The Case Against Evangelical Christianity

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The Case Against Evangelical Christianity" is a hard hitting attack against Christian fundamentalism. It seeks to disprove the Evangelical claim that the Bible is the in-errant word of God. In addition to offering a thorough critique of Evangelical Christianity, this book presents material reconciling Darwin's theory of evolution with the Christian faith. It also explores new approaches to udnerstanding revelation and redefines Christianity away from belief and toward a love that was central to the life and ...
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Overview

The Case Against Evangelical Christianity" is a hard hitting attack against Christian fundamentalism. It seeks to disprove the Evangelical claim that the Bible is the in-errant word of God. In addition to offering a thorough critique of Evangelical Christianity, this book presents material reconciling Darwin's theory of evolution with the Christian faith. It also explores new approaches to udnerstanding revelation and redefines Christianity away from belief and toward a love that was central to the life and teachings of Jesus.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780979130427
  • Publisher: Charles River Press MA
  • Publication date: 12/1/2006
  • Pages: 206
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The first draft of this book was written in two weeks in a fit of anger over the stand of the Christian right on the homosexuality issue. That is not the best strategy for writing a book. As a result, over the next six months, I sought out advice from friends regarding future drafts. These friends include Art and Joyce Weissbach, Larry George, Julie Shissler, and Schuler Kaufman.
This book would not have been written without the encouragement and support of Susan Stone. Susan is the director of Christian education at Holy Cross Epis-copal Church in Valle Crucis, North Carolina. She pro-vided me with a forum for presenting these ideas in the protective environment of an adult Sunday school class. Andrea Howe of Charles River Press gave me much-needed editorial assistance, and the publisher, Jonathan Womack, had the courage to take a risk on a book like this. Many thanks to all of you!
Finally, I want to thank our daughter Heather Stewart for our two grandchildren and for thirty-five years of laughter and fun. Her generosity of spirit is what this book is all about. As you will learn from reading the introduction, I also owe her an apology. It is for these reasons that I proudly dedicate the book to her.

Rick Herrick
Oak Bluffs,
Massachusetts
Summer 2006


Introduction

Evangelical Christians are on a roll. They control the White House. They controlled the small mountain county in North Carolina where I reside until the election in November of 2004. Their numbers and self-confidence are increasing at a rapid rate. Their influence on the public debate has never been greater.
The best way to know them is by their beliefs, not bydenomination. You find them in all Protestant de-nominations. What distinguishes them is conservative theology. They see themselves as orthodox Christians, defenders of traditional Protestant beliefs. Many claim to have been "born again.
The approach of Evangelical Christians to sacred scripture is well known. For them, it is a matter of pride that the Bible is historically accurate from the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis through the book of Revelation. The Bible is God's unique word, a record of his acts and revelations, the story of his redemptive activity for the world. It is inerrant. Be-cause God is the author of both the Old and the New Testaments, these two parts of the Bible are fully con-sistent in all their myriad details.
With respect to Jesus, he is God's divine son, the incarnation of the deity, both fully human and fully divine. His birth is seen as miraculous, a result of the union of a human mother and a divine father. His death on the cross was overcome by a physical res-urrection, after which he ascended to heaven. Jesus Christ is the only way for humans to approach and to relate to God. It is through a relationship with Jesus Christ that Evangelical Christians believe they attain eternal life.1
Some commentators point out that there is a split within the Evangelical movement between a funda-mentalist wing and a more moderate group. This split is mostly concerned with style and tactics rather than belief. The fundamentalists are at war with modern culture. They tend to be politically aggressive, intoler-ant, and mean spirited. The moderates are far more tolerant of secular culture and the religious beliefs of fellow Christians. However, because the doctrinal be-liefs held by the two groups differ very little, the two factions are treated collectively as one movement in this book.2
As the title of this book suggests, I do not accept all of the faith claims outlined above. Although I think of myself as a Christian, I see the Bible as a far more complex and human book. Though not an expert on the history or literature of either the Old or the New Testament, the study of the Bible has been an impor-tant focus of my life for the past forty years.
Before proceeding further, I must confess that I un-dertake the writing of this book reluctantly and with real sadness. I have many Evangelical friends. As I sit at my desk, writing this first chapter, I can see the faces of two Evangelical women who regularly volun-teer at the park where I work. They are two of the most loving and unselfish women I know.
In my novel, A Week in October, there is a scene where the main character attends a revival at a fun-damentalist Baptist church. You will revisit that scene in Chapter 15 of this book. The scene was based on a real experience I had almost twenty years ago. I had a relationship that extended over two years with two women from this tiny church. We met every Wednes-day morning to discuss the Bible and other issues of the day. It wasn't long before we became good friends and I was attending their church. The revival I wit-nessed with these two special ladies was one of the core religious experiences of my life.
Finally, I was a member of a weekly Bible study class with Evangelical Christians that lasted four or five years. After leaving the class, I maintained a rela-tionship with two of the members who are both highly intelligent and deeply committed Christians. We con-tinue to this day to share books and to debate theology in an atmosphere of mutual respect and perhaps even love.
This book is not written to or about these very fine people, and there are many more like them. Rather, it addresses a darker side of the Evangelical movement, which seems to be increasingly rearing its ugly head. Despite their recent successes, many Evangelical Christians seem to have an inferiority complex. They see the tenets of modern society as antithetical to their faith, and their response is often to lash out. They have an "us versus them" mentality, which generates hatred for those who are different or who oppose them. They have an ideological approach to religion that em-phasizes issues that divide, such as gay marriage, rather than the love and compassion that was central to the message of Jesus and which serves to bring people together.
Fifteen years ago my life was threatened by an Evangelical Christian who I thought was my friend. Because he worked for us on an occasional basis, I wasn't surprised when he knocked on the front door one sunny afternoon.
"Mr. Rick, you and I need to have words.
"Sure. Come on in. Can I get you something to drink?
"What I needs to say had best be discussed outside by my truck." And so I followed him outside, and there, in plain view, mounted along the back window of his truck, was a rifle. "You're new to these parts," he continued. "Do you know what we do to Communists around here?
"No, I don't think I do," I responded with some confusion.
"We shoot them.
"That's interesting, but what does all this have to do with me?
"Anyone who tries to tell me what to do with my land is a Communist," and with that, he abruptly left in his truck.
I was one of several people in our small town who were exploring the possibility of creating a land trust. He mistakenly believed that the land trust would negatively impact his land in some way.
As he went roaring down the driveway in his truck, I was shaken, not because of the indirect threat to my life, but because of the incredible depth of his anger over this issue. The little Baptist church that he at-tended was not very helpful in teaching him skills on how to relate to people who have different opinions from his own. Compassion for his neighbor was far from his thoughts on that day.
The story does, however, have a happy ending. Five years after the threat, he and his wife returned to our home on a special mission. He wanted Lyn and me to enter into an Amway partnership with them. I guess I had come a long way from my Communist past. When I see him now, our words are always cordial and friendly, though I declined the offer to become his business partner.
Our county had a distinctly unhappy year in 2002. During that year local elections were held that pitted Evangelical Christians against everyone else, or at least that's how it seemed. I campaigned for three can-didates who ran together more or less as a team and who stood for commonsense zoning, moderate envi-ronmentalism, and support for the schools, the arts, and the local university.
One of my candidates told me about an anonymous phone call she received that threatened her life be-cause of her stand on those issues. A lot of newspa-pers were sold in the county that year because of a coordinated campaign by the "Christian right" to ma-lign their opponents and some of the prominent people supporting them in the Letters to the Editor section of the paper. The letters were mean spirited and filled with distortions and untrue assertions. For the most part, the content of the letters had nothing to do with the issues at stake in the election. Rather, they were personal attacks designed to harm the reputations of those seeking to "threaten their way of life.
The Evangelicals won; all three of the candidates I supported were defeated. Two years later I read in the newspaper that one of my favorite local politicians was resigning. This man was a committed Christian and had served the county honorably for the previous ten years. He had also been a good friend to the park where I work. As I entered his office to thank him for his dedicated service, he rose from his desk to shake my hand and to shut his office door.
"The last two years have been the worst years of my life," he said as I made my way to an empty chair. "There is no compromising with those people. They have an agenda, and they will do anything to achieve it. In the past when we had difficult issues to resolve, we met informally, away from the press, at someone's home to discuss the issue. Our purpose was always to reach a compromise that was good for the county and ac-ceptable to the individual commissioners who cared about the issue. But there is no compromising with these people. My motives have been attacked; they have distorted my record and circulated lies about me. I've had enough.
That, at least, was the gist of what he told me that day in his office. I tried to reassure him that he had served his county both well and honorably, and he thanked me for my sentiments. As I left his office to continue with my park errands, I couldn't help but feel sad for this man who had entered public service be-cause he felt a need to give back to the county where he had resided all of his life and that he deeply loved. He deserved a far better ending.
So I am writing this book to honor this good man. I am also writing this book for people I know who have been harmed or otherwise disadvantaged by policies supported by Evangelical Christians. One of the best of these people happens to be my son-in-law. He has diabetes. His oldest son, our first grandchild, also has this insidious disease. These two precious members of our family deserve a government that supports stem-cell research.
Finally, I am writing this book for two friends who are gay. The first is a woman who has been my teacher when it comes to running a small nonprofit corpora-tion and a community park. As a former university professor, I have desperately needed her assistance. Not long after she arrived in the small North Carolina town where she works, a cross was burned in her yard. More recently, when Evangelical Christians con-trolled the Board of Commissioners, she feared for her job in the county. These negative consequences have resulted from her sexual orientation.
Twenty years ago my wife entered the ski business as a patroller. One of the unintended benefits of her career is that it has introduced me to a different world and provided me with many new friends. Last Septem-ber one of those friends visited us at our summer home along the coast of Massachusetts. With Lyn at work on a carpentry job, I engaged my friend in a con-versation about the gay experience.
At one point in the conversation, he said, "You know my history, Rick. For ten years or more I dated women.
"What happened?
"Well I knew from the beginning that it wouldn't work, but I kept on trying. The attitudes about gays in the larger society are not very reassuring.
"Tell me about the process of your discovering that you were gay.
"It was scary, terrifying really. At one point, I con-sidered committing suicide.
When I read in the newspaper the day after the 2004 presidential election that President Bush and his advisors had used the issue of gay marriage to in-crease turnout among Evangelical Christians, I made a firm commitment to write this book.
Before getting to the meat of the matter, let me say something about method. Then I have two thank-yous to make. With regard to method, I have participated in hundreds of theological discussions over the past forty years. When the issues were contentious, the discus-sion was fruitless. Learning or accommodation rarely took place.
As a result, I will keep theological discussion and scholarly interpretation to a minimum. Rather, I will cite or point out readings from scripture on various is-sues and ask that you make up your own mind. Please take the time to do your homework. I expect that you will be both shocked and fascinated in places during your reading of this book.
I would like to thank the adult Sunday school class in the Episcopal Church in our precious mountain community. They have suffered through my unortho-dox take on the Bible for the past five years. Much of the material presented in this book was first presented to them. This little church represents the best in the Christian tradition. Though interested in theological issues, that is not what drives their religion. They come to church to build an inclusive Christian com-munity and to learn how to love. I have been the re-cipient of that love on several occasions, and for that I am deeply appreciative.
Finally, I want to thank my daughter Heather and to issue a formal apology. Heather is our oldest daughter. Twenty-five years ago, Lyn and I went to our first parent-teacher conference to be informed about her progress. I was excited because I had learned be-forehand that Heather's test scores were "off the charts" and her grades were respectable. I was totally unprepared for the first words from her teacher.
"Your daughter has been diagnosed as a divergent learner.
It was the word diagnosed that shot through me. Visions of psychologists and expenses that we could ill afford came dancing through my head.
"Let me reassure you," the teacher continued. "Be-ing a divergent learner is not all bad.
That's nice, I thought, and I reduced the psychology bills by half.
"The main trait of a divergent learner is that they have to reach conclusions on their own. The authority of the teacher has no effect on them. Furthermore, they often go off on wild tangents as they search for understanding. The good news is that divergent learn-ers frequently become creative adults.
I can live with that, I thought as I left the class-room. I guess we're in for an exciting ride. She gets it from her mother, I concluded with a smile. It was so easy to blame it on Lyn. If you knew her, you would readily accept that conclusion. Lyn, my wife, is one of the most interesting women I have ever known.
Ten years after my initial conclusion regarding the genetic cause of Heather's condition, I came to reas-sess it. I was preparing for another adult Sunday school class in a Presbyterian church where the class members had also been especially good to me. After completing my notes, I reread them and immediately broke out laughing. The conclusions were unorthodox to say the least, and the path to them was torturous.
Heather inherited her approach to learning from me. I'm sorry for that, Sweetheart. Please forgive me. Maybe if I dedicate this book to you, it will make up for it in some small way. It is my great honor to do just that.
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Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. The Creation Stories
3. The Ten Commandments
4. The Word of God
5.The Exodus Tradition
6. Messianic Predictions of Jesus
7. Religious Law
8. Dr. Dean
9. The Resurrection
10. Psychological Wounds
12. A Chance Encounter
13. The Rapture
14. The Passion of the Christ
15. Sparkling Creek Missionary Baptist Church
16. An Answer to Job
17. Rethinking Jesus
18. Einstein's Religious Vision
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