The Deacon's Bench

I confess a certain affection for Mike Huckabee — from his name to his unassuming Gomer Pyle-ish demeanor to his clear-headed values and Mark Twain-ish wit.

So I was especially intrigued by this item in the Washington Post’s On Faith section that took the time and trouble to dissect Huckabeee’s theology, as reflected in the GOP YouTube debate. The candidates were asked if they believed that every word in the bible was true:

Huckabee noted that he was the only one on the stage with a degree in theology. Yet on this evening the coursework at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary did not pay dividends. For some reason, this Evangelical Christian repeatedly veered into Catholic hermeneutical air space:

Sure. I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. It’s the word of revelation to us from God himself. (Applause). And the fact is that when people ask do we believe all of it, you either believe it or you don’t believe it. But in the greater sense, I think what the question tried to make us feel like was that, well, if you believe the part that says “Go and pluck out your eye,” [Mark 9:47] well, none of us believe that we ought to go pluck out our eye. That obviously is allegorical.

Did that conservative Baptist minister just say “allegorical”? The allegorical approach to Scripure, incidentally, has made Protestants uneasy, to varying degrees, since the time of Luther. This is not to say that all Evangelicals are biblical literalists, but so-called literal readings have come to define the public proclamations of those “Christian Leaders” who Huckabee aspires to emulate. He continues:

And as the only person here on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don’t fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite god, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small.

Love that humility, but once again, the idea of the text as a divine mystery seems more congenial to the Catholic interpretive tradition. Evangelical demagogues (as opposed to the better educated theologians tucked away in the seminaries) have aroused the wrath of secular America precisely because they act as if they fully comprehend and understand God’s message. Put differently, when the Dobsons and Falwells and Robertsons of the world attempt to influence public policy on the basis of Scripture, they sure don’t seem to act as if the text is mysterious. Huckabee plows on:

But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39, etc.] And “as much as you’ve done it to the least of these brethren, you’ve done it unto me”.[Matthew 25:40] Until we get those simple, real easy things right, I’m not sure we ought to spend a whole lot of time fighting over the other parts that are a little bit complicated.

Here too Huckabee is making unorthodox claims. Can a conservative Protestant simply demote certain, “complicated” sections of the Bible, in favor of the simple ones? Is not every jot and tittle of the Good Book God’s word in Evangelical theology? By what authority can a politician prioritize the easy bits over the hard to understand ones?

Huckabee’s heresies might be attributed to a lack of preparedness or mere stage fright. Less likely, but more intriguing, is the possibility that the governor of Arkansas is a new and different type of Evangelical, one whose scriptural reading practices (and politics) differ markedly from those of the old guard.

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