You Might be a Progressive Christian if . . .

For those who follow the going’s on at 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 BassMonica 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.

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  • Sarah Ryle

    “…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.” – like this one a lot! LOL But most of those things do describe me currently, or are things I’m working on doing. So yes, I guess I would be a progressive Christian. 🙂

  • Arn Lou Mutia

    Liberalism is dying. So does the theology. As an offshoot there
    is a dilemma for the middle class, the social base of liberalism to express
    their faith as well as actions. I see
    this as a reflection of the bigger milieu today. The material basis — economic
    crisis and dislocation of many middle class families here in the US is getting
    more pronounced not because of the media but because of people asserting
    themselves. Monopoly capitalism is having
    a hard time to recuperating itself.

    The rate of economic bursts are increasing in frequency and speed. Those on the
    top to stop an open chaos loots the poor in greater quantities through bail
    outs. The bourgeoisification of the middle
    class herein the US has stopped in areas by the crisis. Pacification through
    giving perks is not working anymore for sometime now. Many are proletariatized,
    owning non. No homes, no credit cards, no cars not health insurance, no
    option. In short we are seeing the
    bourquisification making a quick stop.
    This swing of development impacts our churches. Many do not go to church not because
    they do not want to, but they just do not have any time during Sundays. How can a low waged worker getting an 8
    dollars per miss working Sundays? They exist
    paycheck to paycheck. Now you may ask me what about the growth of other
    churches, tremendous growth? Well, others opts for quick escapism and “personal
    fix”. This is an explainable default. In
    a situation wherein the social practice is hinged on speed, instancy, quickness
    reflective in the productive relations — speeding capital accumulation to recoup
    or manage the crisis, speed up exploitation by having more man hours or jobs to
    survive, taking hold of the technology, mobilism to quickly respond and do
    transactions), the craving for “quick and instant” is the ways, a
    norm to relieve problems. It would be easy to dichotomize body and spirit, personal
    and social, as if there is no interconnection at all. I am not be surprised if
    out of the every days social practice of drinking instant coffee, eating
    instant noodles, instant food like fast foods people also want instant salvation. For me, being progressive
    means opting a clear path. A bridge
    cannot be built starting in the center of the stream. I doubt if they indeed built San Francisco starting
    in the center of the sea. I am quite
    sure that bridge was built starting from one side, either from Sausalito side
    going to San Francisco, or the other way around. Jesus ministry did opt to
    start with the other side –poor deprived and oppressed but struggling people (I
    call this PDOS). Jesus well understood that having that critical mass was key.
    He did a “Maoist approach in organizing “surrounding the cities from the countryside’s”. Rural to cities. When he did his critical mass organizing among
    fisher folks and peasants did he went to win the enlightened gentry, tax
    collectors, people who served the empire with the end goal of creating a broad
    alliance or united front. The politics
    of alliance building was important to him.
    The politics of looking for middle grounds was a necessity with the end
    goal of tilting the balance. Maintaining
    a middle ground means maintaining your
    broad front. Middle ground is palatable to the middle class, those considered
    as “enlightened groups” or gentries. That is their social disposition. They are
    important though as e support group for the poor. “Middle ground” unites on issues. It is an “issue
    to issue basis unity”. It is temporary but not necessarily.

  • Great reflections esp bear with the battles-

  • Neil D. Cowling

    I don’t like the term “progressive” partly because it implies that it’s opposite is “regressive” and no one wants to be that. I have purposely avoided reading your “you might be if” statements for just that reason. I refuse to apply or accept the label.

  • Dave Fraley

    I think you have “described” me quite accurately in your definition of a progressive Christian. I would love to have more company in this “via media” we are taking!

  • Count me in! And, just to put it out there, I think Jesus is/was a progressive, too.

  • The mixture of beliefs and values. While this will avoid many problems, I take issue with a few points. First, the assumption of the middle ground is a bit scary, we are told that the lukewarm are rejected. However, the middle ground is good for negotiating, and for those issues not essential nor defined in the realm of “Orthodox Christianity.”
    Orthodox Christianity includes the definitions of who Jesus Christ is, His importance for Eternal Life, Who God the Father is, the Workings of the Holy Spirit, and traditional values as defined throughout the WHOLE Bible. We can argure pointlessly over the Pentecostal experience, the role of saints, miracles today, which are just a few.
    Demanding loyalty sounds really strange, for if one has a true friend, one has not turned on that person but instead chosen a point to argue (hopefully not with ferocity) and yet the relationship is good if not better. Mutual respect is a treasured value that grows deeper with time.
    So, if one “loves the sinner but hates the sin…” one has valued the person enormously. I find it difficult to call this a progressive value, it is older than the use of the word.
    If we love others as Christ has loved the church, we are doing what is right. The bigger question seems to be, who is Jesus Christ for you today, and how do HIS values translate into your life?

  • Dawn Adamy

    Thank you, Bruce! I believe many Christians will see themselves in this thoughtful and fair description. Feels good to have a home (or at least a portal!)

  • Anniemcu