In this article, I attempt to detail the root problem facing the church today.
There are many orthodox statements that are controversial in today’s Christian environment. Many of these now controversial statements have to do with believing in the miracles detailed in Scripture. If I say that God created the world out of nothing in 6 days or that Moses parted the Red Sea there would be scholars and Christians who contest whether those things literally happened in the way they are written in Scripture. It is less controversial to say that Jesus physically rose from the dead, though even that is contested by some who call themselves Christian. Strangely enough, one of the most controversial statements today is that God perfectly and providentially preserved and delivered His Word. If you’re a long time reader of this blog you know that the truism of that statement is not as clear as what people mean by it. The meaning of the above statement is quite unclear, depending on who is saying it.
The way that modern theology is nuanced demands discernment. Every syllable in a theological statement has a purpose, and changing even one or two words can alter the fundamental meaning of a doctrine. Is Jesus God, or is Jesus part of God? Simply adding two words, “part of,” departs from historical Christian orthodoxy. If two words can alter the very core of Christianity, then we must recognize that two words can change doctrine. Now consider what can be affected when an entire passage is altered or re-imagined. As long as I’ve been a Christian I’ve heard professors of the faith interpret Biblical miracles in such a manner that they are no longer miracles by any definition of the word. I have seen every magnificent work of God explained by way of mythology or metaphor. People inject secular paradigms into the pages of the Bible according to the trends of popular opinion or the niche interpretation of a favored scholar. Doctrines that were called “heresy” by all ten years ago have gained enough traction to be a widely held belief in the Church. I can list examples of nearly every doctrine that has been affected by this. An example of this is the widespread belief that the Adam of Scripture was purely metaphorical. According to those who believe in “theistic evolution”, “Adam” represents a people, not a person.
While some naively believe that this does not change the Christian religion, in every case that Scripture is de-spiritualized, some core doctrine is effected, and the Christian religion is changed. See, if there was no literal Adam, then the entire sequence of the fall is purely myth, including the promise of salvation in Genesis 3:15. In short, without a literal Adam, there is no promise or need of a literal Christ . The Federal theology of Christian orthodoxy is laid to waste. The entire structure of redemptive history is altered into some mythical-sociological explanation for how ancient people viewed the world. Despite this fact, I have seen countless men who might be considered modern “giants of the faith” call these re-interpretations a “tertiary issue.” According to them, you can believe in sociological adaptations of Scripture and still have a sound understanding of the Gospel. The reality is that you cannot. So we see that two words or the re-imagining of a passage can alter the core doctrines of the Christian faith.
A simple examination of these interpretations and the widespread acceptance of such demonstrates that many modern Christians are willing to compromise the fundamentals of the Christian religion and call just about anything an “open handed issue.” The evidence this problem can be found by simply reviewing the textbooks in the curriculum of most seminaries or the doctrinal statements found on a church’s website. The average layperson does not know the grave theological error of saying that “Jesus is a part of God.” Anecdotally, my first experience of Christianity was the Young Life, Campus Crusade for Christ, mainstream evangelical version of the religion. In these circles, there was very little that wasn’t considered an “open hand issue.” Theistic evolution was okay, social Trinitarianism and subordinationism were just fine, female pastors were applauded, and the list goes on. I found that the things which were considered closed hand issues were getting caught smoking cigarettes or being too certain about any one theological issue. In other words, things that were socially frowned upon were far more condemning than that which Scripture actually condemns.
It is more controversial in these mainstream evangelical communities to violate a social norm than it is to have serious theological errors. The great success of the book and movie adaptation of the heretical work called “The Shack” is an example of this. The Bible is treated as a sort of crystal ball rather than the governing authority for the Christian. The people I met in my evangelical circles were more likely to get their theology from Christian fiction than the Scriptures. The ever-shrinking “Christianity” section at Barnes and Noble which has turned into more of a spiritual self-help section than a place to find rich theological literature is a market response to a real phenomenon that can be quantified easily by a supply chain department. The point is that the standard in modern Christianity is compromise, not a stalwart defense of the truth. If the Church was healthy, “The Shack” would have been an utter failure. The extent to which fundamental Christian doctrines are tossed aside for the sake of “unity” or “charity” is massive and cannot be understated. Despite this obvious reality, every day another “solid” pastor makes excuses for the foxes in the vineyard. Wolves devour congregations while the shepherds are off herding goats. The root problem is textual atheism, and it has infected every square inch of the Church in 2021.
Atheism in the Church
Textual atheism can be simply defined as a lack of belief that God has preserved and delivered His Word to His people. Within this belief, one can say that “the Bible has been preserved” or that “the Bible is inspired,” but effectively neither of those statements are true to the textual atheist because of how they define, “The Bible.” To the textual atheist, “The Bible” isn’t one text, it is a number of texts which they say “are not doctrinally different.” Even though the words and even passages are different between these texts, they call all of them “The Bible” while saying that not a single one of them is distinctly the Bible. “The Bible” can change in its wording because of the arbitrary claim that “no doctrines are affected.” This results in a potentially infinite number of texts which can be considered “The Bible” while none of them are specifically the correct text. This belief is at the center of what is called “The Critical Text” which is the foundation for modern bibles such as the ESV, NASB, CSB, NIV, and NLT.
The theological disease of textual atheism has festered in the Church for decades and we are now seeing a full outbreak of contagion among the people of God. The unfortunate majority of people who subscribe to this cannot know what the Scriptures say because there is not a text that they can identify as “The Scriptures.” That is why it is Textual Atheism. The Atheist says, “God may exist, but I have no evidence to demonstrate that.” Likewise, they say, “The original Bible may exist, but I have no evidence to demonstrate that.” Instead, they state that “We have good access to the Scriptures.” This belief that I have described demonstrates that the modern advocates of this system have no discernment or theological aptitude, because it is clearly a heterodox belief. The Biblical illiteracy of the modern pastor and person in the pew has left the Church defenseless against the enemy and the world. This Theological illiteracy has led to churches being overrun before they even realize they are being assaulted. The apologetics industry has given Christians a false assurance because the apologists aren’t actually addressing the real problem. The text that these apologists call “The Word of God” isn’t really “The Word of God,” it is just another text that contains the bible. That is why the Muslims love to debate our apologists and put those spectacles on display for the world to see. Search “Muslim by Choice” if you want evidence of this.
If I wrote this article five years ago, I may have needed to make a more compelling case that the conservative church is sick, but today the fruit is evident. Nearly every conservative denomination is fighting for its life right now on issues of intersectional feminism, critical “analytical tools,” theological liberalism and progressivism. Those that are not fighting have already lost. What’s worse is that many of the churches who are making valiant stands against these issues are not addressing the root problem. All of these issues can be easily traced back to textual atheism. Every theological error can be approximately explained by the fact that people either don’t believe in what Scripture says, or that they don’t hold it as authoritative, or that they don’t even know what Scripture is. The issue today is no different from the issue in the beginning. It is always a matter of, “Yea, hath God said?” Even the most conservative churches leave the door wide open for these errors to return if they do not address the theological atheism that caused the problem in the first place.
The primary concern for my reader should be that these theological errors put people in eternal danger. Practically, the concern is that Christians do not seem to care, even pastors. Even in the most sound churches, elders are given a pass for poor discernment and shoddy theology because they have the right credential or because they are well meaning. Christians, especially pastors, have somehow fallen into the trap of thinking that because some authority teaches something, that it must be true and orthodox. This isn’t helped by the rampant “celebrity culture” in modern conservative evangelicalism. We see this with men like Dan Wallace all the time. Even though Wallace has outright rejected the doctrine of Providential Preservation and stated plainly that the church does not have the Bible, Christians defend him and invite him to their seminaries and pulpits. Pastors and laypeople alike shout “slander!” at those who have discernment and an ounce of courage to say something about his false doctrine.
This even happens at the local level. I once confronted a confessional (LBCF) pastor for using Ugaritic (Baal worshipping pagans) literature to alter the text and meaning of Scripture in the Old Testament. Despite this clearly violating the confessional standard of letting Scripture interpret Scripture, I was called manipulative and abusive and told that I “didn’t have the education” to make a judgement on the topic. It didn’t matter to him that I had sent him a full analysis of the passage, including exegesis in Hebrew. In his mind the secular authority he had chosen was more valid than the very confession he subscribed to. That is why I no longer deal with individual variants, because it does not matter to these people. As it goes with Atheists, evidence means nothing to the Textual Atheist.
Both examples are evidence that point to deep, spiritual rot in the conservative church. It proliferates across all departments in seminaries. Some are quick to triage the symptoms of this rot (like Critical Race Theory) while failing to address the textual atheism that is the root cause. In many cases, pastors and laymen do not know their Bible or they do and simply do not believe it in the way it was written. Even if these men and women do believe in the authority of Scripture, if they subscribe to the Critical Text, what their Bible says isn’t definitive, authoritative, or permanent. This is because the mainstream doctrine of Scripture teaches that we do not have the original Bible, only “good access” to it. The text that a Critical Text pastor teaches from as God’s Word is changing with every new edition of the Editio Critica Maior (ECM). It changes every time a new translation of the ESV is made.
This is how a conservative pastor can use a hermeneutic principle taken from Baal worshipping pagans and still have a pulpit in a confessional church – the Bible is said to be changing, and the way pastors treat it in the quiet of their study shows it. This lack of discernment has led to the destruction of meaning in the words “confessional” and “conservative” and “Biblical.” It is not conservative for a pastor or layperson to literally change the words that are on the page of the Bible like that, and yet it is common practice. Every pastor who has taken a Greek exegesis class is taught to produce their own translation, their own text, and their own meaning. There is no common understanding of what the Bible is, what it says, or what it teaches. The theological liberals know this and have been exploiting the good faith of faithful men and women of God for decades.
The victims of this toxic ideology are the Christians who sit under the teaching in these churches. They look down at the words on the page of their Bible and see that their pastor is changing the words on the fly as he preaches, sometimes changing the meaning of the whole passage. They are led to believe that they are getting the best instruction, all the while their pastor subscribes to the doctrine that the Bible isn’t even translated from the inspired original. Perhaps the pastor does believe in Providential Preservation, and that the words are inspired, but every time that pastor changes the text on the fly he undermines the text he’s preaching from. The person in the pew has no more ability to understand what is going on than the pastor understands what he is doing when he changes the text on the fly. The modern critical text pastor is far worse than Karl Barth in this regard. At least Karl Barth was self aware when he preached from Calvin’s pulpit in Geneva. Barth at least felt a duty to teach historical orthodoxy, even if he himself didn’t believe it. The people in the pew were harmed far less from Barth’s pulpit than they are today from the pulpit of a Critical Text pastor.
This textual atheism is the mainstream conservative position, supported by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy along with the writings of modern textual scholars and apologists. The belief that “God did not intend to preserve His Word perfectly” is standard fare among the intellectual class who produce and advocate for the Critical Text. This is not disputed, and the fact that this statement is passed along as “orthodox” should prove to my reader that there is a sickness in the Church. This has been allowed to fester due to the general Biblical illiteracy among the people of God today. The people in Christian churches do not have the ability to hear theological error when it comes from the pulpit or conference table. You may find yourself offended at the broad statements I’ve made in this article, but if you are, I encourage you to answer the following questions:
- Did God preserve and make available his whole Word to His people?
- Do you believe that there are no corruptions in the text of Scripture?
- Do you believe that God desired to preserve every jot and tittle and accomplished that task?
If you answered no to any of these questions, you are a textual atheist. You do not believe that God was capable of preserving His Word. You believe that God failed in His promise to be with His people and communicate with them in Scripture. You cannot prove that Scripture has been corrupted in any one place because you do not have the original to compare it against, and therefore your position is based on a Kantian leap of faith. The only way you can get from “The Bible has been corrupted” to “The Bible is inerrant” is one of blind, unthinking, undiscerning, faith. It is a position that puts trust in the scholars and not God. It is the position that would rather trust the interpretation and text of Baal worshipping Ugarites over and above what God says in His Word. It is, plain and simple, a form of functional atheism.
The simple truth is that this textual atheism cannot hold onto the orthodox doctrine of Scripture without a severe contradiction that invalidates it all entirely. Either the Bible is the very Word of God, or “We do not have now – in any Critical Greek texts or in any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it” (Dan Wallace). The advocates of the Critical Text have not accounted for this contradiction, though they have tried by simply saying that the corruptions do not matter. But we must ask, “How can they know the corruptions do not matter when they do not know what the original said?” They state that the Bible is the Word of God all while believing that we do not have the Bible. No, according to them, we have bibles, and all of them are the Word of God. This is nonsensical and contradictory, unless of course you change the orthodox doctrine of Scripture. The Christian faith teaches that God is powerful and able to do that which he pleases. So the question is not about manuscript evidence, as that is useless to the task at hand. The question is, “Do you believe God preserved all of His word?”