Dear Atheist: Don’t Read the Bible Like a Fundamentalist!

Fundamentalism turns 100, a landmark for the Christian Right

Sophisticated Christian apologist:

There is no question that the Bible does indeed carry much deeply problematic moral content. And rather than ignore those texts or spin them, Christians need to confront them honestly. Every reader has a tendency to read in accord with their biases. And if [Dan] Barker [popular skeptic/former Christian pastor turned atheist author] reads like a fundamentalist Christian counting instances of the ‘f-bomb’, his book forces Christians who have their own selective methods to confront many texts that may present a significant challenge to their theology.

The fact is, however, that there are many books and essays by Christians that offer thoughtful reflections on biblical violence in light of theology, hermeneutics, and ethics (e.g. Eric Seibert, Kent Sparks, Paul Copan, Greg Boyd, Peter Enns, John Dominic Crossan, Philip Jenkins, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Swinburne, Douglas Earl, Thom Stark). None of these scholars root their analysis in fundamentalist methods. And all of them seem a good deal more aware of their own presuppositions and how those presuppositions inform their work than Dan Barker.


Whenever one is reading an ancient text, a text whose author has been dead for millennia, it is impossible to be 100% certain as to the intent of the author. Did he intend this or that passage to be understood literally or metaphorically? No one, I don’t care how much of an an “expert” he or she may be, can be certain. Experts can only make educated guesses.

So whether we are reading the works of Homer, the authors of the Pentateuch, or the authors of the Gospels, we can only guess as to the author’s intent. But there is a big difference on this issue between Homer and the authors of the Bible. Does it really matter whether or not some particular passage in Homer’s “Iliad” was intended to be read literally or metaphorically? No. Not really. Not in the big scheme of things. In fact, even if ALL the characters, stories, and details (the Greco-Trojan wars) in “The Iliad” are fictional it wouldn’t really matter. But imagine if the authors of the Pentateuch were wrong! Imagine if ALL the stories in the first five books of the Jewish and Christian holy books are complete fiction!

And imagine the same is true with the authors of the Gospels. Imagine if many or all of the stories about Jesus found in the Gospels are fictional?? Yes, Jesus probably existed. Yes, he was probably an apocalyptic preacher and had a reputation as a healer and miracle worker. But imagine if the detailed stories of Jesus’ followers seeing and touching a walking, talking corpse are merely theological fiction!

Don’t read the Bible like a fundamentalist, my friends, but do read it with your eyes wide open! You have an educated brain. Use it! Virgins never give birth to demi-gods fathered by invisible (holy) ghosts and brain dead corpses never come back to life.






End of post.

17 thoughts on “Dear Atheist: Don’t Read the Bible Like a Fundamentalist!

  1. Gary, I agree to some degree. But, I do feel a thinking Christian has to consider what is really essential to faith. To use an extreme example is the age of the earth really a big deal to the Christian faith one way or the other. For me, it’s not. I suppose a fundamentalist Christian might disagree. What is the actual hill we are willing to die on??

    Also, I want to share my own experience in studying with some more progressive scholars. The folks I knew did not come from fundamentalist backgrounds. They weren’t against the miraculous or on the other hand trying to make the Scripture more palatable to the skeptic one way or the other. Frankly, I don’t know that they cared.

    They were just straight up looking at the text and into their scholarship. And, of course, you’re right their own bias also came through in some of their thoughts and conclusions as well.

    Also want to say that I don’t think skeptics are silly or I’m the one qualified to dictate to folks how to read and interpret Scripture. But, I’m just sharing some of my own thoughts and perspective. You know, throwing it into the mix for discussion…:)

    What does the Scripture say, “Let each be persuaded in their own mind…”


    1. Not sure but I think your quote is from one of Paul’s tracts, yes?

      “Let each be persuaded in their own mind…”
      The problem with this methodology, Becky is obvious from the fact it has spawned thousands of sects/denominations. Wars have been fought over different interpretations of scripture.
      Add to these problems the fact that the character Jesus is not the founder of Christianity, but rather Saul / Paul is and a careful reading of gMatthew shows quite plainly that Jesus was intent on establishing a unique sect within Judaism, that would include Gentiles while fully maintaining Mosaic Law.
      You will be familiar with Matt 5: 18-19, I’m sure, yes? ”Not one jot or title etc …”.


      1. Well, I’m sharing my opinion here, and it may seem convoluted, but it’s what I personally believe and how I think.

        I feel like the corporate witness of the church to the resurrection of Christ is essential. Either the empty tomb is a reality or it’s not. But, Gary, whether all these details expounded in the gospels actually happened in the way recorded, I don’t know. You’ve looked at the scholarship as well.

        In terms of my own faith, the historic truth of every detail is not that important. But, I do actually think that the tomb was found empty. Christ either rose from the dead or the earliest Christians were victims of delusion or hallucination.

        I will add this, I don’t feel that anyone becomes either a skeptic or a Christian believer based on just examination of evidence or intellectual reasoning alone.

        There is also a real element of choice involved made by every person


        1. Would it make a difference to your willingness to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as your Lord and Savior if we found out that all the alleged sightings of Jesus were nothing more than sightings of bright lights, shadows, or cases of mistaken identity (the detailed accounts in the Gospels are legendary)?


          1. If I may interrupt … 😉

            For “true: believers (Becky included), there will never be enough evidence to convince them that what their revered ancient book tells them isn’t Truth (capital “T”). It’s been a centuries-long effort and yet … they still believe. The word may be distasteful, but it fits … indoctrination.


          2. Gary, of course, I would not be a Christian if I thought the church’s witness to the resurrection was a hoax.

            But, I feel like this witness actually predates the Scripture. Also, this is a somewhat related issue.

            Have you examined the writings of any of the fathers? It is said that Polycarp was actually acquainted with the apostle John. Of course, I don’t feel that everything the fathers wrote was like gospel either.

            But, their witness and perspective also add another dimension overlooked in many protestant churches, IMO.


            1. The majority of scholars believe that Polycarp knew an “Elder John” but there is no consensus that this was John, son of Zebedee, the apostle. The consensus among scholars is that NONE of the Early Church Fathers knew even one of the original Twelve.

              I am not alleging that the original “sightings” of Jesus were invented (a hoax). I believe, as do most scholars, that the original eyewitnesses sincerely believed that Jesus had appeared to them…in some form. But “in some form” is key. How do you know, Becky, that the alleged appearances of Jesus were not ALL based on people seeing bright lights which the eyewitnesses perceived to be Jesus?


              1. And go a few times to any very charismatic church today and you will hear people saying they have seen and experienced Jesus in vey real ways. Ways in which anyone not in their tradition would say are creations of their own minds. Humans haven’t changed that much in two thousand years, and it’s not only possible but entirely very probable that the same thing happened to the earliest Christians and apostles.


              2. Well, from my perspective it seems rather unlikely.

                It is interesting to me that in Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, his companions only saw a bright light, but he encountered Christ. This is the only encounter that I know of in the Scripture involving lights.

                There have been many alternate explanations posed throughout the centuries relating to the witness of the resurrection. I think I”m not the one to persuade folks one way or the other.

                As always, have appreciated the discussion with you, Gary, and hearing everyone’s thoughts.



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