You may be considering Progressive Christian (also called Emergent, Emerging, postmodern, or even heretical!) ideas yourself or wondering what they're all about. This article is to help bridge the gap, maybe provide some indication of where Progressive is different. Answer some questions. Hope it helps!
|My mission: bridge the gap and light the way!|
I've been doing some research on the topic, and at the risk of gross over-generalizations on both sides, here are some ways that Progressive is different:
- Progressive seems like "anything goes" when it comes to basic theology. This can be disconcerting! But the reason why is that Progressive is about freedom to reconsider the nature of God in a way that is not prescribed by tradition and history. Thinking for ourselves. The way we understand, God is mysterious and cannot be pinned down with a systematic approach. I think Progressive takes a more generous stance on any versions of belief in God and Jesus. I do hear a lot of faith in the revelation of God from Progressives, not just vague mystery. In other words, the role of the Holy Spirit and God-revealed truth is even more important for many Progressives. But we're open to listening to even the most far-out ideas, without flinching, and without withholding love for that person. At the same time, truth and theology are of huge importance to Progressives and are a continual hot topic of conversation. This conversation is very Bible-based and seeks to discern the author intent, historical context, and what truth today can be gleaned from scripture. So it's not really "anything goes" with respect to truth -- it's just that our view of God is a subject of open and continuing revelation -- not written in stone for all time.
- The reason this is possible, is that Progressive does not see a person's mental framework of beliefs and ideals (a person's "statement of faith") as being a gateway to finding God, to participating in the kingdom of God, or to meeting God in heaven. What you believe is not a test, leading to a pass or fail grade. Isn't this the unpleasant reality of most of our traditional Christian belief systems?: "You have to believe like me, or God won't accept you!". Progressive discards this view of a picky God when it comes to examination of our faith. For example, look at how Jesus commended or discarded faith. If you gather the evidence it says that Jesus was impressed by child-like faith, but also did not require any particular type or amount of faith to accept people. He even taught in the parable of the sheep and the goats that some people that had faith in Jesus would be on the WRONG track because they never opened their hearts to "the least of these". Did you ever think about that? Maybe faith is just "what I think", or "what I currently understand." It's not a gateway to salvation or God's throne or grace. Faith is just part of being a Christian. It's descriptive, not a prerequisite. It's a growth process. It leads to other things.
- Progressive does not mean passive! Progressive is a bit zealous and in your face about things. But not about faith itself (see points #1 and #2). Progressive, like Jesus, tends to speak against the religious establishment because of how that establishment often defies the principles that Jesus tried so hard to teach us. Principles like compassion, avoiding judgment, turning the other cheek, loving enemies, being peacemakers, replacing all legalism and religious elitism with "Love God. Love Others." Accepting sinners while lovingly encouraging them to find a better way to live. Nine times out of ten (not a literal statistic!) when Jesus judged or criticized anyone in the gospels, it was to criticize people who sought to please God by stomping on others. Even John the Baptist caught wind of this when the Pharisees came to be baptized. Look -- we need to stand up for equality and grace. If we see that people are being stomped on, we are going to be upset! We are going to stand up for the little guy/girl. Being a "church" should not be about privilege for those that belong, and exclusion of (or apathy toward) those that do not. Have you ever heard someone say "I'm not prejudiced"? ANYONE who says that is deluded. We're all prejudiced. We all have trouble seeing our fellow person as equals. When we do notice the inequality, we need to stand up and do something about it.
- Progressive has different priorities. Because of the diminished priority of "right beliefs", Progressive focuses on the priority of compassion. When Jesus taught about the least of these, and the poor in spirit, etc., and when James talks about true religion being to care for "widows and orphans", Progressive sees this as the highest calling. The Great Commission should be to spread THIS MESSAGE to the whole world (and to act on it!), not the message that people need to believe a certain thing. The kingdom of God, which John the Baptist and then Jesus declared, is an ever-growing kingdom of God's goodness reigning on Earth. The Lord's Prayer is a prayer that God's kingdom would become reality and engulf us all. The Great Commission is a call to carry the kingdom to the ends of the Earth. The priority is not to indoctrinate - it is to liberate through love.
- Different perspective about sin. Because of this change-up of priorities, Progressive puts a much higher priority on sins like Apathy, Inequality and Hatred than on, for instance, Sexual Sins. Where Jesus was super clear on Apathy and Hatred, he had nothing at all to say about homosexuality, and little to say about anything else sexual. The "sinfulness" of certain sexual behaviors is usually self-evident. Marital unfaithfulness, child molestation, even pornography are vices that have clearly destructive effects. That's why these things are wrong. On the other hand, God is not offended by our sexuality. God made us this way, and we should never use sexual morality as AN EXCUSE for discrimination or hatred. Quick example: a man who cheats on his wife criticizes a homosexual, even to the point of making him/her feel unloved and ostracized. Who is the sinner in that situation? Come on Christians -- be rational and fair. If it's wrong to judge and hate, then why do we gloss over that and then get incensed about homosexuality? For the record, I will never tell a homosexual that he/she is sinning because of preference for a certain gender. I don't get that. I won't tell a transgender person that hates the body they were born in that they should just get over it. I haven't been there, and I don't know what it's like. Regardless of your view on this, however, look at the log in your own eye before picking on someone's gender preference!
- Speaking of different perspectives about sin and priorities, Progressives see negligence of the poor as a SIN! Hunger, lack of medical care, tendency toward exploitation, no access to education or economic betterment, these are the most grievous sins of our age -- We, the church can organize ourselves to do something about it. If we move away from other focus areas, we can work to make the world a better place. Period! Have you ever heard of social justice? Have you ever heard of human trafficking? What about institutionalized gender discrimination? Do these things matter to you? If so, maybe you're a Progressive in the making.
- Grace. Progressive simplifies the meaning of grace to be God's unconditional outpouring of love on the undeserving. It doesn't lead to the usual traditional contradiction, which goes something like this: "The Messiah came to save you, to free you from chains, to open the doors to your prison cell. Now, God is so upset with you that if you refuse this one-time offer to be liberated, then forget it! You're doomed and God will 'Unfriend' you for all eternity." No, Grace is more like a Parent's love for his/her child. The parent knows the child will screw up. He/she expects it. When the child does, maybe the parent is angry, but doesn't kick the kid out on the street and lock the door. What kind of psychotic parent do we think that God is? Why are we okay with contradiction? Contradiction that says "I believe in Grace as God's unconditional love for me. But I believe in Grace as God's doom for someone else." Come-on. Due to point #2 above, we can believe in a more gracious and generous Grace. A Grace that's really Grace. We can move past living with contradiction and believing in a God with a toxic personality. Did Jesus ever display a toxic personality? Didn't he exemplify Grace, in a way that really no one has ever been able to criticize? There then. Act like Jesus. Believe in a God that acts like Jesus.
As I said, I hope this helps. If you have questions, email me at GraceEmerges@gmail.com and I'll provide references, scriptures, emotional support, whatever. I'm also eager to revise my explanation and understanding if someone wants to set me straight!
If you want to read a lot more, look around at the archive of blog posts on this site (GraceEmerges.blogspot.com) and over on Facebook at Open Church Initiative. I provide all kinds of expositions on Progressive. If there's anything I can do to bridge the gap from traditional evangelicalism to Progressive -- I'm all about that. Drop me a line. Any may you find Freedom and Joy in your faith!
by Brad Duncan