OBSERVATIONS ON A LIBERAL CHRISTIAN

bibleIntroducing The Topic

Here of late Invisible Mikey visited my blog. Curious, I visited his blog.  He had this reblog as his latest post, President Obama’s Tenure Has Been More “Christian” Than His Critics Will Ever Admit. The original post is byjohndpav (John Pavlovitz), and it features a picture of a crying President Barack Obama.

This week President Obama gave a passionate, vulnerable, teary eyed press conference to announce new guidelines for gun ownership. It provided some of the rawest, most authentic expressions of compassion and grief ever shared by a sitting American President.

It was also another example of a man’s religion speaking loudly without needing to be referenced at all. (continued here)

Pavlovitz went on to list Obama’s “accomplishments”.

He’s vigorously defended the civil rights of all human beings, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or faith tradition.
He’s engineered a national system of healthcare for all citizens.
He’s made the working poor and the elderly a priority.
He has spoken out loudly against the death penalty.
He’s continually challenged us to be hospitable to refugees and immigrants.

He’s called out the corporate lobbyists and big business special interests that have crippled the middle class and widened the income gap between the richest and poorest of our people.
He’s been a champion for equality in the workplace for women and minorities and the gay community.
He’s worked to eliminate the bullying and marginalizing of the LGBTQ community.
He’s pushed back against the NRA and the gun lobby to reduce the violence in our streets. (from here)

Who is Pavlovitz? Apparently, he is a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet I wonder how a minister could be so gun-ho about President Barack Obama. So I went looking for a statement of faith.  Did not find anything called that. So I searched Pavlovitz’s blog to see what he thinks about the Bible. Pavlovitz’s latest post on the Bible is 10 Things This Christian Doesn’t Believe About The Bible. That post is the subject of this one. However, if you are curious as to what Pavlovitz about what thinks about the Bible, I suggest you do the same search I did on “Bible“.

The Topic

So what are the 10 things John Pavlovitz doesn’t believe about the Bible? If you want to know in detail, I suggest you read his post: 10 Things This Christian Doesn’t Believe About The Bible. What I will do here is comment on each of Pavlovitz’s ten things. My comments will be in italics and in purple.

1) I don’t believe the Bible was dictated by God. The sixty-six books comprising the Bible were composed by flawed, imperfect, emotional, very human beings who never claim to have been fully possessed by God or robbed of their faculties as they wrote. This means that however virtuous or well-meaning or inspired they might have been, they can’t help but have brought some of themselves into the writing.

With this statement Pavlovitz begins his offer of a curious compromise.  He wants to believe the Bible is divine in origin, but he doesn’t want to believe all of what the Bible says is true.  What is the problem with not believing the Bible? The Bible claims to be the Word of God.  For an explanation of what that means, see Is the Bible inspired? and Question: “What does it mean that the Bible is inspired?”

2) I don’t believe the Bible explains the time and manner of earth’s creation and population accurately. The Creation accounts in Genesis are not scientific writings designed to instruct, as much as they are poetry and song meant to inspire. They should not be read as a literal explanation of the fashion or timetable of what Science clearly tells us were the far older and more gradual evolutions of life than a literal Biblical translation contends. Genesis 1 and 2 are a who story, not a how story.

Some people think of The Theory Of Evolution and the Creation story in Genesis as contrary to each other. Maybe, but I think a little humility is required here. None of us were there to watch when God created the universe. None of us were there when God created Adam and then Eve. So all we have are theories, theories we still do not have the means to test. Moreover, Genesis was not written to us. Moses wrote Genesis to Hebrews now long dead, Hebrews who knew nothing of modern science. So it is silly to argue about this.

Genesis just says that God created everything, including Adam and Eve. Then Adam and Eve sinned, and now they and all their progeny (you and me) all need to be redeemed.

Isn’t our need for redemption self-evident?

3) I don’t believe the Bible accurately represents women for the times we in which we live. The Old and New Testaments were written predominantly, if not exclusively by men during a time when women were essentially marital property, with their status and moral worth often linked to marriage and to childbearing. These stories by the very nature of the context of their creation, carry cultural biases that need to be considered and challenged today, especially regarding the role of women in ministry leadership and gender roles in general, where the Bible has too often been an impediment to progress.

The Bible may not be a science text, but much of it is a history book. When the Bible is telling us what happened in the past, why should we expect it to portray how we expect women to behave to today?

In addition to history, the Bible also contains much wisdom, guidance on how we should behave. One of the reasons the Christian men and women of our era do treat each other as equals is because of the wisdom previous generations gained from the Bible. They studied it, and not enough of us do. What those previous generations learned is that the Bible teaches men not to treat women as chattel. That is something done primarily by men who do not believe the Bible is the Word of God.

4) I don’t believe the Bible has much of consequence to say about gender identity and sexual orientation. I don’t advocate consulting the Scriptures for an accurate understanding of matters of sexuality for the same reason I wouldn’t want a medical text from the same time period guiding a surgeon taking a scalpel to me. What we now know is simply far more than we knew then about how the body works, and to ignore that would be foolish. The advances and discoveries over time that increase our understanding of our brains and bodies (which God enables) need to be respected and acknowledged by people of faith.

Here Pavlovitz leaves no doubt that he is willing to cherry-pick the Bible, but he is straightforward about it. He tells us to ignore the scriptures he wants us to ignore.  Science, supposedly overrides the Bible. Yet if that is the case, then what is the point of consulting the Bible? What does science have to say about the resurrection of the dead? 

5) I don’t believe the Bible provides a unified, consistent message regarding marriage, war, violence, or sex. The Bible’s many authors have a great deal to say on these and other matters, but there can hardly be a single harmonious Biblical ethic found regarding any of them, no matter how much we would like this. For example, sometimes in Scripture violence is strictly prohibited, sometimes it is tolerated, and other times explicitly commanded and aided by God. So cleanly summarizing the Scriptures on this and many topics is all but impossible.

Here we have that history thing again. The Bible provides a unified, consistent message regarding marriage, war, violence, and sex; but it is silly to expect that history of human beings across a 1500 year period will present a unified, consistent message regarding much of anything.

Think about how the story the Bible tells begins. First we have Creation. Then we have the sin of Adam and Eve. Those two had children, and their children sinned too. In fact, because they sinned, God flooded the earth and destroyed almost all of those children. Those who believe the Bible can only drop their jaws in wonder. He drowned them all! Then why do we remain?

God does not explain very much, but He makes it clear that He hates sin. If we love God, we must strive to avoid sin. If we want to know how God defines sin, then we just have to read Bible.

6) I don’t believe the Bible is without error. The very nature of its verbal origins, its decidedly human authors, the wide time expanse of its writing, as wells as its long and convoluted collation process, all mean that while The Bible can contain great truth, it cannot be as pure and pristine as it would need to be to be called perfect or without inconsistencies or inner conflicts.

The funny thing about this complaint is the difficulty of finding any errors. Most of the things we call errors usually turn out to be misunderstandings or translation errors. Others turn out to be things like what the Bible says about fornication, hell, or some other such thing that sinful people just don’t want to believe.

7) I don’t believe the Bible is the only source through which we hear or experience God. Rather than a Sola Scriptura perspective, which makes the Bible the ultimate, singular resource for encountering and understanding God, I believe as the ancestors of the faith believed: that all areas of life speak the language of the Divine; nature, prayer, community, reason, and the Holy Spirit’s direct voice to each of us. The Bible is one of the many facets of God’s likeness.

Here Pavlovitz explicitly rejects the authority of scripture. What would he substitute? That’s not exactly clear.  What do we do when someone chooses to derive a “teaching” from nature, prayer, community, reason, or what they call the Holy Spirit’s direct voice that does not conform to the Bible? Because it feels good we go along to get along?

In an earlier post, THE GIFT OF LOVE, I wrote of different sources of inspiration. That post does not discuss the meaning of Sola Scriptura, but it does provide a perspective on different sources of inspiration.

What is Sola Scriptura? That is one of the five solas popularized during the Protestant Reformation.  Here are the five:

  1. Sola scriptura: “Scripture alone”
  2. Sola fide: “faith alone”
  3. Sola gratia: “grace alone”
  4. Solo Christo: “Christ alone”
  5. Soli Deo gloria: “to the glory of God alone”

What For a more detailed explanation, see What are the five solas?, What are the five solas?, and/or Five Points from the Past that Should Matter to You.

8) I don’t believe the Bible should guide our government. Because it is as vast and complicated and cloudy as it is, it is irresponsible to try and superimpose the Bible on our civil system, as our government (like all governments) does not represent or serve people of a single faith tradition. The Bible is properly used as a guide to nurture a Christian’s individual spiritual journey and life within their chosen faith community. It should not be a mandated measuring stick for any nation’s people.

I discussed this issue in my last post: WHEN LOVE BECOMES AN EXCUSE FOR TYRANNY. When Pavlovitz issues this dictum, please keep in mind where he stands on political issues. Consider his support for President Barack Obama.

9) I don’t believe the Bible can be objectively interpreted or evaluated. Not only did the Bible’s numerous authors bring some of themselves to its passages, we too bring ourselves to them as we read, study, and interpret them. All of our biases and desires and histories and personalities shape the lens by which we view them, and they shape those who write and preach and teach us as well. Any objective truth they contain is therefore all but impossible to claim sole ownership of and practically speaking, beyond grasping.

Objectively interpreted or evaluated? Given the issue is our eternal souls, I don’t think any of us can be objective about the Bible. Yet why should we be objective?

Have you ever wondered whether a scientist is objective about the subject of his research? Believe me. If a scientist loves what he is doing, he will not be objective. He will be passionately dedicated. So how does a scientist prove his theories? He tests them. If his theories do not work, they do not model the truth.

Similarly, if our understanding of the Bible does not work in practice, then our understanding must be wrong. Then we need to go back to the Bible, read it and pray.

10) I don’t believe the Bible is worthy of worship. The Scriptures are a tool for approaching God and for trying to put into words ideas that are far beyond words. They are a way of orienting ourselves in the world, of helping us to grow spiritually and to engage our faith. They are not Divinity, and cannot and should not be made into an idol to be blindly worshiped, especially when that worship reinforces or justifies discrimination, bigotry, or injustice based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, birthplace, or income level.

Curiously, this last bullet does more to explain Pavlovitz’s own prejudices than anyone else’s. Where does scripture actually reinforce or justify discrimination, bigotry, or injustice based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, birthplace, or income level?  Have there been people who have tried to use the Bible justify their bigotry? Yes. We fought a civil war over slavery. Yet without the Bible, it is likely some of us would still be enslaved.

At the same time Pavlovitz wants the Bible to be a tool for approaching God, he will not fully accept its wisdom. He does not believe he can rely upon the Bible to help him discern between good and evil.

Curious as to how he could be so self-contradictory, I read a related post on Pavlovitz’s blog, Why The Bible Shouldn’t Be Worshiped. He begins thus:

The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.

You’ve heard that phrase before.

You’ve read it on bumper stickers.

You may have even said it a time or two. (from here)

Then he goes he to explain how some people have turned the Bible into some kind of a crutch, a crutch that we don’t bother to read.

What I found especially ironic is this paragraph.

So many of us casually throw around the phrase “God’s Word”, as if we all agree on what the Bible actually says or is. I’m here to tell you, we don’t all agree on what it says or what it is and that’s okay. When a Christian accuses another believer of misusing Scripture, they’re essentially claiming sole ownership of its only interpretation, conveniently setting-up the dissenting opinion as the enemy of God.

At the same time Pavlovitz claims we cannot agree on whats scripture says, he demands we concede to his interpretation of scripture.

Anyway, very few people confuse the Bible with God, especially people who take the time to read it and study it. And those who are ignorant of the Bible? How can they say the Bible says anything if they don’t know what it says?

Conclusion

Am I trying to pick on Invisible Mikey? No. Do I think Pavlovitz is a fool? No. I just believe he risks apostasy. As near as I can tell, Pavlovitz does not deny the deity of Jesus. Nevertheless, Pavlovitz has Jesus’ message so confused he is worst than useless as a Bible expositor.

Consider his bonus, his 11th thing this Christian doesn’t believe about the Bible.

BONUS: 11) I don’t believe the Bible should be used to defend the Bible. Many readers will note that I do not quote Scripture in this piece, which is intentional and largely the point of the piece. So often Christians respond to questions or challenges regarding the Bible by quoting the Bible, which is often received by the listener as someone saying, “I’m completely trustworthy and honest—just ask me!” I believe the statements made above can be respectfully, thoughtfully, and intelligently engaged without needing to begin throwing isolated verses at one another like stones, or at least I hope they can.

The Bible doesn’t need to be defended. The Bible is our defense. I just wish more people would study and read the Bible. Then more people would have the Bible as their defense.

Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms, an acrostic of twenty-two stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  It is a meditation on the Word of God. Here is how it begins.

Psalm 119 New King James Version (NKJV)

Meditations on the Excellencies of the Word of God

א Aleph

119 Blessed are the undefiled in the way,
Who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep His testimonies,
Who seek Him with the whole heart!
They also do no iniquity;
They walk in His ways.
You have commanded us
To keep Your precepts diligently.
Oh, that my ways were directed
To keep Your statutes!
Then I would not be ashamed,
When I look into all Your commandments.
I will praise You with uprightness of heart,
When I learn Your righteous judgments.
I will keep Your statutes;
Oh, do not forsake me utterly!

 

7 thoughts on “OBSERVATIONS ON A LIBERAL CHRISTIAN

  1. Very interesting Tom, and well said. Needless to say, I agree with all your biblical assertions. Scripture is the The Word of God.

    I’m chuckling here, but welcome to my world! Invisible Mikey and John Pavlovitz are the more sane, “conservative” voices, which leaves me feeling like a radical extremist from the far right, and a bible thumping one, no less.

    Pavlovitz did say something here that I’m going to agree with, “That’s because there’s a stylized, bastardized Christianity that many politicians and celebrity pastors have peddled for years; one that has slowly but surely become our American template. It’s a bloated, opulent, consumerist, aggressive, nationalistic, might is right amalgam that really doesn’t resemble Jesus much at all.”

    What we are seeing in government, in President Obama’s election, is defiance against that, “aggressive, nationalistic, might is right amalgam that really doesn’t resemble Jesus much at all.” Rebellion because Christians somehow managed to lose the moral upper hand, and therefore the entire narrative. I spend a lot of time on the internet trying to research this gap between liberal and conservative Christians and how it all relates to politics. Fortunately there are many other people doing this too.

    I do know one thing, you don’t bend scripture, liberalize faith so as to make it more appealing to anyone, but I do keep believing there must be some common ground somewhere, some way to to unite Christians.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m going to take this opportunity both to thank Tom for the re-re-blog, and to explain something. When I re-blog, it’s because I find a post thought-provoking, worth examination, not necessarily because it is in line with my own beliefs. I’m currently writing a book (a paid assignment), on top of a full-time medical career, and preparing for retirement in a few months. It takes up most of my spare time, so I have little left for unpaid blogging. But I catch an hour every couple of days to read, and if something makes me think, even under these harried circumstances, I’ll either comment or re-blog it. John is a popular writer in external publications, not only a blogger and minister. His work has been read by millions, a much wider audience than I’ve ever gotten. I think it’s because his style of constructing arguments is effective. I’m a big fan of writers being able to prove they know how to write, not merely that they have something of value to say.

    Like

  3. I believe King Solomon would have used the word half-hearted Christian instead of liberal Christian,

    ” He, who works in a half-hearted way, is brother to a wrecker. (Proverb 18:9)

    Regards and goodwill blogging.

    Liked by 1 person

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