Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is the inspired (God breathed), inerrant Word of God. They believe the text of the Christian Bible is without error and they are certain that every word in the Bible is the very words of God. (either spoken or inspired by God)
While many Evangelical pastors and professors don’t really believe the Bible is inerrant, they continue to preach the inerrancy myth from the pulpit and in their college classrooms. These Evangelicals late at night get out a flashlight, pull the covers over their head, and secretly read one of Bart Ehrman’s books. They will never tell anyone about this lest they lose their job. But, when it comes to the people in the First Baptist Church pew, I’ve never met an Evangelical Christian who didn’t believe every word in the Bible is true. They are certain that the leather-bound Bible they carry to church every Sunday is the very words of God.
Evangelicals are told from their youth up that the Bible can be understood by anyone, even a child. Why then are there so many theology books if the Bible is so simple it can be understood by a child? The fact is, the Bible is anything BUT a simple book. It is a book that must be interpreted and this is where Evangelicals get themselves into trouble. They think, the Bible is God’s Word, it is so simple a child can understand it, I have read it, and I understand it, thus my interpretation of the Bible is exactly what God said. This kind of thinking leads to arrogance. When a person is absolutely convinced they are absolutely right, they no longer have to consider competing ideas or interpretations. This is why most Evangelicals are closed minded about any God or belief but their own
All Evangelicals are theological Fundamentalists. (see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) The doctrine of inerrancy requires the Evangelical to have a fundamentalist view of the Bible. In most cases, Evangelicals are also social fundamentalists who take their inspired, inerrant Bible and strictly apply it to every aspect of their lives. They believe that everything in their lives is governed by what the Bible says. It is theological and social fundamentalism that is driving Evangelicals as they wage war against secularism, atheism, pluralism, abortion, same-sex marriage, and homosexuality.
Evangelicalism is a large tent, so it is impossible to point to one group and say, this is Evangelicalism. On one end of the spectrum you have the hip relational preachers found at nondescript megachurches and on the other end of the spectrum you find the fire and brimstone preachers of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Every Evangelical church falls in between these two extremes. Some are Calvinist, others are Arminian, but the one thing that binds them together is the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God.
In most Evangelical churches the pastor is considered a person uniquely called by God to preach and teach the Bible. Their words are given great weight and authority because God leads and directs them as they preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Some pastors are laid back, more of a teacher or a professor, while others are animated foot stomping, pulpit pounding preachers. Regardless of their style or methodology, every Evangelical pastor believes they are speaking the words of God to the people of God and the people of God believe, through the preaching and the inward work of the Holy Spirit, that God is speaking to them.
In most Evangelical churches diversity of belief is discouraged, and in some churches it is forbidden. After all, if the Bible is inerrant then there can only be ONE correct interpretation of the Bible, right? While Evangelicals skirmish over peripheral doctrines and peculiar beliefs, there is a core set of doctrines every Evangelical must believe. Don’t believe these things? Then you are not an Evangelical.
Currently, Evangelicalism is going through great upheaval over beliefs that were once were considered cardinal doctrines of the faith. Thanks to postmodernism, concrete doctrines like creationism, eternal punishment for unbelievers, God’s omniscience, the exclusivity of the Evangelical gospel, and whether a homosexual can be a Christian are now being attacked and challenged. Politically, an increasing number of Evangelicals are moving towards the left, rejecting the conservative, Republican values of yesteryear. While most Evangelicals are Republicans and support some or all of the tenets of the culture war, there are a small number of Evangelicals, mostly young adults, who are no longer willing to blindly accept the politics of their church, pastor, and parents. The question for me is at what point in this postmodern, questioning move to the left does a church, pastor, and individual church member cease to be Evangelical?
During the George W Bush administration and the run up to the War in Iraq, we saw a good example of how fundamentalism works. George Bush and his administration were certain their beliefs about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and weapons of mass destruction were infallibly right. Fourteen years and hundreds of thousands of deaths later, we now know that virtually every belief peddled by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld was wrong. Yet, to this day, none of the architects of the Iraq war are willing to admit that they were wrong. They are certain that their beliefs were/are correct, and in the case of George Bush, the Christian God was/is on their side.
If I took a political party survey at the average Evangelical church I’m sure I’d find that most church members are either Republican or Libertarian and come the first Tuesday in November 2016 they will vote for the Republican candidate for President. I am sure there are a few Evangelicals who are Democrats, but they, like gay or bisexual church members, are way in the back of the closet. While church members are told to vote their “conscience”, everyone knows that voting your conscience means voting exactly the way
God the pastor tells you to vote. To vote differently means going against the man of God, the Word of God, and God himself, and no one want to do that, right? Again, things are changing in the Evangelical church, but lets not mistake ripples on the pond for a tsunami.
Challenges to core beliefs is not permitted. Those who think for themselves or believe differently than the pastor are told they are not right with God or that they are backslidden; they are told their “discerner” is broke and that they need to listen to their pastor. Those who refuse to conform end up marginalized, disciplined, or asked to leave the church. Evangelical churches go through quite a bit of membership churn. There is a steady stream of people going out the back door as new people come in the front, with most new people coming from other churches.
The lifeblood that courses through the veins of Evangelical Christianity is the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God. To the Evangelical, the Bible is not just a collection of words, chapters, and books written by humans as they try to explain their understanding of God and the world. The Bible is God’s words, a supernatural book given to fallible humans by a supernatural God. Every book, every sentence, and every word is truth. When an Evangelical reads the Bible they believe they are reading the very words of God. They can know exactly what God’s truth is by reading and studying the Bible. In the Evangelical’s mind, the Bible is THUS SAITH THE LORD!
Since most Evangelicals are, to some degree or the other, literalists, it becomes quite easy for them to develop rigid beliefs, and as their certainty grows the more likely they are to see themselves as right and everyone else wrong. Is it any wonder that this kind of thinking turns people into haters? Is it any wonder that people raised in this kind of environment lack the necessary skills to make sound, reasoned judgments about the world they live in? This is the kind of thinking that gives us Fred Phelps, Al Mohler, John MacArthur, Joyce Meyers, Rod Parsley, James Dobson, Franklin Graham, Ken Ham, Matt Chandler, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Richard Land, Andy Stanley, Charles Stanley, Tony Perkins, David Barton, TD Jakes, Brad Powell, Rick Furtick, Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, and a plethora of parachurch groups dedicated to waging war on an unbelieving, sinful, and wicked culture.
According to a 2014 Gallup Poll, 28% of Americans believe the Bible is the actual Word of God and should be taken literally. 47% of Americans believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally. This means that three out four American believe the Bible is the Word of God. (The good news is that 21% of Americans now believe the Bible is an “ancient book of fables,legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man. The percentage of Americans who believed this in 1976 was 13%) According to a 2012 Gallup Poll, 46% of Americans believe God created humans in their present form (creationism) and 32% of Americans believe humans evolved with God guiding the process (theistic evolution). In other words, three out of four Americans believe God is the creator of everything. Only 15% of American believe humans evolved, but God had no part in the process.
Depressing, isn’t it? While secularism, humanism, and atheism are making inroads, the vast majority of Americans still believe the Bible is the Word of God, a unique book different from every other book ever written. The only way to reach people like this is to attack their foundational belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. If they can be brought to see that the Bible is not what they claim it is, there is hope for them. Sadly, most Evangelicals will die with their fingers clenched around a book they consider the words of God. When you take a high road position like inerrancy it is hard to back up. To admit the Bible is not inerrant is to admit you are wrong and Evangelicals rarely admit they are wrong. Those who do do so on their way OUT the doors of the Evangelical church.
Since every Evangelical believes there is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain, believing and practicing the teachings of the Bible is essential. While Evangelicals will tell you that they preach a gospel of grace, what they really preach is a gospel of right belief. Believe THIS and thou shalt live in heaven forever with God; don’t believe THIS and thou shalt live in hell forever with the Devil and his angels. Evangelicals are taught that this present life is preparation for life beyond the grave. Believing the right things is important because that is what gets your ticket to heaven punched. Is it any wonder that most Evangelicals will leave this life firm in their belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God? Too much rests on believing this for them to ever question or doubt.
I HATED being forced to vote for Republican candidates every election (when I was a believer) because it was the only party that was pro-life and anti-gay and agreed with the church views. As if these two issues were the only ones God cared about? I always felt politics and religion should never mix, but our Southern Baptist preacher had to bring up those two issues all the time. You are either for God or against Him!
Makes you wonder, how much influence in politics do churches really have? I think they have much more influence than they should. There’s is more to this country than gays and abortion, but the God would disagree.
I think on the conservative end of the spectrum churches exert a great influence on how people vote. I’m sure there are some on the liberal end of the spectrum, but nowhere near as many as on the right. While I never told church members who to vote for, I made sure they understood how to choose the “right” candidate. with the “right” candidate always being the Republican.
After careful observation, I have come to the conclusion that while fundamentalists will claim that they believe that the Bible is literally true, not one of them actually believes that when it comes right down to it. What they tend to believe, in my experience, is what they’ve been told to believe by church authorities. Very few seem to have actually read the Bible.
While there are exceptions, that has largely been my experience as well.
Mine too. I’ve met plenty of fundamentalists who parrot whatever their pastor says, no matter how illogical.
As for few fundies having read the Bible, I think you’re on to something. When I’ve pointed out disturbing Biblical passages to fundamentalist friends, they were genuinely shocked, as if they were seeing those passages for the first time. Even though these people claimed to have read the Bible from cover to cover, I doubt that they actually digested what they were reading.
I think you are right. In fact, I think church members would be surprised how little their pastor reads the Bible. So much time is spent studying for sermons that many preachers have little time for just reading the Bible.
It’s impossible for the bible to be the literal, inerrant truth, there are far too many contradictions. To address these contradictions, which even the most fundamental seem to acknowledge, requires re-interpretation of the text (I use the word generously, seeing it more as re-writing to suit).
The moment that the text is changed so as to reflect the ‘re-interpretation, then it ceases to be the ‘literal’ truth. If something written is intended to mean something other than the words used then use of the word literal is incorrect.
They obviously do not believe that the Bible is inerrant. I never saw a reference to Welch’s Grape Juice in it.
The Bible says wine (even the KJV).
They have elaborate arguments for why it was not alcoholic wine, but even as a fundamentalist I knew the wine of the Bible was fermented.
It is about feeling good, not literal truth. When it comes down to it, any pastor-personality with a bit of effort can tell people what is true and what isn’t. If what the preacher says, triggers the endorphins in the listener, then they are on the way to glory. That same pastor, once he has affected the listener, can abuse them negatively too, call them sinners and backsliders and worthless in God’s sight. People love to be kicked around like this because it triggers old patterns in their lives, a familiar denial.
Please add Doug Wilson to the long list of abusive pricks.
Doug Wilson is a Top Five abusive prick. I used to get his magazine when I was a pastor.
He also concealed sexual abuse. One of Wilson’s handsome young adult male proteges came to live with a family that belonged to Wilson’s church, a family with a 14 year old daughter. The protege groomed this girl and eventually had sex with the girl. When the news came out, Wilson and his church minions protected the protege and ignored the girl. She was blamed for the protege’s sexual assault and Wilson had the gall to blame the girl’s father for the sexual assaults. Finally the protege received a shamefully lenient sentence for his sexual assaults. Needless to say, the girl, now a married woman, and her family left Wilson’s church.
Yesterday, I read a forum post where the 4 ressurrection stories of the gospels were compared. They differ quite a lot, for instance, only one of them mentions an earthquake when the women visit the empty grave. Not mentioning the names of all present (also differs in each one) could be overlooked, I suppose, but if there was an earthquake, you’d think all 4 gospels would mention it. The same goes for the dead souls who appeared when Jesus died. Hard to believe they forgot to mention something as big as that!
Even as a fundamentalist Evangelical, I heard of two Bible stories that were not universally believed even by the most strict christians: the dead people rising at Jesus’ death and the sons of God sleeping with the daughters of men before the flood. Obviously these people were wrong… it said so in the Bible, didn’t it? My parents taught me that these Christians were uncomfortable about these Scriptures. I wonder why 😉 ? This sons of god sleeping with daughters of men totally freaked me out… Such a creepy idea, like supernatural rape, and I was already petrified of demons without learning about this tale. Of course, it was the sole reason for the flood so reasoning it away would make God an evil god killing people over nothing. These people had consorted with demons, creating giants in the process, and that is why they and their offspring had to be killed, providing God with a justification for mass murder.
So, yes, everything had to be believed literally, even the most horrible and fantastical stories. Jonah springs to mind as well. I’ve read the entire Bible once, I took me an awful long time (I had this paint-document where I crossed out the chapters and Bible books I’d finished), especially the laws, and Kings and Chronicles which are more or less the same… but I didn’t notice any of the discrepancies. It was such a relief when I’d finally finished though and I knew I wasn’t up for it again any time soon which was clearly a bad thought.
I guess it was just one of those things I felt I had to do to please God. How could I be a proper Christian without even having read God’s entire Word, right? I had a lot of these fears and rules, always afraid God would strike me down like Ananias. When I first read the description of religious OCD or Scrupulosity, it felt eerily close to my faith experiences. Always looking over my shoulder, afraid of doing something wrong. I learnt about this form of OCD somewhere in the middle of my journey towards deconversion and I remember feeling that maybe it had made my faith darker than it could be. That it was responsible for me feeling so unsatisfied about my faith….so that was an explanation for a while, until I began to feel that God had not helped me with it either: not with depression, not with possible OCD. What the hell was he for if not to help his people?
Many Christians don’t struggle with the things you mention. They are quite happy to have fire insurance and a golden ticket to heaven, end of commitment to Jesus. It’s those of us who took our faith seriously that often had the struggles you mention. Jesus told us to deny ourselves, take our cross, and follow him. I remember the mental and emotional struggles over whether I had truly denied self. Even to this day, I have troubles with this. This kind of thinking taught me that enjoying life and pleasing self was wrong. Jesus first, others second, yourself last, right?
Yes, it does seem as if the more serious you are about your faith, the more difficult and less fullfilling it is. But then you’re sold the opposite… the more you give Jesus, the happier you’re supposed to be. I often envied Christians who seemed a lot more relaxed about their faith than I was.
Self-denial can be a pretty bad thing to learn, I think. Mostly because the people who are already inclined to do so, take it to heart most, and may lose themselves altogether. I nearly did, I think. It became so unclear at one point what I thought, what I wanted, who I was… I simply didn’t know anymore and had to sift through my (learnt) opinions and beliefs to figure out who I was underneath all that.
Thanks for mentioning Bart Ehrman. He is a really good writer who cuts through the nonsense.
Thank you for posting! I went through everything described in this article growing up evangelical, and now I’m thankfully no longer thus, and my mind is much more open to knowledge enlightenment and reason. This is the best article I’ve seen so far written on the pattern of thought and the resulting behavior that takes place in fundie churches. No thanks! I’ve had my full of it and you captured it perfectly. I should direct my evangelical friends to this article to “consider their ways” lol