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September 22, 2008


chris corwin

"the overwhelming majority [of Christians] do not read the Bible literally..."

you say that this notion would be disputed by a great number of christians, and you'd be right: great numbers of christians would disagree with it -- and they'd still be wrong about the facts.

the OVERWHELMING majority of people who are christians do not read the bible literally. almost all evangelicals in america do.

the latter's numbers are TINY, despite how it feels here in the midwest.

as with almost everything else in life: our own personal experience is just one factor when thinking about such matters.

one must look to the facts before making decisions.

you can go look this up at barna.


"you say that this notion would be disputed by a great number of christians"

Chris, you conveniently restated my position on this issue inaccurately and then have gone on to reinforce the point I was making. If you'll go back and read the post, I said that the assumption in The Clergy Letter that most Christians do not take the Bible literally "would be disputed by a great majority of Christians *who come from a more conservative bent*" You referenced a majority of evangelicals who take the Bible literally, which is essentially who I was referring to. Those more liberal Christians are more liberal because they often take the Bible literally on a more selective basis.

It is important that we understand what we mean by taking the Bible literally. As I tried to explain in this post, I use that idea in the sense that we take the Bible as it was intended by God to be taken. Those dictates that are given with more literal intent should be taken literally. And conversely, those portions of the Bible which are intended as metaphors should not be taken literally. As I said, "The key is trying to determine which parts of the Bible are intended literally and which are intended metaphorically." That was the main point of this post.

You're right that many people often use their own personal experience to determine whether or not something is true. And while personal experience has some value, personal experience should not outweigh the factual evidence. This is a theme I've written about considerably on the blog.

(Speaking of which, I too was interested to hear your response to RA's query concerning your allegations about FOX News as a news organization. http://thedailydetour.typepad.com/tdd/2008/08/democratic-national-convention-begins.html If you responded to that, I must have missed it.)

Resident Atheist

I found that 'overwhelming majority' comment interesting too. The only data I could find from a Gallup poll (link below) said that on this specific topic (evolution vs. creationism) that 45% of the population believed man was created by god in his present form. That means 55% don't believe that. I hardly call 55% an 'overwhelming' majority.

Now if you exclude the 'no gods' and 'no opinions' then that means that only 46% of CHRISTIANS believe in evolution, which is a minority.

I guess these clergy need to brush up on their math instead of studying evolution so much.



I think a lot of this depends also on your definition of "Christian". I've met many people who call themselves Christians but view Christ's life as a metaphorical example of how we should strive to live rather than as the true story of the son of God. For them, "christianity" is just one of many selections they sample on the spiritual buffet...it's the Oprah effect.

There is a similar logic being applied to the US Constitution right now, too. Some believe it is just a metaphor/guiding principles for how govt. should be organized while others feel it should be strictly interpreted as law.

Without something authoritative--either in Christianity or our govt.--it seems to me it all fades into gray. This vast relativism might well be a harbinger of doom as a cohesive society.


You're exactly right, Christy. Interestingly, one of the other elements of The Clergy Letter that struck me was their statement, "...virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice..." Any suggestion of authority begs the question of obedience, "Authority comes from what or whom?" "To what or whom are we to be obedient?" Concerning the Bible, the answer would be, "God." And yet, it seems such clergy want it both ways--they suggest allegiance to the authority of God, but abide by that authority only selectively, as they see fit.

As you pointed out, whether it concerns the Bible, the Constitution, or whatever, questions of interpretation are paramount. Otherwise, the idea of authority becomes relative, and the foundation provided by authoritative standards erodes to meaninglessness.

Resident Atheist

John, I'm truly confused about your posts. In your first comment you indicate that some parts of the bible are to be taken literally, and some metaphorically. Then in your final comment, you lampoon the clergy for attempting to do just that. These seem completely contradictory.

On a side note, don't you think this elaborate game of 'figure out what I really want you to do' is a pretty fallible system for determining who's naughty / nice? It seems like your version of god would have us being the ants under a huge magnifying glass. Do I smell something burning?

chris corwin

every one of us uses personal experience to determine what we think is true.

you said, "As I tried to explain in this post, I use that idea in the sense that we take the Bible as it was intended by God to be taken."

to this i say, HOW do we know what it is god intended about the bible?

are you not simply saying that the bible itself claims to be the authority on whether the bible is the authority?

you claim that the bible is god's word, because it says it is.

some of us ask for more merit than that.

but it is without such merit, and so we reject it.

its really simple, actually.

those things in the bible that overlap with what seems to be true and reliable to me are taken as true, and those areas that do not are taken as "not true" -- and where it makes moral edicts, we must look at the entire thing and say whether it has the weight to obey it.

that's why evanglical chirstians allow thier wives to speak in church and wear jewelry -- because those parts of the bible, even taken metaphorically, are "not true".


RA, in retrospect, I can see how my comments may seem confusing. Sorry about that. Essentially, what I am suggesting is that there is a traditionally accepted understanding of what the Bible says. (By traditional, I mean a agreed-upon interpretation of Scripture passages which corresponds with serious biblical scholarship down through the centuries.) There are also many variations of that traditional interpretations, which are driven as much by contemporary agendas as by responsible scholarship. Study what the Bible says about the issue of homosexuality, for example, and you'll find two major interpretations of the various passages which speak to the issue. The point is that both interpretations cannot both be right--the law of non-contradictions does not allow for it. So, how does someone determine what the Bible has to say on that (or any) subject? There are established methods for answer that critical question.

Anyone who genuinely wants to engage in biblical criticism (meant in the academic sense) and scholarly study of the Bible is more than able to do so. There are established methods of biblical study that highly respected biblical scholars have utilized for centuries.

The reality is that most people are willing to offer an opinion about the Bible and what they think it says, but are unwilling to do the hard work of actually pursuing responsible study of the issue.

An brief example of this from a conversation I had with a skeptic: He was challenging me on questions regarding the canon of Scripture (i.e. How did the books we have in the Bible come to be there? Why were other books excluded? etc...) When I pressed him on where he got his information, he said he read some articles on the internet. I then asked if he had read any of the excellent scholarship by F. F. Bruce on the subject. Not only had he not read any of it, he had not even heard of Dr. Bruce. That, to me, represents an irresponsible approach to the issue.

The point is that the means to study the Bible are out there if people are willing to pursue them. Such is the nature of many issues regarding Christianity. I tend to find G. K. Chesterton's observation in 1910 more and more accurate these days: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

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