What if the Bible isn’t the inspired, inerrant Word of God?
What if we’re completely wrong about the Trinity, or about Jesus’ divinity/humanity, or about the atonement, or about the virgin birth, or about heaven and hell, or about any of the other doctrines and beliefs we hold so dear and so central to our faith?
Or what if we are completely right, but God isn’t actually very interested in our theology and doctrine, and cares far more about how we live and how we treat each other?
What if it doesn’t even really matter that much what you believe or what faith you belong to; whether you call yourself a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist or even an atheist?
What if many of our cherished practices and disciplines – say quiet times and evangelism for evangelicals, or spiritual warfare and speaking in tongues for those of a charismatic bent – are largely irrelevant, even perhaps misguided?
Or what if our received morality, whether about sexuality or other broader issues, is fundamentally flawed?
Please note that I’m just asking the questions; I’m not actually saying that standard Christian orthodoxy or orthopraxy is wrong, or that it doesn’t matter what we believe or do. I’m just asking us to consider the possibility, and to see what effect that has. Is it okay, is it acceptable and legitimate to question these fundamentals, these core tenets of our faith, or are we required to accept them on faith, no questions asked? Is it the start of a slippery slide that leads inevitably to atheism or apostasy – or can it actually be the start of a more honest and authentic faith?
Readers of this blog will probably be aware that several years ago I would have been fairly happy to describe myself as an evangelical with broadly orthodox views. If I was honest though, I had long had secret doubts about some of the standard evangelical teachings on biblical inerrancy, hell, homosexuality, the penal substitutionary theory of atonement, what divine sovereignty means and whether or not those of other faiths or no faith could make it into the kingdom of heaven.
Over the last 4-5 years I’ve been able to explore and express these doubts more openly, and I’ve found myself moving inexorably away from fundamentalism and conservative theology towards a less certain, less clear but (for me) more genuine and open kind of Christian belief.
I must stress that it is still very much a Christian – in the sense of Christ-focused – belief. I don’t feel the slightest inclination to worship the deities of other religions, nor to abandon my belief in the God revealed in Christ. For me, Christ is still utterly central. Indeed, he is perhaps more central now than he was in my more evangelical days when he had to compete for top place with the Bible, or with a set of non-negotiable doctrines and practices.
So I continue to believe in, love and worship Jesus Christ with a passion – indeed, with a renewed passion. But I’m no longer sure about so many of the things I used to feel I had to believe or do, and which caused me a great sinking of the heart. My soul feels lighter and my worship richer for being able to lay them aside. (I don’t say abandon them; it may even be that one day I will come back to them. But for the moment they are a hindrance rather than a help.) I can say with the apostle Paul, ‘I determined to know nothing… except Jesus Christ and him crucified’, although I would simplify it just to ‘know nothing except Jesus Christ’.
If I am a liberal then, it will probably always be an evangelical one – in the sense of one who has been born out of, and remains influenced by, evangelicalism. And I don’t particularly want to be either a liberal or an evangelical, but to move beyond these labels into something fuller, richer and realler, something that combines the best of both (and of other traditions) but transcends the false dichotomies of an either/or liberalism/evangelicalism.