A Conversation on Progressive Christianity
What is Progressive Christianity?
The answer to this question is not straightforward. There are a variety of answers and a variety of ways of understanding progressive Christianity. The following blog will hopefully help you find your own answer.
An interview with Marcus Borg
Marcus Borg, one of those theologians often associated with progressive theology gave this answer in an interview some years ago.
What, for you, is the heart of progressive Christianity?
“To some extent, progressive Christians have been defined negatively. And we have done that ourselves, it’s not just that others have said nasty things about us. We commonly have said we’re “non-literalistic” and we’re “non-exclusivistic.” Those are the two biggest negations. But to put it positively now, progressive Christianity takes very seriously that Christianity is about a two-fold transformation of ourselves as individuals, and of the humanly-created world which has most often been a world of domination, injustice and violence – not meaning primarily criminal violence – but the violence of warfare and so forth. So, progressive Christianity is passionate about transformation in the here and now, even as we recognize that that transformation is also long term, and not something that a generation can accomplish.
“And it’s not very much about what happens after death. It’s not that all progressive Christians are skeptical about an afterlife, but for me, anyway, I’m very happy to leave what happens after death up to God. And then beyond that, I have no idea how anybody can know what happens after death, and you can’t make something true by believing it. So if somebody says, “I believe in Heaven,” fair enough, you believe in Heaven, but that has nothing to do with whether or not there is one. And so the energy of progressive Christianity is not about believing something now for the sake of a reward later, or not even about being virtuous now for the sake of a reward later, but for being as completely present as possible to this life, and being open to the moving of the Spirit both within ourselves and our societies, and seeking to participate in that movement of the Spirit.
“I sometimes speak of Christianity as being about participating in God’s passion … and I don’t mean God’s suffering, which is one possible meaning of passion … but participating in what God is passionate about, which is the whole of Creation. In one sense we don’t have to be terribly concerned about nature. Now here are the qualifications: nature will do just fine on it’s own if we don’t mess with it, and right now, of course we are messing with it, but the strongest passion of the God of the Bible is the transformation of the humanly-created world into a more just, compassionate, peaceful kind of world.”
However this is by no means the only way to define progressive Christianity.
Progressive Christianity.Org give eight points by which it defines progressive Christianity. These points are useful, but like any list they can be misleading. They are worth pondering though.
- Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life;
- Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;
- Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to: conventional Christians and questioning skeptics, believers and agnostics, women and men, those of all sexual orientations and gender identities, those of all classes and abilities;
- Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;
- Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;
- Strive for peace and justice among all people;
- Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;
- Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.
A list of progressive theologians
Another way of understanding progressive Christianity is through the theologians who consider themselves as progressive theologians or who are considered by others to be progressive theologians. Here is a list:
Adrian Alkar, Karen Armstrong, Diana Bass, Charles Birch, Peter C Blum, Leonardo Boff, Marcus Borg, Kester Brewin, Jim Burklo, Jack Caputo, J Kameron Carter, John Cobb, Harvey Cox, John Dominic Crossan, Don Cupitt, Art Dewey, Susan M Elliott, David Felton, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Daniel Frayer-Griggs, Tripp Fuller, David Galston, Lloyd Geering, Gustavo Gutierrez, Charles W Hedrick, Peter Heltzel, Rex Hunt, Luce Irigaray, Sandhya Jha, Elizabeth A Johnson, Namsoon Kang, Catherine Keller, Maia Kotrosis, Gerd Ludemann, Barbara Lundblad, Sallie McFague, Megan McKenna, Robin Meyers, John Milbank, Robert J Miller, Jurgen Moltmann, Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, Katharine Sarah Moody, Michael Moorwood, Jana Norman, Lorraine Parkinson, Catherine Pickstock, Fred Plumer, Alton B Pollard III, Noel Preston, Mayra Rivera Rivera, Peter Rollins, Richard Rohr, Edward Schillebeeckx, Thomas Sheehan, Phil Snider, Jack Spong, Mark C Taylor, Paul Tillich, Kevin Treston, James Veitch, Jim Wallis, Val Webb
There are problems with this list however. For instance, not all the theologians would agree with each other. Some perhaps wouldn’t regard themselves as progressive though others do. Other important progressive theologians are not on this list, as no list can ever cover everybody.
So Progressive Christians live with uncertainty. They follow Jesus but may be uncertain as to who he is, or at least be incredulous about claims made about him and or God that do not make sense. However, that does not mean that they are uncommitted. Faith for them means a leap into life lived fully and a commitment to creating a more just, peaceful and compassionate world.