Monday, May 3, 2010

Literal Religion

All through my higher education I've had professors distain what they call "literal" religion.  In other words, when they would get up at the lectern and say "well, none of this is literal kids, because X event didn't really happen" and then go on to say it was OK and didn't effect faith because only "literal" religion needed the events of the history of salvation to be true.  If one protested and even used evidence to refute their claims, they would smile condescendingly and say something like "well, when you grow up a little bit more you'll see that it doesn't matter after all."  

Now I think that this says something very interesting about how most liberal/mainline Protestant perceive religion.  According to them, lower forms of religion need real things to have happened in the real world.  Even if these literal religionists can prove their case to a certain degree using historical evidence, the fact that they even try (and believe me I've heard this over and over again!) shows immaturity.  Grown up religion, according to these people, means a "spiritual" and "ethical" religion.  In other words, if the religion is about telling us general ethical truths and not particular promises God has made and fulfilled (Abrahamic covenant, exodus, crucifixion/resurrection, etc- all which would demand literal historical truth on the part of the Bible.), then who needs anything to have really happened?  The ethical principles are still good even if their was no Abraham and no conquest by Joshua.  Also, these presupposition would also suggest that God is spiritual and therefore doesn't do real stuff in the real world.  In other words, Incarnation is out- or if they accept it, then a series of contradictory principles are accepted along side it.

In the end, "literal religion" is not childish religion.  Rather it is evangelical and incarnational religion.  It's about God fulfilling real promises, in the real world, through a real imparting of himself in Israel's history and in Christ.  The other kind isn't more mature, it's simply moralizing and spiritualizing- the religion of our first parents, as Luther would say.


  1. I have never been able to fully understand why theological liberals bother with church. Why crawl out of bed on Sunday morning if its all about ethics? Why devote yourself to the office of the ministry if its all ethics and politics?

  2. My theory is that it's out of habit. In other words, it's a cultural habit which they enjoy and don't really want to give up. Unfortunately they don't believe the Christian metanarrative anymore. So they invent a "Liberal" theology that just leaves enough of Christianity into it that it justifies them showing up on Sunday. I suspect that's how Unitarianism came about in the heavy church-culture of New England. Unfortunately for them, their theology isn't enough for their kids to stick with it. Being left with a theology that gives no logical reason to go church (like a real offer of salvation) they ditch it. I went to a liberal LCMS high school growing up on the west coast. 10 years after the fact, I'm the only person in my class who still attends church.