Perhaps Dr. Collins believes we should think of ourselves as better than these simple folks.

Second, this discussion indicates that it is very important that we, who have the Bible in several versions of our native tongue, read it. We should read it, read it aloud, pore over it, meditate on it, treat it as the very Word of God, and believe the God who speaks through it. If it leads us to think something that is out of step with the majority view in our culture or our profession, read it again, but don’t finally place the opinions of men on equal or superior footing with the teachings of the God of all truth.

As fine and important as the professions are, we should not all become physicists or biologists or chemists. We are all theologians and philosophers, though. Few of us will ever endanger our amateur status in these foundational disciplines but we do expound on the nature of truth and other ultimate matters more often than we realize.

I say this to point out another fallacy of the “how dare you amateurs speak on my subject” attitude of Darwinists within and without the body of Christ. As philosophers, we all have a view of the world that makes sense to ourselves. We all evaluate the validity of claims and offers that come our way a thousand times a day.

As theologians, we worship a god or the God. We form convictions regarding our source, purpose, and final destination. We have opinions regarding how the theology of others stacks up to our own. The fact that many Americans do not consider <st1:place w:st="on

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