"Are We Wrong to Expect the Bible's Assertions to be Reliable?" Part 1 by Steve Stewart

Steve Stewart was a music pastor in a large Evangelical church who's now a freethinker.


For almost all my life I have been taught, have believed, and have taught others that the Bible from cover to cover is absolutely and infallibly true and inerrant, having been inspired by the Holy Spirit. This has been the position which I learned from my parents, our Baptist Church, my Mom’s Good News Club, my Presbyterian Church, the conservative Christian College I attended, the Evangelical Seminary where I earned my Masters of Divinity, and which I have held and taught through my many years of pastoral ministry. It’s why I received Christ as my Savior at a very early age, was baptized, and later ordained to the Ministry.

At various times during my life, I’ve had questions about things I have read in the Bible: things that just didn’t make sense or seemed pretty strange; or statements made in the Bible that didn’t jive with life as I know it. Being very strong on sound, orthodox theology, and always a defender of “true truth,” I just wrote off my misgivings and questions to simply not being able to understand the mind or ways of God. But someday – in heaven – everything would make sense and “we will understand it better by and by.”

I was known for championing “the truth” and disallowing worship songs whose lyrics were not consistent with Biblical concepts.

And then in 2012 something very disturbing and disconcerting happened in the life of our church. I just couldn’t make sense of what occurred. For the first time I was really disillusioned about the efficacy of prayer, for one thing. I began to wonder if God was really listening to His people bringing their deepest requests before His throne day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. And if God WERE listening, why He didn’t respond with an answer that would bring glory to Himself, His Name (reputation) and the Bride of Christ? So my first question about my faith became a momentous catalyst which brought many others to the surface – some of which I had buried for years, and others which came to my mind, one after another. I started to step back from long-held assumptions and presumptions and decided to be open and honest with myself regarding questions that “bubbled to the surface” in my mind.

These are honest and straightforward “rhetorical” questions, to which I can think of no satisfactory answers (which don’t involve making excuses, “twisting” Scripture, equivocation, illogical speculation, lame argumentation, etc).

Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
They will spend their days in prosperity,
and their descendants will inherit the land.
-Psalm 25:12-13

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
-Proverbs 3:5-6

In his column published 1/18/2014, Billy Graham wrote this in response to a question about searching for a new pastor: “The most important thing your committee and your congregation should be doing… is to prayerfully seek God’s will and God’s wisdom in this matter. God knows your needs and wants to guide you to the person he has already prepared for this responsibility.” This sounds like good advice, and harmonizes with Proverbs 3:5-6. So why didn’t this approach “work” when our elders, staff and congregation prayed and prayed and prayed and sought His will about a new lead pastor for years, and then ended up choosing a man they believed to be His choice, but resulted in more havoc than could ever have been imagined? I just don’t understand how this could possibly have been God’s will for our church or anybody associated with it. Shortly after this new pastor came, many of our more conservative members left our church. Then when he left our employ several months later, hundreds of other people also departed, disagreeing with our elders’ decisions and decision-making process. The whole chain of events evoked all kinds of negative thoughts in our community about God, His Church, our church, His people and Christian leaders. How could this man possibly have been God’s choice for us? Some said the elders didn’t wait long enough for the “right” candidate, or that there were communication and trust problems among the elders. Some elders later said that he interviewed differently from how he performed once he was hired. But since God knew this would happen, why didn’t He warn our elders ahead of time? Why didn’t God block their desire to move ahead and provide a Senior Pastor for the congregation?

Earlier in the 21st Century, the elders of my church believed God was leading them to design and build a wonderful and unique facility that would be targeted specifically for youth ministry. A significant amount of money, time and energy involving many people was invested in discussing, planning and professionally designing this building. The project was presented to the congregation during various stages of its development over a period of many months. Full-color descriptive brochures were printed. Great enthusiasm was generated. Funds and pledges were solicited and collected. The youth were apprised of details of this building, and were excitingly anticipating its completion. Quite a number of “props” and artifacts were requested and collected to outfit this facility, including an unusually large object secured with great effort and transported on a long flatbed trailer across state lines during a notable trip by two of the elders. We all waited in vain for years for the groundbreaking of this splendid ministry hub, the existence of which is now but a fading memory. Disappointed youth learned they could not trust the promises of their church’s leadership. Disillusioned adults finally learned that the project was dead in the water, and that significant sums of contributions they designated for this project had been diverted elsewhere. So. Did God actually never lead the elders to start planning this? Did they only imagine that He did? Did God change His mind along the way for some reason? Wouldn’t God know in advance about the looming immense waste of huge amounts of financial contributions, time and energy over several years? If so, why didn’t He send an angel to stop the planning early on? Or warn the elders in dreams? Or….?

In a staff meeting on January 7, 2014, one of our pastors said, “God wants to speak and let His thoughts be known.” How does that fit into the reality of how we have been experiencing life in our Evangelical community during the past several years?

WHY is it so hard for people to discern God's will for them? Scores of people in the church, week after week, writing prayer requests who are begging, dying, trying, pleading, willing to do God's will in their lives if only they knew what it was. Why isn’t God glad, overjoyed, pleased and happy to tell them all what His will is for them in no uncertain terms? People only have "feelings" that MAYBE or PROBABLY this is what God's will is for them. And more often than not, those who say God told them to do something, later are saying they must have misunderstood, or without explanation are doing something different. I could give many examples of this.

One young family with a special-needs child was convinced God was leading them to move to a distant state so the husband could take a position in a huge church. After they were they for a couple months, the wife was plagued with a severe allergic reaction to something in the local environment. Five months later they were forced to move away. Why would God lead them to a place where he knew they could not stay? The medical expenses for their child are astronomical, and they regularly appeal to friends through fundraising efforts. They did not need the added stress and expense of moving out of state and back.

We Christians often say that God has plans for our lives. How do we know what God wants us to do when He’s so silent and secretive?

When we depend on God to answer prayers for guidance and direction, and get no response from Him, what are we to think? So many people hope/plan/expect God to answer prayer requests and so they neglect to do everything in their power to work on the problem themselves, resulting in dismal results. Why doesn’t God give His people clear direction on what path to take in their lives when they repeatedly beg and plead for Him to show them? It feels like God has more “hoops” for us to jump through than He has told us about, and we are trying to guess what they are. So much time, effort, money, and other resources are wasted in an effort to determine what God wants us to do, and then recovering and redoing when it has become obvious what we thought was his will really wasn’t.

Sometimes people in vocational Christian work make specific ministry plans, believing God has directed them that way. Then later they have to cancel them due to illness or accident. Missionaries go to great expense of life, energy and finances to move to a house in a certain country, only to find a short time afterward that they are being forced to leave the country. Or they contract a serious illness very early in their assignment which sends them home permanently. What happened? Did they only imagine that God was guiding them? How were they supposed to know when it was really God leading them? Why does God so often leave His missionaries of the Gospel clueless about what to do next, where to live next, where to go next, etc., so that they become discouraged at hearing no direction from Him?

Here is a specific example from November 7, 2015:

Terri and I travelled the path from Budapest, Hungary to Stuttgart, Germany in mid September. Weary from moving, grieving goodbyes, nonetheless energized by anticipation we arrived in Korntal, Germany. Suddenly the path curved and seemed to disappear in a veil of confusion. CANCER-MAJOR SURGERY-CHEMOTHERAPY! We discovered Terri has cancer. We neither saw the curve in the path approaching, nor understood its meaning.

Gary speaks about a difficult decision: "Lord, I am standing on this path confused. I only see paradox! I see two apparently conflicting realities that may nonetheless both be true: First, Terri and I believe we have followed You to the Academy of World Missions in Germany where equipped and called me to teach intercultural leadership. On the other hand Terri has been told she needs to follow up her cancer surgery with chemotherapy. Lord, we have been in Germany only a few weeks; the time is too short to establish a community of friends to support us through the challenging year of chemo and recovery. Help me know where Your path now leads!"

The difficult decision: We decided to go on medical leave with SEND International, relocate to Florida where Terri's family and some of her friends live so they can help support her and me through chemo therapy. Terri and I acknowledge we need the help of friends and family. This decision - these words were born out of the many tears, grief, talks with friends, leaders, and each other. We decided Terri will fly to Florida with her sister on November 22 to continue chemotherapy at the Mofitt Cancer Center in Tampa. I will remain in Germany in December to close down our apartment, pack up, and move to Florida.

Is it really God’s S.O.P. to keep Christians guessing – and sometimes “stressed out” - about whether He wants them to do something or not? Some people seemingly become quite neurotic waiting for God to give them direction.

--To Be Continued--