Brandan Robertson is a brave, articulate, passionate, and intelligent queer Christian who, on the basis of having met him once, I am proud to call a friend. He recently participated in a debate with Michael Brown, Justin Lee, and Anne Paulk on “In the Market with Janet Parshall.” The program hour was titled “Gay Christian or Biblical Christian.”
That title is both fascinating and disturbing.
Similarly, the Facebook page “Kissing Fish: Christianity for People Who Don’t Like Christianity” recently shared an image of a banner for a series being done by a group of eight churches in Phoenix, Arizona.
In their letter to the editor in a local paper, the pastors of these churches celebrate their “healthy unity” as they stand as Christian pastors against… another church. Which one? A quote from this article from Phoenix’s Fox affiliate describes The Fountains United Methodist Church as “the only progressive church in Fountain Hills.”
Their objective is to answer three questions, the first of which is this:
What is the difference between “Progressive” Christianity and Biblical Christianity?
The quotation marks around the word “Biblical” are conspicuous in their absence.
Another blogger from the Evangelical channel on Patheos wrote a post titled What Is Progressive Christianity? What Do They Believe? Is It Biblical? As you may have guessed, the answers are “Heresy,” “Lies,” and “Absolutely not,” though not in those words.
“Biblical Christians,” as they call themselves, assume that the Bible is flat like a textbook, each word and each verse containing ultimate truth from God. If any of it is anything less than perfect for every reason, then all of it is. If the Genesis accounts are myths, then we have no reason to believe in the resurrection. The Bible is Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It contains everything we need for life and godliness, and principles of wisdom we can extrapolate into helping with just about anything.
The “Biblical view,” as it is called, has several serious problems.
The first problem is that nobody can agree on what constitutes True Biblical Christianity. As Christian Smith points out in the beginning of The Bible Made Impossible, this isn’t even tenable because everybody disagrees on what True Biblical Christianity™ even is!
While people who believe they are “Biblical Christians” may often come together (largely due to cultural similarities) on issues they consider important, they often disagree fundamentally on rather important doctrinal points. Is baptism necessary to salvation? Can all freely choose God, or does God have to choose us?
This happens, of course, because of the second problem: the marvelous diversity of thought and opinion about God found in sacred scripture. I have argued that there are two creation stories in the opening chapters of Genesis, but have learned since (in a book co-written by the pastor of The Fountains United Methodist Church) that scripture has other unique creation accounts, including one in Psalms.
Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes are fascinating conversations about whether or not the righteous are rewarded for righteous behavior. Proverbs says yes, Ecclesiastes says no, but we should behave righteously anyway, and Job says sometimes bad stuff just happens.
We do scripture a great disservice when we attempt to remove the God-inspired ambiguity from it. Men (mostly men) wrote about their experience with God as best they understood, in a way that carries through it a thread of divine inspiration.
Dave Ramsey claims the Bible talks about money more than anything else, and that his view of money is “Biblical.” But which “Biblical” is it? Is it Biblical in the sense of Jesus telling the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions to feed the poor, or is it Biblical in the sense of Proverbs, which says a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children? If you’ve heard Ramsey’s program or taken one of his money management courses, the answer should be obvious.
But which is more Biblical? The answer, of course, is that both are Biblical, and that they are incompatible. One cannot simultaneously donate all one’s goods to the poor whilst also leaving an inheritance to one’s grandchildren.
Ramsey would probably assume Jesus’ words were metaphorical, or only intended for the rich young ruler to show him his attachment to his stuff, or to encourage him to be generous. All of this compromises what Jesus actually said and is by the “Biblical” standard, unbiblical.
Progressive Christians and Red-Letter Christians would likely prioritize Jesus’ words over Solomon’s.
Both answers are “Biblical,” but which is right? A thought from John Dominick Crossan, that “We are Christians, not Biblians,” may hint at which answer is the more Christian.
The myth is that so-called Biblical Christianity is tenable, that it exists, and that it is not merely a superior form of Christianity, but the only true Christianity available to human beings by which we must be saved, and that all other forms of Christianity, by implication, are “unbiblical.”
“Biblical Christianity,” then, is really just a way for conservative Christians to claim the theological high ground and insult anyone who disagrees with them by creating a litmus test from out-of-context proof texts and announcing arrogantly, “We’re the ones who are right because we have these verses, and if you don’t agree with us, even if you have verses, you’re wrong because, unlike us, you’re unbiblical, and you’re not going to heaven.”
The best way to play that game is not to play, but the second-best and most fun is to out-proof-text the proof-texters and call “unbliblical” on them before they call it on you.
Which brings us full circle, back to that article from the Fox affiliate in Phoenix, and back to Brandan Robertson.
The Fountains is the only progressive church in Fountain Hills and Felten says it offers an option to biblical Christianity.
“That lets people know there’s a choice out there, they don’t have to deny science, they don’t have to hate their gay neighbor, they don’t have to read and take the bible in a way that causes them to abandon their rational mind,” he said.
I read a book Felten co-wrote called Living the Questions. From what I’ve seen, Felten would never call his brand of Christianity “unbiblical,” because I don’t think he believes Biblical Christianity is even a tenable option.
Brandan Robertson has verses as well, and interprets the Bible differently from those who disagree with him. That he rejects the authority of English translations of verses that say homosexuality is a gross sin does not make him any more unbiblical than his sparring partners, who undoubtedly reject the authority of hundreds of other passages while claiming to be “Biblical.”
He also argues differently. Unlike the person who titled the show, he does not commit the logical fallacy of begging the question by assuming the answer in the question.
Brandan does not call those who disagree with him unbiblical. He is fair and honest and simply says that he reads the Bible differently than they do.
That statement implies that the title of the program is unfair and dishonest.
Which it is.
You can’t pit Progressive Christianity against Biblical Christianity, people. Not because Progressive Christianity is unbiblical – that is, running counter to Biblical teachings. It isn’t. It just reads scripture differently than self-described “Biblical Christians,” and it ignores and interprets around different passages than “Biblical Christianity” does.
The reason you cant pit Progressive Christianity against Biblical Christianity is that Biblical Christianity, as it is be meant by its purported followers, does not exist, nor can it.
EDIT May 27, 2015 – One of the churches pitting progressive Christianity against Biblical Christianity is Fountain Hills Presbyterian Church, which is part of the PC(USA), my adopted denomination. But it’s not the only PC(USA) church in the Presbytery of Grand Canyon. A great many other Presbyterian ministers put together and/or signed a response to the “Fact or Fiction” campaign:
The Rev. Bill Good… mischaracterized in his first sermon a distinction between “Progressive Christianity” and what he called “Biblical Christianity,” insinuating that Progressive Christianity is not Biblical nor a valid expression of Christian faith. We respectfully reject this false dichotomy…
We celebrate and appreciate a healthy tension between conservative, progressive, and other understandings of God, Jesus, and the Bible, even though we may disagree on many things. We believe we are all better together than apart, and seek to build bridges of understanding and mutual respect. Each perspective presents opportunities and challenges that hold us all accountable to the Spirit of God and the central Biblical call to healthy, mutual and faithful relationships. But we cannot support, condone, nor keep silent about anyone who claims Christian identity and then openly attacks the peace, unity, and purity of the Body of Christ by calling some within it “not really Christian.” [emphasis mine]
This is a very small quotation, but you owe it to yourself to read the rest of their response here: http://www.faithandcoffee.com/2015/05/faith-fight-fountain-hills-arizona.html