The November/December issue of RELEVANT Magazine includes an essay by Michael Gungor entitled “Wrestling with Faith and Doubt.” If you read this blog regularly then you will recall that I took serious issue with Gungor back in September over comments he made about evolution and his suggestion in a Liturgist podcast that Jesus may have either been wrong or lied about Adam and Noah. I commend RELEVANT for giving Gungor the opportunity to explain himself and I commend Gungor for taking the opportunity to do so.
In his essay, he begins with the illustration of a symphony orchestra and the fact that some instruments, like the first chair violinist, may play hundreds of thousands of notes while a percussionist may play very few notes but must play them “at precisely the right time.” Gungor uses this to stress his point that “all effective groups contain both diversity and unity.” He even makes a thought provoking observation about the importance of diversity in obtaining unity, writing, “it is arguable that without diversity, there is no unity (only a much less effective uniformity).”
From here, Gungor proceeds into his observation that today “the Christendom that claims to follow Jesus is divided into tens of thousands of bickering sects and denominations, more splintered and fragmented than ever before.” In many ways this is true, and there are many issues over which Christians vehemently disagree which are not of eternal significance. There are many subjects on which the Bible is quiet, if not silent, providing only guiding principals to shape our beliefs and behaviors. When the Scripture is not explicit no one should hold dogmatically to the notion that their position is the right one; no one should claim or exert superiority over anyone else because they are convinced of their own right-ness on issues Christian liberty.
Gungor says that he thinks “a little healthy friction in a team is OK. … But friction and division are not the same thing. There is a big difference between ‘you’re not doing your job well enough!’ and ‘I’m not playing on the same team with him anymore!'” I agree with Gungor here, too. Friction can absolutely be a positive thing. I seek out differences of opinion and insights from others than I may not have ever considered. I believe that we reach the best decisions when we weigh a variety of options and possibilities in the process of deciding. I believe this, though, when there are not absolutes already provided. If we were to argue at the school where I serve that students did not need to learn geography or to take Algebra we may well be able to develop convincing arguments but it would not matter. We are an accredited school, required to ensure that students meet graduation requirements established by the state before we can grant a diploma. In other words, it matters not at all how strongly, passionately or convincingly we may be able to argue against geography or Algebra because it is not up for debate. It has already been decided for us.
Gungor transitions from his explanation on the merits of friction within a team to his argument that he has been unfairly treated, labeled and opposed since his comments on evolution and Jesus’ references to Adam and Noah. “In the last few months, I personally have been called a heretic, a blasphemer, a two-fold son of hell and a fool who is leading thousands to hell, in which I happen to have a special spot reserved for me.” His explanation of why he has been called these things is that he “like a lot of Christians” believes that God created humans by means of evolution. Gungor says that he has no problem with Christians disagreeing with him or even arguing passionately that he is wrong. His issue, he writes, is when those who disagree with him start using “words that are intended to break unity, loaded words like ‘apostate,’ ‘heretic,’ ‘false teacher,’ and so on.”
I’ll own it. I am one of those who referred to Gungor as a false teacher. Not only did I blog about it, I used his comments as the basis for an entire sermon I preached on the importance of contending for the faith, defending the inerrancy of Scripture and rejecting the subtle but deadly false teaching that can easily slip in when we open our hearts and minds to “differences of opinion.” I did not do any of that, however, because Gungor believes in evolution. I think evolution is wrong and is contrary to Scripture and I think teaching it as truth is false teaching. But I took issue with Gungor because he suggested that Jesus either was wrong or knowingly lied, and, on top of that, said he wouldn’t be “freaked out” if that were the case. The problem is, if Jesus was either wrong or knowingly lied then the entire foundation of Scripture and Christianity is demolished. If you want to read more on that, check out my blog post of September 10.
Gungor goes on to explain that the early church used words like “apostate” and “false teacher” to refer to those who preached things such as Christ never coming in the flesh, but not to refer to those who “merely had differing interpretations of Scripture.” “Even in disagreements about significant doctrinal issues such as ‘Should we follow the law anymore?’ the early Christians maintained unity,” Gungor writes. I am not sure what Bible Gungor is reading, though, because he must have somehow missed Galatians. Paul addresses those who were teaching a continued adherence to the Old Testament law is very harsh terms. There were those who were teaching that salvation required following the law, including circumcision. In Galatians 1:6 Paul calls this “a different gospel,” continuing in verse 7 with, “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” In verse 8 Paul says that if anyone, even an angel from heaven, preached anything contrary to the gospel message being preached by Paul, that person should “be accursed.” So strongly does Paul feel about this, so important to is the identification and rejection of false teaching, that Paul reiterates this in verse 9: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Paul reinforces throughout the letter that teaching adherence to the law is false teaching.
Gungor then reverts back to his orchestra illustration, suggesting that by dividing over things like Gungor’s statements on evolution and Jesus’ statements about Adam and Noah is akin to a situation in which “every single player in the orchestra has gone off into her own corner, playing her part to whatever tempo she deems best in the moment. And what we have as a result is a din of clamorous noise–a series of competing factions, each trying to prove they are more right about the musical score than the others.” While this is no doubt the case at times, it is not the case with the reaction of myself and others to Gungor’s position. When Gungor suggested that Jesus may have been wrong about Adam and Noah or may simply have lied because his audience believed something that was not true and it was more convenient for him to let them believe that he was the one insisting that he was “more right about the musical score than the others.” Indeed, he was creating his own score! To his original point, there is indeed a difference between saying someone in the orchestra is not playing their part right and saying you will not play with that person anymore. The reality is that Gungor’s position is the equivalent of demanding the orchestra allow him to play a different piece of music than the rest of the group is playing, to acknowledge that he has the freedom and liberty to do so and that his playing his piece while they play the score the composer wrote is both acceptable and harmonious. This is patently absurd.
Gungor ends his essay by suggesting that the ultimate goal of the Christian is found in Matthew 26–which is true. What he fails to understand is that we are neither loving God nor our neighbor when we allow false teaching to go unchallenged. To suggest that we show love to Gungor by letting him hold to–and spread–his false interpretations of Scripture is the equivalent of suggesting that it would be loving for a parent to allow a toddler to stick a fork into an electrical socket simply because the child thinks it would be fun. The parent knows the danger involved and the damage that would result, meaning that the only loving course of action is to stop the child from his intended action and to teach him, sternly if necessary, not to pursue such behavior in the future. We are not loving Michael Gungor to suggest that his beliefs on this matter are acceptable or merely a difference of interpretation on an issue of liberty. We are not loving anyone else by allowing them to be exposed to Gungor’s position without warning them that it is wrong and dangerous. I hope and pray that Michael Gungor comes to see the error of his ways. Until then, however, I will continue to call his position what it is–false teaching. Because, contrary to what Gungor thinks, that is what the Composer intended.