Progressive Christian Contributions
Some versions of Christianity are clearly better than others. That is why I wrote: “My Favorite Type of Christian” where I explore the major components of Christian thinking and tell you which versions I find to be healthier.
The Christians I feel closest to and often sympathize with are ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ Christians (whether they call themselves that or not). Many Progressive Christians strive to improve society in ways many of us admire. They also help fight the conservative and fundamentalists in their religion who use the Bible to support very dangerous policies and psychological stances. And Progressives rightly battle their Conservative ‘brethren’s’ views of the Bible by trying to help them see the Bible’s cultural and historical contexts.
“The Bible Says” Correction
So, while I am thankful for those components of Progressive Christianity, I’d like to make a suggestion on how to speak more consistently about the Bible:
Please stop saying:
“the Bible says . . .”
Here is my argument:
- The Bible is an anthology – a collection of books written by many different people.
- The Bible-anthology’s various authors had different opinions and often wrote from different theological, political and philosophical perspectives. Simply: The Bible-anthology writers disagreed with each other not infrequently.
- If there is a god, that god certainly was not overseeing the writing of the anthology’s authors to make sure they all were consistent with each other so that the anthology (the Bible) gave a consistent, homogenous message. [for some liberal Christians, this is a tough step to take, many Progressives already see this. (yes, I know the boundaries are hugely fuzzy).]
- Thus: to use the phrase “The Bible says …” is wrong on two important points:
- The Bible has one voice — it doesn’t
- The Voice(s) of the Bible are consistent
Could you imagine an English teacher saying “The Oxford Book of English Verse says …” and pretending that the anthology puts forward unified positions on love, nature, God, sexual orientation, abortion or violence? Look at all the authors in that text.
Even if there is an anthology of one authors writings, we almost always see a shift in opinion of that author over the decades of their lives.
Long, subtle caveats are not needed to speak of the Bible more accurately — there are simple fixes. Here are two simple strategies and suggestions:
(1) Acknowledge that the Bible is an anthology
Instead of: “Let’s explore what the Bible says about Guns”
How about something like: “Let’s explore what various Bible author’s say about Guns [or fill in any topic]”.
(2) Acknowledge the author
Instead of: “The Bible says …”
How about: “The author of second Timothy says …”
Mind you, this is not just a Christian error. I hear Buddhists say “The Sutras say…” and don’t understand all the redacting and different voices in their holy texts. Hindus abuse the Mahabharata the same way. Muslims do the same with the Qur’an where an obvious difference is that Mohammed’s surah (verses) written from Mecca have a very different view of how to treat nonbelievers than do the verses from Medina.
Many Progressive Christians may agree with much of this post, but they still have the Conservative habit, ingrained in our society, of speaking about the Bible as if it had one author and one voice. I hope this post helps you to consider rejecting the expression “the Bible says”.