Thursday, July 27, 2006


[First in a series including "Robbers and Thieves and Wolves - Oh My!" and "The Bible: Inspired and Inerrant?"]
[Crossposted at Street Prophets - where the comments are]

When my wife's brother was about 19 or so, he and she were at a shopping center at Christmas time. They were crossing a bridge over an ice rink pushing against the mad rush - when her brother stood on the railing and shouted at the top of his lungs: "SHEEP! SHEEP! YOU ARE ALL G-D- SHEEP!"

This brother is the most secular of the siblings and certainly a hard agnostic. He probably still thinks people are sheep (he is so much wiser); and my guess is he thinks the religious are sheep particularly. In my normal stream of consciousness mode, I thought of this story when I was reading a post and its comments at Street Prophets. The front page post by Pastordan was "53% of Churchgoers say Attendance is Growing". The poll PD was referring too was in an article by the same name at Rasmussen Reports. The part that Pastordan stressed to launch the discussion was this:

Fifty-three percent (53%) of American churchgoers say that attendance at their Church is growing. A Rasmussen Reports survey found that 11% say attendance is declining while 33% see little change. Evangelical Christians are more likely to see growing attendance than other Protestant Churchgoers or Catholics.

Among those who believe the Bible is literally true, 57% say that attendance is growing at their Church. Among other churchgoers, just 44% see growth.

Fifty-four percent (54%) of all Americans believe the Bible is literally true while 32% disagree and 13% are not sure. Among those who attend Church at least once a week, 74% believe it is literally true. At the other extreme, 29% of those who rarely or never attend Church believe the Bible is literally true.

Now Street Prophet's followers of Christ are heavily in the group of the 46% of Christians who do not believe in the "literalness" and inspiration of scripture. Folks recommend Marcus Borg and many speak kindly of the Jesus Seminar. Many folks will argue that whether Christ actually lived; actually died; and was actually risen from the dead is irrelevant - it is the mythos and meaning around the story, and not its historical accuracy, that matters. I have heard it argued that the insistence on the actual occurance of supernatural events drives modern seekers away from God because they cannot buy faith that reason cannot test. Most are part of churches that are not evangelical, conservative, fundamentalist, etc.

The comments should be read. Pastordan was smart enough to not say what this poll meant; but the commenters were unafraid - and I am admittedly never "smart": B . . . (oops sorry). My little chat here was primarily driven by a couple of comments. I am linking the full comments because I have pulled out just that which is thematic to this post:

  • here:
    Literal truth??? . . . The Bible in the hands of the ignorant may not be a good thing. How do they deal with the question of translation? Oh--sorry, I forgot--that would involve thought.

    I have read statistics that church attendance is falling--are they delusional about that too? [actually, it is pretty well accepted that theologically conservative churches have shown growth]

  • and the key one that drove this:
    I think "evangelical" churches are growing faster than "mainstreams" because it's an uncertain world out there, and the evangelical/fundy groups offer a lot more black and white answers. The entire program for your life, from repentance to salvation to discipleship, is all laid out for you -- all you have to do is follow. You don't need to question or to think, and you get a large group of people providing emotional encouragement and support -- plus, of course, the certainty of eternal life in heaven. It's pretty attractive for people who are scared (most of us) and who would also prefer not to have to work out our own paths to enlightenment/salvation (more and more of us).
For me, this is "bible believers as sheep" meme: we mindlessly, ignorantly (and really foolishly) follow leadership that doesn't understand the Bible for what it really is - and probably had poor training (or poor understanding of that training) to get to the point of being bad leaders. In fact, for nearly 2000 years generations of followers of Christ have willfully or ignorantly just gotten the message of scripture wrong - or the message itself is wrong. It has taken the last 200 years for modern scholars to be able to correct the mistakes that 1st and 2nd century church leaders made in their understanding of their own primary written language; and those scholars have corrected the mistaken ideas about the Bible's authorship by folks who knew the alledged authors personally. I have had conversations about what "real" scholars believe about the Bible; what "real" seminaries teach about the Bible; and what the "real" Jesus "really" did and "really" said.

Of course this irritates me. It is insulting; and it is meant to be insulting. There is no respect for what we believe, or the intellectual capacities of us who believe it. It is an insult to graduates of Moody, Dallas, Denver, and Multnomah seminaries and other fine conservative bible schools and seminaries around the country. I am getting used to this from secular and religious liberals - but it is still an insult and, from Christians, the type of division of the Body that John talks about in 1 John.

I was about to "go off" in this comment section. However, I remembered my wife's brother. And, I remember one of those parables which I am, in the spirit of the conversation, going to use literally:

John 10: 3 "To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 "When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice . . . 14 "I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. 17 "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. 18 "No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father."
S--t, we ARE sheep. Certainly, we are not to check our minds at the door, but we are to "Love God With All Our Minds", transforming ourselves by "renewing our minds" (making them young again - make them new) while "taking every thought captive for God". 1 Corinthians 2:16 says that the Holy Spirit gives us the "mind of Christ" - so that our shepherd can lead us. There is certainly no basis in scripture for us "working out our own paths to enlightenment/salvation" - we are to hear the shepherd's voice, recognize it, and follow it. We are sheep after all. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (sheep do fear and tremble after all) - but this is on a narrow path (not our own) where we need to be led safely by the voice of our shepherd because we are sheep. When we wander our own way (as I have often) we find ourselves at the bottom of ravines with broken legs surrounded by wolves. Luckily, the good shepherd comes and kills the wolves, carries us out of the ravine, binds our wounds, and patiently waits for us to fall into the next ditch.

For people in the thread on the poll there is no hint that many of the sheep just do not hear the shepherd's voice in theologically liberal churches. I think the comment is correct that, to some degree, we do not want to "question or think" but desire a God of authority and power; a shepherd who will lead us out on that narrow path; and lay down His life to keep us safe. We seek, as I once said in Al-Anon - and on my knees 11 years ago in Spokane, a higher power because we know we are incapable of controlling our lives - and that our concepts of right and wrong are "filthy rags". We know that our wisdom is foolishness, and that God's foolishness is wisdom. We seek power and authority and a sure shepherd because we are sheep.

Maybe the 57% who believe and teach the power and authority of scripture and see their churches growing are not delusional and/or overly optomistic - maybe their churches are growing because we are sheep and we at least think we hear our shepherd's voice there. They are growing too because people are not seeking their own God's and their own understanding - they are seeking power, wisdom, and authority for their lives. Liberal theology may tell them to seek their own way; but they do not need a pastor to tell them that and they may know their own way stinks and hasn't worked.

On reflection then, I can really only answer the charges that those that see authority in scripture must be avoiding the scriptural problems "that require thought" and/or that we need a program laid out that only requires obedience and "not the need to question or think" one way:


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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly