The Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon is recorded as saying that the Bible needs no defending, simply let it out of the cage and it will defend itself. Nevertheless I am about to do that very thing, or at least to reject those who would undermine the Bible as our primary rule of faith and practice.
I saw some links to a couple of posts today over at Patheos in the so-called "progressive channel" having to do with how "progressives" view the Bible. There is a common charge that "progressives" or "liberals" or whatever term you use are accused, namely that they do not take the Bible seriously. Those accused of this in turn label others as "fundamentalists" who practice " bibliolatry " and exhibit a lack of "nuance" in their interpretation (where unnuanced = refusing to let contemporary culture dictate Biblical interpretation). While I don't consider myself a true blue fundamentalist (seeing as how I don't reject all translations but the KJV), I do tend to take literally as much of the Bible as is warranted. I don't allegorize Genesis and I think that God created the world as the Bible says He did, in six literal days. I do read Revelation in light of the fact that it is a vision of things to come that clearly contains imagery that is difficult to describe, like when John speaks of a "thousand years" in Revelation 20, raising the question of how he knew it was a thousand years that had passed. Was there a calendar with the pages flipping by really fast like in old movies? When Jesus says that He is the way, the truth and the life and that no man comes to the Father but by Him, I believe exactly that. Likewise I reject wooden literalism as we see, for example, in the dispensational hermeneutic. However where the Bible speaks clearly and authoritatively as it often does my impulse is that when it runs counter to the culture or my own personal preferences, it isn't the Bible that is wrong.
I have noticed a tendency among many brothers and sisters in Christ who have come to the realization that the cultural expression of religion called "Christianity" in much of the West is in fact not a faithful expression of the church and the faith to simultaneously chuck out of the window many of the long established teachings of the church, what I call throwing our the theological baby with the institutional bathwater. I get the impulse but I implore those who might be tempted by it to not do so.
Anyway, back to the posts I referenced. One of the posts by Roger Wolsey is called 16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible and purports to show why those icky fundamentalists are no better than atheists in their interpretation of the Bible. In what is just one of the ways that I find this sort of thing headshakingly ironic is that many people who purport to be open-minded and "progressive" are stunningly myopic and uniform in their beliefs and especially in their statements. The tone here is probably more mocking than it should be but I find the posts to be risible and worthy of mocking (and if you think mocking things that should be mocked is, ironically, unbiblical tell it to Elijah 1 Kings 18:27 ).Here are some of the principals of "progressive" interpretation that I found especially telling.
4. We seek to apply full attention to Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience (and that includes the insights of contemporary science).
- In other words the Bible says things that, if taken literally, don't seem to jive with the scientific consensus du jour and therefore must wrong. The parenthetical is telling because when it comes to the Bible there are a few doctrines that really rub the culture the wrong way: the Genesis creation account because it doesn't mesh with "science", teachings on gender especially as it relates to marriage and functioning in the church and of course in a recent entry the old fashioned notion of homosexuality as a deviant and destructive practice that is condemned. Along with "science" we have "experience". For example, and this will be pertinent later on, if I meet a lovely "married" couple that happens to consist of two men and they are happy and successful and have a great sense of fashion, that can't possible be wrong. My experience must be right because after all I experienced it so the Bible must not say what it seems to say.
5. We realize that there is no “objective, one, right way” to interpret a passage – and we recognize that there is no reading of any text – including the Bible – that doesn’t involve interpretation. We also realize that each person interprets the text via their own personal experiences, education, upbringing, socio-political context, and more.
- I am glad that they "realize" that as opposed to just making it up, although I don't find this notion to be self-evident at all. In this mindset there are no real truth passages, just our interpretation. In this mode of thinking the Bible only means what I think it should mean and further that there are no absolute, non-negotiable truths even when the Bible itself makes truth claims that clearly transcend culture and context. Now when it comes to passages that "progressives" like, there is no room for variation or error (see below).
11. We also tend to employ a “canon within the canon” lens whereby we give greater weight and priority to certain texts over others.
- This is the so-called "Red Letter Christian" notion that alleges to see certain passages as more true than others. Oddly enough those passages tend to be taken out of context and interpreted in a particularly liberal fashion. If you really took just the "red letters" seriously you would need to talk a lot more about judgment than most "red letter Christians" do. God's impending righteous judgment of sin is so 16th century, let's talk about immigration reform instead! Here again we see the inconsistency of the "progressive" hermeneutic on display. Why would they take the words of Jesus in red more seriously, written from memory long after they were said, than the words of Paul or Peter or John in later writings penned by those men themselves? Well because doing so with a particular twist is convenient for reaching a predetermined outcome.
13. We follow Jesus’ example in being willing to reject certain passages & theologies in the Bible and to affirm other ones. (He did it a lot)
- Let me be clear on this. Jesus never, ever rejected certain passages. Jesus never overturned the Scriptures, He fulfilled them. He said precisely that very thing. Unless one reads the Scriptures as a series of unconnected passages you cannot make that assertion. I know that a lot of people, especially the professional atheists and religious skeptics alike, accuse the Bible of being self-contradicting but it really isn't and the more you read it, the more you see the consistent arc of revelation all pointing to Christ.
And of course at the end the obligatory nod to polite contemporary culture:
p.s. Employing this approach leaves me with no question in my mind that homosexuality between consenting adults in a committed, monogamous relationship is not sinful.
There we go. Somehow for "progressives" eliminating gender distinctions and espousing an anything goes sexual morality is the most important theological issue of our time. Oddly enough that corresponds to the highest priorities of the secular political Left. I am sure that is just a coincidence. Just as the Prophetess Sandra Fluke.
On and on. Self-righteous "progressives" are nothing if not consistent and predictable. Radical egalitarianism is in, patriarchy is out. "Gay marriage" is in, traditional understanding of human sexuality is out. Billions of years of evolution is in, six days is out. Jesus as wrongly executed political agitator is in, penal substitutionary atonement is out.
A lot of people who are, I firmly believer, sincere and intelligent Christians that try very hard to correctly handle the Scriptures also disagree with me quite vehemently on many issues where I believe the Bible speaks clearly and unequivocally. As I have said in the past, I believe in the different functions for men and women who are yet equal in worth for the same reason I reject hierarchy in the church. I believe that Christians should model a life of non-resistance in many different spheres for the same reason I believe in penal substitutionary atonement as the central, but not the sole, aspect of the cross. What I have found most lacking in public debate over Scripture is simple consistency. We all too often interpret the Bible in one way because it supports our preconceived positions and interpret other passages, some times in the same chapter mere verses away, because they don't support those same positions. I am deeply concerned that following this path leads to a defanged gospel that is little more than a leftist guide to being a nice and proper person who has one of those "Coexist" bumper stickers on their Prius parked in front of the organic food store. The Gospel is radical not because it is "progressive" but because it is timeless, universal and transcendent in spite of the whims and winds of the prevailing culture. Blessing homosexuality is not radical. Gender egalitarianism is not radical. Anything goes human sexuality subsidized by the society as a whole is not radical. A God who became a man and died to atone for the sins of his enemies? THAT is radical. A message of exclusivity in the midst of muddled religious pluralism, whether in the 1st century Mediterranean world or 21st century America is radical.
People who take the Bible just a little too literally and seriously are accused of "bibliolatry", making an idol of the Bible itself (which ironically is where we learn about the human tendency toward idolatry in the first place). Let me be blunt. That argument is childish. Taking the Bible seriously as the written revelation of God, the only place where the Gospel is revealed clearly and sufficiently and the central truths of the Kingdom are expounded, is not idolatry. I mean the Bible itself warns against idolatry! I like to think that as someone who came from a completely non-religious background who was also supernaturally rescued from a cult where the Bible was only true "as far as it is translated correctly", I have a more keen sense of something being fishy when people seek to supplant the Bible for their own purposes, whether than is the Book of Mormon or "gay marriage" or evolutionary theory or the "regulative principal of worship".
Part of why I rarely read Patheos, even though some of the writing is pretty good, is that it is depressingly one-sided and that side has seized the label "progressive". If what I am reading from people like Roger Wolsey is "progress" you can keep it. It really isn't "progress" at all, nor is it particularly new. We have been hearing the whisper of "Did God really say?" from the very beginning of humanity. Of course that is one of those passages that "progressives" seem to ignore anyway as mere primitive, misogynistic allegory. The irony merry go round keeps on spinning 'round and around.