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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Speaking of Culture Wars: Evangelicals and the Bible (Again)

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.

Today, Rachel Held Evans posted on how Christian culture wars may be winning battles but losing a generation. Younger Christians are growing tired of having the Good News defined by their leaders going into default battle mode whenever a controversial social or political issue comes up.

I agree with Rachel’s observation, and it struck me immediately that it is applicable to my little dysfunctional corner of the world: evangelicals and their uneasy relationship with critical biblical scholarship.

Defending a particular way of understanding what the Bible is and how it is to be understood are staples of evangelicalism. Evangelicalism was founded to stay “true” to the Bible, which means contending against the theories of much of biblical scholarship deemed unacceptable to a “high” view of Scripture.

No, I am not condemning all evangelicals, but anyone who is at all active in this subculture can relate without much difficulty. Evangelicals have a long history of protecting the Bible from perceived “attacks,” and they have been remarkably successful in passing down that defensive legacy, and throwing under the bus those who raise serious voices of dissent.

But a growing generation of younger evangelicals has grown suspicious of the tremendous expense of energy needed to sustain the status quo. They live in a world where evolution is true, world religions intermingle, evangelicalism has lost its political and cultural luster, and where biblical scholarship has convincingly offered alternate paradigms for understanding the Bible.

The faith of their evangelical heritage no longer defines their spiritual journeys, and so these evangelicals are ready to deal with the Bible as it is rather than shuffle their feet in embarrassment. The pleading voices of evangelical gatekeepers have become a distant echo of their parent’s faith, yet they find the shrill badgering of the New Atheists spiritually and intellectually obscene.

They are looking for a path forward that is both intellectually fresh and spiritually healthy. They want to follow Jesus, even discover what they means here and now, rather than taking on issues of past generations and fighting battles that they feel define a cultural moment rather than the Gospel.

In my opinion, the future of spiritually vibrant and intellectually engaged evangelicalism depends on their success. That horse is already out of the barn and there is no turning back.

 

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