One of the great projects of progressive Christianity is to fix those parts of the Bible which run afoul of its own highly developed sense of morality. You know, the moral code over there in the corner, waiting in quivering anticipation to strain out some microagressive gnats and swallow a handful of black-market baby parts. In this noble project, Jesus is often called in to help—at least, a big sieve with "Jesus" written on the handle, perfect for straining out all of the retributive violence and penal substitution from the text.
One of the ways you see this kind of thing in operation more and more is actually a fairly old method. Let's call it the "Bible Code" strategy for rehabilitating the Scriptures. Today I hope to teach you that laughter is the best strategy for dealing with these kinds of things.
We should probably begin with some definitions. Bible Coders are usually interested in figuring out how to make the Bible say almost anything other than what it says in the words. You used to see these Bible Code hawkers on The History Channel, where a guy with a doctoral degree in Ancient Alien Studies would explain how the book of Isaiah is really a set of elaborately concealed instructions for finding the Ark of the Covenant onboard Noah's ark (the trick is to look under a loose board in the primate enclosure). Having stopped watching The History Channel shortly after my first exposure to this form of historical studies, I couldn't tell you if this is still a thing.
Another pretty reliable place to search for some good examples of this sort of thing would be the shelves of the Christian bookstore. You just have to look for books in the "Christian Living" section with titles like Solomon's Secrets: How You, Too, Could Pull Down 700 Talents a Year. But these aren't the ones I'm thinking of right now. I'm talking about the Bible Code preached on Sunday mornings by Warby-Parker-bespectacled pastors in churches whose websites feature the word "inclusive" and whose statement of faith is written in haiku.
A few months ago, I stumbled across one of these "pastors" and his "sermon" on Romans 1. Now, if I could paraphrase for you, one of Paul's points in that chapter is that if God were to decide to just abandon a culture—to totally give them over to their wicked desires—one of the results might be something as appalling as the normalization of lesbian sex. It's rather frank. If I could sum up this "pastor's" response to Paul's argument, it might be something like this:
"Well, now this certainly looks pretty bad on the surface. But if you just get three PhD's in ancient near-Eastern face painting, strike yourself firmly in the parietal lobe with the nearest sturdy object, run the text through a key cipher set to the lyrics of Prince's 'Purple Rain,' and hold the page up to the light of the fourth full moon after Ramadan, Romans 1 *actually* says that you can marry a thrice-divorced, transgender crocodile. I mean, it's all right there in the Greek if you're not blinded by hatred and bigotry."
Right. And if you look really close, you'll find that the text is quite elastic, capable of bending into whatever moral shape you'd like that day.
Does my reductio ad absurdum offend you? "Gasp! He would mock an LGBTQ affirming hermeneutic like that? Too far." Maybe so. But think about how offended God is when men purporting to be pastors and shepherds and teachers mock his Scriptures by forcing them at gunpoint to call evil good? In fact, this kind of cultural capitulation in Jesus' name is worse than merely calling evil good—because it puts those blasphemous words in the mouth of God. And yet people are more likely to be offended by satirical mockery of that blasphemy than by the blasphemy itself!
The principle to keep in mind is this: God will not be mocked. He will, however, do the mocking. When the nations rage and the peoples plot to overrun his throne with creative corruptions; when the political kings and kingmakers take counsel together against God's Christ, "He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision." And so should we. Rather than hand-wringing and endless asterisking, we might try laughing at these so-called teachers and their nouveau Bible Code. Because if there's one thing the ivory tower can't stand, it's being laughed at. This is unfortunate, as they are so completely ridiculous.
So friends, when you see the newest book on sale telling us how the Bible has changed its mind on the very thing our culture has conveniently decided to throw a tantrum about today, go ahead. Chuckle.