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Friday, January 29, 2010

Are Evangelicals Open-Minded?

My experience within evangelical/fundamentalism tells me that they are not. They will often claim to be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads but in reality they are not. They have determined that the Bible is the literal Word of God and therefore nothing that contradicts it can possibly be true. This was illustrated in a previous post in which William Craig admitted that no evidence could possibly disconfirm his faith because he has the "witness of the Spirit" in his heart.

When I was at Bob Jones University, there were two incidents in particular that awoke me to the fact that honest scholarship was not allowed in evangelicalism.

First, around 1980 a book came out entitled: Decision Making and the Will of God by Gary Friesen. Friesen argued that the traditional view that God has a perfect will for your life including whom you should marry, where you should go to school, what occupation you should choose, etc. was really not biblical. He argued that the will of God in the Scripture only had to do with moral issues and that non-moral issues could be decided by Christians using wisdom (i.e., applying biblical principles).

At the time, I thought that Friesen was right about what the Scriptures taught. However, the administration at Bob Jones Univ. did not. They had taught for years that God has a perfect will for you life. One day after class, I asked Stewart Custer if he had read the book. He said, "No, but I need to read it because Dr. Bob has asked me to write a refutation of it." I was flabberghasted. I thought to myself, that is not being intellecutally honest. You are going to read the book with your mind already made up.

Second, around 1986, Bob Jones, Jr. called John MacArthur a heretic because John was teaching that it was the death of Christ that saves not his literal blood. Even though John graciously clarified his position for BJU, they would not accept it. In 1988, I wrote an article in the Calvary Theological Journal in which I basically agreed with MacArthur. Virtually all of the Bible faculty at BJU agreed with my position but were ordered by Bob, Jr. not to address the issue. They were not to address it in class nor in correspondence.

While these two examples may appear extreme, I think they illustrate the fact that evangelicalism does not allow free inquiry.


  1. I don't know if I understand what you're saying. John MacArthur is the Evangelical. He is the one offering his side of a free inquiry. Bob Jones University is NOT Evangelical, it's fundamental. the split occurred in the late 1950's with Billy Graham. I don't see how you can use that as an example to disavow evangelicals. I'm sorry to hear about your story, I pray you find not Theology, but truth. Blessings...

  2. John,

    According to the historical meaning of the term both MacArthur and Bob Jones are evangelicals.

    MacArthur is not open-minded either. If you don't believe it, try going to his church and espousing covenant theology.

    My point is that conservative Christians cannot be open-minded because they have already decided that their theology is the correct meaning of the Bible which they have also accepted as the literal word of God.

  3. Ken, I remember reading that book by Freisen and loving it. It was so liberating to discover that I could be an adult who makes his own decisions in life, instead of asking God to decide every stupid little thing for me.

    But when I ran it by a Christian friend of mine, a very good scholar of the Bible, he said the book "turned him off." That really bothered me at the time, because he wasn't able to give me a biblical or logical reason it was wrong ... only that he subjectively disliked it. Very similar to what you saw at BJU. I couldn't understand why anyone could prefer the endless frustration of pursuing this elusive "perfect will" that was floating out in the ether, just out of reach. Nor could I see how anyone might refute Freisen's convincing exegesis, either.

    The power of foregone conclusions is nearly invincible.

  4. Ken,

    Your reasoning is also very poor. You claim all evangelicals are closed minded and then name one or two of them.

    Your logic is invalid:

    1. Bob Jones is closed minded
    2. Bob Jones is an evangelical
    Therefore, All evangelicals are closed minded.

    Any student of logic knows you can't make this argument.

    I could make the same argument for Dawkins

    1. Dawkins is closed minded
    2. Dawkins is a Darwinian
    Therefore: All Darwinians are closed minded

    Dawkins is clearly opposed to any critical thought being applied to his theory of evolution. By definition, he would be closed minded which in turn makes all Darwinians closed minded, right?

    You might want to take a class in logic!

    God Bless...

  5. Ken's logic is sound as can be. That's because one of the evangelical ipso facto assertions is that the Scripture can never be wrong, no matter the evidence. God says it, I believe it, that settles it -- come hell or high water.

    When you refuse to admit the possibility of the Scripture ever being in error anywhere, how is that not closed-mindedness?

    Furthermore, the tortured, unnatural "solutions" evangelicals offer to explain Bible difficulties are enduring testimonies of their dearth of objectivity.

  6. Dawkins is a rationalist, so at least he has the rational to consider the evidence and correct his mistakes if he should be proven wrong. That's what good scientists do, after all.

    Evangelicals, Bob Jones or otherwise, aren’t rationalists. They are harmonists. They harmonize the problematic elements of scripture to fit with their theology, therefore reconcile away discrepancies, in the face of what the evidence may say contrary to their theological surmises.

    For the lack of a better word, they refuse to reason, therefore their position becomes unreasonable. But all this happens before they get to proving whether or not their position is at all tenable. They just assume it is and go from there.

    For example, if you show evidence to say it is untenable, they reject it. This is not being objective or thinking critically, this is a proclivity to follow one's doctrinal biases at any cost even when those presumptions don’t stand up to exacting scrutiny. It is the opposite or intellectual honesty, and dare I say it, it is the basis for faith--the belief in something without adequate or convincing evidence to vindicate held convictions.

    I think that distinction needs to be made, not that having faith in things is always necessarily bad, but when you reject evidence and refuse to be reasonable, then it does seem rather close-minded.

  7. Tristan, I like your rationalist/harmonist distinction. When there's a collision between reality and his theory, a good scientist will rework the theory. An evangelical, on the other hand, will reinterpret reality to fit the theory.

  8. Steve,

    I found Friesen's book to be liberating too. I also found it to be much more biblical than the traditional view. However, many people didn't like it because they had preached and counseled people for years to find the perfect will of God for their lives. To admit they had been wrong about this was too much for their ego.

  9. If you tell a xian that you've read the Bible and come to the conclusion that it is not a set of books which lay out true history or the will of a god, you get the "close minded" label attached to you. If, however, you tell the same xian that you have come to the same conclusion about the Book of Mormon or the Quran you've made the right decision. My Calvary Chapel sister has told me many times that I don't believe because I am not 'interpreting' the Bible right, because I am not 'open' to it being true, which is funny since I was a Christian way before she was and went through quite the emotional meltdown for several yrs when I began to see that my perception of what the Bible taught and what it REALLY taught were 2 different things and I had to let go of my illusions.