Slippery Slopes and Fixed Ropes – Brian Zahnd

The “slippery slope” trope is a favorite among fundamentalists. Basically the argument goes like this: The moment you move away from fundamentalist Biblicism you’re on the slippery slope of liberalism and will wind up sliding down into a crevasse with the likes of Friedrich Schleiermacher and John Shelby Spong. According to those who believe that serious theology is a slippery slope, you’re either with fundamentalists and young earth creationists like Ken Ham or you’re sliding down the mountain with new atheists like Christopher Hitchens. Of course, this is a ludicrous false dichotomy. But it carries a ton of intimidation. Just about the worst thing you can call an evangelical pastor is a liberal. The only thing worse is to go Def-Con 4 and drop the H-bomb: Heretic!

So instead of climbing the holy mountain of theology (study of God) seeking to encounter the Divine as revealed in Christ, many evangelicals feel forced to stay in the flatlands of fundamentalist Biblicism with its flat reading of Scripture. The “flatlanders” idea is that if we will simply read the Bible “as it is” we will be safe from all error. The problem is that the flatlanders tend to end up endorsing unsustainable theories like a literal six day (144 hour) creation and an earth that is only 6,000 years old. They also feel forced to defend morally repugnant ideas from a primitive era, like a God who commands genocide, including the slaughter of children. A flat reading of the Bible fails to notice the back and forth nature of Scripture as the Old Testament maintains a strident debate on important matters. For example: Does God require blood sacrifice? The Torah says, yes, but the Psalms and Prophets challenge this. Should Gentiles be allowed to worship in the second Temple? Isaiah says, yes, but Nehemiah says no.

A flat reading of the Bible does not give us the full revelation of God. The full revelation of God is found only in Jesus. Jesus alone is the perfect icon of God’s image and the exact imprint of God’s nature (Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:3). What the Bible does infallibly is point us to Jesus! Jesus is the only perfect theology. But the exploration of God as revealed in Christ — which is what we mean by Christian theology — is an ongoing venture, not unlike climbing a great mountain. So instead of sitting in the flatlands pretending that a flat reading of our sacred text will reveal the full glory of God, we need to grab our ice axes, strap on our crampons and climb the mountain of God!

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