One of the first things that I have to teach my students this: The Christian faith is not a house of cards.

Most assuredly, there are foundational issues of the faith that, if taken away, will destroy Christianity. Issues like the existence of God (there is no such thing as a “Christian atheist”), the resurrection of Christ, the reality of God’s judgment and grace through Jesus Christ, and Christ’s atoning death on the cross. However, there are many details of the Christian faith that can suffer adjustments without destroying the entire faith. Christianity is not like a house of cards where you can take any one card away and the rest fall.

I have seen many people leave the faith and the catalyst of their departure was a rejection of inerrancy (the belief that the Bible does not have any errors, historic, theological, or scientific). I have seen others leave because they felt they had to adjust their view of the early chapters of Genesis, creation and the flood. I have seen others who thought that if there was any redacting (editing by the authors) of the Gospel narratives, their faith was destroyed. Still, I have actually been in contact with one who was shaken to the point of petrification because he was starting to consider the multiple author theory for Isaiah. These are issues to be sure. But they are not issues which can cause any harm to the essence of Christianity in any way.

It is normally those who are brought up in rigidity who are susceptible building this house of cards theology and to letting non-cardinal issues crash their faith. This is why you see so many who are “former fundamentalists.” Fundamentalism feeds on unnecessary rigidity and therefore, unfortunately, is quite a seedbed for graveyards of Christians. As well, this type of thinking makes education—true education—virtually impossible.

While I believe strongly in many issues that are of non-cardinal value, I don’t hold on to these too tightly. This is a fundamental philosophical precursor to dealing with so many theological problems today. The inability to identify, isolate, and distinguish between essentials and non-essentials often causes the entire house of cards to fall.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    10 replies to "House of Cards Theology"

    • consulscipio

      While I am open to the possibility of outright errors in the bible, I can only think of a few examples of possible errors (such as the census account in Luke) and even these ‘errors’ can never be proven as such since the external sources are so lacking. Things like the creation account can only be seen as errors if they are read in a way that the authors didn’t intend them to be read.

    • cherylu

      I can see why for those that have been taught since childhood that the Bible is inerrant, rejection of that belief could very easily become the toppling of the house of cards that brings down a person’s faith. I think two things come into play here. 1) If it can be shown that there are indeed errors in the Bible in things that can be proven, how can anyone be really certain that the things that can not be proven, i.e. salvation by faith in Christ, heaven, hell, etc, are actually true as taught? And 2) A Bible that was written over a period of thousands of years with fulfilled prophecies, that didn’t contradict itself, and didn’t have errors within it was taught to be, if my memory is correct, one of the major proofs that Christianity is indeed the one true faith.

      So, if the belief in inerrancy is toppled, it does indeed have huge ramifications, it seems to me, for folks that have been taught these beliefs. It seems that it would take a very large shift in thinking in order for ones faith to not be seriously shaken if not completely toppled in this situation,

    • phantom

      Excellent post. In my experience, the vast majority of people around flinging arguments against Christianity do so by implicitly turning it into a house of cards. Most arguments go something like “evolution accounts for life, God killed lots of people in the OT, and the Bible has lots of little contradictions.” The corresponding statements that some Christians have made or implied–that God created every living thing individually, that God is nice, and that the Bible is absolutely inerrant–are hardly necessary to the faith. Of course there are a lot of people who also claim God doesn’t exist, but as this is nothing more than an untestable assertion they have to resort to the arguments above. In our culture I think it’s of the utmost importance that Christians recognize the necessary vs. unnecessary aspects of the faith, lest we build up the arguments of atheists by insisting on things that are unnecessary (and untrue) like inerrancy.

    • Wolf Veizer

      There is a reason Christianity “suffers” from all-or-nothing rejection, and it hardly has to do with a house-of-cards fragility.

      In making claims of absolute authority for its scriptures, Christianity has put itself in the unenviable position of having to be right. Unlike nearly any other field of thought – be it history, science, medicine, etc – it does not benefit from discovering that its fundamental tenets may be false or inaccurate (wheras other fields are advanced through exactly such discoveries). Rather than saving MORE lives by replacing old fallacies with verified and tested ideas, it must look back regretfully at all of the lives it needlessly condemned or misguided for mistakenly “knowing” something that proved to be entirely false.

      That might be the downside of claiming that your knowledge comes from an all-knowing and perfect being – it doesn’t look real good if you’re shown to be wrong.

      Some people, happy to announce that they have unshakeable faith, are ok having SOME of their “knowledge” being shown false, just as long as certain “central” truths are never discredited. (Failing, of course, to notice that such admissions debase the entire claim to the ability to know absolute truth).

      Others, who are later criticized for having “house of cards theology,” simply recognize that the island of inerrant knowledge claimed by theologians continues to shrink to an ever smaller dot. Recognizing the arrogance associated with a group who claims, regardless of experiment or outside verification, to have indisputable knowledge of truth, they disocciate from the group entirely.

      So which is worse?

    • Ed Kratz

      Wolf, sounds a little question begging and intolerant to other ideas that don’t agree with your presups to me.

    • Wolf Veizer


      It would be interesting to know what those presups are that you disagree with?

    • david carlson

      The house of cards that fundamentalism has built over the past 20 years has come home to roost with a generation walking away from the faith of their parents. Militant Young Earth Creationism has not done anyone any favors

    • Boz

      In relation to the adjustment of a person’s faith that C Michael Patton mentioned in the OP,

      Is there a way to use faith to discover that a faith-based belief is wrong?

    • […] he was using was what Michael Patton of Credo House Ministries refers to as “house of cards” theology.  It’s the mentality that your religious belief is a house of cards in the sense that if you […]

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