Stop Taking the Bible “Seriously”

A blog written by Rev. Roger Wolsey, a Methodist pastor in Boulder, Colorado, has gotten a lot of attention lately.   It’s about the Bible and the ways in which it is interpreted by he and fellow progressives.  It caught my attention because many clergy are sharing it here and there, and, regrettably, many of them seem to think it wonderful.    I can’t agree.

After reading several times  Wolsey’s 16 ways progressives interpret the Bible I am quite sure that the problem facing our denomination today is not homosexuality.    That is merely a symptom of a far more deadly disease:  pride.   Pride, as always, is the crafty voice whispering throughout the ages, “Did God really say?”    If Roger Wolsey and the progressives within our denomination had their way, the answer to that question will forever be, “Only if you like it.

biblepic

I won’t spend time here going through each of the 16 ways Wolsey says progressives take the Bible seriously.   There are some that I think we can all agree upon (e.g. 4, 5, 9, & 10).   The rest, however, have a consistent underlying premise:  We know better than those who wrote this book.   I have no doubt after reading Wolsey’s blog that progressives take the Bible seriously.   They take it seriously in the same way an English major would take Hamlet seriously.   My problem is not the lack of seriousness, but the lack of submission.  

Take for example # 14, which states:

We follow Jesus’ example in being willing to reject certain passages & theologies in the Bible and to affirm other ones.(He did it a lot)

No, he didn’t.  Jesus told us that we should not think he came to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17).     Regardless of how one might wish to interpret this, the fact remains that Jesus, as God in flesh, can and could correct our misunderstandings of God’s decrees whenever he chooses.   He could have, for example, corrected the Jewish belief that engaging in homosexual behavior was an abomination to God, as both the Old and New Testaments claim, but instead he reinforced God’s design from the beginning – one man and one woman – thus putting to rest any question of what God’s plan for marriage and sexual relations ought to be.   That is, if we are willing to submit to God’s designs over our desires.

Or, take as another example #12, which describes the ways in which progressives see a “canon within a canon” and are free to choose which “rule” with which they will judge all of God’s word.   Wolsey seems perfectly content to give less weight to certain pastoral epistles in our New Testament because, he claims, Paul didn’t write them.   Should something not “jibe” with his favorite passages in the Bible then it’s OK to dismiss them as human error.    He offers an example of how this works in #13, where he interprets the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah through the lens of Ezekiel and Matthew,  both describing it as a lack of hospitality, yet he will not give voice to Jude, who says,

And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment. (1:7).

Why is Jude left out?   Wouldn’t a more faithful account of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah include both their in-hospitality and their sexual immorality?  But, since Jude doesn’t “jibe” with the narrative progressives want, it gets dismissed as less-weighty.

Scripture declares of itself that all of it is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16) and Peter calls it even “more sure” than his eye-witness account of Jesus being heralded as God’s beloved Son, and we would do “well to pay attention” to it “as a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:16-21).    I find Peter’s closing remarks about Paul absolutely astounding given their earlier opposition to one another (Gal. 2:11-14).    Rather than hold a grudge, Peter commends his readers to the wisdom found in Paul’s letters, along with “all the other Scriptures” (note how Peter equates Paul’s words to Scripture), urging them to be cautious of those who would twist them “to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:14-16).   Peter submitted to Paul’s words, even though he admits some of it is hard to understand.   Why shouldn’t we?

Unlike Rev. Wolsey, I don’t trust myself enough to know which Scriptures are worth honoring and which one’s are fodder or human error.   I concur with the prophet Jeremiah who said, “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it?”  (Jer. 17:9).   I agree with the Scriptures which repeatedly tell me that my default mode is to love the wrong things, that my ways are not God’s ways, and that the only way I can know what to love and how to love it in a way that honors God is to submit to the whole counsel of Scripture, even the parts I don’t always understand or even like.    To follow the progressive reading plan seems to leave us all searching for something but never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7).

Roger closes his post with this question:

So, to our fundamentalist friends, does this seem like we “don’t take the Bible seriously?”

No, it doesn’t.  Lots of people take the Bible seriously.   The real question is:  Do we take it submissively?  Do we step out in faith, choosing to submit our entire heart, mind, soul and body to these living words or do we stand above them, deciding which is worthy of our submission and which is not?   I don’t know any of us who do this perfectly at all times in all places.   I certainly do not.   Yet, I desire to.  I desire more than anything to order my life, my heart, my mind, my desires under God, and as a pastor I want nothing more than to be found faithful in helping others do the same.   My contention with the progressive view of Scripture is not that they don’t take it seriously but that I find it sorely lacking in the thing I need most when I come to God’s holy word: meekness and humility.  

Therefore, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls (James 1:21).

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18 thoughts on “Stop Taking the Bible “Seriously”

  1. Pingback: Two Methodist pastors blog about the Bible | John Meunier

  2. It seems odd to call for meekness and humility, but also include a sentence like this: “Unlike Rev. Wolsey, I don’t trust myself enough to know which Scriptures are worth honoring and which one’s are fodder or human error.”

    I think almost everyone, conservative or progressive or somewhere in between, is prideful about how they view Scripture. We all think we are right, myself included. I doubt the blogosphere would exist – and here I step on my own toes – if not for the pride of thinking, “I have something worth saying to all the world.”

    Paul certainly saw it as part of his apostolic mandate to not simply “submit” to Scripture but to interpret it – in light of his mission to the gentiles and his specific calling. Using the New Testament passage above about “all Scripture being God-breathed” is, of course, misleading because there was nothing like an NT canon when that was written. The Bible is authoritative, but it is circular logic to say that the Bible is authoritative because the Bible says it is.

    Pride hits all of us because we are always apt to read the Bible in ways that produce a maximum claim on others and a minimum claim upon ourselves. I see both conservatives and progressives do this. As a pastor – and the Bible is clear that those with spiritual authority are held to a higher standard – I try to do the opposite: to read the Bible as offering particular challenge to me, but boatloads of grace to others (especially those with whom I disagree and those whose lives seem to me to be out of sync with God’s will). I have far to go.

    • Drew, I’m not sure what to make of your first paragraph, from which the rest of your comment seems to stem. Do you think I am wrong to have said that? I thought I was simply taking Roger at his word, that he doesn’t consider some books of the bible seriously for a variety of reasons, be it a question of authorship (why should that matter?) or because they don’t “jibe” with the worldview he brings to the text – one of love and justice (who defines those terms?)

      You are right that pride affects us all. Does that mean we should not name it when we see it for fear of being labeled as prideful? I wonder if Roger would consider putting a #17 in his post, which simply read: We seek to submit our desires, thoughts, and loves to the whole counsel of God as revealed in Genesis through Revelation.

    • Let me also say that this is not the last word on the matter. I’m simply offering what I see as lacking in the progressive view of reading scripture and hoping this can generate some discussion about how we should best read the Bible. The word “submit” is not to be found in his piece. That troubles me. I see that as a major problem in our church today. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

      • That is going to be a dangerous word for many people, and rightly so. Often times in church history the people being told to submit were told so by people of privilege (like you and I). So while I share your conviction that all of us should view Scripture’s authority as determinative for our lives, there are many who will hear your summons as a call to return to hermeneutics that have harmed many people in the name of God. Ultimately the best argument that the Bible should hold authority in the lives of Christians are saints who actually embody its teaching and narrative and thus have reason to think that individuals, churches, and society will hear their call and see their witness to (what is hopefully) a holistic and joyful holiness.

  3. Calling me out in public eh? Chad, IMO, you almost certainly interpret the Bible using very similar, if not the same, techniques that I do. At least I’m being honest about it.

  4. But for the record, I never stated that I don’t take all of the books of the Bible seriously. Indeed, I take all of the Bible seriously. What I specifically stated is that I give greater weight and authority to some books and passages within books over others.

  5. Here’s a passage that I sure wish brother Chad would take more seriously – and more literally:
    “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” Jesus, Matthew 18:15-17

  6. Chad, I identify as a progressive Christian, and I cannot agree with this assertion: “Pride, as always, is the crafty voice whispering throughout the ages, ‘Did God really say?’ If Roger Wolsey and the progressives within our denomination had their way, the answer to that question will forever be, ‘Only if you like it.'” I can’t speak for all progressives, but I am fairly certain that you are misrepresenting Roger’s views on this topic.

    I would much rather the Bible *not* say for me to love my enemies or even for me to love others as myself. Loving and nurturing oneself takes a lot of effort, and then extending that love to others is even more difficult (especially because I’m still learning how to love myself). It would be a lot more convenient if I didn’t feel the need to hold myself accountable for how I treat myself and those around me.

    I’m using that as an example, but there are plenty of other passages of the Bible that I grapple with as I try to step into what I’m called to do. With that in mind, I would like to invite you to look into yourself to see where you might be holding the same traits that you’re calling out in Roger: pride, meekness, and humility. You mention that you struggle with meekness and humility. Is it possible that this struggle includes the way you address those you disagree with? I ask because, whether or not it’s your intent, the tone of this blog post comes across that way.

    • Thanks, Cynthia. Perhaps the view is not Roger’s (precisely) but I it’s certainly the ethos behind his progressive view of scripture. The Bible is much more than the musings of men about God. When we reduce it to that (as he does in #3) we then place ourselves in judgment over the text rather than it judging us.

      It’s one thing to claim it is hard to love our enemies, and indeed it is. It’s quite another thing to say that God has defined what love is, and even names some things we call “love” as sin, and then submit to that. Our loves are disordered. Either we submit to God’s desires for us, as revealed in Scripture, or we don’t.

  7. This is all that matters. Jesus came lived, died and rose again to save us all! He capital LOVES all. He is love it’sself and LOVE Himself. His WORD is true. 100 percent true. He is the only way to God. And if He is your God then you will have the undeserved glory of spending eternity with the one you Love most Jesus Christ. Praise God Allmighty! For you and me He is our only listen to me JESUS CHRIST IS ALL OF OUR ONLY HOPE! If you dissmiss any part of the Bible this precious Love letter from God to you and me then how can you trust the one who wrote it. If that is the case my dear ones then how can you call Him Lord and trust Him to save you from not only hell but the hell you have created yourself hear on this earth just like the rest of us. Repent of the scriptures you have dissmissed and not even tried to comply with. Give your absolute everything to Jesus make Him your saviour your God.You have not because you ask not. Ask Him for even the want to change to 100 percent obedience to His Word. He wants you to comply so you You You You can recieve more and more and more an endless supply of Love. Listen Love so much Love that it’s overflowing you can’t help but get it on others. It’s thier choice wether they let it inside. Now He has enabled me to do my job come and go do yours. God Bless everyone of you in Jesus Christ name amen. xo 🙂

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