Monday, 20 January 2014

Moving the Goalposts

John Loftus is an insightful individual and a fierce critic of Christianity in general and the Bible in particular. In a recent post he cries foul over conservative Christians "shifting the goalposts." It's a short piece which is worth reading in full.
Fundamentalist Christianity represents yesterday's conservative faith whereas Evangelical Christianity represents today's conservative faith...and the goal posts keep being moved. Evangelical Christianity therefore is the liberal faith that conservatives of yesterday rejected, while the Evangelical Christianity of the future will reject the theology of today's Evangelicals. Liberalism is the trend into the future. It's palpably obvious too.
Evangelicals in the eighties rejected Karl Barth, inclusivism, Hell as annihilation, the mythical interpretation of the Genesis creation stories, the late dating of 2nd Isaiah and Daniel, and they especially rejected evolution. These former Evangelical views are now being rejected by today's Evangelicals. The goal posts have simply been moved!
And of course he's right. But is this a problem?

Switch tracks to politics for a moment and think of the party you generally support. Are its specific policies different now from what they were a decade ago. Hopefully so! The world changes... and the pace of change is escalating. Keep up or become irrelevant.

What has probably stayed the same though is the general direction and values of your party of choice. If it stressed individualism and the work ethic as top priorities in 2004, it probably still does. If it stressed social harmony and equity in 2004... you get the idea.

Conservatism in particular is a moveable feast. Conservative in relation to what? If society's consensus moves, we pull up the tent pegs and move just a little further upstream... or downstream, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

Even in its monolithic days, Christianity was quick to change. If it hadn't it would have stayed as an obscure (and by now extinct) Jewish sect. No movement can 'freeze' in one position for all time. That's even more true today when a countless variety of sects compete for legitimate use of the title 'Christian'.

If there is a problem, it's in the cacophony of competing voices trying to assert what is essential in any definition of Christian. Being baptised with water? That cuts out all the nice people in the Salvation Army. Reciting the Nicene Creed? That excludes a thousand Pentecostal groups. Having a 'born again' experience? That leaves behind all those folk who know the limits of a metaphor.

To make one further small observation, it's also inaccurate to judge Christianity based on the forms you find dominant in your own culture. John Loftus is writing about the Evangelical/Fundamentalist phenomena in America. The view from Europe, for example, is somewhat different. The perspective he offers here, while true in as far as it goes, is a provincial one. The very word 'evangelical' means something quite different to millions of Christians - including not a few in the United States (which explains why the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America isn't 'evangelical' in anything like the sense he uses it).

Christianity is morphing, as it always has. No big surprise. What's the problem? The issue is whether it's changing quickly enough to survive.

To paraphrase John Shelby Spong, Christianity must change... or die.


  1. The Pope was forced to accept evolution in 1948, 100 years after it was known by scientists! Stupid Christians!

    1. At least the Catholics have a clear directive on the matter and accept the science. Young-Earthers are still spreading utter foolishness around the world, 150 years after Darwin. I think education is the best remedy.

    2. Yeah, why are scientists (successfully) telling Christians what to believe?
      Haven't Christians been telling us for for two thousand miserable years that they have the conduit to all truth?