10 Reasons Reading the Bible Makes Me More Progressive

Photo by Matt Hill

By Benjamin L. Corey

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.

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Comment policy: ESA represents a wide variety of understandings and practices surrounding our shared Christian faith. The purpose of the ESA blog is to facilitate loving conversation; please know that individual authors do not speak for ESA as a whole. Even if you don\'t see yourself or your experience reflected in something you read here, we invite you to experience it anyway, and see if God can meet you there. What can take away from considering this point of view? What might you add? The comments section below is where you can share the answers to those questions, if you feel so moved. Please express your thoughts in ways that are constructive, purposeful, and respectful. Give those you disagree with the benefit of the doubt, and assume they are neither idiots nor evil. Name-calling, sweeping condemnations, and any other comments that suggest you have forgotten that we are all children of God will be deleted. Thank you!

24 Responses

  1. Wonderful,l thoughtful blog. And you aren't alone. This is exactly what happened to me – and what brought me to think the way you've described above.

  2. Mike Nacrelli says:

    Why doesn't justice for the unborn make your top 10 list? The shedding of innocent blood is a major concern of the biblical prophets, and the astronomical death toll of abortion on demand dwarfs nearly all other issues combined.

    • Rick Nowlin says:

      Because you'd have a hard time finding Biblical justification for prosecuting someone — two witnesses are required plus the accuser must participate in any execution.

  3. Don says:

    I disagree with your understanding of points 4, 5, and 9. For example, you mention the story of the rich young ruler; but Jesus wasn't encouraging him to re-distribute his wealth, He was making a point about the condition of the young man's heart. You also mention Deuteronomy 15:4; but you're not putting it in context. The rest of the passage says that if you obey the Lord and do those commands that are written in the bible, the Lord will bless you and you will lend to many, but borrow from none. That doesn't jive with giving part of your wealth to others who don't obey the Lord, nor do His commands; you'll notice that the last part is, you will *lend* to many.
    Although I agree with your general comments in #9, the context of Rev 11:18 has nothing to do with conservation.
    I totally agree with the rest of your list.

    • d says:

      Ummmmmmmm you went in reverse order . Though old to new . In the new it was needed also after so long debt the old testament called for forgiveness of the debt.

  4. Douglas Neel says:

    The more one reads the Bible has nothing to do with making them more "left" of "right", but hopefully more Christlike. To love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself is not a "political or religious position".

  5. IAN says:

    I have to agree with Douglas that the whole point of reading the Bible is to be more Christlike, not worrying about any modern political idea.that was totally foreign. But i see that you are confusing some commands that deal with personal responsibility and make it like Jesus was telling the state to fulfil them What Jesus said was that we should be givers to help those who are needy by way of individually giving up what is ours, never once did he bring up the state to do the job. You seem to want to give the state the powers that belong to God.

  6. Brent says:

    Your list is overall great. The Bible does teach us to be compassionate, forgiving, humble, etc. Some of your conclusions are far beyond scripture, as Douglas stated. The Fundamentalists are one extreme; they do lack humility and grace. But overlooking the sins of others and saying they are "good" is not loving either, but it is the ultimate result of "progressive" religion. But my biggest issue is how condescending you are. You state that "It's okay if you're not there yet . . . " as though progressives are more highly evolved. Perhaps a little more humility is needed?

  7. Judy BG says:

    Thought this was a wonderful piece, and not in the least arrogant. Brent, i think you missed that he was making a little jest.

    I find some of the comments above simply perplexing. What IS it about not wanting to give to "the government" for the poor? In a country with hundreds of millions of people, with all the interlocking structural issues of poverty–racism, bad schools, access to health care, the need for gun control, huge mental health issues, lack of access to food, etc, etc, by what other mechanism could this realistically be done?

    Yes, tax the rich–they have way too much for way too few–and give to the poor who can't even find full time jobs, which, even if they could, would not be enough to support a family at minimum wage rates. What makes this so hard for Christians to get? Do you really think the guy who said, "Give to whoever asks" had categories like "deserving poor"? Over and over in the Bible the critique is of those who squeeze and grab and hang on to what they have–and however the earth's abundance can be shared out and vast social disparities levelled off, the more, I am convinced, God is pleased. Yes, it IS about love. End of story.

  8. Jason says:

    It seems that your assumption is that people "on the right" don't care about these issues in the same way as "progressives". That is entirely untrue. The difference in opinion is the government's role in these issues. Those on the "right" have just as much compassion as those on the left. They just don't want the government to have the power to force morality on people. Redistribution of wealth came from the heart in the book of Acts, not from a government mandate. Remember, God loves a cheerful giver (not a begrudging taxpayer).

    • Sally says:

      I agree with you; I was thinking the same thing. All of the points mentioned are things I care deeply about, and I consider myself to be pretty right wing and a Christian. Furthermore, the Christian friends I have do more for the needy than any of my non-Christian friends by far! I liked this article, but the premise seemed a bit skewed toward a stereotype of all conservatives being miserly, hateful, sanctimonious, hypocrites. I haven't found that to be the case at all.

  9. Phillip says:

    Let's not read into the Bible progressive ideas, or conservative ideas. The Bible transcends earthly politics. It is supposed to be a middle way not a left or right way.

  10. Susan says:

    while we may be told by God to give to the poor, He does not tell the government to give to the poor, but the Church. also, in taking care of the poor, the environment, etc. you must be aware of those you are working with. do not be unequally yoked with non-believers and do not support non-believers in taking care of the poor, environment, etc. because they are not following God but Satan. which means they will do all to destroy what God holds important. the most important thing to do is to spread the Good News of salvation because that is what is most important to God; whether or not we follow Him.

  11. Kimbrough Leslie says:

    Those of you who say we shouldn't read progressive or conservative ideas into the Bible have missed the point that you have already read it through the selective filter of 19th/20th/21st century American individualism and fundamentalism, which means from a perspective of modern Western elites. This stands in stark contrast to the communitarian point of view of the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the judges and the prophets consistently calling Israel to honor covenant faithfulness in its care of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien. Its Hebrew ("oriental") perspective (vs. our Greek cultural/intellectual inheritance) and Jesus' own upside down world view (whose shock value in the parables we miss) are lost on most contemporary American Christians.

    PS. Benjamin Corey: while I'm sure that Jesus would have certainly supported every effort to care for the poor and work for the common good, the government at that time consisted of an occupation force and puppet regime, and he didn't argue that his disciples should pay taxes, only give Caesar whatever he deserved and God what God deserves, which is something else, not to mention a clever answer to a "Have you stopped beating your spouse?" question.

  12. Kathryn says:

    I like the article. Well written Benjamin. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Who are you all to you criticize anothers journey with God through the word.l? I give thanks that Benjamin has found the Bible and the many truths God has revealed to him. Also his willingness to follow in Christ's footsteps of love and compassion for others and all of creation. I trust that if we are seeking, God will reveal the truths we need to see, hear and learn at any given time when we are ready and need them. We are all unique with different lessons to learn. I also believe that more come to Christ with a message of love than one of critisism. Jesus was certainly a progressive and a rebel in his time. Benjamin definately seems to be on a path that fulfills the first two and most important of God's comands. May all your journeys be as revealing and fruitful as Benjamin's.

  13. Ron Henzel says:

    Relief for the poor and redistribution of wealth are two different things. Relief has the goal of helping people meet their basic needs. Redistribution has the goal of creating artificial economic equality. Ancient Israelites did not receive government subsidies in their mailboxes, but had to go out themselves and do actual work to glean the corners of the fields for food. We should have a social safety net, but the one we have now is not motivated by biblical principles, and thus does not use biblical methods.

    • Kimbrough Leslie says:

      Ron Henzel — Actually, the prophets never commended mere relief or charity for the poor, but justice, which addresses unjust inequality. The Sabbath year was mandated as a time of redistribution of land between clans to insure that no one extended kin group had the advantage or disadvantage of the best or worst land. The jubilee year (a Sabbath of Sabbath years) mandated the redistribution of land, the cancellation of debts, and the freeing of debt slaves. The original Mosaic law knew nothing of the inequalities of Medieval feudalism or modern capitalism. After God acquiesced to the Israelites' demand for a king (but see Judges 9 for a sarcastic fable about the "value" of a king) the tendency to imitate the Canaanite despots in mistreatment for the poor brought the condemnation of the prophets for the systematic cheating of and gross injustice against the poor. The U.S. does not have and never had a covenant with God, but neither is it free from God's judgment against the terrible inequality and unjust treatment of the disadvantaged by the advantaged.

  14. suguna says:

    These golden commands one understands and practices is is the way to reflect christ thus the living of christ is proved.christ is the living god. He ha given u the body,bloodand soul with life.llive like christ. The message of christ…is unchanged everlasting.

  15. William says:

    I agree with a lot of your conclusions, though I believe that we should always check to make sure the scripture is our filter and not our political ideology, which as Americans that is hard to do. God does command the Israelites to take care of the poor; their theocratic government (including prophets, priests, and kings) were supposed to ensure that the people were being faithful to the covenant. But keep in mind also that the prophets decried both immorality and idolatry; the reason the Israelites disregarded the poor, afflicted, and outcasts in their midst was their unfaithfulness to Yahweh. He was to worshiped alone, something thing that Israel or Judah never really grasped until after the exile. The year of Jubilee was a way of living out the principles of the kingdom of God in the Old Testament, all who worked and who had need would be provided for if the system was followed. Sadly, there is zero proof that the system was followed. In Acts however, it is important to note that the believers gave willingly to help those among them who were in need and who could not take care of themselves. Paul admonished believers to work, and if they did not work they did not eat. However, it is important to point out that this dynamic was only to be practice within the church, and it was from an idea of interdependence not independence (I am to work to take care you; you are to work to take care of me). This is not communism, but actually something really unique and different and fits well with the biblical narrative and the purpose/design of the church. But again, this was within the church and not the local, state, or imperial government. While I think it is right for us to try to get our government to be more compassionate and generous, OUR government in its current state is too complex, inefficient, and wasteful to be much help. Plus, the progressive dogma is very modernistic, man-centered and believes education will solve all our ills, which is a flat out lie. So, I do understand stirring Christians to care for all of these issues and working toward a government that will keep in balance the need to create money and the need to take care of the least of these. However, this needs to be foremost led by the church, and if we partner with others it needs to be clear that we are doing so for the sake of crucified and resurrected Christ both declaring and demonstrating the gospel.

  16. Faye Hudson says:

    I enjoyed your writing . God Bless you .

  17. Phil says:

    All I see is salvation by WORKS, which is always liberal, progressive & WRONG!
    Not one mention of the ONLY reason that God sent His only Son into the World, which we just celebrated His birth this Christmas.
    Keep reading God's Word, sir, because no one can read it too much. Maybe you will finally find the true, one & only reason that Jesus even came to this Earth. I pray that will be so!
    One thing is for sure, the word 'progressive' is NOT in God's vocabulary, because He NEVER changes from yesterday, today & forever!
    Be ever mindful of Ecclesiastes 10:2 also…

  18. William says:

    As an Episcopalian, I missed growing up under the "judgment" worldview that I'm reading about in the comments. Our daily devotions, either in Daily Morning/Evening Prayer or just the Forward: Day by Day devotions include substantial readings from the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament. Three readings a day. Prior to 40 years ago, it was 4 readings a day that took on through the Old Testament once a year and the New Testament twice a year, and since the 16th century, there has been a way to read the Psalms once a month. Which is to say, I'm used to hearing/reading a lot of scripture, day by day, including, of course, Sundays. So what Benjamin Corey is just now learning, I've known for a long time. But I see the terror in some of the comments that "progressive" biblical Christianity is "salvation by works", rather than embracing St. James' truth that "faith without works is like a body without breath". Or that God never changes, even though the Bible tells us that Moses forced God to repent of the evil He wanted to do to the children of Israel. Or that, in the New Testament, though St. Mark quotes Jesus as saying, "No divorce" (period), St. Matthew quotes Jesus as adding, "except in cases of adultery". One could also cite the dietary restrictions of Judaism that clearly by God's Hand do not apply to Christians. That's change. Over the years, I've encountered a lot of conservative Christians who believe that the opposite of Faith is Doubt. But that's wrong. The opposite of Faith is Certainty. Faith, by its nature, always includes aspects of Doubt. St. Paul says we are saved by faith, not saved by certainty.

  1. March 12, 2014

    […] a fresh expression of Christianity. He is also a contributor for Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, Evangelicals for Social Action, has been a guest on Huffington Post Live, and is one of the CANA Initiators. Ben is also a […]

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