Things Steve McSwain Should Just Stop Saying (Part 2)

Last week I risked souring the fruit of the Spirit when I expressed my “discontent” with self-proclaimed “Thought Leader” Steve McSwain’s “6 Things Christians Should Just Stop Saying.” However, my feeble attempt at wrath only had room for three. Here are the others.

The rapture of Jesus is imminent.

Again, if you want to believe in some secret rapture of Christians from the earth just before the Tribulation, if you want to believe in and carry around in your hip pocket detailed charts and graphs of how its all going to happen, then so be it. But do the rest of us a favor and stop saying so in public.

So far, your record of correctly predicting the future earns a flunking grade. And I and scores of other Christians are frankly tired of apologizing for your arrogant — and so far, absolutely wrong — predictions as to when it’ll happen.

If you’ve been following along in the last post, you will see a familiar theme. Steve, in a flurry of tolerance, admits that Crazy Christians can believe whatever they want but really should just keep it to themselves. Trouble is that Steve doesn’t take the time to distinguish his targets and and does the columnist equivalent of carpet bombing Damascus. There is a HUGE difference between those who believe there will be a rapture at any time and those who think they can play pin-the-tail on the Antichrist. Let’s do a quick test, The Left-Behind series was one of the most popular series in history–of any books published. Most of you have at least read one or two. Anywhere in the series where the authors do any predicting about the actual future before the rapture is supposed to take place? Thought so. Has Billy Graham engaged in predicting when the rapture will occur? Have you seen any Southern Baptists predicting any dates? Thought not. The most you will get is from most Evangelicals is that the modern day is in line with all the precursors to the rapture. Believing that the rapture is imminent is not the same thing as predicting the future. Evangelicals do not have a “failing grade” for predicting the future. It is true, that those Christians who believe in a “secret rapture” often remark, “It can’t be long now!” (usually after a presidential election or a really bad law gets passed). But that is not a failed prediction.  And its also true that Jack Van Impe comes pretty close sometimes to making a prediction (usually during ratings sweeps). Many, many Christians believe the rapture could happen at any time (the rough-and-ready definition of “imminent”) but only a very select few start making predictions and setting dates. Harold Camping and Jehovah’s Witnesses do that sort of thing.

The earth is less than 10,000 years old.

If you want to believe that Genesis is a scientific description of the origins of the universe, then have at it. Just stop insisting that those myths be taught in our public schools. You do no service to the Bible nor to the morality of this country by demanding school administrators include textbooks that teach that nonsense or by demanding courts hang the Ten Commandments on chamber walls or classroom walls.

McSwain, lumps three groups of actual Christians together and engages in guilt by association and the straw man fallacy. There are three groups smashed together like a bad Lady Gaga mashup. There are young earth creationists, people who believe that creationism should be taught in schools, and some group of people I’ve never heard from who think Genesis is a scientific description of the origins of the universe. No creationists, thinks “Let there Be light” is a scientific description of the universe. They just think its scientifically accurate. No Christian I’ve heard of thinks that Genesis is a full description of anything. They just think its compatible with reality. Furthermore, Intelligent Design people don’t think Genesis should be taught in schools. Nor do they think Genesis is a scientific description. Michael Behe thinks Genesis has about as much authority as McSwain, but still thinks ID is valid. I’m not a young earth creationist while others in MCOI tend in that direction. However, McSwain is sloppy if he assumes that if one is a creationist that one wants to have it taught in schools. These are two different arguments. He’s worse than sloppy when he implies that the people who want creationism taught in schools are young earthers.

Homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle and it is a sin against God.

This one issue, my friend, is on the outs. If you don’t know that, you are more blind than the Republicans were in the last election. They misinterpreted the political environment and so completely blew it when it came to getting their candidate elected. And you, my friend, are misinterpreting the moral, spiritual and religious environment — and the changes that are coming. My son said it well the other day. We were discussing homosexuality and same-sex marriage and he observed, “Dad, it’s your generation that’s hung up on these issues. Once you guys get out of the way and the younger generation moves into the decision-making arena, these issues will disappear. The day will come when, just as slavery is unthinkable in our consciousness today, it will be equally unthinkable to deny anyone the right to be who they are or the right to same-sex marriage.”

I’ve said about all I want to say for a while about gay marriage in “No Retreat but Much Surrender” but my problem with McSwain on this point isn’t about gay marriage or sexual orientation. Its the attitude that a clocks or calendars decide what is true. Peter Kreeft illustrates this with an imaginary argument between John F. Kennedy and C.S. Lewis who both died on the same day:

Kennedy:  It’s… so… so outdated.  So unenlightened.  So medieval.  So primitive.
Lewis:  Jack, do you tell time with an argument?
Kennedy:  What?
Lewis:  I said, do you tell time with an argument?
Kennedy:  What in the world do you mean by that?
Lewis:  When you want to know what time it is, what do you look at?  An argument or a clock?
Kennedy:  A clock, of course.
Lewis:  And what do you use an argument for, if not to tell time?
Kennedy:  Why, to prove something, of course.  Or to try to.
Lewis:  Something false or something true?
Kennedy:  Something true.
Lewis:  So you tell time by the clock and the truth by an argument.
Kennedy:  Among other means, yes.
Lewis:  Not vice versa?
Kennedy:  No.
Lewis:  But you were trying to tell truth by the clock a minute ago.
Kennedy:  Truth by the clock?
Lewis:  When I want to disprove an idea, I try to prove that it is falseYour argument against my idea that your belief was a heresy was simply that my idea was oldOutdated, I believe you said.  Medieval and primitive were two more of your terms.  Those are all clock words, or calendar words.  (Calendars are only big, long clocks, after all.)

So with all due respect to McSwain’s son (he didn’t pick this fight), the fact that enlightened people may one day treat opponents of gay marriage they way we now treat those who dare admit slavery or indentured servitude are acceptable (large portions of the Muslim world for instance), isn’t an argument. Its a prediction. We should use arguments to tell time and we sure shouldn’t use calendars to prove something is true. And then we get the punch line of McSwain’s dismissal of any one who believes Homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible:

You can still revere the Bible, my friend, but move beyond the prejudice of Paul or anyone else. You don’t need to make Saint Paul infallible to treat the Bible as important.

You know what? He’s right. You don’t have to make St. Paul infallible to treat the Bible as important. Muslims certainly don’t. The Bible is important to Islam. You can think the Bible is an important book while thinking Paul was a poor benighted bigot, a product of his times, and probably a self-loathing closet homosexual himself. But what you can’t do, if you do all of that, is treat the Bible like Christians should.

If the Bible is merely an important book for Christians, that we can interpret through whatever contemporary lens we like, then really, seriously what is distinctive about Christianity at all? Not all Christians hold to evangelical inerrancy, but no committed Christian thinks the Bible is just an important book full of useful stories. Even Islam recognized this when they called Christians and Jews, “People of the Book” (Ahl-Al-Kitab). It is THE book of Christianity.

Of course, if you are going to decide acceptable doctrine with a calendar rather than an argument, the Bible can be just an important book of useful stories. If Christianity is merely a relationship with a God that is comfortable, in line with contemporary mores,  and just vague enough that we don’t have to worry about offending Him/Her/It, then there is no room for an authoritative book that defines Christianity.

Essentially what we have here is a very real disconnect between two different worldviews. One worldview says that we discover what God is like and then conform our lives to that in order to have a relationship with God. In that case the Bible becomes the means by which we find out what God is like. Because God is spirit we need his revelation to us no matter how difficult it is to interpret. The other worldview says, the only God worth relating to is one that upholds what we interpret as non-objectionable and friendly behavior. For these people, the Bible cannot be anything other than an important book full of useful stories. But notice that if we hold to the former worldview, it becomes very difficult to simply stop saying homosexuality is a sin, just because such a view “is on the outs.” However, if we hold to the latter worldview, it becomes much easier.


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