Why the latest Newsweek blast against Christianity is nonsense
Think of some idea that you think is loony that other people believe in and adamantly support. My list would include alien abductions, the face on Mars, conspiracy theories about the Apollo moon landings, and thinking that Che Guevara or Hugh Hefner are cool.
Your list would probably differ from mine. That’s OK; I hope we can still have civil conversations. I have friends who believe things that I think are completely wrong.
I consider the latest religious offering from Newsweek to be in the same category as belief in the Loch Ness monster or a flat Earth — The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin, by Kurt Eichenwald. It is common for American news magazines to celebrate Christmas and Easter by printing articles that attack Christianity, and they typically have a sensational news article about something like the discovery of an obscure fourth century manuscript claiming Jesus had a wife. These ideas come and go, but they seem to sell magazines, so we can expect this trend to continue.
Eichenwald doesn’t get off to a good start, lumping Christians all together as hateful bigots:
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.
Most of us don’t fit that description. It makes me wonder if Eichenwald knows any Christians (except perhaps progressives who read John Shelby Spong and Bart Ehrman).
As I read the article, my jaw dropped in disbelief that Newsweek would publish an article that contained such blatant errors about any topic, not just Christianity. Eichenwald’s description of how the Bible got to us was the “telephone game,” where one person whispers something in someone’s ear, who passes it on to the next person, so on down the line, until the message becomes completely garbled. That is not even remotely how stories are passed on in oral societies, and is completely irrelevant to how the New Testament was compiled (and one could make a case that it is irrelevant to how the Old Testament was compiled as well). In addition, Eichenwald described our modern English translations as having been produced as translations of “a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies.” Again, this is utter nonsense. I guess the editors of Newsweek don’t know much about the history of how the Bible got to us, and this all sounded like a nice story to them, so they went ahead and published it.
I’m not saying that everything Eichenwald wrote in the article is bad or false. We all need to be aware, for example, of our tendency to pick and choose what parts of the Bible we are going to follow, rather than letting the Scriptures inform our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Rather than going through Eichenwald’s article myself, I am going to refer you to other reviews, written by people better qualified than myself.
The most succinct summary I’ve read is at Internet Monk:
Newsweek (yes, it’s still around) decided to celebrate Christmas by publishing the most insulting and ignorant article I have seen put out by a mainstream publication. If you are a Christian (at least a conservative one), this is your portrait: “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 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 the Bible’s words.” Yeaaaah. And that is the opener. It goes on for 34 pages, taking every angle to cast doubt on the scriptures and lambast the stupidity of anyone moronic enough to think they actually can be a guide for life. The author, an atheist journalist who writes mainly in the area of finance, seems to have no actual knowledge of the issues except what he read from Sprong and Ehrman. I won’t link to the article, (you can find it easily enough) but I will point out the incredibly measured and patient analysis of the article by Dr. Michael J. Kruger here and here.
Here are some quotes from the Michael J. Kruger articles:
A Christmas Present from the Mainstream Media: Newsweek Takes a Desperate Swipe at the Integrity of the Bible (Part 1) by Michael J. Kruger, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary
However, the recent Newsweek cover article by Kurt Eichenwald, entitled “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” published intentionally (no doubt) on December 23rd, goes so far beyond the standard polemics, and is so egregiously mistaken about the Bible at so many places, that the magazine should seriously consider a public apology to Christians everywhere.
Of course, this is not the first media article critiquing the Bible that has been short on the facts. However, what is stunning about this particular article is that Kurt Eichenwald begins by scolding evangelical Christians for being unaware of the facts about the Bible, and the proceeds to demonstrate a jaw-dropping ignorance of the facts about the Bible.
Eichenwald attempts to discredit the Bible by pointing out problems in its transmission. However, the real problem is not with the Bible but with Eichenwald’s misinformed accusations. For instance, he claims:
About 400 years passed between the writing of the first Christian manuscripts and their compilation into the New Testament.
This is patently false. Collections of New Testament writings were functioning as Scripture as early as the second century (and, to some extent, even in the first).
Eichenwald seems utterly unaware that this whole course of argument is incorrect and drawn directly from internet chat rooms and books like the Da Vinci Code.
In sum, the first part of Eichenwald’s article is an unmitigated disaster.
Notice that Eichenwald offers no historical evidence about the mass killing of Christians by Christians within the first few centuries (we are talking about the pre-Constantine time period). And there is a reason he doesn’t offer any. There is none.
Sure, one can point to instances in the medieval period, such as the Inquisition, where Christians killed other Christians. But, Eichenwald claims that Christianity began this way: “for hundreds of years after the death of Jesus.” This is another serious historical mistake that needs correcting.
Up to this point, Eichenwald’s article has been an epitomized by imbalanced and straw-man accusations against the Bible. Unfortunately, in the section on homosexuality Eichenwald reaches a new low. At no point is it more obvious that he is driven by his own entrenched ideological commitments and not by an honest attempt to understand what evangelicals believe.
By way of conclusion, it is hard to know what to say about an article like Eichenwald’s. In many ways, it embodies all the misrepresentations, caricatures, and misunderstandings of the average non-Christian in the world today.
Some other critiques:
Daniel B. Wallace — Predictable Christmas fare: Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible — “Eichenwald’s grasp of conservative Christianity in America as well as his grasp of genuine biblical scholarship are, at best, subpar. And this article is an embarrassment to Newsweek—or should be!”
Justin Taylor — The many sins of Newsweek’s expose on the Bible —
Eichenwald seeks to demonstrate that the Bible is “loaded with contradictions and translation errors and wasn’t written by witnesses and includes words added by unknown scribes to inject Church orthodoxy.” Eichenwald insists his article is not an attack on the Bible or Christianity. Rather, Eichenwald wants to rescue the message of Jesus from “God’s frauds,” those manipulative fundamentalists who don’t read or understand their Bibles but abusively twist it in order to create misery for others.
Even with a generous 8,487 words, Eichenwald reveals he is out of his depth for this subject matter. Though he doggedly advances his predetermined thesis from a mishmash of angles, experts quickly showed online that Eichenwald has not really done his historical homework or read his Bible carefully.
Albert Mohler — Newsweek on the Bible — So Misrepresented It’s a Sin —
When written by journalists like Newsweek‘s former editor Jon Meacham or TIME reporters such as David Van Biema, the articles were often balanced and genuinely insightful. Meacham and Van Biema knew the difference between theological liberals and theological conservatives and they were determined to let both sides speak. I was interviewed several times by both writers, along with others from both magazines. I may not have liked the final version of the article in some cases, but I was treated fairly and with journalistic integrity.
So, when Newsweek, now back in print under new ownership, let loose its first issue of the New Year on the Bible, I held out the hope that the article would be fair, journalistically credible, and interesting, even if written from a more liberal perspective.
But Newsweek‘s cover story is nothing of the sort. It is an irresponsible screed of post-Christian invective leveled against the Bible and, even more to the point, against evangelical Christianity. It is one of the most irresponsible articles ever to appear in a journalistic guise.
My advice to Christians — Do not be thrown off by attacks against your faith, even if they seem to be scholarly.
My advice to non-Christians — Don’t read anti-Christian diatribes such as the Newsweek article and think you can dismiss Christianity.
Grace and Peace
The Internet Monk quote says that Eichenwald is an atheist. I’m not sure that Eichenwald considers himself to be an atheist. [In a comment on Kruger’s second blog article, Eichenwald calls himself a “red letter Christian.”]
I am trying hard to avoid labels. Please note that I feel comfortable saying that I feel certain ideas are “loony,” but am not calling people who hold to those ideas “loonies.”