November 26, 2020

My Trouble With Scripture

bibleI’m continuing with some thoughts on my journey out of evangelicalism into Catholicism. These are my thoughts, and this is my journey. I am certainly not trying to talk anyone into following in my steps. 

The morning after I became a Christian, I woke up and reached for my Bible. It was an old Bible handed down from someone in my family—perhaps one of my uncles. I read it instinctively. Weren’t Christians supposed to read the Bible? I think I started in John—someone the night before told me that is where I should start. I really didn’t understand a thing I was reading, but I knew I was supposed to read it. That is what God expected of me. I tried to work up a good spiritual feeling while reading it, thinking that just letting my eyes rest on each of these sacred words was going to do something in me that reading, say, a book about baseball wouldn’t.

As I began attending church, I found the Bible was a book to be studied. The pastor broke down verses word-by-word, and we were encouraged to take notes on what he said in the margins of our Bibles. (Woe to anyone who didn’t bring their Bible to the service.) We were told how liberal Christians (wrongly) interpreted a passage, and how true Christians were to understand it. Verses were only seen as black or white. Liberals were black and wrong and going to hell, our church was white and right and pleasing to God. “Textual criticism” was just a liberal code phrase for not believing what every Christian should believe.

The word “inerrant” became a part of our vocabulary, as well as “infallible.” Inerrancy meant there are no errors in Scripture; infallible meant there cannot be any errors. Anyone who questioned the truth of anything stated in Scripture was playing with fire. Oh, did I mention that the only true and reliable Bible was the King James Version?

This was how my faith was shaped. For years, decades really, I held firm to this teaching (though I did quickly move on from the KJV when other translations and paraphrases were available). I approached the Bible as something I was supposed to read in order to please God. I tried each time I picked it up to work up a good spiritual feeling. If I were reading a book on say, the Civil War or some modern-day political issue, I would question the author’s intent and choice of words. I would check facts that didn’t seem to line up. I might even dismiss the author’s thesis if it were not defended well. But when it came to reading the Bible, I was afraid to ask questions. I was scared to compare an event described in Kings with the same event in Chronicles. Did Jesus clear the temple early in his ministry like John reports or later in his ministry as Mark and Luke report it, or did he do it twice? If I were to think, Maybe one of the Gospel writers got the order of things wrong, I felt I was in sin.

Sin. A sinner. That is what I was, and that is what the Bible was there to point out. Everything I read either pointed out that I was sinning, or that I was lacking faith in some area. The Bible was God’s standard, the bar was set very high, and I was still at ground level. I read the Bible because I was supposed to, but it brought me no comfort whatsoever.

Then somewhere along the line things began to change. The teaching I was hearing—still in evangelical circles—was that God loved me very much, individually, and wanted nothing more than to “bless” me beyond my imagination. All I had to do was to dig into Scripture and “claim” the blessings that he wanted to give to me. Reading the Bible was to be a treasure hunt, with all the treasure just for me. Find a promise, claim it, and sit back to see how God would reward me.

I also found out that the Bible was a reliable science textbook, describing down to the tiniest detail just how God created the universe. Again, anyone who called these explanations into question was in danger of damnation. The Bible was infallible in every way. Where science differed from Scripture, science was wrong.

I was told the way to read the Bible was to find verses that “spoke to me” in whatever circumstance I was in. No matter the topic, one could assemble a list of verses that dealt with it from a Christian worldview perspective. Preachers would gather verses that addressed a topic and list them to prove their point. If one of those verses especially spoke to me, then I was to focus on that.

So, after forty years of walking with the Lord as an evangelical, I found that I was to read the Bible even if I didn’t understand it, not ask questions, claim the good parts for myself, and try to find verses that speak directly to me.

To be honest, I have not read the Bible that much in the last year. I know that is tantamount to me saying I don’t watch TBN or, worse yet, don’t like Chris Tomlin’s songs, but I have just not much felt like reading the Bible in this dark time I’ve gone through. The times I have picked it up, I have devoured it, staying up late into the night reading entire books of history or poetry or entire gospels. It is not that I don’t like the Bible. It is that I am afraid of the change that is happening in me. I am beginning—only beginning, mind you—to think that God wants me to approach him in a real way. And that scares me more than I can describe. Here is what I mean.

The Bible was developed over a period of several thousand years by writers and storytellers who lived in diverse cultures and civilizations. Evangelicalism wanted me to believe that the Bible came to be in, oh, 1945 or so. But the newest book in our Bible was written more than two thousand years ago. And the circumstances that lead to its being written—severe persecution of fledgling churches—is not something we face in our Western, evangelical culture today. Is it ok that I ask questions about the books that form our Bible? Is it ok for me to wonder just what was going through John’s mind when he wrote Revelation? Or Paul’s mind when he wrote to Timothy? Can I spend some time exploring what kind of life a farmer like Amos might have lived when he was given a prophecy to share? Will my questions really take away from what God intended with these books?

Evangelicalism does not invite questions, especially when it comes to the Bible. There is no mystery. There are only answers. We have the telescope to blame. The telescope allowed us to explore the galaxies and explain what once had been inexplicable. The mystery of the universe was replaced with charts and diagrams and explanations. We have done the same with God and the Bible. We are not allowed to say, “That doesn’t make sense to me” and leave it at that. We must press forth to come up with an answer. Or, rather, we must accept the answer that is spoonfed to us each Sunday morning from preachers who insist that we have to understand the Bible rather than just believe.

I have heard the phrase “Christians are people of the book.” I would rather be known as a person of the Word. Jesus is the Word of God. The Bible is a signpost pointing us to the Word of God. I want to revere the Bible and gaze into it in order to more clearly see the Word. Evangelicalism—at least where I have been in evangelicalism in my life—has obscured the Word of God by focusing on the scriptures themselves. I needed to step back and evaluate how I approach Scripture.

I have not abandoned the Bible. I love reading it now that I don’t try to make it something it’s not. Sitting on my porch with a cup of coffee and my Bible is a wonderful way to meet with the Lord. It is not the only way to meet with him, but it is a great way to do so. And he doesn’t even ask for any coffee.


  1. I read somewhere recently (maybe an old post by Michael Spencer?) that they viewed the scriptures as an ongoing conversation between God and humanity – I like that. I tend to believe that engaging the scriptures informationally is important, but not enough; when I engage scripture formationally, then I allow scripture “to read” me and my circumstances – the Word then becomes living and active and full of potential to shape me into the likeness of Christ for the sake of the world (at least for the sake of the people in my sphere of life). But even that is not enough, I need to engage scripture in community, so that I can learn from others and have my narrow, single point of view broadened and deepened.

    Here is a quote which seems to be in agreement with your closing thoughts:

    “Jesus, the Christ of God, is the Word made flesh in Nazareth and is dwelling among us still. Our study of scripture informs our sense of who Jesus is and how we are called to respond to His invitation to follow Him, but Jesus, not scripture, is our end. Scripture is inspired and useful, but Jesus is the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.”

    • Br. Thomas, your final paragraph says it all!! The Bible is a library of differing genres of writing, written down over the ages from oral tradition, and only contradicts science and history when a reader cannot tell satire or allegory from a textbook or sanitation handbook.

      Jeff…..keep praying and listening, and the Lord will call your mind, heart, and soul to the faith expression He knows will bring you closest to Him. Mule and I and others are NOT on different teams trying to “lure you in”……thank you for sharing your journey, as it reminds me to focus on my own daily faith as well.

  2. Jeff….I’m proud of you. I’m thankful for what you are doing. It takes a lot of courage to say what you said. And my respect for you soars. You need to do what is right, and you need to obey you conscience. There is so much that you said that I agree with you. The Bible doesn’t have all the answers, and there are many issues that the Bible will not address. Worse the way some people get stuck on certain issues only means that they have removed themself from the debate. For example when science gets to the point of debating human cloning it will desperately need some ethical perspective and guidance. But how will that happen when so many evangelicals are stuck on the issue of evolution and criticize science. Chaplin Mike can probably speak to the next part….but as the baby Boomers age we are going to see more of a debate about euthanasia, mercy killings and doctor assisted suicide. And at a time when many Christians need to step up to the plate to show love, and help such people out; many will not due to how evangelical culture is stacked or biased to the young. A friend last summer put it well….evangelicalism is a very exclusionary faith geared toward families, young people and the successful.

    That said….I deeply struggle with parts of the Catholic faith. What troubles me the most is how the Catholic church is still struggling with the issue of child sexual abuse. How can they criticize sexual sin while giving a pass or covering up child abuse. This is an issue that deeply needs to be addressed. It makes no difference of theological perspective or Franciscan or Jesuit, etc… its an issue that plagues the Catholic church and its credibility has been compromised until it tackles the issue head on. That said, I hope Francis will be the one to do that.

    • Eagle, you know that I am Catholic, and read quite a bit. The sexual abuse scandal is one of the darkest and most evil episodes in Church history…..there can be no other conclusion. May I just share two thoughts?

      First, from the view of an “insider”, this issue is still being actively weeded out and abusers and their defenders justly punished, at least as much as they can be punished on this earth. In addition, the screening process for would-be and new priests is worlds away from the routines thirty or forty years ago, when most of these animals were ordained.

      Second, just a reminder, a la Penn State, that these sick bastards go where the kids are, and given the focus in and on the Church right now, there are likely more ACTIVE pedophiles in other groups at this moment, under the radar. This in NO WAY is an excuse for what happened in the Church, just for the record.

    • Dan Crawford says

      The great struggle I had as a Catholic was being told over and over again that the institutional church (not the Bible) was “perfect”, that it did not err, that it contained all truth and all its members, especially those in the hierarchy, told the truth. What I learned was that the Catholic Church and every other Christian denomination is far more interested in protecting its institutional interests and has more than enough sinners as members. In fact, every member (including me, sadly) is a sinner prone to lies and self-interest. Once I reconciled myself to that truth, I could love the Church, begin to love members of every church, and see “Christ in a thousand places in faces not his”. I could begin to cherish the Bible and the sacraments, and learn bit by bit to put my trust in God and his mercy.

      • It might be worth reading C.S. Lewis’ book, Pilgrim’s Regress to see how “Mother Kirk” is treated when the Pilgrim must cross the river. While it is true that some priests and nuns communicate the institutional Church as being perfect, Roman teaching recognizes the difference between the Church here and the Church in glory. The Church here is far from perfect.

    • From my little corner of Catholicism, and reflective of my Diocese…

      We comply with mandated reporting – a statewide set of laws that reports any abuse
      We have training similar to the Scouts on abuse
      We practice two-deep leadership
      Everyone must have background checks (both criminal and abuse) and these are renewed every two years. This includes all volunteers in the Parish who are not just one time events.

      The issue is being dealt with head on. We particpate in an ecumenical Vacation Bible school with a Lutheran and Methodist church and they don’t want us to host because of our stringent rules.
      Any allegations within the diocese are immediately reported to the police

      This is what is being done in my diocese. It does not address the pains of the past. Pedophiles find their way into any position that gets them closer to kids whether it be a priest , a coach, a teacher, a scout leader, a youth leader, a family member. It is terrible and under reported in most other places aside from the Catholic church.

      I feel your pain.

    • Just to be fair, the sexual abuse scandal is not confined to the Roman Catholic Church. It has most recently seeped into the Protestant church as well, particularly in conservative circles. Perhaps the biggest scandal that is still going on is with Sovereign Grace Ministries where stories of sexual abuse are rampant. Ironically, the church as a whole (including many Evangelicals) are not owning up to this, in denial, and making excuses. This is very troubling to me. This is just one example of many scandals in conservative evangelical circles. There are more. So, while the Catholic church isn’t perhaps dealing with their sexual struggles, I’m not convinced Protestants are either. The Bride of Christ needs a lot healing. It is broken, fragmented, and tainted with sin. We will only be made clean and pure when the Groom arrives and consummates the marriage.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        >Just to be fair, the sexual abuse scandal is not confined to the Roman Catholic Church.

        +1 And not even close to being so confined.

        What we see is the culmination of decades where the entire over-culture looked away from such issues and did not want to address them. This runs from churches of all stripes to law enforcement to schools and school boards.

        I can recall seeing no shortage of interactions in the 70s and 80s what would almost certainly get someone fired today – and none of them had anything to do with RCC. But you couldn’t say anything. Society has improved notable, at least regarding this one issue.

  3. Jeff, I feel so much of what you have said here. Like a lot of other people here, I finally had enough of both the abusive environment that’s common in independent Evangelical churches, and the cognitive dissonance of Calvinism and have walked away as fast as I can. Unfortunately, I’m still in that “everything you thought you knew was wrong” place, and that’s made me very reticent to read the Bible. I look at the app on my phone (which had a default setting to nag me into reading it… so irritatingly Evangelical!) and all it reminds me of is going to church and how I don’t do that anymore and that I don’t even know what to do with it all anymore. Luckily, also like you, I’m finding new and meaningful direction in the older Traditions, and discovering their history and theological tenets doesn’t require looking up passages in the Bible.

    You said above that there is no Mystery in Evangelicalism, only answers — this resonated with me the most. I find honesty in Mystery, I find maturity that can say, “we can’t explain it all; that is the prerogative of the Lord.” And when you try and explain what may have meant to be a Mystery, you get a pretty flimsy answer.

    • Yep, I have to work pretty hard to retain a sense of mystery as an evangelical. That usually takes the form of bowing out of many of those Q&A, textbook-style conversations about faith and about Scripture.

      We can’t claim to be doing any form of “Jesus-shaped spirituality” without a healthy sense of mystery.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      You said above that there is no Mystery in Evangelicalism, only answers…

      I use the term “Party Line” instead of “answers”. That was what I took from my time in-country in Independent Evangelical “Fellowships”. Just like the Communists, except they recited a different Party Line.

      And when Christ becomes nothing more than “Ees Party Line, Comrade!” (with an Eternal Cosmic GULAG always waiting for more Zeks), something is seriously wrong.

      • Speaking of Soviet-style coverups, this happened at a megachurch down the freeway from me:

        Your answers don’t hold up? Just go back and pretend it didn’t happen. Such amazing arrogance.

        Another thing is, I feel like the EV church is trying to prove their superiority as a basis for society by making arguments to the Secular world (and the rest of us) using self-referential arguments and Evangelical code that doesn’t translate well to the other side nor understanding that most people don’t see their Calvinist worldview as valid. And then they wonder why they’re losing the culture war. I had my extremely Reformed friend defending John MacArthur to me in such a way that I could have sworn if there was an actual Reformed party-line book, had been lifted directly from it, especially since I had seen strikingly similar arguments by some of the other MacArthur apologists around the web.

        I really have NO time for Calvinism anymore.

  4. I think the lack of Mystery is due largely to reading the bible as if it’s some kind of instruction manual rather than viewing it as a collection of 66 incredibly diverse books, written in multiple literary genres. That and a fear of “story”…

    At any rate, I think you’ll find that there is a lot of Mystery in terms of how the Bible is read in most high-church Protestant circles. What you’re looking for is found in a number of places, not just in Catholicism, which – to be fair – has its own particular kinds of dogmatism where Scripture is concerned.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I think the lack of Mystery is due largely to reading the bible as if it’s some kind of instruction manual rather than viewing it as a collection of 66 incredibly diverse books, written in multiple literary genres.

      Chaplain Mike has speculated that this is a result of the Age of Reason and Industrial Revolution, where We Know It All and the Bible changed from the Old Stories of God and Man to a Spiritual Engineering Manual of FACT, FACT, FACT.

      “When you point at something with your finger, the dog sniffs your finger. To a dog, a finger is a finger and that is that. And today we cultivate that doglike state of mind.” — C.S.Lewis

  5. The problem often is we assume the Bible is a nice book, written by nice people about nice things, and its message is: be nice. Often it is written in terms not so nice. Jeff Cook had a great article pointing that out:

  6. I was startled and confused the first time I heard an evangelical refer to Christians as “people of the book”. I don’t remember when it first happened, but I had been in an SBC Church for some years before I heard the phrase used that way. Prior to that point, I had only known the phrase as one of the ways Islam refers to itself (and at times to Jews and Christians). The collection of books that comprise the Christian Scriptures (and Protestants mistakenly chose the wrong Old Testament 500 years ago, but that’s another discussion) do not form a Christian Qur’an and should not be treated as such. They are an important part of what has been handed over (or traditioned) to us, especially the Gospels. But they were delivered to us not in a vacuum, but with the collective interpretation of the Church. And for what we call the Old Testament, that included a radically different interpretation in the light of Christ than what had prevailed before. We see that in the New Testament itself, but also in early writers like St,. Irenaeus of Lyons (especially in his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching). But they are a part of the tradition of the Church and not something separate from it. As you note, we are and have always been the people of the Living Lord, not the people of a book.

    • I’ve never heard Christians refer to themselves as “people of the book”. That’s startling indeed.

      I have heard, and always grew up around, pastors who refer to Christians as “people of the Word”. The reference is obvious, but I think they mean it much the same way. My first instinct is to say that John meant the Jesus was the Word was the Gospel, but to my pastors it probably works about the same as “people of the book”; i.e., Jesus was the Word, was the Gospel, was the gospels.

      You can see it in their lives, too. They are “literary”, in the sense that they read a lot, but not in the sense that they read widely: they read narrowly, looking for books that best expound on the Word within the framework they already agree with. Part of this is the Doug Wilson -esque “direct line to Truth” worldview theology, but it also has to be a particular kind of literary tic. A belief that it is the vocabulary itself that is inspired, not the ideas communicated by them.

      I had a pastor recently say that “Jesus is the Word, and Jesus is found in words”, and, “It has been said ‘Preach the Gospel, and use words if necessary’, but how can we preach the Gospel without words? The Gospel is not actions, it is words.”

      “People of the Book” indeed.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I’ve never heard Christians refer to themselves as “people of the book”. That’s startling indeed.

        As far as I know, “People of the Book” is an ISLAMIC term for the Abrahamic monotheisms. From Islamic theology.

        Part of this is the Doug Wilson -esque “direct line to Truth” worldview theology, but it also has to be a particular kind of literary tic. A belief that it is the vocabulary itself that is inspired, not the ideas communicated by them.

        Dictated word-for-word by God just like the Koran, except in Kynge Jaymes Englyshe instead of Classical Meccan Arabic. And the Christianity of its adherents ends up resembling Islam.

        • Here is what Wikipedia says:

          In Christianity, the Catholic Church rejects the similar expression “religion of the book” as a description of the Christian faith, preferring the term “religion of the Word of God”, since the faith of Christ, according to Catholic teaching, is not found solely in the Christian Scriptures, but also in the Sacred Tradition and Magisterium of the Church. Nevertheless, other denominations, such as the Baptists, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventist Church as well as Puritans and Shakers, have embraced the term “People of the Book.”

  7. Once again, Jeff….thanks.

    Don’t be alarmed if your hear about some ‘crazy’ woman in a very small midwest town who was arrested for posting this article on all the evangelical churches in her town…it wasn’t me…o.k., maybe it was.

  8. That book is a product of not only man…but of God.

    The Bible is one aspect of the Word.

    If you want to know about Jesus, where do you go?

    We don’t worship that book, but we don’t think of it as a product of a bygone era, either. It is “the cradle that Christ was laid in”.

    When we start to down[lay the proper role of the Bible, we can and will end up (because of our tendency to curve everything in on ourselves) all over the map.

  9. Aidan Clevinger says

    Hmm…I take your point, but is the Bible merely a book which points us to the Word, or is the Bible one of the instruments through which the Word comes to us? Where do we find the Word Incarnate if not in the preached, written, and sacramental Word?

  10. I think that the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy came about as a product of anti-traditionalism. For centuries, church tradition told you what the right understanding of the Scriptures were. After the rise of Revivalism and other movements who were all about being “contemporary” and exuded disdain for anything old and musty enough to be used by your grandparents (aside from the Bible itself, of course), suddenly Evangelicals found themselves without an interpretative anchor. They knew the progressive drift of the mainlines was wrong, but they had no basis of appeal, since they certainly weren’t gonna hold to a confession of faith or magisterium. So the quasi-shibboleth of “inerrancy” was invented to provide a rallying point for those who wanted to hold to a traditional understanding of inspiration, authority, and sola scriptura, without necessarily digging back to something like the Westminster Standards which would violate the “no creed but Christ” ethos. As I said yesterday, add to that a denial of the Sacraments, and suddenly you’re left with a Word that only exists as print on a page, and the Logos reduced to a lexicon. Evangelicals will remain all over the map concerning what this book is and how to understand it unless they become willing to embrace their great-grandparents way of thinking about it. Something with roots, continuity, and successful at transmitting the the faith for generations: Tradition. Personally, I’ve kind of had it with “contemporary” views of Scripture. Back in grandpa’s church, the book actually meant something, and it didn’t need to be defended with 16 page definitions of what constitutes an “error.” Ironically, the old, stuck-in-the-mud understanding seems to present a bigger God who actually CAN handle your questioning.

    • Muff Potter says

      Agreed. And I would also argue that the whole paradigm you’ve elaborated is not much more than 40-45 years old. I would also contend that much of it was started by the grand patriarch of Calvary Chapel, Chuck Smith, who recently passed away.

    • This makes sense to me – never thought about the doctrine of inerrancy arising out of the rejection of traditionalism.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        When you don’t have a built-up institutional memory of Tradition to tell you what’s literal, what’s symbolic, and what’s story/allegory, the only way is to make EVERYTHING inerrant and stick to The Party Line. I remember some private correspondence with Martha of Ireland a couple years ago that described the process in more detail, but I don’t have access to my email archives from that period right now.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Found it!

          Private correspondence from Martha of Ireland, dated 1/9/2011. Context was a Lost Genre Guild thread on extraterrestrial life that first took a turn into UFOlogy, then into “There are NO Aliens — only DEMONS! (SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE!)” It also explains the continuing Culture War witch-hunts and Deliverance Ministry excesses you get among Evangelicals and the Perfectly-Parsed Theology mania among the Truly Reformed. AND the mania for Inerrancy and Six-Day YEC Literalism:

          “Now! My little pet theory! The Reformation threw out the whole layers of acculturation that had accreted around popular Catholicism, and they went after it where it hurt – the folk religion. Not alone did they deny the efficacy of the invocation of the saints (whatever the leaders’ theological position on saints) but they deliberately broke open and despoiled saints’ shrines, broke open the tombs, either reburied or burned the relics, chopped up for firewood any wonder-working icons, crucifixes or statues (for example, what the Henrician reformation did to the images of Our Lady of Walsingham and others: “It was the month of July, the images of Our Lady of Walsingham and Ipswich were brought up to London with all the jewels that hung around them, at the King’s commandment, and divers other images, both in England and Wales, that were used for common pilgrimage . . . and they were burnt at Chelsea by my Lord Privy Seal”.)

          “But not alone did they destroy all the official church paraphernalia, this meant that for the ordinary man or woman, you couldn’t even have a rosary beads, a crucifix, a holy picture, a relic , holy water in your house or on your person – nothing except the Bible (if you could read it and had a copy). You couldn’t even say a prayer to your patron saint – no more of Martin Luther in the thunderstorm promising St. Anne if she’d save him, he’d join a monastery. So all the protections that the ordinary people had relied on were whipped away in one fell swoop and they were left with naked faith.

          “And with a lively belief in the devil still alive and kicking, and a view of God that may not have been meant as punitive but turned that way (as we’ve seen in the IM discussion threads about ‘if you’re sick, it’s God’s punishment or your own lack of faith’), they were left reliant on their own faith – ah, but wait! If you’re inclined to the Calvinist end of the spectrum, that may not be enough! Because how do you know this is real faith, saving faith, living faith as distinct from the dead faith that avails naught? God even permits some of the reprobate to feel they have a saving faith, even though they really don’t, and are not of the elect but are damned already despite whatever they may do or say.

          “If all that will protect you from the Devil is your own faith, and you can’t be sure of that, of course all the alternative they had was to make a fetish of the Bible (as bad in its way as any magical charm-prayer or novena to saints in the Bad Old Days). All you can do is wave the Word around and see devils under every bush.

          “And I think that attitude soaked in to the Protestant sub-consciousness and we’re still seeing the fruits of it in, as you say, demonic UFOs and duelling Bible-verses. You have to get the right verse exactly right with the right exegesis and right interpretation, or you’re toast – the same way a magician must get the circle drawn exactly right when invoking demons or he’ll be torn to shreds.

          “The early Reformation universe was a very bare and hostile place, and that translates wonderfully into the bare and hostile reaches of empty, dark space with demonic aliens looming out of it to pounce on the unwary.”

  11. “Oh, that’s not fair! I have never said a word against your profession, I think it one of the noblest in the world. I have never objected in the least to your learning whatever new magic you saw fit – but until today you have always been content to make your discoveries in books.”

    “Well, no longer. To confine a magician’s researches to the books in his library, well, you might as well tell an expolrer to search for the source of, of – whatever it is those African rivers are called – on the condition that he never steps outside of Tunbridge Wells.”

    Arabella gave an exclamation of exasperation. “I thought you meant to be a magician, not an explorer!”

    “It is the same thing. An explorer cannot stay at home reading maps other men have made. A magician cannot increase the stock of magic by reading other men’s books. It is quite obvious to me that sooner or later Norrell and I must look beyond our books.”

    “Have you read every book on magic?” Sir Walter demanded of Strange.

    “What? No of course not!” said Strange.

    “These halls you saw tonight, do you know where they all lead?” asked Sir Walter.

    “No,” said Strange.

    “Do you know what the dark land is that the bridge crosses?”

    “No, but…”

    “Then, surely it would be better to do as Mrs. Strange suggests, and read all you can about these roads before returning to them,” said Sir Walter.

    “But the information in books is inaccurate and contradictory! Even Norrell says so and he has read everything there is to read about them. You can be certain of that!”

    Arabella, Strange, and Sir Walter continued to argue for another half hour until everyone was cross and wretched and longing to go to bed. Only Strange seemed at all comfortable with these descriptions of eerie, silent halls unending pathways and vast dark landscapes. Arabella was genuinely frightened by what she had heard and even Sir Walter and Colonel Grant felt decidedly unsettled. Magic, which had seemed so familiar just hours before, so English, had suddenly become inhuman, unearthly, otherlandish.

    Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange
    Susanna Clarke

  12. “I have often had a fancy for writing a romance about an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas. I always find, however, that I am either too busy or too lazy to write this fine work, so I may as well give it away for the purposes of philosophical illustration. There will probably be a general impression that the man who landed (armed to the teeth and talking by signs) to plant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the Pavilion at Brighton, felt rather a fool. I am not here concerned to deny that he looked a fool. But if you imagine that he felt a fool, or at any rate that the sense of folly was his sole or his dominant emotion, then you have not studied with sufficient delicacy the rich romantic nature of the hero of this tale. His mistake was really a most enviable mistake; and he knew it, if he was the man I take him for. What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again? What could be better than to have all the fun of discovering South Africa without the disgusting necessity of landing there? What could be more glorious than to brace one’s self up to discover New South Wales and then realize, with a gush of happy tears, that it was really old South Wales. This at least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the main problem of this book. How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it? How can this queer cosmic town, with its many-legged citizens, with its monstrous and ancient lamps, how can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being our own town?” Chesterton, G.K.

    Hey Jeff I don’t know you but I appreciate the honesty of your post. This passage from Chesterton’s Orthodoxy came to mind. I just want to encourage you to not throw the baby out with the bathwater or paint with to broad a stroke when it comes to us Evangelicals. We are not all the same. Contentment with who you are and where you are at is not something the words Evangelical or Catholic can give you. Just some thoughts.

  13. Seneca Griggs says

    At age 65 after having been, like most people, hit up the side of the head with various 2 X 4s from life I still hold to the Bible as being the inerrant Word where God mostly clearly revealed himself. I still think, as it applied to the life of the simple shepherds in the time of Christ, it applies to the doctors, lawyers and theologians of our time. I still believe God hasn’t changed one whit and that the writers of Scripture were inspired by God to give us His Word and since He is perfect, it applies to His creation, mankind, once and for all.

    Now, on the other hand, I am often pretty lousy representation of what a believer should probably be like. I’m a Calvinist by choice but lots of my friends and family aren’t – that’ okay by me because I believe they too committed their lives into the hands of the Savior and He is working out His will in them.

    I pray he’ll work out His will in me; that’s a big enough challenge.

    From John: “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the World.” There I stand.

  14. Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says

    All of creation exists to Glorify its Creator. If we explore the wonders of the universe; the beauty of the galaxies, stars being born, a magnificent rainbow , to how tiny seeds can give birth to magnificent trees, exquisite flowers and delicious fruit; yes, if we explore all these things, ponder them, enjoy them, we can come to know something ABOUT the One Who Created them. He is Glorified through All these things.

    Yet He did more. He wanted to share all this with a “someone”, a person outside Himself. He created the human being, in His image. Not to just witness the wonders He created but to come to Know Him, not know about Him, but to come to KNOW Him from within. To have an incredible everlasting relationship with Him, to know Who He IS and Enjoy Who He IS – To come to the knowledge of He Who IS LOVE. We were created for this. Everything else that God created is to lead us to this ultimate end. The Bible was created for us not we for the Bible.

    The Bible tells the wonderful story of God making Himself known to those He created in His image. He is their God, they are His people. It is the story of salvation history culminating in the Birth, Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. It is a story passed down through the ages by the spoken word then birthed into written forms of all literary genre. As threads come together to create a beautiful tapestry so all literary styles were used to convey this story of love interwoven through the ages. In its pages is the Living Word of God, His Message for each of us. We were not made for the Bible, we were made for the God made known through the Bible.

    It often puzzles me why so many, non Catholics and sadly former Catholics alike, think the Bible is not important in the RCC. When through a careful study of the Eucharist Celebration one will find the Words of Scripture are part of the core and essence of Catholic Life. Not just on Sunday but every single day, throughout the world, throughout each 24hr period, the RCC celebrates the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Two essential means of spiritual nourishment and growth. Two essential means to fulfill Jesus’s prayer: “Father, may they be One in Us as You and I are One….” “Those who abide in Love abide in Me and I in them…” The incredible intimacy for which we were created.

    All creation is clothed in a Mantle of Mystery. The finite intelligence for all the wonders it can explain will never unravel all the answers before the Infinite Eternal Intelligence. All of existence, our very lives, are embedded with mystery, full of things we don’t understand. We will always have more questions than answers. But this is not bad. It keeps us humbly seeking the One who Knows the answers and leads us to trust Him. To trust in His Love when we don’t understand. To seek His abiding Presence when we don’t understand leads us to experience His Peace. In His Peace I find the unanswered questions aren’t so important. When I have Him, when He is in me and I in Him, I have the One who knows the answers. He wants me to Let Him Love me and asks me to trust Him and rest in His abiding Presence.

  15. The Bible is like the bread and wine of Communion…the water of Baptism…the poor words from the preacher of the Word…and our dear Lord Jesus, Himself…truly a product of man…and of God.

    The finite contains the infinite.

    In case some believe that God is unable to use earthen vessels.

    Isn’t that in the Bible somewhere? That He does use earthen vessels? Just checking.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Sure it is, but we forget that those vessels are earthen, and God doesn’t turn them into heavenly clay pots.

      The people whom God uses still have a cultural identity, a specific audience, a literary persona, and a rhetorical objective; that does go away just because God inspires them.

  16. Vega Magnus says

    I haven’t read my Bible in a very long time because of how many times I read it incorrectly before I started walking the wilderness. I don’t trust myself to interpret it properly. Still, I feel that although I’m having to unlearn much and learn many new things, I’m still comfortable with my standing with God. It’s a journey that takes a lifetime, and I have a long way to go to figure things out.

  17. Jeff, it does sound as if you had a very confusing, incoherent and sometimes fearful journey through what passes for Protestant Christianty in some circles. As a Reformed Christian, I don’t understand your choice. If you believe in salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ alone, your choice doesn’t make sense. If you never believed in that, then the nature of your journey and your new choice makes more sense.

    • David Cornwell says

      So, what reformed and perfected church do you recommend? Who is it’s earthly leader?

    • Yeah, there’s the wide gate, and the narrow gate. You’ve chosen the wide gate. Matthew 7: 13-14; see also Proverbs 14:12. To adulterate the Bible with manmade idolatries, and worship through vain human fripperies and intermediaries, is a betrayal of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There have always been pockets of faithful believers, not only in modern times. How can anyone who has ever known God’s love, sell his soul for a mess of pottage…bow before the altar of Ba’al….accept the Mark? God will judge.

      (P.S. Mr. Unicorn Guy, don’t bother with your usual rejoinder. Your bon mots have become as tiresome as that cartoon you watch. You are a pathetic man.)

      • “You are a pathetic man.” How loving.

        Apparently, when you squeezed yourself through the “narrow gate,” it wasn’t wide enough to accommodate your human heart, which you had to leave behind.

        I wonder if you looked up before crossing the threshold to make sure the words “ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE” weren’t inscribed on a placard above your chosen “gate.”

        Very sad.

      • You, my dear, illustrate the kind of Christian that gives Secularism the strength it has today.

        So quick to decide who is in and who is out. All see themselves as God’s prophet or the mouth of Christ himself.

        I pray that God is much more merciful than you think he is.

      • Abigail, I find the Unicorn Guy’s approach refreshing, at least most of the time. He colors outside the lines, but so did Picasso, and challenges the way we look at things.

        I do think he could lay off Steve though, and maybe he’s taken the hint by now.

        Cartoons are great too, and often point to the truth. Which one? South Park or My Little Pony?

        • Must be My Little Pony. I just watched a bit of South Park and it’s not only tiresome, it’s disgusting.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            SP is briefly funny, but rapidly becomes worn out. The crassness washes out whatever legitimate satire may be present

      • Marcus Johnson says

        Abigail, if HUG lays off of you, there are plenty of people in this forum who would take up his mantle.

        Your rebuttal has a lot of ten-letter words which, if you were writing a college application essay, might get you a B minus, but in the end, you are demonstrating the exact problems with Scriptural engagement that Jeff has argued exist within many mainstream evangelical communities. I’m seeing a lot of metaphors, Christianese, and “us against the world” mentality that sound very passionate, but carry very little substance.

        Perhaps Queen Latifah can express it best:

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        See why you should NEVER expose any of your real self — your dreams, your passions, your desires, yourself — around Christians?

    • If you have read any of my essays in the last three years, you would know where I stand on grace. That has not changed. And I find nothing in the Catholic teaching that contradicts grace through faith in the finished work of Christ alone. That is not the point of this essay, however.

      • You should really do a post on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. I’d love for us to hash that out here, especially led by someone who has “switched sides.”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > in salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ alone, your choice doesn’t make sense.

      There is *absolutely nothing* about this belief that is exclusive to protestantism.

      Protestants just continue to tell themselves the contrary is true.

  18. don skidmore says

    This was my first read of this blog. I became a christian right out of high school following trouble with drug abuse. My journey flowed since then through various channels of Christianity including fundamental Baptist, Methodist, Evangelical Free, Free Methodist, United Brethren, Pentecostal, and by way of much reading have learned from various Monastic movements from Egypt to Iona, Benedict and Merton, and Greek and Russian Orthodox. I find, rather than disparaging them that I embrace what I learned and try to behave. (ok, I must confess I do HATE Calvinism. But, it can surely only be due to lack of being fated to love it.)
    I felt some of what you said was unfair to the Evangelicals I have known. One could get the idea from this and some of the comments on this current post that this blog is all about promoting Catholic teaching and church, or at least bashing evangelicalism. So, perhaps I don’t belong. I consider myself a St. Methobapticostal, but perhaps that is not diverse enough. The cats I have run with as a youth pastor in evangelicalism do know that the Bible, even while giving some answers hints at great mystery beyond them. You seem to me to be creating hard lines…. ? We should be people of the Word, Not people of the Book… It’s a lot of semantics. Cases can be made for a variety of views on this with much charity and truth for all, plus some room for that mystery you spoke of. Hard lines are the very thing you seem to be moving away from…So, don’t simply redraw them. I just ordered the kindle of Michael Spencer’s book on Amazon. Looking forward to it. The imonk name associated with him drew me in…Our youth group started a FB group for the teens in it, called imonk about a year ago. It’s playing with the canonical minute on iphone… 4 brief single bite devo nuggets daily at Lauds, Midday, Vespers, and Compline for teens on the run.
    So, i was curious to see another imonk thing going on here, apparently for years…. Cool. to be continued…

    • Don, there is a huge difference between the Word (Jesus) and the book (the Bible). It is those who equate the two I have problems with.

      I hope you will like Michael’s book. But if my post made you upset, Michael’s book will send you screaming …

    • ok, I must confess I do HATE Calvinism. But, it can surely only be due to lack of being fated to love it.

      This had me rolling 🙂

      • I think the Calvinists would say that Don hates Calvinism due to a lack of being foreordained (not fated) to love it.

        I don’t think they could keep themselves from saying that.

    • Don,

      Up to a point in my life I hated Calvinism. Then God used Calvinism to teach me some very important things about his extravagantly wasteful Grace. Now I don’t need Calvin’s systematic theology anymore, after all, Calvin was only HALF RIGHT.

  19. I have to agree with don skidmore a bit on this. While I do appreciate the honesty of the post (and your journey) it does seem rather disparaging of evangelicals and many of the evangelical churches of which I have been a part. Not that they are without their faults (what earthly church isn’t?), but I have been a part of many evangelical churches that encourage question asking and embrace the mystery of God and Jesus. It is sad that this is not the experience of many in evangelical churches, but it seems hardly fair to throw them all under the bus in one fell swoop.

  20. Did you read the very first paragraph of this post? If not, please do …

  21. Jeff – I hear you re. being burned out on the bible. ONe of the things I’ve needed to do (in my recovery from an abusive church) is to put the mandated “daily reading program” aside. I don’t read the bible very often, either, but when i do read it, I tend to do what you’ve been doing – just for the sheer pleasure of reading, or – if not always pleasure (depends on what I’m checking out), then interest.

    I think that one of the most helpful things for me personally has been reverting (if that’s actually the case!) to short, lectionary/prayerbook-type readings. That way, things are neither overwhelming nor indigestible, and provide a lot of food for thought.

  22. Josh in FW says


    I was wondering if you’ve ever seen this comic: I think it’s something that you and many here would enjoy.

  23. It seems many have a bad experience in one wing of the Church so they run to another wing (or exit). “I had a bad experience in fundamentalism” (not evangelicalism) ” so I’m going to Catholicism” or “I was raised Catholic and didn’t understand who Jesus was so now I’m Southern Baptist.” Vending-machine Christianity. The truth is there are many wonderful evangelical churches and there are many who love Jesus in the Catholic communion. How about confronting the sin in fundamentalism? How about bringing Jesus to a dry Catholic parish instead of following the easy exit?

  24. Jeff –

    Thanks for sharing your heart. I’ve also had some major reconstructive surgery over the past few years with regards to my theology of Scripture, but the end result is a bit different than yours. I suppose one might blame it on my residing in western Europe for the past 5+ years. 🙂

    It started for me with engaging with 2 books: Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet and Pete Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation. I then went on to read even “harder hitting” stuff like Kenton Sparks’ God’s Word in Human Words. But I found myself really, really appreciating the thoughts of these books. Then the biggie was reading Jamie Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, which showed me how postmodern thought is not the bogey monster we think it is. It helped me move away from the more modernist, post-Enlightenment perspective of the former west to a more balanced postmodern approach to life and epistemology.

    However, in all of this, while I have gained great respect for my more higher church friends in the RC and EO, I have remained evangelical. Though I might say that term can be problematic in many ways – but I remind myself that the term is formed from “evangel”, the good news. And I am all about the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus.

    Even more, I find myself looking to be some kind of voice that helps pull evangelicalism back to a more centered, balanced approach with regards to it’s approach to Scripture. And I’ll get a great opportunity as we are now moving back to the Bible belt, to Memphis where I grew up and spent most of my life, all the while taking on doctoral studies to help prepare to continue to see if we can shape things for a better future in moving forward as Christians in the US.

    But thank you, again, for sharing your story.