Progressive Christianity—is Christianity

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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 don’t need to justify 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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113 thoughts on “Progressive Christianity—is Christianity

  1. 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.”

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. “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.

  6. Amen! They are touting another gospel, another saviour. Sadly, they lead many astray from the narrow way that leads to eternal life. As Jesus’ own sobering words declare, “few there be that find it.”

  7. 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.

  8. 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.”

    • “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.”

      Exactly. Amen.

  9. 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.

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