Back when I was an active member in the Church of Christ, I got myself in trouble with the pastor and the elders because I pointed out some discrepancies I’d found between what the church teaches and what it was actually practicing. For example, one of their big teachings is that the church has to have New Testament authorization for everything it does, and yet they’d taken it upon themselves to substitute grape juice instead of wine in the weekly communion. They had all kinds of arguments about why this exception—or “necessary inference,” as they called it—was ok, but these inferences were fairly easy to expose as mere rationalizations.
They, unsurprisingly, didn’t want to hear it, and the eldest of the elders took it upon himself to warn me about the error of my ways. “You think too much,” he declared. “You’re on the road to atheism. Everyone I’ve met who thought about the Bible like you do ended up as an atheist.” If he’d come up to be and literally dumped a bucket of ice cold water over my head, my emotional reaction (at the time) would not have been much different.
I tried to argue with him. I pointed out, if what he said was true, that was a really bad sign for Christianity. You have to be able to think about the truth, and if thinking inevitably leads you out of the church and into atheism, that’s pretty much the same as saying Christianity is a lie. He protested that this was not the case, and that of course Christianity was all true, but the look in his eyes betrayed a deep suspicion. He didn’t say it out loud, but his face said it for him: my warning may have come too late for this one.
At the time, he was wrong. My Christian faith was as strong as ever at the time. And yet, his prediction ultimately came true, and the fact that he made it is at least part of the reason why it came true. A lot of Christians know that too much honest thinking about your faith is harmful. In theory, Christianity does not require you to switch off your brain, but in practice that’s the safest thing to do if you want to keep on believing. And it’s not just me saying it. This elder in the church, and many others like him, have all told me the same thing. Questions are dangerous. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Of course, in apologetic/evangelistic situations, every Christian will defend the theory. Apologetics is all about claiming that Christianity has all the answers. But that’s the theory, not the practice. Behind the scenes, when Christians themselves start asking real questions, there’s a problem. Sunday school answers are just for show, for those who do not seriously question their faith. They can’t bear up under the weight of real, sustained scrutiny. Just like the elder said, if you think too much, you’ll end up an atheist.