At this point in the 10 Bible Myth series, someone who still believes in Biblical inerrancy may feel compelled to say, “Well Peter, if you begin questioning the Bible and Biblical inerrancy, where does it stop? It’s just a matter of time before you start compromising on other things in the Bible until there’s nothing left of the Christian faith. Sounds to me like you’re on a slippery slope. Either the Bible is true or it isn’t.”
Here are 7 responses to the slippery slope myth.
I have an honest confession. I too once believed in “the slippery slope.” I too shared concerns other Christians have about “questioning the Bible” and “questioning Biblical inerrancy.” I get it. I understand where you’re coming from. In fact, I grew up within a church setting deeply steeped in a worldview and a way of understanding the Christian faith that was triggered by certain questions about the Bible or questioning the Bible itself, especially if those questions implied any openness to the possibility that widely held Christian dogma, doctrines or beliefs were mistaken or misguided. I also understand that for those who assume as much, your belief in the Biblical inerrancy view is very connected to other commonly held beliefs about God, the Trinity, Jesus’ atonement for sin, heaven, hell and a host of other views that many Christians hold. To question one belief is to question all of them and that lands you on the slippery slope of compromise, doubt and losing your faith.
2. False premise
Part of the problem with the opening questions in the introduction to this post is that those very questions begin with a false premise. First, assuming that Biblical inerrancy is the only correct interpretation of the Bible is a false premise; I’ve already demonstrated very clearly in my previous articles Bible Myth 1, Bible Myth 2 and Bible Myth 3 that it is not (see the suggested book resources on other valid views of Biblical inspiration in my article Bible Myth 3). Second, claiming that questioning the Bible or having certain questions about the Bible are a problem for faith is also a false premise. Third, claiming that a person will go down some feared slippery slope when they start doubting Biblical inerrancy or ask too many questions is also a false premise.
3. Questions are a good thing. Asking questions about the Bible is evidence of true faith, not compromise. Questions are not the problem. The limitation of questions is.
Questions foster honest inquiry and interest for what the Bible says. Questions are a vehicle that sincere people of faith have to learn what the Bible says so that they might grow spiritually mature, get to know God better than they did before and get to know what God may or may not be saying to them. Oppositely, limiting and controlling heart-felt questions hinders (sometimes stops) honest inquiry and interest in the Bible. It’s like putting up metaphorical guard rails of what is acceptable and what is not. In the end, it stifles people’s maturity and growth as people of faith.
4. Christians who pretend the Bible doesn’t have problematic stories and commands have a tendency to also cover up very real problems in their own lives.
Sincere Christian people are taught by many American pastors, priests and leaders that there aren’t incredibly problematic stories, violent portraits and commands of God in the Bible. However, if and when these issues are acknowledged by Christian leaders, church members are often taught to just mesh it all together with everything else in the Bible in some kind of cohesive nice, neat theological package. Whether they are taught that problems don’t exist in the Bible or, instead, to acknowledge they’re there but just not as bad as they initially appear, they are being trained to engage with the Bible in a way that is disingenuous. In other words, dishonestly.
However, if reading the Bible in its entirety is the very thing that compels a Christian to question what they read—as in “Did I just read that right? God said what? It sounds as if God just supported and initiated genocide in order to curse one nation and bless another nation—am I reading that correctly?” These are valid questions for anyone reading the Old Testament narrative and simply wanting to understand and know what God is like. These kinds of questions, if allowed and affirmed in churches and Christian institutions, naturally will raise serious doubts about the Biblical inerrancy view, which I’ve already detailed more thoroughly in Bible Myth 1 & Bible Myth 2. And that’s a good thing.
Here’s a troubling outcome for those who are in Christian faith communities where heart-felt questions are put down, ignored or glossed over. When we are taught to cover up, ignore, gloss over or soften the more difficult and problematic passages in the Bible (particularly the more abusive and violent images of God), there is a high likelihood that our church communities and environments are also training us (explicitly and/or implicitly) to cover up, ignore, gloss over or soften very real problems in our lives. Problems like secret addictions, physical weaknesses, mental health issues and concerns, and even abusive habits and/or events we’ve experienced, etc.
Who do we hide our real problems from? For starters, from ourselves by softening the severity of our problems and lying to ourselves over and over again. But also to our friends, our intimate relationships, our coworkers, our children, and our church communities. Being dishonest, or disingenuous, about the problems in the Bible and in our own lives does not exactly create a grounded or authentic faith. On the other hand, being honest about the Bible’s problematic passages and the problems we face in our own lives does, or at least it helps provide the necessary mental and emotional space to foster grounded and authentic faith.
5. Slippery slope or the journey of sincere faith?
When Christians talk about the slippery slope, they often imagine a downward trajectory where certain questions lead to doubts about long-held beliefs, and those doubts lead to other questions which lead to further doubts, and eventually that person doubts or rejects everything they once believed. The slippery slope myth, however, is rooted in a false premise that questions and doubts are to be feared rather than celebrated. Doubt, according to the slippery slope myth, is contrary to faith rather than an expression of faith. In other words, the real reason people doubt certain beliefs passed on as Biblical truths is that those beliefs seem off base, incorrect or wrong. The truth is that both questions and doubts are both expressions of true faith and vehicles for learning, growing and maturing in our faith.
Third and lastly, the slippery slope myth is ultimately rooted in a fear of the possibility of losing our faith in God. Let me tie this all together: For many Christian people who talk about the slippery slope, they also tend to put a lot of time, energy and sermons into toxic views about God’s judgment, which means creating firm boundaries around topics like heaven and hell. The most important thing for these Christians is to avoid hell and end up in heaven in the afterlife. To avoid hell, then, they believe they should be very careful who and what they listen to because listening to the wrong person (like a compromiser or heretic) can lead them to ask questions, which then may lead them to doubt, which may lead them down the slippery slope, which ultimately leads them to forsaking their faith in God and end up in hell. Pretty frightening chain of events and a formula that is bound to cause a lot of anxiety and fear for those who believe a person can be a child of God at an earlier time in life and then later reject the faith of their childhood and end up outside God’s family.
While fearing the loss of a relationship, let alone a relationship with God, has its place, when it is tied up in those other toxic views about God and God’s judgement, it can actually do much more harm than good. It also doesn’t help when spiritual leaders use this fear to take advantage of and manipulate people within their churches in a wide variety of ways that is more akin to religious cult behavior than that of a life-giving community that seeks to follow the self-sacrificial others-oriented enemy-embracing way of Jesus.
6. Acknowledging an untruth (or myth) does not mean rejecting truth.
There are some reading who may agree with my assessments in articles Myth 1, Myth 2 and Myth 3 and may even say, “Peter, you made a good case for why the Bible is not inerrant, and I can agree with you that it appears that the Bible is not error-free. But where does it end Peter? Doesn’t doubting Biblical inerrancy lead to rejecting Biblical truth in the rest of the Bible?” Btw, I’ve already dealt with this in detail in Bible Myth 1, so I’d recommend reading it if you haven’t. Let me briefly restate what I alluded to there: simply because we reject one belief as an untruth or falsehood about the Bible or perhaps even several untruths we once assumed were true doesn’t automatically mean that we reject all truth in the general sense or truths that show up in the Bible. Again, it’s a false premise.
For example, I believe that genocide is an evil act. No one and no nation should ever commit acts of genocide. Genocide means killing off or attempting to kill off entire people groups, tribes or nations so that they no longer exist. If I agree that genocide is evil, and I am also confident that the God revealed in the life of Jesus is not the kind of being who would ever command or commit genocide, then it is perfectly acceptable, understandable and normal to question the Canaan Mandate within the Old Testament Law. The Canaan Mandate assumes that God is the kind of God who does commit and command genocide.
By my rejection of genocide and raising question to it in the Old Testament narrative, I am not somehow on a slippery slope to rejecting all truth in the Bible. Since it is not true (I believe) that God would ever command such a thing and since I don’t see any value in assuming God would ever command such a thing to any human being, tribe or nation (then or now—especially to prop up some preconceived view about the Bible—like Biblical inerrancy assumes), it is entirely reasonable to reject the image and portrait of a genocidal God that shows up at times in the Old Testament of the Bible. It is also entirely reasonable for me to embrace the image of God who demonstrates empathy, compassion, mercy and humane accountability that has been revealed in the life, person, teaching and example of Jesus.
7. Manipulating people to be afraid of questions is the stuff of cults.
For those who didn’t grow up in the time of David Koresh or are unaware of modern-day religious cults of the 20th century, the ideological frameworks and assumptions of religious cults are not good. I should clarify that the people within cults are not evil. They are human beings who are broken and in need of love and belonging like everyone else. They have, however, unfortunately gotten caught up in very harmful religious views about the world, faith and God.
Common characteristics of religious cults:
1. They are very private and sheltered away from the world.
2. They are highly suspicious of outsiders to their faith community. The more extreme cults are willing to threaten violence against outsiders (and even carry out that violence) they believe are depraved, immoral and making the world worse off.
3. They control the religious language used within the community and the communication between community members through fear and manipulation.
4. If that communication is outside the acceptable bounds of the community leaders, they may face discipline, punishment and even excommunication.
5. They limit questions, especially questions that raise doubts about the leadership structure of the community, doubts about the theology of the community and doubts about the daily spiritual practices of the leaders and community members.
6. They require near absolute allegiance. They may soften the words by calling it loyalty or being bound by mutual covenant or commitment, but don’t be fooled—they are demanding allegiance.
It may sound like an overstatement to claim that some (not all) of the more fundamentalist and evangelical American Christian churches act very similarly to known religious cults, but it is not. Go through that list. How many are generally practiced in your faith community?
Where cultic behavior is alive and well in our churches, we should acknowledge it, own up to it, repent of it, get professional counseling and other supports, and commit to change.
Let me clarify
Rejecting Biblical inerrancy is not in and of itself a rejection of Jesus, the incarnation, the commands of Jesus or any other important elements of Christian faith. It is an unnecessary correlation to make those one and the same thing. While it’s true that some Christians who reject the Biblical inerrancy view do in fact end up leaving their faith, that doesn’t necessitate you or I do or that it’s an inevitable outcome. In fact, as I have already argued, Christians often leave the faith not because they are “worldly folk” who just want to be selfish human beings; they often leave because they were trained to believe the House of Cards view of faith—that if the Biblical inerrancy view is rejected, everything in or about the Bible must be rejected.
It’s a false premise.
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