Many fundamentalists become atheists because the Bible fails them. Christian fundamentalist/evangelicals make the Bible the central focus of the belief system. The doctrine of Holy Scripture makes the Bible the one and only authority on every subject on which it speaks. Is the world only 6,000 years old? Archaeologists know of civilizations that existed before then. Where is the historic or archaeological evidence for the Exodus? There is none available.
The Challenge Of The Inspiration Of The Bible
The fundamentalists set a trap for themselves by claiming that if the Bible cannot be trusted on these matters, it cannot be trusted at all. Students from fundamentalist schools are this challenge when they leave the bubble. An intellectual choice is made either to bury concerns or decide they were lied to up to this point and move forward with life.
The Bible has not failed them. It is the doctrine of the inerrant inspiration of Scripture. Is the Bible error free? There are errors in many ancient manuscripts. If the Bible is without errors, then they occurred when the copies were made. The originals were without error. But we don’t have those. Students are left with the following question. If something no living person has seen had no flaws, then why should I treat the copies that have errors as though they didn’t? Students either bury that question, do not ask it, or answer with a decision to reject Christian faith altogether.
Authoritative Bible Versus Authoritarian Interpretation
Protestant Christians have held the Bible to be an authoritative, rather than an infallible, guide. Fundamentalists tend to treat the Bible as authoritarian. “God said it. That settles it.” It would be true if God said it. But, it is the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible that becomes authoritative. I once had a teacher who claimed arguing with his interpretation was arguing “with Scripture.” He not only took his “stand on the Bible,” he wiped his feet as well.
The power of fundamentalists essentially rests in this slight of hand substitution. In order to protect that authoritarian position, they will oppose “secular education” and replace it institutions for indoctrination. A friend once told me of her experience with such a place. One test her senior year asked, “Who was the founder of Communism?” Her answer “Karl Marx” was marked as incorrect. The preferred answer was “Satan.”
Answering The Question In A Different Way
The Bible is authoritative for Christian faith and practice. This is a statement of faith. The Bible makes no such claim for itself. No outside the church authority is able to demonstrate it. The statement of faith makes the study of the Bible as holy scripture an important part of the practice of the faith. Scholars may read the Bible for reasons other than this. Their work is important because it helps us understand what we are reading.
Let’s ask the question in a different way. Why should we take the copies of the original texts seriously? Historically speaking, the Christian Church determined the list or canon of the scriptures from these copies. They did not need the “originals” to claim the scripture was inspired by God. All the texts needed to do was demonstrate how God had been at work in the histories of Israel and the Church. There was no reason to argue for “historical accuracy” or any valid statement of natural philosophy (ancient term for natural science).
What Is Not Here
Admittedly, the answer I give leaves many questions. What method should we use to interpret the Bible? How do we determine the correct answers to questions such as those pertaining to human sexuality?
The answer that can be given here is the concern that progressive Christians are asking the church to surrender authority to the prevailing culture. We are not. In fact, we maintain that the church and the Bible have been manipulated to serve the prevailing culture in every historical period. Fundamentalism developed as a response to this problem.
There is also an openness to the answer. Conservative and moderate Christians can stand on this understanding too.
I will talk about how my own viewpoint keeps the tension of the conflicts held together.