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Why did Newsweek attack Christianity?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Newsweek January 2nd 2015 issue - cover story 'The Bible: so misunderstood its a sin' by Kurt Eichenwald (Credit: Newsweek)

By now you may have seen the news: Newsweek’s cover story is being called “one of the most irresponsible articles ever to appear in a journalistic guise.”  Written by Kurt Eichenwald, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin” begins:

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 God’s words.

Believe it or not, it gets worse.

According to Eichenwald, today’s Bible is “a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”  It was copied at times by people who were not fully literate.  The doctrine of the Trinity is a “fundamental, yet deeply confusing, tenet” since it is not taught by a particular verse of Scripture.  Constantine originated the idea of Sunday worship “as a day of rest in honor of the sun god.”

Eichenwald continues: The doctrine of the Second Coming of Jesus cannot be reconciled with the Bible.  1 Timothy is a forgery and its warning against “homosexuality” should be discounted since the word didn’t exist for 1800 years.  1 Timothy forbids women from speaking in any public setting.  Jesus “would have been horrified” by public prayer events.

Nothing you read in the last two paragraphs is true.

Dr. Michael Kruger, a noted seminary president and New Testament scholar, calls Eichenwald’s essay “an unmitigated disaster.”  Here’s why: “Its factual errors are legion, its bias against Christianity is palpable, it makes serious and yet unsubstantiated moral accusations against followers of Jesus, and, all the while, offers zero historical evidence backing up its claims.”

For an excellent point-by-point refutation of Eichenwald’s claims, I recommend Dr. Kruger’s very thorough response.  As larger defenses of biblical trustworthiness, I have written 7 Crucial Questions About the Bible and The Bible: You Can Believe It.  In addition, you can consult my website essay on biblical authority: “Why trust the Bible?”

Here’s my question: why did Newsweek print the essay?

Kurt Eichenwald is not a biblical scholar.  While he has written widely in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and other publications, winning two George Polk awards and being nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes, his biography lists no theological training at all.

Of course, a journalist doesn’t need to be a theologian to write on theology.  But such a journalist would, of necessity, want to cite experts in the field.  (Imagine an artist writing an essay on medicine without interviewing doctors or medical scientists.)  Unfortunately, Eichenwald cites not a single authority who might contradict his argument against evangelical Christianity. Not a single voice for the other side is heard.  Not a single book or article is referenced that would be accepted by the vast majority of biblical scholars.  The few scholars he does cite represent the far, far left of the field.

It’s not surprising that his essay is filled with so many historical and factual mistakes.  As Dr. Kruger notes, “This is not journalism.  It is Eichenwald’s personal diatribe.  Newsweek should really offer a formal apology.”

If Eichenwald was not going to write a balanced journalistic report on issues related to biblical authority, why would Newsweek make his “personal diatribe” their new year’s cover story?  That’s the larger question, one that reveals much about our cultural condition.

There was a day when the church was central to culture.  Stores were closed on Sunday mornings, Billy Graham was America’s most admired person, and the vast majority of Americans were members of local churches.

In recent decades, the church has been moved to the margins of society.  The number of atheists and agnostics in America has quadrupled over the last 40 years.  The percentage who claim membership in a particular religious body continues to decline.

Today, the church is not considered central or peripheral, but dangerous.  A growing chorus claims with atheist Christopher Hitchens that “religion poisons everything.”  We’re told that religion causes 9/11-style terrorism, fosters discrimination, shelters child abusers, and prevents the progress of humanity.  The only religion accepted by such critics is the creed of tolerance.

Now we know why Eichenwald can claim that his essay “is not an attack on the Bible or Christianity.”  As is true for so many postmodern relativists, the version of Scripture and Christian faith that escapes his assault is one that permits no objective moral standards, only non-judgmental acceptance.

Thus Eichenwald closes his essay by citing Jesus’ command to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Loving one’s neighbor, we are told, is one of the few “true sections of the New Testament” and characterizes the kind of tolerance Eichenwald endorses.

The fact that Newsweek chose to begin the new year with such a vendetta against evangelical Christianity says nothing about the faith and much about Newsweek and the cultural trajectory it represents.

In a time of increasing hostility, Jesus’ followers should do what the first Christians did when facing adversity: while “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), they were to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Like them, we should take to heart Peter’s admonition, written to believers facing far worse persecution than American Christians face today:

Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:14-16).

If I could speak to Kurt Eichenwald or the Newsweek editors who chose to print his essay, I would seek to remember the maxim of Thomas á Kempis, “In Jesus and for him, enemies and friends alike are to be loved.”