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.”
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).