Confession: Progressive Christians Love the Bible, Too

It occurs to me that I should never be famous. Not that i was ever in much danger of that…i’m just thinking that i should avoid it at all costs now, because I am still experiencing ‘feedback fatigue’ from the discussion about amendment 1 the other day. I usually get a handful of readers, mostly church folks and my mom (who told me that i should sometimes count her twice, because she comes back to read it again). To give you a little perspective on the kind of traffic I got this week–i’ve been blogging for nearly 4 years; and more than 10% of my ALL-TIME hits have come from the past 48 hours.

So there’s that.

I noticed in that thread of comments something that i’ve noticed time and again in discussions about homosexuality, women in ministry, and various other hot topics: it is the painful truth that many people from more conservative Christian backgrounds think that those of us in favor of LGBT inclusion, women in leadership, and/or evolution, assume that we just really hate the Bible. Or ignore it. Or are utterly ignorant of what it says.

Sadly, many leaders on the more progressive end of things don’t do a good job of articluating anything to the contrary. I recently met another pastor from my neighborhood. When I told him what church I serve, he said that he came to worship here several years ago: and he heard the preacher say that the Bible was “nothing more than a book of stories.” “That broke my heart,” he said. “I swore i would never go back to a church like that again.”

Well…what could i say to that? Hearing him say “a church like that” broke my heart, as well. And i couldn’t very well say, ‘no, that is wrong, that isn’t what we believe!” What I wish i’d been able to say was, “That’s not ALL we believe.” Or some other truth that would engage a conversation. But what really hurt, and continues to hurt, is that there is no door to conversation after that. There is no bridge between “just a book of stories” and “the infallible, inerrant…word of God that is the only way to salvation.”

What I’d love to be able to say is that a ‘church like that’ DOES love the Bible. And we know it is so much more than ‘just’ a book of stories. It is, in fact, THE story. It is the broad and sweeping epic stoy of God working through history for relationship with humankind; and working, through Jesus Christ, to build a holy kind of kingdom on earth–not in some future, far-off afterlife, but in a here and now, where all people are treated with justice, kindness, and equity.

We know what it says about abominations and pro-creation. We know what it says about the first 7 days. We know what it says about women sitting down and being quiet. But you know… it also says that we should still go out into the desert by ourselves once a month, and I don’t see anybody enforcing that. It also says you shouldn’t wear synthetic fabrics, or plant certain crops side by side, or work on the sabbath. It also says a bunch of stuff about how to treat your slaves.

It also says that Christians should give up everything they own–not just metaphorically, but really–to follow Jesus. I think we can agree–none of us gets that part right.

I promise, we’ve read it. But we’ve read the rest of it, too. And while some folks think we are unfaithful to ‘ignore’ certain components of God’s word, we feel it is unfaithful to pull obscure, ancient law out of the mothballs, ignoring the broader, sweeping scope of this fantastic, earth-shaking, transforming story.

Like the part about loving your neighbor as yourself; the part about not judging others; the part about God doing new things every morning; the parts about restoring to community those who have been on the outside; and the parts in the gospel–in every single gospel–where Jesus finds the most broken, unlikely, unconventional people and not only sits at the table with them, but calls them to ministry.

That’s the part of scripture that changes lives and makes new disciples; that’s the gospel of Jesus as we know it, that will give us life into a new generation; that’s the good news of God, alive and moving in the world–and even in us– despite all evidence to the contrary.

Thing is, if you are a literalist, we know that it is your gospel, too. We know that, deep down, we all want the same thing. We all want for a hurting, broken world to know this Jesus of healing, hope and transformation; and we want the world we live in to mirror his teachings, so that we all look a little bit more like God.

So it breaks my heart when we can’t talk about women, or dinosaurs, or gay people, without hitting the wall of “That’s not what the Bible says!!!!” We know what it says.

But we also know what it means, for our own lives, and for the healing of the world. And until we can have an open, loving conversation, that healing isn’t going to happen, and not nearly enough people are going to know the Jesus that we all love and try–broken though we might be–to follow. People are going to continue to leave the Church in droves, as long as they hear one camp condemning everybody to hell, and the rest of us saying it’s “just a story.”

There’s a better way, folks. And Jesus sure wishes we’d hurry up and find it, together.

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About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • http://www.propheticprogress.blogspot.com/ JimII

    I think it might be helpful to start by addressing a very small point about what the nature of Scripture by comparing it to laws & literature.

    No candidate for the Arizona Legislature shall accept a contribution for more than $424.
    It is unlawful to cause the death of another.
    Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
    The story of George Washington and the cherry tree.
    The novel The Grapes of Wrath.

    The Bible contains material similar to each of these, right? Can there be any disagreement on that point? Recognize, that even if YHWH picked up a ball point pen and scratched out the most recent edition of the King James Version Godself, this would still be true. Even someone claiming to be a literalist in the tradition of Nicodemus must recognize the variety of literary forms in Scripture.

    So, when your pastor friend swore never to return to a church wherein the preacher stated that the Bible was “nothing more than a book of stories,” I would hope that he would also never return to a church that stated or implied that the Bible was an administrative code book dispensing unambiguous regulations. The former is overly flip and denies the inherent power of stories in general, and specifically those handed down by God’s people over centuries. The latter is equally incorrect and demeaning of the complex nature of Scripture.

    To begin a discussion about the Bible, we need to make sure we’re talking about the actual words in the actual Bible, right?

  • http://pimplyserfect.wordpress.com pimplyserfect

    I really love this post, and I wish I could be so articulate on the subject myself. So many times in conversations with some of my more conservative Christian friends and family, I find myself tight-lipping responses, instead. Thanks for sharing.

    • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

      i know the feeling. feel free to quote any of this stuff if it is helpful! but, don’t know if any of it will get you past ‘the wall…” thanks for reading!

  • Gerry Tessner

    Thank you for ALL your words; you speak my language.

    • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

      word.

  • patric

    Very nice, Erin.

  • Laurel

    Erin, thanks for being such a dedicated advocate for the underdogs; your voice is much appreciated.

    • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

      hopefully ,not underdogs for long…there should be no underdogs in the Body of Christ!

  • Susan Gabbard

    Hi Erin, this is a wonderful way to put it. Going to share it on FB as one of our other friends did. I still remember that great story you told as your sermon in chapel back at LTS! Hope you are doing well and keeping up the great work!

    • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

      thanks, susan. good to hear from you!

  • http://ecumenicallife.wordpress.com Ken Ranos

    Wonderful post. I have to try and make some friends of mine understand this as well. It’s hard to answer the question, “Just what DOES the Bible mean to me?”

    • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

      hard, but important. you know, you can share what you believe…but don’t feel the burden of ‘making them understand’ is on you. life is too short, and it will only wear you down. you can only speak the truth in love, and then let it be. thanks for reading!

  • Ana Wilson

    Thank you. Being a more “liberal/progressive” Christian, I truly want to come to the table and have good open discussions. Unfortunately, both sides come to the table thinking they are completely right and not willing to have an open heart and mind. I confess I’ve done the same and pray in the future we can all find a way together.

    • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

      i know, ana, it is tough. but we keep trying!


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