Eight ways evangelicals are driving Americans to atheism

What is your opinion of this?



I think they confuse fundamentalism with evangelicals.


Given the strong presence of fundamentalism among evangelicals, it’s not difficult to associate the two. The scandal of the evangelical mind is still highly relevant, as Pete Enns has observed.

The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that degrees, books, papers, and other marks of prestige are valued— provided you come to predetermined conclusions.

Biblical scholarship is the recurring focal point of this type of scandal.

*Sure, dig into evolution and the ancient context of Genesis, but by golly you’d better give me an Adam when you’re done.

*Knock yourself out with scholarship on the Pentateuch, but make sure at the end of it all you affirm that Moses basically wrote it.

*Be part of cutting edge archaeological studies, but when you’re done we want to see you affirm the historicity of the exodus and conquest of Canaan pretty much as the Bible describes them, regardless of what others say.

*Do whatever work you need to do, but when the dust settles, explain how your conclusions fit with inerrancy.

The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that doctrine determines academic conclusions.

Behind all this is a deeper problem. Evangelicalism is not fundamentally an intellectual organism but an apologetic one. For whatever reasons Evangelicalism might have started, it has not come to inspire academic exploration but to maintain certain theological distinctives by intellectual means. These intellectual means are circumscribed by Evangelical dogma, though avoiding overt Fundamentalist anti-intellectualism.


This is funny to me, because Gregory of Nyssa, one of the earliest church fathers, has explicitly said that at least one of Egypt’s plagues, the death of the first-born, cannot be defended rationally if we believe in an all good God that was shown in Christ.

Enns describes this as a post-evangelical. Knoll seems to give a different take.


I have no idea what this means.

I think Enns gives the same take as Knoll. Evangelicas are strongly encouraged to ensure their theological conclusions agree with evangelical creeds and preconceptions,and strongly discouraged from independent thought which may result in disagreement with mainstream evangelical thought. This is why evangelicals have a reputation for being fundamentalists.

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How is this different from any brand of Christian theology? Does not the Roman Church demand an Adam as much as evangelical churches do? Do not orthodox Reformed and Lutheran scholars still insist on a historical Adam? The conclusions of Denis Lamoureux and Pete Enns about Adam and Eve run against not only most evangelical writers, but against most of mainstream Christian tradition up to the time of the Enlightenment at least.

And Adam and Eve is hardly the only question where the classical Christian traditions – Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran, etc. – expect Biblical scholarship to conform to at least the broad outlines of the standard Creeds and Confessions held by those churches. If the evangelicals are being “unreasonable” not to let the results of Biblical scholarship challenge traditional doctrine, they are far from the only Christians who are being “unreasonable.”

I think it would be impossible for church doctrine not to limit the possible conclusions of Biblical scholarship, unless “church doctrine” is so vague and amorphous (“I believe in some Ground of Being which some people call God, and I think Jesus was a really great and important figure”) that it has no intellectual contents worth mentioning.

It sounds as if in Jonathan Burke’s view of things, in cases of conflict, Biblical scholarship trumps historical Christian doctrine, every time, and all church doctrine, confessions, creeds, etc. are in principle up for negotiation. This would make Christian doctrine something that was perpetually in flux, as the latest trends in Biblical scholarship demand now one change, now another. This might be a world in which academic Biblical scholars would very much love to live in – it would make them very, very important in the scheme of things, and would allow them to sneer dismissively at traditionalists and systematic theologians with their prior commitments – but it wouldn’t be a world in which churches could provide any stable guidance for their flocks.


Djordje, what conclusion does Gregory of Nyssa draw from this line of reasoning? That the death of the first-born cannot have happened, because God would never do such a wicked thing? If so, is Gregory not saying that the Bible reports something that is false? And if so, how does he justify the use of falsehood by the inspired writer? Or does he deny that the writer, at that point, was inspired? And if the writer was not inspired at that point, are there other points in the Bible where the writer was not inspired? That would seem to lead to very dangerous consequences, potentially. Tell us more. Some references might help as well.

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Here’s a very good explanation of Gregory’s view:


Hi Eddie,

To the extent that your question is rhetorical rather than inquisitive, it seems to assume that to be inspired, a Biblical passage must conform to modern historiographical standards. I haven’t settled on a conclusion for myself, but I am not inclined to reject Gregory of Nyssa’s hermeneutical approach out of hand.



I just want to say another thing, so no one would accuse me of cherry picking fathers: of course I’m aware that there were fathers who were literalists, indeed, Gregory’s own brother was one. He even went as far as to condemn Origen (his mentor) and Gregory for their allegorical reading. So, theologically, someone can choose which father or fathers, if any, they wish to follow. Gregory and the like are the ones I, personally, feel comfortable following, even though I’m not uncritical.

But, in relation to Gregory’s interpretation of the above mentioned plague, we need to ask ourselves the question: can the murder of innocent children, in any way, be justified, or considered ‘good’ and worthy of a good God? A question we, unfortunately, we often forget to ask ourselves.

And, I’ll admit, I’m playing on people’s emotions a bit.

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If you were familiar with the history of Christian hermeneutics beyond the scholastic era, you might understand. Departing from historic Christian positions is how events such as the Reformation were possible.

Let me introduce you to the historical critical method. Welcome to the nineteenth century.

All church doctrine, confessions, creeds, etc. should in principle be up for negotiation. Why should they not? No, this doesn’t mean that Christian doctrine will necessarily be perpetually in flux. Biblical scholarship doesn’t change in the way you are suggesting. Broad consensus exists on a very wide range of issues, and in many cases the consensus has not changed for around 100 years.

Correct. They are not the only Christians being unreasonable. In contrast, critical scholarship is widely accepted in many mainstream Christian groups, who are not so unreasonable.

Even conservative groups such as the Seventh Day Adventists have been praised by secular archaeologists because when the SDA archaeologists came up with findings and reached conclusions which disagreed with their own church’s interpretation of the Bible, they published them anyway. And the church didn’t stop them. This is what honesty looks like, as opposed to grovelling servitude to the traditions of men.

How can you be ignorant of the fact that so many mainstream churches long ago accepted historical criticism, and that many of them have changed their traditional theological position as a result? This is just one example; an Anglican scholar being promoted by an Anglican diocese, despite the fact that she is writing specifically to reject the doctrine of the immortal soul.

The author believes it necessary to critique traditional views held by Christians such as dualism (a body and soul or a body and mind) or trichotomism (body, soul and spirit). She finds her students are split between dualism and trichotomism, that most biologists and neuroscientists are physicalists, whereas Christian philosophers are divided between physicalism and dualism.

Are you aware of any of the major shifts in Biblical interpretation since the nineteenth century? Are you aware of how many of these shifts have been accepted within mainstream Christian groups? Are you aware of the number of Catholic scholars who have departed from traditional understandings of hell, and now regard it as a state, or an experience, but not a location where the souls of the damned are located and tortured? Are you aware of the number of Anglican and American theologians who have rejected the doctrine of the immortal soul, and the rise of Christian mortalism throughout the twentieth century?

The very fact that you differentiate between “academic Biblical scholars” and “systematic theologians” is extremely telling.

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some data might help clarify-

This is the religious pop demographic for the US. The evangelical population has not changed much over the last ten years. So if they loosing people, they are also gaining members from other areas.

Whereas mainline protestant denominations are on a downward spiral. I would assume mainline churches are much more liberal on the points mentioned.

Lastly, nones is not the same as athiest. The overall percentage of athiests in the US is 3%. Agnostics are another 4%.



If I may be of assistance to @Djordje:



“So, Gregory asks, what’s really going on here? His answer, in summary, is this: he understands the entire Exodus narrative as an allegorical illustration of the soul’s flight away from wickedness (the land of Egypt) to communion and friendship with our loving God (liberation, the Promised Land).”

“The death of the firstborn fits directly into that allegorical framework. The slain Egyptian children don’t literally signify dead kids; rather, they represent how we must destroy the roots of our wicked actions— “the first birth of evil” —before we can move on to virtuous liberation.”

“So, the story is by all means a true one. It illustrates the reality of a battle with wickedness that forms an integral part of our quest to attain fellowship with the God. Such a reading ensures that the story’s truth does not have to include a rationalization of our God of Love acting with ungodly violence. Ancient theologians like Gregory of Nyssa understood that spiritual truth and literal truth do not always go hand-in-hand.”

I have to say one thing: I think Gregory of Nyssa makes a terrible case.


Why is that?

I recommend Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?” on these and similar questions. The real issue is more often a matter of postmodern historical revisionism rather than historical realism. I’m all for honest inquiry clarifying the past, but very careful about that drive presuming to overturn it. Gregory would appear to not have been as cautious, as his argument is more broadly paradigmatic than focused on the history involved.

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I don’t. It’s a well-meaning but poorly executed apologetic, akin to a house built on sand. Its failings have been well documented in scathing reviews.

It seems to me this very response perfectly encapsulates what Jonathan_Burke quoted from Pete Enns’ observations: As an evangelical Christian you are fine with education and scholarship, as long as you can find some way to square it with doctrine. And if you can, you will use it as an apologetic tool to evangelize. But should some conflict arise between doctrine and the output of scholarship, a way will be found to dismiss it as bad scholarship. Most religious scholarship seems to be apologetic in nature. It is motivated for reasons of evangelism, as opposed to an intellectual pursuit for it’s own sake and no matter what it may reveal.


Thanks for the reference, Djordje. (By the way, is your name the Serbian equivalent of “George”?)

It seems to me that writer of the article, and apparently Gregory as well, thinks that the slaughter of the first born could not have happened, because God is good and a good God would not do such a thing. Thus, the historical narrative must be false. Isn’t that what it amounts to?

It strikes me as a dangerous principle to any Christian orthodoxy that claims to be based on the Bible, as opposed to a priori theologizing in the style of Leibniz. A good God, following that reasoning, would never have demanded the humiliation, torture, and sacrifice of a perfect Son as the price of forgiving mankind, and therefore the sacrificial atonement must never have happened. Why should the New Testament be immune to criticism of that kind if the Old Testament is not?

Not exactly. There is a difference between (1) allowing that the Biblical writers adopted the sort of freedom which we find in many ancient writings, even sober ancient historians, and therefore somewhat embellished a core of historical material with a pedagogical purpose in mind, and (2) allowing that the Biblical writers just made stuff up. As far as I can see, Djorde’s reading of Gregory of Nyssa has Gregory saying that the Scriptural writers just made stuff up.

If we take Gregory’s principle to the extreme (which I doubt Gregory could have done, without being kicked out of the Church as a heretic), we really don’t need to affirm anything historical in the Biblical narratives at all. We can just decide in advance, based on philosophical reasons, what a good God would be like, and then write our own stories about God, Moses, Jesus, etc. As long as they conform to the teaching that God is good, loving, etc., it doesn’t matter at all if they have any historical referent. The “spiritual” teaching is the only important thing, and the historical depictions are purely pedagogical. This is far from any orthodox Catholic or Protestant teaching I know of, and especially from those forms of Protestantism which make the Bible (as opposed to tradition) central to Christian faith. For a Bible-based Protestant, you don’t start from an a priori conception of God (derived from some philosophical/theological axiom system), and then hammer the Bible into shape until it produces the conception of God you like. That’s the exact opposite of Biblical Protestant procedure. The Biblicist will derive his conception of what God is like from the Bible; and therefore if the God of the Bible does not match some abstract idea of goodness postulated by some philosophers or theologians, so much the worse for those philosophers or theologians.

I doubt that Gregory of Nyssa was what we would now call a theological liberal, but already he seems to be accepting a principle which must inevitably lead to theological liberalism. This actually does not surprise me, as by his day the Orthodox Church was already many generations removed from any meaningful contact with Jews or Judaism, and very few Orthodox scholars could read Hebrew or thought it important to do so. They were happy to read the Bible in Greek and through the eyes of allegory, which was central to Classical literature but is almost completely absent from the Bible. They were so wrapped up in man’s heavenly destiny (the theme of Greek thinking) that they had trouble with the earthier parts of both Testaments. Not that I am attacking Greek philosophy in itself; far from it. But the best way to understand the Bible is not through a filter of late Hellenistic philosophy, whether Stoic or neo-Platonic. There are worthy Greek elements in Christian theology, but they are useful only when the Greek mindset does not override the Hebraic basis – which, it seems to me, is happening in these passages of Gregory of Nyssa. Whether that is typical of his thought, I cannot say. I’m commenting only on what has been presented here.


Drop the condescension. You have a B.A. in Classics; I have a Ph.D. in Religion from what was at the time the fifth-ranked doctoral program in North America. The history of Christian thought and the history of Biblical exegesis, including the historical-critical method and the alternatives to it, were all things I studied at a very high level in graduate school and afterward. Also, unlike yourself, I have taught religion in Catholic, Protestant, and secular institutions of higher education. I don’t need lectures from an almost complete autodidact in these areas.

If you want to address specific points, you may do so. But you are wasting everyone’s time here if you pretend (as you regularly pretended elsewhere) to be an oracle on theology and Biblical scholarship, when in fact you are merely a hobbyist in these fields. Just make your points, and stop trying to sound like the grand old man of theology and Biblical studies.

Yes, I am aware of all of them.

Yes, I’m fully aware of how much modern Churches have compromised with the principles of the Enlightenment.

Yes, I’m fully aware of it. I was studying thnetopsychism back around 1980, when you were either not yet born, or still running around in short pants.

It is nothing new that Anglicans rise to high rank in the mainstream Anglican churches with very little commitment to anything like traditional Christian doctrine. This is why so many Anglicans have broken away from the mainline Anglican churches and continued the original Anglican tradition which the mainstream churches have abandoned.

The main thing you miss, of course, is that if all of Christian tradition is negotiable, and the final standard of appeal is the Bible, then Christianity can only hold together if there is broad agreement across denominations and confessions on what the Bible teaches. And there isn’t. You would like to believe that there is, and that the “consensus” is pointing in the direction of your own Christadelphian beliefs, but in fact the situation today is virtually anarchic. And indeed, if you understood the trajectory of historical-critical scholarship at the deepest level, you would see that this must be the case, since the very conception of “Bible” with which Calvin and Luther could use as a club with which to beat down the Roman Church is rendered problematic by historical-critical approaches.

This is not to say that nothing can be learned from historical-critical scholarship, but in itself it recognizes no limiting principle, and has as a matter of historical fact acted as an acid, dissolving the foundations of Christian thought. If you took your historical-critical-inspired skepticism of mainline church tradition to the logical extreme, you would see that your own sectarian Protestant position cannot hope to survive it, and would have to go over to the side of the atheists here. Indeed, I regard their position as more logically consistent than your own.

There is also grovelling servitude to the “consensus” of Biblical scholarship. (Which doesn’t exist, but even if it did, it would be wrong for Christians to automatically defer to it. Christians of all people should be aware of the very worldly motivations which animate the majority of Biblical scholars, including those who are nominally Protestant or Catholic.)

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