Tracing the Theological Core of a Movement
Yet even with the exciting work of these contemporary thinkers, I contend that Progressive Christianity's theological foundation rests on the work of two often-unsung giants: James Rowe Adams and Delwin Brown. To learn about these two men is to discover how Progressive Christian theology has developed over the past quarter of a century.
Jim Adams, who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, founded The Center for Progressive Christianity in 1994 while rector at St. Mark's Church on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. He's credited with coining the term "progressive Christianity" and with devising eight points that define the work of the center. Adams' original goal, "to keep churches from drying up and blowing away," has evolved through the past twenty-five years to include developing both adult and children's Christian curriculum that focuses on building relevant, effective, and inclusive faith. As expressed in the recent second edition of his book, So You Think You're Not Religious? (2010, Saint Johann Press), Adams' basic definition of "God" is not an all-powerful being "out there," but the experience of living in a community in which individuals struggle together to find meaning in life.
Sadly, Del Brown died from cancer in September 2009 while working on a new college curriculum for the organization he co-founded, The Beatitudes Society. At the time of his death, Brown was dean emeritus of Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, from whence he retired in 2003. During his career he also held a variety of academic and administrative roles at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, and taught earlier at Arizona State University. Brown wrote many academic books and articles on facets of Christian theology and on theology's role in creating healthy religious traditions. His last book, What Does a Progressive Christian Believe? (2008 Seabury Books), was the capstone of his work. Among other topics, he summarized his understanding of God as a being or force beyond human comprehension, but intimately present in human experience. Some of Brown's writing remains available online in a blog co-sponsored by TPC, Communicating Progressive Christianity in the Public Square.
The Theologians Agreed . . . Mostly
In Fall 2008, The Progressive Christian magazine published a dialogue between Adams and Brown. Their email-facilitated discussion showed that the two thinkers came to many of the same theological conclusions, although Adams held that Brown's view of God was, in his words, "feeble." Nonetheless, the theologians were agreed on two major points, as Brown wrote in his last book and with which Adams concurred in a review: "Progressive Christians are people formed by the tradition grounded in Jesus Christ," and "The Bible is our foundational resource." On these common statements hang all the Progressive Christian theology that currently exists.
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.