Removing the fear of the slippery slope

I posted a comment on another blog a couple of days ago that was fairly well received and it got me thinking.  It was in reference to the “slippery slope” that many Christians fear they will be on when they begin to question aspects of fundamentalist Christianity.  If we don’t read the Bible literally, they say, then we run the risk of falling down the slippery slope.  Where does it stop?  Okay, if you take early Genesis as not being literal, when does Genesis actually become literal?  If we “throw this out” (which is not at all what is being done, but some think it is), what’s to stop us from throwing the rest out?  Alternatively, If I begin to take the claims of science seriously, how far can I go and still be a Christian?

I think this fear is unfounded because I think a search for truth is a search for truth and I am simply not afraid of where it takes me.  Nevertheless, this fear is pertinent to the faith of many Christians.  Even moreso, it is often a concern for family or friends of those Christians who think and doubt and that, to take a passage from my friend Rachel Held Evans, “live in the questions”.  For those that are worried or live with this fear, I want to share an anecdote that I heard (Pete Enns, I think) at the BioLogos conference I attended this past June.  My memory is a little faulty so I am going to elaborate a bit.

When hearing the words, “slippery slope”, people usually picture someone slipping or falling down a hill, such that they end up at the bottom of a valley or something like that.  Whatever the picture, the end result is a negative, with the assumption being that faith will be lost. Pete mentioned that “slippery slopes” are also associated with climbs.  Anyone who is a hiker or mountain climber knows that yes, the trip down can be slippery, but so can the trip up.  But the desire to reach the end of the hike or the top of the climb overcomes the fear of slipping so that the hiker or climber proceeds on.

Perhaps we shouldn’t worry so much about slipping causing us to lose our faith.  Perhaps slipping is required or must be encounterd and overcome before we can fully reach our faith, a stronger faith that provides us with a new understanding of this world and the God who created it.

I don’t know about you, but I love to hike and climb.

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11 Responses to Removing the fear of the slippery slope

  1. Like a Child says:

    Personally, I guess I would disagree with you, at this stage in my faith-journey, I think there a valid fear of the slippery slope, albeit a necessary one. I don’t think we should avoid the slippery slope..but we should be honest that the slippery slope journey is difficult and painful, and has caused people to stumble. This way, when someone like myself has seemingly insurmountable doubts, they don’t feel like giving up because it seems like others had such an easy hike up that hill.

    Which blog discussed the slippery slope, out of curiosity?

  2. justintopp says:

    Agree to an extent, but my view of the hike and terrain is a little different than yours. But that is likely because we are at different stages on the route… and I do NOT mean one is better than the other. I have gone through times of serious doubt and come back to times where my doubt is lessened. It is a very long hike, methinks, but it’s worth it and I have faith that the hike is ultimately upward, not downward. Hope that’s encouraging.

    The other blog post was not about slippery slopes itself, it just arose in the comments section. Here you go…

  3. Stuart says:

    Ah, you’ve done it again by striking straight to the heart of the matter.

    I was a firm believer that if I questioned the literalism of Genesis then the rest of the Scriptures would fall like domino’s. I believed that folk were attacking the very foundations of the Bible in challenging the literalism of Genesis.

    How wrong I was.

    I did go through a period of crises as I accepted some modern knowledge and tried to reconcile this with genesis.

    The end result.

    A richer faith coupled with real awe of God.

    And what a revelation to realise that many of the church fathers and patriarchs and generally good men of faith from the past, did not hold to this new brand of Biblical literalism, that we are so accustomed to today.

  4. Ben says:

    I think you have the right motive. To find truth.

    I had a similar goal as a Christian, and in the end (well, as of now, at least!), I consider myself an atheist. Only after sharing my newfound world view with friends and family did I realize that many Christians do not judge their faith by truth, but judge truth by their faith.

    It was a difficult road to put the truth ahead of the things I had built my life and identity on, but I believe it is the most honest way to live.

    I wish you the best on your climb.

  5. justintopp says:


    If you don’t mind me asking, what ultimately led you to where you now consider yourself an atheist? Don’t worry… I’m not an apologist. In fact, I don’t really think apologetics is worth all that much. So I won’t debate or argue with you. I don’t do any of that. For conversation’s sake and my own interest, I was just wondering…

    Thanks for visiting the blog,

  6. Ben says:

    Hey Justin,

    In short, I was challenged by a friend to explain my faith, which included creationism (see my email address?). We had many good conversations, but he soon moved away, leaving the topic unresolved in my mind.

    I took his challenge to heart. I took months (maybe years?) inspecting my faith, so that I could fully understand how one gets from unbelief to belief. But the closer I looked at my faith, the more I realized that my faith was in my faith. I reluctantly peeled back layers of my belief, looking for the bedrock that I knew was underneath it all. I never found it.

    And I watched. My life, my family’s lives, my friends’ lives, and the world around me, constantly asking the question “What would this look like with/without God?” Time and again, the results were disappointing. God was starting to feel like a logical black hole that could account for anything that happened. He was opening and closing doors, healing and mysteriously choosing not to heal, answering prayers with a yes/no/not now, etc. I tested each situation with my question, and got relentless consistency in my answer: “This would look exactly the same if no God were involved.” It became apparent that either: God exists, but is doing his best to seem like he doesn’t, or, what I consider more likely, he doesn’t exist. I eventually came to consider myself an agnostic atheist. I know that I will never know for sure, but it sure seems like he’s not there (well, here, at least).

    I haven’t written any of this down before, but I felt inclined to comment when I read “a search for truth is a search for truth and I am simply not afraid of where it takes me.” I admire that, wherever it leads you.

    Oh, and here’s a lyric I was reminded of while I was writing this:
    “Let go of what you know and honor what exists / That’s what bearing witness is.” – David Bazan, Bearing Witness

  7. justintopp says:


    Thanks so much for sharing. I think that having faith “in faith” instead of God is a lot more common than Christians would like to believe. I’ve described it as having faith in the “idea of God” instead of God. I myself have struggled with this quite a bit and have, I guessed, thrown away a lot of my old faith and am now in the process of building it back up, but this time (hopefully) on a firmer foundation. But I am not so arrogant as to think that this time I will have it correct. Even though I am absolutely following the “a search for truth is a search for truth and I am simply not afraid of where it takes me”, I am surprisingly confident that I will not leave the faith altogether. Some atheists would say, “see you’re not REALLY searching for truth” but I feel that there is enough evidence from history and my personal life to keep me in the flock, albeit likely a “sub”-flock that is very different from the ones of my past.

    I think that I’m going to write a post or three about the faith “in faith” vs faith in God, but I really liked how my friend Rachel talked about it in her book, Evolving in Monkey Town.

  8. Andy Box says:

    Hi Justin. In case you don’t remember me, we went to IBC together back in the day. Congrats on the doctorate and new job! I saw your name a few times on Rachel’s blog and found your site.

    I am finding more and more people like us who are trying to reconcile logic with faith, the Bible with 2010 religion. I was a Biblical literalist at one time before I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore. Textual contradictions, disconnects between literal interpretations of various passages and the real world, and other issues forced me to find a different way to understand the Bible. Unfortunately, questioning inerrancy and literalism was the first nudge down a slippery slope that ultimately led me to agnosticism toward the end of my undergrad years.

    Since then I started clawing my way back up through IBC, the work of Lee Strobel, and other people. For several years my solution was to plateau instead of climbing further. I had my faith back, but I feared questioning it too closely in case I lost it again. I wrote off many questions with the flippant excuse, “I’m not wise enough to understand God completely.”

    Finally, thanks to hearing from people like you, Rachel, and others who have similar journeys, I am starting to claw my way up once more. I find my view of the world changing. I’m growing more comfortable with questions and gray areas. It feels more intellectually honest. Ironically, it seems to give me more peace as well.

    Thank you for your honesty.

  9. justintopp says:

    Hi Andy. Of course I remember you! Matt Winquist and I were just talking about you actually. Either you or your wife or both of you got me a ticket to fly back when I helped Matt move to Las Vegas. Many thanks again. Of course, they’re on the other side of the country now…

    We really miss IBC. We like our current church and all, but IBC is a special place. It’s actually where I first heard of North Park too.

    Intellectual honesty = good. As a scientist I want to know all the answers and just as importantly, the mechanism for how we understand. It’s ironic then I can say, “well, we just don’t know.” But if a search doesn’t, or perhaps, can’t lead to one specific answer, then sometimes that’s the best we can do.

    Good to hear from you,

  10. Pingback: Illuminating quote(s) of the week: The pursuit of knowledge | A biologist's view of science & religion

  11. Pingback: Slippery Slopes? (RJS) | Jesus Creed

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