This is a revision of something I posted in 2008, back in the days of my pseudonymous blogging. Several people have raised the underlying issue with me recently.
A few years ago, I happened upon the world of the post-Christian, de-conversion blogs. With evangelical (including pentecostal/charismatic) Christianity in America losing adherents at a substantial rate, especially in the 20-50 age group, I find it interesting and helpful to better understand the loss of faith.
I think we all go through the dark night of the soul. Different people deal with it in different ways. Unlike the well-meaning leaving comments on these blogs, I have no interest in Bible proof-texting them back to faith. I find these attempts using an approach that has been directly rejected by the de-converting or de-converted.
I certainly haven’t seen lots of these blogs, so I don’t presume that the crisis of faith comes to each person in the same way. However, the ones I have seen seem to have a similar background. I have seen ex-Catholics mostly describing their disaffection with things that’s aren’t actually Catholic dogma. (This also seems to be true of Catholics who switch to Evangelicalism.) However, most of the deconversion seems to be from Evangelicalism. The former evangelicals are sometimes pastors or other sorts of leaders. They are well-versed in the Scriptures.
Herein lies the problem. They find internal inconsistencies – or have long been aware of what appear to be internal inconsistencies – in the Scriptures and finally admit that, in their evangelical paradigm, if the Bible fails everything fails. This exposes a weakness, not in Christianity, but in that paradigm.
The Bible hasn’t failed at all. It’s just not doing what they expect it to do. It’s not doing what they have been led to believe it must do.
Evangelicalism has rejected the unified teaching of the Church throughout time as the principle interpretive model for Scripture. As a result, it has shattered into 40,000 denominations plus all those independent churches that can’t even find a home among the myriads of groups. This has led to the adoption of a sola scriptura approach far more radical than the Protestant Reformers probably anticipated.
In this approach, the Word of God is exactly what the text says and the key to the Truth is in finding exactly what the text says. Not what the text means, necessarily. God specifically spoke certain words in Hebrew or Greek and we have to find out exactly which words He used. In other words, the exact words equal the Exact Word.
Then He put them all together in One Big Book. Now it’s like a giant jigsaw and the work of the biblical scholar is to fit all of the pieces together so that there is a single internal consistency. That’s not to say that there is any consistency in the scholars – otherwise we wouldn’t have the vast discrepancies in commentaries, surveys, handbooks, and other reference materials that span the Protestant theological gamut.
The only problem is that the One Big Book view of the Bible isn’t biblical. The closest thing to a collective reference is Jesus’ reference to the Law and the Prophets, or in one instance the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. This does not refer to the whole Old Testament, as He makes no reference to the other group of books in Jewish scripture, the Writings (Ketuvim). References in different biblical sources to “the Word of God” do not somehow look ahead to 66 writings eventually recognized as canonical by most (but certainly not all) Protestants, the 74 recognized by Rome, or even the 77 recognized by Orthodoxy.
Long ago, I realized that using verses like Proverbs 30:5-6 or Revelation 22:18-19 to refer to the unified Bible was completely non-contextual. That would somehow suppose that the Church did not have the full Truth before an agreement was reached over time about even the New Testament canon.
This agreement wasn’t a major concern of the early Church, because they didn’t hold to the One Big Book view.
There was no agreement about the 27 books of the New Testament until at least the late 4th century. The Old Testament canon was fluid for much longer, because there was never a definitive statement. As a general rule and practice, from the Apostolic Age to the Reformation, the Old Testament books for which the extant manuscripts were in Greek (and which were presumed to have been originally written in Greek) were intermingled with those presumed to have been written in Hebrew (albeit no Hebrew manuscript we have is older than the 9th century AD).
Eventually, the writings originally in Greek were pushed to the back as deutero-canonical (meaning the second canon, in terms of authority) and then relabeled in English as the Apocrypha. However, even Martin Luther, who was very involved in the separation process, noted that they must stay in the Bible, to be read in Church and at home.
It is important to remember that these Greek Old Testament books were not pushed to the back in the Scriptures used by the early Church. The Church Fathers quote from them authoritatively. They are referenced heavily in the New Testament writings. And almost all New Testament quotes from the Old Testament are from the Septuagint, which is why readers of today’s Hebrew-translated versions wonder why the quotes very often do not match up when they try to compare the Old and New Testament.
That the Church today does not agree on the number of books does not mean that the Bible isn’t inspired by God. The early Church, being led by the Holy Spirit, recognized those writings which have been specially inspired by the Holy Spirit. But this is why I don’t have a problem with most Protestant Bibles. They may lack 11 writings used by Jesus and the early Church, but what they have is inspired. That’s why you can have just one of the books of Scripture and come to Christ. It is just unfortunate that some Christians and segments of the Church in the last couple hundred years think that they know better than the Apostles, the early Church and the medieval Church as to what is and isn’t Holy Scripture.
It’s not that most Bibles have lacked these writings for a long time. Stories vary slightly as to when they were commonly removed – from just after the American Revolution to the 1820’s – but it seems to be universally agreed that the reason was to save printing costs. Because non-Anglican Protestants refer to them as the Apocrypha, put them in a separate group and sadly, as they were not read often outside of the Anglican communion, few seemed to miss them. It is only post-Revolutionary homegrown American denominations and their progeny that completely rejected them. (The Anglican churches in America, whether liberal, conservative, evangelical or charismatic, still include them in both the Sunday lectionary and the Daily Office readings.)
Once you remove the One Big Book view, it doesn’t matter that there are different ways of saying things, or even times when the individual books say different things. The little books inside don’t have to exactly agree with each other. Each book is a way of God telling us things, but God is bigger than all the writings.
I only wish that those who have rejected the faith because they have rejected an unhistorical and unbiblical view of the Bible could see that it’s all about the message of the Jesus of the Bible.