I once read a study showing that the more people read their Bible, the more liberal they become—something I have found to be completely true.
I’ll use the term “progressive” here since that’s how I identify. Looking back on my own journey out of fundamentalist thinking and into a Christianity that is life-giving instead of life-sucking, this trajectory of moving away from the hard right the more I read my Bible has been a daily reality. (Quick point of order: I’m not saying that reading your Bible will make you all the way left, because certainly I am not on many issues. The argument is simply that for those of us on the hard right, when we read our Bibles more often, it tends to move us in a leftward motion on some issues.)
The question is: Why?
When we move ever so slightly out of the far-right corner of the field, those family and friends still in that paradigm often assume that we are not taking the Bible seriously; they accuse us of being “relativists” and make other assumptions as to why we are changing. The ironic truth, however, is that so many of us have arrived at being Christian progressives not because we decided to set half the Bible aside, and not because we decided to stop taking the Bible seriously, but as a gradual process that resulted from taking the Bible more seriously and deciding to try to follow those often neglected parts. We became Christian progressives because we read our Bibles, not because we put them away. It’s okay if you’re not there yet or if you never will be, but it’s important to understand the truth about how and why we arrived here. While this isn’t comprehensive, based upon my own experience, here’s my list of how and why.
1. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that I don’t have it all together.
Growing up I was frequently reminded that the Bible, through the Holy Spirit, will convict us of sin…and you know what? It’s true. The more I get to know my Bible the more I realize how deeply flawed I am, which makes me see others more compassionately, because I am reminded that they are just like me. The more I see others as being just like me, the more progressive I become because I move in a trajectory of love, tolerance, and am way less likely to pronounce judgment on someone else than I was before. (Obviously, I still struggle, but I am working on it.)
2. The more I read my Bible, the more I develop humility.
The Apostle Paul says that we should view our sins as being worse than anyone else’s, and that we should view ourselves as walking examples of how patient God is with people who can’t get it together. When I am honest about my life, I admit that I am a walking example of someone who knows how to test God’s patience, and my sins are just as bad as whatever yours might be. This realization made it too difficult to stay in my old paradigm; yes, I want to spend my life inviting people to experience Jesus (in that regard, I am completely still an “evangelical”), but I want to do it in a new way—a more humble way. I’m not always there (see #1), but I desperately want to get there.
3. The more I read my Bible, the more I discover that justice for the poor and oppressed is at the heart of it.
I wasn’t all that concerned about the poor and oppressed until I opened my Bible and discovered that commands to care for them are all over the place, from the Old Testament all the way through the New Testament. I tried to escape it and explain it away, but I can’t—God wants us to care for, serve, and love these people.
4. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize “redistribution of wealth” wasn’t Obama’s idea—it was God’s.
That redistribution of wealth stuff? Yeah, it’s in the Bible and was actually God’s idea. In the Old Testament we have years of Jubilee, restrictions on gleaning your garden more than once, a command from God that there should be “no poor among you,” and prophets who came to denounce the nation when the rich grew richer and the poor grew poorer. Let’s not give Obama the credit—God thought of it first.
5. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that the early Christians actually practiced this redistribution of wealth.
For a time, those early Christians practiced some radical economic principles. And, guess what? The book of Acts tells us that there weren’t any poor people among them. They rejected individual ownership and gave their wealth to leadership who in turn redistributed it according to need. There weren’t any mandatory drug testing programs, just assistance according to need. While this still seems too radical for me, it moves me in a right to left trajectory as I read it.
6. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize Jesus taught we need to pay our taxes.
After reading 4 and 5, some are probably saying, “Yeah, but that was never supposed to be the government’s job.” Well, we see Jesus tell someone that he should “sell everything and give it to the poor” and also command us to pay our taxes. So, it looks like we’re not getting off the hook either way—we need to pay our taxes and give private charity. It’s not an either/or proposition. I’m not a fan of that either, but it’s in the Bible.
7. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God wants us to be people who are quick to show mercy.
The prophet Micah says that “loving mercy” is actually something God “requires” of us. Jesus tells us that justice and mercy are the “more important” parts of God’s law. This means that when it comes to issues of justice, economics, poverty, the death penalty, etc., I have become more quick to take the default position that sides with radical mercy.
8. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God cares how we treat immigrants.
Whenever God lists people who he wants his children to take care of, immigrants make the cut. The more I read about God’s heart for the immigrant, the more I realize that I might be held accountable for how I treat them, and how I talk about them.
9. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God will hold us accountable for how we care for the environment.
God’s original mandate for humanity was to care for creation—we were designed and called to be environmental conservationists. In the end, we see that God is going to judge quite harshly those who refused: “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth” (Revelation 11:18).
Not sure how to escape it—God wants me to care for and protect the environment, so I will.
10. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God isn’t judging us by whether or not we get all of our doctrine right. He’s judging us by whether or not we get the “love one another” part right.
This aspect wasn’t a major player in my faith before, but the more I read the Bible the more I realize that God is less concerned with us all sharing the same doctrine than God is heavily concerned with whether or not we love each other. In fact, Jesus said this would be the calling card of his followers and how others would realize we’re actually following Jesus—that we love one another. The more I read my Bible, the more I want to defer my position or preference and instead side with what is in the best interest of others, because that’s the loving thing to do.
How has reading your Bible changed your worldview? Has your experience been similar, or different?
Benjamin L. Corey is a cultural anthropologist and public theologian. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell (theology & missiology), received his Doctor of Intercultural Studies (DIS) from Fuller, and is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.