EVANGELICAL BAD FAITH IV:
STORYTELLING CHIMPS

Robert Conner
(magicinchristianity @gmail.com)

The anthropologists got it wrong when they named our species Homo sapiens (“wise man”). In any case it’s an arrogant and bigheaded thing to say, wisdom being one of our least evident features. In reality, we are Pan narrans, the storytelling chimpanzee. - Terry Pratchett
“We can learn a great deal about fundamentalism generally from a crisis in one of the first of these movements, which developed in the United States during and immediately after the First World War. The term itself was coined in the 1920’s by American Protestants who resolved to return to the ‘fundamentals’ of Christianity…Instead of engaging as before with such issues as racial or economic inequality, they focused on biblical literalism, convinced that every single assertion of scripture was literally true…The new fundamentalist outlook now required a wholesale denial of glaring discrepancies in scripture itself. Closed to any alternative and coherent only in its own terms, biblical inerrancy created a shuttered mind-set born of great fear…The American fundamentalists’ chilling scenario of the end time, with its wars, bloodshed, and slaughter, is symptomatic of a deep-rooted distress that cannot be assuaged by cool rational analysis.”[i]
The celebration of nescience described by Armstrong continues apace in the form of bodily resurrection apologetics among the evangelical √©lites—“The death and the resurrection of Jesus are manifestly inseparable for Christian faith…the Easter resurrection is the absolutely inalienable presupposition of the gospel, for without it there would have been no gospel to be proclaimed.”[ii] But in order to propound the blatherskite of the “five points of fundamentalism” proposed back in 1895, which included “the physical resurrection of Christ and his imminent bodily return to earth,”[iii] evangelicals had to set about constructing a parallel pseudo-scholarly universe which they quickly did.
The revolt of the ‘New Evangelicals’ “started with certain presuppositions in mind: (1) a desire to create a new and vigorous apologetic for the conservative position by raising up a new generation of well trained scholars with all the badges of academic respectability who could speak to the current issues of the day, talk the language of the opposition, and present cogently and compellingly the viewpoint of historic Christianity…(4) a desire to engage in dialogue with those with whom it was in disagreement based on the supposition that the best defense is a good offense…”[iv] A significant part of that counteroffensive involved the founding of multiple Bible colleges and evangelical pseudiversities around the country—Dallas Theological Seminary, for example, founded in 1924, was established specifically to dispense dispensationalist nonsense, and in 1929 J. Gresham Machen left the way-too-liberal Princeton to found Westminster Theological Seminary, a training center for literalist apologetics.
Predictably, part of their counterattack on the hateful “higher criticism” involved the establishment of a parallel publishing empire that naturally included “scholarly” journals where literalists warned about the perils attending the incursion of heresy rational inquiry: “In The Battle for the Resurrection I spoke of a significant drift to the left among evangelicals on the question of the bodily resurrection. A survey taken of members of the Evangelical Theological Society revealed that some eleven percent denied that ‘Christ rose from the dead in the same body of flesh and bones in which he died. This seemed especially alarming for a Society committed to the belief that ‘the Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.’ This is particularly so in view of the fundamental role the bodily resurrection plays in the Christian faith.”[v] From a perusal of these publications one could be forgiven for thinking that their main purpose is to provide a platform for Biblicists to crow about the “Jesus-devotion [that] emerged consequent upon, and in connection with, the astounding conviction that God had raised Jesus from death and exalted him to heavenly glory.”[vi] More often than not, however, the evangelically oriented journals have become arenas, not for reassurance, but for infighting about the dubious nature of the resurrection itself.
An example that will serve is the question of how Jesus’ resurrection body managed its escape from a tomb that may have been sealed with a stone shaped like a cork[vii] as well as the paradox represented by a physical body tangible as well as visible“touch me and see”[viii]that can pass through locked doors[ix] and suddenly disappear.[x] Some evangelicals have apparently proposed “that, in his essential state, Jesus’ resurrection body was characterized by invisibility and immateriality” but that “Jesus was able, whenever he desired, to materialize and enter the space-time historical dimension of sense experience.”[xi] Gary Habermas, a Distinguished Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy at Liberty Pseudiversity, a massive evangelical diploma mill that began life in 1971 as Lynchburg Baptist College, opines, “I remain unconvinced that Jesus’ body could not possibly have dematerialized at points, such as in its exit from the tomb.”[xii] As likely as not the quantum mystery of Schr√∂dinger’s Jesus will remain unresolved until the evangelical savants at Liberty fund a Center for Resurrection Studies to match their world-renowned Center for Creation Studies.
Meanwhile, the impression of mainstream academics is validated by Mark Allen Powell: “The perception is that evangelicals often want a seat at the table so that they can present their positive arguments in favor of authenticating biblical events, but they have no interest in considering negative arguments that would count against such authentication—if they listen to such arguments at all, it is only for apologetic purposes (e.g., to find ways of debunking them). Basically, the perception is that evangelicals come to the quest [for the historical Jesus] prepared for a debate—they don’t really get what the rest of us are trying to do (or, worse, even if they do get it, they don’t care: they see ‘openness to all ideas’ as something to exploit rather than experience).[xiii] Nevertheless, after so perfectly characterizing how evangelicals seek to exploit and sabotage rational discourse, Powell insists that “not simply evangelicals, but apologists (of all sorts) deserve to be heard when they are sufficiently qualified and knowledgeable to make valid points.”[xiv] Whether or not those of us who prefer to live in the real world, as well as advocate for an evidence based approach to both history and social policy, must submit to apologetic preachments is a question I will seek to address in a coming installment.





[i] Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (2014), 303-304.
[ii] Beasley-Murray, George R. “Resurrection and Parousia of the Son of Man,” Tyndale Bulletin 42 (1991) 296.
[iii] Lindsell, Harold. “A Historian Looks at Inerrancy,” Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 8 (1965) 8.
[iv] Ibid, 9.
[v] Geisler, Norman L. “In Defense of the Resurrection: A Reply to Criticisms,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 34 (1991) 243.
[vi] Hurtado, Larry W. “Resurrection-Faith and the ‘Historical’ Jesus,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 11 (2013) 35.
[viii] Luke 24:39.
[ix] John 20:19-20.
[x] Luke 24:31.
[xi] Habermas, Gary R. “The Recent Evangelical Debate on the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus: A Review Article,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33 (1990) 376.
[xii] Ibid, 377.
[xiii] Powell, Mark A. “Evangelical Christians and Historical-Jesus Studies: Final Reflections,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 9 (2011) 128.
[xiv] Ibid, 128.

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