Tracing the Theological Core of a Movement
Thus, I submit that the assertion that Progressive Christianity has no theological core must be considered unsubstantiated. Instead, the movement has a substantive body of theological writing expressed in keeping with its inherently questing nature. The variations of this core theology, including the nature of God and Jesus, represent Christianity's diversity as much as the works of any long-ago church fathers and mothers.
What I suspect lies at the heart of the dispute over Progressive Christianity's theological nature is the same question with which I struggle: that of divine mystery, or encounters with the sacred that can be experienced but not explained.
Jim Adams has written that any description of God is both inaccurate and incomplete, implying a divine mystery that exceeds human comprehension. Some Progressive Christians view sacred mystery as cognitively unfathomable; therefore they ignore or resist it. Meanwhile others, especially younger believers, are comfortable with the ambiguity of an "Other" that they can encounter but cannot articulate rationally. Collectively we are blind people groping an elephant; each of us thinks that his or her perception of God, from skinny tail to enormous trunk, represents the whole. Not even the synthesis of all we perceive could represent the infinite diversity of God.
Therefore, our inability to define the sacred mystery that animates us should make us all the more reliant on the beliefs we hold in common. Disputes such as that between Sojourners and Believe Out Loud, along with critiques such as Fred Schmidt's and Jim Burklo's, will prove beneficial only insofar as they ultimately bear out our common values. As people formed theologically by the tradition rooted in Jesus Christ, Progressive Christians cannot claim the high moral ground in any situation without practicing Jesus' core values of compassion, justice, and forgiveness toward one another. Unless we act as we have been instructed by Jesus' teachings, no social action or theological critique will be valid.
Or so this Progressive Christian believes.
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.