My newsletter article this week:
Over the last couple of months I have immersed myself in a fresh reading of scripture texts, both from the Bible and from non-canonical sources like the Gospels of Thomas and Mary. I have also been re-reading some scholarly commentaries, all in preparation for my pre- and post- Easter messages on the communities of Jesus.
I always enjoy this reading, and I enjoy sharing what I know (and don't know) with both the Bible study group on Wednesdays and the congregation on Sundays. I think it is important for us to have a good knowledge of these scriptures. They form the core of our both our Christian and our Western heritage.
But I come away from these readings realizing once again why I am a progressive Christian. I am a Christian, first, because I was raised in a Christian environment and immersed from childhood on in the stories of Jesus. As an adult I have come to appreciate and chosen to appropriate the way of Jesus as my way. Jesus as I understand him is the guiding force in my faith expression. Although, I have also come to learn, appreciate, and appropriate teachings from other religious traditions as well.
This helps identify me , I suppose, as a progressive or liberal Christian. I do not think there is only one "true" spiritual path.
But getting back to the reading of Christian scriptures, I come away realizing once again that I do not share the worldview of the writers of the scriptures, or even of Jesus. They lived in a world where demons and spirits were a part of everyday reality. People could die and be raised from death. Emperors and saviors could be born to virgin mothers; no human father required. God could and did intervene in history to bring floods, miraculous healings, devastating destruction.
I am completely comfortable understanding that this was part of their worldview. Just as I am completely comfortable understanding that when they talked about sexuality they had no understanding of sexual orientation as we understand it today. The bible reflects this very different worldview through and through. I don't feel the need to apologize for it or try to explain it away.
But it is not a worldview that I share. I am at home in this modern or post-modern world that I have been raised in. I accept the scientific worldview as I understand it with regards to evolution, the scientific and historic methods of inquiry, the marvels of modern medicine, and the de-mythologizing of our world. (There is no devil making people do bad things or God who is going to bring a firestorm down on San Francisco.) My world is non-magical, but still plenty enchanted with mystery and wonder and beauty.
For this reason the Bible is not the last word for me on truth or life or even God. It is the first word. It is where I begin because it helps me understand my spiritual heritage. It also chronicles for me some of the great leap-forwards in spiritual insights in the history of humanity - in the works of the prophets for instance - and it gives us the life-testimony and teachings of Jesus, one of the most authentic spiritual leaders in history. The Bible also offers profound insights into the human condition (something that hasn't changed much in thousands of years), and plenty of stories as examples of the very best and worst of it on display.
But knowledge about our world and the way we think about God continues to unfold. Revelation is progressive. As we evolve individually and as a human community, the horizon continues to unfold before us. For this reason we will never be able to know all there is to know, another pre-modern notion. The more we know the more we realize how little we know. There is no way in the world Moses or Jesus or Paul or the biblical writers could have spoken the (God's) last word from their point in history and their worldview on events unfolding thousands of years later. As the UCC likes to say: God is still speaking.
So I thoroughly enjoy reading, studying and learning about, the Bible. It is always where I begin thinking about my spiritual journey. It is where I return again and again for reflection and touching base. But it may not always be where I end up. I am a progressive Christian.