Diary

Gungor and the Art of Apostasy

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Michael Gungor, of the Christian worship band Gungor, stepped into a wasp’s nest of criticism and controversy by his comments a few months ago that he doesn’t believe in a literal creation, or in the great flood, or Noah.  In fact, he believes that God-directed evolution is the means our Creator used to bring forth species upon the earth.

Meh.  By itself, such a comment is disagreeable to my own beliefs, but not on its face heretical or worthy of disfellowship.  The fact that Gungor has a hit band in the Christian world has no bearing on my opinion.

Michael Gungor has many hits to his credit.  And not just hits, but real, spiritually-empowered worship songs.  In my church, we sang Gungor’s “Say So” quite a bit when it was making the rounds in contemporary worship circles.  When I sang it, I wasn’t thinking about the songwriter’s theology, or the soundness of his doctrine.  When I sing “Amazing Grace”, I don’t think about John Newton’s doctrine either.  Music has a connection beyond the songwriter, even more particularly, music written for the glory of God in worship.

Gungor had to hire a public relations firm to handle damage control for his theological missteps.  Some Christian radio stations, churches, and concert promoters have canceled Gungor events.  After a few months of being excoriated, Michael Gungor responded with an Op-Ed in Relevant Magazine.

In modern Christendom, I’m afraid we too often let our friction veer into blatant and hateful division. In the last few months, I personally have been called a heretic, a blasphemer, a twofold son of hell and a fool that is leading thousands to hell, in which I happen to have a special spot reserved for me.

Without a doubt, Gungor was hurt, and his response commends us to look to Matthew 26: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In this controversy, Gungor is completely wrong.  And he’s also absolutely right.

First, he’s totally wrong.  Michael Gungor said what he said, and continued defending it without apology or remorse.

Why? Essentially because I (like a lot of Christians), believe evolution is the means by which God created us. And I’m certainly not the first or the only Christian to receive the brunt of this sort of evangelical fervor for saying so.

As I wrote above, I could care less if Michael Gungor believes that God sent aliens from the Delta Quadrant to seed space babies on earth, thereby creating the human race from cosmic DNA. It’s okay to disagree with Jesus, and with other Christians. Gunger’s creation theology (or yours, for that matter) is of no consequence to me, nor do I believe it detracts from the authenticity or power of his music.  One thing Gungor said, however, deserves a solid Biblical response.

And even if [Jesus] was wrong, even if He did believe that Noah was a historical person, or Adam was a historical person, and ended up being wrong, I don’t understand how that even would deny the divinity of Christ. The whole idea of the divinity of Christ being fully human and fully God, that God lowered Himself to become a human being with a human brain, in a human culture with human language and human needs and human limitations. [emphasis mine]

Holding the belief in a fully divine Christ, possessor of all authority on earth and in heaven, and at the same time believing that while Jesus was on earth he somehow abdicated divine knowledge of Scripture is impossible to reconcile.  A quick read of Luke chapter 4 becomes utter nonsense if Jesus could be wrong about Scripture.  Maybe Jesus hallucinated the devil’s appearance three times.  Maybe his fullness with the Holy Spirit was simply joy at his baptism.  Maybe those temptations by the devil just didn’t happen, and the Scriptures Jesus used to repel each one are only poetry or myth.

Maybe Jesus’ words to the congregation in Nazareth in Luke 4:20 “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” referring to Isaiah 61, were just his attempt to stay relevant in a pre-modern Jewish world where the oppressed were looking for a Savior.  Do you see where this leads?  In Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, and Luke 21:33, Jesus said “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  If Jesus didn’t really believe the Scripture, he wouldn’t have said in Matthew 5:18 and Luke 16:17 “till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled”.

If Jesus was wrong, He is not God.  Saying that you don’t understand how Jesus being wrong, or misguided, or simply covering up for Scriptures that He didn’t really believe, is denying the divinity of Christ, regardless of how you phrase it.  There’s no way around it; that one doctrine is the bedrock of Christianity.  Decades ago, C.S. Lewis demolished Gungor’s argument:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Many believers in Christian orthodoxy absolutely agree with me on this point.  Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said “Michael Gungor says he can’t believe in a historical Adam and Eve any more, but he wants to make very clear he still believes in the miracles of the New Testament. But why? He has just pulled the rug out from under his own intellectual argument, because if he has just allowed the naturalist assumptions of modern science to deny the reality of Adam and Eve, how can he not follow those same naturalistic claims of science when they deny the possibility of the miraculous?”

So Michael Gungor is stone-cold dead wrong on Scripture and the divinity of Christ.  I think he’s also wrong about his creation beliefs, but that’s minor compared to the gigantic error on divinity.

Gungor is also quite right.  He’s right when he chides those who called him “a heretic, a blasphemer, a twofold son of hell and a fool that is leading thousands to hell” and calls the Church to unity and harmony.  Christians are far too quick to live and die by the sword of doctrine, and many times hold firing squads using “Ready.  Fire!   Aim.” as their guiding principle.  The slightest theological faux pas lands ministers and worship musicians in vats of boiling oil lit by the self-proclaimed doctrine police.  Thin trip-wires on difficult issues like homosexuality, same-sex marriage, suicide and evolution are easy to break.  I probably just broke a few right there (what did you mean by “difficult”?—see what I mean?).

Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine recently faced a similar crisis for his comments on homosexuality.  Australian megachurch (and worship powerhouse) Hillsong’s pastor Brian Houston and his NYC branch pastor Carl Lentz have faced years of withering criticism for his refusal to take a public position on homosexuality (20122013) which Houston clarified just last week (affirming his Biblical stance on the topic).  It’s precisely this toxic environment of accusation, public criticism, followed by an almost smug insistence on complete doctrinal purity that stifles true Christian fellowship, open discussion, and loving correction.

It’s neither loving, merciful, or grace-filled to treat other Christians in the manner in which Michael Gungor has been treated.  It’s far more wrong for those who are so skilled in the art of apostasy while accusing those who simply have bad theology of being apostates, than it is for the accused to have poor doctrine in need of correction.  Those with poor doctrine might be open to loving correction, but the self-appointed inquisition has no interest in correction.

The best essay I’ve seen about how to treat those who make controversial remarks is written by none other than John Newton, author of Amazing Grace.  It’s called On Controversy.  I’d include the entire text here, except for a concern about length and an eye toward keeping the reader’s attention, I will simply direct you to it here.  His conclusion, if you read nothing else, is worth considering.

If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!