I was reading Rachel Held Evan’s blog about the Bible here.
My approach is going to be slightly different in this post. I’m not going to deal with her hermeneutical approach but more with her historical approach or lack thereof and her point of hindsight. In her blog, Evans makes several quotes on different issues found within the Church in general, as well as evangelicalism and more specifically fundamentalism. She has quotes about inter-racial marriage, slavery, science (specifically the Galileo controversy ie., the terra centric and thus a anthropological view of the universe), the annihilation of North American tribal peoples, women’s suffrage, and lastly segregation.
The whole project of RHE’s is that she wants to show that we cannot have certainty as certainty about something has not only been shown to be wrong upon further enquiry but has also been the condition that is present wherein we commit atrocities in the name of God. It also seems to be the case that if we can be shown to be inconsistent in one place, we may be inconsistent in another. Personally, I’m rather sympathetic to the certainty issue and not so much with the inconsistency one.
Regardless, there seems to be an inconsistency on her part because, well, she is a product of evangelicalism itself and as a result could be even more charitable than she makes herself out to be (“Look at the history of the church! [in those quotes] Terrible!”). What I mean by that is this. Evangelicals are notorious for being ahistorical. For example, this is seen in our churches when we come together to worship. Our buildings are rid of liturgical artifacts and we don’t realize when it comes to Bible reading that we read with rose coloured glasses– ie., that our biblical approach is not “objective.” And the same could be applied to what RHE is bringing up in her post. That is, she basically takes history out of it’s historical context. It’s not all about hindsight or progress. What we might want to do is ask about RHE’s and those who look at history the same way she does if they make a proper “distinction between those who love(d) history and those who use(d) history” for their own ideological purposes.
In other words, LOOKING BACK on history we might see what we think is an inconsistency but it is only an inconsistency with OUR times and not necessarily with their OWN times. History is a complex art. Not only must we get our facts right (which I’m not so sure RHE’s does even here on some if not most of those quotes) but we need to balance those facts against the wider backdrop of the times in which those acts took place much of which can come up with significant different interpretations which is ultimately why we have different volumes of books on specific events and persons of history.
One of the things that irks me about evangelicals deals specifically with the ahistorical and thus uncharitable view of that “bastard child” fundamentalism. Yes, there is progression. Yes, we move on to other questions. But I’m not referring to that. I’m referring to looking specifically at the HISTORY of fundamentalism with charitable eyes. Let me provide an example of this.
The other day I was reading a bit of a book called, “The Sword of Lord” by Andrew Himes. The book is an excellent part biography (as Himes was related to some of the big names within fundamentalism as a movement) part history book of fundamentalism. The nice thing about Himes’ book, is that it is sympathetic towards fundamentalism. It’s not that he agrees with fundamentalism it’s that he seems to realize that nothing occurs within a vacuum of sorts especially, in this case, a historical vacuum. Here are a few paragraphs I found interesting in the book.
“In general, a fundamentalist outlook made a lot of sense in a world in which you needed to be certain where to stand in order to survive the next day and to defend the lives and welfare of your family. Fundamentalism was a rational, and emotional, response to a dangerous world where you needed to know who was a sheep and who was a goat, who was for you and who was against you, who might slip a blade between your ribs and who would love you back.
Likewise, fundamentalist religion has reflected the absolutism of fundamentalist politics. Historically, Christian fundamentalists in America focused on identifying and proclaiming the set of doctrines or beliefs that have been held by orthodox Christians since about the fourth century the blood atonement, the virgin birth, the inerrancy of Scripture, the resurrection of Jesus, and his awaited return. Fundamentalists then militantly defended those doctrines against perceived heretical threats from liberals and modernists in the early twentieth century. It is striking, however, that those doctrines deemed “fundamental” did not include such core Christian doctrines as the Triune nature of God. They did not include the doctrine of salvation by faith through grace (the heart of the Protestant Reformation). And they included nothing from the revolutionary teachings of Jesus during his earthly ministry.
It is evident that the selection of ‘The Fundamentals” a century ago was time-bound, driven by the specific terms of a battle over doctrine fought by two groups of people bitterly opposed to each other.
But what happens to fundamentalism when its original enemies have succumbed to the passage of time or have been replaced by new opponents and the specific terms of the debate of a century ago become irrelevant? How does fundamentalism remain relevant in a world of evidently breathtaking diversity an array of different spiritual practices, philosophies, and explorations of the meaning of God and spirit none of which can seemingly claim to be authoritative? What does fundamentalism evolve into when the children of fundamentalists turn out to be more interested in following Jesus and practicing Christian, love than arguing over arcane points, of doctrine?”
I think RHE could not only be a better historian (not someone who uses history for ideological purposes) but someone who realizes the complexity of history and tries to balance it with a more charitable and sympathetic understanding.