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Is it any wonder?

Is it any wonder that Western Christianity is failing? Since the Enlightenment we’ve been trying to prove that the Bible is 100% true, inerrant, and infallible — in the historical/scientific sense. A good example of this, of course, is Answers in Genesis. But it has crept into our church culture in more subtle ways.

Years ago, a Christian classical school opened in our city and we were very excited because we believed strongly in the trivium — the three-fold path of learning that follows the developmental process of the child. They also believed in Sola Scriptura, but what harm could that do?

Too slowly, however, we realized that there was a deeper worldview at work: the “clear teachings” of the Bible superseded any fallible human knowledge.  Psalm 51:5 says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” then clearly all negative behavior in an infant or toddler is sinful and must be punished. The headmaster of the school would slap his infant’s hands when he threw food off his high chair. They paid lip service to child development, but clearly regarded it as suspect in the light of original sin and total depravity.

We finally left the school, but not until a great deal of damage had been done to our children’s faith.

In this worldview, there is no such thing as interpretation; the Bible is extremely clear on almost every topic. Any human knowledge that contradicts it is therefore immediately suspect if not obviously ideologically motivated. The very idea that we may need to periodically re-examine our interpretation of the Bible is liberalism, secular humanism, and so on.

In this way, Western Christianity has reduced the Bible to a set of flat cerebral statements of fact to be accepted, instead of a majestic story that can penetrate us to the heart and transform us from the inside out.

Over centuries — and especially since the Enlightenment — we have gathered a great quantity of scientific and historical knowledge about the cosmos, the history of our planet, and the human psyche.  Not surprisingly, this knowledge has diverged from what a “flat reading” of the Bible tells us. There are even small groups that still believes in a flat earth and physical firmament! Even the hard-core Young Earth Creationists disavow them, though they must use impressive mental gymnastics to explain why their own beliefs are so different. And why do they believe this? Scriptural authority.

Like most younger people, our children have grown up in a post-Enlightenment culture, and accept the scientific consensus on global warming, evolution, the age of the earth, and so on. When they encounter the Bible — and Jesus — in this environment, they see nothing but an rigid alternate reality. This alternate reality claims that it has never changed; that it based on God’s unchanging, perfect, inerrant, and infallible Word.

And yet, history proves them wrong; during the American Civil War, many churches believed that slavery was acceptable because of Scriptural authority. In our own city, many church splits took place because of this. But now, you will be hard-pressed to find a church that believes the Bible justifies slavery. Why? Our interpretation changed. But could our current interpretation be incorrect? Of course not, because we aren’t interpreting.

These younger folks are faced with this rigid alternate reality, plus the history that puts the lie to it. Is it any wonder that they reject the whole affair?

Toxic faith environment

A toxic faith environment — like any toxic environment — doesn’t mean that all (or even most of) the people in it are deliberately evil.

For example, when I was immersed in the evangelical church, I heard a lot about how sad our post-Christian culture was. So many couples are in counseling — they just need Jesus! So many people are depressed — they just need Jesus! And so on.

Then I became “one of those people” who was depressed. What had my environment taught me? That I obviously wasn’t trusting Jesus enough. That I never had trusted Jesus enough. But I couldn’t do it myself, I just had to “Let go and let God,” but apparently I wasn’t even doing that. Then there was the inevitable guilt because of my inability to apparently even let go.

I’m sure the people in my church were well-intentioned — after all, I’m not saying that people don’t need Jesus. But a subtle (or not-so-subtle) American individualism underlies much of its teaching. When I realized I was broken, my instinct was to blame myself and not to press into community.  I heard that community telling me that Jesus Himself would fix me.

I realize now that I should have known that we all are healed together in community as the body of Christ. Why didn’t I then?