From Evangelical Christian belief to skepticism

The premise of this thread begins with the observation of persons I have known that have gone straight from Christian evangelicalism to skepticism or atheism without serious consideration of other alternatives.

Evangelical Christians are taught that only those that have a born again experience are true Christians. Therefore they don’t consider others other professing to be true Christians. They have been taught to dismiss those Christians professions of faith.

Furthermore they have been taught that one must believe the five fundamentals and/or the Nicene Creed. Anyone who doesn’t hold that Orthodox list of beliefs is not a true Christian according to this way of thinking. So when they find they can no longer believe this way they reject Christianity, theism and God altogether.

I also plan to examine the psychology that seems to go along with this way of thinking, and to examine how an Evangelical Christian might come to disbelieve Pauline texts on the basis of reason. Finally I hope to get into other ways of Christian thinking that are not included in this Evangelical orientation.

The fundamentals I referred to above are as follows :

  • Biblical inspiration and the infallibility of scripture as a result of this
  • Virgin birth of Jesus
  • Belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin
  • Bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • Historical reality of the miracles of Jesus

In 1910, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church specifying that they were beliefs necessary to be a true Christian. The five fundamentals became a standard test of belief across many conservative denominations.

When fundamentalism became a pejorative word as a result of attacks on it, as for example in the famous so called Scopes monkey trial, conservative Christians abandoned the term in favor of “Evangelicalism”. But in discussion with Evangelical Christians I’ve found that they still usually hold to the five fundamentals.
This appears to be a reasonable alternative to evangelical fundamentalism.

It does. And yet it would be unacceptable from the fundamentalist Evangelical point of view because it doesn’t specify belief in Christ as the only path to salvation, and it doesn’t prescribe adherence to the five fundamentals or the Nicene Creed.

When i was going through belief-defects, i was atheist briefly.
It was a phase. I was trying to get my mind back.
The fundy=five was part of JW practice as well.

The Jehovah Witness creed accepts the five fundamentals and yet denies the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and the Nicene Creed. Therefore, despite their similarities, it is normal for Evangelical Christians to consider Jehovah Witnesses as heretical, not saved and not true Christians.

JW’s. Actually take revelations the most seriously …

Only 144,000 souls are going to heaven.

For them it’s a pyramid scheme, the more converts, the more likely that you’re one of those 144,000.

The first person in is the person who wrote the book of revelations, this is the pyramid scheme.

That may or may not be true. However it’s irrelevant to the thesis of this thread which is about how and why Christian evangelicals go from evangelicalism to skepticism instead of other alternatives. Wait. Are you saying that the Jehovah Witness faith is a viable alternative to evangelicalism? If so, I would argue that it is not. Although the Jehovah Witnesses claim they are not fundamentalists on their official internet website, they do hold that the Bible is the inspired inerrant word of God and that it is scientifically and historically accurate and reliable and should be interpreted literally for the most part. While they’re interpretations differ from the evangelicals on the divinity of Christ, those beliefs put them very close.

Evangelicalism seeks acceptance on the basis of reason and objectivity. In other words on the basis of Enlightenment values. It is a product of as well as a reaction to modernity.

The path from Evangelical faith to skepticism accepts the definition of reason as a statement offered in explanation or justification of something. The Bible alludes to this definition in 1st Peter chapter 2 verse 15 which says" but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give an answer to every man who asks of you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear."

Evangelical/fundamentalist point of view takes this verse as a command for Christians to be prepared to give an answer for the reason why they believe whenever asked. Reason then is seen as the process of comprehending and justifying reality.

This very understanding of reason, can come in conflict with the Evangelical religion that spawned it. From the standpoint of this reason Christian apologists may be seen to have strange affiliations with reason. It may come in conflict with appeals to emotion that are frequently made from the pulpit by Christian preachers.

Furthermore, spiritual truth is often presented as incomprehensible or foolish to the natural mind. 1 Corinthians chapter 2 verse 14 says" the natural man receives not the things of the spirit of God for they are foolishness unto him neither can he know them for they are spiritually discerned". Accordingly believers can assert their faith is reasonable and at the same time present it as something that defies or is above reason.

The fundamental that says the Bible is literally the inspired and inerrant “Word of God”, demands belief and obedience without question because God’s Word says it is so.

Consequently in Evangelicalism, faith is regarded as godly and moral and unbelief as sinful. Reason is often depicted as an enemy of faith and even something diabolical as unbelief itself.

Nevertheless, reason is an espoused value of the New Testament writers and of modernity as it emerged from Western enlightenment, and consequently of Evangelicalism which is a product of modernity as much as a reaction to it. Accordingly, one inculcated into this mindset may conclude that, by definition, only reason can emancipate us from false ideas and deliver us from all things irrational.

The Bible defines faith in Hebrews 11:1 as follows “faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen”. The concrete thinker may find this definition to be at least in part absurd. Faith may be reasonable as an expression of hope in some manner but it is not evidence of the unseen nor of what the future may or may not hold for us. Believing something to be so is not evidence because believing doesn’t make it true. From this point of view this seems obvious but it is totally overlooked by believers in the Bible who take it as the Bible’s definitive statement on faith.

What happens when an individual with this rationalist point of view takes a critical and analytical look at the New Testament texts that are foundational texts for Evangelicalism? That is what I intend to explore next on this thread.

Instructed as he is in the doctrine of biblical literal inerrancy, what is our Christian rationalist to make of first Peter 4:7 where it says “but the end of all things is at hand”? The early Christians were told they were “waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” 1 Corinthians 1:7 in Titus 2:13 Paul tells Titus to be “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God our savior, Jesus Christ”. In II Thessalonians 1:6-10 Paul tells the new Christians that they “should rest with us when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels”.

Would the Christian rationalist not see that “us” there included Paul himself who as a matter of history was not was rescued by “the Lord who returned from heaven with his mighty angels”.

Peter told his readers that they would be the recipients of “praise honor and glory” for their faith “at the appearing of Jesus Christ”. [I Peter 1:7. ]He instructed them to “hope to the end for the grace that is brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. [I Peter 1:13} But Jesus’s expected return as a generally observed public phenomenon didn’t happen in their lifetimes nor in the subsequent two millennia.

The book of Hebrews speaks of “the end of the world” as present in the first century. “For then must he often have suffered from the foundation of the world but now once in the end of the world have he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” [ Hebrews 9:26] The second coming is in the immediate context '… unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time." [verse 28] But when did the Hebrews who read this ever see the end of the world or the second coming despite the writer placing himself Jesus and his readers at the end of the world? The writer gives further assurances. “For yet a little while and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” [Hebrews 10:37] Would our Christian rationalist not conclude that the “little while” has long run out in the over 2,000 years that the Lord has tarried?

In the late 20th century some prominent Christian evangelists and teachers like Hal Lindsey began to teach that when Jesus said “this generation would not perish until all these things were fulfilled” in Matthew 24:34 he was referring to the generation since the founding of Israel as a nation in 1948. They taught that a generation in the biblical sense lasted 40 years. When Jesus didn’t return in 1988 they began to redefine what generation meant and stretch the meaning beyond 40 years. That might cause our fundamentalistic literalistic rationalistic Christian to question, don’t you think?

Evangelicals often question date setters with Jesus statement that “no man knows the day or the hour”. But while the New Testament writers didn’t claim to know the day of the hour they did predict the generation they were living in would witness the event.

2nd Peter 3:8 attempts to solve the problem by condemning scoffers and saying “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” and again predicting that “the day of the Lord will come”. The majority of New Testament scholars now reject the idea that 2nd Peter was written by Peter and described the book to 2nd century origin.

The Christian rationalist would not be able to overlook Matthew 16:28 where Jesus says verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." The Christian rationalist might conclude that the predictions of the coming of Christ were a monumental failure. And if he did so he might begin to question whether the Ascension, the Resurrection, the miracles of Jesus and the Virgin birth were as well. All this while not questioning his rationalistic, literalistic presuppositions. Thus the fundamentalist Evangelical rationalist embarks on the road towards skepticism.

How much time would you reckon you spend any given day thinking about this stuff?

That depends on what “stuff” you’re referring to.

St Paul is presented in the New Testament as the apostle to the gentiles who used reason in his defense of the Christian gospel. In Acts 17:2 it states that he reasoned for three sabbaths with Jews in the synagogue. In Acts 18:4 it states that in Corinth he reasoned in the synagogues every Sabbath and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. In Acts 24:25 it states that Paul reasoned about righteousness temperance and judgment to come before Governor Felix.

In Romans 12:1 Paul states “I beseech you therefore brethren by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice holy acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service”. The word “therefore” refers to all Paul’s arguments in the previous chapters. So the rationalist should be able to accept Paul’s conclusion in Romans 12:1 as reasonable. Can he?