The Evangelical Monomyth

(… or, why bible studies are unfulfilling.)

I sat through a lot of evangelical bible studies, but it is only today and I realised why they were so unfulfilling. They are all the same.

Evangelical Christianity has only one story:

  1. People are sinful;
  2. Therefore, life is hard;
  3. But, if you are faithful to God;
  4. Then, God will make things right;
  5. Because, God is great.

To study the bible: read the story, and discuss how it is really an example of this structure.

Depending on the passage, you can vary this in two ways: you can leave some steps out, and step five can move around. But anything beyond these five is either not allowed or not important.

For example, here are the topics that will be discussed for the following stories:

Ruth

  1. N/A
  2. How awful life was for Ruth and Naomi, some historical factoids about how difficult life was back then, how it is impossible to imagine being in that kind of situation;
  3. How impressive it was that Ruth and Naomi were faithful to God, how inspiring one or both are, how we should emulate them;
  4. How God rewarded their faithfulness by providing for them, how Ruth’s son was the ancestor of Jesus, how their troubles were conquered;
  5. How great God is.

The Tower of Babel

  1. How arrogant and sinful people are, how people always want to be like God, how the builders of the tower were demonstrating their sinfulness;
  2. How God made things more difficult for them by confusing their language;
  3. N/A
  4. N/A
  5. How great God is.

Paul Escapes Damascus

  1. How terrible the Jews were in rejecting the message of Jesus, how people who bring good news will always be plotted against;
  2. N/A
  3. How faithful Paul was despite all his persecutions, how inspiring he was, how we should emulate him;
  4. How God rewarded his faithfulness by providing a way out of the city in a basket;
  5. How great God is.

John 1:1

  1. N/A
  2. N/A
  3. How we should trust in Jesus, because he is God;
  4. How God will reward our faithfulness, because he is powerful;
  5. (But mostly discussing) how great God is.

And so on…

In my experience, evangelical Bible study does not study the bible. It begins with ths story and puppets the bible into retelling it. Week after week, passage after passage.

Until Job tells the same story as Revelation, Esther as Philemon, and Joshua as Luke.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Evangelical Monomyth

  1. Jeremy C

    As an evangelical, yes, evangelical bible studies can be like this, that is why my evangelical friends of mine and I, across three countries, abandoned this approach long ago (in my case, oh, about 30 years ago)?

    Too many people do approach the bible like this but its greadually changing but here’s my question, how is this unthinking approach to the texts amny different from the unthinking and sneering approach that new atheists take to the bible when discussing it (e.g. that well known new atheist who styles himself, ‘the thinking atheist’)…….?

  2. Ian

    Thank you for your reply, Jeremy.

    You beat me: my escape from that treadmill was a little less than 30 years ago. I lead a Bible study now, most participants of which are Christians, but not all, which is different. So I absolutely agree it can be.

    As for the sneering new atheists: you will get no disagreement from me there. I am continually frustrated how very little critical thinking and understanding of biblical and theological issues there is among many in the internet new atheist community. And, like the worst fundamentalists, they are often incredibly convinced that they do know it all. I have been accused of being a Christian apologist and fake atheist, for example, for suggesting that fundamentalism is a niche view in Christianity, contemporary and historical.

    I suspect the problem is tribalism: If the most important part of your identity is being a capital-A ‘Atheist’, then any humble pursuit of truth is expendable. But, to parallel your own comment, in my experience not all atheists are like that.

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