Perhaps one of the issues that led me away from evangelicalism was the issue of biblical inerrancy. In short, to suggest that the Bible is inerrant is to say that the Bible contains no two pieces of Scripture that contradict each other when understood in context. Over time and through continued Bible study I came to view this position as increasingly untenable. Yet as important as biblical inerrancy is in the evangelical schema, it was not the nature of the Bible itself that lead me away from evangelicalism. Rather, it was the way in which evangelicals dealt with the Bible in order to maintain their position of inerrancy that concerned me most. I began to observe that despite remonstrations to the contrary, evangelicals in actual fact had no real love for Scripture, a point to which I shall return to later in this essay.
The issue of contradictions in the Bible has been raised by Craig Schwarze at his blog, "These Infinite Spaces". It is clear that Craig believes that the Bible is inerrant, or infallible, depending upon the terminology one wishes to use. Reading through the comments, Schwarze reveals that his belief in the inerrant nature of the Bible is a mere assumption, or what he chooses to call a "presupposition". Exactly why he has chosen this presupposition rather than being open to the possibility of Scripture perhaps being errant is unclear.
As one travels further into Schwarze's train of thought, it becomes clear that he has set up a number of mechanisms in his mind to avoid seriously examining the issue of biblical inerrancy. Not only is Schwarze's belief in the inerrancy of Scripture a mere presumption - it is an irrebutable presumption. When Schwarze is faced with an accusation that two verse contradict each other, his first port of call will be to engage in a process called "harmonisation". Harmonisation essentially involves moulding and massaging two texts into shape until they agree with each other. If he can't do this, Schwarze will simply assume that he currently lacks the understanding to properly interpret these verses and that in due course, the contradictions will be resolved. Ironically, it is generally only these problematic passages that are unclear (even if the verses would apparently seem to look straight forward) - evangelicalism claims an almost dogmatic certainty on all other parts of Scripture. The possibility doesn't even seem to occur to Schwarze that he indeed accurately understood the two passages and that his understanding confirms that Scripture does indeed contain contradictions.
Schwarze's contention that contradictions that can't be easily explained away must be the fault of the reader rather than the text directly runs into a distinctive of conservative Protestantism - the perspicuity of Scripture. Conservative Protestants generally assert that Scripture is comprehensible by the lay person and that one doesn't need an authority to interpret the text. Quite clearly, this claim aims to circumvent the Roman Catholic argument that scriptural interpretation is the province of the Vatican alone. Yet Schwarze would seem to be suggesting that Scripture is difficult to understand at certain points (which coincedentally correspond with passages that are alleged to contradict with each other), to such an extent that a proper understanding of certain bible passages remain elusive to the reader until at least a later point in time. Of course, this raises another dilemma - what is the point of having an inerrant set of Scriptures if one can't actually understand what they say?
The presupposition of biblical inerrancy is a harsh and demanding mistress. In evangelical thought, it commands respect above all else, including the Bible itself. If normative principles of hermeneutics lead to an understanding of Scripture contradicting itself, then these principles must be set aside to appease the bleeting voice of inerrancy. If there is a straight forward reading of a text which threatens the doctrine of inerrancy, the straight forward reading must lay its life down at the feet of inerrancy to make way for a more obscure reading that satisfies its ravenous appetite.
This returns us to my first point - evangelicalism is not so much concerned with understanding the Bible as it is with maintaining the doctrine of inerrancy. For evangelicals, biblical inerrancy is the idol that they worship. And ultimately this means that they worship themselves, because biblical inerrancy is a product of their own making. Nothing is allowed to get in the way of serving this idol - not even the Bible itself.