Not Conservative, Not Liberal: Progressive
Now my liberal friends might point out the flaws in this diagnosis, and they might defend liberalism as being far better than these crude conservative stereotypes. But however justified their self-defense might be, it will only lead to a fruitless argument. That's why I think it's far better to forego that argument and instead to prove—in actions first, then in words—that to be a progressive Christian means more than being lax, lazy, fuzzy, flimsy, proud, and dying.
In fact, the progressive Christians I know are highly committed, not lax. True, they don't measure fidelity in terms of "the five fundamentals of the faith," but they do take two fundamentals very seriously: "love God and love your neighbor." And it gets even more interesting when they extend "neighbor" to stranger, outsider, outcast, alien, and enemy. True, they aren't strict when it comes to drinking a beer or using some colorful vocabulary, but they can be downright puritanical when it comes to recycling and advocating for the environment. Talk to them about equal human rights for Palestinians or LGBTQ folks, or engage them on global poverty and pre-emptive war, and you'll see real passion.
And although they aren't rigid doctrinally, they aren't lazy either. They're still seeking for meaningful ways to express their faith, and when they find those ways, I think you'll see a lot more passionate progressive Christians rediscovering "the E-word"—Evangelism. No, it won't be, "Be a progressive Christian or you'll burn in hell forever." It will be more like, "Let's join God in the healing and liberation of God's community of creation." It will be, "I'm part of a faith community that's learning to live in the way of Jesus. You're welcome to be part of our journey together." Or "Why waste your life selfishly pursuing money and power and pleasure when you can join God in the healing of the world?"
When it comes to fuzziness and flimsiness, the progressive Christians I know are making great strides beyond old liberalism. What initially seemed like a morass of complexity—the quest(s) for the historical Jesus, biblical criticism, revisioning the Bible's inspiration and authority—is turning out to be highly productive. The scholarly process just needed some time to mature. As a result, Progressive Christians aren't disregarding the Bible; they're studying it even more diligently than their conservative counterparts, and they're producing sparkling, challenging, inspiring theologies rooted in the Bible. Fueled by this renewed biblical engagement, they aren't simply functioning as the religious chaplains of the Democratic party (as their counterparts have often been for the Republican party); they're articulating a vital political theology and a vigorous theological politics that challenges everybody to seek the common good.
Nor are the Progressive Christians I know proud. If they come from conservative backgrounds as I do, they've been beat up pretty bad on their way out and so they're not interested in doing unto others as they have been done unto. And if they come from liberal backgrounds, they've seen the bankruptcy of certain forms of institutional, compromised, culturally accommodated faith. They're not proud of where they are; they're excited about where they're going.
And as for dying, I guess only time will tell. It is a moment of opportunity for Progressive Christianity, I'd say. My sense is that Evangelicalism is in a contraction process, playing to its right wing much the way the Republican party is. And Catholicism seems to be doing something similar, working for a "smaller, purer church" in which less diversity of thought and practice are permitted (at least in the short run; I know that Catholics are masters of the long view). And the historic black churches are often (not always) stuck with two unacceptable options—nostalgia for the Civil Rights era or wholesale sell-out to the Prosperity Gospel.
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders. Among McLaren's more prominent writings are A New Kind of Christian (2001), A Generous Orthodoxy (2006), Everything Must Change (2009), and A New Kind of Christianity (2010). His lastest book, Naked Spirituality, offers "simple, doable, and durable" practices to help people deepen their life with God.