Thursday, May 5, 2011

Trashing Evangelicals

My wife just forwarded me a CNN article – “Why I Believe in God” – by LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for Initially, my heart leapt for joy to see that CNN would publish something that would provide positive evidences for God. However, the extent of Granderson’s “evidence” was a chance encounter with his pastor, Rob Bell, and his peculiar claim that faith doesn’t require any more confirmation than this:

One of the biggest problems with religion in general, and evangelical Christianity in particular, is the claim of having definitive answers about an infinite being. But true faith does not require us to have all of the answers. Faith, as it relates to spirituality, isn't knowing something others don't know – we call that a secret – but rather belief in something that can't be empirically proven or disproven.

However, the Biblical faith is not opposed to “knowing” and certainty. Here’s just a small sample of verses that affirm the centrality of knowing:

• John 17:26 - I have made you KNOWN to them, and will continue to make you KNOWN in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

• 1 John 5:20 - We KNOW also that the Son of God has come and has given us UNDERSTANDING, so that we may know him who is true.

• 2 Tim. 3:15 - you have KNOWN the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

• John 8:31-32 - To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THE TRUTH will set you free."

Why would Granderson make such an insupportable statement? Because it’s culturally supportable! Granderson’s “faith” doesn’t threaten anyone. It lacks the backbone to say, “I have the truth” or “You are committing adultery, and that’s wrong.” It’s a “faith” you can take into any elite social gathering, where you’ll receive nods of approval. It doesn’t compete with or negate anyone else’s worldview or lifestyle by claiming that it can be “empirically proven” or that it’s “true.” Instead, if your claim is “Well, it works for me,” no one will find fault. It’s like saying, “I enjoy a martini in the evening.”

However, the Christian faith not only engages the heart but also the mind. It makes claims upon all of our faculties and decisions, as it should. It’s even rationally imperialistic, claiming that it is supported by proofs:

• Acts 1:3 - After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing PROOFS that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Ironically, Granderson has his own thinly veiled “definitive answers,” but they are so thoroughly accepted in his circles that they can barely be detected:

In other words, to truly be a person of faith one must accept the fact there is no tangible evidence there is a God. If such evidence existed, we wouldn't need faith. And on the flip side, atheists cannot prove without a shadow of a doubt there is no God.

Sounds like a “definitive answer” to me! However, his assertion is gladly given a green-light among our religiously pluralistic elites, especially when contrasted with the hated Evangelicals. Granderson predictably erects the usual Evangelical straw-man, one who would send the deserving Gandhi to hell:

Gandhi, of course, was a Hindu, and Christians…are to believe that anyone, no matter how much good they might've done on Earth, are hell-bound if they are not Christians. To some, a pastor openly questioning an essential part of Christianity is career suicide.

Granderson doesn’t bother to explain that, according to the Bible, no one can earn their way into heaven. This knowledge deflates our natural tendency towards boasting. However, presenting Evangelicalism (Christianity) its proper light would just be too nuanced and might even provoke some intelligent conversation and even respect. Instead, it has more media-appeal to paint Evangelicals as judgmental morons, governed by fear and ignorance. Granderson quotes Rob Bell in this regard:

Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends or tribe: “We don't discuss those things here.”

In other words, Evangelicals are fearful, guilt-ridden are repressed buffoons. Instead, we are committed to truth and evidences, and generally welcome a good discussion. Oddly, this is the very claim that Granderson makes about his own faith:

I believe the discussion itself is divine.

There is something highly inconsistent about his assertion. Discussion is valuable in the role that it plays in leading to learning and growth. Discussion challenges and provokes us to think deeper and to question our original assumptions. However, Granderson claims that his faith excludes learning, knowledge, propositional statements and an evidential foundation:

To admit doubt removes the arrogance of certainty prevalent in so many evangelical Christians and atheists alike and replaces it with the humility – and even peace – that comes with not knowing the answers. I do not find the mystery to represent the absence of God but rather his presence.

This is assertion masking as “doubt!” Faith to Granderson is “mystery,” not knowledge and truth. Consequently, God didn’t give us a mind to seek truth but a mind that should be asleep, at least in regards to religious matters. After all, if the mind comes up with some answers, well that’s “the arrogance of certainty,” the antithesis of humility. Evidently, humility then becomes an assertion of knowing nothing, a “peace[ful],” bland ignorance.

How then can discussion be “divine?” Should we not be on our guard lest we come to some truth through it and fall prey to “the arrogance of certainty?” Granderson has his own areas of certainty:

If we could figure God out, he wouldn't be that impressive.

Actually, this statement is correct. However, he once again misrepresents Evangelicals, suggesting that we claim that we can figure God out. Instead, we claim that broad middle ground between complete ignorance and knowing God exhaustively. However, misrepresenting Evangelicals will get your articles into print:

• And if the promise of heaven, or the threat of hell, is the only reason to seek his face, I can see why some Christians find questioning the existence of either to be problematic.

Instead, we acknowledge that God likes honest questions (James 1:5-8) and an honest search (Deut. 4:29). We’re not afraid to use our minds and are willing to go where the truth might lead.

Granderson and his pastor Rob Bell misrepresent the Biblical faith. I wish instead that they would engage our argumentation instead of constructing negative stereotypes – like we’re only Christians because of “the promise of heaven, or the threat of hell.” I’ve tried many times to challenge these stereotypes, but they are highly resistant to reason. Perhaps, it’s just become too much fun to trash Evangelicals.

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