Saturday, May 12, 2007
Ask a Christian Pastor
I recently agreed to do a guest blogging thing on Hemant's Friendly Atheist blog where his readers could ask me questions about Christianity and I would do my best to answer them. Here's how he set it up:

Mike Clawson is a regular commenter on this blog. He wants to see equal rights for gay people, believes in Evolution, strongly advocates the separation of church and state, endorses humanist ideals, and doesn’t think the Bible should always be read literally.

All this may be unusual because he is a Christian pastor.

Though if you’ve seen what he’s written, you know his remarks are always respectful and knowledgeable. He gives praise to atheists who make good points, while rightfully pointing out when atheists make incorrect blanket statements about Christians. At the same time, he’ll be on the front lines telling Christian commenters not to preach on this site unless they genuinely want to have a dialogue.

So I thought it would be interesting to allow readers to ask Mike their hardest questions about faith or Christianity or church or anything else that’s relevant.

Please post your questions in the comment section. I’ll pick a handful of them that I’d like to see answered. And Mike will then provide us with his insight.

It seems like a fun idea, and the first few questions so far seem pretty good (feel free to go over to Hemant's blog and add some of your own if you want), though I'm not quite sure what I've gotten myself into. I hope I have the time to keep up with the questions! This could be interesting. :)

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posted by Mike Clawson at 5:00 PM | Permalink |


At 5/15/2007 05:31:00 PM, Anonymous Ron

It took guts for Hemant to invite you to do this, and it's gutsy for you to agree to answer questions on

I look forward to seeing how things develop.


At 5/16/2007 12:57:00 PM, Anonymous John


Could you explain why you believe in evolution and why you shouldn't always take the bible literal?




At 5/16/2007 01:18:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson


The short answer is that I think the Bible ought to be read in context - which include its historical, cultural, and literary context. Are you familiar with the concept of literary genres? (e.g. poetry, history, letters, mythic narratives, biographies, apocalyptic literature, etc.) The Bible contains many different literary genres and different rules of interpretation apply for different genres. You don't read the Psalms in the same way you read the Gospels. You don't interpret Revelation in the same way you interpret the historical books. Etc.

The way conservative Christians typically use the word "literal" they tend to mean that we should ignore literary genre and interpret the Bible in the same way all the way through, usually as if it's all intended to be read as if it were a Modern-style historical account. This I think does an injustice to the text and ignores what God is trying to communicate to us through it. We are actually being disrespectful to the Bible and unfaithful to God when we impose our Modern interpretive lenses on an ancient text rather than reading it for what it is. I want to be faithful to God's intent in the Bible, so that's why I say we shouldn't always take it literally.

So when I come to the Creation accounts in Genesis I see all kinds of clues that it was not intended to be read as literal history or science. It just doesn't fit that genre. When we try to read it that way we miss what God is actually trying to communicate through it.

Let me be clear, I have rejected the literalist 6-Day Creationist interpretation of Genesis because of my faithfulness to the Bible itself, not because I'm trying to accommodate scripture to science.

However, once I've understood the Bible rightly I find that suddenly I am free to accept the findings of science as well. If we interpret Genesis rightly then there is really no reason to be skeptical of evolutionary science. Science answers certain questions that scripture is not asking, and vice versa. There is no conflict between the two.

And really, why should we expect there to be? If God created the universe, then science is just one more way to discover things about God. As theologians put it, there is special revelation (i.e. scripture) and there is natural revelation (i.e. science), and the two work together. They are in harmony.

I guess that wasn't such a short answer after all. :-)



At 5/16/2007 01:49:00 PM, Anonymous John


Thank you for responding. You said: "However, once I've understood the Bible rightly I find that suddenly I am free to accept the findings of science as well". Science tells us (in evolution) that we evolved from apes. The bible tells us that we were created in God's image. Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but science and the Bible don't seem to be in harmony there.

Thank you again for responding and helping my understanding.



At 5/16/2007 03:23:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Perhaps evolution is God's means of creating. Perhaps it is the tool he used to form us in his image.

Besides, theologically speaking the imago dei can't refer to our physical appearance. It's not like we believe God has eyes, ears, arms and legs. I was just listening to NT Wright today on my iPod talking about how the imago dei is a term that refers to our roles as God's representatives in the world. It has to do with our position as caretakers of creation.


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