richard nelson 2017KENTUCKY (7/16/17) — The Ark Encounter celebrated its first anniversary this month but instead of fanfare and praise, some news media and protestors poured rain on its parade.

The Biblical theme park, which consists of a life-size replica of Noah's Ark based in northern Kentucky, faced 75 protesters and criticism from a columnist who said the group promotes "fringe beliefs." But hey, it’s the Ark, right? Compared to criticism that Noah faced, I'm sure this modern-day rendition will weather the storm.

Lexington Herald-Leader journalist Tom Eblen ridiculed Answers in Genesis for their belief in a young earth and in literal Biblical characters like David and Goliath. He labeled AIG as "anti-science," takes a swipe at Libertarians, and anyone who believes the Bible to be historically true.

Shaming by labeling is not the equivalent of winning a debate. Nor is it the "come let us reason together" approach spoken of by Isaiah the prophet 700 years before Christ was born. Then again, Isaiah was Old Testament, the part of the Bible Eblen seems to reject.

So why such outrage at AIG and their Ark Park? Is it because tax breaks are going to a religious organization? Partly, but opposition to the Ark has deeper roots.

The Ark has been a lightning rod because it is a very public symbol (all 510 feet of it) of what historic Christianity affirms. It represents a worldview contrary to the prevailing cultural expectation that faith belongs in church on Sunday mornings, and not something that should be reinforced by theme parks and museum displays.

The Ark Encounter and Creation Museum venture into the territory of top-notch entertainment and they're breaking into the historical interpretation monopoly previously held by public museums and academic institutions that trumpet secularist and evolutionary perspectives. This is why the protest has been so loud.

Eblen dismisses Old Testament stories as metaphorical and then suggests park attractions that better reflect New Testament Christianity. He proposed "exhibits that show Christ healing the sick, raising the dead, comforting the outcast, feeding the hungry, and helping the poor."

Such depictions might not make for an exciting theme park, but I get his point. Eblen goes on to say "rather than trying to explain the how, these exhibits should focus on the why."

May I suggest the why? Is it not because the human heart longs to see the brokenness healed in our world? Orthodox Christianity teaches that God loved us in our mess enough to meet us here and reconcile us to himself through Jesus.

Biblical literalists, including the folks at AIG, will find it difficult to receive advice from a guy who scoffs at their deeply held beliefs. But maybe Eblen is doing conservative Christians a favor by reminding them of the weightier and personal implications of the gospel.

It's understandable for 21st century people steeped in science to dismiss the Bible as a book of myths. Material luxury and modern advances of all kinds—as good as they are, have blunted the deepest needs of the soul. So Jesus' ethics are alright for many. But come on, a virgin birth, bloody cross, and resurrection from the dead?

Since none of this can be tested by science it is therefore not provable and not worth believing, or so we are told. Hence Eblen's ridicule of AIG and admonition for new displays to focus on practical ethics.

 The problem is that if you cherry pick the parts you like and dismiss the parts you don't like you undermine the whole thing. After all, how can you trust the part you agree with while you dismiss the part you don't like?

Glen Scrivener says "Christians believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Materialists believe in the virgin birth of the universe. Choose your miracle." AIG has chosen to share with Kentucky and the world what it believes about a significant story of the Bible and it has taken a flood of criticism. Then again, it won't be the first time an Ark has faced both a flood or criticism.   

Richard Nelson is the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a Kentucky-based nonpartisan, public policy organization. He resides in Cadiz with his wife and children.

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