In “The ignorance of Richard Dawkins defended (but not very well)” Robert observed: “Sometimes I wonder what faith would have been like without inerrancy. I went from inerrancy to disbelief within about a year.” Ouch.
Walter added the following observation: “I was raised Baptist, but went Church of Christ for a couple of years before my own descent into apostasy. Had I belonged to a more progressive denomination that embraced higher criticism, I probably would not have became an atheist (for the short while that I was one).” Such testimonies highlight in vivid fashion the following observations.
To begin with, conservatism can be a risky option. (So can progressivism/liberalism but conservatives already knew that.) In Selma, Alabama in the 1950s the conservative Baptists who sought to perpetuate the status quo ended up on the wrong side of historical progress. As Bruce Hornsby once sang, “‘Some things will never change’, Ahh but don’t you believe it.”
Consequently, as a living tradition develops there is no safe place to stand. Think of a zombie movie where the zombies are struggling to come in the front door. To get away the protagonist backs up to the safest place: the wall. But then two arms burst through the wall and pull our protagonist to certain doom. When zombies surround you, every place in the room has perils, every place you might choose to stand bears a risk. So it is with that conservative vs. liberal continuum. We all know examples where the liberals have gone awry, but in 1930s Germany the Nazi-friendly moralist state church was the conservative option.
By the same token, a particular ‘conservative’ view of scripture could end up being precisely the wrong option. Your back is safely against the wall with a King James only conviction when suddenly those zombie arms break through and pull you to your doom.
Lack of options
Second, Robert and Walter suffered from lack of options. A Christianity (liberal or conservative) which doesn’t present its adherents with a sufficiently rich range of belief to work out their own faith in fear and trembling is a faith impoverished. 31 flavors at Baskin Robbins (an ice cream shop for those who don’t know) is a good thing. So it is in a range of areas in Christian doctrine like atonement theory and theories of biblical inspiration. So I lament that so many Christians are given only vanilla or chocolate and then walk away thinking they hate ice cream when they really would have loved licorice had they only been given a lick.
A faith lost can’t easily be gained again
Brad replied (to Robert): “Well, Robert, I think that losing your faith over inerrancy is a bad way to lose it.” Right. And Robert recognizes that. He has a richer range of options now than he had then. But notice that getting a richer range of options, recognizing that you didn’t need to lose your faith to begin with, doesn’t automatically return your faith.
Why is this? Because we don’t exercise that kind of control over our beliefs. We can’t choose what to believe. So if we lose our belief, even if it is for a bad reason and we come to recognize that it was for a bad reason, that doesn’t mean we’ll get our faith back.
Numerous illustrations spring to mind. Here’s one. You’re about to eat the stew when Carla says “Wait! The dog vomited in the pot!” You quickly decide not to eat the stew. Then Marla walks in and corrects Carla: “No, the dog actually vomited in that pot over there.”
Thanks for clearing that up Marla. So you can eat the stew after all. It’s perfectly good. But do you immediately get your appetite back? Sadly no.
So let’s be careful that people don’t lose their faith for the wrong reasons.