Claim: The Bible makes us more progressive

Claim: The Bible makes us more progressive November 15, 2013

By Benjamin Corey:

Go to the link to see Corey’s context and explanations for each claim.

While this isn’t all comprehensive, based upon my own experience, here’s my list:

10 reasons why I think reading your Bible more frequently will make you a more Progressive Christian:

1. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that I don’t have it all together.

2. The more I read my Bible, the more I develop humility.

3. The more I read my Bible, the more I discover that justice for the poor and oppressed is at the heart of it.

4. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize “redistribution of wealth” wasn’t Obama’s idea– it was God’s.

5. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that the early Christians actually practiced this re-distribution of wealth.

6. The more I read my Bible the more I realize Jesus taught we need to pay our taxes.

7. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God wants us to be people who are quick to show mercy.

8. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God cares how we treat immigrants.

9. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God will hold us accountable for how we care for the environment.

10. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God isn’t judging us by whether or not we get all of our doctrine right– he’s judging us by whether or not we get the “love one another” part right.

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  • JoeyS

    As a pretty progressive Christian myself, I think it is dangerous to assume that progressives have the monopoly on humility and care for the poor and marginalized. I think my conservative friends are often wrong about solutions to issues regarding poverty and their understanding of the scripture’s call to radical economics. But even calling myself “progressive” assumes that I have “progressed” beyond my conservative brethren and that, if not nuanced, can be an unfair assumption.

  • Tiago de Oliveira Cavaco

    The more I read Jesus Creed, the more I realize that what happens in comments is more charitable than what happens on the front page. LOL.

  • JoeyS

    If the articles and posts generate good and healthy conversation I’d say they’ve done their part.

  • Jeremy B.

    Yeah, the mistake is assuming that what Scot posts, Scot agrees with. He’s said multiple times that isn’t the case.

  • KentonS

    I went 9 for 10 missing number 4. Or I went 10 for 10 with an asterisk.

    Yes, “redistribution of the wealth” is God’s idea. No, he never compels us to make it happen through the government (which seems implicit in the reference to Obama to these more conservative eyes).

    “What should we do?”, they asked John.

    “You who have no coats should forcibly take one from the one who has two.”

    (said no translation of scripture ever)

  • Jeremy B.

    He’s probably referring to the OT, which does have enforced redistribution at what could be argued to be government level.

    Also, the argument could be made that the NT doesn’t disallow it either, making democratic societies that much more interesting.

  • Be careful on this one: “No, he never compels us to make it happen through the government.” Making it part of Israel’s law was making it part of their government, to the extent they had a government, and God seemed to think they did, with himself as their king.

  • Yeah, I’d say this is true for me, too. The more I’ve read my Bible the less politically conservative I seem to have become. But I take JoeyS’ point that suggesting we have “progressed” beyond other brothers and sisters is presumptive. Points 1 and 2 can jump in at this point to help us keep things in perspective.

  • tedstur

    That’s funny. For me, it’s gone the opposite direction.

    Here are 10 reasons why progressive talk like this makes me more righteous (er, I mean, “scares the hell out of me”):

    1. The Bible helps me to see that God values life.Progressive politics have embraced a pro-death mentality. The result has been millions of deaths among the unborn.

    2. The more I read the Bible the more I realize that kings tax and plunder their own people for their own ends and government is a necessary evil. I think that’s hinted at in 1 Samuel 8 and can be seen in the treatment of early Christians by the Romans.

    3. The more I read the Bible the more I see how rulers find and stamp out the righteous among us (cf, the ministry of Jesus). Perhaps we should cast a wary eye on progressives who see government as the means of justice when, in fact, it’s a rarity both in the Bible and historically. You could verify that with the NSA, by the way, I think they have the data.

    4. The more I read the Bible, the more I recognize that God wants people to attain to their full stature as humans. It’s not his goal that any should be the subject of dependence and perpetual poverty, two things produced by progressive policies over the past century.

    5. The more I read the Bible the more I see how God honors those who give sacrificially from a right heart with pure motives. I don’t see him advocating the joy of spending other people’s money on the sorts of things that governments spend money on.

    6. The more I read the Bible, the more certain I am that each should bear his own load (cf Gal 6). True mercy is not always to give a man a fish.

    7. The more I read the Bible, the more I realize how much God loves freedom and wants us to be just based on volition and not compulsion.

    8. The more I read the Bible, the more I recognize how Jesus’ didn’t use Rome to fulfill his own ends.

    9. The more I read the Bible, the more I realize how little I know about the consequences of bad government (cf the Old Testament and the New).

    10. The more I read the Bible, the more I recognize that evil comes in all sorts of forms and that very good things (like environmentalism) can be dressed up as temple worship. Pharisees come in all sort of guise.

    Ok, before you flame me, I mean this to be tongue-in-cheek.

    Sort of.

    The self-righteous “Bibling” in the list above is offensive whether it comes from the right or the left. The Bible has much to say that it not alignment with our contemporary progressive/conservative dichotomy.

  • KentonS

    For both T Freeman and Jeremy B…touché.

    Yes, submission to the authorities is required, and when the government dictates a redistribution system (like they had in the Hebrew scriptures, yes), then, yes, subjects are compelled to redistribute wealth through the government.

    Reagan’s words come to mind here: Communism (read “redistribution of wealth”) only works in two places: heaven where they don’t need it, and hell where they already have it.

    When the redistribution is voluntary it’s heavenly. When it’s compulsory it’s hell.

  • Not to question Reagan, 😀 but do you really think that God’s commands to regularly redistribute wealth in Israel (mainly land) made Israel into “hell” on earth? I don’t see the commands to not murder, steal, etc. having exactly that effect. Why is the command to “share” all of a sudden turning a society into hell? Plus, I think that Sweden does a fair amount of this, and has for some time. I don’t think of many folks who think of Sweden as hell. It’s just too cold. 😀

  • Tom F.

    Actually, this was somewhat empirically shown, and featured in the modestly conservative Christianity Today.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/october/survey-bible-reading-liberal.html?paging=off
    I think it probably works up to a point: the very end of the liberal spectrum is either radical individualism/libertarianism (yes: libertarianism is only conservative if you benchmark to the enlightenment, before that it would have been radically leftist) or some sort of truly socialist/Marxist type thing. I doubt those would be consonant with any part of the biblical narrative.

  • Tom F.

    “The self-righteous “Bibling” in the list above is offensive whether it
    comes from the right or the left. The Bible has much to say that it not
    alignment with our contemporary progressive/conservative dichotomy.”

    Simply, yes.

    Perhaps one could say, the more the ruler is identified with or actually is God, the more economically “liberal” the bible is, while the more socially conservative it is. When kings fail, they tend to be more economically “conservative”, by our terms, in not helping the poor, and more socially “liberal”, allowing religious diversity and religious intermarriage.

  • Tom F.

    Obviously, the state as an actor can do things that would be morally wrong for individuals to do.

    For a non-controversial example: eminent domain.

    In order to say that the government is doing something wrong, the burden is higher, you have to show that the government is doing something intrinsically wrong, or that the costs outweigh the benefits.

    What if the government took your coat and sold it in order to make all coats cheaper? Taking from you would be giving to a whole bunch of other people then. Public roads would fall under this heading.

    I think you need a bit more to actually show that compelled giving by the government is wrong. Rome payed for bread and circuses, and Jesus said pay your taxes. Heck, Roman taxes paid for Rome to take *more* money from the Judeans and give it to wealthy Romans. You’d think we’d hear something about it in that situation, where it is so obviously wrong, but Jesus didn’t say anything either way, other than, pay your taxes.

  • KentonS

    Elton John’s Rocket Man refers to a place being “as cold hell”. As a matter of very little-known fact, when he wrote it, one of the earlier drafts went ♪ Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids ♫ In fact it’s as cold as Sweden ♫

    But back to point. As far as Israel being hell, I understand there were rules in place for Jubilee that kept (or tried to keep) its people from exploiting the system. I’m sure when those rules were exploited, it WAS hell. Not all compulsory redistribution societies are as great as what you’re crediting Sweden to be.

    I’m sketchy on my history, but whether Israel figured it out on their own, or whether the country just became so weak that the Babylonians/Greeks/Romans just trampled them, Israel eventually stopped the whole Jubilee thing. They did keep the commands to not murder and not steal though.

  • LOL! Interestingly, we’re always worried about the poor getting a sense of entitlement. But the OT law seemed equally concerned about the rich getting a sense of entitlement to what they acquired. From what I understand, there is no record that Israel ever kept the Jubilee, though they might have. We do know from the prophetic writings in scripture that the rich did attempt to violate/forget several other restrictions vis a vis the poor, and few could stop them. Money has a kind of gravitational pull on the human soul. Possession so easily becomes attachment and then justification. Remember, the central thrust of the NT’s teaching on money isn’t stewardship (not even close), it’s warning (often quite harsh) against attachment, especially for those who have money to get attached to, and it doesn’t matter if they got it honestly.

  • KentonS

    I think you’re making my point. As evil as the Romans were, Jesus didn’t use government means to the end oppression – even though the Jews fully expected Messiah to do just that. (“And the government shall be upon his shoulders!”)

    His answer was to go a second mile – voluntarily – when you were ordered to carry a pack only for the first mile. But the “progressive” approach flies in the face of that. The “progressive” approach is to force the oppressors into submission. “Rise up against the rich!” “Take over from the powerful!” “Seize their coats!”

    Maybe I’m not communicating this well. I’m not so much opposed to government compulsion as I am to the idea that God calls us as followers of Jesus to redistribute the wealth by forcing the hand of the wealthy through government compulsion. That may sound like a hair split, but it’s a distinction with a difference in my (__insert adjective here__) mind.

  • KentonS

    That’s a great last word!

  • It all depends on how you read the Bible.

    If you do like William Lane Craig does,

    you will end up concluding that while God wants us to oppose abortion, He ordered soldiers to kill babies and pregnant women alike.

    I don’t want to sound too cynical, tough. I know that progressive Evangelicals such as Randal Rauser and Peter Enns completely reject the divine approval of atrocities.

  • Monique

    The more I read my Bible, the more I know that God wishes CHRISTIANS to be the ones to do His will in the world…not the State, not anyone but those who believe in Christ. It is Christ and Christ alone who inspires us to take care of widows and orphans, who inspires others to obey laws and to change those laws which are not just but not to break them in the meantime. Called upon to be light, we must not truck with darkness.

  • mwkruse

    Several good comments already. I’ll just add this. As I read the Bible I become more aware of how Christians … conservative and progressive … are so ready to baptize their political views with ahistorical cursory readings of scripture. 😉

    Also, the redistribution question is a fascinating one to me. Progressive Christians (rightly) contextualize any number of topics in the Bible from slavery, to gender roles, to marriage, to evolution, to government and so on. But when it comes to economics they become literalist fundies. All contextualization goes out the window.

    The biblical societies were advanced agrarian economies. Productivity could only be influenced at a marginal level. Therefore, economic ethics centered on consumption and distribution. Because of the science, technology, and trade, of the last two or three centuries productivity is no longer a fixed variable. The primary growth in human flourishing has come not from redistribution but from economic growth. Redistribution has played a supporting role in that change. John Paul II described poverty as exclusion from networks of productivity and exchange. There is always going to be a need for some level of generosity and redistribution. Progressives believe in inclusiveness. I believe in the inclusion in networks of productivity and exchange.

    Christian progressives routinely reference Bible passages about economic issues to justify publicly policy preferences with no contextual lens, the same evangelical/fundie behavior they pride themselves as having progressed beyond on with so many other issues.

  • Tom McKnight

    Should a careful, thoughtful, consistent reading of the Scriptures make us more progressive (liberal) or conservative (fundamental)…or just in tune with God’s heart and truth about all of life?

    Christians who align with political movements lose a biblical perspective and prophetic voice to both ends of the spectrum.

  • Solomon

    The problem here is not with what the Bible says, it is with what the author doesn’t say, using rather open and vague statements that leave out all context. Examples:

    “The more I read my Bible, the more I discover that justice for the poor and oppressed is at the heart of it.” But this ignores the more complicated question of how justice is actually achieved. Conservatives would argue the welfare state does not help the poor while progressives would argue every poor person is by definition oppressed by the rich.

    “The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that the early Christians actually practiced this re-distribution of wealth.” As others have stated, Christian generosity and community are simply not the same as forced confiscation of wealth to distribute as a centralized government sees fit. Even if the idea were sound, the inefficiency of federal programs ought to give even a committed liberal pause.

    “The more I read my Bible the more I realize Jesus taught we need to pay our taxes.” This ignores the deeper question of “how much tax is enough”. No conservative says there should be no tax at all. I assume no progressive wants taxes to rise to 100% of income. The argument is over what level of taxation is too much. And what level of deficit spending is too much. I tend to think borrowing from China to pay the interest on the debt is a problem.

    “The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God cares how we treat immigrants.” The question is not whether we should welcome immigrants. The question is how. Do we have an orderly system where people from all countries have an equal chance to come or do we have a disorderly system where the first act of coming to this country is to break our laws?

    This lack of definition is a fairly common problem. In my experience the left offers emotional appeals to generalized good intentions but are very short on the question of how it might actually work (exhibit A – Obamacare). Conservatives say “wait a minute, it isn’t that simple” and get blasted as being heartless.

  • Tom F.

    It seems a bit much to say that in the US we have progressives saying “Rise up against the rich”. The rich, after all, are equally represented and get to vote. The claim is that progressive taxation is fair because the rich have benefited disproportionately from societies resources. You might disagree, but the idea is seldom floated that the poor should simply steal rich people’s coats. (When they do, we imprison them more than most other countries in the world.)

    A safety net need not be crassly redistributive; everyone benefits from the social stability that comes from not having the very poor be absolutely desperate.

  • While I agree with much of what you say, perhaps it would be helpful to see the above list as a shift of focus, off of me and my rights, and onto what I can do to bless the lives of others.

  • Given that God is infinite, I would say that we should always be progressing toward him. :-p Of course, this doesn’t mean ditching our past; that would be criminally negligent. But we ought to be quick to discard attitudes and beliefs which are shown to be harmful to other human beings. Christians have tended to be pretty bad at making such corrections in the past. :-/

  • I don’t understand the downvote. The only thing I’d disagree with is your ‘alone’.

  • KentonS

    Maybe as a conservative, I hear the rhetoric of our progressive president differently than progressives do. But when he uses a lot of “fair share” rhetoric, it always sounds to me – to me – like code for “stick it to the rich.” Implicit in that is an idea that we he SEIZES (the verb distinction matters) their coats he will crassly redistribute them.

    You’re right, a safety need does not need to be crassly redistributive and everyone does benefit from lifting up the poor. But let’s not think we can implement it through the power of government. The way I see it, that is rendering to Caesar the things which are God’s.

  • Solomon

    Did I say something about “me and my rights?”

    Support charitable organizations. Work with refugees. Give to groups that with accountability and efficiency feed the hungry.

    And as a last resort, government agencies should serve as a temporary safety net. I’ve been unemployed. I’ve been to state job agencies plenty of times.

    But the issue is that big, bloated federal bureaucratic solutions are usually inefficient, wasteful, rife with fraud and all too often lead to multi-generational dependency. The issue is not compassion, the issue is what accomplishes the intended goal.

    The redistributive policies of the present administration have led to prolonged and under reported unemployment, huge increases in the numbers of people on food stamps, surges in dependence on medicaid and now, the biggest government program in history is a technological mess causing loss of insurance plans, thousands of doctors being dropped from programs, on and on and on. I don’t think the Bible endorses that and I don’t think anyone’s rights are served by putting too much faith in political leaders and political machinery.

    Power corrupts. That is the central ethos of conservatism – humans are sinful, sinful men in power have the means to do unspeakable harm. Best to limit government and find other ways to solve social problems.

  • Monique

    labreuer, I can see the downvote. The IMO comments are way broad, especially re not breaking unjust laws. The encouragement for anyone other than oneself to break laws is problematic. The pick and choose method of determining which laws to obey or disobey is fraught with immorality. Thus we must not encourage others to break, for example, immigration laws. However, as Americans, we do have the right to civil disobedience, which was also approved by our founders. Also, laws which authorize the enslaving of humans and considering them property are, of course, unjust. Such laws themselves are encouragement to break the other laws against kidnapping and purchasing stolen property. Altogether a lengthy discussion.

    A homily I listened to on Friday included the line, “How is my life identifying with Jesus in my present situation?” Great question and to be answered by each one of us.

  • Again, I’m not sure I disagree with anything you’ve said. I think there are two primary regimes in which we as humans can operate in a society:

         (1) How can I make sure to get what I deserve?
         (2) How can I serve others?

    I’m not sure a democracy can survive people who ask (1). Recall that the law of grace is explicitly not a law of ‘deserve’. What I’m trying to say is that we need a shift in spirit from (1) → (2). From individualism to servanthood. I see (1) as ‘easier’ than (2). If not enough people are asking (2), I think we ‘slip back’ into (1). As you’ve noted, (1) is not a pretty place to be.

  • Hmm, I’m not sure what you’re really saying in the first paragraph (Gandhi was able to spur civil disobedience without Christianity), but your second one is interesting. Did this homily include ‘counting the cost’ of following Christ—of suffering involved for sins we did not commit? See, for example, Nehemiah’s choice to repent for sins his fellow Hebrews and ancestors committed, and his choice to leave a comfy place to do the will of God. “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” I get the sense that Nehemiah wasn’t feeling much gratitude from his fellow Hebrews!