A Post-Progressive Take on the Bible
Richard Beck is moving fast in his “Post-Progressive” series, so I’m going to double up this week on my comments to try and catch up. His fourth post is about progressive Christians and the Bible.
As I described in Part 2, progressive Christians have a fraught relationship with the Bible. During the post-evangelical season of deconstruction the Bible looms large as a faith challenge.
There are two main challenges:
First, there’s a lot of violence in the Old Testament that seems to be sanctioned by God. The herem texts are the key area of concern, the texts where during the conquest of Canaan God commands the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child in the conquered towns.
A related concern here is how violence is implicated in the atonement, in Jesus’ death on the cross. Why does salvation require a killing?
Second, the ethical witness of the Bible on the issues of slavery, gender and sexuality, if read in a flat, literal way, is problematic for many progressive Christians.
Consequently, progressive Christians spend a lot of time struggling with the Bible, devoting great energy on hermeneutical approaches that allow them to read the Bible non-violently and in a way that supports a liberal, humanistic ethical vision.
As a post-progressive, I agree with all this. I read the Bible non-violently and from a liberationist perspective (as good news for the oppressed and marginalized). That said, as a post-progressive I have concerns with how progressive Christians approach and handle the Bible.
Beck’s concern about what he observes when progressive Christians read the Bible is two-fold.
First, he finds many of them fragile when it comes to the Bible. They are fearful and suspicious when approaching scripture. Their first instinct is to find what’s problematic in the Bible. They miss the joy of scripture. They approach it as skeptics first, mistrustful of what they are going to find, already leaning toward a conclusion that the Bible has been used in so many harmful ways over the course of history that one must first deconstruct it before finding anything of value in it.
Second (and this is actually more fundamental) they already have a progressive moral vision which is their starting point, and they pre-judge the Bible before ever really reading it (if they do much at all).
Put bluntly, progressives don’t read the Bible much because they already know what the Bible is supposed to say. God is always being judged, criticized, and indicted by a progressive moral vision. Progressive Christians believe in morality rather than the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And when that happens the Bible is thoroughly tamed and captured by the progressive moral and political imagination. The Word of God is stuffed into a progressive moral box and is not free to startle, surprise, challenge, criticize, indict, unsettle, disturb and interrupt us.
These kinds of problems, of course, are not unique to the progressive Christians whom Richard Beck observes. We all struggle with bringing our own stuff to the Bible and then shaping our reading of it to our own presuppositions and personal, culture-bound perceptions.
As a confessing Christian I must trust the tradition, which has given me the Bible. It tells me that the Bible is the living Word of God, our sacred scriptures, bread for our journey and light for our path. This is my starting point, no matter how critical I may become with regard to how the Church has interpreted the scriptures over the centuries.
As Beck affirms: “From a prophetic aspect, while I still have questions and concerns about the Bible, as a post-progressive I spend less time questioning the Bible and more time letting the Bible question me.”