The Bible And Progressive Christians

The Bible And Progressive Christians November 18, 2021

I am about to spend an hour and a half in study that has nothing to do with the Bible. It is the final installment for an online series on “discipleship.” Another recent continuing education offering for clergy was about becoming a better storyteller. I look at these offerings and then scan the book cases in my study. There I see some very dated resource materials, commentaries, and studies dealing with the Bible. I have not purchased very many of these resources since seminary. But I see all the newest gimmicky books on how to grow the congregation. I think it is worse to know I see the books that were the “latest” 20 years ago. Protestant leaders apparently take Biblical study by the clergy for granted. It is aggravating.

Bible And Story

It is difficult to hear lay people complain about previous pastors whose sermons “tended to be stories.” I like a good story. Story-telling is an Appalachian tradition. These stories teach us how to live. And they make us laugh at our own foibles. But that is not what congregations hear from the pulpit. I am reminded of a story told by Terry Waite. He was held hostage in Lebanon by the people with whom he intended to negotiate the release of other hostages. He had been an envoy from the Church of England. While in captivity, he clandestinely listened to a radio broadcast of an Anglican worship service. The priest’s homily was disappointing. The title was “Life Lessons from Winnie the Pooh.” There are good reasons many lay people feel they can only hear from the Bible in fundamentalist churches.

The scholarly talk about the Bible uses the word “narrative” when discussing prose sections of the Scripture. I propose bringing back the word “story.” A bright light for continuing education was offered in the title “A Story Teller Looks at the Parables.” It is a step in the right direction. Reclaiming story for the Biblical narrative gets to the idea of purpose for the telling. Why is the story being told?

Topical didactic preaching leaves congregations bored and defensive. Congregations believe they know they should help the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. They have a difficult time helping a poor person they know who has come to them again and again for help. The major question is like the disciples who asked “how many times should I forgive?” How often should we help? What does grace mean eventually?

Progressive Christian Issues

The topics that tend to motivate progressive Christians – justice, systemic evil, unwarranted discrimination, and communitarianism – are discussed in some way in the Bible. These are the reasons we are “progressive Christians.” And yet, for some reason, our professional studies of the Bible do not give us much to rely on for these topics. We do not teach our congregations on how the biblical text developed to its present form. We barely understand it ourselves. But we should take it into account when offering our own version of “Thus says the Lord.”

My experience is not necessarily that people want to have their problems answered by the Bible. Rather they want to know the Bible takes the issues in their lives into account. There may not be a definite solution. But, at least, someone speaking in the Bible has lived with similar problems. Knowing this people realize their problems are not strictly theirs. They are and have been shared by others. As some younger members of the church have shared over the years, they were glad to know my sermons dealt with scripture and their lives (and were a little humorous). I don’t traffic in assurances save for the assertion that God loves people.

The Bible and Conflict

Conflicts over the meaning of Scriptures happen, unfortunately. Fundamentalists see such conflicts as coming from outside themselves. Progressive Christians see them as arising within ourselves. Attempts to avoid conflict compromise the integrity of the preachers. Conflict avoidance minimizes the self of the person wishing for avoidance.

The Bible says many things I find  morally repugnant. But it also exposes the moral hypocrisy of many people. Drawing the lesson preached from the Bible allows the preachers to lean on something other than their own resolve. The Kingdom of God is not about our own cleverness or ability. All we do is speak its truth to those in power and those who have none.

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