Biblical scholar Pete Enns had a post this morning entitled 5 Main Challenges to Staying Christian, and moving forward anyway (part 1). He was basing his list on responses he got to a blog post that he wrote. The five challenges to staying Christian are:
1. Problems with the idea that the Bible is inerrant.
2. The conflict between the Bible and science.
3. God's apparent absence in the midst of suffering.
4. Christians being jerks.
5. Christian exclusivism.
could take issue with how I conceptualized or phrased these challenges
in summarizing them, but you can read Enns' post for yourself to see how
he defines the challenges.
read the article told me that she thought that number 3 was the biggest
challenge for Christians, and that a number of Christians could
reconcile the other challenges in their own minds. I found this
intriguing, since 1-2 and 4-5 have been huge challenges to me in my own
Christian faith. But I think that she's right----there are many
Christians who are not particularly phased by 1-2 and 4-5.
Let's look at the challenges:
The Bible is inerrant. I'm surprised that this is not a bigger
challenge for Christians than it is. After all, there are plenty of
television documentaries that poke holes at a conservative Christian
conception of Scripture, while highlighting the views of critical
scholars. The Internet can bring people of different persuasions
together into dialogue and debate, such that a conservative Christian
can be exposed to the views of an atheist or a non-Christian religious
Jew. Heck, even reading the Bible itself can expose one to its
different tellings of the same stories, its contradictions, and its
passages that offend today's moral sensibilities.
then, is biblical inerrancy not a problem for a number of Christians? I
think there are a variety of reasons. For one, not every Christian is
aware of every challenge to biblical inerrancy. In some cases, that's
because they are busy living their lives, but there are also cases in
which they're reading or listening to people who don't talk much about
these challenges. I know Christians who believe that the Old
Testament's prophecies have a solid record of coming to pass, and that
Jesus fulfilled a number of Old Testament prophecies. They are not
aware that there are scholars who argue that Ezekiel's prophecies about
Tyre and Egypt did not come to pass, or that the Old Testament
"prophecies" (supposedly) about Jesus mean something different in their
original contexts than how Christians in the New Testament (and
thereafter) applied them. Come to think of it, I wasn't aware of these
issues, either, until they were thrown in my face, and I was one who
went to church and read the Bible.
on the television documentaries, you have to admit that sometimes they
posit scenarios that can easily strike a person as speculative or even
ridiculous! Even seminarians and scholars make fun of many of these
documentaries about the Bible. A conservative Christian can easily
watch them and conclude that the challenges to Christianity must not be
Christians have their own set of experts. You think the Bible
contradicts itself or has errors? Check out Gleason Archer's Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties,
or read commentaries online that seek to reconcile biblical
contradictions. In a number of cases, conservative Christians go on
believing because they think that their experts have come up with good
answers to the objections against the Bible. Many decide to go deeper
and follow the debate further; many do not. I wish, though, that more
conservative Christians who place their faith in their experts would
realize that a number of people who have problems with biblical
inerrancy are well aware of what the conservative Christian experts
argue and have found the arguments lacking. I know of one conservative
Christian student who was surprised to see Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict on his liberal professor's bookshelf. So one can read Josh McDowell and walk away unconvinced? Apparently so!
The conflict between the Bible and science. I think that much of what I
said for 1 applies here. There are a number of conservative Christians
who believe that creationists have answered the challenges of
evolutionists while upholding Genesis 1. Some choose to go deeper in
researching the topic; some don't.
God's apparent absence in the midst of suffering. This challenges the
faith of many Christians, but I think that a number of Christians find
ways to help them to deal with suffering: to chalk it up to God's will
or God's plan. The problem is that, sometimes, the burdens get to be
too great, and the usual ways of dealing with suffering become less
helpful. While a number of Christians may be able to find some way to
cope with (or avoid) intellectual challenges to their faith, coping with
suffering is much more difficult.
Christians being jerks. Conservative Christians can just say that
Christians aren't perfect, only forgiven, or that being around jerks is a
refining process that makes us more Christ-like. Maybe they have a
point, but number 4 is still a challenge to me. For one, I wonder why
many Christians are so smug about how right they are and how everyone
else is wrong, when they themselves have the same flaws as others. And,
second, there are cases in which I believe that the content of
Christian dogma itself encourages people to become jerks. It's easy to
get an us vs. them mindset when reading the Bible!
Christian exclusivism. I'm surprised that this isn't a bigger
challenge than it is, since many Christians know and love
non-Christians, even if they may live in an area that does not have too
many people from other religions. How can they make peace with the
notion that these non-Christians will go to hell? I think there are a
variety of ways. Some are satisfied with the idea that God is just to
condemn them to hell. Some hold out hope that their non-Christian
family members, friends, and neighbors will accept Christ before they
die. Some may even adopt more inclusivistic versions of
Christianity----and these are becoming more popular (or such is my