The ordeal of progressive Christianity in America

I recently had the immense privilege to interview the fantastic progressive Christian blogger Michelle Morr Krabill, author of the blog WordOfaWoman.

She confessed me she also has a chaotic mind so that our mutual dialog won’t necessarily be always well structured 🙂

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Hi Michelle, thank you so much for having joined me! Could you please tell us more about your background?
Good afternoon! Thanks for inviting me. I have a long and interesting background but I will try to give you the shortened version. When I was a very young girl my family was involved in the Methodist church. However when I was about 5 my parents became involved with The Way International. After I got married, my husband and I left the Way and kind of were on our own, occasionally meeting with other people who had left that ministry. After a few years we began attending a non-denominational evangelical church. About 5 years ago we started our own community, Novitas Church.
There is really so much more to the story.
Did you start your journey with Conservative views regarding the Bible?

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Yes and no. The Way had very diverse views, on the one hand they believed in the inerrancy of the Scriptures and on the other they were non-trinitarian, believed in the gifts of the spirit, the concept of soul sleep and the law of believing. However, as an adult I became an evangelical and bought into most of the standard doctrines and practices of the evangelical church.
My views have definitely evolved over the years.
That is to say there was a time where you held fast to the Chicago statement on inerrancy, according to which everything a Biblical writer intended to convey is true, right?
Yes. I was definitely taught that the Bible in its original state was without error and was “the Word and Will of God”.
What called this conviction into question?
As with so many things it is a build up I think of many things over many years, but I think the turning point for me personally was a book called The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight.
What is this book about?
Blue Parakeet is a book about how we read and relate to the Bible. It talks about how the Bible is actually more of a library of books that contain the stories of how people throughout time have related to God.
But Scot himself holds fast on inerrancy, doesn’t he?
It suggests that we should flip the book over as it were and picture Jesus as the spine and read both the Old and New Testaments through the lens of Jesus’ life.
You know, I am not 100% sure where Scot stands on inerrancy.
I just know that for me, looking at the Scriptures in a new way, does not detract from them at all but rather it allows me to reinterpret them in light of the life of Jesus.
Where people related to God as judgmental and honestly a little genocidal in the old testament, we see through the life of Jesus, that that was simply the way the people of that time understood God.
Frank Schaeffer was just here with us last weekend and he puts it in a really great way…
He likes to say that Jesus came to edit our views about who God is. In fact the way Jesus dealt with the Torah (the only Scriptures he had access to) was to question it at every turn. He would often say, it says this but I say this in direct contradiction to the law.
My own journey has led me to view Scriptures as people reporting their own experience with God in the same way many of them did outside the Protestant Canon. I, for example, don’t view the author of Hebrews as necessarily more inspired than C.S. Lewis. But I do believe that both men have had terrific experiences with the Almighty.
Is it something you might be sympathetic to?
I wholeheartedly agree. I believe God spoke through the scriptures but he is still speaking today and I can learn just as much from you as I can from Paul. Blasphemy, I know. 🙂
(I return you the blasphemous compliment 🙂 )
I think that historical critical scholarship makes it extremely hard to maintain the notion that God speaks through a limited set of ancient books.
I do as well and I think that everyday life bears this out as well.
And, as I said before, I think Jesus himself proves this to be true.
He was decidedly not a “man of the book” in the sense that he was constantly running afoul of Levitical rules.
Touching the leper
Touching dead bodies
Letting a bleeding woman touch him
Calling the women out of the kitchen to come and talk to him
Talking to the Samaritan woman
Working on the Sabbath
Not picking up a stone to kill the woman caught in adultery.

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What is your response to Conservative Evangelicals saying that Jesus DID believe these laws to be inerrant BUT also temporarily limited?
So you say. Were you there to ask him?
How do you know?
We have no evidence, written or otherwise that would indicate that.
In my opinion they find that kind of freedom unnerving.
Yeah, but they might say we have no evidence either that he did not approve of these laws.
It is much harder to control people if my way is correct.
Actually we do, his own words and actions.
To my mind, it’s clear that Christ viewed these laws as a hindrance against charity.
Jesus had but one law. The law of love.
He said EVERYTHING depended on it
Precisely! This is the very basis of my argument for Gay marriage. All things forbidden are forbidden because they run against Love and are harmful.
Agreed.
But homosexuality isn’t harmful and doesn’t go against Love therefore Gay marriage should not be forbidden
I did a whole series on the so called “clobber passages” the verses used to condemn homosexuality.
Many of these verses are far more ambiguous than many people think, even if one accepts inerrancy.
People can find the series here.
Thanks!
I think people are often surprised when they learn how few verses actually talk about the subject in the scriptures and how misinterpreted they often are. The link is for the conclusion post but has links to all the previous posts in the series.
It is also stunning that “sodomy” can be better interpreted as gluttony and lack of charity according to several Biblical writers
Indeed!
Is it fair to say that caring for the poor is in the Bible (as far as the volume is concerned) 2000 more important than same-sex relationships?
Not sure how many times exactly, but for sure far far more verses on caring for the poor and yet most of the western Christians I know are more concerned with stopping gay marriage than they are with feeding the poor, especially if the government has anything to do about it. The gospel of Jesus is all too often replaced with the gospel of Ayn Rand and the Christian Coalition.
What is the Gospel of the Christian Coalition?


The Christian Coalition, is a group started by Pat Robertson to give Christians a voice in government. Their website says: The Coalition is a political organization, made up of pro-family Americans who care deeply about ensuring that government serves to strengthen and preserve, rather than threaten, our families and our values. To that end, we work continuously to identify, educate and mobilize Christians for effective political action.
You can find their agenda here.
It includes, defunding Obamacare, Defending the second amendment, defending traditional marriage, outlawing abortion, defending gun rights, standing with Israel, posing Liberal judicial nominees etc.
yada yada yada
And what about the poorest members of American society?
To hell with them. Sorry. I know that seems a little harsh, but for the most part when it comes to government programs to aid the poor there is little to no compassion to be found.
People often state they think taking care of the poor is the church’s job not the government’s.
But comparisons with Continental Europe aren’t very flattering, right?
The problem with that is if you do a little digging, most churches spend about 3% of their budget on benevolence.
No, in my opinion, they are not very flattering.
I did a piece on this a while back as well. It can be found here.
Is it STILL the case that, in highly modern America, poor children are receiving a terrible and inhumane healthcare?

Children await treatment at a free clinic as part of Operation Lone Star August 4, 2008 in Laredo, Texas. The two-week medical operation, run by the Texas military forces and the Human Services Commission, aims to treat more than 10,000 people along the Texas border with Mexico. Many of the patients are either uninsured or underinsured and cannot afford medical and dental care on their own. Healthcare has become an important issue in this year's U.S. presidential campaign.
It is! Obamacare has actually done a lot to mitigate the problem but there is still a long way to go.
For example, in states like mine (I live in Texas) Governor Perry has refuse to take much of the federal money available for helathcare.
Most Conservatives I know are no moral monsters. But they say that it’s not the job of the STATE to care for poor children, this should be the concern of their family, relatives, communities, Churches and so on.
I totally agree. Most conservatives I know are kind and loving people. But there is this huge disconnect when it comes to the government helping the poor.
What are the shortcomings of their solutions?
There just isn’t enough money in the church coffers to get the job done.
Even if we spent 100% of the money in the church budget.
I outline all of it in the article I posted.
Of course. But what about FREE donations of rich people?
There are a lot of numbers. You would be surprised.
I actually have a huge problem with the whole way we have the church structured. From the pastoral/priest system to the way we do church with big buildings and big congregations, to the seminary system. It seems set up to create Pharisees.
And often cults of personality.
Like that about Mark Driscoll?
Exactly like Mark Driscoll.
Mark is just a man like any other man and the system is set up to elevate men like him to a position they should never be expected to fill. It is set up to become a Machiavellian nightmare.
Make no mistake, he is responsible for his own actions, but they system is set up to feed it.
Could you sum up what you view as his worst sins?
People will go to a church with thousands and a huge light show and a rock climbing wall and a gym over a small church that meets in a bar. Often they choose a show over a community.
I don’t know that rehashing Mark’s sins by me is profitable at this point. He is a sinner in need of grace just like me. However I do think the need for repentance is real and as of yet that seems to be non-existent.
Oh yeah I completely agree we should never see ourselves as morally superior to our enemies but I do think we must sometimes talk about bad things they did…both for their victims and the health of their own soul.
I meant his bullying concerning Gays and women.
I think this needs to be clearly exposed for avoiding history to repeat itself.
Agreed.
Even if Mark might have been disfavored by a bad psychological background, so it’s not about judging ourselves as superior to him.
Mark’s bullying and misogyny are well documented and evil for sure.
Could you perhaps give examples of him or anyone else bullying people in this manner?
I think we begin to heal from this sort of thing when we recognize that often as people we want someone like Mark to tell us what to do. Many people gravitate to a person who will control them because it makes them feel safe. If you tell me what God wants from me and then I do it I can feel like I know that I am okay with God. In my opinion we should never allow anyone the voice or opportunity to decide for us who God is or who is “in” or “out”. When we give people that kind of power we should not be surprised that they abuse that power.
Amen!
The examples of Mark’s bullying and misogyny are all over the internet.
There is a great article about this by John Shore. As he says, you can’t allow people to pee in your pool. lol
There is a growing number of people in America who leave the Church and become resentful anti-theists.
What’s your take on this?
Here is a quote from the post which sums it up quite well for me:
“The idea of letting other people tell me, or in any way decide for me, who God is, or what the nature of God is, is … repelling to me. I mean, I get why eventually any sane person would just go, “Something’s wrong here. Christianity appears to be a solid FAIL. I gave it my all. But enough is enough. I’m out.”
But, for me, screw that. If people keep peeing in my pool, I don’t abandon the pool. I refresh the water, and then build a fence to keep people the freak out. I stop letting strangers in my … pool area. (Um … to be clear: I’m not advocating keeping people away from Christianity–as if anyone in this culture could, given that, you know, it’s everywhere. What I mean is that I have no interest in … letting, well, pee-ers—by which I mean toxic people whom I don’t know or don’t respect—to … sully my waters, pee in my pool, get into my yard, define for me my Christianity–which, for the record, is unimpeachably rational and militantly non-invasive.)”
My faith is my faith no one else’s. It is my responsibility to continuously choose love over judgment, to welcome everyone in the name of Jesus, to choose freedom over bondage.
Amen!
For me the day I trade my doubts and freedom for the certainty of three songs and one man who has “all the answers” is the day I begin to lose my soul.
The irony is, since I have begun to embrace my doubts and the paradox of life, I have never felt closer to God.
I feel delighted for you 🙂 But time is beginning to fly by. Could you, to conclude, talk about the World Vision catastrophe? You know, this Evangelical welfare organization who ended up stopping discriminating Gay people among their employees. Consequently, most Conservative supporters retracted their help. Could you please put this in a nut shell?
It was tragic. I thought their initial decision was good but then when everyone jumped ship and abandoned the kids which was so upsetting. I know they backpedaled because of that. In the end the children were the ones who got hurt. It was just awful. I find it appalling that people would abandon children over the issue of loving all people.
I entirely share your feelings. But in Europe, Conservative Evangelicals are much less focused on homosexuality than in the States. What could one do for fostering the evolution of mentalities in this country of yours?
I think it is currently evolving and at a rather quick pace. The millennials in particular are much more inclusive than previous generations.
But, I think that attunes are changing across all generations. We are in the process of becoming a much more inclusive people and that makes me very happy
As always I think it is a matter of empathy.
🙂 🙂
So I thank you very much for this interview. You’ve been truly wonderful.
Of course! It was my pleasure. I really enjoyed it.

 

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9 thoughts on “The ordeal of progressive Christianity in America

  1. Great interview.
    It is encouraging that more Christian Churches are accepting gay people.
    The tide is beginning to turn.
    Keep it moving towards tolerance and unconditional love..

  2. From John Shore’s Leaving Christianity is going viral:

    The idea of letting other people tell me, or in any way decide for me, who God is, or what the nature of God is, is … repelling to me.

    This is deliciously ambiguous. For example, can I lay claim to understanding something about God which John Shore is urged to respect? Or can he say “I have no need of you”, in violation of 1 Cor 12:12–31? I get that Shore doesn’t want me to entirely dictate to him everything about the nature of God; I’m on board with that. I think God has created every person to have at least a slightly different view of him, on purpose. But has Shore cut himself off from people he doesn’t like, in violation of Mt 5:43–48?

    Can John Shore admit that the fundamentalists have anything more correct than he does? If the answer is ‘no’, then he really is saying to them, “I have no need of you”. He is in danger of saying, “The world would be better off without you.” Of course, this can be pretended away by the plea that said people become progressive Christians, but we know that won’t happen for some fundamentalists. So, of those people, is his heart attitude truly, “The world would be better off without you.”?

    I affirm Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23 as true. I’m not sure that John Shore does.

  3. Interesting interview, Marc!

    I disagree with some of it; when you started discussing Mark Driscoll, I found it quite bizarre that you actually asked her “Could you sum up what you view as his worst sins?” It felt a bit like you were trying to press a point home and I don’t think that’s a particularly good thing to be doing.

      • Other than that, it was generally a decent interview. I don’t particularly like or identify with ‘progressive Christianity’ (not only because I dislike that phrase), just as much as I don’t identify with ‘conservative Christianity’ either, though I share a number of views with both groups. I do find it interesting that seemingly quite a large amount of Christian online debate, argument, discussion, seems to be based around these two groups – the conservative evangelicals and the ‘progressive’ movement. I’m not entirely sure how helpful that is because it does seem that you’re either part of one group or the other (and I feel part of neither, nor do I think anybody should be part of either). At the same time, I think both groups effectively react off each other and with that in mind, people generally will end up preferring one side to the other.

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