S5:E32 How Should We Deal With Heresy?

S5:E32 How Should We Deal With Heresy?

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How did the early church deal with heresy?

The first-century Christian Church had a lot going on. Their Savior died and was resurrected, sending the Holy Spirit and leaving them with the command to take this new message to all tribes and tongues. The book of Acts records some of their travels, as they went all over the known world with this good news. But they were not the only people evangelizing. So were the gnostics. Gnosticism takes a lot of different shapes. It was a belief system that challenged Christianity, even as some tried to incorporate elements into the faith.

Is modernism heresy?

Now consider modernist theology – what we’ve been talking about all season. It is a belief system that doesn’t believe in the miracles or the divinity of Jesus. To evangelicals of the 1800s and 1900s, this was a real threat. Like Gnosticism before it, modernism threatened to destabilize the gospel message. What to do?

In this bonus episode, Chris takes a look at 1-3 John to see what they have to say about dealing with heresy.

Chris is hard at work on season 6! He’ll be presenting these short episodes in the meantime to recap some of the themes of season 5.

Discussion Questions:

  • If you were alive in the mid-1800s and saw modernism rising, what would you do?
  • Do you think modernism is a heresy?
  • How should Christians today deal with heresy?
  • What did the fundamentalists get right and how did they mess up when approaching heresy?

Selected Source Materials:

  • 1-3 John
  • “The Early Church” by Henry Chadwick
S5:E31 Inherit the Wind

S5:E31 Inherit the Wind

McCarthyism and Inherit the Wind

US Senator Joseph McCarthy unleashed an era of suspicion on the American people as he went looking for communists. His trials, both public and behind closed doors, focused on the government as well as Hollywood and the Army. He claimed that he had lists of communists, but failed to produce that list. It wasn’t until the Army-McCarthy hearings in the spring and summer of 1954 that his unfounded hearings were put to rest.

Is Inherit the Wind historically accurate?

One year later the play Inherit the Wind opened. It was supposed to be a critique of the McCarthy era set inside of a re-telling of the Scopes “monkey” trial. In doing so, it got many of the facts wrong. John Scopes never spent any time in jail. He didn’t have a girlfriend, and that girlfriend was not berated on the stand. The townspeople of Dayton, TN were welcoming to both Bryan and Darrow.

To explore this work of art and revisionist history I spoke with the hosts of the Seeing and Believing podcast Kevin McLenithan and Sarah Welch-Larson.

Select differences between the Scopes trial and Inherit the Wind

  • John Scopes was arrested but never spent time in jail.
  • He was “arrested” in a soda fountain where the test trial was conceived and not in school.
  • Scopes later claimed he never taught evolution, which is why he never took the stand in real life.
  • The entire case was set up as a publicity stunt to bring attention to the town of Dayton, TN. They got the idea when they saw an ad placed by the ACLU.
  • The character of Rachel did not exist in real life.
  • The people of Dayton were welcoming to both Darrow and Bryan and Scopes was loved by many. He even spent time swimming with the prosecution between trial sessions.
  • The moment when Bryan was on trial was held outdoors.
  • H.L. Mencken was not some loveable curmudgeon. He was an anti-semite and a racist.
  • Dayton largely did not vote for Bryan when he ran for president.
  • Bryan died a few days after the trial, not while in the courtroom.
  • Darrow did not carry a copy of the Bible and Darwin out of the courtroom.
  • The textbook in question during the trial was clearly pro-eugenics, was sold in the soda fountain, and had been approved by the state textbook committee.
  • The preachers of the town were kind. The odd sermon given the night of the trial never happened and the script adds a lot of strange things that are not in the Bible.
  • Bryan wished the law to have no penalty, unlike his stand-in in the movie who hoped for a harsher punishment.

Sources

  • Inherit the Wind (1960 version) starring Spencer Tracy
  • Summer for the Gods by Edward Larson
  • Chris’ own visit to the Dayton museum dedicated to the trial
  • Helpful video about the Napoleon painting

Discussion Questions:

  • Where is the line between art and propaganda?
  • Does art have an obligation to the truth?
  • Do you see McCarthyism in Inherit the Wind?
  • Is Inherit the Wind a fair way of discussing the Scopes trial, or a work of revisionist history? Why does it matter?
  • What would it mean for a group that feels maligned and misunderstood to have a film misrepresent them?
S5:E30 The Scopes “Monkey” Trial Part 2

S5:E30 The Scopes “Monkey” Trial Part 2

Did William Jennings Bryan kill fundamentalism when he took the stand?

The trial was basically over. The prosecution won. John Scopes was moments away from being convicted of teaching evolution in Dayton, Tennessee. The ACLU and the prosecution had what they wanted. But Clarence Darrow did not. He wanted to make a monkey out of William Jennings Bryan, the famous “fundamentalist”. But how?

Clarence Darrow sets a trap for William Jennings Bryan

Darrow knew that if he turned down the chance to make a closing argument that Bryan would not be able to make one either. That meant that Bryan’s carefully crafted words would never get heard. But he had one more trick up his sleeve. He would call Bryan, the lawyer for the prosecution, to the stand. Imagine that! The case was no longer about the defendant. It was about the lawyers trying to flex.

Bryan took the bait. He got on the stand outdoors next to the Rhea County Courthouse in front of an audience of millions. Darrow, in a masterstroke, hit him over and over with the questions of any village atheist. Did Jonah really get swallowed by a large fish? Did the sun really stand still because Joshua prayed that it would? And Bryan… floundered on live radio.

Inherit the Wind gets the story of the Scopes trial all wrong

This event was made even more famous by the long-running play Inherit the Wind on broadway, which was followed up by a movie adaptation. But the play got it all wrong. Edward Larson, professor at Pepperdine University, and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Summer for the Gods, joins Chris to uncover what really happened on that muggy summer day.

Helpful Sources:

Discussion Questions:

  • Bryan believed in majoritarianism. What is that idea? What do you think of it?
  • Do you think Bryan should have gotten on the stand? Why or why not?
  • How did Bryan do on the stand in your opinion?
  • Does this court case matter in your understanding of fundamentalism?
  • How and when should Christians make stands for their beliefs? When should we stay quiet?
S5:E29 The Scopes “Monkey” Trial (part 1)

S5:E29 The Scopes “Monkey” Trial (part 1)

Laws block the teaching of evolution in public schools

Tennessee was the first state in the United States to crack down hard on the teaching of evolution in public schools. Others had dabbled, but Tennessee went all the way. The ACLU wanted to challenge the validity of the case in the courts. In order to do that they needed an educator to teach it, get busted, and be brought to trial.

Dayton, Tennessee’s plan to boost tourism

At the same time, the town of Dayton, TN needed a boost. After the biggest employer closed down it faced serious economic trouble. What if the men of Dayon could manufacture a court case to draw the attention of the nation? They found a young teacher named John Scopes and convinced him to participate in their scheme. They booked Scopes, even though he probably never taught evolution. The ACLU had its case.

William Jennings Bryan’s crusade against Darwin

Soon William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow hopped on board and it went from a publicity stunt to something for the history books. This is the event that some historians (wrongly) point to as the death of Christian fundamentalism in the United States until it was revived by the Moral Majority. One man fighting for the biblical idea of creation and another for godless atheism. But the real history is far more complex.

Edward Larson, professor at Pepperdine University, joins us to discuss the trial and his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Summer for the Gods”.

Helpful Sources:

Discussion Questions:

  • What events led to the Scopes trial?
  • Why did the ACLU feel they had to try the Tennessee Law?
  • Who should decide what is taught in schools? Teachers? Parents? Lawmakers? Or some combination?
  • What were William Jennings Bryan’s motives for joining the prosecution?
  • What were Clarence Darrow’s motives for joining the defense?
  • Should prayer be allowed before a trial about religion?
  • Should Christians get involved in what is taught in schools? To what degree?
S5:E28 Are All Christians Anti-Evolution?

S5:E28 Are All Christians Anti-Evolution?

Not all evangelicals or fundamentalists are against evolution

In the 1600s, an Irish Archbishop named James Ussher did a bunch of math. The Bible is full of numbers and genealogies. He sat down and calculated that, in his opinion, the Bible dated creation at 4004 BC. According to Ussher, that is when God created man. That number has really stuck around!

I gathered my small group together to explore the Adams Synchronological Chart. It is a 23-foot-long timeline of human history, beginning in 4004 BC and ending in 1900. There it was! The 4004 BC number! Which brings up an interesting question, right? What did Christians really believe about evolution just before it became a linchpin battle for fundamentalists?

Why did fundamentalists fight against evolution in the Scopes trial?

I turned to Edward Larson for answers. He’s a professor at Pepperdine University and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Summer for the Gods”. The book chronicles the Scopes “Monkey” trial that we’ll be covering in the next two episodes. But it also gives us a great introductory look at what Christians believed about evolution in the build-up to the trial.

It turns out that evangelical Christians and even fundamentalists were all over the place when it came to ideas of evolution. Many Christians, like William Jennings Bryan, believed in an old earth and even some forms of evolution. But they thought that it was God who caused that evolution. Charles Darwin, though, said that evolution was a matter of chance adaptations, thus cutting God out of the equation. Fundamentalists like Bryan were determined to stop the spread of Darwinian evolution for that very reason. They believed that if young people were taught that they were the result of grand mistakes then what reason did they have to treat each other with respect? To be good citizens?

Helpful Sources

  • “Summer for the Gods” by Edward Larson
  • “A Godly Hero” by Michael Kazin
  • “The Birth of a Nation” on YouTube
  • Article about James Ussher and his burial in Westminster Abbey
  • Helpful article about Lamarck
  • “The Evangelicals” by Francis Fitzgerald
  • More about Henry Ford’s Anti-Semitism
  • An interesting article about “The Birth of a Nation”

Discussion Questions:

  • How did Cuvier and Lamarck differ in their ideas about evolution?
  • Do you believe in a young or old earth?
  • Do you believe in some evolution, macro-evolution, or no evolution at all?
  • What is the best way to oppose an idea?
  • When should we propose laws to combat ideas we don’t like and when should we allow others to believe what they like?
  • Do you think the fundamentalists were right to combat teaching evolution in schools?
  • Now that you know about Bryan’s failure to call out the KKK, what do you think of him?
  • “Birth of a Nation” shaped American views about black people. Are there more modern films and series that have shaped society in similar ways? Or changed public opinion in other ways?