Note: This article is part 2 of Escape from the Desert of Fundamentalism, a survey of my emergence from the rigid world of fundamentalism and into Christianity.
The life of any Christian — I’d dare say every Christian — has one primary influence; a single, defining element that is at the very heart and crux of our great faith: the Holy Bible. No matter the denomination, the sect, or whether it’s one of a multitude of storefront churches across the country, the Bible is the basis of that church’s doctrine.
To some, it is the written word of God. To others, it is the guide by which their church traditions flow. Some have more of one than the other. Still others elevate the Bible as the literal, perfect, pure, fell-out-of-the-sky stone tablet that was etched into creation by the Lord Himself.
The moment I hint that I do not embrace the notion that the Bible is the “verbally inspired Word of God,” quite a few people will immediately bypass everything else in this article. They may go straight to the “back” button on their browser. Sometimes, they’ll scroll down to the comment section to tell me what an awful sinner I am because I “reject” the Bible. Of course, they’ll drop a few Scripture citations that drive more nails in the coffin of my damnation (as if I haven’t already been damned at least a few times a week just for being gay). This scripture quoting is particularly amusing if they’re convinced that I reject the Bible they’re quoting (which, of course, I don’t).
For them, I simply say this: God bless you. My walk has taken me into a different direction.
Quite simply, I’ve been there. During the many years that I embraced the absolute inerrancy of the Bible, I slapped away anything that would dare to question the validity of Scripture. My belief system was a shell that was protected by that all-important doctrine. It was my faith, after all. And that faith demanded proof. It required evidence. Thankfully, I had all the evidence I needed within that well-worn soft leather cover.
As time passed, I began to look a little deeper into some of those long-held doctrines, and noticed some of the stress cracks.
At the center of this discussion are a couple of passages of Scripture:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV)
To the fundamentalist, this passage of Scripture is clear. The phrase rendered in the NIV as “God-breathed” is translated as “inspired” in the all-important King James Version. This means that every word of the Bible (usually the KJV to the fundamentalist, or at the very least, in the original languages) is uttered and written exactly as God whispered into the ear of the author.
I don’t know what “inspired” meant back in 1611 when the KJV was translated, but today it means:
- aroused, animated, or imbued with the spirit to do something, by or as if by supernatural or divine influence: an inspired poet.
- resulting from such inspiration: an inspired poem; an inspired plan.
- inhaled: inspired air.
What’s missing here is a fourth definition that says “dictated word for word by God” — as if the men who wrote the Bible were merely entranced secretaries, rather than men who brought their own point of view to what they were writing.
Conservative evangelical pastor and teacher Stephen Mansfield once described the phrase “God-breathed” as if it was indeed men who wrote the Scriptures, and as they wrote, God breathed on their writings. He might have meant it in a little bit more of a literal fashion than I might have. I still like it, though.
Either way, the one question I would ask is this: Did Paul consider his own letters to be Scripture? Was he talking about his own writing when he said “all Scripture is God-breathed?” Once I began to ask that question, the immediate response from anyone reasonable would be, “probably not.” But to the Bible-is-inerrant crowd, it would be a resounding “yes.” Why? Because it’s in the Bible, it’s Scripture. So there.
Whether it’s literal or metaphorical, the “God-breathed” nature of Scripture is something that Christians and theologians will discuss until the end of time. As for the “verbal dictation” and “writing in a trance” concept, there’s a little bit of basis for that as well, as told by Peter in his second epistle:
We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 19-21, NIV)
Of course, the passage speaks of the “prophets,” not scribes. But that doesn’t matter, right? The Bible is the Bible. It’s all prophecy. Or is it? More cracks.
I really don’t have a desire to pick apart Scripture. That’s not my intention. For me, there was just enough of a “splinter in my mind” to know that something just wasn’t right. I could have chosen to believe exactly what I was supposed to — because, after all, my eternal soul was on the line. Especially since it says in Revelation:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19, KJV)
I chose the KJV in this case because of the interesting twist that’s in the original language, specifically the word for “book.” This passage is used by fundamentalist pastors and leaders all over the country to scare the hell out of anyone who would question the Bible, or even to stay away from more modern translations.
The Greek word in this particular case is biblion, not biblia. What’s the difference? Simple. Biblia was used three times in Scripture — every time, it was translated into “book.” or “Volume.” In short, it was always a collection of works. Biblion, on the other hand — as it is used in Revelation 22, is referring to a single scroll. Not the book as a whole.
Quite simply, when this passage was written, the volume wasn’t compiled. Thus, applying it to the entire Bible is not only foolish, but simply wrong. This is just one example of a modern push to put our own doctrines into a text that never intended such doctrine. Even if we were to accept this as face value in a “the Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true” world of circular reasoning, then we’d still have to deal with this — yet another teeny crack.
Two more passages that allowed me to continue on my faith. The first is another core tenet from the very beginning of the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5, NIV)
For some, the “Word of God” is the Bible. Yet here, it’s crystal clear that the Word is the Lord Himself, Jesus. He is the Beginning, and all of creation was made through Him. Not a book. Quite simply, the book isn’t the Word. Once I realized this, I knew that my days of worshipping the book were coming to an end.
Finally, the great message of faith in Hebrews 11 begins with a profound statement that shook me to my core:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:16, KJV)
I came to realize two things. First, my belief in Christ wasn’t because I heard the Gospel. It was because I believed. And that faith came to be by the “word of God.” Not because I heard the word of God, but because the Word of God Himself gave me that faith.
Faith doesn’t require evidence. Scripture clearly indicates that faith is evidence. A person can’t be argued into the kingdom of God. They can’t be debated into having faith. Because if they could, they could easily be argued or debated right out of it. This is why so many people walk away from fundamentalism and into agnosticism or atheism — the arguments have rung shallow. And they found those arguments severely lacking.
I don’t have to believe that the world was created in six literal days to know that God created the heavens and the earth. Just one look at photos from the Hubble Space Telescope reveals the majesty and glory of creation.
I don’t have to believe the Bible is accurate in its descriptions of historical events to see the hand of God through history. And I don’t have to believe the Bible is inerrant to know that Jesus Christ is Lord.
“But you have no basis for your belief,” a fundamentalist friend of mine told me, “If you question one part of the Bible, then none of it is valid.”
“Precisely,” I said. “And I’m okay with that.”
Quite simply, faith that requires evidence — ceases to be faith. Fundamentalism strips away the mystery and majesty of the Creator of the universe and puts Him into a single set of basic doctrines. How asinine.
I don’t need to believe that the Bible is inerrant to see a glimpse of the glory of the God its pages reveal. Because, after all, how could we possibly contain all that majesty into a mere 66 different scrolls? A God I can wrap my head around just isn’t worthy of worship.
I don’t want to worship a God I can understand. I’m not interested in following a Jesus that I can comprehend with doctrines or theology. Jesus kept his disciples on their toes — why should I expect anything less?
Next up… does the “Rapture” have a bad rap?