Believers and unbelievers alike make mistakes in reading the Bible. People rely on certain passages and certain viewpoints to the exclusion of others. People miss the forest for the trees, as they say.
Within the “Church”, the number of denominations is partially a result of different emphases on different aspects of God, the Bible and other things. When this proclivity tends to the extreme, it results in things like witch hunts and cults. Many of the dark periods of church history are, in part, examples of an inflexible adherence to specific certain truths, doctrinal, political or other views of Christianity to the exclusion of others.
Any overemphasis on specific passages or positions or facts can lead to an unbalanced view of God and error.
As much as believers, themselves, sometimes stray from the the complete truth expressed in the Bible, unbelievers are worse. Most people who reject the Bible do so based on grossly inaccurate understandings and a general lack of knowledge of the Bible. People reject a caricature without ever seeing the real thing. People rely on certain facts without considering that there is a bigger picture.
I believe that some of this is a willful tendency. People cherry pick passages, sometimes grossly out of context, because they support their own view of things. There is no intention or desire to understand. Others, however, have simply not read the Bible for themselves, and they simply accept what others say. Still others have read portions of the Bible, but have not read enough to have a full understanding or have not gained an understanding of what they have read.
The example of the blind men learning about an elephant from different positions around the animal rings true. The man wrapping his arms around a leg might view the elephant as a tree. The man examining the trunk might consider the elephant like a snake. The man feeling the tail might believe an elephant is like a rope. None of them would have an accurate picture of an elephant from their limited vantage points.
I am reminded of an example of this in the Gospel of John. The Pharisees believed Jesus to be a rabble-rouser, instigating lawlessness by “working” on the Sabbath. The “work” was the healing of a crippled man. They obviously dismissed the healing, and they focused on the threat of this Jesus to their station as religious leaders and their strongly held views. They made assumptions without being open to the possibility that He was telling the truth and was the Messiah they had been waiting for.
(These reflections are not meant to be judgmental. In the case of the Pharisees, it had been over 300 years since the last New Testament prophet. The proclamations of a Messiah coming date back as far as 1000 years before the birth of Jesus. What are the odds that Jesus would be the one? That is a long time to wait. The Sadducees did not even accept the prophets as scriptural text. They relied only on the Torah. It is hard to imagine that we would be any less skeptical.)
Other people were taken by the authority with which Jesus spoke and the signs and wonders he was doing. Even one Pharisee (Nicodemus) began to question whether Jesus could be the Messiah promised in the Psalms and the Prophets. To this suggestion, the rest of the Pharisees responded, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” (John 7:52)
The Pharisees knew the Scripture: that the Messiah was to come from Jesse’s seed, from the city of Bethlehem. As far as they also knew, Jesus was from Galilee. That fact was true, of course, but it was not the full story. They did not know that he was, in fact, from Bethlehem where he was born (nor do I suspect did they care to investigate). They relied on the fact which was harmonious with their assumption that Jesus was not the Messiah; that he was just a deceiver; and they missed the fact that would have exposed the error in their thinking.
I watched the young earth/old earth debate between Creationist Ron Ham and materialist and popular scientist, Bill Nye, that was televised to a national audience. These two men stood on the polar extremes of the argument. Of course, that was the point: debates, by their nature, pit one position against another position. A debate would not be a debate if one side or the other deviated from their defined positions.
In the larger effort to determine fact from fiction and truth from error, however, we need to be more flexible than that. There are many assumptions in history based on facts known at the time that have proven to be untrue. for instance, the assumption of a flat earth. Though must draw our conclusions from the facts and the truth that we know, we need to remain open to other facts and weigh the possibility that there is more to the truth that we know. In fact, we might even be wrong.
Certain facts and certain truths are indispensable to the Christian worldview, and others are not. That Jesus lived, died for our sins, rose from the dead and provides salvation from sin and death are facts and truths that are indispensable for the Christian. Eliminate those truths, and there is no Christianity. Whether the earth is thousands of years old or millions is not central to Christianity.
On the other hand, the position that there is no God because we cannot prove God exists is narrow and short-sighted. That we cannot follow the bread crumbs of science to the hand of a Creator more about our own limitations than the truth of the matter. Humans are minuscule and finite in the face of a universe that is bigger than we can see, touch or feel. That such a universe would require a “bigger” Creator seems perfectly elementary.
The demand that we should be able to measure God and reduce him to a formula or theory is the height of arrogance. What experiment will we conduct to prove or disprove a Creator of the universe. It is absurd to think can could conceive of one. The assumption that there is no God because we cannot prove God exists is equally absurd.
Further, rejecting the Bible without reading it or trying to understand it or based on what other people say of it is not very scientific or objective. What happened to having an open mind? People assert or parrot points about the Bible that may have some factual basis.
For instance, for hundreds of years there was no evidence found in archaeology that David mentioned in the Bible even existed. One might draw an assumption from that lack of evidence that the Bible is not historically accurate and should not, therefore, be accepted as a source of truth. That has changed now that archaeological evidence has not been found in the right geographical location and dating back to the right era in time of the biblical record.
The Pharisees, who knew some facts (that Jesus was from Galilee) and rejected Jesus for not being from Bethlehem, might have reconsidered if they knew the truth – that, in fact, he was born in Bethlehem. Likewise, people today reject the Bible with very inadequate knowledge of what it actually says and little understanding of the parts they actually do know. Assumptions based on partial knowledge should not be relied on. Open minded people should have an open mind to the Bible and to God. Any other attitude is not really open-mindedness. What they (you?) do not know may make all the difference.
So, this is the challenge. Get a Bible and read it. Keep an open mind. Seek to understand it. Toss out what you think you know and see where it takes you. If it confirms your assumptions, there is no harm in knowing or understanding the Bible. You can at least speak from a position of knowledge and understanding. On the other hand, you might be surprised what you find.