Monday, October 13, 2014

Reading the Bible Seriously

My liberal (I think she prefers the term “progressive”) Christian friend tagged me on an article she wanted my opinion on: “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible.” It was an interesting article – far more than I can respond to in one post.
But you could have taken nine or ten items from his list and written an article, “10 Principles Serious Christians Use to Interpret the Bible” and left out the progressive label. Some of these, in my opinion, should just be standard practice for any responsible reader of scripture:

  • We read the Bible prayerfully. (Of course.)
  • We seek to apply full attention to Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. (“Full attention” would be the phrase of concern there, and he doesn't elaborate on that. But I don't know any conservative Christian who is opposed to considering what tradition, reason, and experience have to tell us about what the Bible says. The question is, in matters of disagreement, who trumps who.)
  • We realize that there is no reading of any text – including the Bible – that doesn’t involve interpretation. (Of course. That is why there are so many denominations. But as I tell my literature students, the fact that there is more than one way to interpret a text doesn't mean that it can be interpreted in ANY way we choose. There is a limited range of possible interpretations. Just sayin'.)
  • We do our best to read the biblical texts in their original languages – and consult scholars and others to assist us. (Absolutely.)
  • We consider the best available Biblical scholarship from those who study it academically and professionally. (Yep. Of course, "best available" is always going to be a subjective claim.)
  • We seek to read passages in context. (Mm-hmm.)
  • We consider historical socio-political contexts. (Yes.)
  • We allow scripture to interpret scripture. (Most definitely.)
  • We do as much of this as possible in community with fellow Christians, not as a solo act. (Crucial. We are not intended to be lone rangers.)
On these matters, I cannot disagree. However, I did make this point to my friend: this may describe how this particular progressive Christian approaches scripture, but I doubt it is how most progressive Christians approach scripture. In fact, I doubt it is how most conservative Christians approach scripture either.
The unfortunate fact is, most Christians of any ilk don't take the time to approach scripture in any serious fashion at all. Most Christians listen to a preacher or teacher or friend, and decide if they like what they are hearing, it must be true – if they don't like it, it clearly isn't. God forgives my sin? Ooo, I like that: TRUE. God would forgive even a serial killer if he surrendered his life to Christ? No way – I don't want to believe that: NOT TRUE.
Rarely does the average believer actually go to the Word itself and wrestle with what it has to say about a matter and let the Holy Spirit speak to their heart. They let someone else do the wrestling and pick the interpretations that tickle their ears.
Progressives AND Conservatives. We're a lazy people.
More on the rest of this article another day . . . 


Anonymous said...

Wow, I never expected a post or more than one post as a response! I am honored. I do value your time and you deep contemplation, Gwen, and that's why I tagged you to begin with.

What I can say in this short response is, AS FOR THE PEOPLE I KNOW who call themselves progressive and not just liberal....we DO spend time wrestling with biblical passages for meaning, WE DO go to the bible for inspiration, WE DO read it regularly and not trusting some Pastor's word. I agree, we are a lazy people and PREFER to let someone tell us what to think, but in taking that name progressive, we commit ourselves not to leaving our brains outside the sanctuary doors, and to reading for ourselves. It is our right and responsibility. Just sayin'.


Marshall Webber said...

Lazy, indeed. Most cultural Christians (note the modifier) treat the Bible the way they do a Software License: Scroll to the bottom and click AGREE.

All labels are worthless without the labeled defining it for themselves. When you say 'Progressive,' what does that mean? How would you label yourself, and how would define that label?

At some point, the labels become of limited usefulness, since they are most often applied by some group to another who does not use that label of themselves, or would define it differently. Unfortunately, it is the juggernaut of pop culture that does most of the labeling.