For those who follow the going’s on at Patheos.com you will notice a new grouping of bloggers and columnists now called, “Progressive Christians.” This is a newly launched portal on the site and has drawn together such bloggers and columnists as Phyllis Tickle, Diana Butler Bass, Monica Coleman and others. Partnering with this summer’s Wild Goose Festival, the first challenge we were given was to post thoughts as part of a Symposium on Progressive Christianity where we would offer reflections on this admittedly nebulous classification.
As I thought about what I wanted to offer, I resisted reading what others had already offered up. I’m not really sure why I didn’t want to first read what others had said, but I felt like this symposium was more about broadening our understanding of what might be considered “progressive Christianity” than trying to come to an agreed upon definition.
Before I offer up my list of “progressivisms” let me first claim an assumption that I have with the word itself. While being “progressive” in politics and theology is often seen as ascribing to a “liberal” platform and belief system, I do not believe this to be true. For me the “progressive” adjective can exist across the theological spectrum, but holds together people who are looking at moving the church into new ways of being church.
You, so here we go, my intentionally fuzzy list of perspectives and postures that might make you a Progressive Christian. Please keep in mind that I do not think that everyone need be one, but that there is a growing number of people who yearn for a drastically different approach to being the Body of Christ.
“You might be a progressive Christian if . . .”
- You can be described, but not defined - Do people have a hard time putting you into a theological and ideological box? The Progressive Christian often confuses staunch liberals and conservatives with the unpredictability of her conduct and the openness of her perspective.
- You are more than a party platform - Do folks assume that because you land on one side on one issue, it must hold true that you prescribe to a laundry list of conservative or liberal beliefs? The Progressive Christian might be pro-this or pro-that, but he is rarely tied to any set platform.
- You are not just waiting for the other side to get over their idiocy – Do you think questioning the intellect of the opposition because they are the opposition is silly and not really about having meaningful conversations?The Progressive Christian will always honor the idea that community only grows if she is open to the possibility that she might be just as wrong as the other side things she is.
- You believe God can and does speak through disagreement – Does it frustrate you that so many have a difficult time being open to the possibility that genuine and faithful discernment by opposing sides might take place? The Progressive Christian, even in the most difficult of disagreements, trusts that the other is discerning the movement of the Spirit just as faithfully as he is.
- You seek the highest common denominator – Would you rather find common ground in larger questions such as, ‘Who is Christ for you?’ and ‘How do we address poverty and violence?’ rather than put a great deal of energy into controlling the every move of other members of the community? The Progressive Christian, by directing energy towards finding common ground on bigger issues seeks to build trust and make real the ever elusive idea that we can”agree to disagree.”
- You find God’s inerrant truth in a non-literal understanding of Scripture – Do you believe that Biblical authority does not mean the same thing Biblical literacy literalism? The Progressive Christian claims the Truth of God is revealed in Scripture, but that it is a truth that must be wrestled with, unpacked and never used as a weapon.
- You bear with the battles – Ever wonder if some people wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they were not in a good church fight? The Progressive Christian knows that there are times to engage in passionate and righteous interactions, but she is not defined by the polemics nor does she determine her worth by the existence of the fight.
- You appreciate the person over position - Do you find yourself drawn to relationships across theological chasms because the other person is genuine and approaches the journey of faith in similar ways? When engaging in theological discussion over tough issues, the Progressive Christian values the complex personhood that she experiences with the other over and above the rightness or wrongness of the position being discussed.
- You choose the middle - Do old school left/right, black/white, good/bad polemics frustrate the heck out of you? The Progressive Christian, often accused of being soft, sees the “middle” as a place to model a new and faithful way of being church regardless of the arrows fired that are fired from edges.
- You do not demand loyalty – Are you shocked at the way that “friends” turn on one another when someone engages in real conversations with the opposition? The Progressive Christian can live with the idea that loyalty to a position or a person can easily turn into idolatry and that being open to true dialogue with and being gracious towards people who disagree is not a sign of weakness, but an expression of strength.
I am sure that there are plenty of others out there, there is plenty of overlap and not everyone who considers herself a Progressive Christian will fit perfectly into each of these statements. With that said, if the very notion of not fitting into every predefined theological slot does not cause you anxiety and stress . . . hate to break it to you, but you might be a Progressive Christian.