Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Books that Read Us: On Being Progressive by Tim Ivey

Today is the 15th post in the The Books that Read Us series and features my friend Tim Ivey. Please enjoy his post below on Peter Enns' book, The Bible Tells Me So.
To me, at the time, mixing "progressive" with Christianity created a faith where things like truth, law, and rules were downplayed and everything became about love and tree hugging. Like many other Christians, I didn't understand what progressive meant nor how important it was to the Christian life.

So there I was - minding my own business - when I saw a book in a pretty yellow dress walk by that I couldn't take my eyes off: "The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It" by Peter Enns.  I knew in that moment I had to drop whatever I was doing and get that fine book's digits. (Do kids even talk that way anymore? "I gotta get that girl's handle", perhaps?)

What a love/hate relationship it's been since then.  I really struggled with this book.  It challenged everything I ever believed about the Bible and took me places I would have never gone on my own.  It showed me how God has always related with us progressively and how our faith should reflect this.

Maybe I should define what progressive means before I continue.  Progression is the positive movement from one point to another.  Regression, of course, is the opposite.  And not moving in either direction is called conservative Evangelicalism.  Progression means we were there... and now we are here.  We understand more here... than we did when we were there.

Let's start out with an example from chapter 4.

1. Proverbs 26:4 Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.
2. Proverbs 26:5 Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes.

Wait... What? Did David get into the hard stuff again?  Maybe parchment was too expensive to cross things out so he simply tried to undo his previous statement by writing a counter one?

Which one is correct, then? Peter Enns' answer? Both!

In his book he says, "Both of these proverbs are good, wise, and right-the question is when each is good, wise, and right."  In other words, this proverb means different things to different people at different times in their journey through faith.  This is one of several examples Peter Enns uses of the Bible containing multiple and even conflicting truths.  He contends this is one of the reasons the Bible has trouble standing up to the modern day pressures we put on it.  It was written by people throughout time that understood God differently. Once I began to wrap my head around that fact, the parts of the Bible that used to baffle me began to make much more sense.

Peter Enns also goes into depth about Israel's story. Guess what? It's a story of God progressively inching humanity along.  It's an account of people who kept screwing up and God pushing them back on track.  The Bible is progressive, alive, and changing as much then as it is today.

"So what?" you may be asking.  "Why does this idea of progressive faith make a difference?"  Here are few things that rocked my world.

1) The Bible isn't a rule book.  If it's progressive, it's changing.  Pretty hard (and dangerous) to follow a rule book that keeps changing.

2) The Bible is personal. No one has the inside scoop on theology. It's OK if it means one thing to one person and another to someone else.  The answer to most disagreements is not "yes" or "no" but "both"  Get comfortable with not needing to being right.

3) Our faith should be progressive, too.  We need to start asking tough questions and be willing to change our minds on issues. There should be things you believe this year that you didn't last. If you've been sitting in the same pews, singing the same songs, reading the same books, and having the same discussions with people that look just like you, your faith is probably dead and stinky. Get a shovel, bury that bad boy, and begin again.

I think the last point hit me the hardest. It seems we have lost the concept of being progressive in the Church. We blindly grab onto the teachings of wise men who lived hundreds of years ago (who were progressive at the time, mind you) and shun any new teaching/beliefs that doesn't fit into that mold. It's truly become, "Give me that old time religion. It's good enough for me."

Christianity shouldn't be as much about what happened in the past as it is about what's happening now and what will happen in the future.  The Israelites believed this. Jesus believed this, and we should too!

After reading "The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It", Peter Enns was kinda enough to join us on our podcast for a short question and answer session, giving us some thoughts behind the thoughts of this book. You can check that out on

Tim Ivey is a co-host of the Back to Red Podcast and an occasion blogger at  He lives in Saint Petersburg, FL.  When he's not thinking about God stuff, he's drinking craft beer or working on some nifty web project.

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