Is Progressive Christianity a Theological Movement?
Mind-body-spirit (complementary or holistic) medicine shows us that our thoughts, images, and emotions can transform our cells as well as our souls. Further, the ability of energy work (acupuncture, reiki, and other forms of healing touch), meditative practices, and intercessory prayer to shape persons' experiences and wellbeing at a distance or through physical touch has been confirmed by many medical studies. We live in a complex, energetic, and interdependent world that opens the door to new, creative, and practical understandings of Jesus' healing ministry, then and now.
Progressive theology's holism can be described as "big tent" but, in the spirit of one of my teachers, Bernard Loomer, I would describe it as theology with "size" or "stature." Unlike much of old-line liberalism and conservatism, the progressive spirit looks for common ground and anticipates diverse visions of the truth. Progressive Christianity can move from "opposition" to "contrast" in responding to diverse theological positions and spiritual practices, embracing their truths while critically approaching places of disagreement.
For example, fundamentalists can show us the importance of the quest for certainty and reveal our own spiritual comfort zones; evangelicals remind us of the centrality of Jesus and the power that comes from having a living relationship with the Risen Christ; Pentecostals invite us to experience ecstatic spirit-centered faith; Quakers awaken us to God's voice in silence. Little is accomplished by theological denunciation. Much is gained by awakening to holiness wherever it is found.
The progressive spirit leads to seeing theology as a matter of affirmations, not static doctrines or litmus tests for orthodoxy. Affirmations are ways of looking at the world that can, over time, transform our lives, behavior, and political commitments. I have written at length on the role of affirmations in theology and spiritual formation in Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, my theological and spiritual response to Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life.
While progressives might nuance their affirmations in different ways, here are some key progressive theological affirmations:
- God is present in all things as the source of energy and vision.
- God seeks abundant life for all creation.
- God's revelation is generous and diverse, and is found in every person and religious tradition.
- God seeks to maximize freedom and creativity in the creaturely world.
- God is constantly doing new things, calling and responding to the world as it is in terms of what it can become.
- God invites us to be companions in healing the earth.
- The God revealed in all things is uniquely and dynamically revealed in certain persons and moments. Jesus of Nazareth, in his freedom, creativity, and experience of being "chosen" by God, reveals God's vision of human life and empowers us to be God's companions in healing the world.
- We are all children of God, reflecting divine wisdom and creativity. We have power and energy beyond our imagination to bring forth healing and beauty.
- Prayer, meditation, touch, love, and hospitality can transform and heal minds, bodies, relationships, and spirits.
- The future is open for both God and us. This means that our actions and commitment can be "tipping points" in the realization of God's dream of Shalom.
- This world is a place of beauty to be cherished and affirmed. The afterlife is not a "better" place but a continuing adventure in companionship with a living and creative God.
This list of affirmations is not exhaustive but sets the stage for dialogue among progressives as well as the larger spiritual and seeking communities. Each of these affirmations has social implications and undergirds a commitment to political and social transformation. Put, briefly, they suggest that:
- What we do in this world matters.
- We have the freedom to be God's partners in healing the world.
- All humans, and perhaps, beyond humankind, reflect divine wisdom and deserve to be treated with honor and care.
- Since the future is open, we can be partners in bringing something beautiful to earth.
- Our calling is to seek abundant life for humankind, and all creation.
- We are to practice prophetic hospitality, seeking justice and liberation, while treating those with differing opinions with the same care as those for whom we are advocating.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.