My exit from the Evangelical faith began about 8 years ago with a simple question in my brain that for some reason would not leave without an answer, and the answer really wasn’t that hard to come by. Others I know have left for the same reason but for them it was a different question that got things rolling.
Here’s how it happened to me. It all started with a question on TheologyOnline.com, by a very bright young man working on his Master’s in Theology, writing about whether Revelation should even be in the bible:
As I already told you – Revelation was debated for a very long time, much longer than the gospel of John. Those who accepted John rejected Revelation. There was also another apocalypse on the table that was considered scripture by many: the Apocalypse of Peter! If the early church was skeptical of these writings I see no reason why I shouldn’t be as well.
A light went off in my dim, formerly pot-stricken mind.
For nearly 30 years as an Evangelical I just figured we all had to work off the same script – the 66 books we call our Bible. Yet the early church for the first 360 years not only survived, but thrived, without working off the same script. Nobody in the 1st, 2nd, or even 3rd centuries considered the same set of writings to be their guide for “all matters of faith and practice”. Somehow I learned that in Bible College but somehow I had forgotten about that rather inconvenient historical truth.
Try to have a theological discussion with someone in most churches today and they might want to quote Revelation or John and then if you say, “I don’t think those two should be in our bibles so I really don’t care what they say” and watch the funny looks you’ll get. Then watch yourself get reported to the pastor for being 2 fries short of a Happy Meal and trying to steal the sheep. You’ll be persona non grata in no time. If you don’t get blacklisted you’re in a very special church that actually allows for independent thinking. They seem to be few and far between. And they wonder why they lose their youth when they go off to the University.
Our problem as Protestants is that if we are going to rely on scriptures alone, adhere to Sola Scriptura, and not on some institution like the Roman Catholic Church or latter day prophet like Joseph Smith to keep us all in line then we need God to not only make sure the biblical authors write only what God wants them to write without any human fallibility getting in the way (He didn’t), but we would also need God to make sure none of those copying the manuscripts made any errors (He didn’t), make sure every translator on the planet gets it right, or at least as well as can be done when translating from one language to another (He didn’t), and finally, we would need God to make sure there’s at least one infallible source of interpretation on the earth so we get it right so we don’t miss the message and end up in Hell (He hasn’t).
Since God hasn’t ensured inerrancy in all of these steps it really doesn’t make sense to assert that the original writings were without error. Yet Evangelical churches do this all the time thinking they are doing God a favor, because without that the sheep will scatter, or so it’s reasoned. It’s hard to imagine for many how to be a Christian if there wasn’t something called the Bible, preferably without error, which we all agree is our rule of faith. Yet that’s how the church started and grew exponentially in the beginning. There was no Bible as we know it today until the end of the 4th century.
How did they do it? They trusted God and went forth. Just like Abraham. Many of us who don’t believe in Verbal Plenary Inspiration, as it’s called, or believe the 66 books have God’s stamp of approval, still trust God. Learning history hasn’t torpedoed our faith, only made it more reasonable, and more viable in a more educated society.