I’m reading a book by a popular young author who grew up in the Bible belt. From her account, she was part of a fairly easy-going family of believers. As she grew, she became uncomfortable with the fundamentalist beliefs of the denomination of her youth. This discomfort led her on a journey of questioning those beliefs, and, eventually, that journey led her to come to conclusions that were, largely, the opposite of those she heard growing up.
Today, this author would say that it is “naïve” to believe that the account of the creation of the world, the flood and so many other aspects of the Bible—”must be literal to be true.”1 This author isn’t alone in this sentiment, of course. Many in our day—and many in the preceding 150 years—deeply feel the tension particularly between the Christian story and that of scientific naturalism. And many choose to double down on one side or the other.
And I get that. Something that’s helpful for people to keep in mind is that I didn’t grow up with any real knowledge of the Christian story. I didn’t have a category for it beyond a vague reference in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. So if you’re one who wrestles with this tension, please know I am not unsympathetic. And regardless of the discomfort, we should wrestle with it. We should allow it to be uncomfortable and continue to be so until we are fully convinced.
So, I hope it’s clear that I am all for asking good questions. But good questions do more than question truth claims—they question our questioning, too. And that’s what’s troubling about the notion that it must be naïve to believe certain things. To me, that strikes me as dangerously close-minded thinking in that it doesn’t go far enough to ask deeper questions.
This post isn’t a slam on this particular author (I hope). Instead, I really do just want to consider the kinds of questions we need to ask when we are confronted with a statement like that above—because it’s one we do get all the time, including from ourselves. I find it helpful to consider four questions when dealing with the charge of naïvity:
- Why? Why would it make one naïve to believe these things must have happened in order to be true? Is it because we live in a naturalistic culture, one that tells us that only what is measurable, verifiable and repeatable is true (unless it’s inconvenenient, of course)? Couldn’t one equally argue that it is naïve to believe that these things couldn’t possibly have happened? That water didn’t actually come pouring out from a rock? Or the Red Sea didn’t really part, or that everyone who is described as being possessed by a demon is really just epileptic? (Which, by the way, is incredibly disrespectful to anyone who has epilepsy…)
- What? What does it mean to say that believing this or that actually happened is a sign of naïvity? What are the implications of saying that Genesis 1-2 never happened? What does it mean to say that Jesus didn’t bodily rise from the dead, or wasn’t really born of a virgin? What does it do to the foundation of the Christian faith, and what is left standing?
- When? When does it stop being naïve to believe something is true? When is it that this is no longer applied to earliest chapters of Genesis or the miracles of Exodus through to the end of the Prophets, but to the person of Jesus himself? When does it become naïve to believe in the incarnation and the resurrection? When does it become naïve to believe anything in Scripture at all?
- How? How will I respond? Ultimately, this comes down to two options: will I respond in faith and believe, or will I respond in unbelief and reject?
Curiosity and a hunger for truth are absolutely essential. That’s what motivates us to ask good questions. But good questions don’t let us stop asking questions of a subject, they question our questions. And there’s nothing naïve about that.
- This is, of course, Rachel Held Evans in Searching for Sunday. ↵