Reading the Bible makes us more Progressive? Really?

Benjamin Corey over at Formerly Fundie offers 10 reasons why reading the Bible makes us (or at least him) more progressive. And Jesus Creed had a lively discussion on this post. In this post I wanted to share my perspective on some of his list and provide 5 things the progressive movement misses when they read their Bible.

Five parts of the Bible the Progressive movement misses

  • Power is often abused by those who have it.
  • Voluntary acts of love and giving is what God wants.
  • Piling up debt to care for the poor was never part of God’s vision.
  • Often mercy involves doing something hard and challenging individuals to change their destructive behavior not tolerating it.
  • God does not want anyone to perish, including the unborn.

Progressive character traits (Reasons #1 and #2)

  • 1. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that I don’t have it all together.
  • 2. The more I read my Bible, the more I develop humility.

I agree with the author that reading the Bible and thinking about what it says should cause us to reach both of these conclusions. And this should result in a desire to live with an attitude of compassion towards others.

However, I have a problem with seeing the characteristics of “realizing we don’t have it all together” and “developing humility” as marks of being progressive? These traits are neither progressive (left-leaning) nor conservative (right-leaning). They are marks that everyone should have – especially those who claim to follow Christ.

The more I see others as being just like me, the more progressive I become because I move in a trajectory of love, tolerance, and am way less likely to pronounce judgment on someone else than I was before.

It would be interesting to dig into how Benjamin defines love and tolerance or would advocate how these should govern policy. However, I would offer that we all need to heed Jesus’ words that we should be quicker to judge our own lives and sins than other people (Matt 7:1-5) without losing sight of the need to address and deal with sin in our midst (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:1-5).

“Government knows best” is at the heart of much legislation and social programs. We can’t possibly trust people to make responsible decisions for themselves.

Needless to say I don’t agree with this premise. However, that does not mean that all government regulation is wrong. There is a lot of gray area here for discussion and even to disagree about. My main point is that those in power (regardless of party) generally have an attitude that they are “more together than those they govern”. Hardly the mark of humility. And hardly adhering to the two characteristics we should pursue after reading the Bible.

From the rulers of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Rome to the failed reigns of the Israeli kings, the Scriptures also testify to the Orwellian idea that “power corrupts”, that few leaders follow God, and that most gravitate toward the philosophy – “some are more equal than others” (1 Samuel 8:10-18; 2 Chron 10:1-11). The more I read about this, the less I want to see the government “solve problems”.

“redistribution of wealth” is Biblical (Reasons #3-5)

  • 3. The more I read my Bible, the more I discover that justice for the poor and oppressed is at the heart of it.

This is another great point. God is extremely interested in how we treat the poor and disadvantaged. James went so far as to say that caring for the poor was a defining characteristic of “true religion” (James 1:27). However, this is another characteristic that is not necessarily progressive (or conservative). It is another trait that all followers of Jesus should cultivate. What this point fails to distinguish is the differences in how help should be managed (federal, local governments, churches, charitable organizations, individuals) and whether we should go into debt to fund social programs. Again, lots here for discussion.

  • 4. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize “redistribution of wealth” wasn’t Obama’s idea– it was God’s.
  • 5. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that the early Christians actually practiced this re-distribution of wealth.

These next 2 reasons center on helping the poor primarily through “redistribution of wealth”.

Those early Christians? Well, for a time they actually practiced some radical economic principles. And, guess what? The book of Acts tells us that there weren’t any poor people among them. They rejected individual ownership, gave their wealth to leadership who in turn, redistributed it according to need. There weren’t any mandatory drug testing programs, just assistance according to need. While this still seems too radical for me, it moves me in a right to left trajectory as I read it.

There is some truth to the statements above. The Christians of the early church were known for the love that they showed each other. And, looking around today this would be a completely radical way of following Jesus by most people (and church) standards. As I read these passages, I am convicted by the generosity and community that we see. But to equate this with progressive policies at the government level (which I assume is the intended meaning by mentioning Obama) misses several other Biblical principles that might make one less left leaning.

A quick look through Acts and we find the passages that Benjamin likely is focusing on (2:44-45 and 4:32-35)

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

First it should be noted that this distribution was limited to the community of believers. Furthermore, if we read on to chapter 5 we find that the selling and giving of property was a voluntary action. The handling of the property and money from the sale were up the owner.

While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?

This makes sense since God holds people responsible for how they use what they have been given (and how they represent themselves when doing the giving) (Matt 6:1-4; 25:14-30; 2 Cor 9:6-9). And to suggest that there were no “means testing” for the needy would also ignore several passages (2 Thess 3:10-12; 1 Tim 5:1-16).

The more I read my Bible the more it has shaped my worldview. It has made me realize how much God has given me on so many levels. It has made me frustrated with how far I am from walking as Jesus walked. And it has made me even more frustrated with both political parties and the policies being carried out by our country.

What do you think?

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