Five Responses to the Newsweek Screed

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The 9,000-word, Merry-Christmas, anti-Christian Newsweek screed opens with the following attempt at journalistic objectivity:

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.

That’s me and most of my readership, I guess, when viewed through the lenses of ideological secularism. It’s not what we see when we look in the mirror, but benighted people like us can only afford warped WalMart mirrors.

Others have done a better job replying point-for-point. I’ll just add my five thoughts:

  1. Screeds Strengthen My Faith in the Bible. Believe it or not, articles like this confirm my faith. I often think, “This is the best they can do?” I felt like I was reading an over-long Facebook comment by a college freshman in his third week of Intro to the Bible at Secular U. Eichenwald can say that’s name-calling, but I stand by my ad hominem. He didn’t do his homework. He just read Bart Ehrman and got steamed. When his very first substantive argument (after a full six paragraphs of invective) was that the Bible we have now is the result of hundreds of years of religious telephone, I breathed a little sigh of relief. I knew I was in screed-land.
  2. The Culture War Just Got Ratcheted Up Again. I’m sad that ideological secularism feels emboldened enough to use a significant cultural symbol like Newsweek to ratchet up the culture war with such incendiary language, because that choice portends pain for both sides in the conflict—and because people who write such hateful twaddle are living in darkness (Eph. 4:17). I’m not angry at them; I pity them. When possible, my Bible tells me to prefer peace to open hostility (Rom. 12:18; 1 Tim. 2:2).
  3. Eichenwald Offers No Alternative. I don’t fault Eichenwald for offering no alternative worldview; that wasn’t in the scope of his piece, and that’s fine. But I can’t help wondering what he would say. The Internet won’t tell me what his personal (ir)religious views are, but he has “a minister.” And I’m guessing that means either Unitarianism or mainline Protestantism. Do the worldviews represented among those groups really justify the moral feeling Eichenwald apparently throws at his work? He’s a crusader, through his muckraking journalism, for various causes. Our society needs such people. But the drive it takes to uncover large-scale injustice is precisely a moral one—so what moral vision does Eichenwald offer the world? And with what authority? The zeitgeist? What if the zeitgeist leans in favor of child abusers? Or eugenics, or baby-killing? Either there is a God or gods and He/they have spoken to us, or we’re stuck in what Charles Taylor calls the “immanent frame”—and who’s to say whose moral vision is best? It’s Eichenwald’s word against mine. As long as I’m spreading my genes, he can’t blame me for anything else.
  4. Eichenwald Appeals to Authority, Not to Reason, Per Se. Eichenwald talks as if anyone with a 700 on the SAT can check out “the facts” on the Bible and see that what he’s saying is true. “Anyone can comprehend what history’s most important book says,” he writes. But he himself relied on scholars (he named two and claimed “scores” more) to discuss textual criticism, Bible translation, lexicography, and church history, and unless you can read Koine Greek and ancient Hebrew (and probably Latin) you’re going to have to trust him that the scholars he chose were the right ones. “Arguments” like those advanced by Eichenwald really boil down to, “My dad can beat up your dad!” He is, in other words, appealing to authority. But we have scholars on our side, too. Our scholars may not be as oft-quoted at Newsweek, but they can’t all have fooled secular dissertation committees in America, Britain, and Germany. A large number of apparently intelligent and educated people didn’t find Eichenwald’s arguments persuasive when they first read them in The DaVinci Code, and they’re not going to change their minds now.
  5. We Need Scholars. I keep coming back to this theme, perhaps for existential reasons… But we need Christian scholars. Someone has to do the annoying work of answering foolish claims, and the decades-longer work of being ready to do so. A few gifts-to-Christ’s-body (Eph. 4:11–14) set to work this Christmas season to give every man an answer. Thank you, Michael Kruger, et al. And not all anti-Christian pieces are screeds. There are some scientific and other authorities asking valid questions out there, I think, to which Christians haven’t yet given fully adequate responses. I don’t know how starlight got here from so far away in the time the Bible appears to allot, for example. But we have given responses to the claims Eichenwald (channeling Ehrman) makes, and they’re written on an intellectual level higher than Eichenwald’s piece. If people pick Eichenwald’s scholars over ours, it’s not because they know better. It’s because affection drives cognition. They don’t want the Bible to be true. They don’t want their Creator telling them what to do.

Not everything Eichenwald said was wrong, although he managed to come pretty close. I think American Christians bear significant blame for their compromises with civil religion, for example. And his piece opens with a charge that rings true: most Christians don’t read their Bibles.

I say that the best way for the average layperson to be inoculated against Eichenwald’s attacks is just to read his Bible enough to know it better than Eichenwald does. We need scholars to handle some of the arguments in that article, but not all of them. “Anyone can comprehend what history’s most important book says” about a number of the issues Eichenwald raises—like his puerile arguments against public prayer (any Bible reader should be able to think of public prayers in Scripture and should be able to harmonize them with Jesus’ warnings about puffed-up prayer in Matthew 6). So this article comes along just in time. Let’s use it to renew our commitments to reading the whole Bible in the coming year. And here’s one really good tip from a friend that you can use right now: start early. I invite you to join me.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

1 thought on “Five Responses to the Newsweek Screed”

  1. Your first sentence of your first point was my thought exactly. I’ve come across things before that have challenged my faith, but this actually had the opposite effect, especially in the realm of texts and, even more obviously, translations. The author clearly knows very little about the nature of translation work, biblical or otherwise.

    Articles like this actually do keep me motivated to keep pressing forward in my work to raise bilingual children. I’m guessing that my little 2-year-old will be able to shoot holes through absurd claims about translation long before he finishes junior high.

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