“I’m not saying you’re a heretic. Just that you’re a heretical promoter of heresy.”
That, in a nutshell, is the gist of Ken Ham’s latest post addressing Pete Enns. (You might say Enns is Ham’s theological arch nemesis.)
[Background: Enns is an evangelical theologian who accepts the scientific consensus on evolution and has written extensively about its implications for the Christian faith — namely, the possibility that Genesis 1 is not a literal, scientific depiction of human origins and the overwhelming likelihood that the human race did not originate from a single primal couple, i.e. a literal Adam and Eve. Ken Ham is a longtime advocate for young earth creationism (YEC). He believes the very integrity of the gospel is at stake if you dispense with a literal, 6-day creation and a literal Adam and Eve.]
Ham is no stranger to controversy. In his recent post, he reminds us how a couple years ago he was disinvited from a homeschooling conference for being uncharitable toward Christians who disagree with him. (That was the explanation offered by conference organizers who largely share Ham’s interpretation of Genesis.)
But more damaging is Ham’s use of the nuclear option to shut down any honest conversation. He does so by forcing an impossible (and false) choice on his audience: either you accept what I tell you about creation, or you undermine the gospel. Sure, Ham won’t quite say you’re going to hell if you believe in evolution. But who wants to be accused of “undermin[ing] the authority of God’s Word and the gospel,” as he puts it?
In short, Ken Ham is a bully.
The irony is that Ham’s false choice is almost certainly doing more to drive people away from faith than toward it — because fear cannot nurture faith.
But Ham isn’t the only one who’s tried this tactic. I used to be that guy… constantly getting into arguments with my more moderate college friends over evolution, women in ministry, homosexuality… trying to make each disagreement a “gospel issue” so they’d have to choose between agreeing with me and renouncing the gospel.
I was never big enough or strong enough to be a physical bully. But theological bullies can do just as much damage.
Now that I see things from a different vantage point, I can appreciate what I put my friends through. (And, quite frankly, I’m amazed they put up with me.)
So for all those who’ve been bullied into conformity by threats of denunciation, allusions to some inevitable “slippery slope,” and declarations of heresy . . . let me say:
Human origins is not a gospel issue.
Women’s ordination is not a gospel issue.
How you vote is not a gospel issue.
Homosexuality is not a gospel issue.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter what you believe. Believing certain things about God is part of the Christian experience, which is why many of us reaffirm our faith every Sunday using the words of the Nicene Creed (while others do so in other ways).
And I do think the gospel has profound implications for how we see the world, for how we vote, and for how we treat women, gays, lesbians, and other historically marginalized groups of people.
But when defenders of the theological status quo try to make you choose between their view on [insert hot-button issue here] and apostasy, they are getting the gospel wrong.
There is something that can undermine the gospel. But it’s not evolution. It’s not questioning the church’s posture toward gays and lesbians.
For the apostle Paul, the only thing that could undermine the gospel was this:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…
Not “if the earth is more than 6,000 years old, your faith is futile.”
Not “if there was no historical Adam and Eve, your faith is futile.”
Not “if you let a woman preach, your faith is futile.”
And not “if you welcome gays and lesbians into your church, your faith is futile.”
Christianity is so much more than a belief system, but the one belief it does hinge on is resurrection — that is, belief in Jesus’ resurrection, which makes possible the resurrection and renewal of everything else.
To make the gospel dependent on anything else is to get the gospel wrong. And to do so in order to advance your own agenda and to pressure others into conformity is to become a theological bully.
The thing is, most people won’t sit around and take the abuse. They’ll just walk away.
Which is a pretty high price to pay for “winning.”