The story I'm going to tell is quite ordinary. Many in the world think they are experts now at textual criticism, because the word is out -- the Bible has errors in it. Not everything in it can be counted upon. Maybe you're thinking, "It does not have errors in it." But that is what evangelicals and many fundamentalists say.
I was out evangelizing last Wednesday before our Bible study and prayer. I talked to a youngish single mother at her door. Of course, I was preaching the gospel. I asked her if she knew she was saved, sure she had eternal life. She said, "Yes." I asked how she knew, and she paraded her accomplishments. In the midst of the give and take, I communicated to her that as I listened, I based my judgment of what she said on the Bible. Scripture taught something different about salvation than what she said. At that juncture, she said that she didn't trust everything the Bible said because parts of it had been changed. So I then asked her how she knew that, that the Bible had errors in it. She just did.
"She just did" isn't a good answer for me, but it was where she was. She didn't have total confidence in the Word of God. She believed parts of it were true, but that she couldn't rely on all of it.
As I listened to her, I recognized this as a new norm in the psyche of those who might care enough even to listen and then answer a question about the Bible. She had a very subjective type of faith that's fine with a feeling she trusts more than the Bible. I explained to her that the Bible doesn't have errors, because God inspired it. You see, a lot of people don't have trouble with the idea that God gave His Word, but they're not convinced He's kept it intact. I told that God also promised to preserve it and that we can count on God for its preservation.
Anyway, I spent some time pumping up the Bible with all sorts of scriptural arguments in addition to giving her a brief gospel presentation. But most professing Christians have relinquished the idea that we have a perfectly preserved edition of the Word of God. She's got plenty on which to lean on that front.
It was easy for me to think about evangelical arguments for trusting the Bible, despite its errors. It's a supernatural book, the Bible, and part of that is that God expects us to believe the doctrine of it despite no hope that we are reading exactly what He inspired. And we can overcome our doubt by thinking about textual evidence. Sure, corruption has occurred, but not enough to destroy doctrines. No doctrine has been changed, and then if we compare all the copies, there is a lot, a lot of agreement. We basically know what it is, good enough that we can trust all of its teachings. No teachings have been lost. We can't count on the Words, but that's the beauty of it. God has chosen to use a slightly broken thing to do something wonderful.
I didn't give her the contents of that last paragraph, because I don't believe it. I told her what God's people believed before the 19th century, that is, God promises perfect preservation, and we can count on that promise. But evangelicals and fundamentalists have provided reasons to doubt.
I also imagine evangelicals reading this post. God has worked in amazing ways to give us what we have. We should be thankful for the overwhelming wealth of manuscripts. All the Words are most surely in there -- not actually surely (wink, wink) -- in the preponderance of the hand written copies (do you have a manuscript with the original of 1 Samuel 13:1? No, but we're still not lying.).
What I'm writing about here is directly related to reassessing and redefining inerrancy. Evangelicals adapt to save the faith of some, to protect from creating more Bart Ehrmans after they've dug a little deeper. And if you're going to fudge there, then it's also permissible to accept some latitude on the meaning of faith and more. So it's no wonder, if someone is looking for faith, he can skip the scriptural type and embrace something more subjective, based upon a personal experience with the Holy Spirit.