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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

What Al Mohler Thinks about the Bible and Evolution (and why I am concerned enough to write about it).

The Bible for Normal People

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

Rev. Al Mohler holds strong views on the Bible, what it means to read it correctly, and how taking the Bible seriously requires one to reject evolution.

I think Mohler’s views on these matters are wrong and harmful.

I first came across Mohler’s views while watching a video of a speech he gave in June 2010 at a conference sponsored by Ligonier Ministries.

In that speech, Mohler warned his audience of the dire consequences of compromising their faith in Scripture’s authority by dallying with scientific explanations of the age of the cosmos.

Mohler certainly has his finger on the pulse of his audience, and he expresses himself on these matters with clarity and confidence. His rhetorical skills, however, could not mask the questionable—one might say, incredible—claims Mohler made in that speech, including:

  1. The earth is 6000 years old, despite how old it looks.
  2. A literal reading of Genesis is the only way of respecting Scripture and holding firm to the Christian faith, regardless of what science and Christian compromisers might say.
  3. Mohler’s views on the matter represents the undisturbed consensus of the Christian Church until fairly recently due to the influence of science.

In that speech, Mohler named The BioLogos Foundation specifically as an example of compromised Christian thinking–i.e., thinking that does not conform to these three assertions. On behalf of BioLogos, I wrote a post questioning each of Mohler’s assertions and inviting him to support his views and clarify numerous points. (The entire exchange can be found here.)

Mohler did not respond. I put the matter behind me until a recent interview Mohler gave on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” (September 22, 2011; link here for audio and full transcript). This interview also included biblical scholar Dr. Dan Harlow of Calvin College, whose recent article on Adam caused some controversy, and which led to some colorful exchanges on the show.

In this interview, Mohler predictably restated his platform, likewise with conviction. The interview reminded me of our aborted BioLogos exchange, both in terms of tone and content.

With that in the background, let me explain why I am writing several posts to address Mohler’s thinking of the Bible and evolution.

My aim is not to cross swords with Mohler, put him in his place, go after him, score points, misrepresent, or any of the other types of tactics that tend to be employed when people disagree on the internet.

Those tactics are both tedious and sub-Christian, and I continue to be amazed at how easily theological watchdogs fail to watch their own theologies by their belligerent denunciations and mockeries of those who don’t interpret the Bible the way they do, thinking the Gospel is at stake at every turn.

Having said that, let me state clearly that I believe Mohler is dead wrong at virtually every turn in how he approaches the difficult subject of biblical Christianity and evolution. I also believe he is free to think as he choses and live with the consequences, and I am not writing to convince him otherwise.

I am writing, rather, for the sake of those who are living with the consequences of what Mohler says they must believe–those who feel trapped in Mohler’s either/or rhetoric, that to question a literal interpretation of Scripture concerning creation puts one on the path to apostasy.

Driven by his precommitment to biblical literalism, Mohler leaves his audience with an impossible false choice between a Christian faith that must remain in intellectual isolation in order to survive and an intellectual life that has no place for Christian faith.

Mohler’s rhetoric is spiritually harmful because it is intellectually untenable.

So, in the posts that follow, I will aim to express very clearly why Mohler’s views are simply unsupportable once one steps outside of the intellectual categories Mohler presumes are closed to discussion.

More importantly, I hope to give to the spiritually distressed some confidence to reject the intellectual demands Mohler makes of them.

These are Christians who at some point have felt a comfort in the simplicity and crystal clarity Mohler claims to offer, but have begun to see that their insulation from other perspectives has become spiritually debilitating.

These are people who know they are not serving God by remaining intellectually insulated, and that refusing to look afresh at their own theological systems when the need arises does not please the God of truth.

These are people who do not want to choose between a life of intellectual integrity and Christian faith.

And they do not need to.

Those in that predicament need to hear that there are many—many—thoughtful, mature, knowledgeable, committed Christians in the world, who work and think deeply in these very areas of Bible and science, and would quickly part company with Mohler’s point of view, without shredding the gospel in the process.

In my next post, we will look at Mohler’s defense of a 6000 year old cosmos mentioned above. This–strangely enough–did not come up in the NPR interview, but was prominent in his Ligonier speech. Mohler’s synthesis of Genesis and science is, in my view, arbitrary. It is also a key component in his defense of a literal reading of Genesis, and so we need to pause there.

The remaining posts will examine Mohler’s rhetoric in the NPR interview.

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