|Photo by Luca Ventor|
It seems that Michael Gungor of the Dove-award winning band Gungor has been creating a bit of a stir in the Evangelical world lately. Now I have to admit that I’m not terribly familiar with Gungor’s music (I honestly assumed that they were a Norwegian Black Metal band when I first heard their name) and I usually would let this go without comment. But I think Gungor’s latest controversy brings up a rather important issue.
In a recent blog post titled What Do We Believe? Michael Gungor described his journey with doubt. Gungor recalled a conversation he had with a friend who said he no longer considered Gungor a Christian. And many Evangelicals have joined in with accusations that Gungor has departed from biblical orthodoxy. So what fundamental belief has Gungor denied? Has he denied the existence of God? The resurrection of Jesus? It’s actually neither of these.
Gungor has stated that he can no longer hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis.
In recent years it has become more acceptable to out yourself as a doubter. So why has Gungor caused such a stir? I think it comes down to how we define what is acceptable as doubt. Sometimes I think in the Evangelical world that when we say “we’re open to people who doubt” we really mean “we’re open to people entertaining doubts as long as they eventually return to the status quo”. I have already written about what happens when people don’t return to the status quo, but I want to talk about it from a different angle.
The capital S sin that Gungor has committed in the eyes of Evangelicals is that he can no longer take some of the Genesis prehistory literally. Of course I have heard the exact same criticism: How can you believe the Bible if you don’t believe that the opening chapters are literal/true? Ignoring the fact that this questions makes about as much sense as asking “how can you believe that the non-fiction books in your local library are true if there are also poetry books?”, the obvious answer is that literary studies provide context as to the genre of the passage you are reading.
But Gungor raises an interesting point:
“But I have a choice on what to do with these unbeliefs. I could either throw out those stories as lies, or I could try to find some value in them as stories. But this is what happens…
If you try to find some value in them as stories, there will be some people that say that you aren’t a Christian anymore because you don’t believe the Bible is true or “authoritative”. Even if you try to argue that you think there is a truth to the stories, just not in an historical sense; that doesn’t matter. To some people, you denying the “truth” of a 6,000 year old earth with naked people in a garden eating an apple being responsible for the death of dinosaurs is the same thing as you nailing Jesus to the cross. You become part of ‘them’. The deniers of God’s Word.”
Why has a literal reading of Genesis become the norm, especially when there has been a wealth of evidence both in Church history and Biblical Studies advocating for a non-literal reading of Genesis? Part of me wonders if by making our main emphasis on the historicity of the narrative we find a way to avoid grappling with the difficult theological questions these stories pose.
The theologian Frederick Buechner has a rather interesting insight on the Noah’s Ark story:
“It is an ironic fact that this ancient legend about Noah survives in our age mainly as a children's story. When I was a child, I had a Noah's ark made of wood with a roof that came off so you could take the animals out and put them in again, and my children have one too. Yet if you stop to look at it at all, this is really as dark a tale as there is in the Bible, which is full of dark tales. It is a tale of God's terrible despair over the human race and his decision to visit them with a great flood that would destroy them all except for this one old man, Noah, and his family. Only now we give it to children to read. One wonders why. Not, I suspect, because children particularly want to read it, but more because their elders particularly do not want to read it, or at least do not want to read it for what it actually says and so make it instead into a fairy tale, which no one has to take seriously.”
When Darren Aronofsky’s Noah came out many Evangelicals were up in arms at how much the story deviated from the biblical narrative (I have written a detailed defence of the film here). I personally loved the film. I thought it did a fantastic job of showing the visceral horror of the event while still exploring the themes of the biblical account. But unfortunately this was not enough to redeem the film in the eyes of those who wanted a literal retelling of the story.
Part 2: The second reason for Gungor's controversy and what Jesus can teach us about doubt will be posted tomorrow.
 There has also been some controversy over a song of his that uses feminine pronouns for God. I’ll refrain from commenting on this because I quite frankly don’t know enough about it to comment on it and I fear that an analysis of it would go beyond the intended scope of this post.
 Read: non-Young Earth Creationist
 Charisma News’ coverage of the story was accompanied by the sensationalistic title “You Won’t Believe Who Doesn’t Believe the Whole Bible Anymore”.
 Of course this is a very loaded definition of “true”, as if ancient literature has to be literally true to satisfying our Enlightenment definition of “truth”.