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.

Thoughts?

 

 

2 thoughts on “On how to read the Bible”

  1. The book that has most influenced my approach to the Scriptures is “God: A Biography” by Jack Miles. His reading of the Old Testament is what I would describe as “literary literalism.” He takes the texts at face value, liberating them (in my opinion) from much theological prejudice. Oddly, in doing so, Miles grants them the freedom to be both figurative and literal at the same time, a reading more unified in meaning than the four categories proposed by Aquinas. Miles’ second book, “Christ: A Crises in the Life of God” employs the same approach with the four Gospels. Though I don’t subscribe to everything he suggests in either book, both offer a fresh, dangerously delightful way to experience the Bible’s outrageous claims and astonishing wonders. Miles greatest asset is allowing the Scriptures to breathe on their own.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *