Is It HOW We Read the Bible or IF We Read the Bible?

on May 19, 2015

The fundamental differences between self-described progressive Christians and more orthodox believers are commonly described as “they read and interpret the Bible very differently.”

The fact that we have so many different Christian denominations within the broad umbrella of orthodoxy who take contrary positions on important but ultimately secondary issues like sacramentology or the Millennium testifies to how some parts of Scripture are indeed open to a degree of interpretation.

But there are quite a number of biblical teachings, from the bodily resurrection of Christ to the inherent sinfulness of homosexual practice, in which we could hardly expect the Bible to be more explicit, clear, or consistent.

So in their more honest moments, progressive Christians will admit that the differences are more than just a matter of interpreting the equally highly regarded biblical text, and own up to the fact that they simply do not believe that all of the Scriptures of our present Old and New Testaments are God-breathed or useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

This particularly takes place if when theological liberals are in “safer” environments for taking off their filters, like liberal seminaries. Or if people do not feel that too much is at stake for them in showing their true colors, as at last summer’s young United Methodist convocation, where liberal United Methodist youth (some of whom were clearly being coached by adults there) offered such refutations of biblical arguments against homosexuality as countering that “the Bible was written a long time ago.”

Such theological liberal honesty is generally less common within the debates of more authoritative denominational assemblies on particular hot-button issues. For example, when someone argues against a proposal to liberalize church teaching on homosexuality by pointing to Scripture, a typical liberal response is a shallow attempt at emotional blackmail, with an assembly delegate standing up neither to admit his low view of Scripture nor to attempt a biblical case for his position, but rather to put on a show of feigned outrage along the lines of “how DARE you imply that my position is any less biblical than any other??!” Or there is ex-evangelical celebrity pastor Adam Hamilton’s absurd recent claim that his view that biblical passages he personally finds too challenging or counter-cultural must have “never reflected God’s heart and will” somehow does not “reflect a reduced view of biblical authority.”

One does not have to examine such rhetorical ploys for long to realize that they are not serious, intellectually coherent arguments. They rely on emotion at the expense of reason.

But there is perhaps an even more fundamental difference between orthodox and progressive versions of Christianity in their approach to the Bible: whether or not we even read it!

Obviously, any generalizations about large groups of people will have all sorts of individual variations and exceptions.

But theological liberals, by and large, simply do not read or know the Bible as much as theological conservatives.

This is not a baseless slander but a rather a matter of sociological fact for which there is ample evidence. Consider:

  1. The Barna Group and the American Bible Society partner to produce annual “State of the Bible” scientific surveys of Americans’ approached to the Bible.  Their data for 2015 (see page 43), 2014 (see page 34), 2013 (see page 16), and 2011 (see page 16) show that there is a direct relationship between the relative theological conservativism of the survey’s different categories of Protestants and how many of people in that category personally engage in personal Bible reading at least a few times a year. (Such data is not available for 2012.) For an explanation of the Barna categories, see Page 61 of the 2014 report.

2.  Among American Protestants, the spiritual discipline of having a daily “quiet time” of personal prayer and Bible study is largely limited to evangelical sub-culture (including evangelical sub-cultures within mainline denominations).

3.  Just listen to the unfiltered arguments theological progressives make, particularly in seeking church blessing of homosexual practice.

One of the most common is “the shellfish argument,” which boils down to saying that since Old Testament laws forbid eating shellfish, pork, and other things, any Christian who does not follow this today is either a hypocrite or else agrees that we are also free to similarly disregard biblical teaching about homosexuality. Such an “argument” is only effective with people who are utterly unfamiliar with the New Testament, which affirms Old Testament sexual morality (except to move in a more restrictive direction, as Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount) while addressing at great length the reasons for why Christians need not be bound by former dietary restrictions.

Bizarrely, a number of theological revisionists, such as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, have suggested that the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, which decided to welcome Gentile believers into the church without requiring them to get circumcised, somehow provides a sort of blueprint for the church blessing sexual practices that the Old as well as New Testament call sinful. Within my own denomination, the United Methodist Church, variations of this argument have been promoted by the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN, the main sexual liberalization caucus within the UMC), Bishop Sally Dyck of Chicago (one of the most militantly liberal United Methodist bishops), and the aforementioned Rev. Hamilton.

Perhaps this is effective for winning the appreciation of people who are looking for some pious-sounding church leader to give them permission to continue in their “progressive” beliefs and practices, to which they had already committed themselves before checking with Scripture.

But anyone who actually reads Acts 15 for themselves (rather than simply taking RMN’s word for it) will quickly see that the Jerusalem Council particularly singled out Old Testament sexual-morality restrictions as important to be continued in the Christian church. Biblical scholar Bill Arnold has a more extended response to the Acts 15 argument here.

One protest sign I have seen used in multiple RMN demonstrations at United Methodist denominational assemblies declares “I was baptized” in the UMC, goes on to decry the church for calling some behavior choices “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and asks “Can I be un-baptized?”

It is striking to consider the Antinomian broadness with which proponents of liberalizing sexuality standards sometimes frame their position. Do they really believe that the church must never teach that any practice whatsoever is wrong?  And as for baptism, any protester or protest group that chooses to accept and promote such a sign seems to be completely unaware of biblical teaching, particularly affirmed within the UMC’s own Wesleyan-Arminian tradition, about how it is entirely possible for people to have once “tasted the heavenly gift” of salvation and then fall away completely from it. Let alone Methodism founder John Wesley’s own preaching that nominal Christians must “[l]ean no more on the staff of that broken reed” of having been baptized if they have, in fact, sinned away their baptismal grace.

What all of these arguments, promoted by the most prominent voices of progressive Christianity, have in common is that they count on their audience members being too unfamiliar with Scripture to even realize how such arguments totally ignore or misrepresent the most relevant biblical passages. The politically incorrect fact of the matter is that for most folk in “progressive Christian” circles, this appears to be a safe assumption.

  1. Organizations devoted to progressive visions of Christianity have a very characteristic habit of quoting Scripture embarrassingly out of context when seeking a shallow proof-text to make their statements sound more church-y.

This was on full display at the spring 2015 board of directors meeting of the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society (GBCS). For example, to an environmental resolution against certain 21st-century coal-mining practices, the GBCS appended a non sequiter citation of a Levitical regulation about property inheritances within theocratic Israel, apparently just because the quoted verses included the phrase “the land.” It appears that the GBCS folk who write such resolutions either don’t notice or don’t care about how sloppily they are taking Scripture out of context. To the extent that the resolution writers have noticed, this suggests an attitude of simply “writing off” United Methodists who know and care about Scripture, while seeing the GBCS’s own constituency as exclusively limited to those members of the denomination who don’t care about them contradicting or misusing Scripture.

The simple fact of the matter is that I have yet to see a single progressive United Methodist stand up and say, “GBCS, I agree with your political agenda, but you really should amend the way you cited Scripture here, because that misrepresents what those verses are actually talking about, and as a church-related group, it is important that we get our Scripture right.”

To benefit-of-the-doubters, I ask: where is the concrete evidence that progressive United Methodists actually care about such things as getting Scripture right if a sloppy proof-text does the job for what they most care about, their lefty political agendas?

  1. One particular anecdote remains prominent in my mind.

I attended the annual conference session of a large, theologically mixed United Methodist annual (regional) conference session in 2009, when some controversial Constitutional amendments were being voted on. I ended up having a pleasant chat with a young fellow who was sent as a lay member from one of the most prominently, outspokenly liberal congregations in that annual conference. He particularly wanted to know how I could oppose the liberal-pushed Constitutional amendment to impose on all United Methodist congregations a new “open membership” system in which anyone who demanded immediate church membership (and eligibility for church leadership positions) would be automatically entitled to it, regardless of their lack of commitment to basic Christian belief and practice. At one point, I asked him what he thought of the situation in 1 Corinthians 5, the first instance of a church taking a “reconciling” stance towards sexual sin, in which Paul commanded the (temporary) excommunication of a member for sexual immorality. My conversation partner admitted that he had never read that part of Scripture.

It speaks volumes about the how much this very activist-liberal UM congregation values ensuring a biblical foundation for its agenda that it would select someone who has not even read the whole Bible for the very important job of deciding major structural decisions to impact the ministry of United Methodists around the globe.

  1. If you’d ever like to test for yourself the lack of Scriptural literacy of most (though not all) adherents of “progressive Christianity,” just try talking to a self-described progressive Christian friend about why Christians should never say “everyone is a child of God,” and watch how your friend reacts.

And no, the progressive habit of claiming, rather non-humbly, the broad language of Micah 6:8 as some sort of a clear mandate for all sorts of left-of-center political agendas does NOT count as evidence of progressive Christians’ deep engagement with Scripture.

But those of us who consider ourselves evangelical, Bible-believing, and/or theologically orthodox should not be smug.

While evangelical biblical literacy is better than that of liberal mainliners, we still need to face the problems of biblical illiteracy among our own ranks.

Engaging the big theological arguments of the day is as important as it is unavoidable.

But so much of the spread of false teaching in churches of all denominations could be stemmed if we would just redouble our efforts to promote Scriptural engagement and biblical literacy in our churches.

  1. Comment by ken on May 19, 2015 at 11:03 am

    If you regard the Bible as the Word of God, you want to read it on a regular basis. Liberals do not. Go to the Association of Religion Data Archives and do a comparison of denominations, paying particular attention to the item “Percent that read scripture outside of religious services at least once a week.” For the Episcopalians, this percentage is 22%, for United Methodists 32.6%, for Assemblies of God 76.2%. “Progressive” Christians clearly don’t see the Bible as something they need to engage with on a regular basis, and indeed why would they, since they accept the view of secular progressives: The Bible is an old, outdated, essentially useless document that has been used primarily to oppress women, homosexuals, and ethnic minorities. The fact that millions of people (including lots of non-white persons, and definitely more women than men) read the Bible for their personal enrichment every day is something progressives cannot grasp.

  2. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 19, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    De-emphasizing the Bible isn’t new. Religions that speak of the Bible as part of ‘Sacred Tradition’ are simply the first step down the road. Keeping the Bible away from people is an important first step to controlling them through lies and deceptions.

    So many Christians died so that we can read the Bible. Lots of new translations in English have come out recently. Yet I’m betting that, however many Bibles are sold, few people actually bother to read them.

    It’s really about control. If the Bible is de-emphasized or disregarded, it becomes easier for there to be a human authority, and for that human authority to make more decisions and demands. It is hard to be somebody who will put time into Bible reading and come away believing in any authority short of God himself:

    “Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.”

    The Jews of Thessalonica cared what their religious leaders said, not what the word of God said. Unlike the Bereans, they did not search the scriptures to test Paul’s preaching. So the division between those who read and believe scripture, and those who will not, existed even then.

  3. Comment by cken on May 19, 2015 at 11:59 pm

    The Bible contains much truth and great wisdom. Nonetheless it is a selected collection of ancient and early Christian writings many of which need to be viewed in light of the times they were written and the intent of the authors.

  4. Comment by scottrose on May 20, 2015 at 9:48 am

    Isn’t it an amazing coincidence that the parts of the Bible “which need to be viewed in light of the times they were written” just happen to be the passages that offend liberals?

  5. Comment by Benjamin Wortham on May 20, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    That’s a cheap shot since conservatives do the same thing and it doesn’t make cken any less correct.

  6. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 20, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    By “cheap shot” you clearly mean “inconvenient truth”.

    Don’t get upset, I’m just interpreting your comment in light of the time it was written and the intent of its author.

  7. Comment by Benjamin Wortham on May 20, 2015 at 11:59 pm

    Okay. Great non-response. And you can read minds!

  8. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 21, 2015 at 12:18 am

    Does it pinch when the shoe is on the other foot?

  9. Comment by Benjamin Wortham on May 21, 2015 at 1:17 am

    Great, another non- seqieture. I’m starting to fall asleep from inanity. I’ll let you have the last word. Given your previous comments I assume it will be totally vacuas.

  10. Comment by Diaris on May 21, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    “Non sequitur.”

    You have literacy issues.

  11. Comment by Benjamin Wortham on May 21, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    No I have spelling issues. I can’t spell but at least I know what words mean.

  12. Comment by DG on May 20, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    So are you saying we need to interpret the scriptures through the lens of culture? And that current material For instance “the daily newspaper” can be just as informative as the Bible to faith? Because if so, I think the point of the article and Ken’s comment are revealing. For it stands to reason if one views the Bible as ‘an an ancient book which has some grains of truth’, why be dedicated to reading it… (why not read the morning paper instead)? if however one views the Bible as God’s word to us it would seem to reason that this person would spend more time in study and devotion (because in this light it’s God’s Word interpreting our culture … not our culture superseding God’s word). Simply stating that our view of the Bible logically would impact how much time and effort we would spend studying and reading it.

  13. Comment by cken on May 20, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    The Bible isn’t the only place one can find spiritual truths. God speaks to every generation and every culture in many ways through different media. You can find these truths in Homer, Shakespear, Aquinas, Emerson, Lewis, the Gita, Tolkein, movies like Narnia, Avatar, or the first Star Wars. And that is just a few examples. God also speaks to each of us individually. However we have become so materialistic and so far removed from the natural way of things that very few know how to listen to hear God anymore. For example If I said God spoke to me in a dream or I had a vision and God said, as was common in the old testament, you would probably have me institutionalized Did God really stop speaking to people after the Old Testament? Did people really stop being baptized with the Holy Spirit after the apostolic era. Perhaps we have just become so intelligent we know those things no longer happen and maybe we don’t really truly believe they happened then so they can’t happen now.

  14. Comment by DG on May 21, 2015 at 11:20 am

    While I agree that the Holy Spirit continues to speak, and gives dreams and visions … His voice is always consistent with Jesus and His teachings.
    As it says in John 15
    “23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

    25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have
    said to you.”

    Even the new thing God was doing, like Pentecost (Acts 2) was consistent with what God
    promised long ago (in Joel).

    In other words, while yes I can and have enjoyed books like CS Lewis and Tolkien, and I read the daily news and many other sources. And Yes I have found ‘nuggets of truth in them’. They do not have the same authority that the scriptures do. I
    have to check them, (view them through the lens of scripture, to verify if it is truly the Holy Spirit which is speaking or it’s another voice (perhaps my own flesh). And I also do this in a community of believers, so that I do not fall prey to my own individualistic notions.

    Because when it comes to an individual who goes through many sources … and then determines
    “the truth of those claims” based upon what they already believe. That person sets themselves up to be “the measure of truth”… and in essence takes place of God … instead of listening to the Holy Spirit, the person becomes the one who solely determines what God wants… which is a very dangerous place to go.

  15. Comment by cken on May 22, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    Why is it that in the Old Testament God spoke to people but now we believe it is the Holy Spirit that speaks to us. Jesus said he was there in the beginning was not the Holy spirit also or is the Holy Spirit a new creation such that the holy trinity didn’t exist until after the ascension. Can we no longer hear God’s voice only that of the Holy Spirit.

  16. Comment by DG on May 22, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    In the Trinity the Father Son and Holy Spirit are one. So when it says God spoke … it was the Holy Spirit… and when the Holy Spirit speaks we can say it was God’s voice. Yes The Holy Spirit was there at the beginning. So I’m not sure of your point.

    My very point was that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and therefore the Holy Spirit does not contradict what Jesus said. In other words as I said God still speaks, but if the voice you hear is telling you something contradictory to the scriptures, God’s Word… then it’s some other voice than God.

    For example there is a guy in Latin America who claims to hear God’s voice and that it is telling him he is god. And he says that God wants us to sin now (get drunk do drugs, do whatever we want). So in your criteria of determining truth apart from scripture how do you deal with his claims?

    Going back to my previous point, I like CS Lewis and Tolkien and Max Lucado … but having read them I believe each would claim that their writing is not on the same authority level as the scriptures (for as Christians they do not claim to be God), and they themselves would not try to put their books into the Bible …. the canon, which means rule or standard. As far as George Lucas … I’m not sure what he personally would claim … but I know he’s not God, even though I like Star Wars. For would you say that his famous quote “May the force be with you” has the same authority and weight as Jesus saying” Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself”? I hope not.

  17. Comment by DG on May 22, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    Also when you say “Can we no longer hear God’s voice only that of the Holy Spirit.” It seems that you are trying to separate the two which does not seem to make sense in light of a Trinitarian viewpoint. . However if you are asking why we speak more of the Holy Spirit speaking to us now after Jesus’ Ascension (and after the Old testament) … it because after Jesus’ death and Resurrection and Ascension … he sends his Holy Spirit to fill his disciples … so now as believers in Jesus Christ he fills us with the Holy Spirit … and so while the Holy Spirit has also been from before time …our experience of Him is more profound … because he fills us with his very presence. So I speak of the Holy Spirit … but it’s still God’s voice … it’s still Christ’s Spirit.

  18. Comment by cken on May 22, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    Some denominations and theologians hold that the Holy spirit did not exist until after the ascension when Jesus said He would send it. Personally I find that theory to contradict the theory of a trinity. I do however think that since the trinity are one the concept is merely a convenience used to facilitate our understanding of aspects of God.

  19. Comment by cken on May 22, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    I wasn’t claiming authority for those authors, simply God uses different media and authors in every generation to get the message out. I agree with your definition of the trinity. And yes despite translations and interpretations the Bible is still the best authority.

  20. Comment by Kevin Condon on May 19, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    Though the Cokesbury Disciple Bible Study was not used in our church, the present pastor and certain men in the congregation have emphasized bible study to good result. The conference is not known for it, but a close following of the order of worship encased in lectionary readings brings nearly everyone to a closer association with both the bible and Our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise Him.

  21. Comment by brookspj on May 19, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    “One of the most common is “the shellfish argument,” which boils down to saying that since Old Testament laws forbid eating shellfish, pork, and other things, any Christian who does not follow this today is either a hypocrite or else agrees that we are also free to similarly disregard biblical teaching about homosexuality. Such an “argument” is only effective with people who are utterly unfamiliar with the New Testament, which affirms Old Testament sexual morality (except to move in a more restrictive direction, as Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount) while addressing at great length the reasons for why Christians need not be bound by former dietary restrictions.”
    I’d have to see how the argument was originally articulated rather than your interpretation first, but I believe I know the just of it. If the person in question simply argues that its in the Old Testament and yet you don’t follow it, then that is a poor argument I agree. But most I’ve seen argue from the basis of common purity language surrounding laws against homosexuality and kosher laws, of which the shell-fish is an example. Instead they are looking at the common language used in the laws forbidding same-sex intercourse and those forbidding the eating of certain meats. The Hebrew word we translate as “abomination” that appears in Leviticus 18 is also used in reference to non-kosher animals in other places. Interestingly the word does is not used in reference to the other sex laws in Leviticus 18. Most other acts in the chapter are described as being “wicked” or “dishonorable.”

  22. Comment by John S. on May 21, 2015 at 8:12 am

    The best reply I’ve found to the shellfish argument is to say “Fine, lets look Pre Mt. Sinai and at the NT texts.”

  23. Comment by brookspj on May 22, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    Go on.

  24. Comment by Namyriah on May 19, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    When I worked for the UM Publishing House in the 1980s, the UM bureaucrats were aghast that UM churches would dare to order their Sunday school literature from one of the evangelical publishing houses. (Reasons: cheaper, better quality printing, more Bible-based Christian material.) So the UMs decided to respond to conservative demands for “more Bible” by making all the UM Sunday school materials “more biblical” – but still written mostly by liberals. I was involved in the editing of the Bible to Life series for senior high kids. One component in the series was titled The Bible and Christian Values – one of the staffers, an ordained UM clergyman, MDiv degree, stated that he thought The Bible and Humane Values would be a better title. Needless to say, most conservative UM churches still buy their curriculum from the evangelical houses, not the official UM stuff. The simple fact is, liberals have no love for the Bible. They cherrypick a few verses here and there to support their pet causes (“Love your neighbor as yourself” has been twisted to support darn near everything – abortion, feminism, homosexuality, you name it.)

  25. Comment by cken on May 20, 2015 at 12:02 am

    So just like our public schools churches decide how to indoctrinate the children.

  26. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 20, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Educating children in the things of God is the right and duty of a Christian parent.

    “Train up a child in the way he should go,
    And when he is old he will not depart from it.”

    “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.”

    “But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you. Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things. For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.”

    Sunday School doesn’t have compulsory education laws backed by guns and prisons, or education bureaucracies, or vast sums of money extorted from the God-fearing via compulsory taxation to either fund or carry out the education provided. It depends on the parents, their obedience to God, and their love for their children. Nothing more.

    Godly parents educate. Totalitarians indoctrinate. Your choice of words betrays you cken.

  27. Comment by cken on May 19, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    There is no such thing an “intellectually coherent argument” when it comes to the Bible because all interpretations are made through an emotional lens. Is there a reason we should take all of Paul’s opinions as sacred gospel in as much as we ignore those opinions of his we don’t like. Those who say they take the Bible literally can not pick and choose which parts to take literally, which parts to ignore, and which parts to make excuses for. Furthermore in our never ending desire to parse the Bible and win arguments we are missing many of the intended basic spiritual messages.

  28. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 20, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    So many words to say, “I won’t believe God.”

  29. Comment by cken on May 20, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    No I am saying in our attempt to win arguments we are actually missing who God truly is and the spiritual lessons being taught.

  30. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 21, 2015 at 12:00 am

    I would say that’s an accurate description of your problem, certainly. You need to stop looking for spiritual insights in Star Wars and simply believe God. Read the Bible plainly and believe what God says. Or don’t. The choice, and responsibility, are yours.

  31. Comment by Marty on May 21, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    No, the message is “Our lefty churches are shrinking, and our only response is to tell the conservatives that they are STUPID!”

  32. Comment by Marty on May 21, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    Since you wrote through YOUR emotional lens, there is no reason to take your posts seriously, is there?

    You don’t like Paul’s opinions?
    Any reason yours are more valid than his?

  33. Comment by cken on May 21, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    True my opinion is no more or less valid than any other opinion. However I didn’t say I didn’t like Paul’s opinions, I was simply stating Christian religions adhere to some and ignore some of his opinions.

  34. Comment by truelinguist on May 22, 2015 at 11:50 am

    No one takes the entire Bible literally, just the parts that are intended literally. No one is stupid enough to think that when Jesus said “I am the vine and you are the branches” he was speaking literally. There is no such thing as a “biblical literalist” because human beings constantly use figurative language (“broken heart,” “sunrise”). “Literalists” is just a slur term that lefties like to use to beat Christians. It’s pretty obvious that the New Testament’s condemnation of homosexuality is meant to be taken literally, whereas “you are the light of the world” is figurative.

    Interpreting the Bible is quite easy. It only gets complicated when someone wishes to push their political/ideological agenda.

  35. Comment by cken on May 22, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    So in Ecclesiastes the first two chapters is he talking to Jinns or aliens or God. In Genesis who were the people that were in the land Cain went to and why did he have to be marked out of fear of others. It would seem clear Adam and Eve were not the first people. BTW figuratively speaking what does light of the world mean. Obviously metaphors are what they are.

  36. Comment by Andreas on May 20, 2015 at 2:57 am

    I liked your article and understanding on this issue. However, the quote from 2 Tim 3:16 shouldn’t be applied as to include ALL of the Bible since the NT clearly wasn’t a distinct collection of books by the time Paul wrote that. If anything, it should be applied mainly to the OT, perhaps including some books we don’t have today (but the Catholics do).

  37. Comment by Benjamin Wortham on May 20, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Liberal theology has always contained the principal that when scripture and reality, as revealed through science conflict, scripture is a secondary authority. Even Augustine and Aquinas admitted as much. Theologians have been saying this since the nineteenth century so your just telling people old news. Denying that scripture isn’t always authoritative doesn’t make you a good Christian. It just makes you a moron. When the only people that agree with your theology are illiterate, culturally primitive folks in the global south, it’s a bad sign. Fundamentalist theology only leads to one result. Delusional thinking, superstition, and cultural irrelevance. Your beliefs are all intellectually bankrupt.

  38. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 20, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    Let’s see, ad hominem, unsubstantiated claims, unsupported assertions, racist stereotyping…

    No facts or logic, just glands and chest-puffing. You’re an atheist aren’t you? I’ve noticed that few atheists appear very strong on facts and logic.

  39. Comment by Benjamin Wortham on May 21, 2015 at 12:18 am

    Ad hominem. I’ll give you that. Unsubstantiated claims? That is itself an unsubstantiated claim. Given that I’ve read extensively on the subjects mentioned I am in fact working from facts. Atheist? Assumptions make an ass out of you and me. In fact I am a Methodist and worship team member and attend three services a week. And by the way I got in A in formal logic in college and I minored in philosophy. It’s only racist if you think that the primitive beliefs in the global south are due to race which I do not. I think people in the global south will continue along the same progressive path as the west in time. Asserting that atheists are’nt strong on logic tends to make me think you don’t know what logic is. Socrates was the father of modern logic and also the worlds first atheist.

  40. Comment by DG on May 21, 2015 at 11:41 am

    While maybe ‘Racist’ wasn’t the correct term from Mark, you did denigrate and dismiss an entire region.based upon your preconceived notions,and revealed an arrogance that actually is rather ignorant. (After all if I said everyone in the West is a ‘sexual deviant’, that would be an ignorant statement right?).

    I also wonder what you might classify as “fundamentalist theology”? (as far as who you lump into as being “illiterate culturally primitive folk”? Would you consider people like ‘Ravi Zacharias, Timothy Keller, NT Write’ in that category? And maybe not considered a “fundamentalist” in the modern definition … when considering the authority of scripture would you dismiss people like CS Lewis? What About John Wesley himself who said “Let me be homo unius libri,” (meaning a man of one book when referring to the Bible). Once again because you lump into one category a whole region of people and then dismiss them… it makes me further wonder who else do you lump into this “illiterate, culturally primitive group’?

  41. Comment by Benjamin Wortham on May 21, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    I’ve worked on literacy projects in western Africa so my notions are not preconceived, they are facts on the ground. Facts describe people, they don’t denigrate them. Primitive only makes sense as a term if you believe in progress. It seems like a slur if your a person that thinks truths are fixed for all time. Fundamentalist usually means taking an inerrentist and literal view of the bible ie “the fundamentals”. While that describes all lot of the bloggers on this site it doesn’t describe many on your list. “Traditional” would have been more polite but since most commenters here are never polite I don’t bother trying any more. I never dismiss people but I will dismiss any beliefs or ideas from the past, from any source, that no longer comport with the current state of knowledge, scientific or scholarly.

  42. Comment by DG on May 21, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    The notion of “primitive’ does have a Western viewpoint of colonization attached to it and a connotation of superiority and denigration of other cultures . (ascribing “If only those primitive cultures” would get with it like we have it all together then they would not be so “ignorant”). Also, while it’s fine to lift up that you worked with people from Western Africa on literacy projects, do you really not see that you lumped that whole region together and basically said they are all ignorant? I mean after all I too have worked with African children before, rural poor people before, I’ve worked with people from the highest of educational backgrounds and I’ve worked with people who have special needs. And I’ve learned from them as well (which at it’s best is a something progressive espouse as an ideal which is “to be in ministry with the marginalized, not just to them, right?” . So to state that because of your work in Western Africa qualifies you to make a generality of that whole area and then to say those are facts, is the very definition of degrading and prejudice.
    And on a different note, while those I listed may not be considered “fundamentalist” most if not all of them would say that Scripture is the final authority. That yes you can use Reason (along with ‘Tradition’ and ‘Experience’ using terms from the Methodist Tradition of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral) but in each case Scripture is still primary in authority.

  43. Comment by Benjamin Wortham on May 21, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    I agree with most of your points. I’ve had similar experiences helping my mom work on curriculum in rural Senegal an Burkino Faso. And of course like most large Methodists churchs we do a lot in Nigeria as well as hosting African Methodist clergy here in the states. Although it is anecdotal the Africans I have met still hold beliefs in magic and think diseases are caused by witchcraft. I’ve found the same be true of the common folk in Latin American countries I’ve visited. Ancient magical powers and deities are revered right along side Christ. You wouldn’t describe that as primitive? What word would you use? I also said global south, not Africa, which includes sub sahara Africa and Latin America. Taken as a whole, are you saying the average level of education and literacy there are similar to that of the west? It’s like my anthropology prof said. You can’t point out any facts about human difference with out being labeled a racist. Plus I would remind you I’m a lefty. We don’t believe in cultural superiority. When we say a culture can be primitive, traditional, modern, etc., it does not imply any of them are inferior. The tendency to that kind of judgement is a conservative one.

  44. Comment by DG on May 21, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    I would simply be cautious when describing a whole region of people. For instance if I worked with inner city African American kids on reducing violence in the school. I would try to cite that particular issue instead of saying “all inner city black kids are violent”. Right? For that would be a generalization that promotes stereotypes and racism.

    So while you first began with an argument that while I disagreed with I could at least try to logically see you viewpoint…. what I have an issue with is your concluding point where you state …
    ” It just makes you a moron. When the only people that agree with your theology are illiterate, culturally primitive folks in the global south, it’s a bad sign. Fundamentalist theology only leads to one result. Delusional thinking, superstition, and cultural irrelevance. Your beliefs are all intellectually bankrupt.”

    For I have ministered with scientific professors from a well known University who have even more conservative views than I, and hold the Bible to be inerrant. And I have had the privilege of being in ministry with University students from Africa who are faithful brilliant people who hold the Scriptures as fully authoritative. To say ‘the only people (note only) who agree with your theology are illiterate’ … categorizes the people and prejudges them.

    As a side note to say that Progressives don’t believe in ‘culture superiority’ I would have to really question. I have come across a number of progressives who hold viewpoints of ‘elitism’ and trust more in their education and status than they do in humbly seeking God’s voice. (not saying all progressives do this, but just being progressive does not mean one is above this mentality).

  45. Comment by Benjamin Wortham on May 21, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Sorry that “equal culture” thing was actually sarcasm. I was referring to a conservative complaint about modern sociology practicing moral relativism by refusing to measure one culture against another in ethical terms. It’s true I was being intentionally rude to Mr. Lomperis. I consider him to be cut from the same clothe as the average politician and in no way helpful in any positive way to the UMC. He is no better than the pro-gay marriage faction in terms of sowing discontent. I think God is okay with gay marriage and I think it’s okay for other Methodist to disagree with me. I think it’s also okay to wait for a true consensus one way or the other to emerge before doctrinal changes are decided even if such a consensus doesn’t come about. I have faith God will sort it all out eventually if we just allow him the space. And if we schism like we did over slavery, he’ll sort that out too. I find it interesting these discussion threads lead to so many reactions that I never get saying the same things in person.

  46. Comment by Marty on May 21, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Did you ever read such blatant racism? I re-read this character’s post and I’m still blinking. “The global south” – wow, that’s about as close to KKK stuff as I ever read on this blog. I hope the moderators don’t remove his posts, Christians need to see how leftists really feel about ethnic minorities.

  47. Comment by Benjamin Wortham on May 21, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Now that is a some abusive stuff there dude. My multiracial friends and family would take a stick to you. As I stated elsewhere I don’t think being more primitive in your understanding of the world has anything to do with race nor do I think it’s derogatory. There are plenty of primitive white people in the United States.

  48. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 21, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Yeah, that’s pretty bad. Now he’s backing and filling of course, along with making all kinds of additional claims trying to justify himself. But he’s been caught out. Sooner or later, the mask slips.

  49. Comment by Marty on May 21, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    In what area is Scripture NOT authoritative? If you feel it isn’t, bail out of Christianity, there are LOTS of alternative religions out there. It isn’t a book of science, nor does it claim to be, it’s the revelation from God to man about how to enjoy fellowship with God and our neighbor. If you believe it in in error in those areas, why would you call yourself a Christian.

    Btw, if you’re peeved because left-wing churches are shrinking really fast, calling Christians “delusional” won’t fill your pews back up. That message “We call ourselves Christians and we hate evangelicals!” has not proven to be a pew-filler, aside from the fact that it is not Christian to slander churches that are meeting people’s real needs. Hatred for conservatives it a losing strategy, plus it will send you to hell.

    Also: Your post is hugely RACIST – I mean, such open hatred for “the global south.” Yeah, sneer at those Africans and Latinos, see how you can reconcile that with “love your neighbor.” Christ didn’t come to provide salvation for sneering pseudo-intellectuals. Too bad you have such contempt for millions of people that God loves. What is your religion, anyway? It doesn’t bear any resemblance to Christianity.

  50. Comment by Benjamin Wortham on May 21, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    I’m a Methodist, imagine that! Most conservative Christians I’ve met say they follow the full authority of scripture but of course no one does. How could you when the law codes in Deuteronomy contradict some codes in Leviticus. The same is true for the gospels, contradiction after contradiction. Your other comments are too baseless to need addressing.

  51. Comment by yolo on May 22, 2015 at 9:38 am

    A lot of science is effectively “religion,” mostly “social” science but also environmental. On some matters, science is not primary and never will be, no matter how much sociologists or environmentalists or atheists yell otherwise. The composition of the family, definition of crime and punishment, right and wrong, and description of beauty are a few of those matters. I would never consult with a scientist with respect to any of those matters, but I might consult with a minister or theologian. To call that superstitious is intellectually weak.

  52. Comment by yolo on May 22, 2015 at 9:54 am

    Is homosexual marriage one of those matters? Yes, because in nature there is no purpose of homosexuality and homosexuality has no relevant place or purpose in nature, even if it is found in nature because other deviant acts are also found in nature. Only humans are appropriating significance, by way of marriage, to an act that has no biological significance or purpose.

  53. Comment by Benjamin Wortham on May 22, 2015 at 10:59 am

    Sorry Yolo, I’ve moved on to other reading. Hope to see you in another thread.

  54. Comment by LeeRaleigh on May 20, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    This is the most spot on piece I’ve ever read about this topic.

  55. Comment by Pudentiana on May 20, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    Having read this article and the resultant 16 comments, I am surprised to see no reference to the correct Interpreter of the Bible; the Third Person of the Trinity Who enlightens those who seek the Truth. Theology is nothing without Him.

  56. Comment by dave_aka_lambsev on May 20, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    The question many ask today is : “Is there a God at all?” I believe there is!

  57. Comment by John S. on May 21, 2015 at 8:23 am

    I am glad you brought out the illiteracy on the conservative side as well. Conservatives might be more biblically literate (there are none better at proof texting) than liberals (a very low bar) but most are still functionally illiterate.

    Liberals have the greater excuse, they believe there are sources as great as or greater than scripture for ordering life. Conservatives claim it is THE word of God of the greatest import in all the universe and spend 15 mins a day with The Upper Room.

    Devotions are not study. Rereading the same texts that “warmed your heart” is not study. A 30 minute sermon is not study nor 45 minutes chatting in Sunday School-assuming your church has one. And I could go on. Where your time is your priorities are.

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