Although Newsweek has previously published controversial articles on the Bible and Christianity to coincide with Easter and Christmas, Kurt Eichenwald's 8,500-word, 16-page article posted on Dec. 23, 2014, entitled "The Bible—So Misunderstood It's a Sin," has ignited a firestorm of controversy, in particular in the evangelical Christian world.
Is it true that prominent Christian leaders in America are misusing the Bible to suit their own purposes?
Have the sacred Scriptures become a political weapon in the hands of religious hypocrites?
Could it be that those who most loudly proclaim, "The Bible says!" are actually ignorant of the contents of that very book?
Has the text of the Bible undergone such dramatic changes over the centuries that it bears little resemblance to the original teachings of Moses, Jesus and Paul?
There is certainly a tremendous amount of biblical illiteracy in evangelical Christian circles today, and some of it has trickled down from TV preachers and pastors whose sermons seem more like motivational pep talks than serious expositions of the Scriptures. And there is no shortage of hypocrisy in our midst—I speak as an evangelical leader—as we often major on a few specific sins of others while ignoring many sins of our own. As for using the Bible for political purposes, white evangelical Christians in particular can be guilty of associating true patriotism with allegiance to the Bible and the Republican Party, portraying their opponents as both anti-American and anti-God.
But does Newsweek paint an accurate picture of conservative evangelicals? Certainly not.
More importantly, does Newsweek paint an accurate picture of the reliability of the Scriptures? Emphatically not.
That is why the article has been so controversial. First, it is difficult to know who exactly is being targeted. Is it some evangelical politicians? A few street preachers? Evangelicals in general? Second, Newsweek appears to be attacking the Bible itself—although claiming not to—and it does so in a slipshod, methodologically flawed way at that.
Who Are These Religious Hypocrites?
The article begins with the word "they," but we are not told who "they" are.
Is it those who "wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals"? If so, why even mention such people—especially in the opening line of the article—since they are absolutely minuscule in numbers (less than a fraction of a fraction of a percent of evangelicals), and they are universally condemned for their actions and attitudes by virtually all circles of evangelical Christendom.
Is it those who "fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school"? Aside from the unnecessary rhetorical flourish (no one is worshipping at the base of a monument), many Americans believe that our country was in better shape when we had more esteem for the Ten Commandments, which prohibit adultery and murder and theft and covetousness, while it can be argued that American families were healthier before prayer was taken out of public schools in 1962 than after.
Is Newsweek focusing on those who "gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country's salvation"? If so, what's so bad about this? Public prayer gatherings have played a prominent role in American history since Colonial times, with many a president calling for national days of prayer.
We are not helped by the emotionally charged, broad-brushed accusation that "they are God's frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible's words."
Ironically, later in the article, Newsweek exhorts us to follow the teaching of Jesus, reminding us that He said, "Don't judge. He condemned those who pointed out the faults of others while ignoring their own." Yet here, Newsweek engages in the very kind of biased judgment that Jesus condemned.
As for many evangelicals being "cafeteria Christians" who, in a cavalier way, pick and choose what parts of the Bible they want to use, ignoring what they don't like and modifying translations of the Bible to suit their purposes, while this may be true for some—there are shallow hypocrites in every religious group—it is hardly the norm. To the contrary, in the vast majority of our Bible colleges and seminaries, we teach principles of biblical interpretation called hermeneutics—studying what the biblical authors were saying to their original audiences and asking how those teachings apply to us today. Then we spend the rest of the time wrestling with how to live out those sacred teachings.
And because we believe the Bible is God's Word, our scholars give special attention to mastering the original languages of the Bible, working to produce the very best possible translations. That is why evangelicals lead the entire scholarly world in producing new and improved translations of the Scriptures. Readers of the Newsweek article wouldn't have the slightest idea that this is a major part of our faith.
There is no denying that "America is being besieged by biblical illiteracy," yet that segment of the church that seeks to put extra emphasis on the importance of the Scriptures is singled out by Newsweek for special criticism.
To read the rest of the article, please visit Newsweek.
Michael Brown is the author of 25 books, including Can You Be Gay and Christian? and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show "The Line of Fire." He is also president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience.
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