“Biblical Christianity” has a semantics problem


A friend shared the following article on Facebook: The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem. I do agree with its main premise that Christians perhaps aren’t doing so well in their efforts to educate their own (I did laugh at the anecdote that apparently some people really think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife). What the writer, Albert Mohler, doesn’t mention is the diverse explanation of the term “biblical Christianity.” This term is taken as a given in many churches, and it’s assumed to be understood and agreed upon by all.

There are plenty of other points I could comment on throughout his piece, but the nondescript use of “biblical Christianity” immediately lost me. If it said “evangelical Christianity” or “Anglican Christianity,” that would be a different story. But history shows there is not and has never been a singular Christianity.

Since evangelicalism is the Christianity of choice in American culture, I’ll assume he’s referring to that one for the purpose of this post.

Yes, it’s problematic that self-proclaimed Christians can’t name all four gospels or half of the Ten Commandments (actually, I should probably brush up on those). However, I think I’m part of the target audience that Mohler desperately wants to reach. I’m one of those millennial Christians surrounded by liberal, progressive ideas like feminism and marriage equality. I’m part of that generation being encouraged to view the Bible as an archaic book with archaic ideas that have no relevance to 21st-century life.

Clearly I can’t speak for all millennials, but I’m confident that many will agree when I say that the biggest thing that confuses us, a critical issue that threatens to lose us, is this abstract idea of “biblical Christianity” being the same across the board. Mohler comes across as extremely naïve to assume that preachers and teachers of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Methodist, Baptist, and Lutheran traditions will all agree on the same universal principles. And that’s just a handful of denominations – there have been 40,000 of them on record since the first century.

Two thousand years have passed since then, and the burden of proof is on people like Mohler to explain why his specific tradition is the one we should follow. Evangelicalism is still in diapers compared to older sects like Catholicism. Was everybody wrong for the first 1500 years?

I’m not sure if the Mohlers of the world view biblical “sameness” as agreeing on general issues like the sin of homosexuality, premarital sex, and evolution. That’s the problem – he doesn’t explain it! Americans are so biblically ignorant, yet he assumes we understand what “biblical Christianity” is? Or maybe he’s referring to more specific bedrocks like an actual virgin birth and a physical resurrection. But then there’s adult versus infant baptism, the importance of faith versus works for salvation, worship styles, and suddenly people flip out enough to leave their churches and form new ones. This cannot be overlooked.

No wonder millennials are so confused; the faith we are told is the true one has no singular definition. Never in its history of existence has this faith been monolithic. You would think that a perfect God would do something to get everyone back on the same page.

To Mohlers of the world, perhaps the most effective solution to “biblical illiteracy” is being honest about the fact that biblical diversity exists. Own up to the possibility that you may be right about many things, but could still be wrong about plenty. Stop dodging our questions and patting us on the head with platitudes encouraging us to “just pray about it” or “The Bible clearly says…” because clearly, it doesn’t! Why should we be inclined to believe your interpretation over the Catholic church down the street? You have given us no convincing case.

Instead, maybe share with us young, unenlightened people how you came to believe as you do, and assure us that God is more concerned about an honest search for truth than blind acceptance of dogma. It seems you are more concerned about enforcing the latter. You want Americans to recite the Ten Commandments on cue, but honest discussion and the freedom to express doubt is somehow less important. If that’s the case, do not be surprised when more of us grow frustrated enough to leave it all behind.


5 thoughts on ““Biblical Christianity” has a semantics problem

  1. I agree totally with this post!

    AFAIK there is a solid-rock foundation for Christianity – the creeds, like the Nicene Creed. And a literal interpretation of the Bible within reason and having an open mind to cultural interpretations across the board. And desiring a passionate relationship with God, through reading the Bible and praying to Him. Knowing the basic doctrines of Christianity and theologically discussing systems that don’t line up and why they are incorrect according to Christian principles. Discussing Bible passages frequently while making room for different interpretations. At least that’s how I understand the Christianity someone very close to me holds. Right doctrine, Biblical literacy, theology, expounding on Biblical teachings, and desiring to know God more personally. In short, the three-legged stool of traditional churches – the Bible, tradition, and reason.

    None of that is present in the church today. All people are concerned with is wealth, power, and sex; and nothing to do with the spiritual roots of the Christian faith. I am fortunate to know someone so grounded in the Bible that this person can explain it well and have a deep, rich, solid faith. I encourage people to look to people like Catherine Marshall, G.K.Chesterton, George Muller, and C.S.Lewis for inspiration on how to live the Christian life, and to forget the modern church with its pop music and its heavy emphasis on sexual purity. Also make social causes an emphasis, as Jesus commanded us to love our neighbours as ourselves. If more people tried to get their relationships with God right; love doctrine and theological discussions as to the meaning of Biblical passages; leave room for questions that cannot be answered, plus being reasonable in their interpretations of the Bible yet be willing to have a vibrant faith in God’s goodness and ways; and activise on behalf of the poor and oppressed rather than demanding tithes from people and promising them false healers like Benny Hinn (I know of one true faith healer but he atypical of the faith healing movement because when he prayed people truly did heal) the practice of the Christian faith would be far more vibrant, and I believe love, faith, and hope would flow from people’s hearts more naturally. However, this is just my opinion, as influenced by my life experience of knowing someone who learned to completely trust God for their every need, and knowing someone who loved Christian philosophy.

    To pray and know that God will answer your prayers is truly a gift from God. George Muller was a director of an orphanage and during his life he struggled to feed the children in his care several times. Often he prayed in faith for the children who had no breakfast, “God, we thank you for the breakfast that we are about to receive” and he heard a knock on the door, two different times, and received bread and milk for the children. Yet this man suffered bereavement in his life, the loss of his year-old son. He was sometimes also plagued by illness and was very poor. George Mueller did not believe that we were called to be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous; but rather that people were called to serve God and prayed with the faith to move mountains that God would provide for his every need, yet understood that sometimes it was God’s will that his prayers be answered with a “no”.

    That is a simple faith that I wish church taught people – the faith that God would provide our *needs* if only we depended on him more. Instead we hear that all people will be healed when that is presently impossible in this life; in short, the church exhorts people to put their faith in the wrong thing. Rather than realising that sometimes we will suffer (and sometimes for the sake of Jesus) we hear that we will always be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous. It is a lie that we would all do better without.

    I hope this helps someone out there, wondering what Christianity is and why it has any meaning at all to it. To such people, I say: I left because of the impossible expectations of the Church, but I challenge you to do better if you want to remain in the fold of Christ.


  2. They sure are scared of the idea of Christians thinking for themselves. What I think is hilarious is that their whole paradigm relies on the idea of the Bible being authoritative in its entirety. If someone figures out that it isn’t, then they can learn Bible verses and stories all day long if they want and it won’t make them believe. I know 10x more about the Bible now than I ever knew as a Christian, and am readily familiar with more of its myths and verses than I ever was before my deconversion–but I’m in no danger at all of re-converting.

    If there is something Out There, I’d like to think it values earnest searching for the truth than it does blind obedience. If it doesn’t, then I want no part of it anyway. If it does, then as long as I’m honest and earnest and care about the truth, then I’m on the right track.


  3. God doesn’t care about the truth. Caring is a human trait which is confined to finite beings. But you’re right, many churches are much more interested in blind acceptance of dogma than encouraging “thinking” Christians.


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