Progressive Christianity: Losing the Magic Blood
And why not? After imbibing the deconstructionist claims of postmodernity, we know that exclusive claims to truth have no foundation. My great-grandfather's context of meaning, which once gave purpose and meaning to life, has disintegrated. We are left with no other standard of belief than the one that serves me in the moment.
Now we are confronted by the disturbing reality of a society full of individuals who do indeed construct a world that serves their desires. Society has now devolved to a point where prepubescent girls take naked pictures of themselves and text them to any guy who strikes their fancy, and why shouldn't they? Without a context of meaning there is no compelling answer to that question.
We live in a society where the majority thinks torture is acceptable, and why shouldn't they? Without a context of meaning, one committed to the existence of something more important than my life, there is no compelling answer to that question. More concerning is this: without a context of meaning, without a shared purpose built on what is true, we will not be able to navigate the terrain of epochal change now knocking at our door. Can you hear it?
Whatever "Progressive Christianity" becomes, it must make a move to haul us out of this quagmire. And whatever it is, it will not make that move alone. Dialogue with other faiths will deepen our decidedly Christian faith, just as that same dialogue will deepen theirs. Religions are like languages. The centuries long theological conversation that produced our Scriptures continues to this very day and now includes new conversation partners, new circumstances. As we engage in this dialogue, we are not constrained by our biblical authors' worldviews, but we do seek what they were pointing to in the only way they knew how.
How shall we offer our truth, a truth we know cannot be grasped? We begin by jettisoning our pre-rational language, for it is completely misunderstood. Jesus' blood does not wash anyone clean. There is no Father sitting above the clouds waiting until 2012 to rend them asunder and fly down as conqueror on a horse with wings.
But we will hold fast to a God we know in three ways. (If we don't, I would argue that we have become a "progressive something else.") We know this God not through scientific experimentation, but through knowledge gained through faith and borne out in reality.
We experience non-dual states of consciousness that reveal the One, the I AM that I AM (and you AM) and we recognize this One in the Gospel of John and in Paul's description of union with Christ. Then as we stare into the heavens watching "star rising after star and constellation after constellation until the immensity of this bewildering universe looms before our staggered mind" (Arthur J. Gossip, "But When Life Tumbles in What Then?" in A Treasury of Great Preaching, 8:232), we will know what we cannot grasp—Spirit living within it, drawing all things together in perfect harmony. It is this Spirit which animates life and encounters each of us in an I-Thou relationship, and in that encounter Spirit changes us, evolves us, and perfects us.
It is this God who gives life purpose and meaning, this God whose creative power drives our evolving universe toward a still more glorious dawn; and it is this God whom we serve.
Correct me if I'm wrong. Isn't this evangelical faith minus magic blood and literal myth?
Rev. Sam Alexander is Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael, California. He holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, and an M.Div. from Union Seminary in Virginia. Sam has served congregations in Maryland and in the San Francisco Bay area and serves as an Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics (Preaching) at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He blogs at www.gracecomesfirst.net. Visit his Patheos Expert site here.