The Evangelical Magnifying Glass

Perspective is king. I learned this fact of reality in college by brilliant English professor Dr. Matt Mullins. I have never forgotten this life-lesson -- as well as one other he constantly reiterated: Everything is rhetoric. But even the particular view that perspective is king is a perspective. We may imagine (rightly, I think) that this perspective is self-evidently true to reality but it is still a perspective. Someone could argue that observation is king, or facts are king, or objective truth is king, or illusion, or delusion is king -- that perspective assumes a secondary role in our reality. But those, too, are perspectives and, hence, perspective reigns as king over our reality.

This is why I all too often warn evangelicals against insisting that they dogmatically insist that their views are the biblical views on any given subject. For example, John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth edit and co-author a book entitled, Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, published by Crossway. Did you note the pronounced adjective: biblical? These men promote biblical Christianity and Open Theists represent unbiblical Christianity. Consider also Kevin DeYoung's book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? DeYoung assumes that he presents what "the Bible" really teaches about homosexuality.

To the average person, untrained in detecting manipulative rhetoric, he or she might imagine that these biblical scholars are merely propounding the ideas and theology of various authors of Hebrew and Christian Scripture. Wrong! These men are presenting to the public their perspective of what they think various authors of Hebrew and Christian Scripture represent and nothing more -- absolutely nothing more.

Men like John Piper and Kevin DeYoung (and many more among them) are guilty of an outdated and faulty hermeneutic called naïve realism, which, in its most simplistic form, is the idea that anyone can read a text, for example, and intuit its intended meaning -- and glean an appropriate and accurate conclusion -- merely by reading the words in context. This sophomoric method of interpretation neglects the base reality of already-established presuppositions that will influence a particular conclusion. Dr. Stanley Fish, from his book Is There a Text in This Class?, argues:
What we have here then are two critics with opposing interpretations, each of whom claims the same word as internal and confirming evidence. Clearly they cannot both be right, but just as clearly there is no basis for deciding between them. One cannot appeal to the text, because the text has become an extension of the interpretive disagreement that divides them; and, in fact, the text as it is variously characterized is a consequence of the interpretation for which it is supposedly evidence.1
Well, then, perhaps the context will help us interpret rightly. Fish insists the contrary: "Nor can the question be settled by turning to the context . . . for that too will only be a context for an already assumed interpretation."2 He argues that, "in the light of an already assumed interpretation, the word [or phrase or sentence in question] will be seen to obviously have one meaning or another."3 This, then, informs us as to the quality of scholarship of an individual. When appeal is rendered to context in order to substantiate a notion, and expressions such as "without a doubt" or "obviously" are chosen to support that notion, then an inner warning signal should be sounded in one's psyche to question what was just communicated. Dr. Fish explains why.

What I find comical, especially from conservative evangelicals, is when a statement of belief is expressed as "so obvious" and, yet, that belief seems "so obvious" solely to the one communicating it: "Whenever a critic [or a teacher or a preacher or a biblical scholar] prefaces an assertion with a phrase like 'without a doubt' or 'there can be no doubt,'" argues Fish, "you can be sure that you are within hailing distance of the interpretive principles which produce the facts that he presents as obvious."4 What is "so obvious" to one person may be an entirely foreign concept to another.

How, then, do we learn? We understand that all knowledge is not equal. Mathematical knowledge, for instance, maintains formulae that is objectively true: 1+1 will always equal 2. We can learn and know a language; but we understand that rules for language and spelling experience changes. We can learn and know a particular theory; but we cannot be absolutely certain regarding any particular theory because we, as finite creatures, do not possess absolute knowledge and, hence, cannot be purely objective. When I write on this site I do so knowing full well that I am communicating according to my own perspective. I can communicate what I think I know, why I know what I think I know, but not with such certainty on all matters so as to be an absolutist.

Evangelicals like John Piper should agree with the overall tenets presented here but I seriously doubt his willingness to own these sentiments. Why? Because men like John Piper consistently espouse their views with unparalleled certainty, appealing to their views as being merely biblical (merely "what the Bible teaches"), and they are content to think and communicate within their own isolated echo chambers. They exist solely to perpetuate their own interpretations and rhetorically manipulate others into believing that what they espouse is God's objective truth: the inherently unobjective posing as the center of objectivity. Rather than confess, publicly and in writing, that their views are "what I think the authors of the Bible are conveying," theological hubris drives them into a dogmatism that is naïve, unprincipled and undisciplined.

But there is another driving force in the mentality of conservative evangelicals: fear. Take Franklin Graham for example. During his political campaign for Donald Trump he insists to his manipulated listeners that the enemies of America are "godless [secularists]," i.e., all non-Christians, and those who "call themselves progressives," which includes progressive Christians. (link) Daniel Taylor, author of The Myth of Certainty, writes: "Conservative Christians have too long been paranoid about the world just beyond our noses. Much of the defensiveness and anger that we direct toward the 'secularists' spring more from insecurity and fear than from informed righteousness."5 Evangelical Christians like Franklin Graham, and John Piper, will never change their methods nor their perspective due to spiritual arrogance and fear.

Am I being unfair? Could someone not also confess of me that I will never change my methods nor my perspective due to hubris and fear? We cannot discount the influential power of fear. I freely admit that I fear, at least ideologically, the conservative evangelical perspective in which I was reared and educated. Presently I have no desire to return to such a frame of reference. But, even more so, I fear returning to that world of ideas because I have witnessed to and encountered the casualties of the culture wars raged by conservatives and zealous evangelicals.

The real question, then, is the following: Will I perpetuate an open mind to embracing conservative evangelical ideals in the future? After all, how we learn is through the medium of remaining open to new ideas, new information that can shape our worldview. Presently, my answer is no, and the answer is based on one primary criteria: new information. For me, there is already enough present and past information that evangelicals still maintain to discount any new information that may unfold. An evangelical worldview like that of Franklin Graham would have to experience a radical change in order for me to embrace its ideology. But that change would reflect my own ideas and values and that is not likely to happen.

How, then, can I complain about the worldviews and ideas and methods of men like Franklin Graham, James Dobson, John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell Jr.? Actually, I am not really complaining, but only highlighting basic truths regarding knowledge and perspective -- knowledge and perspective that is rejected by such men. My main objective here is merely to place a gigantic magnifying glass in front of the eyes of whoever will read these words so that people will not be duped by manipulative evangelical leaders. We each possess the responsibility for who we allow to influence our perspectives and worldview. Choose wisely and very carefully.


1 Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 340.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 341.

5 Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 46.