One doesn’t have to look far to see that the culture wars between liberals and conservatives have infiltrated the Church. It is a sad thing when the mindset of those who are supposed to be the light of the world is distorted by the world they are supposed to illuminate. One of the biggest factors in this problem is a failure, not only to follow the guidance of the Bible, but to understand how the Bible is supposed to guide us. A wedge has been driven between the letter and the spirit. Liberals divorce the spirit from the letter; legalists do the opposite, and both derail from the Christian track and end up on opposite cultural trains.
The liberal problem is more obvious. The basic moral demands of the Christian life are clear in the teaching of Jesus and the letters of his apostles, but they can be difficult. Some people appeal to the “spirit” of the teaching as a way of evading the moral demands. When asked how they can so easily bypass the straightforward teachings of Jesus and Paul on the definition of marriage, for example, progressive-minded people will often respond that they are guided by the “spirit of love and inclusion” that Jesus embodied. Legalists, on the other hand, will double down on verses about sexual sin and evade the difficult burden of discerning the various appropriate ways the Christian message should be conveyed to struggling sinners or militant activists.
Progressives treat the Bible like a book of positive thoughts meant to give off good vibes, whose main purpose is to make people feel happy. Legalists treat the Bible like a police manual whose purpose is to lay down the law to make the boundary between rule keepers and rule breakers as clear as possible. Each side misses the fact that, at the core of the Christian life, at the core of the only true life, is the living person, Jesus. The Bible is the holy word of God because it is the series of texts through which we can hear from the living person who is The Word of God.1
In his Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis explains the point in his typically lucid way, suggesting that Jesus’ teaching in scripture “should demand a response from the whole person, should make it so clear that there is no question of learning a subject but of steeping ourselves in a Personality, acquiring a new outlook and temper, breathing a new atmosphere.”2
With this in mind, the most fundamental problem both with those who tell us that we have the liberty to redefine marriage because “love is love,” and those who use the Bible as a club to beat others into submission, is not that they don’t know what the Bible says but that they don’t know closely enough the One who says it.
Mike Mitchell holds an MA in theological studies from Asbury Seminary and a PhD in theology from Liverpool Hope University. He lives in the Mountain West with his wife and their five children. Mike also regularly writes for his Substack page at mitchell435.substack.com.