Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Millstones and False Ultimatums

A recent Christianity Today article about Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler has generated quite a lot of discussion.  Long-time readers will already know, especially given my outspoken defense of the rights of women to full access to Christian ministry, that I disagree with Mohler on a number of issues.  However, I'm not writing now to talk about Mohler, per se.

One article responding to Mohler's claims—specifically, the assertion that one cannot believe in evolution yet be an evangelical or biblical Christian (a claim I also dispute)—is especially worth reading.  But the article itself, written by the president of the BioLogos Foundation, caught my attention less than this individual comment responding to it by one "Jon Garvey":
The real danger, it seems to me, is not disagreement but polarisation.

On the one hand, the young people who, torn between fundamentalism and accepting science reject Christianity altogether. Millstones and necks come to mind: to these fundamentalism is a “skandalon”....
Mr. Garvey is, of course, referencing a famous teaching of Jesus.  Here's that teaching as it appears in Matthew 18:5-7 (TNIV):
5"And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

7"Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!
Generally, when I hear this passage, I've always heard it as something like "don't teach people that sinful things aren't sinful."  Rather, we should teach them the ways of God.  Indeed, I expect that Mohler would argue that his insistence on creationism and that women should not be ministers would be in keeping with his convictions about this very passage.

Garvey, however, is arguing something rather different on the basis of Jesus' words.  Mohler (as referenced in the BioLogos article) suggests that atheists and he agree that evolutionary theory is incompatible with Christianity.  Thus, a person who cannot believe in creationism has no choice but to be an atheist.  Leaving aside whether this duality actually does represent the only choice available, it is undeniably a fact that many people, having been taught that evolution is indeed incompatible with Christian faith, upon learning more about scientific knowledge from the secular world, do end up abandoning the faith.

Could it be that this tragic turn of events is actually the "millstone" that causes a person to stumble? (Incidentally, "skandalon" refers to a Greek word representing something that causes a person to stumble or fall—in this case into sin—it is the word from which we get "scandal")  Not the "false teaching" of evolution (granting the enormous assumption that it is false simply for the sake of argument), but the false choice that one must believe in creationism in order to be a Christian?

How tragic that, in trying to defend the faith, passionate Christians may well be working against Jesus' intentions.  I guess it wouldn't be the first time....


  1. While some might argue that Catholicism and christianity are entirely seperate things (I would personally beg to differ), the contemporary Catholic position on Evolution are, in fact, not incompatible at all.

    I would encourage to look at the paragraphs here: under the subheading "The Catholic Position".

  2. I would never say that Catholicism and Christianity are "entirely separate things"! (In fact, I think we "evangelicals" have historically had far more trouble with evolution than anyone)

    Thanks for the link.

  3. I think you are correct. How tragic indeed. The harsh, "You're not a Christian unless..." view is so destructive. It can push people out of faith. It can push Christians to be afraid of engagement with the secular world, for fear they will place their faith in jeopardy. It prevents people outside the faith from being willing to hear the gospel.

    The gospel is not so much about correct belief as it is commitment to a person (Jesus) and a way of life. And Jesus gets lost when we engage in these false ultimatums.

    I'm not saying what we belive doesn't matter. I am saying all of us need to hold those beliefs with a large amount of humility.



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