Know It All Evangelicals

know it all

…for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)

The Apostle Paul said to the young preacher Timothy, I KNOW.  And from this statement, the Evangelical church was born.

I know.

We know.

The Bible says.

God says.

God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me.

People of the book.

If stranded on a deserted island and given the choice between a Victoria’s Secret model and the Bible, the Evangelical man would choose the Bible.

Well, maybe not. :mrgreen:

Evangelical pastors are given the task to preach and teach the Bible to the church. They are supposed to be an expert on the Bible, ready to give an answer of the hope that lies within them. Church members expect their pastor to have the answer for every question they ask. Over time, pastors learn to bullshit when they don’t really have an answer to a question. Why? Not knowing is considered a sign of weakness, a sign of spiritual ignorance.

This is why, over the years, countless Evangelicals have come to The Way Forward (in all its iterations) to show me and all who read this blog how much they know. Some of them delight in going head to head with a pastor turned atheist.  As one Evangelical commenter recently made very clear when engaging a guest post writer in a discussion about evolution, he was here to teach all of us a science lesson. In the end, all he did was reveal that he knew how to cut and paste from creationist websites.

Far too many Evangelicals, when they say I KNOW, actually mean my pastor knows or so-so  knows. Rarely do you find an Evangelical that can engage in thoughtful discussion over a long period of time. Why? Because their I KNOW gets in the way.  They are certain of what they believe even though they have never done any study on what they believe. Their pastor says ______________, Ken Ham/John MacArthur/Al Mohler/JohnPiper/Charles Spurgeon says________________. Often, they only know what others believe.  Ask the average Evangelical to defend their core beliefs and they rarely can do so. When pressed with questions or shown contrary evidence that does not fit neatly in their Evangelical box, they often will say, I KNOW what I believe and that is all that matters. But…they really DON’T know what they believe.

Here’s my point. I KNOW is an Evangelical cliché. They are taught that the Bible is God’s answer book. It has the answer to every question. The Bible is the owner’s manual for life. Children are taught the B-I-B-L-E song, a song that  states , I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.

According to a BARNA Group study, 80% of Americans believe the Bible is sacred/holy literature and 66% of Americans think the Bible contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life. 88% of Americans own at least one Bible. The average American home has 4 Bibles.  But, here’s the startling fact, while most people own a Bible, they rarely read it:

  • 12% of Americans never read the Bible
  • 12% read it less than once a year
  • 10% read it once or twice a year
  • 13% read it several times a week
  • 8% read it once a week
  • 7% read it once a month
  • 9% read it 3 or 4 times a year
  • 13% read it daily

The BARNA Group study also reveals WHY Americans read the Bible. The most common reason people read the Bible is because it brings them closer to God. (53%) However, only 18% of Bible readers turn to the Bible when they need direction or have a problem to solve.

Astoundingly, given these statistics, 81% of American Bible readers consider themselves moderately/somewhat/highly knowledgeable about the Bible. The majority of Americans rarely read the Bible yet the vast majority of Bible readers think they are moderately/somewhat/highly knowledgeable about the Bible. What gives?

Granted, these statistics are for Americans as a whole. I suspect most Evangelicals would argue that Evangelicals read the Bible more often than say, a mainline or Catholic church member. While this may be true, and I was unable to find an up-to-date study on the subject, I suspect that Evangelicals grossly overestimate how many people regularly read and study the Bible. Think for a moment about how Evangelicals “read” the Bible:

  • In public worship and through their pastor’s sermon
  • In devotionals like Our Daily Bread
  • In Sunday school quarterlies
  • In Bible studies
  • Structured Bible reading program

Rarely, do Evangelicals systematically, comprehensively study the Bible. Most Bible reading is done for devotional purposes. People want to be encouraged and inspired. They want to “feel” close to God. So, they read Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, and the Gospels, and ignore much of the rest of the Bible.

If the Bible is the foundation of Evangelicalism, why is it that most Evangelicals have not read the Bible from cover to cover one time? The Bible is a bestseller that few Evangelicals finish. (and the reasons for this are many) I can’t tell you the number of  cars owned by Evangelicals I have seen over the years plastered with Jesus/Bible verse/Pro-Life bumper stickers. The people who own these cars are proud to be a Christian. Yet, in some of these cars, in the back window sits a stack of Bibles, thrown there after attending church on Sunday. There they will sit until next Sunday.

I am in no way judging Evangelicals. There are many reasons Evangelicals have for NOT reading the Bible. Jobs, family concerns, and other responsibilities leave the Evangelical with very little time to read the Bible. This is why a lot of Evangelicals love devotional books. They can read the daily devotional in a few minutes, convincing themselves that they have “read” the Bible.

The point of this post is to get Evangelicals to admit that, for all their I KNOW posturing, they really don’t know.  They know what they are told from the pulpit to know. This shallow knowledge serves them well until they get into a discussion about their beliefs. Then they quickly find out how much they really don’t know. So what do they do? They bullshit, they pretend to know. After all, it is important to give the “appearance” of knowing, lest it causes someone to think that Evangelicalism/Bible doesn’t have all the answers.

Even among Evangelical pastors, the level of ignorance is quite high. Few Bible colleges comprehensively teach the Bible to those studying for the ministry. While they may focus on Paul’s writings and the gospels, many books of the Bible are covered in superficial survey courses. Most pastors will graduate from college without ever comprehensively studying every book of the Bible. Yet, these same pastors are expected to stand in the pulpit and give the appearance that they KNOW what the Bible says.

The reasons for Evangelical pastors not knowing are many. Often, congregations place a great demand on the pastor’s time, and there is little time left for reading and studying the Bible outside of the time spent preparing sermons. If you are a Christian, ask your pastor, how much time did you spend last month reading and studying the Bible apart from the time spent preparing your sermons? If he is honest, you might be shocked at how little time he actually spent.

The next time you engage an Evangelical in a discussion about the Bible, don’t assume that they know as much as they say they do. Yes, there is a significant minority of Evangelicals that are hardcore studiers and readers of the Bible. But, even then, do they really KNOW the Bible? Most of the time you will find out that what they KNOW is whatever they learned through reading and studying Evangelical books. Go to their home and look at their bookshelves. What do you see? Most often, what you will see are devotional books, Josh McDowell/Ravi Zacharias type books, or books written by popular Evangelical authors. (and the authors will vary depending on what subculture the Evangelical is a part of: Calvinist, Arminian, IFB, Charismatic, etal) Rarely will you find books written by non-Evangelical authors. Catholic or liberal authors? Never, since they aren’t even Christians. So, when they say I KNOW, what they are really saying is I KNOW what Evangelicals typically believe and that’s it.

Even among college trained pastors, rare is the pastor who has done much reading outside of his peculiar theological beliefs. When ya know, ya know, so why bother, right?  As we discussed in the comments on a previous post, many Evangelicals lack any sense of curiosity. They know they are right and there is no need for them to look elsewhere. Unlike Bono in I Still Haven’t Found What I am Look For, they have found it and have shut their mind off to anything else.

So what hope is there for the Evangelical who thinks they know everything that is worth knowing? Arguing with them is a waste of time, and as discussion after discussion of this blog has shown, so is thoughtful discussion. Over the past six years, I have yet to hear an Evangelical say that they were wrong. When the evidence and arguments start to weigh them down, they often retreat to the safety of faith.  And then you can hear them…shouting from the safety of faith, I KNOW, I KNOW, GOD SAYS! The only way to reach them is for some outside force to cause them to reconsider their beliefs. For those of us who are now atheists, we can often point to external pressures that caused us to re-investigate our beliefs.

For me, it was not until I became disaffected that I began to question what I really believed. This dissatisfaction, this restlessness pushed me outside of the box I was in, and, well, this blog is the rest of the story. (if you have not done so, please read The Danger of Being in A Box and Why it All Makes Sense When You Are in a Box and What I Found When I Left the Box)

Until an Evangelical can first admit the possibility of being wrong, there is no hope of reaching them. Certainty has walled off their mind, keeping them from considering the possibility of intellectual fallibility. (and it is for this reason that I no longer engage hardcore know-it-all Evangelicals on The Way Forward. It is an exercise in futility.)

Notes

I deliberately paint with a broad brush in this post. Yes, I know there are exceptions. Please don’t whine and complain in the comments that I unfairly tarred you, your pastor, or your church. If you really are a well read Evangelical…I gotta ask, why are you still an Evangelical?

Comments (20)

  1. mikespeir

    We naturally gravitate toward people who seem to know. We do that because, ultimately, it’s all about survival. Power is the wherewithal to survive and we understand intuitively that “knowledge is power.” Browse through the New Testament with this in mind and it’ll begin to strike you how often you’ll run across “power” or other power-related words.

    Reply
  2. unapologist

    My father and I were having a discussion about Bible reading once. I told him I was reading the entire Bible because I was tired of people telling me what it said.

    He told me, “Well I don’t read it, but I know what it says.”

    I think that gets to your point, a lot of Evangelicals think they know what the Bible says why bother reading it for themselves?

    Reply
  3. Larry C.

    Thanks Bruce for touching on a slice of the evangelical life that doesn’t get mentioned: strong feelings of certainty that are not actually based on an in-depth study of scripture but from endlessly listening to blow-hards in the pulpit and in classes who indoctrinate their hearers with this whole “God says” “The Bible says” (and now that YOU BELIEVE YOU KNOW TOO)!

    I was one of those few evangelicals who actually read the bible cover to cover at least four times and individual books no telling how many. I was still so indoctrinated into the idea of the bible being a divine revelation that I had to believe that even when I saw a bold contradiction I effortlessly blanked on it and simply turned the page and went to something else to focus on. I had been so indoctrinated that I couldn’t see it even when I did see it. I think for most of us, we had been conditioned to rationalize the questions by ASSuming that evangelical “Scholars” had already studied this or that problem and had an answer so I didn’t need to worry about it.

    When I went to my liberal seminary, I had been pumped full of so much evangelical hubris about my “knowledge of the scriptures” that “I KNEW” those unbelieving, “so-called bible scholars” would not shake me from the firm foundation! My evangelical friends would compliment me for my serious study of scriptures by calling me “The Professor” or “The Doctor” because of my deep knowledge of “the Word”.

    And yes, I did know the bible very well but what I thought was an in-depth knowledge turned out to be a very superficial understanding once I sat in classes with men and women who had spent years studying the minutia of language, culture and history of ancient Palestine and who actually had no sectarian theological axe to grind at the students but matter-of-factly tried to deal with the facts of history as they were.

    Slowly, I started feeling rather stupid and surprised that there was so much out there that I had never heard of. And I learned to sit back and shut-up instead of trying to challenge my professors. I came to realize that they had all had know-it-all-students like me in the past and were patient and kind in how they responded to my evangelical challenges. And slowly, when they explained the complexity of issues, it started sinking into my brain-washed, evangelical mind that perhaps these folks knew a few things I didn’t know. By the end of seminary, the professors I use to snear at for being “liberals” I now held with the utmost admiration at their scholarship.

    So early on, after hearing things in my classes that were upsetting and that I had never heard of, I would go back to my apartment and dig through my box of evangelical, apologetically works and try to find a response. Often, the issue I was struggling with was not even addressed by anyone, anywhere!.

    And in looking at their own lives of my evangelical, apologetical heroes, it dawned on me that folks such as McDowell, Schaeffer and Walter Martin – had never actually had the intellectual challenges I was being confronted with because they had all attended the safe cocoon of evangelical schools that had sheltered them from anything that would have been too upsetting. Their “ministry” of apologetics had all been within the confines of churches and ministries with an occasional formal “debate” where they could work their sophistry. But to a young man trying to absorb all this “knowledge” that these guys possessed, I was impressed with their intelligence and seeming profundity. Now when I re-listen to them, what they say comes off as clap-trap and shallow.

    I had a ton of this egotistical I KNOW knowledge and my defensiveness when challenge wasn’t “holy anger” against sin but scary-cat anger because my delusional fortress of beliefs were being challenges.

    Wonderful article Bruce. As you can tell, you got me venting too.

    Reply
    1. NeverAgainV

      That’s awesome Larry C that your mind was opened and you could SEE.
      Thanks for sharing that.

      Reply
    2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks Larry!! I appreciate all your comment added to the post and discussion.

      Reply
  4. Sgl

    Did you see that banned gary finished both erhman books, and at least sees that there are far more issues than he realized? However, he’s sticking with inerrant on all doctrine, just not inerrant on science & history. Says he’ll do less preaching to atheists too.

    Reply
    1. John Arthur

      Hi Sgl,

      Thanks for this. I have just read Gary’s last two posts. It seems that Erhman’s books shook him up somewhat. He sees contradictions in the bible, yet still wants to hold to some form of inerrancy. He sees difficulties in the evidence for a bodily resurrection, but it seems that he will still hold to it BY FAITH even while he now knows of the massive discrepancies in the biblical record.

      If he is going to remain a Christian, I can’t understand why he doesn’t become a liberal. Maybe he enjoys his membership in a Missouri Synod Lutheran church too much to become’liberal’, or he is afraid to say so, or maybe he doesn’t realise it yet that he is on the path to a non ‘orthodox’ Christian faith.

      Shalom,
      John Arthur

      Reply
      1. kat is dreaming

        John,

        I had a very long exchange with Gary, in the comments of the same post where Bruce called him out for trolling. He says he originally turned away from fundamentalism because he never “felt” God in the way his birth church said he should, but he also told me that he couldn’t reconcile God and evil. He did try liberal Christianity but found it shallow.

        He never said why he became a Lutheran rather than anything else, but he seems to have come to terms with theodicy by simply refusing to examine the question as it pertains to God. I think this quote of his says it best: “To us [Orthodox Christians], God is the Almighty King. He is to be obeyed. Period. He is to be obeyed whether we think he is a nice king or a mean king; whether we feel that we love him or not; whether we ‘feel’ his presence or don’t; whether we feel his is looking out for us or not.” (Ah, the security of tyranny!) Liberal Christianity certainly could not give him this impregnable force-field against the question of evil.

        My guess is that he needs to believe, and a conservative sect (Lutheran, in this case) is the easiest way for him to do that. It blows my mind that he still can believe at all, even after reading Ehrman, admitting his reservations about theodicy, and professing moderate social beliefs, but so it is.

        Well, as you read in the post “Sharing my Faith with Non-believers and Ex-Christians,” he’s decided to abandon us un- and ex-believers to the mercy of the Holy Spirit (so much for the Great Commission!), so even if Bruce hadn’t banned him, I doubt he’d be a problem any more. ;-)

        Peace.

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          I saw your patient discussion with him. I appreciate your willingness to do so. I think, after six years of blogging, that I am not as patient as I once was with the Gary’s of life. I appreciate anyone who can still hammer cement and smile while they are doing it. :)

          Reply
    2. Ivan

      Hello Sgl,

      Who is Gary and which Ehrman´s book he finished?

      Reply
      1. sgl

        gary was a fundamentalist who commented on bruce’s blog, with a veneer of civility at first, while having a parallel conversation on his own blog about bruce being easily offended and having to tread lightly. also, he was was grossly misinformed about how reliable the bible is (eg, he thought there were “11 eyewitnesses” to the resurrection that were so solid they would stand up in a court of law.)

        but once challenged, his civility disappeared quickly, so bruce banned him.

        gary blogs at:
        http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/

        he was engaging bruce and others (including myself) in the comments of bruce’s blog, but having a parallel conversation with a very different tone on his own blog.

        gary commented on bruce’s blog sometime last year. more recently, he commented on this post:
        http://brucegerencser.net/2014/02/this-is-what-hatred-in-the-name-of-jesus-looks-like/

        (and probably in the comments of a few other posts about the same time)

        gary’s antics were mentioned by bruce in these posts:
        http://brucegerencser.net/2014/02/many-christians-cant-understand-atheists/
        http://brucegerencser.net/2014/02/christians-hurt-feelings-atheist/

        you can see one of the posts on gary’s own blog about the same time, and the radically different tone:
        http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2014/02/fundamentalist-baptist-pastor-abandons.html

        and finally banned by bruce with the explanation of this post:
        http://brucegerencser.net/2014/02/bruce-sensitive-public-writer/

        the erhman books he read were misquoting jesus and jesus interrupted. after reading the second book, he wrote on his blog 2 posts:
        http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2014/03/my-review-of-jesus-interrupted-by-bart.html
        http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2014/03/sharing-my-faith-with-non-believers-and.html

        so, as you can see, he actually did read the books, and moved the goal-posts slightly, saying the bible is inerrant only on jesus and salvation, not science and history. but it’s pretty contorted pretzel logic, given what he learned, and acknowledges that he learned. all while claiming he gave up fundamentalism a long time ago.

        Reply
  5. Wayne Baxter

    Having pastored different churches for a decade of my life, I agree with much of what you said. It was always so phenomenally frustrating trying to get people to really, systematically dig in to the bible–most just couldn’t be bothered!
    Thanks.

    Reply
  6. Ivan

    Some of the things Bruce wrote, I have commented in other posts.

    But this post in particular is incredible.

    I would like to start my comment with a sentence that Larry C. wrote. He said:

    “I learned to sit back and shut-up instead of trying to challenge my professors”.

    Why so a very few evangelicals can act like that?

    The funny thing is that they want to challenge another person from other denomination. But don´t want to challenge their pastor which they think he knows it all.

    When Bruce says: “Go to their home and look at their bookshelves. What do you see? Most often, what you will see are devotional books, Josh McDowell/Ravi Zacharias type books, or books written by popular Evangelical authors. Rarely will you find books written by non-Evangelical authors. Catholic or liberal authors? Never, since they aren’t even Christians”.

    This is so true!!!

    I would like to say that evangelicals read more books on christian living. There are good books, but most evangelicals lack on apologetic and well reasoned arguments since they do not read other books.
    Larry C. wrote: “I started feeling rather stupid and surprised that there was so much out there that I had never heard of”.
    And this is absolutely true!!!

    I have written before that I am catholic and when I saw Bart Ehrman debate on internet I wanted to know more about the origin of Christianity. I had to search and buy books from Ehrman, FF Bruce, John D. Crossan, EP Sanders (non of them are catholics) and the only catholic I have is Raymond Brown a very liberal priest and historian who died years ago.

    The good thing is that with exception of Ehrman, you could find other authors in a well stocked catholic book store, at least on my country.

    I still haven´t found one evangelical that I could have a well reasoned conversation. They don´t let you talk and they just quote Bible verses like if the Bible was a magic book.

    I think many of them live in a bubble. They feel safe on what they have and that is a reason that they do not want to go further on their curiosity. They hang out evangelicals with evangelicals and that reinforce their likes and dislikes. But when they face a well documented, reasoned, liberal, open minded christian they feel threatened. And instead of take advantage of that and try to learn something, they just back off.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks for sharing this, Ivan.

      Reply
  7. tlethbridge

    I started having issues with the Bible pretty young. Heck, I would take a concordance to youth group with me because I had already learned it was possible to find contradicting verses (I was a little jerk like that). The thing was, I always believed someone smarter than me had the answers. It was not until I started to get motivated to actually know those answers that things began to fall apart and I found more and more problems with my faith. The cognitive dissonance between knowing I was reading what appeared to be contradictions in the Bible and behavior by God that was not at all moral, while at the same time *knowing* that the Bible was inerrant and God was always good finally got to be too much. Even after the process started, I would sometimes put all study on the shelf for months at a time because I could not bear the direction the evidence was leading.

    Reply
  8. richardmarlowe236

    “The point of this post is to get Evangelicals to admit that, for all their I KNOW posturing, they really don’t know.”

    This is exactly the premise of the book I just finished reading, “A Manual For Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian. Have you read it Bruce?

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I have not read this book…yet. On my list of books to read………but the list is getting sssoooooooo long. :)

      Reply
  9. sue

    Bruce, if I am not mistaken, come the Last Day, many will say Lord, Lord,… So, should you be at all surprised that many who post fish stickies may be playing holiness game? One thing this college dropout has learned: to not just assume that the preacher is a perfect Bible database. Any serious minister of the Gospel will, time and time again, exhort the congregation to study on their own. No, I do not search the Scriptures like I ought, but I know enough to know it’s not about my agenda, but His. For decades I did not want to believe, but all along, was that small voice telling me I can’t have things my way. Stupid laundry, why if it was my universe, the clothing would fold itself.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I am surprised you think that I believe there is any such thing as “the last days.” We live and then on the last day we die. End of story.

      Reply
  10. max

    Most Christians in General are like my grandmother. She knows that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and when she dies, Jesus is gonna be waiting with all her dead relatives in Heaven. And that’s about all she knows.

    Reply

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