Chalicechick ponders the shared literalism of atheist Christopher Hitches and evangelical pastor Douglas Wilson and wonders why Wilson is so moored to a literal understanding of Jesus. Go read the whole post, then come back for my thoughts, which expand on a comment I've left there.
[*humming to myself*]
Ok, glad to see you back.
CC gets to my biggest beef with the New Atheists: that they tend to be as literalist about the Bible as the fundamentalists/conservative evangelicals. Then they either impute that literalism to liberal and mainline Christians -- or else (as Sam Harris does) castigate the mainliners for not speaking out more strongly against the fundamentalists.
But if anyone is going to speak up for metaphorical understandings of Jesus, it's not gonna be Douglas Wilson. He's very much in the conservative wing of Christian thinking. A far more provocative -- and effective, I contend -- pairing would have been to put Hitchens up against someone like John Buchanan, editor of the Christian Century and pastor at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago (DairyStateMom's old church).
You'd run into another problem there, though. Mainline Christians do seem to be loath to call out Evangelicals on a lot of the doctrinal stuff. Sam Harris is strictly speaking accurate on this charge. There are probably many reasons why that is. What follows is based more on my speculation than detailed investigation, with all the potential risks thereto. That said...
One probable reason is that the folks in their pews represent a broad spectrum of understanding about various pieces of doctrine. Take a mainline Christian preacher who didn't literally believe in the virgin birth: why would she or he want (in a sermon, say) to insult those parishioners who do? Why even need to go there? If the preacher is going to make parishioners uncomfortable, better to do so about something here and now that matters -- like speaking up for gay equality (as Buchanan has done). And similarly, when communicating with the wider world, I suspect many mainline pastors feel that it's unseemly -- and ultimately un-Christian, that is, uncompassionate -- to insult fellow Christians around such doctrinal matters.
In a similar vein, when Marcus Borg writes about non-orthodox understandings of God and Christ, his audience probably isn't made up of fundamentalists. It's more likely to consist of people who grew up in the church but became estranged from a belief system that came to seem irrational to them, yet still find a need and desire to connect with God and Jesus in some way.
On on the other hand, if there aren't many, or even any, literalists in our aforementioned hypothetical pastor's congregation, why spend any time tearing down the literalists then, either? That's not what parishioners need to hear, after all. Far better to point out the way Jesus welcomed even the outcasts, and what that calls us to do today.
A while back, I do recall the senior pastor at DairyStateMom's current church preaching very pointedly about the errors of Joel Osteen's approach to the Bible. But her critique was its self-centeredness, not its literalism. Personally, I think the point she made was the more important one.
For some mainliners, the literalist mindset may actually be fairly far out of their current everyday experience, and therefore something they don't feel a need to confront at all. I got a sense of this when I asked another pastor at DSM's church how kids deal with the topic of evolution. (I asked in part because their vacation Bible school focused on creation, and the whole evolution thing is a personal hobby horse for me, the son of an anthropologist.) Her response: It's never really come up, and perhaps that's because "we don't embrace a literal interpretation of scripture..." The primary message was that everyone is in God's image, and therefore is worthy of love and caring.
I do wish sometimes that mainline Christians would be more willing to directly confront and critique the more negative and even destructive interpretations of Christian doctrine held by some of their evangelical bretheren and sisteren. I know many Christians who despair at the way fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have appropriated the term "Christianity" to the exclusion of more progressive Christians. (Interestingly, when I did some Googling on that, the first example to come up was....in India. But the person seeking the confrontation appears to be a journalist, not a cleric.) In the end, though, I can understand why they don't. As DairyStateMom puts it, it may feel a little too much like airing dirty laundry in public -- about matters that for them just aren't that important.
3 hours ago