Artists (like Gungor) have much to teach theologians about scripture

Recently two Christian artists crossed my radar. The first is Gungor, who does not take the Bible “literally.” The second is evangelical recording artist, Vicky Beeching, who came out as gay.

This post is about Gungor. Now, I don’t know Gungor or his music. I’m listening to his music for the first time as I write this. My tastes tend more towards Thievery Corp, Zero 7, Bjork, Koop, Fau, Brae, Gypsy Kings, and Bebel Gilberto. But as I read this interview about Gungor’s “drift” from biblical orthodoxy as described by World Magazine, I was reminded that orthodoxy is the heresy that won.

Just about every week I read an article about how theologians wrestle with scripture in light of the science of evolution. Let’s be clear, this post is not about evolution as much as it is about scripture. And, for full transparency, I have evolutionary frameworks for understanding how the world came to be as it is. But I could care less if evolution were overturned or established tomorrow. Quite the contrary, I would be delighted by whatever new thing could be learned and discovered.

This post is about how we understand the scripture. Theologians wonder how we can understand the biblical figures of Adam and Eve in light of the fact that, given the evolution of our species, they had ancestors reaching back millions of years. They struggle with how there could have been death and suffering in the world for millions and millions of years before the “fall of man.” They struggle with how the creation story fits with what we know today about the emergence of life in the world, as if they were somehow parallel.

So many of us listen to theologians, academics, and other fundamentalist christians wrestle with these questions with the same incredulity we would if they were wrestling with how to understand cosmology in light of the church doctrine that the earth is the center of the universe.

The challenge for Christians is not that we don’t understand the science. It’s that we don’t understand the Bible… at least not the way millions of believers will understand it the farther we get into this century.

Enter the artist.

Michael Gungor reads the creation stories as a poem.

(This may also be a minority opinion, so far. In any case, majorities are overrated. After all, Christ was crucified with the majority in agreement).

The opening chapters of Genesis are a poetic saga. The creation story of Genesis is an epic myth thoughtfully and intentionally constructed from a multiplicity of sources including the babylonian poem known as the Enuma Elish.

Genesis does not record the chronological origins of the universe. It is the consolidation of stories from multiple sources (and cultures) which had substantial oral histories. These stories were brought together to express a particular and new faith that emerged four to five thousand years ago. This new faith is arrived at by a nomadic tribe whose patriarch, a man –whether a composite or an individual– named Abraham, had encounters with a guiding spirit in the wild. Their intention in pulling together these stories may have been to offer an apologetic for faith in Abraham’s God in a world full of gods.

For so many Christians it seems impossible to maintain this kind of point of view and still follow Christ. But Christians who have an evolutionary framework for understanding the world listen to Gungor and hear nothing but common sense. And they have fewer problems integrating new science with ancient faith than those who read Genesis like it was written by an ancient community that was somehow up to date with 21st century science. This may be one of the fault lines between Modern Christianity and the Christ-following faith of the 22nd century that is still in vitro.

To those within these frameworks, it is the theologians, academics, fundamentalists, and Christian organizations –especially the “watchdogs” of orthodoxy who are cemented in the past —  that seem biblically illiterate.

Are artists like Gungor, with or without intending, parting a theological sea? Are they, with or without knowing, raising a staff and prophesying the way of faith forward? Many who cannot understand the fundamentalist faith will run through these waters and begin to shape a tribe of faith that will populate the latter 21st century. They will read the scriptures with different eyes.

But, even fundamentalists can be saved. That’s the beauty of the courageous leadership offered by Gungor. (And, Im not saying here that he’s got it all figured out or even claims to have it figured out. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know much about him.) After Israel left Egypt, things went back to “life as usual” in the land of the Pharaohs. The Egyptians probably didn’t even miss a step. But the narrative arc of the story followed the nomadic tribe who found their way across the desert and through the waters led by a guiding wind.

I suspect that the narrative arc of the story of scripture may be headed out into the wilds again and the artists may be leading the way.

By the way, Michael and Lisa, enjoyed your music.

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

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6 thoughts on “Artists (like Gungor) have much to teach theologians about scripture

  1. I enjoyed this a lot. It happened that I was reading ‘Makers of Fire’ where you wonder whether the church in 50AD knew they would change the Empire, or thought God would be bringing things to a close. One of the scriptures I was pondering today was Peter’s comment on the Day of the LORD is coming.

    Keep on opening up the future. It’s way more scary to think we are shapers of the future rather than we’re just staying faithful until history closes.

    • Well put, Geoffrey. One of the possible futures Christian theologians face is one in which no zealous believer reads the bible “literally”. Personally, I think we mean illiterately when we say literally, but that’s another post.

  2. Thanks Alex;
    Since High School I’ve lived in the tension of Evolutionary Creation. I sat in my biology class and wept for joy, as we studied the stages of evolution—-that my God was so keen (an appropriate word for the 60s) as to have done God’s work through the amazing evolutionary stages. Now we understand the processes so much more. It was one of the most deepening times for my faith. But how do you share your excitement in a fundamentalist church? 🙂

    Please keep stretching us into the future.

    • Hey Daryl, I hear you.
      How can we not be excited about God’s world, right?
      I have learned to be a meta-player … which means I help advance a tribe
      within their tribal frameworks in the right direction and as far as possible.
      Some from within that tribe will evolve and then need to be helped
      in the next developmental phase.

      Thanks for you input.

  3. I have similar thoughts regarding evolution and Gungor’s attitude to Genesis. I think it is important, however, to remember that fundamentalists and other evangelicals who reject evolution are not adhering to an “orthodox” view of scripture. Continuing to talk about fundamentalists as “orthodox” only gives weight to their views by way of tradition. Taking the Bible literally is a fairly new concept in Christian history and should be viewed as such, even if it pre-dates our own lives.

    I realize this is somewhat of a semantic issue. I think we get sort of jumbled in our conversation when our terms are unclear. If we are talking about tradition, which tradition? If we are talking about orthodoxy, according to whom?

    In some circles, namely big O Orthodoxy, the Bible, especially the Old Testament, has always been viewed as a set of writings guiding us through a people’s journey toward knowing God. Therefore, it is no surprise when people write things about God and about the nature of the world that don’t line up with what we know now. It’s a story. You don’t know everything at the beginning of the story that you know at the end.

    Michael Gungor has not said anything radical. In fact, he has said the most Orthodox thing about scripture that one can say (unless he talks about prefigurement of Christ throughout the OT).

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