Progressive AND Evangelical: What’s in a Title?

Something to keep in mind when reading an article, interview, or blog post: authors and interviewees often don’t choose the title. In fact, they often don’t like the title!
That was the case with a piece I recently contributed to Premier Radio and a UK magazine called Christianity.
The title that was given to the article was, “Jesus Didn’t Treat the Scripture as Infallible; Nor Should We.” That’s not a title I would have chosen. I’ve been involved in religious dialogue long enough to know that misunderstanding is pretty common, so it’s important to avoid needless misunderstanding. That title, I think, invites misunderstanding for a number of reasons.
For example, the word “infallible” as used today is often a stand-in for “inerrant,” and both words fill a special function in modernist thought (i.e. though derived from the rational methodology of Rene Descartes). Since Jesus wasn’t a modernist and didn’t borrow his method from Descartes, it’s highly likely that even if he had used those words, he wouldn’t have had the same meanings in mind as modernist readers today would. But many contemporary religious readers won’t be aware of these nuances, and they’ll think the title means something that simply isn’t true: that I believe Jesus believed the Bible was errant or fallible.
When I abstain from using the terms inerrant and infallible, it’s not because I think the Scriptures fall short of those terms: it’s because I think they transcend those terms. I tried to explain this a bit in the article:

When I speak on the subject of infallibility, I often say that it was necessary in the modern era for an ultimate authority to claim that it is never wrong. Predictably, modern-era Protestants claimed an infallible Bible and Catholics claimed an infallible pope.
But in the postmodern era, claims of inerrancy and infallibility are a liability. In the aftermath of colonialism, environmental exploitation, the Holocaust, slavery, apartheid and other exploits of the last few centuries, we have seen where excessive confidence leads.
Conservative Protestants and Catholics mistakenly double down on infallibility or inerrancy – whether of the Bible or the Pope – because they fear that if they abandon absolute confidence they will be left with no confidence at all.

Along similar lines, I thought it was unfortunate that the editors set up the debate as “The Progressive” (represented by me) versus “The Evangelical” (represented by Andrew Wilson). The implication is that progressive and evangelical are mutually exclusive categories. I very much enjoyed getting to know Andrew, and I felt that although we differed in many important ways, we enjoyed and modeled brotherly respect and affinity … something that I would hope could be true of Evangelicals in general,with progressive and conservative Evangelicals holding tension and difference in respect and affinity.
If you want to see how this “progressive & evangelical” approach to the Bible works out in practice, check out We Make the Road by Walking, which is available as a book, an e-book, and an audio book.