From Evangelical to Progressive
Mainline denominations needn't go away, nor be replaced, so much as be invigorated by a fresh crop of post-evangelicals like myself and many of my friends who found that the Christianity we grew up in had strayed too far from the teachings of Jesus and the early church. It had become what the brilliant Soong-Chan Rah calls "Americanized Christianity" in his excellent book The Next Evangelicalism.
But even that evangelicalism is changing. I'd like to think that those of us who are moving, physically and digitally, to progressivism are leaving in our wake a challenge to our friends who choose to remain evangelical. I believe that in this shuffle, this denominational dance, we are actually living out God's purpose for his church on earth.
I used to resent denominations. When I was younger, it was common to hear people lament that the number of denominations was evidence that the church was failing in its mission; our diversity was a mark of weakness. But this is a mistaken view. Rigid structure, black and white laws, and firm convictions can all be good, but they can also constrict growth, enslave people, and close minds. If God wanted us to have the kind of clarity that many of the pastors of my youth claimed to have about what scripture says, he shouldn't have imparted it to us in the written word.
And yet, language—vague, translatable, mistakable language—is precisely how he reveals himself to us. From the outset—and the Book of Acts is evidence of this—we were bound to disagree, to debate, and, ultimately, to part ways. Denominations and divisions needn't be a mark of failure, but in our ability to agree peaceably they can be our greatest witness.
This is my hope for the new Progressive Christian portal, and for Patheos as a whole. Here we are, an assembled group of theologians, scholars, teachers, and lowly writers, working it out together. And, just a few clicks away on the site's navigation bar we can visit and interact with our Pagan, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and, yes, Evangelical brothers and sisters. That's just on this little corner of the Internet.
My spiritual journey is cached on a number of servers around the web and, I'm guessing, yours is too. This, I think, is the digital embodiment of the body of Christ.
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is the managing editor of Patrolmag.com, and writes on the various manifestations of Christianity in culture. Follow him on Twitter or at his website, www.jonathandfitzgerald.com.