Jan 22 2014

On how to read the Bible

On “Progressives”

I just read an interesting blog post entitled, “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible.”

First, a rant about how much I hate the word “progressive.”  I think it’s a terrible word. For one thing, the implications of being “progressive” is that somehow you are more advanced than non-progressives.  To that, I simply respond, “bullshit.”  Seriously, I do.  I could go on and on about self-proclaimed “progressives,” but I won’t. At various times and places, progressives have been much different than many of the ones we have today.  For example, our founding fathers were at one time progressives, but now they are not, much less revolutionary.

Another thing about the word, “progressive” is that it’s tied in with the flawed view that progress is necessarily positive, a mentality rooted in the Enlightenment, which wasn’t always as enlightened as many think.  The concept is also tied to a certain view of evolution in which, again, everything necessarily improves over time. However, I think we also see that the opposite is often the case. Without a lot of effort, things tend to fall apart.

The use of “progressive” may simply be to distinguish themselves from “fundamentalists” or other conservative extremists, which I can understand. However, there is also the implication that progressives are more educated and sophisticated, which also falls into the BS category. More educated has never meant “smarter,” and I’ve found over the years that “sophisticated” is often a fancy word for “sin.”

This is not to judge anyone in particular, who may or may not be in some advanced state of development. I’m simply talking about the word and its implications. So, it remains to be seen whether Christian “progressives” are any further along, or are just simply screwed up.  Unfortunately, many I’ve seen fall into the latter category.

Ways of reading the Bible

That being said, there are different ways to read and interpret Scripture, from the so-called “literalist” approach, to viewing all of the Bible as myth.

First, about literalism: No one reads the Bible literally, even if they say they do. They may read many more things literally than others, but that’s about it.  Sometimes, “literalism” means they also read the side notes of the Scofield Bible as inerrant. “Inerrant,” too, is a rather useless word.  It seems to have been used to draw a line between true “evangelicals” and others (progressives?).  In any event, I don’t think it’s helpful. And, oddly enough, I’ve heard some of the most twisted interpretations of Scripture coming from those who claim to believe in inerrancy. It seems that a belief in inerrancy has little to do with how much you respect Scripture. And, as the article points out, often atheists read the Bible more literally than many Christians.

On the other hand, I don’t think anyone with any real brains can seriously look at the whole Bible as myth (that is, not factual, but written to make a point). I know some who try, and try as they might, they simply can’t sound intelligent while defending this claim. The reality is, some of the Bible is meant to be taken as fact, and some of it obviously employs various literary devices to make a point.

Without endorsing everything in the article, “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible” provides an interesting set of points for discussion, and I think anyone who is serious about interpreting and understanding the Bible will at least appreciate the opportunity to think about this things, whether progressive or otherwise.

I have read some other “liberal” guidelines for interpreting Scripture which I couldn’t respect at all, as they were as skewed as what you’d expect from fundamentalist guidelines. The 16 points in this article, however, are at least sensible.  Take, for example, #12: “We also tend to employ a “canon within the canon” lens whereby we give greater weight and priority to certain texts over others.”  I think all of us do this already, even if we don’t realize it. Personally, I give highest priority to the words of Jesus, who is the highest revelation of God that we have.  And, I tend not to stick to the verses I understand, and let the rest work themselves out.  (One of my life rules, that my kids have heard me say a lot, is “you can only do what you can do.”)

I am sure that there are some who will have knee-jerk reactions to this and to be honest, I’m not very interested in what you have to say. But, I think this outline would make a for a very interesting discussion, and then to consider how reading the Bible differently would impact our faith.




Oct 26 2013

What’s up with the Lutherans? Part 2

This is an addendum to my prior “What’s up…” post. I’m not trying to pick on the Lutherans, but since I was raised Lutheran and still hold to a very Lutheran-ish theology, I just can’t help going “What??” as I encounter various Lutherans online.

I’ve already discussed that for many Lutherans, the key Lutheran writings, aka The Book of Concord, takes the place of the Bible as the foundation for Christianity. I get that the whole idea is that Lutheranism is the accurate interpretation of Scripture, but just assume for once that Luther or Melancthon may have been wrong. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of those who followed Martin made a few errors, especially in the whole 3rd use of the Law thing (no, I won’t discuss that again).  If you don’t always go back to Scripture, you’ll never know if the Confessions are wrong about something. And if they’re right, Scripture will back up your position.

The thing is…

The thing is, in my mind Lutherans are supposed to be the “grace people,” not the “follow our rules or be cast out into outer darkness” people.  Trust me, we have enough fundamentalist wackos in our country without adding those calling themselves Lutheran into the mix.  This whole “Lutheran Fundy” attitude is new to me… there’s probably a good reason why certain branches of the Lutheran Church were never spoken of when I was growing up.  Granted, my grandfather came from the Swedish/Augustana Lutherans and had been influenced by pietism. When my father was growing up, playing cards were forbidden, for example.  But by the 60’s, we were part of the Lutheran Church in America, which had lost much of the pietistic influences.

Pietistic errors aside, Luther is widely recognized as the person who rediscovered the Gospel in the Western church. The word “evangelical” was first used by Martin Luther to identify those holding to a theology of salvation by grace.  However, it would seem that for some who call themselves Lutheran, grace takes a back burner once you are baptized, and it’s right theology and rules from there on out.  At least that’s the way it reads.

This week’s stupid Lutheran discussion

I belong to a Facebook group called “Confessional Lutheran Fellowship.” It seemed like a good way to learn what’s gong in in Lutheranism, and discuss theology on occasion. I’ve seen some stupid things posted on occasion, but this past week someone asked, “Is a female pastor a pastor?”  It started out a bit surprising when the 2nd person, a female, responded, “No. She’s a sinner in rebellion to the Word of God.”  Female pastors were then referred to as false prophets, and “preistitutes.”  Seriously.  So I did what I normally do, and replied “yes.”  Some people appreciated my honesty and bravery, someone else told me that I couldn’t be a Confessional Lutheran and hold that position.

About 150 comments into the discussion, it turned to the issue of whether Communion was really Communion if “administered” by a female pastor.  Then it just got weird.  I then jumped in to point out that these rules they were discussing were not Scriptural, but based on church tradition.  While one person “liked” my comment, I also got this response:

Alden, our Lord Jesus Himself establishes the Office of the Holy Ministry as the essential public office of His Church in Matthew 28. Making disciples by means of Word and Sacrament is precisely what Jesus gives there. And we see this very thing playing out in Acts 2.42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” which explicitly locates the Sacrament in the Apostolic Office. This is precisely how the matter is treated in the Symbols of the Church, so if you would be a Lutheran and Christian, you would agree.

Contrary to my impulsive, combative nature, I did not respond, and for the most part abandoned the discussion. I probably could have explained that Acts 2:42 says that the Apostles taught. Period.  Since no one believes teaching is a purely apostolic function, his argument disintegrates completely.  Not to mention his presumption of “Office” in Matt. 28.

The benefits of being a Lutheran expatriate

One of the benefits of being a Lutheran expatriate is that I’ve had 35 or so years of non-Lutheran context.  In that evangelical milieu, I have retained the essence of Lutheranism. But I came back to a Lutheran theology after sitting under a variety of more contemporary theological teaching, and don’t look at Scripture through merely one filter.

I don’t have a problem with church structure.  For example, I’m very comfortable in Anglican churches, and respect those in Eastern Orthodox traditions. However, I also recognize that the New Testament does not set a “head pastor” model for churches.  Elders are discussed, as are those who serve in various functions. I am aware that while Paul makes statements about women no being over a man, I also see women being named as prophets, and being “counted among the Apostles.”  You can have a pastor, but you can’t claim it’s the Biblical model.

Besides, in the New Testament, leaders are those who serve. No one has a problem with women serving men. And when it comes to Communion, there are no requirements at all, except for Paul’s short teaching as to how it should be presented.  It was a meal, after all.  It only became a token ritual later on.  (No one could have become drunk sipping wine from a common cup.)

All this talk of “Offices” and rules are completely foreign to the NT.

The Gospel Uncensored

When I wrote The Gospel Uncensored from Ken Blue’s sermons, I never anticipating having to deal with a Lutheran legalism.  But presenting any sort of church rules—especially those that are used to disparage someone else—is not unlike requiring circumcision or dietary rules.  In the discussion thread I mentioned above, it was actually stated that women who become pastors are unrepentant sinners and are destined to hell.

Seriously?  In Galatians, the only people Paul suggested should go to hell were those imposing rules on the Galatian Christians.

It’s okay to believe that women should not be pastors. Traditionally, this has been accepted, and it’s difficult for people to change their perceptions. And, there are arguments on both sides. But, holding people to man-made rules is clearly condemned by Paul, as is judging others.  These attitudes are just plain evil.

I should mention that not everyone in the Facebook discussion were condemning, and many stood up to those who were clearly out of line. But, there seemed to be an unfortunate number of people who were so entrenched in their legalism that there was no room left for grace.

An interesting twist

I have had to deal myself with my thinking about women pastors, peeling away various filters that have been in place for years. However, I occasionally attend an Episcopal church with a female priest, and I like her. She is there to serve, and does it well.  I’ve also met a female Lutheran pastor who I think has the same heart. However, I have a greater problem with some female pastors in more contemporary churches, as the servant leadership mentality is often notoriously missing, with pastors often occupying a separate class than others. There, pastors are assumed to be “over” the church. In that case, I would firmly be against women in that role. However, I’m also against men in that role…

Bottom line, I’m thinking I should probably just leave that Facebook group, as it’s clearly a much narrower group than it claims to be.  And, I don’t need that kind of irritation.





Sep 22 2013

A Provocation…

Yesterday I stumbled upon a very aptly-titled blog post: A Provocation: Twelve Myths Too Many Christians Believe, Pt 1. It certainly lives up to it’s name.  The 1st six myths he discusses are:

  1. Christianity is not a religion.
  2. The Bible is the word of God.
  3. The Bible is true because it says it is.
  4. The only marriage espoused by scripture is between one man and one woman.
  5. Everything in the Bible must be literally true, or we should just throw it away.
  6. America is a Christian nation.

Just based on the 6 myth statements, I’m guessing that at least 1/2 of these causes an instant reaction to most of you—I know I reacted to a couple.  But then, I read the explanation, and found that these are all provocative in a good way. The author, David Schell, raises some very interesting points in defense of his list, and he caused me to think, which is what he undoubtedly set out to do.

What do you think?  Feel free to comment on any of these…


Sep 18 2013

The Whole Pastor / Apostolic Succession thing

I’m not really picking on Lutherans, although sometimes I might seem like it.  I pick on everyone, but I really want to like Lutherans, so it’s just natural that I pay attention to them more than, say, Baptists. (Read that any way you like.)

So, I was reading this Lutheran-ish blog where the subject of absolution was being discussed. Absolution is a churchy term for being absolutely forgiven, typically by a representative of the church on behalf of God.  In some traditions, you only get absolved by confessing your individual sins, and promising to do some work (“penance”) to prove you’re sorry. In the Lutheran tradition, which I really like, we corporately confess our sins at the beginning of the liturgy, and the pastor represents that God has forgiven us, which we all agree with. I like the old liturgy better than the new, but that’s what I grew up with.  This is the only problem I have with the Book of Common Prayer — the pronouncement of forgiveness isn’t up front. I like being able to worship after we’ve all agreed we’re forgiven.

So anyway, the post I was reading provides the Biblical basis for absolution by quoting John 20:20-23:

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

It’s a great verse, but certainly one that some have a problem with.

Apostolic Succession

My problem comes with the whole concept of Apostolic Succession. In the above verse, Jesus is talking specifically to the Ten disciples.  By this time, of course, Judas was long gone. But, if you read on, you see that Thomas was also absent.  Interesting.

The concept of Apostolic Succession held to by many is that since this authority was only given to the Ten, the authority had to be directly passed down from these Apostles to the next in line.  For a couple of the historic traditions, this authority only passes to their priests; all others are interlopers. For later traditions, it is their expression of their church denomination that has this authority, which can be granted to their pastors.

Now, in traditions with direct succession beliefs, they’ve got to deal with Thomas somehow. Did he get this authority even though he was absent?  I’ve never heard this discussed, but it’s an interesting question.  I’m assuming that this might not have been an issue at the time, at least not worth discussing. But, when you start creating rules, these details become important.

Receiving the Holy Spirit

One thing to keep in mind in the John passage is that this was prior to the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh, at Pentecost. So, the Apostles were given the Holy Spirit earlier as they were the caretakers of the Church between the time of Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost.

While the passage does not specifically tie the 2 concepts together, I believe that we have to assume a connection between receiving the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins (or retain them).

The question is, or at least one question is, now that the Holy Spirit has been poured out over the whole church, does Apostolic succession and the power to forgive sins remain with the hierarchical priesthood/clergy?

The Office of the Ministry

The blog post I referenced earlier makes the case that what Jesus actually did in John 20 was create an “office of the ministry,” which now extends to officially sanctioned pastors (although these would be not recognized by some of the older church traditions).  Now, while this is a nice try, I think we run into a conflict with the concept of the Priesthood of all believers spoken of by Peter in 1 Peter chapter 2.  As the writer of Hebrews explains, we all can now approach the throne, there is no need for any other to mediate for us.

The Problem With Pastors

Another problem we run into with this line of thinking is that in reality, there is no Biblical support for priests or pastors. Elders, yes. Teachers, yes. Pastors, as in professional Christians whose job it is to pronounce forgiveness? Not that I can see.

At the same time, I have no problem attending a Lutheran or Anglican service, etc.  I believe that any Christian can do what a pastor does.  Pastors serve the church, and I respect that. However, if the key is the presence of the Holy Spirit, then perhaps true apostolic authority is passed on to the Church Universal.  Perhaps the “Office of the ministry” is church-wide.

I’m not being “evangelical”

While it sounds like I am championing bad evangelical ecclesiology, I’m really not.  I’ve written enough about my problems with the modern church that you can search through and find that if you’re interested.  I do believe in historic concepts like incarnational theology and the administration of sacraments, for starters.  But, another of my problems with the post-liturgical protestant church is that its existence is, I believe, inherently conflicted.  They deny many of the fundamentals of historic orthodoxy and orthopraxy, yet try to hang on to concepts like the authority of pastors.  But, don’t get me started down that road…


I believe in absolution / forgiveness. In fact, we’re taught in the NT to forgive as being essential to our own forgiveness. I believe forgiving others is the most important thing we can do as Christians, and it’s so often ignored. Withholding forgiveness is a concept I don’t really understand, but I really don’t think that will ever become a problem for us. It seems we are kind of predisposed to “unforgive.”

But bottom line, I think any attempt to restrict “the office of the ministry” or Apostolic Authority to a certain class of Christians is not Scripturally justified.  If I’m wrong, I’d love to read a well-argued response.