We would like to report that Evangelical Christians are always perfect in their handling of the word of God, but that is not always the case. Sometimes Scriptures are completely removed from their context. An idea loosely based on the Bible is, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Some will go so far as to quote Jeremiah 29:11 completely out of context: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Here is the context: Israel was in captivity at the time, and they were listening to false prophets who were lying to them about their imminent peace and restoration as a nation. Jeremiah, in contrast, told the Israelites to settle in and to understand they will be there until seventy years of their prophesied judgment is completed.
In Matthew 22:23 – 33, we read of a group of Jewish religious leaders, the Sadducees, whose theology informed their understanding of Scripture rather than allowing Scripture to shed real light on their faulty theology. “This Jewish group apparently based its doctrine on the Pentateuch alone”1
So, when appealing to what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, they attempted to trip Jesus up, formulating a hypothetical case of a woman that had married seven brothers, one at a time, from the eldest to the youngest as each one died. Sadducees were skeptics, who didn’t believe in the resurrection, which of course Jesus taught, so they used this question to make belief in the resurrection seem ridiculous. “At the resurrection,” they ask,“whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” Jesus turned their ploy back on them in Matthew 22:28 when He replied from the Pentateuch, Exodus 3:6, to do so:
Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Matthew 25:29-32 KJV)
“Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” Ignorance of the scriptures does seem to be a popular way of misusing – intentionally (cults for example) or unknowingly – the word of God even today. Many miss, as did the Sadducees, the importance of the main character and theme in the story, God and His power. Many people miss the true teachings in the Bible because of their natural bias against the supernatural. In their thinking, God cannot do things which they deem impossible.
In 1923, J. Gresham Machen’s book, Christianity and Liberalism was published. Liberals of that day were the progressives of Machen’s day. His criticism wasn’t that the Liberals of his era did not claim to be Christian or that they had overtly abandoned the Scriptures. They used the methodology of the Sadducees to deny what seems impossible in human eyes. They held a cynical view of Scripture and created a “theology” which placed their unbelief and their feelings squarely on top of Scripture, vehemently denying what their biased minds could not, therefore did not, believe. Machen describes the premise of his book:
Modern liberalism may be criticized (1) on the ground that it is un-Christian and (2) on the ground that it is unscientific. We shall concern ourselves here chiefly with the former line of criticism; we shall be interested in showing that despite the liberal use of traditional phraseology, modern liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally different class of religions.2
Many of the things Machen said in 1923 can be applied with equal validity to Progressives today. Like the Liberals in Machen’s day, Progressives do use “traditional phraseology” and may quote Scripture, but context is missing. Their understanding is guided by personal feeling and desire, not by the contextual intent of the word of God. In “Who’s More Political: Progressive or Conservative Christians?”3 George Yancy points out :
For progressive Christians, Jesus is primarily the model of inclusion and tolerance. For example, one progressive Christian drew a cartoon of Jesus saying, “The difference between me and you is you use Scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what Scripture means.” Progressive Christians focus on the actions and teachings of Jesus that reinforce their values of tolerance and inclusion, which they see as examples of love.