The American Conservative is one of the most insightful and intellectually daring conservative news outlets currently available. Rod Dreher is often excellent, and so it is with some reluctance that we give him a wag of our fingers. But for now we can’t let this piece go without a brief word.
Mr. Dreher’s argument is that Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, while they are usually very nice people with meaningful intellectual offerings, have a tendency towards rationalism and legalism, clinging too tightly to laws and a certain sense of creedalism and disciplinarianism. This is evident in their antipathy towards mysticism and sacramentalism, as well as their adherence to “Young Earth Creationism.” If they would only open themselves up for wonder, then they could find room to accept sacraments and, one supposes, evolution.
This is a fairly familiar argument, even though it is not, strictly speaking, logical. The term “fundamentalist” is most certainly a bad thing today (this was not always the case), but we need to remember that its wide use does not actually provide its justification, as Alvin Plantinga has helpfully demonstrated. Is it actually true that an opposition to “sacramental” religion comes from an unhealthy rationalism and hostility to wonder, and if so, is this the same cause which lies behind the opposition to evolution and the support of the belief that “it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days”?
Indeed, one could actually make an argument that adherence to “Young Earth Creationism” requires a bit of mystery and wonder, since it flies in the face of all received science (especially the “hard sciences”). The idea that God simply speaks and then things, some of them fully-formed, just appear is not exactly what comes to mind when one thinks of joyless and dry syllogisms. But then again, when we think of dry and dispassionate people, we typically don’t think of the Scots or Scots-Irish. In America today, Sarah Palin is not the face of stone-cold rationalism. The analogy really does break down and the tires end up rolling down the stream, merrily merrily or something….
Oh, yes, of course, the point is the literal hermeneutic! YECers, Mr. Dreher would say, treat the text of the Bible in a wooden, strict, mechanical, and overly literal fashion. They bring certain presuppositions about what the text of Genesis is trying to say and they awkwardly force it into their, otherwise foreign, paradigm, relying on a supposedly “plain meaning” of the words to conduct their argument for them. But this too proves the inconsistency of the argument, its arbitrary nature which really amounts to an ad hominem, and this can be proven in four familiar words: hoc est corpus meum.
You see, when one goes to find “sacramental” faith in the Bible, the literal, even sometimes the woodenly literal, hermeneutic is preferred. Jesus said you have to eat his flesh and drink his blood. He said he was bread. Baptism washes away sin. Baptism buries the believer into Christ’s death. It is actually the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who typically employ the figurative reading at this point. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and other “sacramental” groups have no trouble with the emphatically literal when it suits them.
In fact, there are plenty of Fundamentalists who believe in miracles, and we’ve even known a few that claim to have seen them visually or even performed them. We’ve heard of Evangelicals and YECers who claim to have seen God’s work in nature and even to have heard His voice, sometimes audibly! Some of these same people believe in demon-possession or speak in tongues. What Mr. Dreher means to say, we think, is not that they don’t believe in the miraculous, but that they don’t believe in the intellectually and aesthetically pleasing variety. In other words, they aren’t into the right kind of wonder.
And so maybe the Evangelicals ought to all become evolutionists and the Roman Catholics ought to sign up for the “Answers in Genesis” newsletter. That might make for a tighter argument, though not necessarily a better final outcome. Or maybe, perhaps, the argument is a bad one altogether and our socio-political imaginations should be broadened to create something new.
Steven Wedgeworth is the pastor of Christ Church in Lakeland, Florida. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Trust. A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), Steven lives in Lakeland, FL with his wife, son, daughter, and two terriers.
The Calvinist International is a forum for research, resourcement, and renewal of Christian wisdom.