I recently received this question via our contact form:
How can you call yourselves Christian when you do NOT believe in the Bible?
It’s easy to dismiss this as mere ignorant trolling, but on the off-chance that it contains some degree of sincerity, I’m going to respond to it.
Ironically, the requirement to “believe in the Bible” in order to be a Christian is itself unbiblical. Nowhere in the Bible is this standard ever stated. Jesus doesn’t preach that one must believe in the Bible to be saved. The disciples don’t go forth to deliver Bibles to the world so that those who read them can be saved. Paul doesn’t proclaim that the Gospel is believing in the Bible. Nor is the converse true: the Bible never declares that those who don’t believe in it are excluded from the Kingdom of God.
But the very idea of “believing” in the Bible is itself nonsensical. The Bible is an extraordinarily complex collection of texts, written and edited by various authors over great spans of time for different reasons and within different contexts. Interpretation of these texts is an equally complex process, and cannot simply be reduced to “believing” everything that is contained within the pages of the Bible. I don’t believe that bashing infants’ heads against rocks makes you happy (Psalm 137:9). I don’t believe that slaves should submit to the cruelty of their masters (1 Peter 2:18). And I don’t believe that women should be silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34). Does not believing those passages make me not a Christian?
Of course there is much in the Bible that I do believe. I believe that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9). I believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). I believe that God is love (1 John 4:8). I believe that the greatest commandments are to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). And I believe that Christ will bring peace and salvation to everyone (Colossians 1:19-20). If believing those things isn’t sufficient for me to claim the label “Christian,” then I’m not sure it’s a label worth claiming.
However, I doubt that’s what this question is really driving at. Instead, my guess is that the question is informed by the fundamentalist dogma that if you don’t believe the supposedly biblical notions that homosexuality is a sin, that non-Christians are destined for eternal conscious torment in Hell, that the Earth was created in six literal days 10,000 years ago, and that the Bible itself is absolutely infallible and inerrant, then you can’t really be a Christian. If that’s the standard by which Christians are to be judged, then count me out.
Don’t get me wrong: the Bible is a great book. It is foundational to Christian faith and practice. But it’s not the foundation of Christianity. Christian faith rests not on a book, but upon God. To position particular interpretations of a written text as arbitrary gatekeepers of our relationship with God is the height of folly and arrogance. In this regard, I’m inclined to agree with New Testament scholar N.T. Wright when he says:
The Bible is the book of my life. It’s the book I live with, the book I live by, the book I want to die by. How emphatic can I get about what the Bible means to me? But the Bible is God’s book for God’s people, and the security of God’s people is ultimately in God. To get overprotective about particular readings of the Bible is always in danger idolatry.
N.T. Wright. “The New Theologians.” Christianity Today. February 8, 1999: 46.
Dan is the Executive Editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians blog. He is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and has three cats.