At this time I've pretty much rejected many of the so-called fundamentalist beliefs. In talking with various Christians, I've discovered that many of them are indeed flexible on some issues such as the "god-breathed" nature of the Bible and relativistic morality. I'm not sure how widespread such a liberal viewpoint is, and it is very possible that many Christians dogmatically hold their beliefs for fear of weakening the foundations of their faith.
It seems to me that Christians have not always chosen their fights very wisely. In the case of denouncing evolution, they severed their ties with a field they helped to create, as well as most of the rest of the scientific community. Likewise, the belief in literal inerrancy is intellectually indefensible. Today Christianity is believed by many non-Christians to be exactly what they see on TV -- semi-sincere Bible-banging Fundamentalists looking for money.
In trying to determine if I can accept Christianity, it was first necessary for me to define those things that I believe. What follows is basically a summary of the beliefs I would hold regardless of whether I was a Christian or not. I do no know if my positions make it impossible for me to be a Christian, since it is difficult to determine what the minimum set of beliefs is.
Any discussion of inerrancy is complicated by people's various interpretations of the word. For this discussion, "inerrancy" means transmitted from God without error. Thus one could say that the Bible is inerrant (God to the current translation), the original works were inerrant (but not the translators), or even that the interpreters are inerrant (despite what the Bible might actually say). One also must decide exactly how inerrant a work is, whether it be word-for-word, by sentence, by concept, etc. Likewise, people tend to interpret inerrancy to be applicable to all time frames, which, in my opinion, is fallacious. I think it is very wrong to take a document written over the course of two thousand years and apply it to modern situations.
The Bible is not literally inerrant. To hold such a view assumes that every writer, copyist, translator, and interpreter of the Bible has never made a mistake. It also forces one to interpret the Bible in ways that are simply not justified or reasonable. What results are scenarios where Judas hangs himself next to a cliff, the rope breaks, and he falls to his death. If the Bible were perfectly harmonious, someone would have reconciled the gospel accounts of the resurrection by now.
So the next logical question to ask is, "Is the Bible inerrant at the level of sentences or concepts?" One example of an internal dichotomy might be the Old Testament view of death as as punishment to be feared, compared to the New Testament view of it as a time to ascend to heaven. Besides internal contradictions, one must also compare the concepts in the Bible to those that we know to be true independent of it. The easiest issue to compare would probably be morality. If one could show, without a doubt that the Bible contradicted a widely held "moral law", then one could say that it is not inerrant at the level of concepts.
A liberal Christian's view might be this: the Bible was written by people who believed that they understood the mind of God. This understanding may have been in error in some cases, and it is very difficult to discern the parts that are solely the work of humans. The background and bias of the writer often surfaces in the text, and it is the overall message that is important. The Bible was not intended to be historically or scientifically accurate, and should not be treated as such.
It is difficult to determine exactly what Christianity was when it first began and how many parts of the religion have crept in from non-Biblical sources. Most people know that the Easter Bunny and Christmas trees are not technically part of Christianity, although children would probably disagree. According to some denominations, contraception and medical assistance are also not part of the religion. How many of the traditionally held beliefs are the result of human agendas and influences?
The Council of Nicaea in 325 a.d. met to address the controversy over the divinity of Jesus, and the result was the Nicene Creed. Is it possible that this central concept of Christianity is unbiblical? Why should there be such debate over this topic? There is also a certain amount of doubt regarding the Trinity, especially in the face of lacking Biblical support for the Holy Ghost also being God. Where does the Bible say that the Satan is a fallen angel? By what basis do we justify the existence of a powerful Church?
In the early days of Christianity there were many forgeries of the gospels, and it was the job of the church fathers two hundred years after Christ to separate the false from the true. What were their criteria? The unsettling fact is that the criteria were very ordinary:
It is possible that the Council of Nicaea made a mistake in its application of these criteria? It seems possible that one could have written a popular document in the first century that didn't blatantly contradict church teaching, and it would have been accepted into the Canon.
Of course, Christians trust that the Council was guided by the Holy Spirit. In a roundabout way this is using Christianity, which is based on the Bible, to support the Bible. One could argue that it has had the same kind of turmoil that plagues Mormonism (with its timely revelations from God), only its problems occurred in the distant past. Many Christians today are ignorant of the "developmental" phase of their religion.
One could accept that a pollution of the Canon by uninspired works may have occurred, and that Christian doctrine may contain similar unjustified beliefs. Like inerrancy, this casts doubt upon Christianity, but it is unclear to what extent. I am fairly sure that the average Christian would much rather accept many literal inaccuracies than the possibility that the Trinity is wrong. Almost every one that I know believes that the early church fathers made no mistakes, and that Christianity today stands as it always was and always should have been.
There are Christians who do not feel threatened by the recent conclusions drawn from scientific thought. Instead of rebelling from the concepts of an old universe and evolution, they choose to interpret Genesis in a parabolic manner. From a liberal viewpoint that avoids a literal interpretation of the Bible, it seems fairly reasonable to believe that some parts are not meant to be historical accounts, but rather stories that illustrate the message that God wanted to be understood.
The Bible is not a "textbook of science", and should not be treated as such. The fact that the Bible says insects have four legs should not affect Christianity, especially when one realizes that the Scripture was not meant to provide accurate scientific data but to provide a message about the nature of God and Jesus.
If one believes the Bible to be the only source of reference for moral issues, it seems fairly difficult to understand the dichotomy between the Scripture and the actions of Christians. In saying this I do not mean the actions of "so-called" Christians, but rather the actions of nearly everyone. Admittedly, the major commandments are followed, but there are examples of some lesser ones that are regularly broken: don't eat pork (Leviticus 11:7-8, Deuteronomy 14:8), don't work on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:15), don't divorce (Mark 10:11-12, Malachi 2:16), missionaries of other faiths must be killed (Deuteronomy 13:10), and non-christians should not be allowed in one's home (2 John 1:10-11).
What does one do if divorce is a sin, but one's husband abuses the children? Why is it that we believe that owning a slave is morally wrong, but the Bible condones it? One method of answering these difficult questions is to realize that the Bible was written for a particular time period in which God accommodated the unenlightened people. Additionally, the Bible's laws are not always meant to be followed blindly, instead acting as a set of guidelines for correct behavior.
How one determines which commandments are still applicable to us is unclear, as is the degree to which they can be bent. As with the issue of inerrancy, the safest means of keeping the faith solid is to take a very severe attitude toward the commandments that does not allow such modifications. I doubt, however, that many people would endorse the public stoning required by the laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, nor would they stop wearing clothes woven of two materials or eating shellfish.
This section outlines my opinions on some other topics. I do not know how they would fit into traditional Christian teaching, especially in light of the fact that they go against many traditionally held beliefs.