Gungor, a band headed by its namesake Michael Gungor, recently made waves in the evangelical world with a blogpost entitled “What Do We Believe?” The post told us nothing substantial about what they believe, even after 2600 meandering words. Let me toss my hat in the ring and trade blows with some of the questions/issues raised by this whole affair. Gungor is not the first one to make these assertions, and while I wish otherwise, he won’t be the last. Doubt is, after all, a rather popular house-guest for mankind.
First it should be stated that this is not meant to be an assault upon a man, but upon his beliefs (or lack?). We live in an age where to poke fun at someone instantly implies judgementalism, rudeness, intolerance, and narrow-mindedness. However, wherever silliness appears, I think we ought not be afraid of our chuckling being perceived as hate-speech. Philosophical and theological silliness abound in our generation, and Elijah would likely encourage his New Testament brethren to crack a few well-timed jokes at the expense of Baal’s prophets.
If you do a search for question marks (which look like this: ?) on Gungor’s post, you’ll find 38 of them to be exact. This creates a philosophical environment in which it is impossible for facts to land and prohibited for them to take off. In essence, it leaves us in a perpetual holding pattern. Answers are to questions what teeth are to food. You are not eating merely by placing a pretzel in your mouth; the mouth was made to close and consume. Inquiry is a wonderful gift from God, but it was designed to close on and consume the answer. Questions were not made for eternal curiosity; rather, curiosity asks questions that lead to the Eternal Answer. God has seen fit to declare Himself to be not merely a beginning, but also an ending. This is imperative when it comes to asking questions regarding faith and the nature of God. Otherwise, the questions just obstruct the mouth and the body never receives the nourishment of the food.
But what is belief really?
So what happens when your unconscious mind removes some of the assumptions?
What happens when some of what you built the words and concepts on does not exist anymore?
He then asserts (I think that is the word), that we should be very slow to judge people for their beliefs. I agree that it is very honorable to give folks the benefit of the doubt. However, he continues a little later by saying: “But while I think it’s okay to make value judgments on beliefs, I think so many of us are so quick to label, categorize and dismiss human beings because of their beliefs.” So, he is alright with making value judgements on beliefs but isn’t sure what belief really is, has forsaken certain assumptions about the way things are, and thinks that so many of us are so quick to “label, categorize and dismiss human beings because of their beliefs.”
What he has successfully done is present the idea that it is ok to forsake foundational assumptions about the way the world works, chide humankind for having a trigger finger for categorizing things, and somehow try to sneak it past us that he has just taken a group of people and categorized them as people who like to label. This is classic deconstructionist technique: set up a system that can question the foundation of everything, but disallow inquiries regarding the foundation upon which it is standing. This mindset is like trying to give birth to your mother. It wants to be outside of the process which it is, by nature, confined to. We make assertions because God is the great Assertion: I AM. You can’t live in a world where you can make assertions about assertion itself, and not be making an assertion yourself.
The perpetual question asking leads us to evaluate Gungor’s treatment of language itself. Inevitably, when one is trying to undermine confidence in God (even if unwittingly), it will lead to an attack on language itself. Notice that two sacred things are attacked in the Postmodern worldview: God’s “I AM-ness” and the fact that God is the Word. Here is an excerpt from this post in Gungor’s own words: “We don’t really get to chose [sic.] our beliefs. They are handed to us from our environment. Who of us came up with any our beliefs on our own? You can’t even have concepts or beliefs in your head without words. And where did you get those words? Did you make them up? Did you invent the word ‘God? Did you invent the words ‘science’, ‘humanism’, ‘good’, ‘evil’, ‘love’…? No, these words do not exist as something separate from your experience and environment. These words come to you with concepts and experiences that have been handed to you from your particular environment.”
Once more, this is a circular argument. He believes that we can’t choose what we believe, and uses words to attack words. It would be far healthier for the soul to see that the very reason we have language points to the fact that indeed words and our environment have been handed to us, but not just from mere fatalistic happenstance . . . words point to the Word, ideas point to the Innovator, thoughts point to the Thinker. Rather than question where certain beliefs and words and ideas came from, it would be far more helpful to simply acknowledge that they came, and therefore there must have been a source from which they came. Even though mankind has manifold perverse notions of God, the fact that we have an idea of God and have reason itself points to the fact that God is indeed Alpha and Omega. This gives reason firm footing to reason. This allows questions to land and to take off. (Look up St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument and C.S. Lewis’ “Miracles” for a more detailed jaunt into what smarter men than I have said about some of these things!)
Gungor admits his disbelief in certain biblical narratives and says, “I have no more ability to believe, for example, that the first people on earth were a couple named Adam and Eve that lived 6,000 years ago. I have no ability to believe that there was a flood that covered all the highest mountains of the world only 4,000 years ago [. . .].” He defends himself stating that he still thinks there is truth in those stories, just not in a historical sense. He then proceeds to say that some people will not consider him a Christian anymore because of his views on the narratives in the Old Testament. Aghast that someone would doubt his sincere Christianity, he laments, “Not because my life looks like Jesus or doesn’t look like Jesus. But because of my lack of ability to nail down all the words and concepts of what I exactly BELIEVE. Because I’ve lost so many of the unconscious assumptions that I used to have and have no ability to un-see what I have seen.” The problem with reducing the Old Testament down to mere legends, moral tales, and stories with truth in them (as opposed to true stories) and then saying that the key ingredient to being a Christian is to look like Jesus is that it is once more kicking the chair out from under oneself.
Jesus Himself treats the Old Testament as true, and if we, as Christians, are to look like Christ, then we need to acknowledge what He Himself said of the Old Testament: “they are they which testify of me (John 5:39).” Either the Old Testament is authoritative or else our whole faith is vain. Christ, the apostles, and the New Testament writers all treated the Old Testament as literal (see Acts 2:14-39, Acts 7, and Hebrews 11 for a few instances). If Gungor wants the basis of whether someone is a Christian or not to be whether that person looks like Jesus (and I agree that that is an acceptable litmus test, although I’d phrase it differently), then we need to have an authoritative account of what Jesus looks like. Augustine once said, “In the Old Testament the New is concealed; in the New, the Old is revealed.” Jesus tells us that “before Abraham was, I AM” (Jn. 8:58), meaning that if Christ is our authority, and He regards Abraham as an actual historical character, then we ought to understand Abraham (and the rest of the OT) as actual history. I’m in full agreement with Gungor that Christ ought to be the standard for what a Christian should look like, but half a Christ is no Christ at all. A christ that isn’t in stride with the Old Testament revelation of the very nature of Christ, is, by definition, no longer a correct standard from which to measure our christlikeness.
After Gungor posted this blog the inevitable debate ensued. Some were predictably critical in their analysis of the post, and others were more sympathetic with Gungor’s notions. One fellow in particular, Kendall Beachey, rode to Gungor’s defense with this satirical piece. In it he compares David’s Psalms with Gungor’s songs. He highlights that David often was full of doubt and uncertainty and that he compared God with a mother hen. Then he attempts to show how silly it is to decry Gungor because he is only saying the sort of things that David and others throughout history have struggled with. That would be nice if it were true and if it were concordant with the whole context of David and his writings. While David in one breath declares “How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?” (Psalms 13:1), his next breath resolves: “I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me” (Psalms 13:6).
David is not a victim of doubt, he is engaged in a battle against it. Doubt is natural in our natural human condition; however, it is not something to be coddled, but rejected. Numerous other illustrations could be added. Further, for Beachy to link David’s imagery of a mother hen to Gungor’s alarmingly vague liturgical piece “God our Mother” is simply trying to call apples oranges. Proper handling of the text of Scripture, especially in its imagery, demands that we be on guard against validating our perspectives and presumptions. John Calvin has a wonderful reminder in this regard: “For who […] does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in measure to ‘lisp’ in speaking to us?” The metaphors which God uses in scripture to help us understand his character are exactly that: metaphors. Though God reveals Himself using the imagery of a mother hen, this does not make Him female nor poultry. He presents Himself as King, Father, and Husband, and we would do well to remember that He has given us human kings, fathers, and husbands in order to help us understand His nature. He is neither male nor female, however maleness and femaleness are created by Him to reveal attributes of Himself.
This is a hefty blog, I realize, and it feels vastly inadequate to address this issue. The primary concern I have here is that Gungor’s sails seem to to be full of a prevailing wind of doctrine that doesn’t come from heaven but from the recesses of hell. Hell is, in a certain sense, heaven devoid of Christ. In Hell, you get what you want . . . and discover that it leaves you utterly unsatisfied. In Heaven, all your wants are sanctified and reduced down to One singular desire: Christ. I fear that Gungor (and many others in our generation and throughout history) is succumbing to what Lewis describes here: “Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.” I fear that Gungor is becoming more interested in the telling than in the Nature of the One about Whom he ought to be telling! Many of the concerns that Gungor has (e.g., plastic/forced Christianity, insincerity in the Church, the “manufactured-ness” of Christian music, etc.) I share; however, I would assert that the reaction to these issues should not be a desertion of belief, but rather a robust embrace of the Gospel. That is precisely what is needed here. The problem is not with Christ and His Gospel, the problem lies in the fact that we have untethered ourselves from the anchor of our souls.