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Alf Cengia Thinks He Knows Why People Reject the Bible. Hint: He Doesn’t

bible inerrancy

Another day, another Evangelical who thinks he is Carnac the Magnificent when it comes to knowing what atheists, agnostics, liberal Christians, and other unbelievers really believe.

Alf Cengia recently wrote an article for the Evangelical website Sharper Iron titled Why Do People Reject the Bible? Cengia gave several reasons why people (non-Christians) reject the Bible:

  • People reject the Bible because they suspect the Bible contains truth, and if it does they would have to change their lives
  • People reject the Bible because they don’t like what the Bible says about itself
  • People reject the Bible because they don’t want it to be true
  • People reject the Bible because it’s seen as an imposition on the lives they want to live for themselves

Cengia goes on to make two overarching statements:

  • People know the truth and suppress it
  • The Bible is self-attesting

Cengia uses the late Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber (both Christians) as examples of people who justify the premise of his post:

A classic example is Nadia Bolz-Weber. Chapter 2 of her book Pastrix begins with citing 1 Timothy 2:11-12. At its conclusion, she thanks her parents for blessing her desire to become a pastor. Sorry Paul, Nadia did what she wanted to do.

The same can be said of Rachel Held Evans. She wrote Inspired in order to introduce her readers to an un-inspired Bible, which she insisted ought to be loved despite imperfections—perhaps like a dithering beloved family member with dementia. I guess RHE felt she needed to maintain a foot in Christianity; hence, couldn’t totally abandon it.

Bolz-Weber, RHE and a slew of deconstructionists didn’t reject Scripture because it is a fallible outdated document. They know the truth and suppress it because they refuse to submit to God’s authority.

Cengia is a presuppositionalist. In his mind, the Bible is true because it says it is true. Further, people know the Bible is true because the Bible says they know it’s true. Got that? Non-Christians, or even some Christians such as Bloz-Weber and Held-Evans deliberately, and with full knowledge, reject some of the Bible’s truth claims. Cengia believes the Bible is inerrant and infallible, so, for him, whatever the Bible says is absolute truth. People who reject Cengia’s claims do so because they reject what they know to be true. This claim, of course, is patently false.

Presuppositionalists such as Cengia think they can ignore demands for evidence for their claims because, in their minds, the truthiness of their claims is self-evident. Of course, as an atheist and a materialist, I reject such claims out of hand. If Cengia wants to convince me (and others) of his claims, he is going to have to do more than say, “it’s true because I (God/Bible) says it is.” Cengia sees no need for providing evidence for the claims he makes about the Bible. We know the Bible is not inerrant or infallible (neither translationally or in the non-existent original manuscripts). Further, I have yet to see evidence for the claim that the sixty-six books of the Protestant Christian Bible are God’s Word or written by mostly unknown men who were supernaturally inspired by God. Those are faith claims.

Cengia concludes his post by making by this fantastical claim:

One cannot find a comparable work of non-Christian faith which spans thousands of years, with multiple authors, yet telling a cohesive non-contradictory story.

The Bible tells a “cohesive non-contradictory story”? Really? In what universe? As someone who spent 50 years in Evangelicalism, pastored churches for twenty-five years, and spent over 20,000 hours (on average, 20 hours a week) reading and studying the Bible, I can confidently say that Cengia’s claim cannot be rationally sustained. I understand “why” Cengia believes what he does. After all, I once believed the same things. And as long as I only read Evangelical authors, my beliefs were safe and secure. However, once I started reading authors such as John Shelby Spong, Bart Ehrman, and other scholars, I quickly learned that my beliefs about the Bible were not true.

As far as the Bible being a cohesive narrative, if that is so, why have Christians been arguing nonstop about that “cohesive” narrative for 2,000 years? Why are there thousands and thousands of Christian sects, each believing they are absolutely right? Why can’t Christians even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, and communion? Every sect sees a cohesive narrative, as, of course, interpreted by them. Landmark Baptists look at the Bible (and church history) and see an unbroken line of Baptist purity. Roman Catholics do the same. Some sects start their narrative in Genesis, others start with the Gospels. The claim that there is a “cohesive narrative” in the Bible simply cannot in any meaningful way be rationally sustained.

In 2008 I walked away from Christianity. While the reasons for my deconversion are many, one simple fact brought my house down: the claim that the Bible is inerrant and infallible was untrue. Once the Bible lost its authoritative hold over me, I was then free to re-investigate the central claims of claims of Christianity. I concluded that these “truths” were, in fact, myths. None of Cengia’s claims played any part in my loss of faith. Will he accept my story at face value? Probably not. Why? The Bible is true because the Bible says it is true. End of discussion.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    Has Mr Cengia even read the Bible? A bunch of stories that conflict with each other, and tell the tale about a blood-thirsty, vengeful God? Or a God who actually forgives because he requires his son to die? Even when I was a Christian, I struggled with these beliefs.

  2. Avatar
    GeoffT

    The bible makes perfect sense…until you actually read it. Obviously there’s the appalling morality, whereby entire races are wiped from the face of the earth in a single flick of God’s wrist (anyone who doesn’t realise the clear man inspired tribal hatred at play isn’t concentrating), but I’ve started noticing the much more subtle and nuanced implications. My present favourite is realising that the nativity story, so beloved of children (actually everyone), is based on a glorified story of rape, or at the least the unlawful implanting of sperm in a woman without her consent. I have no serious doubt that the entire story is fabricated, but even that is revealing of the mindset of those who wrote it, treating a woman as nothing more than a child producing agent.

  3. Avatar
    JW

    I can’t even count how many articles I’ve read on why people reject Christianity and/or the Bible. The authors’ conclusions are the same in almost every single one. Yet, it is rare to find an article where the author actually did any research, something crazy like asking people why they reject the Bible as “The Truth”.

    I have read through the Bible multiple times in multiple versions including NIV, NKJV, NASB and others, even large portions from KJV (no comment on the KJV-only cult). I have read through individual books and passages dozens, maybe hundreds of time, the New Testament more than the Old. I began my readings with a prayer for God to reveal his truth to me through his word and to reveal what he wanted me to glean from his word that very day. Yet, the more I read, the more I questioned and God, who is supposedly not a God of confusion, did nothing to grant the clarity I was asking for nor preserve my faith.

    One study Bible in the NKJV was filled with helpful commentary on the historical context of many passages, things like the similarity of Hebrew rituals and stories to cultural beliefs and practices from competing people-groups in the ancient near east, many of which pre-date the Biblical record by quite a bit. I assume the publisher’s intent was to strengthen the narrative, but it also gave me starting points to research the “Biblical History” I had been taught for decades. A lot of that “history” isn’t historical at all, not to mention the whole scientific earth-history contradictions. Once some of the “Truth” began to unravel, I had wonder how much of the rest of was true.

    The Bible states that the Holy Spirit would make things clear. I prayed and prayed, in increasing emotional turmoil, for the faith and discernment to understand and accept the truth of the Bible. I bought and devoured apologetic resources and Christian lifestyle books to beat down my doubts. Yet here I am. If there is a God, he ignores my prayers. Decades of following him (in the manner of my evangelical tradition) evaporated when I found I couldn’t believe the Bible was what I’d always been taught and that God/Jesus apparently did not desire a relationship with me.

    None of this matters. Even if an evangelical blogger bothers to read my experience, I know they will just dismiss it and say something like “Your problem is that your sin is blinding you to the truth. You don’t really want to believe so you tell yourself that it can’t be true.” I was equally dismissive in the past, so I deserve it.

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    JW, your experience is exactly the type of experience that folks like Alf don’t want to hear, or want to chalk up to deception by Satan. I went through a lot of the same type of study and angst that you did. My kids who were raised nonreligious just dismiss the Bible in the same way they dismiss Greek mythology, or Egyptian mythology, or Norse mythology, or any other set of myths. It isn’t even a struggle for them to see the writings in the Bible for what they are – a collection of oral stories passed down and written and rewritten. There’s no magic or presupposition of deity influence. They’re just stories.

  5. Avatar
    JW

    Since I started coming to Bruce’s site more than a year ago (looking for people with similar experiences), I’ve learned a lot of us don’t fit the mold. Pastors worried about university, specifically liberal public university, destroying young peoples’ faith (strange since if the Holy Spirit was with them that should not be possible). Yet, many of the folks here, like myself, made it well into adulthood before our faiths unraveled.

    As a STEM student since high school, I had issues with the literal Genesis account, but figured theistic evolution or ID solved the problem. The flood was easier to dismiss; a localized event still worked with my theology and my churches considered those “secondary” to the gospel anyway. It wasn’t until middle age began to loom that I was “inspired” to really start to dig into my faith, to make sure it was really my faith and not just the faith of my parents and my pastors. The Bible/Paul commands we do that-examine ourselves to make sure we are in the faith.

    It turns out that more of the Bible then I expected depended on a literal Genesis interpretation. That demanded some mental gymnastics that I just could not keep up. Then the historical problems, and of course the sheer brutality from a “loving” God. I can not accept that God could exempt himself from the standards of morality that he commands me to follow; the argument “he’s God, you’re not” didn’t make sense if I’m created in his image.

    I appealed to the ultimate evangelical authority (per my churches’ opinions) on the reliability of the Bible and read Josh McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” cover-to-cover (yes, I really did, every single page of it-it took a long time). However, I didn’t take Josh’s word for it. I looked up many of his sources. To be fair, some of his information is supported by archeology and historical records. However, he also likes to appeal to authority and he frequently draws different conclusions than many of the experts he cites. Some the “evidence” flat out contradicted the very conclusions he was trying to make.

    I’m pretty sure many of the Christians I grew up with, and the ones I watched grow up, do not read their Bibles. Not cover-to-cover. They open them at church (if they even bring them) and follow along with the passage of the day, but that may be about it. Reading the Bible without questioning it isn’t study. Studying was its’ undoing for me.

    Maybe if I was raised in a faith that took the Bible as allegory I wouldn’t be where I am today, but I wasn’t and here I am.

    • Avatar
      Kel

      JW, thanks for sharing your story.

      You are right that a lot of Christian doctrines depend on Genesis being the literal truth. Jesus’ seeming acceptance of a historical Adam, Paul’s “first Adam, second Adam” arguments. It was very difficult for me to abandon an ingrained belief in Biblical innerancy.

      Some with less dogmatic views of innerancy would argue that any errors in the Bible are easy-to-spot scribal errors and only “the original manuscript” – which we don’t currently have, conveniently enough – is free of all errors.

      Funnily enough, I used to have such a high view of the Bible that I once tried to memorise the genealogy of the patriarchs. Why? Because those accounts are equally holy!

      Then I ran across two contradictory lists of Esau’s wives, one given in Genesis 26 & 28, and another one in Genesis 36. It was rather obvious, to me at least, that the scribes got confused. In one account, Basemath is a daughter of a Hittite, in the other she is the daughter of Ishmael. And no, these women having aliases is not a good explanation and is “question-begging”.

      If the scribes got this fact wrong, how about many other things in the Bible? If our current copy contains mistakes in such trivial matters, could we trust the more weighty matters?
      After all, Jesus himself said that one has to be faithful in the “small things” before one has any chance of being entrusted with the “greater things”.

  6. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    JW–One thing you have in common with Obstacle and other commenters on this blog–and, of course, Bruce himself: You’ve read and studied the Bible and so much related to it. The funny thing is that, for some of us, that–and not “evil” secular education–is what led us to our un-belief. Geoff put it really well: “The Bible makes perfect sense…until you actually read it.”

    BJW–I, too, struggled with those beliefs, even when I was a fervent (by my standards, anyway) Evangelical Christian. But I wanted so, so, badly to believe in something that could explain why I ended up in the world–and the body–I was in.

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Bruce Gerencser