Once I found out the Bible was not an inspired, inerrant text, my Evangelical house of cards came tumbling to the ground.
Several Christian bloggers have taken this statement to mean that once I no longer believed in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Christian Bible, I then became an atheist.
While it is true that once I came to see the Bible was not inspired, not inerrant, and not infallible I abandoned the Evangelical faith, I did not immediately turn to atheism.
My journey from Evangelicalism to Atheism was a long, arduous, and painful one.
My journey actually began when I was still a Christian pastor. Long before I questioned the authority of the Bible, I began to have doubts about Christianity itself. Being a pastor for twenty-five years will do that to you. For the last few years in the ministry, I became increasingly discouraged with the state of Christianity in America. The Christian church was rife with internecine warfare, in direct contradiction to Jesus’s command that the world would know we were his followers by the love we had for one another.
During this time, I abandoned my conservative, Republican political views and began to embrace a liberal political view. As my politics move leftward so did my theological views. I was sympathetic towards the emerging, emergent church movement and I appreciated the work of men like Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis, and Tony Campolo. (and Catholic writers Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day, along with Gandhi)
Towards the end of my ministry, I was a closet liberal pastoring conservative, Evangelical churches. I became quite catholic in my view of other Christians. I was willing to embrace Catholics as fellow Christians and my view on abortion and homosexuality changed from anti to pro.
During this time, I still held on to the belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
2003 marked the end for me as far as the ministry was concerned. For a couple of years, I candidated at churches here and there, but I found no church I was willing to go to or was willing to have me. (one church wanted me to be their pastor but I had to commit to only using the KJV of the Bible. I could not do this.) (read The Disaffected Years, 2004-2008)
As time went on, Polly and I decided to look for a church we could call home, a church that we could use our talents to help the church and advance the kingdom of God. Over the course of three years we visited over one hundred churches. What we found confirmed our worst fears about the Christian church, and in November of 2008 we attended church for the last time. (read Wilderness Wanderings, 2002-2012)
Once I stopped attending church, I turned my attention to my theological beliefs. What did I really believe? The first belief to go was my belief that the Bible was inspired and inerrant. (Bart Ehrman was extremely helpful at this juncture) Once free of the notion that the Bible was a supernatural text inspired by a supernatural God, I turned my attention to the core teachings of Christianity.
As I took a fresh, new look the the teachings of Christianity, I came to the conclusion that I could no longer believe what the Bible said about God, the divinity of Jesus, his virgin birth and resurrection from the dead. Simply put, I could no longer embrace the fundamentals of Christianity as truth. While I still think a man by the name of Jesus lived in Palestine, I no longer think this man was God. He lived and he died, end of story.
I took Bart Ehrman’s suggestion and I changed how I read the Bible. Instead of trying to read the Bible though a particular theological lens, I allowed each book and author to stand on its own. All of a sudden, the Biblical text looked completely different. The Bible says, Let US make man in our image. Instead of straining this text through Trinitarian theology, I let it stand on its own. I came to the conclusion that the Bible reveals to readers many Gods, rather than the Three in One God of Christianity. ( I saw a progression from polytheism to monotheism)
As I took a careful look at the New Testament, again without making any attempt to harmonize the competing passages of Scripture, I came to the conclusion that there are several different Christianities in the Bible. I found that the Christianity of Jesus is quite different from the Christianity of Paul. A case could also be made for Peter and James having their own distinct versions of Christianity.
When I look at the natural world with all its wonders, I can fully understand how a person might conclude that a deity of some sort created everything. However, affirming that A God created the universe is far different from affirming that the Christian God, the God revealed in the Bible, created the Bible. I came to the conclusion that there was not a rational way for me to get from A GOD to THE GOD of Christianity. Such a belief required faith, a faith I did not have.(read, You Must Believe in A GOD before you can choose THE GOD.)
From this intense, painful study of the Bible and the literature of other religions, I came to the conclusion that the Christian God does not exist. While I am agnostic concerning whether or not a deity of some sort exists, I decided that, based on how I live my day to day life, I am an atheist.
Most every day, I get an email from a well meaning Christian who wants to know what “hurt” I suffered to cause me to leave Christian faith. Other email writers suggest I must be angry, bitter, or burnt-out. None of these people can imagine someone looking at the Bible and the claims of the Christianity and coming to the conclusion that the Christian Bible is just a book and that the Christian God does not exist.
While I will readily admit to being burnt-out and having spells of anger and bitterness, at the end of the day, my defection from Christianity is rooted in an intellectual pursuit that led me from Evangelicalism to atheism.
For me, it has always been about the Bible.