I’m continuing with some thoughts on my journey out of evangelicalism into Catholicism. These are my thoughts, and this is my journey. I am certainly not trying to talk anyone into following in my steps.
The morning after I became a Christian, I woke up and reached for my Bible. It was an old Bible handed down from someone in my family—perhaps one of my uncles. I read it instinctively. Weren’t Christians supposed to read the Bible? I think I started in John—someone the night before told me that is where I should start. I really didn’t understand a thing I was reading, but I knew I was supposed to read it. That is what God expected of me. I tried to work up a good spiritual feeling while reading it, thinking that just letting my eyes rest on each of these sacred words was going to do something in me that reading, say, a book about baseball wouldn’t.
As I began attending church, I found the Bible was a book to be studied. The pastor broke down verses word-by-word, and we were encouraged to take notes on what he said in the margins of our Bibles. (Woe to anyone who didn’t bring their Bible to the service.) We were told how liberal Christians (wrongly) interpreted a passage, and how true Christians were to understand it. Verses were only seen as black or white. Liberals were black and wrong and going to hell, our church was white and right and pleasing to God. “Textual criticism” was just a liberal code phrase for not believing what every Christian should believe.
The word “inerrant” became a part of our vocabulary, as well as “infallible.” Inerrancy meant there are no errors in Scripture; infallible meant there cannot be any errors. Anyone who questioned the truth of anything stated in Scripture was playing with fire. Oh, did I mention that the only true and reliable Bible was the King James Version?
This was how my faith was shaped. For years, decades really, I held firm to this teaching (though I did quickly move on from the KJV when other translations and paraphrases were available). I approached the Bible as something I was supposed to read in order to please God. I tried each time I picked it up to work up a good spiritual feeling. If I were reading a book on say, the Civil War or some modern-day political issue, I would question the author’s intent and choice of words. I would check facts that didn’t seem to line up. I might even dismiss the author’s thesis if it were not defended well. But when it came to reading the Bible, I was afraid to ask questions. I was scared to compare an event described in Kings with the same event in Chronicles. Did Jesus clear the temple early in his ministry like John reports or later in his ministry as Mark and Luke report it, or did he do it twice? If I were to think, Maybe one of the Gospel writers got the order of things wrong, I felt I was in sin.
Sin. A sinner. That is what I was, and that is what the Bible was there to point out. Everything I read either pointed out that I was sinning, or that I was lacking faith in some area. The Bible was God’s standard, the bar was set very high, and I was still at ground level. I read the Bible because I was supposed to, but it brought me no comfort whatsoever.
Then somewhere along the line things began to change. The teaching I was hearing—still in evangelical circles—was that God loved me very much, individually, and wanted nothing more than to “bless” me beyond my imagination. All I had to do was to dig into Scripture and “claim” the blessings that he wanted to give to me. Reading the Bible was to be a treasure hunt, with all the treasure just for me. Find a promise, claim it, and sit back to see how God would reward me.
I also found out that the Bible was a reliable science textbook, describing down to the tiniest detail just how God created the universe. Again, anyone who called these explanations into question was in danger of damnation. The Bible was infallible in every way. Where science differed from Scripture, science was wrong.
I was told the way to read the Bible was to find verses that “spoke to me” in whatever circumstance I was in. No matter the topic, one could assemble a list of verses that dealt with it from a Christian worldview perspective. Preachers would gather verses that addressed a topic and list them to prove their point. If one of those verses especially spoke to me, then I was to focus on that.
So, after forty years of walking with the Lord as an evangelical, I found that I was to read the Bible even if I didn’t understand it, not ask questions, claim the good parts for myself, and try to find verses that speak directly to me.
To be honest, I have not read the Bible that much in the last year. I know that is tantamount to me saying I don’t watch TBN or, worse yet, don’t like Chris Tomlin’s songs, but I have just not much felt like reading the Bible in this dark time I’ve gone through. The times I have picked it up, I have devoured it, staying up late into the night reading entire books of history or poetry or entire gospels. It is not that I don’t like the Bible. It is that I am afraid of the change that is happening in me. I am beginning—only beginning, mind you—to think that God wants me to approach him in a real way. And that scares me more than I can describe. Here is what I mean.
The Bible was developed over a period of several thousand years by writers and storytellers who lived in diverse cultures and civilizations. Evangelicalism wanted me to believe that the Bible came to be in, oh, 1945 or so. But the newest book in our Bible was written more than two thousand years ago. And the circumstances that lead to its being written—severe persecution of fledgling churches—is not something we face in our Western, evangelical culture today. Is it ok that I ask questions about the books that form our Bible? Is it ok for me to wonder just what was going through John’s mind when he wrote Revelation? Or Paul’s mind when he wrote to Timothy? Can I spend some time exploring what kind of life a farmer like Amos might have lived when he was given a prophecy to share? Will my questions really take away from what God intended with these books?
Evangelicalism does not invite questions, especially when it comes to the Bible. There is no mystery. There are only answers. We have the telescope to blame. The telescope allowed us to explore the galaxies and explain what once had been inexplicable. The mystery of the universe was replaced with charts and diagrams and explanations. We have done the same with God and the Bible. We are not allowed to say, “That doesn’t make sense to me” and leave it at that. We must press forth to come up with an answer. Or, rather, we must accept the answer that is spoonfed to us each Sunday morning from preachers who insist that we have to understand the Bible rather than just believe.
I have heard the phrase “Christians are people of the book.” I would rather be known as a person of the Word. Jesus is the Word of God. The Bible is a signpost pointing us to the Word of God. I want to revere the Bible and gaze into it in order to more clearly see the Word. Evangelicalism—at least where I have been in evangelicalism in my life—has obscured the Word of God by focusing on the scriptures themselves. I needed to step back and evaluate how I approach Scripture.
I have not abandoned the Bible. I love reading it now that I don’t try to make it something it’s not. Sitting on my porch with a cup of coffee and my Bible is a wonderful way to meet with the Lord. It is not the only way to meet with him, but it is a great way to do so. And he doesn’t even ask for any coffee.