This week, many Christians got all riled up over something a well-known Christian figure said.
This feels familiar.
Michael Gungor and his wife Lisa, both of the worship band Gungor, came under fire for statements they made about creationism and Genesis’ account of the flood. Oddly, the comments were made in an interview with the Oakland Press back in 2012 and in a blog post they wrote the same year, but are just now on the receiving end of social media outrage.
In the post, “What Do We Believe?” they wrote:
I have no more ability to believe, for example, that the first people on earth were a couple named Adam and Eve that lived 6,000 years ago. I have no ability to believe that there was a flood that covered all the highest mountains of the world only 4,000 years ago and that all of the animal species that exist today are here because they were carried on an ark and then somehow walked or flew all around the world from a mountain in the middle east after the water dried up.
Ironically, the statements were made as an anecdotal point in a long post about why “we should be very slow to judge people for their beliefs.” (He went on to say, “I must remember that the people that believe in a literal Genesis have no more ability to not believe it than I do to believe it.”) But, like a lot of controversies involving statements made by Christian leaders, a larger context is ignored in favor of sensational quotes.
It’s the sort of thing happens within Christianity. This particular instance feels similar to many of the other great “Christian Controversies” of the past 15 years—Rob Bell with Love Wins, John McCarthur with his comments on the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement, Don Miller’s blog about church.
But before jumping on the latest boycott or theology witch-hunt, here are a few things we need to keep in mind:
Some Widely Accepted Church Theologians and Pastors Have Held ‘Controversial’ Beliefs
Not all of the early church fathers believed in literal six-day creation. Augustine of Hippo, arguably the most influential theologian to ever live and the theologian that a majority of modern Christian theology has been influenced by, did not hold to literal six-day creationism.
In fact, he even condemned Christians who would make such claims. In The Literal Meaning of Genesis, he writes, “It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are.”
He was not the only one, either. Included in this list is Origen and Clement of Alexandria. Philo of Alexandria—though not a theologian but a first century Jewish philosopher—also did not hold to young-earth Creationism. Even modern teachers like Tim Keller have questioned a literal six-day creation.
The list could go on.
There are even early church fathers that have influenced what we believe today who did not believe Adam and Eve were literal people, but allegorical symbols of the sinfulness of all humanity. At Bryan College—a school named for a man who is best known for opposing evolution—some members of the faculty objected to a statement of faith that outlined a literal view of creation. The duo’s views on the flood aren’t new or radical and are openly debated in orthodox Christian circles.
Does this mean we should stop reading the early church fathers? Should we throw Augustine out because he held a different view of Creation then some in the contemporary evangelical church?
Well, to put it simply, no. There have been many great men and women of God who have had some unconventional (and some may even say unbiblical) beliefs. God is quite the gracious God, even when we are wrong.
In the Essentials, Unity. In Non-Essentials, Liberty. And in All Things, Charity.
Too often, many Christians have a tendency to vehemently attack anything that might challenge their thinking at all.
I spend a lot of time teaching my freshmen students about the “essentials” and “non-essentials” of the Christian faith. What is essential? Those things directly related to our relationship with our Creator, the one in whom we “live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Simply put, the beliefs and understandings that directly affect our salvation are the essentials (Jesus, His divinity, His death and Resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins, our ability to be in relationship with God through His Son and Spirit and how our life should be lived as taught by the Bible etc.).
The non-essentials, well, they are everything else. They are the things not directly related to our salvation (and, no, literal young earth Creationism and the flood account do not affect our salvation).
I use this analogy often, as Christians we tend to act like we have a belief system that is like a bubble: It is fragile and easily popped if anything even touches any part of it. We think we have to protect our bubble.
But when did the Christian faith become so fragile? It is OK to ask the tough questions, to question our beliefs to find them to be true (and if not true to find the truth God is revealing to us).
Instead of a bubble, our beliefs should be like a Jenga tower that is built on a solid foundation (that of Jesus Christ and the “essentials” of the Christian faith). It should be malleable, able to be corrected, able to be taught, able to be taken apart, examined and built once more back on that foundation.
Therefore we should strive for unity in the essential parts of faith, give some wiggle room in the non-essentials, and most of all, be willing to give a lot of grace for those we disagree with.
(For more reading on the “essentials,” check out this well-respected theologian’s take on what makes a doctrine essential.)
What Does This Mean for Gungor and the Church?
Just yesterday Gungor wrote on his blog that:
“Do I believe God exists? Yes. Do I believe Jesus is the Son of God? Yes. Do I believe that Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness? Yes.“
Now this is by no means a comprehensive list of the “essentials” of the Christian faith, but he has checked of some of the major points on the list.
Before we get in an uproar over what someone believes, before we get ready to point the finger and cry “heretic,” we should stop and listen. It has never done the Church any good to condemn before it listens.
Let us be a group of people who want to listen in love and work out our salvation through faith together. Maybe then we can do what Gungor pushed for in his original post, to be a people who don’t just “believe” in God, but through our faith do what He has commanded us to do: take care of the poor, the widow, the hungry and the needy.
After all, a faith—even a faith that looks the same in all the essential and non-essential parts—is dead without works (James 2:17).