Tracing the Theological Core of a Movement
Editor's Note: This article is part of the symposium, "What Is Progressive Christianity?" presented by the newly launched Patheos Progressive Christian Portal and in partnership with the Wild Goose Festival (June 23-26). Like us on Facebook to receive today's best commentary on Progressive Christianity.
Every so often, there's a family squabble among Progressive Christians. Over the past month, the tempest has been between the Rev. Jim Wallis and his magazine, Sojourners, and the Believe Out Loud campaign urging Christians to acknowledge publicly their support for LGBT rights.
To date, The Progressive Christianity (the online magazine I edit) has stayed out of the debate, but this week two columns appeared that we found appropriate to reprint. One is by a regular contributor, the Rev. Jim Burklo, associate dean of religious affairs at the University of Southern California, who pleads with Jim Wallis to reconsider his public stance. The other column was written by the Rev. Frederick W. Schmidt, an Episcopal priest and columnist at Patheos. It's of the latter column that I now write.
Disclosure: I know Dr. Schmidt and respect his work; several of his books sit on my shelf. In addition, I'm currently enrolled in a spiritual direction program that he leads at Perkins School of Theology. Consequently, what follows may seem foolhardy, if not downright suicidal academically, but it's offered in a spirit of healthy theological debate.
Questioning Theological Validity
In his column, Schmidt questions Progressive Christianity's validity as a faith movement. He argues that responses to the Believe Out Loud dispute show that the movement has no theological core and therefore does not qualify as religious. As TPC editor, I chose to reprint such a highly provocative column because I think he raises the kind of uncomfortable questions that all Christian movements should ask themselves from time to time.
Nonetheless, with some trepidation, I now must say that I find Schmidt's thesis—that Progressive Christianity has no expressed theological core—flawed. Here's why.
Today's Progressive Christianity has many stars: Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Diana Butler Bass, and Brian McLaren, to name but a few. Each of them comes at progressive Christian theology from different, but often converging, perspectives. Over the past decade, McLaren and writing partners Borg and Crossan have been particularly adept in the areas of Schmidt's critique, especially the nature of God and the reign of God.
A professional writer and editor for more than thirty-eight years, Cynthia B. Astle is Editor of The Progressive Christian, a multimedia social justice journal. Her achievements as a religion journalist have won national and international awards of excellence for nearly twenty years, including recognition for The Progressive Christian as "best general interest religion magazine" in North America from the Associated Church Press. She is a Certified Lay Speaker in The United Methodist Church, an accredited facilitator of Lay Speaking Ministries in the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference, a past member of the Lay Advisory Board of Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, and a member of The Order of Saint Luke, an ecumenical, dispersed monastic association of clergy and lay men and women devoted to liturgical scholarship and sacramental life and service.
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