Once my parents and in-laws were aware of my doubts, the clock was ticking. Doubts as serious as mine obviously needed to be resolved, or I would be in danger of apostasy. Family get-togethers became weird at this point, because my doubts were always the elephant in the room. Periodically, people would ask how things were coming along, and I always replied that I was still studying — didn’t have things figured out yet, but I felt sure that the answers would be forthcoming. Though as time went on, I was less and less sure that any answers actually existed.
Aside from my wife and maybe one other person, no one really studied along with me. I had plenty of people that suggested reading material to me, but it was always apologetic in nature. I sometimes wonder how it would have been if they had done the kind of study that I was doing and also looked at the skeptical arguments. I had at least one person tell me that they would never read things from a skeptical perspective, because they didn’t want to lose their faith. This didn’t make any sense to me. The Bible is filled with admonitions encouraging people to test spiritual claims (1 John 4:1, 1 Thess 5:21, Matt 7:7, Deut 18:22). And if what we believed in the church of Christ was true, how could we possibly lose our faith in it through rigorous study? It seemed to me that critically analyzing our beliefs would only bolster our faith, as long as what we believed was true. Furthermore, if we weren’t willing to question our beliefs, why did we think people in “false” religions should question theirs?
In May of 2010, I decided to write out the main problems with the Bible and Christianity that were bothering me. It was around 15 pages and it mostly covered Bible contradictions and failed prophecies — in fact, many of the same things that are linked in my About section. I gave this document to the handful of people who knew about my doubts as a sort of “quick reference” to explain what I saw as problem areas. Some copies of this document were spread around a bit in an effort to find answers from various preachers or researchers who might be more knowledgeable. As far as I know, none of those people ever replied to it directly.
However, I was eventually put in touch with a preacher and college professor in the Tampa area who taught classes in biblical studies and philosophy. We’ll call him “Roy.” Roy was kind enough to engage in an email correspondence with me for 2 very intense weeks. We usually emailed each other multiple times each day during that period, till we finally felt that we just had nothing else to say. It was so nice to talk to someone who was actually familiar with all the material I was referencing. Up to that point, most of the friends or family I spoke to just didn’t know much about how we got the Bible or the historical settings for many of the books within it. But Roy knew the criticisms of the Bible (and Christianity as a whole) — he knew all the arguments and counter-arguments.
About 2 weeks before we began emailing each other, I had told my congregation that I didn’t feel comfortable taking a public role in the service until I had worked out these issues. It wasn’t easy telling them that, and it finally made everyone else aware of my struggles. I mentioned this in my first email to Roy when I told him more about myself. I think this section also does a good job of illustrating why I’d always believed biblical inerrancy and objectivity were so important:
I’d also like to tell you a little about myself. I’m not a novice to the scriptures, though I guess I’m still fairly young. I just turned 32, but I became a Christian at a young age. I was raised in the church by very devout parents. My father and his father are both serving as elders right now. The congregation I attend doesn’t have enough qualified men to have elders, and we’re not a large group, so I actually have a very active role in our congregation (though I have stepped away from that for the time being). I have preached often, I lead singing often, I teach Bible classes often (from the young kids through the adults), etc. I’ve always believed that if I’m asked to do something for the church, then I should do it — even if I feel nervous about it. I’ve converted several people to the church since about the age of 20. I ran a pretty successful religious blog for a while too that had some really great discussions on it.
I don’t mean to sound haughty with any of that information. I just wanted to give you an idea of my religious background. One of the things that I have always held onto very deeply is the notion that the Bible makes sense. Too many “Christians” view serving God as some kind of nebulous, “better felt than told” experience. But I’ve always believed that it’s much more than that. I’ve also always believed that God’s word was unassailable — that even if someone tried to point out an inconsistency, closer examination would easily validate the Bible. And I’ve also always expected those I’ve studied with to have an open mind about what I was saying to them. That if their beliefs didn’t match the Bible, then they should be able to draw the appropriate conclusions. Thomas Jefferson said, “We are not afraid to follow truth, wherever it may lead,” and that’s something that I’ve always believed.
So once I started examining some of these claims more closely, I wasn’t afraid of the arguments skeptics might make. They were either true, or they weren’t. And I figured that a careful analysis of the Bible would soon show that their critiques were invalid. It’s just that I’m not so sure about that now.
It would simply take too long to go through every point that Roy and I discussed. But our biggest breakdown centered around the resurrection. Roy didn’t believe the Bible was inspired because of inerrancy, but because of the resurrection. I didn’t really understand that at the time, though I’ve since run into many others who take this approach. Roy believed that the evidence for the resurrection is so strong that it could be considered an actual historical event. And since the Bible is the only book that teaches about the importance of the resurrection, we must trust that the Bible’s inspired, even if it’s not completely inerrant. To me, this seemed circular. It proves the resurrection is true by the Bible, then proves the Bible is true by the resurrection. I just didn’t find it convincing.
I really appreciated the time that Roy took with me, though when we finished our discussion in early August of 2010 I knew there was very little chance I would find any resolution to my doubts. In the next post, I’ll talk more about the fallout from that realization. Thanks for reading.