Closing Day

Faith evolution is like selling a house. 

It begins with a series of small detachments: planting a sign in the yard, letting strangers wander through your rooms, packing possessions into boxes, entertaining offers, negotiating terms. These are the initial, necessary steps toward no longer living where you used to. They’re partial little goodbyes. 

But the real turning point takes place on closing day. That’s when all the small detachments culminate in a moment of irreversible finality. It’s the definitive point of no return, the moment when ink meets paper and keys change hands. After closing day, you legally no longer belong in your old house. 

My own journey away from evangelical Christian faith played out incrementally, with lots of little steps along the way. Some of those steps were theological, some were political, some were experiential. But even once the boxes had been packed, the U-Haul had been rented, and the listing status had been changed to pending, my shift from disgruntled evangelical to former evangelical was not complete. There were still closing papers yet to be signed.

For me, that final step would require me to come full circle back to the place where my deconstruction all began: the Bible.

Anyone who has wrestled openly with questions and doubts has probably heard some version of this advice from their church friends: “Stay in the Word! Keep reading the Bible! Look to Scripture for answers to your questions!” The assumption behind these admonitions is that a steady diet of biblical exposure is the foolproof way to keep would-be renegades from wandering off the straight and narrow.

So when I found myself buried beneath a growing pile of questions about my faith and mired in a festering disgust with the culture surrounding it, I turned to the one place that was supposed to help. The book that I had been immersed in since I was a child. The book that I earned a Master’s degree to teach. The book that I had read many times over. I opened it back up to the beginning, and I committed to yet another journey through its pages, desperate for insights and answers that could sustain my crumbling faith.

By this point in the timeline, I had made significant leaps in my ability to detach the Bible itself from much of the scaffolding that my evangelical teachers had built around it. Ever since that breakthrough moment as a seminarian studying Genesis, I knew that I didn’t want to blindly accept the prepackaged interpretations so easily peddled in the evangelical marketplace. I aspired to discover what was actually in the text, as opposed to what a certain theological system had imposed on it. Sometimes I did this more consistently than others, but it was at the very least a driving value in how I read the Bible.

As I steadily worked my way through its pages yet again, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, I remained more committed to that value than ever. I knew that if my faith was going to survive, I needed to have an honest encounter with Scripture. I couldn’t evade the parts that had always made me uncomfortable, nor could I slap a convenient evangelical explanation on top of the problems that stared back at me.

So I read without flinching. I read the stories of violence. I read the lists of genealogies. I read the collections of laws. I read the threats of judgment. I read the records of miraculous events. I listened for God’s voice, digging beneath the shallow interpretations so much of my tradition had come to depend on. And perhaps for the first time in my life, I acknowledged what was actually on the page in front of me. Without excusing it or explaining it away, I just let the book be what it was.

It was a book in which the sojourner and exile were given preferential treatment. A book in which orphans and widows were protected against the abusive tendencies of powerful men. A book in which restoration was promised to those who were downtrodden and freedom was promised to those who were enslaved. A book in which unjust leaders were denounced for their self-serving crimes against God and neighbor. A book in which debt forgiveness was built into the calendar. A book in which a lowly woman left her homeland to show faithfulness to her deceased husband’s mother, a privileged woman put her life on the line to speak up for those who shared her ethnicity, and a group of courageous Hebrew midwives defied an executive order to kill newborn children.

But it was also book in which blood sacrifice was demanded for human wrongdoing. A book in which sons are sentenced to execution by stoning if they don’t obey their parents. A book in which people with handicaps and disabilities are banned from worshiping God so as not to profane God’s presence with their defects. A book in which genocide is not only permitted but commanded to be carried out as an indicator of religious faithfulness. A book in which sexual violence against women is seen as a just form of punishment. A book in which believers were forced to prove their faithfulness by slaughtering their own brothers, friends, and neighbors. A book in which a man was put to death for ejaculating on the ground, another man was put to death for touching a special box that was about to fall, and 42 boys were mauled in the Lord’s name by a pair of bears just because they teased a prophet about being bald. 

By the time I got to the Minor Prophets, I could no longer deny that this was a book of both kindness and cruelty, of both insight and uncertainty. There were glimpses of spiritual transcendence, every page littered with fingerprints of the divine. But there were also blind spots, places where the writers were clearly limited (as we all are) by their own cultural assumptions and prejudices.

To acknowledge this duality was terrifying. For years I had tried to iron out the wrinkles of Scripture, paranoid about admitting any hint of inadequacy within its holy pages. I devoured heavy theological books to bolster my confidence in its reliability. I clung to the answers provided by scholars in the approved commentaries. I even taught classes reinforcing all the appropriate doctrines like inspiration, inerrancy, sufficiency, authority, perspicuity, and all those other fancy-sounding words that form the backbone of evangelical belief. I needed the Bible to be neat and clean and inflexible, and I needed it because I was afraid. Afraid that if I lost my Bible, I would lose my faith.

But after years of feeling like I constantly had to protect the Bible from itself, I had frankly grown tired. Reading and teaching the Bible had become too much like a gymnastics routine in which I was always performing elaborate interpretive contortions so as to avoid eye contact with the obvious limitations of Scripture. Maybe that’s proof of my lack of faith, or maybe it’s something most Christians feel but are simply too scared to say. In either case, it was exhausting. And none of it made the problems go away. 

So as scary as it was for me to accept that maybe the Bible was something other than God’s inerrant, infallible message to humankind, it was also a relief. I no longer had an agenda to advance or a doctrine to defend. I no longer had something to prove or someone to please. I could let the Bible be what it was: a diverse collection of writings rooted in ancient cultures that imperferfectly records the never-ending quest to know and understand God. 

Sometimes the monster lurking under the bed turns out to be far less frightening than we imagined it to be. Sometimes the monster even turns out to be your friend.

So what if the Bible was messy? So what if it was awkward? A book written by people grasping at mysteries far beyond their understanding is bound to be a bit disjointed at times. It’s bound to look like a motley assembly of strange contradictions, unanswered questions, and bizarre tangents. That’s not something to be afraid of. That’s something to expect.

And maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe that’s the real beauty of the Bible.

The same book that tells me to love my neighbor also contains detailed regulations about the worship protocols for men with crushed testicles. The same book that tells me of transformative grace for all people also recounts a prophet successfully commanding the sun to stand still in the sky. The same book that tells me about God’s commitment to justice for the oppressed also reveals that Mahalaleel begat Jared, and Jared begat Enoch, and Enoch begat Methuselah, and Methuselah lived to be 969 freaking years old.

It’s all a little bit crazy. But then again, life is crazy. And as I revisited Scripture in an hour of spiritual desperation and deconstruction, I started to see that maybe what I needed wasn’t a pristine and well-polished divine rulebook, but a mishmash of perspectives as complex as my own evolving faith. 

Obviously, this didn’t jive well with evangelical theology. Biblical inerrancy is one of that tradition’s most hallowed doctrines, and in letting go of it, I fully understood that I was handing over the key. Closing day had come. If my convictions about social justice and politics and science had already put me at odds with the church, my convictions about the Bible had now put me outside of it. There was no getting around that.

But when you’re clinging to any shred of spiritual stability you can find, some things are less important than others. 

I didn’t turn to the Bible to save my evangelicalism. My motivations were much more existential and urgent than that. I needed to know that my faith wasn’t a dead-end, that the entire Christian enterprise was something other than a well-funded farce. After being so disillusioned with the church, I no longer cared what its ruling class thought of my theology. That game had lost its appeal. The only thing I truly cared about was an authentic faith that was strong enough to sustain me and all the baggage that came with me.

I had spent much of my Christian life afraid of questioning the Bible, afraid of entertaining the possibility that it might occasionally get things wrong. But ironically, developing a more realistic view of Scripture might have been the one thing that kept me holding on to it. At the very least, it’s what has empowered me to read it without abandoning my moral intuitions (you know, genocide) or suspending my critical thinking (ever actually considered the logistics of all the world’s animals on one boat?). And that alone has made my relationship to the Bible much healthier and more honest than it has ever been.

Three years after I first started seriously questioning my doctrine of Scripture, I can say that I still have a deep reverence for the Bible. The narrative of a loving Creator who is actively involved in the restoration and redemption of all things still resonates deeply with me, and I’d argue that the Bible is an important and insightful part of how we come to participate in that cosmic purpose. I’m comfortable saying that the Bible is full of true and trustworthy revelation. That part hasn’t changed.

But the key difference for me now is my commitment to read the Bible with less defensiveness and more openness, looking for where it leads rather than fixating on what it says. The quest to explore the mysteries of God doesn’t end with the final verse. From my perspective, that’s just the starting point, not the destination. My task as a reader is now to discover and discern how the varied wisdom of these ancient writers can shape and inform my own.

Now, when I come across something that reflects the cultural beliefs of the biblical writers more than it reflects the timeless perspective of God, I don’t see it as a threat. I see it as an open door to sincere conversation. Why did the writer say that? What assumptions about God and the world might have informed that point of view? How is God inviting me to bring my own insights and experiences into my interaction with this text?

It’s actually quite comforting to have a Bible that doesn’t demand blind acceptance or strict adherence, but instead allows me to push back, ask questions, and yes, disagree. After all, it’s a Bible that disagrees with itself sometimes. And maybe it’s right there in the conundrums and the contradictions that the deepest spiritual truths are to be found.

This was part 4 of my story of faith evolution. See the previous parts below:

Next up in this series: Wrapping it all up with some final reflections.

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