Freely Ye Have Inquired?
Porteous, Skipp, Free Inquiry
In 1966, I enrolled as a ministerial student at LIFE Bible College in Los Angeles. LIFE is an acronym for Lighthouse of International Foursquare Evangelism, an outreach of the Pentecostal church started by the late Aimee Semple McPherson. A handful of FREE INQUIRY readers are old enough to remember her. Aimee died in 1944, the year I was born; but I doubt the two occurrences are related.
Attending LIFE was truly an exciting prospect for me. I had recently "come back to the Lord" after a few delightful back-slidden years. Now I was ready to put the sins of the flesh behind me and get down to some serious study about eternal matters.
In the beginning, I had some sincere doubts about the authenticity of the Bible. Sure, it was a good book for instruction on Christian living, but surely it contained inaccuracies.
One of the first things that impressed me at Bible college (I realize the use of the word college along with Bible sounds contrived, but that's what they called it) was the openness to discuss controversial subjects. Evolution, for example, was examined in great detail. We carefully considered what the mainstream scientists had to say, and then compared it with our biblical beliefs.
No matter how well-crafted the scientific argument was, in our classes the Bible always came out on top, with creationism winning every debate. But, at least we freely inquired about the subject. Or did we? At the time, I thought we did.
For instance, most Christian fundamentalists believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. How could this be when the mass of scientific evidence says otherwise?
Our Bible teacher offered a plausible explanation. The Bible doesn't actually say the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, thus there is no conflict between science and the Bible. In fact, he said, it could be that each of the six days God took to create the cosmos represented ages, and not actual days. Of course, there were good arguments to oppose that theory too.
Concerning other Bible stories, our teacher explained how it appeared that the sun stood still, how Moses parted the Red Sea, and how a conjunction of Jupiter and another planet looked like a single star that guided the Wise Men.
While the school strictly maintained that Jesus was actually fathered by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, I learned for the first time about the possibility of a virgin getting pregnant through heavy petting and limited sexual contact.
We were taught that the Scriptures were "God-breathed" or, in other words, divinely inspired. This concept, though, referred only to the original text as penned in the original languages. Many of the supposed errors in the English Bible were simply explained away as a mistranslation from Greek or Hebrew to English.
Our study of the Bible and Christian doctrine was conducted in a controlled environment. Never did a teacher say, "Go to the public library and read everything you can find on Jesus and the Bible. …