Monday, August 11, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Gungor Controversy

Well, I wasn't sure I should comment on this little controversy, especially since I'm just getting a blog series underway. However, it seems that some thoughts might be in order. I cannot personally say that I am a fan of Gungor. That's not to say I have had any negative feelings about him in the past. I just haven't listened to his music. I honestly am not sure I'd even heard of him before this conflict started. However, after I took a look at an article written by Relevant Magazine (RM) on this issue, I thought some more commentary might be helpful to some who might be confused about the issues that Gungor recently expressed his opinions about. After all, my field of study is theology, not Christian music culture.

What first bothered me about the RM article was that the author combined two different issues that need to be separated while discussing the nature of the Genesis account. The first issue is, how are we to understand the nature of the six day creation account? The second is, how are we to understand the historicity of Adam and Eve? What Gungor seems to most explicitly call into question is the historicity of Adam and Eve as well as a historical flood.

What the author of the RM article points out, in defense of Gungor, is that certain early church fathers and certain conservative leaders today tend to call into question a completely literal six day creation account. He mentions that Augustine did not hold to a literal six days, an assertion that is far too simplistic given the the progressive nature of Agustine's theology. The author also includes Tim Keller as a modern church leader who calls into question the literal nature of the six days of creation. This should not be surprising to Christians who know a bit about theological writings today. There have long been different understandings of the six days of creation. Even one of my heroes, John Piper, holds a view that could be surprising to some.

The problem is, the different views of the age of the earth do not necessarily change these individuals' views on the literal existence of Adam and Eve, nor should they. In fact, The author gives no evidence that Augustine or Tim Keller, or his other examples, call into question the historicity of Adam and Eve... the reason likely being that they did not. When it comes to this second question concerning Adam and Eve, the author of the article is much less specific and simply names a popular seminary with varied opinions among faculty.

Why do I split up these two theological questions? Well, much of the RM article is dedicated to saying that the nature of Adam and Eve in history is a secondary issue. While, at some level, I agree with this, I believe it neglects the reality that all theological topics connect with each other in one way or another. The nature of Adam and Eve has a stunning connection to the gospel itself. What do I mean by this?

In Romans 5, Paul makes a very important argument concerning the nature of our relationship to Christ. A portion of the chapter reads,

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification" (Romans 5:12-16)

What we see in this passage is that apparently, in Paul's mind, the nature of Adam's sin parallels the nature of Christ's righteousness. Because God set up the world in such a way that a single man, the father of humanity, could pass on his guilt (resulting in death) to all of those connected to him, in the same way, Christ could pass his righteousness on to all those connected to him by faith. Paul's argument in this chapter is clear and consistent. Jesus is the second Adam. Does this doctrine not require that both Adam and Christ be historical persons? If Adam and Eve's fall is merely symbolic of universal sin (sin not originating in anything but each individual person), then how could God justly work in such a way that righteousness could pass from Christ to us? Isn't the doctrine of Christ's righteousness being counted as ours, just as Adam's guilt was counted as ours, essential to the gospel?

As I said, some argue that we should read the account of the fall symbolically or poetically. This is certainly true of many types of writing in the Old Testament. However, does Gungor put forward any arguments or evidences that Adam and Eve or the flood should be read in this way? It would seem the answer is no. On the contrary, he simply asserts his inability to read these stories literally. In spite of my education in a seminary that included many who would agree with Gungor, I have yet to be given compelling evidence that the original Hebrews, or Paul, or Jesus himself, would have embraced these portions of the Old Testament this way. While I have seen some decent argumentation for different interpretations of the six days of the universe's formation, the creation of Adam and Eve, particularly in Genesis 2, seems much less flexible. Adam and Eve are even included in genealogical lines.

This causes me to suspect that Gungor did not come to his conclusion through historical or biblical study, but because of the pressure that comes from living in a culture that scoffs at exulting biblical trustworthiness. While Gungor seems to affirm a belief in the "God breathed" nature of the Bible, should he not embrace it in the sense that it was intended to be received?

Now, we must be careful. Does a person like Gungor, who claims that he has true faith in Christ, actually have a false faith because his understanding of Paul's teaching seems to be flawed? We certainly would be taking a great risk in asserting something so dogmatic. In the same spirit as the RM article, I can point out that the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis held to a similar position. It would be difficult to banish Lewis from Christianity in our minds given his exhalation of Christ and his death in our place throughout his writings.

However, I will assert that Gungor's theology (and C.S. Lewis' for that matter) is grossly inconsistent. I believe Gungor should be strongly challenged to reconsider his beliefs, in spite of the fact that he currently says he finds it impossible. Right handling of the word of God honors God, and if one generation plays with doctrines that touch so closely to the gospel itself, we can rest assured that the next generation will be much more bold to take the next step, a step that would much more likely be damning. The game of trying to split doctrine into essentials and non-essentials can be very dangerous, since the category of "essentials" gets smaller with every generation.

So, for those who wish to utterly condemn Gungor, I tentatively suggest, along with Relevant Magazine, that you leave it to God to judge Gungor's heart. At the same time, for those of you who think it is utterly wrong for him to lose concert opportunities or that it is wrong for churches to shield themselves from his influence, I would say to you that truth is important. Many of these churches are doing what they think is best for the good of the souls under their care. Theology truly does matter.

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