I happen to be a scientist. My background is in nuclear physics. I was a nuclear engineer. But I don't see any incompatibility at all with my religious faith and God the creator of everything and the incompatibility between when the earth was created as specified in the Bible. I don't see any incompatibility there because those that were interpreting God's overall message didn't know anything about modern-day science.
CP: You mentioned some parts in Genesis. Can you name parts of the Bible that you believe are "fallible" and how does a Christian determined which parts they can see as fallible and which parts they can accept as infallible?
Carter: I already mentioned that the earth was created in effect 4,000 years before Christ was born. I know that is not right. When you say that stars are little things that can fall on the earth, I know that that is not correct.
But a Christian should know that God is a Creator, that God is an entity that is all-powerful and all knowledgeable, God is everywhere and God is an entity filled with grace, love, compassion and forgiveness, that Jesus is the son of God and Jesus came on earth to explain to people in a very revolutionary way the nature of God, that God was not a stern judge who was keeping track of 600 or so rules and regulations that you had to keep in order to be acceptable to God. I believe that we are saved by the grace of God because he loves us provided that we have faith in Jesus Christ. When I have been asked recently in previous interviews, do I believe in miracles of the Bible? Yes, I do. I believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, for instance. I won't go into details about those things. But at the same time, if I did believe in the miracles, that I would still believe that I had to pattern my life after the perfect life of Jesus Christ who is my Savior and I believe that God loves me and is willing to forgive me if I'm repentant. So I have a very personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It doesn't depend on the fact that he can walk on water.
CP: In the study Bible, there are a lot of paragraphs and writings you've written on Jesus throughout the New Testament. You do speak a lot about having faith in Christ and accepting Jesus as your personal Savior. In some past interviews, some Christian leaders have taken some of your previous statements to mean that explicit faith in Jesus Christ is not necessary for salvation. In one instance, Albert Mohler has said that your beliefs almost amount to universalism, that people don't need to presently believe in Jesus to be saved. How you would respond to his criticism or accusation that you are a universalist?
Carter: Well, as a matter of fact, I just had a long interview with Albert Mohler and this is one of the things that he asked me about.
I believe that we are given an order by Jesus. One of the last things he did was to spread the word of God and he being the basis for our salvation. Christians are supposed to be evangelicals. And I am. I am evangelical. I've been a private missionary on several occasions. I won't go into that. But I mentioned to Dr. Mohler that we have a lot of programs in Africa, a lot of health programs and other things. But when I go to a country like Burkina Faso, Niger or Tamale or to Congo, and I see good people there who haven't heard of Jesus Christ because no evangelical has ever been there, no missionary has ever been there. I don't believe that God will punish those people into eternal damnation or suffering in hell because they never heard of Jesus. I rationalize that by the admonition of Jesus to not judge other people. He says, "Do no t judge other people. Let God be the judge." So why should I judge those people who are in Africa? I'm not going to say, "You're going to hell," or because I don't believe that they are going to hell. I let God be the judge and I believe that we worship a just and fair God who won't punish innocent people unnecessarily.
CP: How do you believe Christians should go about witnessing if faith in Jesus Christ is not necessary for salvation and the end judgment lies in the hands of God?
Carter: Well, I go about that. I've been to cities in America and I've spent days there witnessing to people who don't go to church. I've been to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, I 've been to Springfield, Massachusetts, I've been to a lot of cities in America earlier on in my life and I've spent a lot of time knocking on people's doors and going and explaining that I'm a Christian and explaining the elements of my faith: that Jesus is the Son of God, that we have a chance for God's blessings, God's salvation through our faith in Jesus Christ and that all of us are sinners who fall short of the glory of God, and that the wages of sin is death but through our faith that Jesus Christ, we can be saved. And then I leave. And if I don't, then most people accept Christ. In one city, we polled a small church with 48 members that accepted Christ the week I was there.
So I've been an evangelistic Baptist all my life and still am to some degree.
I consider my teaching in Sunday School every Sunday that I'm home is part of my evangelical commitment that I made to Christ when I accepted him as my savior. The thing that I'm reluctant to do is to say that people who hadn't had a chance to know about Christ should be condemned. I don't believe that although I know that people like Dr. Mohler who do believe that people who don't accept Christ go to hell. We'll let other people worry about that.
CP: So, you're referring to people who have never had the opportunity who hear the Gospel and you say that shouldn't be held against them. What about people who have had the opportunity to hear the Gospel but reject that. What then?
Carter: Well, you're very persistent which I don't mind. I'm still not in a very judgmental frame of mind. I fall back on the order from Christ, "Do not judge lest you be judged." Let God do the judging. So what will happen to those people, I can't say. I'm only inclined to be forgiving with their mistakes but I'll let God do the judging.
CP: What has been some encouraging comments that you've received on your project and what criticism have you received on the NIV Lessons from Life Bible?
Carter: It hasn't been out long enough for me to have criticisms. There have been some people who have questioned my beliefs like you do. There have been criticism within the Baptist church, within the Baptist denomination. I believe men and women are the same and that women should be given an equal chance to serve God with men.
The Southern Baptist Convention, as you know, decided in the year 2000 that women should not be permitted to be pastors or deacons or chaplains in the military service. Some Southern Baptist seminaries don't even permit women to teach male students. I don't agree with that. But they can go in and quote a few passages of Paul, which you and I already discussed, that women should be restricted in their services. So we have a difference of opinion. I took the same theologian Paul where he said in Galatians that all are equal in the eyes of God. In Romans 16, he listed a number of people who had been the leaders in the Early Church. About half of them are women. And they were pastors, prophets, elders and so forth. So they had titles in the church approved by God through this message of Paul.
So there are some discrepencies in the writings of Paul. Some Christians chose those ones to emphasize. I choose to emphasize the equality of people in God's eyes.
CP: What else can we expect from you President Carter in the future?
Carter: Well, I don't really know how to predict that. I already exhausted myself this past summer. I already had two books that were based on my religious faith. One was called Sources of Strength, that was a collection of 52 of my Sunday School lessons, three or four pages each. And I had another one called Living Faith which describes the foundation of my faith in God and my faith in my country, my faith in myself, and my faith in other things.
I've had four books now out for a total of 27 books that were devoted to religious teaching. The Bible and studying the Bible has been an important part of my life.
CP: You've had such an extensive career from being president of the United States to a Sunday School teacher. How would you like to remembered?
Carter: Well, I would like them to remember that I kept the peace when I was president and I worked for peace, that I espoused human rights in its broadest definition, not only freedom of speech but freedom of assembly, freedom of worship and trial by jury but also the right of people for people to have a decent home to live, food to eat, employment, healthcare, self respect, dignity. So I think the broad gamut of human rights, peace and freedom. I would like to be remembered for those things to the degree that I deserve it and I still have a long way to go.