Here it is:
Conservatives tend to be more inclined to think that being rooted in the Bible means agreeing with all of its conclusions.
Liberals tend to be more inclined to think that being rooted in the Bible means entering into and advancing the conversation to be found within the pages of the Bible.
Conservatives tend to want to conserve what they see as a divine monologue.
Liberals tend to want to go forward in what they see as a sacred dialogue.
Reading those words was a legitimate “a-ha” moment. It was the first time I could see into the mind of those on my theological left and actually understand how they got there.
Because here’s the truth: there is conversation within the pages of Scripture. It is hardly monolothic in its teaching or its approach. That’s why we at Good Shepherd call it a library and not a book and why we try to interpret it literarily and not literally or symbolically.
If the notion that the bible has conversation and development with itself surprises you, consider Jesus’ formula found throughout the Gospel of Matthew: “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you.” What was said was Mosaic law; what is said is Jesus’ re-invigoration of it.
And that’s just one example. My favorite is to have people read the book of Proverbs for one month and the book of Ecclesiastes the next.
One book promises that if you live correctly — that is, with wisdom — you will be blessed.
The other book promises nothing. All is vanity it says.
And they are written by the same author! Solomon. Only he writes Proverbs while in a place of emotional health and writes Ecclesiastes while in a state of deep and even clinical despair.
The fact that those two books are so different doesn’t make the bible less trustworthy; in my view, it makes it more inspired. Because I’ve lived Proverbs. And I’ve lived Ecclesiastes. And in both cases, the pages of Scripture brought clarity to my situation.
The seminal work on the diversity embedded within the texts of Scripture is John Goldingay’s Theological Diversity And The Authority Of The Old Testament.
So, according to Rev. Bradley, theological liberals see that conversation within Scripture and want the dialogue and evolution to continue into the present. That’s why they can move beyond biblical injunctions against homosexual behavior or even biblical proclamations about salvation only through Christ. For the first time, really, I get where they come from.
Does that mean I’m having a late-in-life theological conversion?
No. It means Heath Bradley gives a very good definition of the differences.
However, I have two additions to his characterization of theological conservatives: 1) as my words above show, many on the conservative side of things acknowledge and even celebrate the multiplicity of voices within the bible (I learned all this at Asbury after all); and 2) it serves us well on all sides of the theological spectrum to see not only where the bible has debate but also where it has consensus.
In those places and to the best of our interpretive ability, I believe, we can not only continue a sacred dialogue but submit to a divine monologue.
(You can read Rev. Bradley’s original post in its entirety here.)