Questions for evangelicals

I’d like to address a question to a group that is, on the whole, unlikely to frequent my blog: those who would characterize themselves as conservative Christians.

Whether you were brought up in Christianity or accepted it later in life, the chances are overwhelming that you weren’t just taught to accept Jesus as Lord: you were sold an entire package. Whether it was done prior to conversion or immediately subsequently, you adopted a body of teachings on many subjects, doctrine intended to ground you and detox you from the lies of the world. Typically, depending on your particular tradition, you were told that Jesus atones for us by satisfying God’s need to punish people for wrongdoing, hell for unbelievers, the Trinity, and that all our confidence for the preceding proceeds from the non-negotiable truth that the Bible is 100% accurate (with the unspoken presupposition that your tradition’s intepretation of it was correct).

The main question I’d like to ask is this:

When you accepted the faith, did you even consider that there may be at least something in that package that does not belong?

And I don’t mean in the periphery – something big, like the validity of the canon, the Trinity, or something in the creeds. I also want to emphasize that when I say “consider”, I do not mean “anticipate arguments against your beliefs and counteract them with arguments from like-minded apologists,” but “seriously entertain the possibility that an honest examination and evaluation of your beliefs would overturn one or more of them.”

Follow-up questions:

  • If you have not seriously considered the possibility of a mistake in your short list of important doctrines, why not?
  • If you did at one time consider it but have since discarded that doubt, why have you done so?
  • If you have questioned and modified one of your beliefs away from the mainstream evangelical Christian stance (e.g. on evolution, eschatology), how did you justify going against that majority in order to do so? Would you be willing to do so on other important topics (i.e. the virgin birth, etc.)?
  • Do you think that holding the line on beliefs you haven’t critically examined is a justifiable exertion of energy?
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  • Matt

    If you have not seriously considered the possibility of a mistake in your short list of important doctrines, why not?

    * The reason I didn’t seriously consider them was _fear_. It wasn’t until I stopped being afraid that I started considering the mistakes.

    If you did at one time consider it but have since discarded that doubt, why have you done so?

    * Throughout my fearful days I did discard the doubts after considering them because I had no facility to answer the question — because the fear got in the way of obtaining the facility.

    If you have questioned and modified one of your beliefs away from the mainstream evangelical Christian stance (e.g. on evolution, eschatology), how did you justify going against that majority in order to do so? Would you be willing to do so on other important topics (i.e. the virgin birth, etc.)?

    * That’s more difficult to answer in a short space. But, basically, I feel that some element of my tradition respected exploring things in a critical fashion (though admittedly hypocrticially). So, basically, some of the tools were there to make the transition but not all of them.

    Do you think that holding the line on beliefs you haven’t critically examined is a justifiable exertion of energy?

    * I think learning is hard if you don’t really want to learn. I wanted to learn but had obstacles to that learning. Once those obstacles were removed, I changed my mind. So, I’m not sure anybody learns without doing some measure of “holding the line” — perhaps that’s necessary to changing your mind.

  • Matt

    If you have not seriously considered the possibility of a mistake in your short list of important doctrines, why not?

    * The reason I didn’t seriously consider them was _fear_. It wasn’t until I stopped being afraid that I started considering the mistakes.

    If you did at one time consider it but have since discarded that doubt, why have you done so?

    * Throughout my fearful days I did discard the doubts after considering them because I had no facility to answer the question — because the fear got in the way of obtaining the facility.

    If you have questioned and modified one of your beliefs away from the mainstream evangelical Christian stance (e.g. on evolution, eschatology), how did you justify going against that majority in order to do so? Would you be willing to do so on other important topics (i.e. the virgin birth, etc.)?

    * That’s more difficult to answer in a short space. But, basically, I feel that some element of my tradition respected exploring things in a critical fashion (though admittedly hypocrticially). So, basically, some of the tools were there to make the transition but not all of them.

    Do you think that holding the line on beliefs you haven’t critically examined is a justifiable exertion of energy?

    * I think learning is hard if you don’t really want to learn. I wanted to learn but had obstacles to that learning. Once those obstacles were removed, I changed my mind. So, I’m not sure anybody learns without doing some measure of “holding the line” — perhaps that’s necessary to changing your mind.

  • Looking for only current conservative Christians, not former conservative Christians?

    • Not that I’m at all uninterested in the beliefs of people like you and Matt, but I’d really prefer that current conservative Christians answer these questions. This is intended to be more of a thought-provoking exercise for those who haven’t addressed these questions before. Oddly, 6 people (probably not current conservatives) so far have “liked” this post, but no current conservatives have actually answered it here in the comments. That’s fine, I guess, so long as they honestly attempt to come to terms with their answers in their own minds.

  • Looking for only current conservative Christians, not former conservative Christians?

    • Not that I’m at all uninterested in the beliefs of people like you and Matt, but I’d really prefer that current conservative Christians answer these questions. This is intended to be more of a thought-provoking exercise for those who haven’t addressed these questions before. Oddly, 6 people (probably not current conservatives) so far have “liked” this post, but no current conservatives have actually answered it here in the comments. That’s fine, I guess, so long as they honestly attempt to come to terms with their answers in their own minds.

  • Question for Steve:

    Knowing what you know about my journey, would you classify me as a “liberal Christian”? (Serious question here, because I’m wondering if I’m hanging on too tight to the Evangelical Christian label.)
    .-= Mike Beidler´s last blog ..Searching for Truth in "The Truth Project" — Lesson 3: Anthropology — Who Is Man? =-.

    • Matt

      Mike I’d say you are more emergent or progressive. You don’t really qualify as liberal yet as you still cling to several reformed ways of thinking. Just my two cents worth.

    • Mike, I’m not ignoring you. You inspired a new post for tomorrow. 🙂

  • Question for Steve:

    Knowing what you know about my journey, would you classify me as a “liberal Christian”? (Serious question here, because I’m wondering if I’m hanging on too tight to the Evangelical Christian label.)
    .-= Mike Beidler´s last blog ..Searching for Truth in "The Truth Project" — Lesson 3: Anthropology — Who Is Man? =-.

    • Matt

      Mike I’d say you are more emergent or progressive. You don’t really qualify as liberal yet as you still cling to several reformed ways of thinking. Just my two cents worth.

    • Mike, I’m not ignoring you. You inspired a new post for tomorrow. 🙂

  • Matt: Don’t like the “emergent” label as much as the “progressive.” I’m all about absolute truth, as you likely know. “Progressive” sounds so much kinder. 😉

    That being said, what do I have to do to earn the “liberal Christian” label (not that I’m looking to earn it)?

    Sorry, Steve, if this particular conversation is hijacking your thread.
    .-= Mike Beidler´s last blog ..Searching for Truth in "The Truth Project" — Lesson 3: Anthropology — Who Is Man? =-.

    • …what do I have to do to earn the “liberal Christian” label (not that I’m looking to earn it)?

      You just have to jump onto the slippery slope! :^) just kidding

    • Matt

      That’s a good question. “Liberal” and “Conservative” are both slippery terms!

      For me, a ‘liberal’ is a person who hold the name ‘Christian’ only in the sense of the qualities of ‘loving your neighbor’ and sees Scripture has lacking any coherent theme or progression.

  • Matt: Don’t like the “emergent” label as much as the “progressive.” I’m all about absolute truth, as you likely know. “Progressive” sounds so much kinder. 😉

    That being said, what do I have to do to earn the “liberal Christian” label (not that I’m looking to earn it)?

    Sorry, Steve, if this particular conversation is hijacking your thread.
    .-= Mike Beidler´s last blog ..Searching for Truth in "The Truth Project" — Lesson 3: Anthropology — Who Is Man? =-.

    • …what do I have to do to earn the “liberal Christian” label (not that I’m looking to earn it)?

      You just have to jump onto the slippery slope! :^) just kidding

    • Matt

      That’s a good question. “Liberal” and “Conservative” are both slippery terms!

      For me, a ‘liberal’ is a person who hold the name ‘Christian’ only in the sense of the qualities of ‘loving your neighbor’ and sees Scripture has lacking any coherent theme or progression.

  • Hmmm, the conservative evangelical Christianity you assume in this post is not the one that I inhabit. In Britain my evangelical awakening was characterised by bible study with parachurch organisations that were by nature cross-denominational and therefor there was no real package beyond a commitment to a sort of minimal core statement of faith, but it had very fuzzy edges, and when secondary topics are up for discussion, it is much easier for primary topics to be matter of debate also. I was never conscous of subscribing to a package. Later in life, especially in church ministry I became conscious that there were those who were more committed to adherence to a system than to the search for truth and who couldn’t cope with honest questions, but I don’t feel they were the majority, nor were they the ones who gave character to the evengelical movement as a whole in the UK. That may be changing now. Certainly in NZ I feel there is a mix between what you describe and the more open generous Evangelicalism I grew up with.

    But then I don’t think evangelicals have to be “conservative,” if anything i expect them to be politically radical, but again i am betraying my roots there. 🙂

    • Jonathan,

      Hmmm, the conservative evangelical Christianity you assume in this post is not the one that I inhabit.

      That is as may be, but this just proves the point that what I call “conservative evangelical Christianity” is, relative to other brands of evangelicalism, indeed conservative.

      But then I don’t think evangelicals have to be “conservative,”…

      Oh, I don’t either — that’s why I qualified it with “conservative”. 😀 Fact is, though, that in my world (the U.S.), conservative evangelicals are considered “normal” conservatives.

      Stay tuned for my upcoming post with a tentative categorization of some of these terms.

  • Hmmm, the conservative evangelical Christianity you assume in this post is not the one that I inhabit. In Britain my evangelical awakening was characterised by bible study with parachurch organisations that were by nature cross-denominational and therefor there was no real package beyond a commitment to a sort of minimal core statement of faith, but it had very fuzzy edges, and when secondary topics are up for discussion, it is much easier for primary topics to be matter of debate also. I was never conscous of subscribing to a package. Later in life, especially in church ministry I became conscious that there were those who were more committed to adherence to a system than to the search for truth and who couldn’t cope with honest questions, but I don’t feel they were the majority, nor were they the ones who gave character to the evengelical movement as a whole in the UK. That may be changing now. Certainly in NZ I feel there is a mix between what you describe and the more open generous Evangelicalism I grew up with.

    But then I don’t think evangelicals have to be “conservative,” if anything i expect them to be politically radical, but again i am betraying my roots there. 🙂

    • Jonathan,

      Hmmm, the conservative evangelical Christianity you assume in this post is not the one that I inhabit.

      That is as may be, but this just proves the point that what I call “conservative evangelical Christianity” is, relative to other brands of evangelicalism, indeed conservative.

      But then I don’t think evangelicals have to be “conservative,”…

      Oh, I don’t either — that’s why I qualified it with “conservative”. 😀 Fact is, though, that in my world (the U.S.), conservative evangelicals are considered “normal” conservatives.

      Stay tuned for my upcoming post with a tentative categorization of some of these terms.

  • Not sure how you’d classify me, but I’ll take a stab at your questions [smile]:

    When you accepted the faith, did you even consider that there may be at least something in that package that does not belong?

    I grew up a Christian, so I can’t separate “when I accepted the faith” and when I hadn’t. But my parents, over the years as I grew, did occasionally drop hints and questions that called into question some of the themes and ideas often accepted as fact. So, yes: It was possible, from an early age, that there were elements in “the package” that should not be there or prove to be false. But really “big” stuff? No. Not really.

    If you have not seriously considered the possibility of a mistake in your short list of important doctrines, why not?

    I’m not sure what your definition of “seriously” is. I’ve listened with mild interest when my brother talks to me about the problems with the Canon, the idea of Universalism and the like. I also listen to my dad’s latest research into the whole Old Earth/what-have-you investigation. But, as of yet, I have not found any of those possible mistakes to be of immediate importance or personal interest to make time for it in my busy life.

    If you did at one time consider it but have since discarded that doubt, why have you done so?

    I haven’t discarded doubt. But I haven’t embraced it as a lifestyle either.

    If you have questioned and modified one of your beliefs away from the mainstream evangelical Christian stance (e.g. on evolution, eschatology), how did you justify going against that majority in order to do so?

    This isn’t one of your topics, but I am currently working on a book that completely turns the current view of lust and relationships on it’s head. I think we’re right and we’re working on a solid presentation for why we believe we are [smile].

    Would you be willing to do so on other important topics (i.e. the virgin birth, etc.)?

    [shrug] Don’t know.

    Do you think that holding the line on beliefs you haven’t critically examined is a justifiable exertion of energy?

    Perhaps not. Which is why I don’t exert too much energy on it. I’ll happily listen to ideas and see if my own hold up, but I have yet to feel the imperative drive necessary to get me out there and researching some of this stuff.

    All that to say: I guess I pick my battles and these are one of them I feel the need to fight right now.

    But I am interested in truth. So, I like these topics. I just don’t have the time to immerse myself in them…

    ~Luke
    .-= Luke Holzmann´s last blog ..A Benefit of Reading: Love to Learn =-.

    • Luke,

      From our previous interaction, I must say that I am not at all surprised by your responses. Thanks for being one of the few self-identifying evangelicals (at least I guess you self-identify as evangelical?) to respond! I suppose it’s not surprising that your type of evangelical comfortable with agnosticism on these issues (whatever you want to label it) to be comfortable enough responding to these questions. 🙂

  • Not sure how you’d classify me, but I’ll take a stab at your questions [smile]:

    When you accepted the faith, did you even consider that there may be at least something in that package that does not belong?

    I grew up a Christian, so I can’t separate “when I accepted the faith” and when I hadn’t. But my parents, over the years as I grew, did occasionally drop hints and questions that called into question some of the themes and ideas often accepted as fact. So, yes: It was possible, from an early age, that there were elements in “the package” that should not be there or prove to be false. But really “big” stuff? No. Not really.

    If you have not seriously considered the possibility of a mistake in your short list of important doctrines, why not?

    I’m not sure what your definition of “seriously” is. I’ve listened with mild interest when my brother talks to me about the problems with the Canon, the idea of Universalism and the like. I also listen to my dad’s latest research into the whole Old Earth/what-have-you investigation. But, as of yet, I have not found any of those possible mistakes to be of immediate importance or personal interest to make time for it in my busy life.

    If you did at one time consider it but have since discarded that doubt, why have you done so?

    I haven’t discarded doubt. But I haven’t embraced it as a lifestyle either.

    If you have questioned and modified one of your beliefs away from the mainstream evangelical Christian stance (e.g. on evolution, eschatology), how did you justify going against that majority in order to do so?

    This isn’t one of your topics, but I am currently working on a book that completely turns the current view of lust and relationships on it’s head. I think we’re right and we’re working on a solid presentation for why we believe we are [smile].

    Would you be willing to do so on other important topics (i.e. the virgin birth, etc.)?

    [shrug] Don’t know.

    Do you think that holding the line on beliefs you haven’t critically examined is a justifiable exertion of energy?

    Perhaps not. Which is why I don’t exert too much energy on it. I’ll happily listen to ideas and see if my own hold up, but I have yet to feel the imperative drive necessary to get me out there and researching some of this stuff.

    All that to say: I guess I pick my battles and these are one of them I feel the need to fight right now.

    But I am interested in truth. So, I like these topics. I just don’t have the time to immerse myself in them…

    ~Luke
    .-= Luke Holzmann´s last blog ..A Benefit of Reading: Love to Learn =-.

    • Luke,

      From our previous interaction, I must say that I am not at all surprised by your responses. Thanks for being one of the few self-identifying evangelicals (at least I guess you self-identify as evangelical?) to respond! I suppose it’s not surprising that your type of evangelical comfortable with agnosticism on these issues (whatever you want to label it) to be comfortable enough responding to these questions. 🙂

  • Steve,

    If you don’t mind me asking…

    I know where you stand on some issues (e.g. you do not hold to inerrancy; you are an evolutionist), however, I have always been curious as to where you stand on even bigger issues. Would you classify yourself as Trinitarian/Unitarian/Other?

    I accepted the whole package when I ‘converted’ about 10 years ago. However, since that time I have come to change my mind on quite a few things I accepted as part of the Christian package. For example,

    I went from being the standard pre-trib pre-mill Left-Behind reading guy, to being a (full?) preterist.

    I went from holding full inerrancy of the Bible, to rejecting inerrancy as an unfair and unnecessary assumption.

    Part of the Christian package I also accepted was a whole 2000 year old history of Christological controversies, councils, and creeds. While I have investigated the matters behind all the differing Christologies, it was all under a few assumptions that I now reject (e.g. inerrancy of scripture, the univocal theology of Scripture, the inerrancy of Church tradition, etc).

    As someone who seems to have taken the same trip as I have down the yellow brick road, have you changed your mind on some of the central shibboleths of traditional historic Christianity?