Jesus, Progressive Christians, And The Bible

Bible-openAccording to Roger Wolsey, author of “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible,” he, like other Progressive Christians, “employs a ‘canon within a canon’ lens” when studying the Bible, meaning that some books are more important and all others should be understood based on those.

For Mr. Wolsey, his “canon within a canon” consists of the gospels, though he clarifies that not all are equal. John, apparently, is the least of the gospels, with Mark, Luke, and Matthew coming in first, second, and third respectively.

What I don’t understand is how Mr. Wolsey can use the gospels and yet say things like this:

The hermeneutic of love seeks to see the forest for the trees and that allows the spirit of the law to trump the letter of the law (which Jesus modeled). (Emphasis in the original.)

In fact, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:17-18)

I understand that Matthew is only third in importance to Mr. Wolsey, but Luke also records a similar statement.

Perhaps Mr. Wolsey is thinking of Jesus’s refusal to follow the traditions the Pharisees added to the law, such as certain ceremonial washings for lay people and their definitions of work.

I’d think Mr. Wolsey would have realized Jesus’s dismissal of Pharisaical tradition was not Jesus choosing the spirit of the law over the letter since he claims Progressives believe in “interpreting Scripture with Scripture.” However, he apparently missed the fact that the Law recorded in Leviticus and Numbers spells out the specifics the Jews were to follow, and what the Pharisees tried to make Jesus do simply isn’t found in the Law.

More than that, Jesus Himself made clear His view of the Law when He rebuked the Pharisees: “But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42, emphasis added). In other words, Jesus was not blowing off the Law in order to serve the spirit of the Law. Rather, He was clearly saying religious activity does not replace what that religious activity was supposed to express.

Mr. Wolsey also said

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) [emphasis in the original].

Because no specific passages or theologies are listed, the point is clearly unsubstantiated. But I suggest it suffers from something greater—it clashes with what is known from Scripture about Jesus and the Old Testament and the theology it contains.

Jesus made clear what He thought about Old Testament Scripture on more than one occasion. For instance He said after His resurrection,

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44)

Earlier, in Matthew He said

And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40)

In fact, the New American Standard Version, from which these quotes come, puts Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament in all caps. It’s easy to tell, therefore, that with some frequency, Jesus quoted from the Old Testament, as did the gospel writers. (In fact, the gospel of Mark, the one Mr. Wolsey thinks is most important, begins with a quote from Isaiah.)

Here’s one passage from Mark in which Jesus quoted from the Old Testament:

And He was saying to them, “To you [His disciples] has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.” (Mark 4:11-12)

I’d think this indication that God gave something to His followers that He didn’t give everyone else would be one of the theologies that the Progressives would think Jesus rejected. But here it is, quoted from the Old Testament right there in Mark.

I could go on—Jesus referenced “certain passages” such as Genesis 2-3, the account of Adam and Eve in the garden; or Jonah 1-4, the account of Jonah running from God only to be swallowed by a big fish which God appointed; or in Exodus, containing the accounts in which Moses encountered God in the burning bush, in which God gave His people manna from heaven, in which He cured them when they looked on the bronze serpent lifted up.

All these are passages Jesus clearly did NOT reject.

There’s one other passage Jesus quoted from the Old Testament which I think pertains to Progressives—this one also from the book of Mark:

And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,
BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME,
TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’
Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men
.” (7:6-8, emphasis added)

In short, there’s not much in Jesus’s teaching that squares with what Mr. Wolsey said in his article, and yet, since it was published six months ago, nearly 57,000 people shared the post on Facebook.

I suppose the purpose of sharing it might be to help Christians understand what Progressives believe. It is instructive, but what it says about the Bible and Jesus isn’t remotely true. I hate to think anyone would read that article and think Progressives have come up with the right way of approaching the Bible.

From this short look at what Mr. Wolsey said, it’s clear that he, at least, must not even know what the gospel says which he believes to be the most important. And that, I think, is the critical issue. It’s easy to say the Bible is important and “we” approach studying it in these sixteen ways, but how many of the “we” are actually reading it?

In fact, how many of the “we Evangelicals” are reading it?

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16 Comments

  1. According to one definition I’ve read, Progressive Christianity is characterized as, “Instead of blind allegiance to rigid doctrines and dogmas, (it) does not consider homosexuality to be sinful and does not claim that Christianity is the only valid way to connect (salvation) to God.

    I don’t know how accurate that is, but if any part of it is true and followed by these people, then they are apostates and heretics. And notice the “zingers” within the definition: Blind and rigid. It reminds me of the gay community and how they employ their own zingers: Hater and Homophobe. Of course, if one wants to condemn and label certain folks as racists, accuse them of calling black people, “Niggers.” It’s the same strategy.

    I’m sorry you have to waste your time on these people, Rebecca. On a lighter note, I need to stop reading you, it just gets my blood boiling.

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    • Russ, I do hope you were kidding when you said you need to stop reading. I did a hopeful post yesterday just for you. Well, it encouraged my heart, too, so I hope it did yours and others.

      But about Progressives, I don’t find it a waste of time to write about them. For one thing, I think Bible-believing Christians (who think God actually is the author of the Bible and that it is infallible and inerrant and authoritative and sufficient) need to be aware that false ideas about God’s word are being disseminated by those who call themselves “Christian.” Not everyone who names the name of Christ follows Him, but it’s easy in Western society, at least, to lose sight of that fact. Hence, we need to be on the alert at all times.

      But there’s another reason I don’t think it’s a waste of time to write about Progressives. In fact, they are nothing other than lost sinners in need of a Savior. Perhaps we who believe in the only begotten Son of God should pray for these blind guides—that God would mute their lying lips but also that He would open the eyes of their heart that they might see Jesus.

      But about the “movement” itself, I don’t think there’s a great deal of unity. It seems more personality driven than theology driven. One site aiming to unite Progressives, however, does identify eight points of belief, none addressing sin, the Bible, redemption, Jesus as Lord and Savior, or any of the tenets of the Christian faith. Rather, the main points deal with love and justice (but justice doesn’t seem connected to Biblical justice—it’s more of a stand for today’s victims, real or imagined) seeking (“there is more value in questioning than in absolutes”), and inclusivism (“the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life”). In short, it’s hard to imagine that there are Christians among that particular group of Progressives.

      Becky

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      • I will not stop reading. I just don’t want to be mad (“astonished” might be a better way to explain it) all the time. In fact, it would please me very much just to keep my mouth shut and enjoy God. These sort of people remind of a line I heard in one of the Godfather movies, “Every time I try to get out they drag me right back in!” I’m referring to the folks, of course, who are detailed in your subject matter – just among a few.

        And thanks for the hopeful (our blessed hope) column. I’d like to get out of here, on most days. I’m tired of the world and all the evil that comes with it. Which leads me to think of something Thomas Wolfe said, “World in chaos, mankind in chains, life in turmoil.” But I keep trucking, holding fast to 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

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  2. I, for one, am constantly surprised by the deep, deep love of ignorance that has become the norm. For the fallen, secular naturalist. For the Christian in name only. So very many people who seem to shout from the rooftops, “I don’t know much. And I don’t care to study. I just want to say what I think in my lack of understanding.” And this gets PUBLISHED.

    Oh, the agony…

    We’re warned about this in Scripture, of course. That in the latter days, knowledge will increase but understanding won’t be found. It’s in both the Old and the New Testament, come to think of it. Which is particularly interesting here, for me, because of that wonderful, powerful book of Revelation. In whose 400-some verses, there are over 800 Old Testament references. I was blessed to get to study this book in-depth as a teenager, and our leader spent a year backtracking through the breadth of the Old Testament to help us understand. When I took off for college, I learned I was one of only a few people who take their Bibles that seriously. Even among “Christians.” Pagans rejoiced that I could answer their questions, Nominal Christians literally hid behind me so that they could reply “what she said.” And the agnostic divinity teachers (and students) went on the attack.

    Because that study of the Old Testament is something most people in modern times don’t do. We have other people to tell us what it says, so we don’t read it ourselves. We have new news feeds to read and retweet, so we don’t have time to put down our butterfly nets and look for the Lord. This Mr. Wosley is happy to present his willing ignorance and love of self (which I extrapolate from his long article on how wonderful it is to think like him, combined with the sloppy scholarship of his “all Christians pick and choose” argument), but it doesn’t make him right. About how “progressive Christians” think. About how “fundamentalists” think. About how he thinks (I scented a couple lies he tells himself in the article).

    I cannot speak for “evangelical Christians.” The older I get, the less that means something specific. But I love the Lord. I love His Word. Which means I’m constantly digging in it for truth. I’m willing to let my theology be shaped by the Scriptures, rather than cherry-pick the parts I think I know. This leaves me with little patience for people with all this information at their fingertips, and no understanding to make use of it. But it would seem that ignorance is here to stay. We’re warned that the world will come to a point where people refuse to repent of their idolatry, murder, witchcraft, or theft. Mr. Wosley’s article may be a flag, warning us that this point has arrived.

    Even so, come quickly, Lord.

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    • Lex, your closing along with Russ’s comment prompted my 7/2/14 post. Apart from God’s intervention, I don’t see the current trend being reversed, but God hears and answers prayer, so I think it’s incumbent for Christians to pray for revival.

      You also said, “that study of the Old Testament is something most people in modern times don’t do” which made me so thankful, once again for my church. When the pastor believes in expository preaching, you don’t skip the hard parts. Oh, sure, you don’t read every name in the genealogy when you study Nehemiah, but you find rich, deep truth at every turn and learn to value the whole Bible, not just the Precious Moments quotes. I’ve been very blessed, though for so long I took this teaching for granted. Now I know that it’s not every church that encourages people to come with their Bibles or sets up “read the Bible together” plans. May churches that look to the Bible for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness increase and flourish.

      Becky

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  3. You are really on a roll Rebecca. This utterly arbitrary and anthrocentric “hermenuetic of love”, is how they arrive at “gay Christianity” btw. But you knew that.

    The man was not without his faults, but hear Arthur Pink in 1917 in the introduction to his “The Doctrine of the Inspiration of the Bible”:

    “Christianity is the religion of a Book. Christianity is based upon the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture. The starting point of all doctrinal discussion must be the Bible. Upon the foundation of the Divine inspiration of the Bible stands or falls the entire edifice of Christian truth.—“If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3). Surrender the dogma of verbal inspiration and you are left like a rudderless ship on a stormy sea—at the mercy of every wind that blows. Deny that the Bible is, without any qualifications, the very Word of God, and you are left without any ultimate standard of measurement and without any supreme authority. It is useless to discuss any doctrine taught by the Bible until you are prepared to acknowledge, unreservedly, that the Bible is the final court of appeal. Grant that the Bible is a Divine revelation and communication of God’s own mind and will to men, and you have a fixed starting point from which advance can be made into the domain of truth. Grant that the Bible is (in its original manuscripts) inerrant and infallible and you reach the place where study of its contents is both practicable and profitable.

    It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of the doctrine of the Divine inspiration of Scripture. This is the strategic center of Christian theology, and must be defended at all costs. It is the point at which our satanic enemy is constantly hurling his hellish battalions. Here it was he made his first attack. In Eden he asked, “Yea, hath God said?” and today he is pursuing the same tactics. Throughout the ages the Bible has been the central object of his assaults. Every available weapon in the devil’s arsenal has been employed in his determined and ceaseless efforts to destroy the temple of God’s truth. In the first days of the Christian era the attack of the enemy was made openly—the bonfire being the chief instrument of destruction—but, in these “last days” the assault is made in a more subtle manner and comes from a more unexpected quarter. The Divine origin of the Scriptures is now disputed in the name of “Scholarship” and “Science,” and that, too, by those who profess to be friends and champions of the Bible. Much of the learning and theological activity of the hour, are concentrated in the attempt to discredit and destroy the authenticity and authority of God’s Word, the result being that thousands of nominal Christians are plunged into a sea of doubt. Many of those who are paid to stand in our pulpits and defend the Truth of God are now the very ones who are engaged in sowing the seeds of unbelief and destroying the faith of those to whom they minister. But these modern methods will prove no more successful in their efforts to destroy the Bible than did those employed in the opening centuries of the Christian era. As well might the birds attempt to demolish the granite rock of Gibraltar by pecking at it with their beaks—“For ever, O Lord, Thy Word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). “

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  4. Sorry guys. This page had been sitting unrefreshed since last night and I didn’t realize other people had responded. Yes, Russ, inclusivism, whereby people who have never heard of Jesus can be Christians and universalism, whereby everybody is saved without exception, are among other the long renounced heresies that are arrived at using this “hermenuetic of love”.

    Your point is well taken, but I think I would restructure your argument about racism.

    Lex, I spent about a half hour yesterday looking over your very pretty website. This is neither necessarily an accusation nor a criticism. Sincerely. But, beyond your love for fairy tales (which there’s nothing necessarily wrong with either) I could not put my finger on where you are. It usually takes about 5 minutes to discern most people’s overall theological mindset. It was not even readily apparent whether you’re a man or a woman, which I didn’t get the sense was intentional. Though there is a sort of femininity about your site and the way you communicate.

    Your comments here are much more telling, and encouraging.

    You’re an interesting person. 🙂

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    • I know. I’m long overdue to update the blog. I set it up, and continue to post on it in a less-than-organized fashion, as exercises in writing and thought for all the wonderful homeschooled teenagers I keep meeting who want to write, but don’t read a lot of classics. That I’m a Christian, and most of them are, too, affects the filter through which I interpret those fairy tales, but it’s not the primary point of the site. And talking about myself on purpose makes me twitchy, whether that’s in person or in print.

      It’s funny that you said that about my gender, because I received that complaint once or twice last year when my first book went on blog tours. It’s written from a teenage boy’s perspective, and some of the reviewers didn’t believe I was a woman. Of course, I had a Sunday School teacher I’ve known for almost 20 years who was shocked when he got around to reading the book, because he thought he knew me. (His wife and daughter, two precious prayer partners in my life, rolled their eyes at that. They knew better.)

      Our faith should always be something so important to us that we can’t help but talk about the holy object of that faith. But for the blog, whose point is expanding a writer’s toolbox, my faith is something I don’t want to hammer onto readers. Trust me, I do it enough in person when someone can’t run away just by closing a tab. I’d rather they felt invited to think deeper. Preferably through a Christian worldview, but my perspective changes the deeper I fall in love with God, so I try to remember that even heathens are on a journey that could have a Christ encounter. I’d like to be part of that, so I really ought to tone back my sarcastic impulses when dark humor or frustration tempt me.

      I would have asked if you read the Bible stories I’ve done so far on the blog, but–again–I use them to teach writing principles. That the holy and perfect Scriptures are used to learn something about writing is beside the point. Though if I had to choose between reading about writing or reading about the Savior, I’d pick the latter.

      Keep up the good writing. 😉

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  5. Thank you for this. Mr. Wolsey is a progressive on the order of a Unitarian. They claim Michael Servetus as one of their own. They certainly are not Christians, but have no problem using the Bible to hook in the unknowing. We either worship God or mammon. Mammon it is for these folks.

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    • Rebecca, the more I explore, the more I’m realizing there’s only a loose “movement” of Progressives. So far none of the mission statements or “about” pages or points of belief show shared beliefs with Christians who believe the Bible. The closest is the group that says they follow Jesus’s love. But it was His love that led Him to the cross, not to organize campaigns for social justice. That fact seems to have slipped past their notice. I don’t understand why such people want to refer to themselves as Christians. They could just as easily call themselves Gandhians. In fact, they’d be closer to representing themselves accurately if they did.

      Becky

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      • Why ya gotta say something brilliant and incredibly insightful right now when I don’t have time to say why I think it’s so brilliant and incredibly insightful? Every single word of the immediately above comment is EXACTLY right.

        I just told some groovadelic liberal barely 4 hours ago to pick a different religion where he won’t have these pesky scriptures in his way all the time.

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      • Didn’t Wolsey state at the bottom of his piece that he is a Methodist?

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        • That doesn’t mean anything. Seriously.

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          • My reply was to Becky’s saying that the progressive Christian movement is a loose movement. Here is a pamphlet “Unitarian Universalism,” written by Alan W. Gomes copyright 1998, which I think is still in print, and gives the history of the Progressive “Christian” movement in America… The books by the Unitarians themselves say the same thing. Also, the Quakers do not believe in Christianity. The Unitarians embraced Marxism in the late 1800’s. The UUs and Quakers were very vocal in the 1960’s and are even more so now. The NPR/PBS “religion” is universalism. Groovadelic is right!

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