Explaining Progressive Christianity (Otherwise Known as “Christianity”)


This past weekend as part of a church conference, I sat on a panel discussion on “Progressive Christianity”.

The host’s first request of the panelists was to describe what Progressive Christianity meant to them. My new friend, the Reverend Vince Anderson took the mic and said, “Let’s be clear: Progressive Christianity is just Christianity. We are Christians—and we are progressing in our knowledge and understanding.”

We could have stopped there.

This is the heart of what it should mean to be a Christian of any designation; the desire to continue to move and grow and learn and change, even if those things place us in opposition to the person we once were or the beliefs we once held firmly or the testimony we once gave. As we move through space and time, our faith should be in continual evolution. We should always look back at the previous version of ourselves and realize how much we didn’t know then. We should be able to see how far we’ve come in matters of spirituality.

Progressive Christianity is about not apologizing for what we become as we live this life and openly engage the faith we grew-up with. There are no sacred cows, only the relentless, sacred search for Truth. Tradition, dogma, and doctrine are all fair game, because all pass through the hands of flawed humanity, and as such are all equally vulnerable to the prejudices, fears, and biases of those it touched.

It’s fashionable for more Conservative folk to dismiss Progressive Christianity as some cheap imitation version of the Christian faith; a watered down religion of convenience practiced by people who found “real Christianity” too difficult or demanding. 

Progressive Christians know the truth of our story, and so these lazy caricatures are of little concern.
We know the authenticity of our faith.
We know the depth of our study.
We know the sincerity of our prayers.
We know the road we’ve traveled—and we’re grateful for it and proud of it.

The truth is that Progressive Christianity is so diverse that it simply cannot be neatly defined or summarized, but here are some things that most who claim the label probably agree on:

We believe that a God who is eternal, isn’t land locked to a 6,000 year-old collection of writings, unable to speak in real-time to those who seek. Revelation can come within and independent of the Bible.

We believe that God isn’t threatened or angered by our questions, our doubts, or our vacillation born out of authentic pursuit, even when those things are labeled heretical by other people. God is more secure than they are in who God is.

We believe that Christian tradition is embedded with thousands of years of misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia, and that our task as Christians in these days is to remove those cumbersome layers and uncover the very essence of what it meant to follow Jesus.

We believe that in the Scriptural command to “watch one’s life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim 4:16), the former is as important as the latter; that faith isn’t only about what you believe, it’s about whether or not your life reflects what you profess to believe.

We believe that social justice is the heart of the Gospel, that it was the central work of Jesus as evidenced in his life and teachings; the checking of power, the healing of wounds, the care for the poor, the lifting of the marginalized, the feeding of the hungry, the making of peace.

But what is as notable as what Progressive Christians agree on—is all that we do not.

We differ widely with regard to the inerrancy of Scripture, the existence of Hell, intercessory prayer, salvation by atonement, abortion, the death penalty, and gun control. 

There is no party line to tow. We don’t all identify as Democrats or pacifists or socialists. We identify simply as followers of Jesus; carefully, thoughtfully, seriously seeking to understand more today than we did yesterday, and to live lives that as best we can discern, resemble Christ’s.

Progressive Christianity is not the path of least resistance, but often the road of greatest turbulence. It places us in the decided minority in the larger Church. It creates conflict in our families and faith communities. It costs us friends and ministries and holidays with loved ones. It brings silence and shunning and separation from those we once were welcomed by. It makes us feel like strangers and orphans in the religion we used to call home.

But these things are the worthy tax on living a fully authentic faith; one where we are confident that all that is not God will fall away as we walk. We are on a continual pilgrimage toward what it looks like to perpetuate Jesus, and we don’t distinguish our road from that of Christians who may be more Conservative or more secure in orthodoxy. It is the same road.

We are all Christians moving.
We are all Christians listening.
We are all Christians learning.
We are all Christians believing.

We are all Christians progressing.


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110 thoughts on “Explaining Progressive Christianity (Otherwise Known as “Christianity”)

  1. Absolutely true. I belong to a very conservative denomination (Seventh Day Adventist)…I was a convert and found the theology of the SDA made much more sense to me than that of other denominations. Some of my friends grew up in the denonmination and I marvel at how much their beliefs have changed despite a legalistic upbringing in the faith. My denomination remains conservative in nature but is far more open to allowing each person to answer to God rather than to the church. When we stop thinking about what we believe and why we believe it then our faith is dead. May we all continue to progress to a closer bond with our Saviour and show it in our day to day lives.

  2. Pingback: Explaining Progressive Christianity (Otherwise Known as “Christianity”) — john pavlovitz | survivor road

  3. Thank you, John

    I am a person who has resisted taking on the label of “Progressive Christian” for a very long time. However, the more I read what progressive Christians write, it looks to me as if people are rediscovering the faith experience of the earliest Christians as best as I can glean from the writings of progressives and the writings of the early church with which I am enamored.

    While the canon of Scripture may be closed, God’s revelation to us has not ceased. That is what the indwelling of the Holy Sprit has been about. God has inspired many an author, hymnist, composer to reveal who God is to us.

    The early church’s definition fo orthodoxy was very simple: love God with every fiber of their being; love their neighbor as ourselves and their neighbor was eveyone they laid their eyes on. The writings of the early Christians are also crystal clear that no one was ever to be in need. Christians were to share what they had with others less fortunate so that everyone had enough.

    It is also clear from read the writings of the early Christians that they did not take literally that which had been meant figuratively. This is something that is almost impossible for us to grasp as the way we embrace the noetic is so very different.

    We could all do with imitating the early Christians if we embraced their concept of social justice. That would make us all progressive Christians even if we didn’t change any aspect of our personal theology.


    • Amen, Gloriamarie. I love reading your responses! You have such a beautiful gift with words. Thank you for sharing with us.

      • Thank you, Kimberlee, for that wonderful compliment. I have a blog . had it for a while but after reading John’s 10 Cs of Blogging, I have become faithful at it. Anyone who reads it will clearly see that I don’t know what I am doing and some posts have an unreadable format. Nor do I know how to add pictures, To computer is an arcane gnosis the mysteries of which have yet to be vouchsafed unto me.

        I have two subjects on which I blog. One is the Sayings of the Desert Christians. I post one of the Sayings and offer a reflection.

        The other thing I am blogging about is the Rule of St. Benedict. I post the daily reading and offer some thoughts.

        Another place where these are offered, along with some other stuff is my FB group, Celebrate What Christians Have in Common. Sometimes the comments on John’s blog become acrimonious and I do not allow that.

        My blog: https://knitternun.wordpress.com/

    • Are adultery, drunkenness and homosexual acts still sins in progressive Christianity?

      It seems to me that the progress is towards making friends with the world and letting beliefs be influenced by the whims of a coarsening culture.



        As usual, Benny tries to get us off-topic by raising issues that have absolutely nothing to do with what John is talking about.

        • I don’t think so. “Progressive Christianity” from my perspective means “Permissive Christianity.”

          Answer the question please.

        • The connection seems pretty obvious — his question is aimed at seeing if you believe the Bible even when it conflicts with (progressive) culture.

          If not, then you do not worship the same God we do, because we worship the God of the Bible. There is no point pretending we are all one big happy family if you reject (or “reinterpret” or whatever word you’d prefer) one of the foundations of our faith.

          • Nope, the connection is not obvious except to those who do not read John P attentively.

            Besides, this is Benny’s MO, he consistently introduces red herrings as a troll does.

            When he wants to discuss what John actually writes about, then I will engage him. But as long as he continues to choose to be a troll, I have nothing to say to him.

            It’s a pity men have such problems allowing a woman to protect herself from abuse.

            • “Nope, the connection is not obvious …”
              Happy to clear it up for you. I don’t suppose that means you will answer now?

              “It’s a pity men have such problems allowing a woman to protect herself from abuse.”
              I legitimately have no idea what you are talking about here.

              • So, I needed a man tp”clear it up” for me, did I? How condescending and patronizing.

                And very clearly, since you obviously did not bother to actually read what I wrote, you too must be here to tear up John’s posts.

                ““It’s a pity men have such problems allowing a woman to protect herself from abuse.”
                I legitimately have no idea what you are talking about here.”

                Please drop the unbecoming disingenuous nature with which you write. As you cannot understand that a troll is an abusive person, you too must be a troll.

                Please read

                The One Psychological Characteristic That Online Trolls Tend to Share
                Science points to a certain vile tendency.


                • I … honestly don’t even know where to start. No one has even vaguely mentioned gender, how on earth do you think that is relevant?

                  You thought the original question was a red herring, so I explained the connection to the post. I am not sure where your anger or accusations are coming from, but if you are not interested in discussing the question, that’s fine, I will bow out.

          • we believe in the good news of Jesus. Jesus is the Word, the Logos. The Bible is a library of Jewish and 100 years of christian thought. we can’t be so bound to those beloved and useful texts that we miss what God speaks and calls us to today.

          • I don’t know about anyone else here, but I do not worship the god of the bible, I worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Creator, ABBA. The bible is not the word, nor was it in existence from before creation. If you worship the god of a book written by man; you worship the wrong god, because in all truthfulness, if you worship the god of a book; you are not worshiping god, but worshiping that book

            • Daniel – astute observation with which I agree. Christian fundamentalism (in its contemporary meaning) is a fear-based idolatry, for the very reasons you have given. Fundamentalists like to think they are the guardians of Christian orthodoxy. They are no such thing. In the sense of fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus it is now the so-called progressives who hold to orthodoxy. Christianity must always progress – but it needs must be a progression backwards – to the original spirit and intention of Jesus.

          • You worship your interpretation of the Bible. You prefer to judge people and live a life that lacks love and thus lacks Jesus.

      • benny — good question.

        The esteemed (Progressive) Bishop John Spong* teaches:
        –‘the concept/story of sin is a myth.’
        –‘there is no objective standard (i.e.,scripture) that can govern ethical (moral) behavior.

        John P says that ‘revelation sometimes comes from outside the bible’, so it is possible that new revelations will be given to the Progressives re adultery & drunkeness (they’ve already had a revelation on same sex- relations).

        *Episcopal Church /Bishop Spong’s writings are recommended reading at John Ps Church.
        http://www.northraleighcommunitychurch.org (see Resources).

        • There seems to be no point of reference in progressive christianity. The bible is “man made” and therefore influenced by bigotry, misogyny, homophoyny, and god knows what else. Therefore anything goes.. Any disorderd behavior can be justified. The only absolute seems to be that those evangelicals are really screwed up people.

          Is it just me that this site seems to be very unstable? It often crashes my chromebook.

      • Hi Benny. I think what John is trying to say is that we are, as “progressive Christians”, trying to get to the heart of what God + Jesus are saying through scripture, and not to use scripture to justify things. Our goal, as Christians, should be to love and show love to people regardless of their behavior or lifestyle, and I believe that is possible without passing judgement or condoning anything. If our goal is correction, we have missed what Jesus has come to teach us. If our goal is love and relationship, “correction” will come, and from its proper place – love.

        I think we all need to be very careful when we make assumptions about others. If you truly feel that progress is conformity instead of existing in the tension of the world while searching for understanding, then please ask.

        I think we also need to leave room to have our staunch beliefs challenged on our search for truth, otherwise, we run the risk of becoming exactly like the Pharisees.

    • Robert Crystal, have you ever read the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, which I prefer to call Sayings of the Desert Christians because women are represented in the collection? But the Greek says “fathers” so thus it must be translated. If you have not, I recommend the translations by Sr Benedicta Ward.

  4. Hmm. I’m wondering if I might be considered a progressive Christian. (Weird how that was hard to write). Nah, probably not. I’m not much of a follower. Think I’d rather just live by Jesus’s example and teachings (which are prominent in many figures and philosophies) than see Him as something to worship, if that makes any sense. Oh well, almost had me there.

    • Well I don’t worship Jesus even though I see him as the Son of God. Jesus said the true worshippers worship the Father.

      The word worship in Greek also simply means to kneel to someone or give reverence and does not necessarily mean to worship a deity. That said, I have a deep, holy reverence, love, and gratitude for Jesus which impels me to follow him the best I can.

      • Thanks for clarifiying. In all honesty I have a deep reverence, love and gratitude for many things, all gifts from God in my eyes. And I am in total agreement with everything Jesus represents but have trouble with certain aspects of the story as it is told. I don’t know why it should matter who we think he is or where he came from. Aren’t we all the sons and daughters of God?

        • Carmen it is important to recognize where Jesus came from and who he is as that is the foundation for Christianity as well as the means for salvation. John 17:3; Romans 6:23; Phillippians 2:11; Colossians 2:8 and so many more scriptures. I think sometimes people get wrapped up in how they themselves feel and realize that it isn’t about them. Without recognizing the major role Jesus plays in the eventual fulfillment of God, his father’s purpose is a superficial faith that goes no deeper than that we should “love” people. Love was important but that wasn’t the theme of Jesus’ ministry.

          • What is the theme, the higher purpose if not love? And by love I mean that divine essence that propels everything in the universe in the direction of life, truth and all that is good. Well maybe that’s a little vague. I just see love and God as one and the same, so not sure I follow you.

            • Actually when you read the gospel Jesus spoke frequently about God’s Kingdom. As a matter of fact when Jesus taught his disciples to pray the second thing his instructed them to pray for was for his Father’s Kingdom to come. The first being the sanctification of his Father’s name.

              In as we continue in our continued study of the Bible we notice that God’s kingdom is the theme throughout because it is the solution to all of our problems and the ultimate expression of the Love that God has for us.

              • So you’re saying our highest purpose is to worship God. And the ultimate goal is to build his kingdom. What, exactly, does that mean? These statements are empty because NO ONE can agree on how to do these things. Is it caring for one another and his creation? Enjoying our gifts to the fullest, reaching our own potential? Memorizing scripture or singing praise? Everyone feels compelled to act in their own way, it is undeniable. We should be and do where we feel most connected to God, where we are most inspired. Personally, I experience all the love and joy out in the world with people, in nature, climbing a mountain, hearing a symphony. I’ve yet to find God in the Bible. His presence, his guidance have always been right with me, as we love and explore this life together.

    • Carmen – Jesus never commanded that we worship him. He invited us to follow him. Healing and restoration flow from love. That is what he was all about. God is love and we enter into true communion with him through brokenness, not through self-righteous legalism. This is what the cross is about. Not sure why I wrote that – just felt to share it.

      • Don’t know about Carmen, but I’m enjoying your words, Ray.

        If you do Facebook, I’d like to connect with you there. Us “progressives” need each other.

  5. Thank you so much, John. As a Latter-Day Saint (Mormon), this reflects so well what I believe – we are all on the road to find out. And we are all here to help one another.

  6. I am sorry you lost me Here “We believe that a God who is eternal, isn’t land locked to a 6,000 year-old collection of writings, unable to speak in real-time to those who seek. Revelation can come within and independent of the Bible.”

    Without belief in the Bible you are just a person on a spiritual journey that has picked and choose what he liked about Christianity. You are not similar to the first century Christians as their goals was to follow the example of Christ. I agree that a lot of dogma can be found in a lot of churches that claim to be Christian but alot of those traditions were never found in the bible or were acceptable to God but were instead adopted by churches and slapped with a “Christian” label (*cough* Christmas *cough*). As long as you are not ad hearing to the basic Bible laws and principles you are just the same kind of church/faith/whatever makes you feel good religion with just a different lable.

    • Jaz, I think you misunderstood John. He isn’t saying he doesn’t believe in the Bible. He is saying that the Bible is not the only source of revelation. Indeed, the Bible itself says this. Rom 1:20.

      Other sources of God’s self-revelation are the writings of Christian authors, hymnists, composers, artists, I could go on and on.

      • Rom 1:20 says the following(talking about God): ” For his invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship, so that they are inexcusable. ”

        The I am not sure where in the Bible it says that scripture outside of the Bible is inspired by God. While I feel that we can gain insight from discussing with others topics that are Bible based the Bible remains the foundation of Christian beliefs. More specifically the teachings of Jesus Christ hence where we get the term Christianity.

        Also seeing as how the Bible is inspired by God regardless of what timeframe we are in the laws and principles serve as a benefit to us. While humans change the Bible is quite clear on God Malachi 3:6.

        Granted we are no longer as Christians under the Mosaic Law code (sacrifices/stoning/restrictions on foods) we can still learn something from that law. Jesus himself was a Jew and upheld the Law. However he critized the religious leaders of his time for their lack of understanding the underlying basis of the law.

        • Jaz. thank you so much for that beautiful scripture. One of my favorites, that takes my breath away every time i read it. Because it proves there is a way out for everyone! God’s Creation is proof that He exists. And He is to be worshipped & thanked for it.

          • Yes that is one of my favorite scriptures as well! It is a reminder that we see proof of his existence all around us in the earth even in how we as humans are awesomely made. We have the capacity to learn and grow in so many ways and yet God has given us a guide in our journey to make sure we make good decisions that are pleasing to him and that benefit our family.

            I am truly grateful to him for allowing me to find and continue to get to know and develop a relationship with him. He is awesome!

        • Well, Jaz, I don’t know what translations of the NY you use, but the koine word in the passage is usually translated as “revealed” so I kind think you have a version that was translated with an agenda.

          I don’t see how we can have a discussion when we can’t agree on something as basic as what Rom 1: 20 says.

          Nature is an on-going revelation fo the glory and majesty of God. It’s really a shame we humans have mucked up nature and the climate so rather than revealing the power and God’s deity, it is now a testament to the greed and selfishness of humanity.

          • Gloriamaria I want to first let you know that I am not trying to argue with you on your translation as I’ve used a number of different translations and have found the one that I use as my primary is very clear in the language that I speak (modern English) without taking away from the meaning of the scriptures.

            When you look up the original Greek word “νοούμενα” it is usually translated as “being perceived.” Additionally when you look at the context of the surrounding scriptures the Apostle Paul (writer of Romans) was pointing out that “wise” persons of that time were not glorifying God even though it was evident that he existed in creation.
            Instead they turned to worshiping the “creation” or as the scripture says : “the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the image of corruptible man and birds and four-footed creatures and reptiles.”

            • My name is not Gloriamaria. But I think you for not shortening it.

              You wrote “the one that I use as my primary is very clear in the language that I speak (modern English) without taking away from the meaning of the scriptures.”

              Actually, and I am very sorry to say this, if it mistranslates the koine, the original language, then I am very much afraid it does indeed take “away from the meaning of the scriptures.”

              Sadly, again, I must contradict you. “νοούμενα” does not translate that way. It means “by what has been made.”

              The wooden but pedantically faithful to the koine NASB (except with gender inclusive verses) translates Rom 1:20 as”20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

              All the commentators I have ever read, clearly state that ” have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” means that God reveals himself through nature. Why not? God created it after all.

              I disagree with your interpretation. They were without excuse for recognizing God’s self-revelation in His Creation. It is this failure which led to the consequences.

          • Gloria, after reading your original response to me again I realized that we are in agreement in looking at creation as a testament to God’s glory. I think where we are in disagreement is when we look at human revelation outside of the Bible as revelation from God. When we start doing this we fall into the same problems as the current “churches” find themselves in “going beyond” the things taught in the scriptures.

            • When someone fails to pay enough attention to something as simple as a name, it communicates a disrespect for the person addressed so discourteously. If a conversation is not based on mutual courtesy and mutual respect, there is no point in having any conversation.

    • “Basic Bible laws?” That would be: Not wearing poly/wool suits? Stoning adulterers? Encouraging hubby to sleep with our slave? Owning a slave? Giving our daughters to male visitors for visitors’ pleasure? Only the male spouse is “head of the household?” There are lots of “laws” and plenty of “principles” in the many translations of the Bible. And it’s possible to obey nearly every one – and still not follow Jesus, churched or not.

      • I’m sorry I should have been more specific when I spoke of laws and principles. I am speaking about the laws and principles that we as Christians must follow. Also let me just comments on a few things you mentioned:

        “Not wearing poly/wool suits” – This was part of the Mosaic Law code which we are Christians are not under we do not follow the Jewish faith.

        “Stoning adulterers” – Mosaic Law again even though Jesus did tell us that adultery starts with our thinking. Matt 5:28

        “Encouraging hubby to sleep with our slave” – This was not a law but part of the history of imperfect people where having more than one wife was allowed
        “Owning a slave” – once again part of history that was governed. People sold themselves into slavery and there were laws that governed this practice. Additionally this was also part of the Mosaic Law where we are Christians are not help under.
        “Giving our daughters to male visitors for visitors’ pleasure” – this is not a law but once again part of the history of imperfect people that served God.

        “Only the male spouse is “head of the household” – This as Christians is something that while difficult doesn’t put the female counterpart wife in an inferior position. We all have a role to play in a marriage. Just because we may not like it does not invalidate principle. Some people may say “my husband makes terrible decisions…etc.” While this may be true maybe prior to marrying this person a women needs to ask herself “can I follow this man’s lead, or can I support and respect the decisions he makes that have an impact on the house”
        I consider my husband as the head of the household or final say however he respects my input and defers to my ideas as well. We both respect this principle which while difficult (mainly for me at times) has helped us to have a very happy marriage for these short 8 years.
        Any laws and principles given (for Christians) are only for our benefit.

        • I’m always surprised when people think that if something is in the Bible, then that means God condones it. [When it is just there to show Man’s depravity. ]

          All the MORE reason to surrender to Jesus, and the sooner the better!

    • The inerrancy of the Bible is foundational as our witness to who is our God. To say that it doesn’t address the situations we encounter in modern times lays the groundwork for limiting His omniscience–that He could not inspire writings that addressed all of our experiences. Furthermore, and more importantly, it says that His character changes. What He once said was good and right, He no longer upholds. So, again, the groundwork is laid to declare His character to be unreliable. While I agree with so-called progressives’ interpretation of social justice from the Bible, this is not a new revelation. It’s been in the Bible all along, something the so-called Christian right has ignored. It seems to me that God is looking down on both”sides” and declaring that mankind has missed the point one more time.
      Nevertheless, God will not contradict Himself by giving new revelation that does not agree with former declarations made by Him in previous times.
      Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them. Hebrews 13:8‭-‬9 NLT

      God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie.Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. Hebrews 6:17-18

      • There are many, many problems with biblical inerrancy, and just one of them, perhaps the most fundamental one, is that acting as though the Bible is inerrant is actually a kind of interpretation of the Bible itself – even though it’s progressive Christians that get fingered for biblical interpretation.

        Further, some human beings decided which books made it into the Bible, and there are a number of really amazing books that didn’t make it into the New Testament that have as much archeological, historical, and linguistic evidence that they are as authentic as the ones that made it in. And if you read *any* of those, you get an entirely different picture of what Jesus was about – a picture that aligns much more closely with what Progressive Christians talk about than fundamentalists that claim the Bible is inerrant.

        A great example of how biblical inerrancy gets you into trouble is the problem with the two different creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2. I have yet to hear an explanation by someone who holds the Bible as inerrant that isn’t an incredible twisty kind of interpretation. And once you go down the path of realizing that the Bible actually *can’t* be read as if it is inerrant, you have no choice but to keep going.

        And I won’t even bother to go into detail on the issue of hell, which, if you really read the Bible carefully, not only doesn’t seem to exist, but if you stretch it, the reference to who goes there are actually hypocritical believers, not unbelievers.

  7. Amen to this, John. This brought tears to my eyes, both for what I have lost and what I have found.

    And the journey’s not over…

    • Ken, blessings to you on your journey. Mine is not over yet either. I feel kinda sorry for those who settled for less than God offers them. Maybe they do it out of fear, or what, but they have settled and that saddens me.

      • Very true. I think it’s usually fear. Fear of being “wrong”. Fear of what other’s will think. Fear of loosing. Fear of freedom.

        There was a little of all of those at times in my own journey. Now, I’ve let go of fear. I KNOW I’ll never be “right” in my beliefs, and that’s OK, because it’s not up to ME to figure out how to “get saved”. Got did the saving part ALREADY. All He wants from me is my heart (relationship). All the rest of life and godliness springs from that foundation.

        • Fear is the mind killer, after all.

          I rejoice that you have found this place on your journey. It’s a liberating place to be, don’t you agree?

  8. As always, I come away from reading your post with something to chew over, that will leave me feeling fed. Thank you! 🙂

    One comment you make that I don’t 100% agree with is “We believe that social justice is the heart of the Gospel, that it was the central work of Jesus as evidenced in his life and teachings; the checking of power, the healing of wounds, the care for the poor, the lifting of the marginalized, the feeding of the hungry, the making of peace.”

    While I agree that this is *somewhat* true, in that practical acts of love were clearly a priority for Jesus, when you refer to it as THE heart of the Gospel you’re at risk of suggesting that good works are all we need to earn God’s approval. Both OT and NT make it very clear that this is not the case.

    So … what is really “the heart of the Gospel”? I think it’s the good news that we can be in close relationship with God. For many, living out that relationship will involve acts of social service … but for some it may involve more in the way of prayer, contemplation or study. I think it would be a pity and a mistake to discount the value of such. Of course we should all try to do both, but it’s a spectrum, with the silent contemplative at one end and the queen of the soup kitchen at the other, and God inhabits the full span. That’s what I think, anyway… 🙂

  9. John is right when he says that Progressive Christianity is so diverse that it simply cannot be neatly defined or summarized. I was reintroduced to it in 2014 and found an article about a project designed to promote awareness and understanding about the various types of people who classify themselves as “Progressive Christians” and participate in “Progressive Christian” communities. He described one group of Progressive Christians as Very Theologically Progressive (VTP) – something that I can relate to:
    “You may be in this group if you think everything in the Bible is up for considerable interpretation. For example, you may think the Bible is errant and fallible. You may not be willing to say Jesus was the “son of God” without a significant reframing explanation. And you may not require a virgin birth or resurrection as part of your theology. But you maintain that Christianity is a path and tradition of value.
    This group should understand that their views may be unrecognizable by others who call themselves progressives. Other groupings should realize that these views are a likely evolution of progressive ideas, although they may be tempted to want to exclude this group from the title of Christianity”.

    But I walked away from an Anglican church in the UK in the early 1970’s when I couldn’t get answers to some of my questions and in one sense I suppose I have been on a wilderness journey ever since.

    To get what seems to me to be a good summing up of Progressive Christianity you can see the other labels here:

    • Haha. I guess I’m in THAT group, then.

      I don’t hold to any of my current beliefs dogmatically. I don’t NEED them to be true, but they work for me. However, they could change, and that’s OK. It’s not about what I believe, but what GOD believes about me, and nothing I do will change that (as the cross proved).

      I don’t need Jesus to be “deity”, though I do think He is.

      I don’t need a “virgin birth”, though I still think there probably was one (to fulfill prophecy).

      I don’t need a physical resurrection (since the Spirit arose in our hearts), but I still believe there was one.

      In other words, I LOVE theology, but I don’t REQUIRE certain doctrines to be true to still live the “aionios life” that Jesus showed us.

  10. I needed this so much. I read this, and I felt suddenly so… free. Like all of the worries I’ve had, especially in the past few years, about being a “bad” Christian, have been erased. Faith is constantly evolving. I feel my faith is stronger than ever. But my weariness with the dogma of conservative Christianity, some of which I find so unbelievably HATEFUL and counter to Christ’s teachings, has often set me on the brink of leaving the Church altogether. I don’t want my faith to be built on cheap grace. At the same time, I refuse to believe that God, who loves us with an unconditional love we can’t even fathom, would want me to feel as wretchedly as I sometimes do about myself, when “We all fall short…” feels more like a rebuke than a reassurance. Thank you for stating this in such a way that it makes sense to me, that it finally gives me the permission I’ve been seeking to GROW in my faith, not to shrink to fit within the confines of any particular doctrine.

    • Brea, you wrote “Thank you for stating this in such a way that it makes sense to me, that it finally gives me the permission I’ve been seeking to GROW in my faith, not to shrink to fit within the confines of any particular doctrine.”

      Yes, we all need that. A lot of what passes for “doctrine” in some of our churches has little to do with the Gospel, nor is it rooted in the historical faith. It’s as if people think Christianity only came into being with Calvin etc. with forms of Christianity that requires us to leave our brains behind.

      I deeply rejoice in Anglicanism, rooted in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.


    I only wish that there were a corporate group to worship with in my area. For now we are worshipping together as a couple with an online worship service. And our ministry is to help feed the poor in our town. Our son and his family help with that along with some of his coworkers. We live in a very right wing evangelical red (you name it) town and state.

    • Rosemarie, bless you and your family and your son’s co-workers for your ministry to feed the poor. Thank you for being your faithful bit of the Body of Christ.

  12. Great piece, John. Loved the bit near the beginning about God not being tied to the Bible. “I have so much more to tell you, but you can not bear it now” – John 16:12

  13. Speaking as someone who has read your blog for a while and often find myself agreeing with your posts, here is my take:

    First, perhaps this was unintentional, but to say that the heart of Christianity is to “move and grow and learn and change” sounds too inwardly focused. True faith should be outwardly focused, i.e. serving our neighbors and God. Growth is a result of faith rather than the heart of it.

    Second, I’m not sure what you mean about all sacred cows being fair game. If you mean that all aspects of faith are open for discussion and questioning, then I agree. However, I do believe that there are sacred aspects of the faith – that is, while questioning is healthy, at some point one’s conclusions on these questions can result in a faith that is no longer Christianity. Where that line lies is open for debate, but I believe that the line does exist.

    Third, like Belladonna said earlier, I disagree with the notion that social justice is the heart of the Bible or Jesus’s message. Social justice is one of the fruits of faith, but the heart of scripture is to proclaim that God is holy, he loves us, walked among us, and died for us. And even though evangelism gets a bad name, that’s a big part of it, too.

    Finally, while many Progressive Christians can and do remain dedicated to their faith, there is a tendency for that faith to become less of a focal point in their lives. Attendance at Progressive churches has declined along with conservative churches, and while conservatives who reject church create their own private means of worshipping (house churches or Bible studies, for example) progressives are less likely to seek out ways of worshipping together, which would help heal and alleviate many of the personal and social challenges they experience.

    • I was very involved with the emerging / emergent / house church movements around 2005 on.
      I understand something of where you are coming from and the dangers you see in a faith that is no longer Christian. I find part of the answer in what I see as an enormous difference between the Christian RELIGION (or CHRISTENDOM) and the Christian FAITH.

      Like you I disagree with the notion that social justice is the heart of the Bible or Jesus’s message. Very hard to explain in a few words – but I seriously suggest that some of the foundations of the Christian faith are misguided – especially some of the Evangelicalism that leads to a faith based on FEAR, GUILT and SHAME.

    • I find that, for the most part, Progressive Christians don’t always require groups for worship, but feel stronger in their personal relationships with God and Jesus (both respectively and unified) than do most Conservative Christians. Their strength seems to come more from social acceptance than a true, personal relationship. This is not to imply, by ANY means, that you require this. It is merely to observe why there seem to be more groups for Conservative Christians than Progressive Christians.

  14. Thank you for this. As a “liberal” I have struggled to reconcile my faith with the political options we have. Your words always inspire and lift my spirit. May God continue to bless your work. You are ministering to more souls than you know ????????????

  15. I like this train of thought, since it leaves room for personal growth, individuality, creativity,…things we as human beings need in our faith lives in order to have a healthy mental state.

    I’ve tried very hard in the past to fit in the box that is conservative and regulated Christianity and it drove me to my edge even to the point of suicidal thoughts.

    Blogs like these and people that I can relate with much more made life live-able again for me.

    Thank you John, your writings have been part of that process along the way.

    At times I’ll still struggle with questions, for example the older generations love to condemn us with visions and “words of wisdom” making “us” out to be liars and wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    From a humble point of view I want to give such “divine revelation” the benefit of the doubt…but then at the same time, it clashes with the new historical and scriptural findings lately.

    How I can balance the two remains an ongoing process…but I can say this=> My life is worth living again after leaving certain dogma’s behind.

  16. I’m on a spiritual journey away from 20 plus years of hard core, fundamentalist Christianity. My wife and I have moved far enough away that it is difficult to make strong connections in our church. I am encouraged by John’s blog and The Christian Left. It is nice to know I’m not alone. However, there is a form of intolerance on this side of the fence as well. Seeing obnoxious accusations of “troll” or “red herring” against anyone with questions about the core ideas of progressive Christianity will do nothing to draw those looking for a different path. Is there some declaration of orthodoxy that I missed? Are there classes I can take? Am I just as unwelcome here as I am there because I don’t quite have it right?

    • Quint, I am sorry if my identifications of red herrings and troll have offended you but I stand by them.

      Unfortunately, there are certain followers of John’s blog who read his blog solely to tear it apart. There are not here as are you and i to learn.

      There are things they do consistently to distract the conversation from what John has said to things of their own personal agendas. While I certainly respect their right to free speech, what they write is not appropriate to this site because of their motives. If they have their own agendas, then they should start their own blogs.

      They have also called John some pretty hideous things, accused him of all sorts of things that they read into his blog without reading it attentively and with an eye to learn from it.

      People who write with the intention to inflict pain, as do too many of the contributors to these comments are trolls.

      I offer you this article:

      The One Psychological Characteristic That Online Trolls Tend to Share
      Science points to a certain vile tendency.


  17. Well. One thing I dislike is the use of the term “Progressive Christian.” I am not sure there really is such a thing per se. Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals defined the theological liberals of 19th century Germany as “Liberal Christians.” However, ignorant of what those Germans actually believed, they throw around the the term “Liberal Christian” today and apply it wrongly to people—even to me. A few years ago, I took a long and detailed on-line theology test designed to identify what one actually believes with regard to the Christian faith, and it said that I was clearly something they defined as “Neo-Orthodox,” whatever the Hell that is. Yet, inevitably the fundies define me as a “Liberal Christian” or a “Progressive Christian,” which in their parlance actually means “no possibility whatsoever of being a “true Christian” and definitely headed to Hell.

    Just off subject briefly, is anyone here familiar with the Las Nueces Place neighborhood in Carlsbad, California? Where is Carlsbad in California anyway? I always thought the only Carlsbad was located near the famous cave in New Mexico.

    • Charles, as far as I have been able to discern, labels are used to identify people one is afraid of.

      My objection to the term “progressive Christianity” is that it implies something new. Which of course, scares the pants off of the various fundies. Most fundie Protestants have lost the historical roots of Christianity and ignore anything that happened before 1517. The Reformers tossed the baby out with the bathwater with the exception of Augustine of Hippo whom they chose to misread in order to develop their own new theology.

      So-called “progressive Christianity”is merely a re-discovery, long overdue in my opinion, I was saying this stuff when I was in seminary, of the writers fo the early Church, the Patristics, the Greek and Latin “Fathers” of the Church and the Church Doctors, which thankfully includes women.

      There is nothing new about it. But it is not Reformed or fundie in any manner.

      The thing about the fundies of any sort, in my opinion, is that they are primarily motivated by fear of that which is different from themselves. Since fundies of any sort have stopped using their ability to think for themselves, they are terrified by those who use their minds and reason. For example, quite a few Roman Catholics have left the RCC to be received as Episcopalians because of the fresh air to think for themselves. Then there are those RCs, such as Sr Joan Chittister, who I personally believe speaks with a prophetic voice, who stay within it to work change from the inside out.

      All Too Sadly, fundies of any sort, label some of us such as myself as “liberal” because I think the very essence of following Jesus commandment to “love neighbor” has to be more widely defined than doing good deeds for people in one’s church and must be lived out in social justice.

      You asked this. “Just off subject briefly, is anyone here familiar with the Las Nueces Place neighborhood in Carlsbad, California? Where is Carlsbad in California anyway? I always thought the only Carlsbad was located near the famous cave in New Mexico.”

      The Spaniards who used to own the southwest often gave similar names to places in the Mexican Empire. While I have no personal knowledge of the neighborhood you mention, I can tell you that Carlsbad, Ca is about forty or fifty miles north of the City of San Diego, on the coast, and has some quite lovely areas. It also has an airport and tyhe original Legoland.

      • “The thing about the fundies of any sort, in my opinion, is that they are primarily motivated by fear of that which is different from themselves.”

        To echo this thought, I find our personal beliefs often form the foundation of our religious beliefs–not the other way around. If you are a violent person, you religion will be violent. If you are a loving person, your religion will be loving. If you are a “narrow-minded” person, your religion will reflect it; whereas, if you are of an expansive mind, your religion will also reflect that.

        It is common nature in some people to not be comfortable with being equals, even in the eyes of God. They have to put down others to make themselves superior and, unfortunately, they often lean on OT texts to do so, which only reflects their current position as being quite antiquated in a contemporary global atmosphere.

        Sadly, it is the same mentality that, in extreme, leads to groups like the KKK and ISIS.

  18. Conservative Christianity is based on “Obedience” (enforced by fear).

    Progressive Christianity is based on “Nurture” (out of love).

    Conservative philosophy is based on the “Volcanic” view of human nature.

    Progressive philosophy is based on the “Organic” view of human nature.

    (See excellent book “Human Be-ing” by William Pietsch. It’s a quick read.)

  19. Hi Benny, We are all sinners, and have no standing with God except through Christ. There is no purpose in thinking your sins are less than a drunkard, whore or any kind of sinner. If any sinner wants to fellowship you have no right to send them away, you need to help them instead. Show some compassion and tenderness, because there are many reasons that people become ruined and it is not always their choice. Let them choose to accept your love or leave on their own, but you should not reject them.

    • That wasn’t the point of my question. I’m trying to get a handle on what “Progressive Christianity” means. It seems to totally reject the idea of sin and salvation. It seems to totally invalidate the words of Saint Paul.

      I don’t reject anyone because of their sins. I’m aware that I’m a sinner too and I understand that because of circumstances some can fall into very serious sins that I avoided not because of virtue but because of luck.

      But a spade must be called a spade. A homosexual sexual union is a serious sin and we do that particular sinner a grave disservice by encouraging it and accepting it. That doesn’t mean the person is to be rejected. But the sin should be, as should other sexual sins such as divorce and remarriage, adultery, fornication, masturbation, etc.

      Jesus will forgive all. But he doesn’t want us to continue to wallow in the mud. He said, “Go and sin no more.”

  20. Where to start. The above all seems like a lot of miscommunication and frightened, angry people. I’m daring to writ on a ‘Christian’ website because a friend sent this to me.
    Question: Why do you/we react to (eg.) homosexuality so much? Historically about 10%+- of the population tends to be homosexual. Why?…who knows? Does Christianity need to change/exterminate that? Did someone write about it in the ‘scriptures’ a long while ago because of their bias or need for conformity or other (social reason (they’re not doing their part in maintaining the tribes population)?
    By the way, I don’t consider myself to be homosexual but I get so tired of hearing people disputing the moral of it when it’s not a moral issue. (Did you know that the % of female fish downstream of most of our sewage treatment plants can sometimes be as high as 98% due to the hormones, cosmetics, etc that we dump down the sewer. In my mind that should be of greater moral concern than the number of homosexuals are in the human population)!
    Let’s get our head out of our christian ass, and look at how WE are behaving.

  21. Gloriamarie. Firstly I find the nature of these replies to John’s blog fascinating. I’m intrigued how many replies are completely devoid of John’s commentary. John does not need someone to act as his guardian and thereby critique his blog, its a crude antithesis to use his blog to achieve this. Yes, you have every right to express your views like anyone else. But by the very nature of your tone you convey the sense that its your right to dictate corresponding replies thereby inadvertently take ownership of the reply process and responses.

    As a Christian brought up in the conservative fundamentalist church from birth it destroyed my identity in a God who created me a unique person with a brain to think, listen and follow God, not as a clone of traditional theological thought which many of us who follow John have learnt the hard way. By in large we are now immune to the condescending comments made against the minority communities that religious conservatism generates. Thereby many of us have become progressive Christians simply by ditching the cruel sanitizing effects of controlling authoritarian seen in some of the thoughts expressed on here. Like many who read Johns blogs were over dogmatism, sadly its your tone that sets the scene doing more damage than good. Progressive Christians are accepting Christians regardless of their belief

    If you feel so strongly that you want to command a following could I encourage you to write your own blog and refrain from influencing John’s. I don’t intend to debate dogmatism

  22. if you were to force a label upon me it would have to be conservative Progressive Christian. There is approximately 25% of this article which I would not submit to. That 25% I would not deem as biblical or scriptural. For the record I would be classified as I am registered as nonpartisan state of Nevada. I am also a active non-denominational Christian only. Not the only Christian but a Christian only which is quite distinctive.

  23. “Progressive Christianity.” O please, it is anything but Christian. As someone who has been assaulted time after time by ‘progressives’ for holding Christian beliefs, I have had enough and you folks need to admit you are not Christians. You need to come up with another name and admit what you are. And leave Christ’s church alone.

  24. Very thoughtful and interesting article. I don’t offer anything new to this conversation, except to say that I am another of those many ex-Evangelicals who couldn’t cope with the cognitive dissonance of Evangelicalism, and who has found peace, liberation, tolerance, acceptance, inclusion and lots of other nice words through the practice of a more Progressively Christian faith.

  25. Wow, this is dangerous. I can get behind the ever-evolving struggle to know God better–as Jacob wrestled with God and became Israel, so we should all wrestle with our creator (though the term “spirituality” is a bit nebulous and certainly does not require a belief in God). I can get behind unpacking Scripture and personal revelation from historical tradition to find the truths within the trappings of another time and place. But the interpretation of the main message of the Gospel…that is a horrid lie, pure and simple. The main message of the Gospel is that Christ died in atonement for humanity’s failing, so that we might accept Grace. This focus on social justice is the work that comes from alignment with God, it is the product, not the main point itself. It’s as though I’m reading Screwtape. “Tie them to their work on Earth so they make idols of that work and reject God’s grace.”

  26. John P. misquotes Paul in his 1 Timothy 4:6 reference when he writes “We believe that in the Scriptural command to “watch one’s life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim 4:16), the former is as important as the latter; that faith isn’t only about what you believe, it’s about whether or not your life reflects what you profess to believe.” In this line of thinking, it is important that your life reflects “what you profess to believe,” but John makes no distinction in the rightness of what you profess to believe—ONLY that you live out what you believe. This is not what Paul means in 1 Timothy 4:16. Here is a translation in English of Paul’s words: “If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.” Notice Paul’s words—on the truths of the faith and GOOD teaching you (Timothy) has followed? John P. doesn’t believe in the sound doctrine or good teaching of Scripture UNLESS it accords with his personal beliefs. And many of his personal beliefs are in contradiction with Paul’s and Timothy’s and many other people who actually walked with Jesus. John P. and others—It’s NOT the consistency of living out your beliefs that is vital for Paul, it’s the consistency of living out beliefs that are TRUE or GOOD and RIGHT.

  27. Pingback: Examining the Christian Left Movement | Secular Left

  28. Pingback: "Progressive" Christianity... and WHY you need to understand it - Mama Bear Apologetics

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