So I have lots of time to noodle things over while mongering iron (?). I was rehasing the horrible second installment of The Hobbit film trilogy. The old adage holds true, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. I guess I give Peter Jackson more than the benefit of the doubt because of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Honestly for as kind of hokey as it was the 1977 animated The Hobbit from many years past was a far better movie. Turns out that while "progress" certainly changed the retelling of this classic book, it didn't really improve the retelling in any meaningful way. One particularly notable change was the encounter between Bilbo and Smuag the dragon.
In the book, The Hobbit, the encounter between Bilbo and Smaug is fairly brief. Bibo sneaks in and steals a goblet, much to Smaug's outrage. He comes back after Smaug wakes up. There is some banter back and forth where Bilbo flatters Smaug and gains the secret of his missing scale. Massive chase scenes involving the dwarves? Nope. That entire interminable scene was just dumb. It is a prime example of just doing something to make it louder and flashier because you can and because you think (perhaps justifiably) that modern entertainment consumers are too dumb to enjoy something that isn't accompanied by relentless scene cuts and booming audio.
So fine, I didn't like either Hobbit movie and am pretty sure I won't like the third installment. What does that have to do with progressive theology?
Here is where I made the connection. Much of what passes for "progressive theology" seems to be driven by being against whatever is old or traditional or, worst of all, "fundamentalist". The progress envisioned smells a bit like "change for the sake of change". Now I am not any sort of apologist for traditions and I am happy to hold any of the traditions of the church up to Scripture and discard what fails. However I try not to jettison stuff just because it is traditional. Here are some examples.
The Bible teaches that God created the Earth and everything on it in six days and then rested on the seventh day. That is what it teaches. However, even though it has been pretty much universally accepted in the church forever, it simply lacks the cultural sensitivity of a church in a day and age of SCIENCE! The cultural movers and shakers tell us a fanciful tale of evolution and a "big bang" and billions of years.
Shortly after Creation God made man and then to complement and complete him made a helper, woman. That relationship was skewed with the fall into one of conflict. Scripture helps us to realign the relationship between men and women, not as one of "mutual submission" but one modeled after the relationship between Christ and the church, a precious one for certain but never marked by Christ submitting to the church. That sort of traditional gender role is simply not going to fly in a day and age of cutesy "Christian feminism" and redefinition of Scripture to meet the culture, rather than our witness being a message to and against the culture. "See what Paul really meant was that there were these unmentioned temple prostitutes..."
The Bible over and over and over points to sexual sin, especially the sin of homosexuality, as serious and an grievous affront to God and a perversion of the nature of humankind, "male and female He created them". But the church is "on the wrong side of history" here. As judges create a "right" for homosexuals to "marry" and the powers in the culture punish anyone who dares fail to be properly obsequious to the new "normal" many in the church are drawing dividing lines with mean old fundies on one side and kindly "progressives" cheering on sin in the hope of an affirming pat on the head from the world. Make no mistake, this singular issue is being used as a wedge, not by the terrible people who hold to what the Bible teaches and the church has always understood, but rather by the "progressives" who demand you get in line.
The Bible teaches there are only two eternal fates for man, salvation in Christ or hell. Well that is so lacking in nuance! How can I talk to my neighbor with that sort of alarmist silliness? Besides I reserve the right to redefine "love" as I see fit and God has to match what I think love is. God is love after all and that must mean I can tell God what love is.
On and on.
Sometimes the old, classical way is better. The simplicity of the Hobbit story is what makes it so beloved. It is straightforward. No exploding giant golden dwarves. No random love plots between a dwarf and an elf. No running battles in Lake Town with orcs. The Bible is an ancient book for sure. It is written by and to an ancient, to our eyes primitive people but that is who and when God chose to reveal His Son and reveal Himself in that person. His laws and His nature are timeless. His Gospel is not subject to alteration with every whim of the culture. His definition of sin, even the very idea of sin, is not culturally driven. We don't have to change the Bible to make it more exciting and interesting, to sell more tickets to a skeptical, disbelieving audience. We need to simply stand fast no matter what the culture thinks. Progress that is change for change sake and worse for the purpose of saving face and preventing embarrassment at cocktail parties is not progress at all. It isn't even new. We have heard the old question "Did God really say.." for the very beginning, It is troubling that so many people reject out of hand the very context of that critically important lesson for God's people throughout history.
You can keep your "progress". I will stick to the ancient teachings of God and the not as ancient classics like The Hobbit.