Several years ago one of my evangelical students gave me a little statement-of-beliefs booklet published by The Assemblies of God Church( an image of the actual booklet is down below).
The Assembies is one of largest and fastest growing churches in America and claims 60,000,000 members world-wide, and that number is growing.They also interpret the Bible literally, speak in tongues, and are die-hard creationists. When I started reading the book I was already familiar with their basic beliefs, so I expected nothing to really surprise me…until I came to page twenty-nine. The passage is as follows (the crucial sentence is the last sentence).
“Assemblies of God believers hold that the Genesis account should be taken literally. Admittedly, there is progression in God’s creative work. But each step was concluded: “And there was evening, and there was morning.” This points to a specific measurement of time. The most natural reading of the creation account therefore is to place it in parallel with a seven-day week. By doing so, the burden of determining time frames and development for various components of creation is avoided.”
I remember reading this and feeling somewhat miffed. “Whoa, wait, ‘burdened’?” I thought to myself. “Why would scientific research and inquiry be seen as a ‘burden’ to be ‘avoided'”? I wondered. Did the author really mean to imply that the “burden” of having to think and critically examine evidence can be “avoided” by reading the Bible literally?
Atheists and secularists are often very critical of biblical literalism. Literalists are sometimes portrayed as “non-thinking” people who are unwilling and/or unable to understand scientific evidence and reasoning. They are often belittled by liberals for “taking the easy way out.” Comedians such as Bill Maher and George Carlin have been especially punchy in their treatment of literalists, and religion in general.
Those who embrace biblical literalism are always quick to deny the charge that they have taken the easy way out. Instead, they vehemently argue that they are people of faith defending God’s Holy Word, the Bible. This may be true. However, subscribing to biblical literalism because you believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God is one thing, taking a literal approach to “avoid the burden” of scientifically “determining time frames and development for various components of creation” is something entirely different!
Several years ago Pew Forums published research data showing a correlation between biblical literalism and postgraduate education among Christian denominations. The results show the Assemblies(and other biblical literalist churches) down toward the bottom in postgraduate education, not surprising. I should point out that the below data lines up nicely with the survey results that I talked about in my post “A stop-and-think survey”(see archives).
“Men love to wonder, it is the seed of science,” said Emerson. The wonder and awe of scientific research and discoveries are exciting and thrilling, but only to those who are encouraged (and allowed) to see it that way. As a teacher (and parent) I would never encourage a kid to “avoid” discovering truths about the world we live it no matter how “burdensome” or challenging the journey may be. It makes no sense to me.