“Progressive Christianity”?

Is ‘progressive’ a subsective adjective? I would have thought so, but on Sunday I learned about so-called “progressive Christianity,” which, as far as I can see, isn’t a kind of Christianity at all. Officially, it consists of a few features that amount to a marriage of Christianity and left-wing politics:

1. A spiritual vitality and expressiveness
2. An insistence on Christianity with intellectual integrity
3. A transgression of traditional gender boundaries
4. The belief that Christianity can be vital without claiming to be the best or the only true religion
5. Strong ecological and social justice commitments

The kick is in the postmodern understanding of intellectual integrity. Here’s how one advocate explains it:

God is not a supernatural being outside of the world/creation/universe. Neither is the word G-o-d the proper name of a supernatural being. It is a metaphor used to address the sacred in life, often, but not exclusively, using anthropocentric language….

As a progressive/liberal theologian I understand and experience ‘G-o-d’ as a universal creative process, continuously at work in the world, in the ordinary, giving rise to new forms of existence. Thus the new metaphor I find helpful in speaking about the sacred is “serendipitous creativity” (Kaufman 2004:42) as suggested by theologian Gordon Kaufman. Kaufman says:

“The concept of creativity… enables us to connect important theological concerns with central features of modern/post-modern thinking about the cosmos, the evolution of life, and the emergence of biohistorical development of human life and culture on planet Earth” (Kaufman 2004:76).

Thus its features are expressed and experienced in three strands or trajectories:

creativity1 – cosmic evolution
creativity2 – biological evolution
creativity3 – cultural/symbolic evolution

“Intellectual integrity”?  “Modern/post-modern thinking about the cosmos”?  Hmmm. I think I already had a name for this view. It was ‘atheism.’ Why anyone who believed it would be interested in going to church is beyond me.

Does anyone have any familiarity with “progressive Christianity” in practice?

By the way, I’m not impressed with this example of intellectual rigor:

“In the synoptic gospels, Jesus speaks in brief, pithy one-liners and couplets, and in parables… In John, by contrast, Jesus speaks in lengthy discourses or monologues, or in elaborate dialogues prompted by some deed Jesus has performed” (Funk & Hoover 1993:10).

Both can not be historically accurate.

On this blog appear some pithy one-liners and couplets.  My books are lengthy discourses.  Should one infer that I can’t possibly have written both?

9 thoughts on ““Progressive Christianity”?

  1. Thanks for the post. I’ve been hearing the term “progressive Christianity” but I didn’t know what it stood for. I don’t get why someone would want Christianity, but not the Bible. I loved your last line!

  2. Progressive Christianity is the Christianity beyond the dark ages. It is following the way of Jesus, without condeming those who know God through another religious tradition.

  3. Are you insinuating that to be left wing, one cannot be Christian? Let me guess…you are really that Bozo Baptist preacher from North Carolina that threw all the Democrats out of his church?

    I think conservative, fundamentalist, and literalist Christianity is both an abomination and an affront to Christ.

    Furthermore:

    I think using the Bible to refute a group that does not recognize it as the infallible word of God is about as useful as a blind man looking in a mirror. Not all Christians believe as the fundamentalist, conservative, and evangelical wings of the church. There are many Christians who, in fact, believe that what passes for Christianity today, especially in Evangelical circles, is not Christianity at all, but a perversion of the message of Christ. Pesonally, I would not base my beliefs entirely on a book, even the Bible. The Bible is a human product, pure and simple. The problem with many consevative evangelical Christians is that they have turned the Bible into a “paper Pope.” Further, most of those who call themselves Evangelicals, Conservatives, and the like worship a false trinity…Father, Son, and Holy Bible.

    Please, do not equate believing the Bible is the infallible Word of God with Christianity. Instead, it is a heresy that started in the 16th Century.

    Basically, quoting Scripture to prove a point is begging the question. It proves nothing.

  4. Mick,

    I’m not sure what I said that prompted your reply. Of course one can be a left-wing Christian: “I’ve seen it done!” What I question is whether you can be a Christian if all you mean by ‘God’ is creativity.

    I don’t think you have to take everything in the Bible literally to be a Christian; I don’t think you have to believe in inerrancy or infallibility. But I do think you have to believe that SOMETHING in the Bible is literally true. Someone who takes it ALL metaphorically, reading ‘God’ as creativity, ‘Christ’ as love, etc., and denying that there is anything supernatural about it, is just an atheist in Christian clothing.

    Finally, I didn’t quote Scripture, so I’m not sure how you think I begged the question.

  5. Philo:

    Sorry for sounding off so rudely. I do apologize and I do mean that. I guess what set me off was your first statement implying that Progressive Christianity is not really Christianity. I guess I felt your implication was a generalization. Not all Progressive Christians see creativity as God. Certainly it is an aspect of God, otherwise we wouldn’t be here blogging about this.

    Again, I was out of line in the tone of my comment. Perhaps this election year has got me more on edge than I need to be. I took the time to read through a good number of your posts and, although I don’t necessarily agree with many of your points, I do admire and compliment your ability to not only express yourself in an eloquent manner, but also your use of logic and reason. Thanks for responding to my comment.

  6. Mick,

    No problem. Before reading about it, I would have thought ‘progressive Christianity’ would have referred to the beliefs of people who were progressives and Christians. Even the definition its advocates use sounds like that– until you read what they mean by ‘intellectual integrity.’ Then, all of a sudden, it doesn’t sound Christian at all.

    I don’t think Christianity implies anything very extensive about political views, because the latter depend heavily on empirical assumptions. So, Christians can be progressives, liberals, moderates, conservatives, libertarians, etc., in my view, without compromising their Christianity. But I don’t think they can be thoroughgoing naturalists without compromising it, and it sounds as if that’s what advocates of so-called progressive Christianity are trying to do.

  7. Who defines christianity?
    U say “I don’t think you have to take everything in the Bible literally to be a Christian; I don’t think you have to believe in inerrancy or infallibility. But I do think you have to believe that SOMETHING in the Bible is literally true.”

    Now according to someone, ur definition above is NOT a christian view at all, does that make you none christian?

    Philo
    Saying something must be LITERALLY true in the bible, says actually that “God” would have to be defined correctly in the bible.
    Now dogs cannot “write” and define what it is to be a human. A human explaining humanity to them would always be a reduction of the truth, as they simply can´t understand or use our words.

    Why would humans be able to define what it is being God? So there might not be any 100% (literally) accurate descriptions of God in the bible, but I still believe in him (her/it), again a human description of God being HIM (with genitals?)

    People may call me christian or atheist, but my belief in God won´t change.

    1. Tom,

      My point is just that you can’t be a Christian if, for example, you believe that there is no God, or that there is nothing beyond the natural world. I don’t think the Bible offers any definition of God, and I’m sympathetic with your point that human beings may be incapable of defining God. But the Progressive Christians I was addressing do define God—as something purely natural, namely, creativity. I don’t see the point.

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