What if we’re wrong…?

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.

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About TheEvangelicalLiberal

Aka Harvey Edser. I'm a web editor, worship leader, wannabe writer, very amateur composer and highly unqualified armchair theologian. My heroes include C.S. Lewis and Homer Simpson.
This entry was posted in Atheism/agnosticism, Emerging, Liberalism, The faith journey and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What if we’re wrong…?

  1. Steve Greek says:

    David Dark wrote an insightful book entitled, “The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.” Brian McLaren spoke highly of it and I found it to be helpful. There are some facets of my belief system that I have only recently questioned, because they were too “sacred.” But when I recognized the difference between doubt and discernment, questioning became a holy activity that was sometimes liberating (abandoning old wineskins), and sometimes affirming (continuing to embrace what I had previously held dear), and almost always opportunity for growth. Thanks for your honesty.

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  2. Eric says:

    I’m generally of the opinion that inerrancy is a useless answer to a question that shouldn’t have been asked. That said, I’d say I have a high view of the authority of Scripture – I just don’t think the concept “inerrant” captures what it means to, well, make sense out of human language. I also tend to think that making the Bible a doctrinal checklist is mostly a way to get out of doing the hard work the Bible actually calls us to, the work of transforming ourselves through God’s power.

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    • I totally agree about inerrancy: I love your description of it as “a useless answer to a question that shouldn’t have been asked”. The only sense in which I could tentatively subscribe to inerrancy is that there are no divine errors in the Bible, only human ones. So while (in my view) the Bible text is full of what we might call authorial errors, God is still happy to place his seal on it, to breathe his Spirit into/through it, and to use it for his purposes. I’ll probably expand a bit more in this in another post!

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  3. dsholland says:

    I’ve been asking a lot of these questions too – of myself and my Lord, but usually of myself 😦

    I liked Eric’s answer. Part of wrestling with the questions (for me) is a way to find the language to respond in a meaningful way to others who question. “Pat” answers seldom do anyone any good.
    I also try to “err” on the side of scripture. It is a natural failing to assume the Bible is wrong if we don’t understand how the Bible can be right about a particular issue – even when it has proven correct in so many other instances 🙂

    I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before but many years ago I had the opportunity to hear Richard Wurmbrand speak. The central theme delivered with amazing clarity and subdued power was that Christianity is very much like the old saying that the church is what’s left when the building burns down. When all dogma and doctrine have been stripped and our preconceptions crucified we are left with faith in Christ. It is His great mercy that we are not all granted that clarity.

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    • I’d not come across Richard Wurmbrand, but reading about him he sounds pretty amazing!

      I think I naturally tend to err on the other side than Scripture, which is probably why I’m more of a liberal than an evangelical! But actually, I’m not sure it’s ever quite as simple as that – particularly as Scripture often doesn’t present a single unequivocal picture on most subjects!

      Yes, maybe you’re right about Christ’s mercy… I think though that for those who have gone through the process of clarification, or the dark night of the soul, they would ultimately see it as worthwhile.

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