Pete Buttigieg recently gave a very candid interview to Rolling Stone. In the interview, he opens up about his Christian faith, which can probably best be described as “progressive.” Often, Christians on the more progressive end of the spectrum are thought of as having low biblical fidelity, sometimes even rightfully so. Buttigieg responds to those who accuse progressive Christians of cherry picking the passages of scripture that suit their world view.
Well, I think for a lot of us — certainly for me — any encounter with Scripture includes some process of sorting out what connects you with the God versus what simply tells you about the morals of the times when it was written, right? For example, the proposition that you should execute your sister by stoning if she commits adultery. I don’t believe that that was right once upon a time, and then the New Testament came and it was gone. I believe it was always wrong, but it was considered right once, and that found its way into Scripture.
And to me that’s not so much cherry-picking as just being serious, because of course there’s so many things in Scripture that are inconsistent internally, and you’ve got to decide what sense to make of it. Jesus speaks so often in hyperbole and parable, in mysterious code, that in my experience, there’s simply no way that a literal understanding of Scripture can fit into the Bible that I find in my hands.
Though I don’t agree with Buttigeig on every position he takes, and wouldn’t label myself necessarily as a progressive Christian, I do understand what he is getting at in this statement. There are contradictions in scripture, and it requires some critical thinking, research and prayer as to what to make out of those contradictions. It is undeniably true that Jesus speaks in hyperbole and parable. In fact, he tells his disciples that his wisdom is exclusively imparted to others in the form of parable.
He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. (Mark 4:11, CEB)
From this statement, we can take away that the form of teaching that Jesus used requires discernment.
David French wrote a response to the Buttigieg interview where he takes the position that Buttigieg has a kind of faith that is unrecognizable to Evangelical Christians. Though I think the French piece presents some fair arguments that Buttigieg has a different kind of faith, I’m not sure all the points he makes completely land. For instance, he calls out Buttigieg for citing the above passage of Levitical law that a man should stone his sister for committing adultery and that Jesus specifically repudiated this law in his actions when a women is caught for adultery. When Buttigieg calls the Levitical law “wrong,” French makes the argument that no Evangelical Christian would ever say scripture is “wrong.” Isn’t that exactly what Jesus is saying when he urges another course of action? That it would be “wrong” to follow that law?
When Evangelicals encounter a tough passage, they may question its applicability, but they won’t question its authenticity or its morality.
I don’t doubt this is true, and I would shy away from questioning scripture myself. However, when Jesus does it, I think we are on safe ground. We are, after all, a Christocentric religion. Scripture serves Christ. Jesus uses scripture to teach and inform in different ways.
In the book of Matthew, in fact, Jesus also refutes earlier scripture in his teaching.
From the book of Exodus:
If there is further injury, then you will give a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a bruise for a bruise, a wound for a wound. (Exodus 21:23–25, CEB)
A a new way of being, promoted by Jesus:
You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38–42, CEB)
Jesus, again, is teaching something different than what his followers would have been familiar with, through scripture. It is part of a new covenant.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am quick to point out differences in types of Christians, especially within the last couple of years. However, I do believe there are still opportunities to take a step back and affirm our common beliefs.
French writes that ultimately, Jesus is king.
Or, to put it another way, at his or her best an Evangelical declares (to quote the esteemed theologian Kanye West), “Jesus is King,” and then seeks to follow what the King commands through the “God-breathed” scriptures that represent the final word and ultimate authority in any religious contest.
I don’t see where anything Buttigieg said in the interview contradicts this. In fact, it affirms that Jesus is the final authority on scripture.