Here’s the other side of yesterday’s coin. Roger Wolsey of the Patheos blog The Holy Kiss has produced a list of 16 principles by which progressive Christians interpret the Bible. The problem is that he begins with the following statement:
Atheists and fundamentalists each tend to read the Bible in the same wooden, overly literalistic manner. The difference is that atheists reject what they read in that manner, while fundamentalists believe it.
I wish Progressives would show a little more self awareness than this. Atheists read the Bible the way we have to read the Bible: in the same historical manner with which we read every ancient source. To do anything else is special pleading.
Wolsey’s own principles make it clear that he interprets the Bible in line with his own faith convictions. While some of his principles are secular (“We do our best to read the biblical texts in their original languages”), many of them are specifically sectarian (“We employ a hermeneutic of compassion, love, and justice.”)
Or consider his principle, “We also seek to allow “scripture to interpret scripture.” That’s an idea with a history dating back to Martin Luther, but it requires a belief that the Bible does not contradict itself. The authors of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah are independent from Ezekiel. ‘ol Zeke may have his interpretation of the story in line with the original authors, but there’s no guarantee of that.
This gets particularly dicey when going from the New Testament to the Old. Interpreting passages for the OT in light of passages in the NT is like interpreting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in light of Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
These sectarian principles are not available to atheists. Wolsey would not use these methods with other works, not even a Roman history that was contemporary with the NT. He will only use them when interpreting the Bible, and he will do so because he has faith based commitments to the authority of the Bible and a narrow range of meanings that he can acceptably draw from it.
Sometimes I think that Progressives forget that there is more to religious interpretation that the inerrancy debate. The simple act of trying to draw a relevant meaning from a 2000 year old text inevitably skews it from the intentions of the original authors. If you insist that the Bible has meaning for you today, then you’re already straying from a secular position.