Michael Gungor, a lesson in Primary and Secondary Theology


When Michael Gungor, of the liturgical, post-rock band, Gungor writes music: people listen. He and his wife have personally affected me with their sounds for over five years now when I heard their Beautiful Things album and I’ve never listened to worship music in the same way, since. As popular and well received as Michael Gungor’s music is, however, a blog post about his belief in theistic evolution (the belief that evolution is true and that Genesis is not a literal account) and his theology of the Bible is…well…just read this bit from Al Mohler:

“We will either believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God — that it is the specially revealed word of God, which is our ultimate intellectual authority, because it is, indeed, the word of God — or we’ll see it merely as a collection of inspirational and spiritual writings that are to be ‘reinterpreted.’ That’s Michael Gungor’s word, when it comes to claims of a superior intellectual authority, in his case modern science.”

The outrage was further amplified when Gungor went to explain his views on a podcast, in an attempt clear up any misconceptions.

“To just see a few words that somebody said, that Jesus said about Noah, and you assume that you can get into Jesus’ mind and know exactly how he thought about the whole situation, and how He considered history versus myth versus whatever – how do you know? And even if He was wrong, even if He did believe that Noah was a historical person, or Adam was a historical person, and ended up being wrong, I don’t understand how that even would deny the divinity of Christ.”

Of course this only preceded to make everyone even more upset. It was especially helpful (see: terribly misleading) when news outlets began claiming that Michael said that “Jesus lied.” Leaving Michael Gungor in a tumultuous spot where his attempt to clarify has caused more confusion (through little fault of his own) and his band’s gigs being cancelled because some churches want nothing to do with them.

I found myself in a similar predicament; but on an entirely personal level. A friend of mine, and missionary in Japan, have been Facebook friends for years. We’d never met, but our love for Japan brought us together on social media. The topic of theistic evolution came up on my Facebook wall and the missionary had a deeply and passionately held belief that the Genesis accounts of creation had to be taken literally in order to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. More specifically, that Adam and Eve had to be actual people in order for Jesus to be considered a literal person. I affirmed that I believed all three to have been real, but denied that Adam and Eve’s literalness was not a prerequisite for Jesus to have been who He said He was. Ultimately, he unfriended me and I’ve yet to hear back from him.

When it comes to theology, people find themselves examining what’s primary and secondary. People are under the impression that everyone is in agreement over these things but far from it. Without attempting to put words in his mouth, I don’t believe Michael Gungor holds that much, if any, of the Genesis account to be historically reliable. For him, it probably isn’t even a relevant topic (hence why he probably didn’t feel the need to write or talk about it before). For others, like Al Mohler, they would likely question whether or not the Holy Spirit inhabited a person if they believed in theistic evolution.

But why is there such a large disparity in the way Mohler and Gungor approach Genesis? Not just in the sense that they disagree but that one sees their view as essential while the other believes it’s alright to “agree to disagree.” The answer, in this case, is wrapped up in the understanding of who Jesus is and what He said.

For instance, Al Mohler believes the Bible is strictly infallible. This means that he believes that the cannon is without a single error. Not one. For him, it is the only way in which you can understand scripture, and be considered orthodox, while being logically consistent. So when Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:45 – “The Scriptures tell us,’The first man, Adam, became a living person.’ But the last Adam–that is, Christ–is a life-giving Spirit,” Mohler is going to stick it to anyone who believes Adam was not a literal person.

Michael Gungor has no such understanding. He believes that Jesus is who He said He was and that’s why He identifies as a Christian. All other understanding in relationship to the Bible is up for discussion but must be read in light of what we know today about science, history, archaeology, etc. Not doing so would ignorant and dishonoring to God. For him, the idea of Jesus simply not knowing whether Adam was a literal person has no bearing on His divinity.

It is likely that you have come to your own conclusions about Genesis and its literalness (and, in turn, about Michael Gungor). But I am writing this to help others understand some of what’s happening underneath the surface, theologically. To be aware of their own surroundings. At the heart of it all is the question: What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to have faith? The subjectiveness to which we hold things tightly, or loosely (primary and secondary, respectively), is going to answer that question for us and cause us to take sides on this issue.


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