When I was in high school, building up my Christian convictions consisted of reading articles describing reports of gopher wood that had been discovered embedded in the icy cap of Mt. Ararat.
Okay, that may be a bit of an overstatement, but I do recall reading at least one article that included reports of gopher wood embedded in the icy cap of Mt. Ararat.
I also recall reading about the scientific credibility of the story of Jonah and the whale.
And the historical evidence for the Exodus and the crumbled walls of Jericho.
And the NASA reports that identify the lost day recorded in Joshua.
Not to mention an endless list of additional esoterica.
Which prompts one to ask the question, just what are those Christian convictions we aim to build up?
Based on this scattered laundry list, you’d think the Christian convictions in question were twofold:
(1) The narratival sections of the Bible are to be read as accurately describing past events straight on down to every jot and tittle.
(2) It is important to verify that entire storyline by way of independent, appropriately scientific, means.
Noah’s ark really did rest on Mt. Ararat … and here’s the gopher wood to prove it!
Jonah could have been swallowed by a sperm whale or even a great white shark! (Don’t believe me? See here.)
And the hunt is on for crumbled walls and lost days and the rest.
Except, what if that isn’t what Christian convictions are supposed to be? What if Christian convictions are centered on — here’s a crazy thought — Jesus Christ?
How would apologetics change with that reorientation in focus?
I’ve thought about that question many times over the years, and it returned this past week as I completed my review of Copan and Flannagan’s Did God Really Command Genocide? In one sense Copan and Flannagan — sophisticated scholars that they are — couldn’t be farther from the wackadoodle search for frozen gopher wood. And yet, the entire project — three hundred plus pages — seems to be driven by a tacit commitment to a literal and historical reading of the narratival portions of scripture (albeit with the innumerable concessions they make along the way which ironically serve to erode the strength of the assumption in the first place).
Personally, I would much prefer three hundred pages devoted to a thoughtful exploration of the diversity of ways that the stories of ancient Israel should be read and appropriated by the Christian community.
Christian faith does not depend on a historical reading of the Canaanite genocide, or a man swallowed by a big fish, or a worldwide flood memorialized on the summit of a Turkish mountain. And the sooner that evangelical apologists recognize this fact and reorient their priorities, the better we shall be.