Fundamental relief

Which is better - desperately holding onto a belief with your eyes blindfolded
and your fingers in your ears? Or allowing evidence to test and prove your faith?
I chose the latter.

I used to call myself a biblical fundamentalist, and was proud of it - but not any longer. Fundamentalism is a risky strategy for maintaining faith in the Bible because one tiny hole in a rigid belief system could deflate the entire balloon. Arguments based an all-or-nothing premise can leave us with - nothing! Classic Christian fundamentalism assumes that the Bible is perfect. It isn't. The Bible is not full of contradictions, as detractors have claimed; but it's not entirely free of them. There are contradictions, though they are mostly mere discrepancies of detail such as are normal between witnesses in modern legal cases. When witnesses disagree about minor details we know that they didn't confer to concoct false stories. But, if their testimony shows general agreement, we believe their story. The people who wrote the Bible were inspired (NOTE 1) but they remained people, just like you and me, and they could make mistakes. We can accept their honesty and sincerity, whilst not holding them to account for every little detail. "Let the prophets speak...and let the other judge" (NOTE 2)

"God must have made a mistake", said my friend.
He was smiling as he said it, thinking he'd made a winning point.
But he listened as I patiently explained that, no, the King James Bible translation was not a heaven-inspired revelation.
(At that time the King James version was still the most widely-used English translation)
My friend was demonstrating an important issue that should moderate any dogmatism about Scripture - we are all reading translations. Experienced translators know that a perfect word-for-word match from one language to another is impossible. Languages develop divergent meanings, adding alternative slants and secondary ideas that hinder accurate translation of words or phrases. Whilst the German "brod", the French "pain", and the English "bread" are regarded as synonyms, there are differences between the bakers' shop windows imagined by native speakers living in Germany, France, or Britain. Few of us understand the original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible, so we should not assume that the version we read is a true match to the original. We don't even have the originals. What scholars possess are remarkably early copies, but not original manuscripts. The ancient copies we have agree sufficiently for us to be confident of the general meaning. But they are not perfect.

I don't want to discourage faith in the Bible. I love the Bible. I read it every day, and it encourages and builds my faith. But years of struggling with doubts and inconsistencies taught me to be cautious about literalism. My transition from fundamentalism to simple, honest faith didn't happen overnight. It took at least twenty years. I can be sure of that, because I wrote about it stage-by-stage. Reappraising my relationship with the Bible brought me a sense of relief. By treating it as a friend, I could believe it - but not without question. I could enjoy its comfort and reassurance - but entertain occasional doubts. I could learn, receive instruction, and be corrected by it - but not worry if I noticed a discrepancy. I could do all these things - but continue to love the book intensely. As I acknowledged my doubts, and recognised my new freedom and the peace it brought me, I wanted to write a book; but then realised that most of it already existed in the articles I had penned over all those years. It is those articles - some originally published in minor magazines, and some previously shared only with friends - that make up my book, SOS (Stumbling Over Scripture): A Journey from fundamentalism to faith.

The Bible is an amazing book. It stands out among all other ancient texts as the best attested, the best preserved, and the most authentic. Most ancient books are represented by manuscripts written hundreds of years after the original authors died. But the oldest New Testament manuscripts were copied out just tens of years after the writings - in other words, close enough to be verified by living witnesses of the original authors. Even so, the Bible is not perfect. There is one who is perfect. His name is Jesus. He is the true Word of God (see chapter 1 of John's Gospel) and he is the one we worship. The Trinity is not "God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Bible!" - though some have earned the accusation of that misconception. My journey through doubt led me to deeper faith. My more considered approach to the Bible doesn't diminish my trust in God - or in Jesus, the one who died for me and rose again in triumph. And, now I can question the Bible, I love it more.

No one can out-bible the Bible. It contains every possible human response to the mystery of godliness - including doubt and opposition. Some people may object to my book, fearing that, by encouraging doubts and questions, it could weaken Christian faith. But the Christian faith is strong enough to withstand criticism, doubts, and questioning. The reader feedback I have received since publishing SOS (Stumbling Over Scripture) says that it has liberated them from legalism and given them a new love for the world's greatest book. I hope it helps many more believers - maybe including you?

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1. The Holy Spirit inspires people, rather than words.
2. 1 Corinthians 14:29

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© Derrick Phillips - 2018