2014 Religious Trends
Getting Under Our Skin: The Role of Scripture for Progressive Christians
And that is when we reach for Scripture, because the wisdom of our ancient text pulses with whys. It's not that the poetry or narratives answer why in every case, but they allow us to sit in the murk of human suffering with friends and understand that our shadow of death is thousands of years old. And through the wonder, pathos, and struggle, we learn something about ourselves and about our God.
Since the Enlightenment, our thirst for the hows and our ability to answer that question have created extraordinary achievements for humanity. And Christians should never turn their backs on the pursuit of the how. In fact, John Calvin had great respect for science. He explained that whenever science and the Bible conflicted, then the Scriptures ought to be reinterpreted. He called those who abandoned modern science "frantic persons."
As Christian progressives, we step into a long, flowing history of liberation as we search the streams of why in Scripture. With the social gospel, we plead "thy kingdom come" as we understood God's reign as a struggle for the world as it ought to be. Through African-American theology, we listen to how the story of how the cross shapes our history of the lynching tree. We even invite suspicion into our interpretations, knowing that suspicion and restoration often work together. In our Feminist theology, we look at the texts of terror. And while the conservative neo-Calvinists take the media spotlight, the steady work of liberal Reformed theologians wrestle with trauma and teach us the grace we can find through Calvin and the Psalms.
Through these voices, we do not have to struggle with literal interpretations, trying to force them into a scientific worldview. Rather, we can allow the text to live and breathe and struggle with a deeper knowledge. The stories can flow into our lives as longings for justice, voices of the powerless, and a balm of healing. We can wrestle with the whys, and we can allow the narratives of scripture to get under our skin and become a part of who we are.
Rev. Carol Howard Merritt (@CarolHoward) is the award-winning author of Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation (Alban) and Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation (Alban) and a frequent contributor to books, websites, magazines, and journals. She is a columnist at the Christian Century, where her blog, "Tribal Church," is hosted. She's a Presbyterian (USA) minister whose writing, speaking, and teaching is anchored in theological and sociological insight.
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