I am a Bible-thumping Progressive Christian

I love the Bible. I’m not sure I know a clearer way to say it than that.

I find the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be amazing expressions of a God who pursues people who would rather not be pursued. I am amazed at the ways I see my own life mirrored in the narratives I read. I am in awe of the Psalms while uncomfortable at the truths they reveal, all at the same time.

I am, admittedly, bored by the prophets, but convicted and inspired when I actually take the time to read what they say. Like any stereotypical American male, I have found the war and conquest stories of the Old Testament to be fascinating. These were the pages I returned to over and over again as a youngster who stayed up too late reading my Picture Bible. The Bible as a comic book – genius!

I find myself drawn to Jacob the Liar, because I know that, at my core, I’m 10 lbs of shit in a 5 lb bag. I, myself, have been the conniving bastard who was then petrified of the consequences of my actions, only to be greeted with the open arms of forgiveness.

I find myself drawn to Jonah the prophet, because I know that, all too often, I am a pouty little baby when God doesn’t do what I want. When God decides to show mercy and forgiveness to people I can’t stand, I kick and scream and shout, kick and scream and shout, kick and scream and shout.

I could go on and on, but my  point is this: I  take the Bible seriously. Very seriously.

And, because I take the Bible so seriously, I don’t treat all the different texts of the Bible as if they were scientific or historical documents. I allow genres to be themselves. Poetry is poetry, Wisdom is wisdom. I understand that the Bible was written by a people who, at that time of human development, were the functional cognitive equivalents of the modern six year old. They believed the earth to be flat and encased in a dome, with “heaven” above it and “hell” below it (kind of like The Truman Show). Likewise, I recognize that there was no modern medicine or psychology during the writing of the text. People were “demon possessed,” not suffering from a wide variety of psychological disorders. And so, like when my own sons were six years old and I didn’t take them literally when they tried to describe something big and tremendous and life-changing, I try to find the “thing behind the thing” and make sure it guides my life.

But beyond that are the ways I allow the text to rend my heart. Seeing the love and compassion Jesus had for everyone around him that demonstrated consistency with the whole of the Hebrew scriptures leading up to his life… To witness his willingness to be crucified because he wanted people to be free… I pale in comparison and it is a liberating discovery.

I read how Paul changes from a monster of fundamentalism to a maniac for the Gospel. Sure, I get queasy at his insistence that women should sit down and shut up, but most who disagree with me don’t take him seriously there either. To imagine him toe to toe with Peter in Antioch is my favorite image. To have been inside his brain as he composed the letters to Corinth and Rome would have been stupendous. To bear witness to a man who lives according to a strict behavioral code advocating for Gentiles not needing to is a priceless gift.

It is because I take the Bible so very serious that I stand for my sisters and brothers who are being told they are less than. So, you can disagree with my theology. You can disagree with my ethics. You can disagree with whatever you want, but don’t you dare tell me that it’s because I don’t take the Bible seriously.

18 thoughts on “I am a Bible-thumping Progressive Christian”

  1. Thank you so much for this, Landon. As an ordained Baptist female who has been on a journey toward progressiveness and inclusiveness, I have wrestled with my evangelical roots. I’m reminded of Jay Bakker’s comments at Big Tent Christianity where he told Tony Jones that while he loved the Bible and took it very seriously, if it created tension in a relationship, he would value the person over the Bible every time (my paraphrase). I believe that’s what Jesus modeled for us and what I try to live out in my own life and ministry: learn and value scripture but love the people standing in front of you more.

    1. Oh yeah. Claiming those roots is a big deal for folks like us, isn’t it? But so well worth it.

      What I hope people can understand is that those roots have brought us to this exact place!

  2. I really appreciate this Landon. It is very well-done. Of course, I might think that because I am in the same theological/hermeneutical space. Thanks for your leadership and I will see you in Dallas!

    1. I appreciate that. Thanks.

      It probably is because we’re inhabiting the same space, and I’m glad that there is a growing group of us starting to loudly claim that space. I’m tired of progressives cowering int he corner, lending credence to the accusation that we are not faithful disciples. I’m also tired of those of us (this describes me) who remain quiet because we don’t think it’s worth engaging. Thanks to you for being a bold voice.

  3. I won’t question how serious you are about the Bible, but I will take issue with your assertion that the writers of Scripture were the “functional cognitive equivalents of a modern six-year old.” That’s not courageous progressivism speaking; it’s plain, dumb arrogance. A man possesses a few facts about physics, and he’s suddenly smarter than anyone who ever lived? If you said the same thing about Plato and Pericles and Homer and Confucius, it would be offensive. To say it about Paul and Peter has the added tinge of blasphemy, if only because it implicitly denies any real sense of inspiration. In the spirit of charity I’ll assume you didn’t mean it that way, but still…

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment and raise an important question.

      I’m not sure I would say that I would assume that I, or anyone else who possessed a few facts about physics were “smarter” than anyone who ever lived. In fact, I did not say that. That does, however, raise the question over what constitutes intelligence. That is a much larger question I am not prepared to discuss in the comments section of a blog post.

      The basic answer is that societies mature in an equivalent process to individuals. Just as you and I go through a developmental process, so do groups. The difference is that groups are always slower to develop because there are just so many more pieces and parts to the process.

      In the case of the Bible, several someones were able to glimpse something extraordinary about God and God’s relationship to creation. They were able to “see” far down the road. The problem is that they were still a part of a particular society and could only communicate with the particular conventions of that society (I touch on this a bit in my monograph Theology is Art).

      I understand why you would take issue, but I’m afraid you interpret me to be saying something I’m not. I have no interest in dismissing the Bible, explaining it away, or assuming I am somehow “better than.” I often say to people, “It’s in the book. We have to deal with it.”

      Recognizing the stage of development of the ancient societies actually makes me take the Bible even more serious. They saw something that has endured for thousands of years. What is that? I see it as MY job (not the biblical writers) to dig through the difference in worldview to find the truth and allow it to shape my life.

      I wasn’t writing a scientific treatise in this post, but an honest devotional reflection, and, just like the genres of the Bible, would hope that you and others read it in that light.

      1. Landon, I think you are confusing intelligence with knowledge. ‘Humans are progressing to greater and greater intelligence’ is an old 19th century idea. It stood beside the idea that different ethnic groups had evolved to different levels. It belongs to a racist past-and no I am not equating you with those kinds of ideas, but you have borrowed heavily from the 19th century. On the other hand in some ways knowledge grows-but not wisdom-so it hasn’t anything to do with maturing. A six year old is not mature but an ancient Israelite was often as wise and as intelligent as we.

        I have just been reading G.K. Chesterton’s book The Everlasting Man. He is scoffing at his own generation who were saying the same things you are. You should read it, I think you would enjoy it.

        And you might want to think about a quote by C. S. Lewis “”There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” Perhaps you are wrong.

      2. I’ll concede that I was playing fast and loose with the word “smarter,” but I still think that there’s a lot of chronological snobbery here masquerading as honesty. You may believe that “societies mature in an equivalent process to individuals,” but I can’t follow you there. The idea of inevitable “directional” development flies in the face of human experience. The 20th century provides ample evidence.

        I think we’ve stumbled across the fault line that cuts through 21st century Christianity here. You suggest that Biblical authority rests on the extraordinary prescience of the writers, that they “saw far down the road” and glimpsed something essential and true about God and humanity, albeit within the limitations of their cultural context. I might say the same thing about Goethe or Dickens. Or, more to the point, about the Koran. Is the uniqueness of the Bible one of degree, or kind?

        The church’s answer, and the answer of Scripture itself, has always been the latter. It’s not enough to say that the authors spoke truth about God. The faith of the church catholic is that they spoke truth from God. Yes, in a particular culture and context. And we have to do some work to bridge the divide between their world and our own. But the difference between that work and “[digging]… to find the truth” is one of humility, deference, and trust that Scripture is, in a rather literal sense, the word of God.

      3. While I appreciate your continued response, Andy, but I think its pretty clear that you and I are probably not going to see eye to eye on this one. Peace to you.

  4. It is easy to say you take the Bible seriously based upon your experience. The problem is that you fail to take it seriously as the Word of God which it describes itself. Your seriousness ends with your standing in judgment of The Word when it does not say what you want. You say you stand for brothers and sisters who are told they are less than. I assume you mean the LGBT. Your judgment that they are told they are less than. Not God’s judgment, not mine, not the Bible’s. But Jesus clearly puts into the mouth of God that in the beginning the Creator made humanity as male and female to wed and become one flesh. Tell me how you take that “seriously” and fail to repent of your error. I suspect you mean something else when you say you take you take the Bible seriously than Jesus, Paul, Peter or John Calvin would mean if they said it. Jesus took the Bible so seriously that he believed it literally – Adam, Jonah, and so on. He believed it to the extent that he predicted his death and resurrection based on it. So there is a difference between taking it seriously and believing it to be the Word of God.

  5. Landon, I appreciate many of your writings and thank you for them. Even though you and I are different in our theological stance, I have found much that we could agree on. You truly seem to be a “Bible Thumping Progressive Christian.” I am sure that when Anna shared that similar phrase in Orlando, she did not think that you would take it and change it to “become loud” about your beliefs. Bravo. Thank you for being bold.
    The problem I see though is that what my progressive brothers and sisters are doing, as well as my evangelical brothers and sisters is sharing phrases, but using them to mean different things. For instance, “Authority of Scripture.” When a progressive, “Bible Thumpin” Christian shares this phrase it means they take Scripture seriously, but also equate human experience as equally serious. When an evangelical uses that phrase, they mean just as Webster defines the word, that Scripture has the power to enforce or exact obedience, command or judge. That just as our denomination has historically said – unlike Methodism and Catholicism – experience is important, but subordinate to Scripture. Scripture is the ONLY authority in faith and practice, and as the Spirit moves, we weigh it against Scripture to test the spirits. Progressives speak of an open cannon, with the Spirit’s work today as a separate, but equal authority in and of itself – without the need to weigh it against scripture.

    Those are two very different things, and John Calvin made it clear and the 1983 GA supported in its study paper on historic principles and conscience, that tolerance has limits, and without agreement on doctrine, unity fails or “will never last.” So if progressives and evangelicals can’t agree on doctrines like the authority of scripture, then there is little to no ground for discussion of unity. would love to hear your thoughts.

  6. Actually, putting demon possession in quotation marks is exactly what it means to fail to take the Bible seriously. It’s saying that texts that are flatly historical are now ruled from your omniscient perspective to be fictitious. Calling the ancient thinkers and writers six year olds is nothing short of brash arrogance.

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