…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.
The Bible 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.
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.)
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?