Progressive and Traditional Scripture

July 14, 2006

On my long trip from California to Texas, I had an idea.  I wondered what it would look like to put some of the ideas I have heard from my conservative brothers and sisters next to my own ideas- sort of using my marketing background to create a checklist of a “features and functions” list between the two ideologies.

Then I thought what would be even better would be to use the language of Scripture to do it, so that I’m not inserting my own language into it and distorting it at all.

I haven’t spent a whole lot of time on it, so this is just a work in progress and I hope it to be a living document based on your contributions.  I imagine that there will be suggestions on both sides, and we’ll see what happens.  I also understand that there is no “one” magic position on the Traditional side- just as my position does not represent every single person on the Progressive side.  I’ve tried to keep it to a manageable size, as I know my posts are not known for their brevity!

At any rate, this is my contribution for the next day or two to the blogosphere as I continue unpacking boxes and getting settled.  Let me know what you think.

Topic Progressive Traditional
1 – Overall Theme 1 John 4:8, Matt 22:36-40 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. /“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” John 3:16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
2 – On peace and reconciliation Matt 5:9, Gal 5:22-23 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. /…The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against such things. Matthew 10.34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
3 – The Law and the Role of Humans in Upholding It Matt 7:1; Rom 9:30b-33 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged./Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but
Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Eph 4:25-27 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.  Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.
4 – On the sin of religious institutions and leaders Matt 23:23-24 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!    
5 – The Bible’s Completeness John 16:12-13 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 2 Tim 3:16-17 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
 6 – Universal Inclusion  Rom 11:32; John 10:16  For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all./

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.

 John 14:6  Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

8 Responses to “Progressive and Traditional Scripture”

  1. Milton Says:

    Do I understand correctly from the structure of your table that you have posted a representative passage used to form the views of Scripture of Progressives and Traditionalists on each of the broad topics listed so far? Quite a project you’re taking on, and an admirable one! I’ll chew the cud a bit on the Traditionalist passages, there’s more both/and in Scripture on these topics from the broad Traditionalist viewpoint than is often supposed, an ovbious example being free will vs. predestination. Those two are not really contradictory in God’s infinite and eternal perspective, only in our time-bound, linear perspective. May the Holy Spirit guide and bless all your endeavors!

  2. Jeff Says:

    Thanks Milton! Look forward to it.


  3. Rick Harris, O.P. Says:

    Dear Jeff:

    An interesting project. Of course, it was Martin Luther himself who called John 3:16, “The Gospel in miniature.” He was a traditionalist by today’s standards, but he certainly was not a traditionalist by the standards of his day. I think Luther loved this verse so much because it encapsulated his critique of the Church’s predominant theology of the day– the idea that one could be saved by works, such as purchasing indulgences. No, Luther said. We are saved by the redeeming death of Jesus Christ upon the cross. It is faith and grace, not works, that save us.

    I’ve always liked this verse as an overall theme of the Gospels:

    I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.– John 15: 1-8 (RSV)

    I like this verse because it so fully embraces what I think is our primary call as Christians: to be disciples of Jesus Christ and to submit ourselves to whatever He asks of us. I am active in Kairos prison ministry. The last thing the lay leader of a weekend program says to the team beforre they set foot in prison is this: “Remember. We are not called to accomplish anything. We are called to be obedient.”

    At the same time I would fully embrace Matthew 22:36-40 as an utterly correct response to a question Jesus was asked, although I prefer the version of this exchange in Mark 12:28-34, which I view as a more complete account of the conversation. I do not think this is the overall theme of the Gospels. First of all, what Jesus said in answer to the lawyers’ question was not news. He was quoting VERY familiar Scripture to them. The first part was something that the lawyers themselves were supposed to recite every day. And his answer was hardly controversial. They had to agree that he was right. It was not this discourse, in my opinion, that made the scribes and Pharisees so angry with Jesus.

    I’d be interested to read, Jeff, what you think it was that Jesus said or did that made the Pharisees and scribes so angry. This may also shed some light on the different religious views of traditionalists and progressives.

    I will suggest that one of the beatitudes shows a difference between traditional and progressive religious views. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Actually, we are all spiritually impoverished, but we tend to live in denial of that fact. I think that it is only when we embrace our spiritual poverty that we are able to live into God’s call. I was on a mission trip to Honduras two years ago when I read these words in a daily meditation by Oswald Chambers (the meditation for today, July 21, actually). I had read the same passage twice before, but it was the first time I really understood what he was saying. It completely changed my point of view.

    “The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount produces despair in the natural man – the very thing Jesus means it to do. As long as we have a self-righteous, conceited notion that we can carry out Our Lord’s teaching, God will allow us to go on until we break our ignorance over some obstacle, then we are willing to come to Him as paupers and receive from Him. “Blessed are the paupers in spirit,” that is the first principle in the Kingdom of God. The bedrock in Jesus Christ’s kingdom is poverty, not possession; not decisions for Jesus Christ, but a sense of absolute futility – I cannot begin to do it. Then Jesus says – Blessed are you. That is the entrance, and it does take us a long while to believe we are poor! The knowledge of our own poverty brings us to the moral frontier where Jesus Christ works.”


  4. Jeff Says:

    Hi Rick – thanks for posting. There’s a lot here and I don’t have time to ingest it all right now; will try and respond/take it all in later and post any reflections then.



  5. Rick Harris, O.P. Says:

    Look forward to it, Jeff. And I was just on part 1 of your chart. There is much material here for an interesting conversation, I think.

  6. Rick Harris, O.P. Says:

    A little more on the overall theme. Of course, the climax and denouement of all four Gospels is the Passion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but it’s hard to capture all of that in a single verse or short passage of Scripture. A good one might be —

    He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.” John 12: 25-27.

    And, while we are on overall themes, how about these two–

    The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. John 1: 9-14

    Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28-30

    Outside of the Gospels, two passages come to mind as critically important to a traditional understanding the message of Scriptures:

    He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53: 3-6

    We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

    On to part 2. I would not agree that Matthew 10:34 is a good representation of the traditional theological view of peace and reconciliation. I think in this passage Jesus is talking about the need to put God first, above self, above friends, above family, above material posessions. We must be utterly and completely devoted to Himself, Jesus Christ. And we must not be afraid to proclaim that devotion. An important message, but not one about peace and reconciliation.

    I’d say some important passages about peace and reconciliation from the traditional view are these:

    I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. John 16:33

    For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him. Colossians 1: 19-22


  7. Jeff Says:

    Rick –

    Just glancing briefly; I have heard Matthew 10:34 quoted to me again and again when blogging with Orthodox Episcopalians and discussing whether or not Jesus was all about love or not.

    That’s what I was trying to capture here. Your thoughts?


    PS – Still am trying to find some time to get back through all the good stuff you’ve posted here but I’m still unpacking boxes so hopefully will get to it soon!

  8. Rick Harris, O.P. Says:

    Of course, I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I am pretty certain that Matthew 10:34 does not refute the notion that Jesus was all about love. I think any reading of the Gospel of John, and especially Jesus’ last words to the Apostles before he was crucified as recorded in that Gospel, make it clear that Jesus commands us to love Him, and to love one another. If read in its full context, however, Matthew 10:34 is about religious disagreements, and, specifically, is a prediction by Jesus that following His teaching will result in some being persecuted– a prediction that has certainly been borne out by history and that is still being borne out in parts of the world today. Matthew 10 as a whole is an answer to the assertion that we should abandon our beliefs if it would advance the cause of better getting along with one another. Thus this chapter does have something important to say to the Episcopal Church at this time in its history.

    I will leave my comments on Part 3– the law– for another day.

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